I take the kids for a walk around our neighborhood 5 or 6 nights a week. There are 9 city parks with playgrounds within a mile of our house and we’ve been to every one. (If that’s not enough play equipment, there are 2 elementary school playgrounds within a mile as well, and if you need a few more parks there are 3 other city parks within a mile of us that don’t have any play equipment.)
I took the kids to one of the parks with a pond the other night and surprised them with a loaf of bread to feed the ducks. After leaving the ducks happy, they headed to the playground. Between the mosquitoes and the number of kids at the playground, I corralled my kids back into the stroller and headed to a quieter park tucked away in a neighborhood.
Sure enough, we were the only ones at the next park and the kids had free reign. While pushing them in the swings we got to singing a song. Sometime during the song I noticed an older man walking down the road. Each step he took was deliberate and he needed a cane for assistance.
As we finished the song, I noticed that the man had started walking towards us. He remarked on what a nice evening it was and how nice it was to see the kids using it since the park doesn’t get used enough. We introduced ourselves and made small talk.
His name was Milt and he lived in the home next door to the park. He’s the original owner of the home, built in 1969 and one of the last in that neighborhood when it was being developed. He spent his career as a piano salesman for Schmitt Music and raised his kids in Burnsville after moving there from St. Louis Park. He asked where I was from and I told him.
A few minutes into our conversation he remarked again how nice it was to see kids using the equipment and that it didn’t get used enough. A few minutes later he repeated that thought a third time. He also asked three times during our conversation where I was from.
I was glad to meet Milt. It’s always fun to meet a neighbor and learn a bit about what brought them to the city, why they’ve stayed, and what they do with their lives.
But I was a little sad too as I watched Milt walk away.
It’s tough to see what age can do to the brain and what can (and likely will) happen to us both physically and relationally. Milt’s kids are gone and he was walking alone, suffering from what appeared to be dementia.
I decided to take away something positive from the interaction: Milt is still making a point of getting out there, taking a walk, and meeting his neighbors. That’s a lot more than can be said for most of my peers.
I tend to be a “live for the day” kind of person. I’m not really given to setting goals and then putting together a plan to accomplish them. I can think of a few goals I’ve set out to accomplish before. Here are a few, in chronological order:
- Win the State Geography Bee (placed 2nd)
- Graduate high school in 3 years (did it in 2.5)
- Finish college and pay for it without financial assistance from my parents
- Find someone who could tolerate me enough to marry me
- Visit all 50 states
- Be a dad
- Get a job in management (that job didn’t last a year)
There’s one common thread with all of these goals: they took years to accomplish from conception to completion. One (the geography bee) never did happen, but I was happy enough with the results.
I’ve had other smaller goals along the way. Hitting over .600 in softball is a goal for this year (I’m at .563 on one league right now). For a while I had a goal of writing a blog post a day, and for a few months I succeeded.
But whether short-term or long-term, all of these goals are behind me. There was a concrete end to the goal and a time to move on.
I got married; my goal now is to stay married.
I’m a dad; now I want to be an awesome dad.
I visited all 50 states; now I want to visit every country.
(Actually, I might not be.)
I’m not sure what’s next though. The blog has suffered as I’ve drifted from posting consistently, but I love helping people by generating content on the web. I also have yet to find a job that’s satisfying. I like my current company and the people I work with, but I’m only 2 months into the job. What happens in a few years when personnel change, the job changes, and I get restless again?
Big-picture goals (like “be a good husband and dad”) ground us. They don’t usually energize me, though, quite like the more concrete, results-driven goals do. Maybe it goes with that “live for the day” mentality, but I want better small-picture goals. I want an idea and I want to run with it. And lately, I’ve been stumped.
So, here’s to new goals. And if you have any ideas, hit me up!
Jamie and I were at a church retreat this weekend, which was pretty awesome because not only were we with a bunch of great friends, but we were also without all 3 of our kids for the first time since Cameron was born! My parents are awesome!
While at the retreat, we played cards twice.
I grew up playing a card game called Rook. My family was intensely serious about the game. We counted cards as we went, discussed how the hands played out after each round was over, and upset one another more times than any of us care to admit with our reactions to moves we considered to be boneheaded.
Jamie doesn’t share this appreciation for cards. She’s learned how to play a few games, but we don’t play them often enough for the games to stick and each time we play, she has to learn again.
I also happen to be a rather impatient person. Card games are pretty black and white. Once the rules are established, the logic of how to play within the rules should be understood. Card games differ on specifics regarding trump suits, number of cards, and even card values, but the general principles of cards apply pretty broadly to most card games. It doesn’t take long for me to pick up on a new game. For Jamie, each card game might as well be a new geometry equation. Sure, she learned it at one point, but it’s going to take some time and repetition to kick the rust off.
You can probably see where this is going. Generally speaking, we don’t play cards. Jamie would do fine if I didn’t get frustrated, but I do, and I communicate that to her. And it doesn’t work to just tell her that I’m frustrated at the game, as if it’s not personal. Even if I’m frustrated at the game, she takes it personally and I have to be aware of that.
We made it through the first night of card-playing by making it through the round robin portion of the tournament as a wildcard team (16 out of 48 teams advanced). We lost in the first round, but we had fun. After a few rocky moments in the first few games, I managed to keep my composure and avoid getting upset in the last game, even when a mistake from Jamie cost us the game. Progress!
The next day we were in a breakout session that happened to revolve around playing cards, which we didn’t know going into it. The game didn’t require partners like the game the night before had, but we were playing at the same table for 2 of the 3 games. Each table had a set of rules that everyone had to read at the beginning of the session, then each table had 7 minutes to play a game. At the end of each game, the 1st place player moved up a table and the last place player moved down a table. This seemed easy enough, and in principle it was.
But then it got hard. As players moved around, they realized that each table had been given slightly different rules from the others. Issues such as which suit was trump needed to be cleared up without any words being spoken.
Jamie moved to another table after the first round, then moved back to our table for the third round. I had no idea there were different rules at each table since I was seated at the same table the entire time. She returned to our table demanding that I pass her the deck of cards. I was confused and wasn’t ready to give them up. Eventually I did, we clarified trump, and I assumed that the table she’d played her second round with was just crazy.
Of course, as I later learned, Jamie had a perfectly good reason for wanting to know the trump suit. I should have trusted her, but instead I was just a stubborn ass.
Jamie and I are honest (some may say brutally honest) with one another. We wear our emotions and feelings on our sleeves when we’re together. I think this is generally a good thing. When things are going well, it’s awesome. But when I’m frustrated, it’s a problem. I could just avoid playing cards altogether since I know the attitude I can bring to it, but I don’t know if that would be helpful. There are other times I don’t treat my wife as I should and a game of cards is just one instance of many.
I think couples need to understand the situations in which they don’t do well, acknowledge them openly, and work to improve them. I needed to deal with being an ass earlier that night to get to the point of being able to watch Jamie make a mistake without frustration. I also needed to repeat my foolishness the next morning to be reminded that I still have a long way to go.
What is it that you know will test your marriage? Is there an event or a game or a topic of conversation that you know will cause problems with your spouse or significant other? Do you keep coming back to that topic or game in an effort to improve or do you just avoid it altogether?
A year and a half ago I wrote a post on a movie called Blue Like Jazz that was in the works. Funding was being secured to make the book by the same name a reality on the big screen.
Today, that movie hits theaters. I got to see it a few weeks ago when the lead actor, producer, and writers came to town to screen the movie for some of its early supporters. I will be seeing it again this weekend.
Because the film deals with the subject of Christianity and is written and filmed by Christians, there’s some disagreement over how it should be labeled. Should a movie that honestly portrays some of the life that happens on the godless Portland campus of Reed College be classified as “Christian?” That’s hard to say, as I would recommend it to someone who’s not a Christian as soon as I would to a Christian. Yet the main character’s spiritual struggle is at the center of the story being told, and those who want nothing to do with any consideration of Christianity, religion, or spirituality will likely find themselves lost in the film.
Blue Like Jazz is different from most Christian films over the last few years in that it isn’t “preachy.” When there’s a student debate over the existence of God, the Christian argument doesn’t “win” with the atheist suddenly being brought to his knees and converting to Christianity. Both sides state their cases and it’s left unresolved. The main character never does resolve these intellectual and theological debates, as he remains in confusion and rebellion for much of the film. This is very atypical of most Christian films and leaves critics confused. Many reviews I’ve read seem to think that the main character’s crisis of faith didn’t take center stage to the extent that it should have.
Don Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz and one of the writers of the film, meanders through his book and inserts humor throughout as he addresses serious issues in his generally observational manner. The movie follows suit, which makes for a very different film than what we’re accustomed to seeing on the big screen, even for an indie film. The film took a while to pick up speed and I remained confused and unsure of the direction of the movie until the end, even though I’ve read the book. In this sense, I understand where its critics are coming from. But then, a movie that was largely funded by a Kickstarter campaign will be a little quirky. Not that there’s anything wrong with a tidy ending, but if you’re looking for Kirk Cameron to renew his vows with his gorgeous wife or a football coach to win a state title after dedicating himself to praising God after each game, you’re watching the wrong movie.
It’s the last 30-45 minutes of the film that made the whole thing work for me. The main character was relieved of some of his confusion and wandering and he began to find a way forward. It’s not like his life was sitting pretty with a neatly tied bow on it. But at the end of the film I felt as though life on the road ahead had more direction and purpose for Don than it had before.
I’m not seeing this movie again because I think everyone has to see it twice. I’m not encouraging others to see it because it’s the best film ever made. Additionally, if you’re looking for a sanitized film that will never make you uncomfortable, this isn’t the film to watch. Those who aren’t Christians may be uncomfortable with some of the spiritual dialog. Those who are Christians and prefer their world to be G-rated won’t be happy with the depictions of debauchery on a liberal college campus in Portland, OR. The guy sitting next to me during the movie lived in Portland for a while and just when I thought something on the screen was a little too far-fetched to be realistic (10-foot-tall bikes?! A guy walking around in a pope costume?!), he leaned over and said, “That really happened!” He did this enough times during the movie that I can’t help but think that what was depicted was true to life and wasn’t included for any shock value. Still, those who would rather not be exposed to this reality won’t like it.
But I’m supporting the film because I appreciate a movie that doesn’t try to make life look much cleaner than it is. It doesn’t attempt a perfect story with a perfect ending. Life usually doesn’t work that way and this film feels closer to real life than most films I’ve seen from the Christian film industry. I’d love to see more films from the Christian perspective that are willing to present life without sanitizing it, without taking PG-13 down to G for fear of offending someone. If your story is PG-13, tell it that way. I don’t want to see just half of the story because you’re afraid I’ll be offended by the other half. I realize that some people prefer the film that has the coach winning every football game after he starts praising God, but that just doesn’t fit with my experience of who God is and how he works.
Fans of Don Miller’s books will likely love this film. How the rest of the public receives it remains to be seen. Movie critics are mixed on it, and I find most of their reactions to be pretty fair. The Seattle Times reflects much of the movie’s general criticism by saying, “This is a movie with heart but too many distractions.” To me, lines like, “Get in the closet, Baptist boy,” just felt a bit over-written. But I can overlook the film’s flaws for the good that is there.
April 9, 2006, was a pretty typical Sunday. It was Palm Sunday, which I only learned after a Google search I just ran to see if there were any significant events on that date. There weren’t.
I joined Faith Community Church in Hudson, WI, that day. The business meeting after the morning church service was pretty nondescript. I was one of a few people who were being voted on as members and I guess I wasn’t a completely terrible person because they voted me in.
After the business meeting one of the pastors introduced himself to me. His wife then introduced me to a girl. Being a church out in an exburb, there weren’t a lot of single people between 18 and 25, so I guess we should have been more interested in one another than we were. We introduced ourselves briefly to the other but that was about it. Neither one of us was particularly attracted to or interested in the other. Not that we found the other unattractive or uninteresting, but I was working a 24/7 job and she was in her last 2 months of school before graduating and leaving for a summer job in Colorado. We had plenty of other things going on and dating wasn’t our top priority.
It didn’t help that neither of us learned anything about the other that stood out. I learned that she was a Bible major at a Christian university. I wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with it, but I had a hunch it wouldn’t involve me. She walked away knowing that I was one of 11 kids, had been home schooled until college, and was working in politics. Word of advice: if this profile fits you, it’s not the best conversation-starter with most girls, especially if she’s one of 3 kids, went to public school, and is politically ambivalent. You’ll get dumped into a rather negative social stereotype (which is generally fair) that may be tough to climb out of unless you have awesome climbing skills.
Thankfully for us, the pastor’s wife put in a phone call to the girl asking what she thought of me. She didn’t think much of me but reluctantly tracked me down on this new website called Facebook. I didn’t know who Jamie Sandquist was or why she’d be adding me as a friend. It took a bit of digging through her profile before I remembered she was that girl from church. We had some common interests and I accepted the friend request.
The rest of the story has taken 6 years to tell and is still being told. But that’s what happened 6 years ago today.