Fall Playlist

It might be cliche but I love fall. Even in North Texas where autumn feels like a brief layover between summer and winter, I still get excited as everything turns a shade of orange and pumpkin-spiced.

Every fall I create a playlist of songs that remind me of the season in some way. It could be the song reminds me of a specific fall memory or it somehow feels the way I do when the weather turns cooler.

It’s an excuse to dive into my favorite artists as well as experience new ones. I spend countless hours listening for the perfect songs. I could easily have hundreds on the playlist but I force myself to keep it to twelve.

Twelve songs that move me in some way, that reach out to me and remind me of the season change. It’s personal and makes me feel connected to the music. No one else listens to these twelve songs in this particular order. It creates a unique experience.

Do you do the same thing? What songs would be on your list? Here are a few that made my list this year.

River: Leon Bridges

The Night We Met: Lord Huron

Last of My Kind: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Home Again: Michael Kiwanuka

Morning Song: The Avett Brothers

Home: Bruno Major

https://open.spotify.com/user/1278797874/playlist/5V6JstRrBtuF67xLpbIOpz?si=lkLVsFGNSQaLmNQe0PZC2Q

Hand-me-down (a short story)

shoes-1560610_1920Koda waited anxiously for his name to be called, his feet tucked tightly under his desk.  It was something he did, almost a compulsion. He did it to hide his shoes. They were hand-me-downs, like nearly everything else in his wardrobe, and at least a size too big. They used to be white with a long blue stripe down the side but now were yellow from age and dirt. Even when they were bright-white and new, they were ugly shoes. They were the cheapest, blandest, sneakers you could buy at Walmart. He knew because he was there when his parents bought them for his older brother.  

Koda looked down at his shoes as he repositioned them under his desk. The left shoe had a new lace, white and clean which looked out of place on the worn shoe, especially compared to the right shoe with its old frayed lace. Why his mother hadn’t replaced both laces he could never understand.  He had asked her to, she simply smiled, gave him a curious look and replied very matter-of-factly that he only needed one.

The first day of school was always the hardest for Koda.  Everyone came in their new clothes. Brand name jeans with strategically placed rips, t-shirts with famous logos, and of course, their new shoes.  Koda noticed shoes. All of the unblemished, new shoes shuffling down the halls made his yellowed hand-me-downs all the dirtier in comparison.

The first day also meant ice-breakers, introductions, and stupid little scavenger hunts for things around the classroom like the recycle bin and class rules chart.  He hated the thought of standing up in front of the class, mumbling his name and an interesting fact about himself. At least he had gotten a seat at the back of the class, thanks to a little bit of understanding from his dad.

Koda begged his dad the night before to drop him off extra early.  His argument had been that their car was old, loud and ugly. His dad had laughed and insisted he liked the ugly old car but Koda persisted, and even though his argument hadn’t been eloquent, it had worked.  When they pulled up to the school, Koda thought his dad looked sad. As he reached for the door handle, his dad had put his large hand on Koda’s shoulder and looked him in his eyes.  Koda could tell it was important because his dad wasn’t smiling and his dad was always smiling. Smiling, laughing and telling stupid jokes that made him laugh and smile even more. Koda wouldn’t admit it but he loved his dad’s stupid jokes. But in that moment, his dad looked serious.  He pulled Koda toward him just an inch, still staring directly into his eyes like he was going to tell him a secret. After a moment, his dad took a deep breath and said, “Koda, you matter.  Not the car you drive or the shoes you wear. But you, you matter.”  His dad had poked the middle of his chest with his large index finger as he said the last two words.  

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Now, sitting in the back of the class, hiding his shoes and waiting for his name to be called, he remembered his dad’s words, “you matter.”  His chest began to pulse where his Dad’s enormous finger had poked him. He could feel it growing warmer with each pulse until it was radiating from his chest and spreading slowly through his body.  The warmth had reached his knees when his name was called. He passed neat rows of plastic desks and didn’t even notice the shoes beneath them. By the time he stood in front of the class, the warmth had reached the tips of his toes, filling his whole body.

He stood at the front of the class, smiled his dad’s smile and said proudly, “Hi, My name is Koda.”

Wiener Dogs and Traffic Jams

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It’s over 100 degrees outside but feels much hotter sitting in rush hour traffic.  I’m busy rapping along with Macklemore and tapping the steering wheel when I see something in the road ahead that stops me mid-verse.

It’s a dachshund.

A black and tan wiener dog is running down the middle of Highway 75 straight toward me.  He’s wagging his little black tail and smiling, oblivious to the dangers around him.  Cars slow or swerve around the little guy, creating a parting of cars where he rushes down the highway.

As he gets closer I realize not only is there a wiener dog running down the highway, there is a wiener dog owner running down the highway.

Far behind the little dog is a gray-haired maerda-estremera-581452-unsplashn in jeans and boots chasing after him.  The man is already sweating from the heat, swearing and yelling, “Peanut!” over and over.

Peanut ignores him and keeps running.

Other people get out of their cars in attempts to grab Peanut but he is too smart for that.  He simply dodges, then ducks his tiny little body under the nearest car and keeps running.

It takes several minutes of chasing and some helpful commuters but finally sweaty owner and panting wiener dog are reunited.  Peanut is safe.

*   *   *

I’ve been thinking about Peanut ever since, and how much I relate to him.

Too many times I rush headfirst through life, ignoring the calls of my creator as he tries to pull me from the chaos of my world. I feel him at my heels and hear him shouting, “Justin!” and instead of allowing him to reach out and pick me up, I dodge. I run. I fall. I fail.

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But God is diligent.  His love never falters or fails.  He never stops chasing me.  He doesn’t tire from calling me, get exasperated with or give me over to my own stupidity.  Even when I run into oncoming traffic, he is close behind calling my name.

But Just like Peanut, I don’t realize how much better life would be if I stopped running.

Hopefully, I learn to stop running before an unwitting commuter, busy rapping along with Macklemore and tapping the steering wheel, runs me over.

Your beauty and love chase after me
  every day of my life.
  – Psalms 23:6

Apple Peels

apple-apples-background-583841Every once in a while I think about death, usually when I am peeling an apple.  It sounds odd I know but let me explain.  There is a scene in Sleepless in Seattle when Tom Hanks’ Character, Sam, is talking with his young son Jonah.  Jonah tells his dad he is starting to forget his mom, who recently passed away.  Sam begins to tell his son things about her, to help him remember.  One of the things he says is, “She could peel an apple in one long, curly strip.”

For some reason, that scene has always stuck with me.   Now, every time I peel an apple, I think about Death. And even more specifically, I think about my own death. I wonder, what my sons will remember about me when I am gone.  I wonder what my wife would tell them to help them remember the little things about me.

Will they remember me as kind, compassionate, loving, affectionate, honest, trustworthy?  Will they think of me and remember my smile?   Will they remember me reading to them at bedtime or chasing them on the playground, teaching them to ride a bike or play guitar? Will they remember Nerf battles, hide-n-seek, and pillow fights?

I worry instead,  they will remember me as distracted, distant or disconnected.  I worry they will remember my face in a cell phone, or more recently, a video game.  I worry they will remember my flaws, my faults, and my failures because there are so many.

I worry that, like Jonah, they will forget me, and that is even worse.

Sometimes I need these little reminders.  I need to peel apples so they remind me to make the most of my time here.  To live so that when I am gone, my family will remember me, remember adventures, smiles, and laughter.  To impress upon them everything I can now, and maybe when I am gone those impressions will last.  Maybe they will laugh while they reminisce about my quirks and idiosyncrasies.  And maybe one day, they will even remember the pensive look on my face as I peel an apple, in one long, curly strip.

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” -Ernest Hemingway

 

Bedtimes and Roller Coasters

I’m standing in the hallway watching my wife tiptoe into our oldest son’s room.  Her hair almost glows from the deep gold light of the Minecraft lamp on the dresser.  She leans low, one hand pulling her hair away from her face while the other steadies on the edge of the bed.  As she bends to kiss his rosy cheek, I stand in awe.  It’s a beautiful moment.  A mother expressing her affection for a son who is completely unaware.

Twenty minutes before this sweet moment I was exasperated.  I had spent the better part of an hour arguing with a six-year-old about bedtime.  No matter what time our routine begins, it inevitably goes off course.  Bargaining for more snacks, one more video game, more time playing Legos, additional bathroom breaks, and of course at least one attempt to sneak from his bed into the living room and hide behind the sofa unseen, all bring the bedtime routine from a relaxing wind-down to an all-out battle.

There is a roller coaster at Six Flags over Texas called The New Texas Giant.  Before it was known as The New Texas Giant, it was simply The Texas Giant.  “New” was added to the moniker in 2011 when the enormous coaster underwent a remodel, replacing the old wooden tracks with steel.  I was fortunate enough to ride the coaster before the remodel.  The coaster was boisterous, to say the least.  As the car ascended the first hill, chains clanked, wooden beams creaked and the car shook violently.   The wild ascent would culminate in the car reaching the top of the first hill and stopping for a split second before smoothly gliding down the hill at breakneck speed.  After a few moments of flying effortlessly down the track, the coaster would turn violent once more.  It would shake, rumble and roar as it attempted to climb hill after hill only to glide silently and smoothly down each hill.

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There are moments as a parent when I feel my world is shaking violently.  Kids scream, argue,  and fight.  They are messy, stubborn, irrational and loud.  Some moments I wonder why I got on the rollercoaster, to begin with.  Then, there are moments like last night.   Moments when the ride is smooth and my face is plastered with a smile.  Moments when I forget about the commotion, the noise and I am reminded of why I took this ride.

I hope in the crazy moments, the loud, boisterous, annoying moments, I remember how worthwhile it all is.  I hope I can remind myself of the smooth descent ahead.  I hope I remember that, eventually, the ride will be over and not only will I miss those smooth moments of quiet joy, but I will miss the loud, wild, world-shaking moments as well.  Because eventually, wooden coasters become steel, children become adults and I become too old to ride the roller coaster.

“How many times have you noticed that it’s the little quiet moments in the midst of life that seem to give the rest extra-special meaning?” – Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers

 

 

 

Unpublished.

One of the many blog posts that have been sitting unpublished in my drafts for almost two years.  It’s incomplete but as I read it, I remembered the moment and it made me smile.

Fireworks.  July 2016

It’s just past dusk on an unusually cool July night.  The dark green grass is covered by a small blanket beneath us.  We sit, eyes toward the night sky expectant.  Finally, there is an explosion of light in the sky above us followed by a chorus of  “Oooh” from the crowd around us.  Everyone stands in awe of the sight as one after another, fireworks breblast-bright-celebration-666988ak the starry night sky.  Everyone except for Emerson. His fragile arms are wrapped tightly around his mother’s neck, gripping tighter and tighter with every thundering blast. As the show wears on, slowly his expression changes from horror to amusement.  Even though his face beamed with a smile by the finale, his arms still clung tight to his mother’s neck.

But when I am afraid,
    I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
    I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?

Psalms 56:3

 

Life

54950030It’s been nearly two years since my last post.  There are nearly a dozen blog posts sitting in my drafts incomplete that I have failed to finish while two years of life flew by.  Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, vacations, jobs and more have passed since my last post.  As my life settles into a routine, I feel as if I have failed to notice the stars again.  I am overlooking those amazing moments in day to day life that should inspire me.  My son welcoming me home with open arms and a smile, my wife sitting in the car next to me and placing her hand on mine, or any one of the million magical little moments I dismiss as mundane.  I think it’s time I begin to find excitement in the everyday again.