Yes. I’m going to make it awkward. — By: Charles Westerman

I want to freak people out more. I want to make it awkward.

Seriously. I drive a school bus filled with Junior Highers everyday, and you’d be surprised at the lack of differences between their attempts to look cool compared to the attempts of people my age.

“Hey! Check out my new ironic Captain Planet tattoo… It’s ironic right? I just want to be like, so ironic so people will think I’m smart and interesting and hip. Um, yeah… can I get a gluten free scone please? And the most pretentious wheat beer you’ve got.”

Ugh.

How about being a real, authentic, original person instead?

Ever since my freshman year of college I’ve felt like I’m sweating buckets wearing a jacket of cool to cover up the heart that’s on the sleeve of my weird t-shirt. In the name of transparency and soul odor, consider the following list of everything that’s not cool about me, the shedding of a layer.

1)   I still pick my nose. And not just every once in awhile. All. The. Time.

2)   I fuss with my hair in the mirror. A lot.

3)   I’m a virgin.

4)   I’m a hopeful romantic.

5)   I like songs about death.

6)   There’s a lot of woman who can bench press more than me.

7)   Sometimes I just wear dirty underwear for a few days instead of doing my laundry.

8)   A good fart still makes me giggle.

9)   I prefer Target, but shopping at Wal-Mart doesn’t make my skin crawl.

10) I think my favorite song right now is the new Taylor-Swift-goes-Britney one.

11) It wasn’t a mutual breakup. She dumped me.

12) I honestly don’t know what “tumblr” is.

13) I haven’t heard of 95% of the authors people tell me are “must-reads.”

14) The inside of my car is pretty disgusting.

15) I have no idea how to do my taxes.

16) Sometimes I just open up a jar of peanut butter and go to town with my finger.

17) I really don’t hate chick-flicks.

18) I’m still very self-conscious.

19) I LOVED Dashboard Confessional in high school. Still do.

20) Sometimes I give my brother’s beagle’s wiener a little tickle.

21) I’ve never seen Casa Blanca.

22) Yes. I’m almost twenty-three and it wouldn’t be a stretch for me to pass for seventeen.

23) In the last month I’ve googled “bi-polar disorder” twice.

24) I cry at least once a week.

25) For a single guy in his early twenties, I sure think about my wife and kids a lot.

Taking A Shot– By: Charles Westerman

I wrote this essay a couple weeks ago and thought maybe it would be a nice update on my life for anyone whose curious on where it’s at. Enjoy. 

I’ve been living in Portland for a little over a month now. The summer has uncharacteristically stuck around for a few weeks longer than it usually does, and believe it or not, this is the first day it’s rained since I moved here.

I should be writing on my other projects I’ve been working on, but I’m tired of writing about things where I have to think and structure and debate the moral integrity of my words. I just want to sit and drink my coffee in my blue chaise lounger and write words blindly. I want to wax philosophic and poetic and talk about things I’m still coming to grips with.

Once or twice a week, my roommate and best friend who I moved to Portland with – Brendon is his name – have these nights where we remember why we moved to the city to be writers. We talk like young men who are scratching and clawing excitedly to uncover their concrete purpose in the universe.

Such a night was last night. We met up for a drink with my friend Andrea who I know from working at my college newspaper. She works at the main newspaper in Portland, The Oregonian, and brought her friend Katherine who also works there. Both of them are the kind of people you want to sit down for a drink with.

We met them at this little hole in the wall bar called the Vintage Cocktail Lounge on the Stark street strip four blocks from our duplex on 78th avenue and Burnside. It’s already become our usual place. We’ve lived in the Montavilla neighborhood for about two weeks and have already been there three times.

They have a special called, “The Local” which consists of a single-shot of wells whiskey and a cheap tallboy for five bucks. If we’re feeling classier, they make great Old-Fashioned’s—garnishing them with both an orange wedge and real cherries, which they crush in the bottom of the cup before they do anything else.

It will be our McClaren’s Pub—our Central Perk. It’s long and thin and has crimson painted walls and artsy posters that were probably bought at Hobby Lobby. It’s not original or great art, but its pleasant to look at and goes with the vibe. The bartenders are social and want to remember your name and have you become regulars. The bar is two-thirds the length of the room and is a generous width. The shelves holding the liquor go from a foot above the floor to a foot above your head. Behind the shelves the wall is fitted with tin-tiles that are all imprinted with the same, thoughtful design. The beautiful aesthetic of the shelves communicates the honor the owners feel to the bottles of liquids that keep this place afloat

We sat at this bar with Andrea and Katherine and talked about the two-choices we had for President. They told us what it was like working in the trenches of a big-city newspaper. We told them what school-bus training was like in the basement with our instructor Gail and our fellow students. There’s Eddiemike, whose first name really is Eddiemike. He grew up in a big Italian family and has lived in Portland his whole life, yet has an almost country-boy friendliness to him. There’s Felice, who is the most pleasant and worrisome woman you’ll ever meet. Always asking Brendon and me if we’re nervous about driving a school bus, because she sure as hell is.  Then there’s Kevin, who has the most sultry-looking face you’ve ever seen, and even though he’s never done me anything to me, I don’t like him. Gail herself is overweight, smells like a basement, and is one of the best school bus trainers in the country. She understands her humble, but important role in the world and strives for excellence in that role and for that I respect her immensely.

Andrea and Katherine listened fervently to the little world we had become an unlikely part of. They thought it was funny we were becoming bus drivers, but not in a condescending way. Not in a “you went to college to become a school bus driver?” way. They seemed to take us seriously when we told them we were going to drive a school bus so we could pay the bills while we got ourselves established as writers. That it was a sensible part-time job because we had to wake up in the morning and do our route, but then had the middle of the day to write until we had to go pick our kids up in the afternoon.

And we would have to write, because we were going to be driving our bus in Lake Oswego fifteen miles away from our home in Montavilla. Fighting traffic to go back home in between routes wasn’t going to be an enticing option, so we might as well post up at a coffee shop and gut some words out while we wait.

We talked like this for a couple hours. About real things and funny things and things people our age in the place we are in talk about. Then we said goodbye and that we should meet like this again because it really had been a great evening filled with great conversation. And all four of us really did mean what we were saying—that we wanted to get together again. It wasn’t a pleasantry and that was refreshing.

Brendon and I walked the four blocks home with energy. Glad that we had met up with the girls, but glad now that we were alone and could talk about what had just happened and what was happening in a larger sense. We got back to our house and he stayed outside with me while I chain-smoked the cigarettes I’m not supposed to be chain-smoking because I said I was going to quit. I laid down on my back and puffed away and looked at the night-sky—it looked like the night-sky usually does in Portland—one all encompassing cloud blanketing the city and shyly reflecting its soft-glow. It’s sullen and peaceful and causes you to reflect on where you are.

We talked about finding security in the insecure life-choices we had made. A couple of small-town kids from Wyoming moving to a city with no jobs lined up and no place to live and enough money to pay our bills for maybe two months. With no choice but to write for our lives and trust that God was going to bless our decision to trust in his provision.

There’s a sense of calm you feel when you take a shot at greatness. When you jump off the cliffs of your future instead of making the slow, sure climb down. There’s a trust that somehow, you’ll fall up into that big-blanket of cloud. That you won’t look back at your life when you’re forty and regret that you never chased your dreams when had the chance, but merely obeyed what you thought was your reality.

 

 

College Graduation: From the perspective of Steptoe Butte– By: Charles Westerman

You spend four years in college thinking about your graduation day… not once do you think about the day that comes after it. Saturday you’re finally putting on the cap and gown. You finally get that diploma in your hands and the wonderful weight of it makes you think you know what it feels like when hockey players hoist the Stanley Cup.  You hug your friends and kiss your mom. You order a pitcher of nice beer and for once don’t feel like your wallet is sinking its teeth in your keister as you put it in your back pocket.

Yeah. That day you thought about a lot. That day was what helped you bust out those last two pages when your brain felt like the toilet that was always clogged in your ever-to-authentic college house. That day had you signing tuition checks your ass wasn’t sure it could cash.  That unforgettable day of celebration was what let you tell yourself that all the forgettable, overscheduled, lonely days of college would be worth it.

Then that day comes. And yes, it’s great. But even after four years of overpriced learning, you wake up on Sunday and realized you never really learned the sun would still come up after graduation night. Such was the case for me upon graduating from Washington State University.

More than shaking President Floyd’s hand on Saturday, I’ll remember that feeling on Sunday morning better.  You wake up with one monotonous, terrifying and sobering thought: “So college is… over? Yeah I suppose it is. Right? Yeah… definitely. College is freaking donezo. Checkmate. Yahtzee. Gin. Kaput. So… I guess that makes me an alumni now huh? Oh shit. Alumni’s are supposed to have a decent paycheck. What’s that magic job website again? Monster.com? Why a monster? GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY… I’m about to get eaten…”

In high school you graduate and then you spend the summer with your friends sucking the juice out of the last of the good ole days. You don’t really get that in college. The last six weeks everyone is so strung out with keeping up with their big senior projects and looking frantically for a job that you don’t have a lot of time or energy to do much reminiscing.

So maybe you get done with your finals on Wednesday and then you graduate on Saturday. Most all your friends who are younger than you leave three hours after their last final, and by Sunday at 5 pm, three quarters of the ones you graduated with have finished taking down their Bob Marley posters and are halfway to Seattle. It’s a queer, sad feeling. I’ve never said the word ‘surreal’ so much in my whole life as I did in the weeks following.

I rolled out of bed with this feeling and said hi to my parents and older brother Mick who had come to celebrate the milestone. Then one of my best friends in college – one of the ones I will be friends with for a very long time – TJ called me and said she was about to head out.

This was the girl whose apartment was on my way home from campus. I’d get done copy editing for the newspaper around 10 or 11 at night and call her up to see if I could stop by. We’d always promise each other we’d keep it to a quick 15 minute chat because we had both school and sleep to catch up on… 2 hours later we were no more studied or rested, but it was sure good to get all of our deepest worries off our chest. That’s TJ. The girl I could tell anything to. A person who I could show a part of myself that I thought unlovable and she always seemed to love me more for it.

One time my sophomore year I played her one of the songs I wrote about what I thought my Dad went through when his first wife died of breast cancer. When I got done I looked up from my guitar (that I’d kept my eyes glued to the whole time because I felt so vulnerable) and she was crying. She’d heard every word. She can empathize and be okay with feeling pain like that, and above all, I think that’s my favorite thing about her.

I drove to her apartment to say goodbye. Teej and I are never short on words around each other, but there was just too much to say to capture it. I wanted to cry but was too shell-shocked and exhausted from all the goodbyes and the “last times” that had been occurring in the last six weeks. I was sick of “last times.” We shrugged and we hugged and just like that — Snap! – TJ was gone.

Then my buddy Max texted me and said that he and his mom needed to get on the road and wouldn’t be able to meet us for breakfast like we’d hoped to.  Max is one of those friends like TJ’s a friend… only he’s a dude. My junior year when I lived right across the street from him, he’d easily come over two times a week so we could get down on Madden 11 (a football video game for you girls who live in a cave).

We’d “start a franchise” and pick teams in the same division, then we’d do a fantasy draft and play each other. We’d debate matchups and I’d always tell him that one of his go to picks, Kenny Britt (a proud owner of a recent DUI at the time), was way too drunk to drive or catch the football. The stakes weren’t as high as competing in organized sports in high school, but we channeled all our pent up competitiveness into those four hours a week. We’d throw on The Black Keys or The Temper Trap (a couple of times I even threw my controller) and let the trash talk begin.

Max even conspired with Mick to borrow my car to pick up his “cousin” from the airport in Spokane the week of graduation. Next thing I know he and Mick are walking into the coffee shop I was studying at.  Having my brother at my graduation meant a lot to me, and having Max take three and a half hours of his last week of college to pickup that big smelly thing I call my brother meant just as much. And just like that – Snap! – Max was gone.

I could write paragraphs like that for at least 10 other people, but I’m depressed enough as it is right now having told you about just two. It was this day that Pullman taught me one of its last and greatest lessons – and it taught me a lot of them in four years – but this day it taught me that you can stay in the same place, but when the people that made that place important and meaningful to you aren’t in it, you might as well be in Nairobi.

Still, my family and I went to breakfast as planned. I told myself that I shouldn’t feel sad. That I should feel grateful for the time I had and that I would see these people again. I told myself I should feel more of a sense of accomplishment– for Pete’s sake I’d just graduated freaking college! But that’s not how my slow processing head or extremely emotional heart roll. They need a week to process getting a second date cancelled, let alone finishing up one of the most important four-year chapters of my life.

So I sat at the Old European with three people who couldn’t have possibly been more clutch with their presence. The Old European is one of my personal essentials of experiencing Pullman. Most all of the people who came to visit me from home got their appetite for pancakes ruined because once you sink your teeth into an Aebleskiver… well it’s like eating Kobe beef, then being offered Cube Steak. It’s where I decided I was officially taking my talents to the Palouse when I visited Pullman for the first time my senior year of high school.

But even in this sanctuary of brunch, with my parents and my brother, three people who know me as well as anyone, I could not find solace from my sadness.  TJ was gone. Max was gone. A dozen other people were gone. It wasn’t something you could see. It was something you felt: Absence.

I get the feeling that my dad sensed I wanted somewhere to reflect and process – and more than that – somewhere that wasn’t Pullman.  On the drive to my apartment after breakfast he suggested we head up to Steptoe Butte. It’s about 32 miles north of Pullman. I’d never been there. It was on a list of about 200 other things my friends and I swore we were going to do some Saturday when we didn’t have a football game or homework or How I Met Your Mother to watch. Some Saturday when the weather was nice and you actually felt like getting out of bed before 10:30. Halfway through your sophomore year you realize you get about three Saturdays like that a year if your lucky. Anyhow, I’d never been to Steptoe Butte but I’d always heard the view was amazing.  And I don’t know how my dad knew it, but I just know he knew I needed a good view on this particular day.

We drove up to the top and for a kid who grew up in the wide open spaces of Wyoming, where a view for miles was always just a near hilltop away, being able to see out like that was more of a relief than when you pee after holding it for an hour longer than you should.  I went off by myself a little ways and lit a cigarette. My mom caught me halfway through, and on this day she just laughed and even took a picture. I finished my cancer stick and told her I was going to quit soon but at the moment it was too much to think about (I’m almost to the four week mark as I type this).

Mick and my dad eventually joined us and we talked very reflectively.  My dad always brings an incredible sense of peace and wisdom to situations like this. My mom — with her back rubs, encouraging words, and never-ending faith in me – never fails to come through. And Mick, with his jokes about how much of a girl I am mixed with statements about my talents that never fail to boost my confidence, did just those things.  It was a three-headed monster of love and support.

They too talked about their fears and anxieties up there on the top of the butte. My dad with his uneasiness and insecurities about running for State Legislature after getting hosed in his re-election for County Commissioner a couple years ago. My mom about her dad who has terminal cancer and her state program (the WBLN) that she’d helped run successfully for 15 years getting shutdown because of a lack of funding. And Mick trying to make the jump in career fields from paradmedicine to sports broadcasting.  It was good to be around other people who had fears and worries, and that weren’t 22 years old.

After that we prayed. We prayed about our own and each other’s anxieties.  We prayed for the rest of our family and I prayed like hell for the friends who had become my family at WSU.  In my family that’s how you deal with fear. You give it to God and you share it with each other, and at the end of the day — neigh by the end of college — I’ve concluded this method works.  It acknowledges your weakness as an individual and calls upon the strength of your community.

We stayed up there for awhile, and I couldn’t help but see the metaphor of the situation. Here I was. I could see for miles in all directions and I could go any which one I wanted to. It’s a cocktail of optimistic exhilaration and terrifying doom. The great American halfway house that college is over; now it’s time to go pro.  I decided right there that this summer I was going to embrace the uncertainty.

I’d applied for a one-year paid residency at a magazine in Chicago that I thought I had a real shot at getting so I didn’t look for much else. I had a letter of recommendation from one of the prominent former writers of the magazine as well as great ones from my journalism professor and worship pastor.  And I’m not gonna lie, I wrote the crap out of my cover letter; and my resume, though not built for most jobs, was very much built for this. They were even looking for a graduating journalism student from the Northwest specifically and WSU has the best program for that in the region.

I didn’t feel entitled to the job, but I have to admit I felt entitled to an interview; just a chance to show who I was in person and how bad I wanted it.  They never did call back. I called the lady who asked my professor to recommend a student for the resume at least 25 times getting only an answering machine each time. I left her two voicemails and sent a couple emails. By the end all I wanted her to do was pickup her phone and tell me I didn’t get it. The tooth for tooth side of me wants to drive to Chicago and put Crisco on her toilet seat…

I’m telling you this because it made the whole “college being over” thing that much more terrifying. I didn’t have a plan. But like I said, up on Steptoe I decided I was going to embrace the uncertainty. To take advantage of having a summer where it was acceptable to not be in school or have a real job. I decided to title it “The Wandering Summer” … but more on that later.

I came down from Steptoe still sad, but not as frustrated about that sadness, for I remembered another lesson I’d learned in college that I’ve mentioned on this blog before: sometimes you need to be sad… sometimes it’s healthy.

It’s often to the simplest ideas in life that are most effective.  So when you come to moments where you feel some perspective is needed, find the highest point within 30 miles of yourself, and do so.

Pills and how to swallow them – By David Landrus

Song: Forget Me Not – The Civil Wars

Post:

When making a tough decision you really only have two options. Shakespeare put it this way, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” When your asked to do something by a person who has authority in the situation you also have two decisions, to obey or disobey. However clearcut this may seem, when in the “moment” these truths are hard ones to swallow. Maybe you have self interests involved, maybe your heart is on the line, and maybe your just feeling rebellious. Either way, one thing can be concluded; the decision not to make a decision does not solve the situation or clear you of responsibility.

The past months of my life, the last week in particular, has been a season of much tribulation in my life. Situations have presented themselves to me and decisions have been made. But, as a Christian, each situation is governed by obedience or disobedience. I don’t think I have obeyed in every situation, which has caused confusion, but I know that I have on the ones that have counted. Some of the hardest decisions have been made through sadness, anguish and healthy sized tears, but I believe that these have been the ones that I have shown the most obedience in. When we truely let our heart and gut get involved in the tough situations it often is a sobering and uncomfortable thing. The sadness we have and the tears we shed are ones that are worth remembering.

Often times I console myself saying that “God has a plan for my life.” But what I really mean is, “God loves me, so he must have a plan full of serendipity and things that are easy to swallow.” The truth though is that Jesus died on the cross and bore my sin and shame for my fullness of joy, not my happiness. This is a truth that was made for me to cling to, especially in the rough times.

So I leave you with these words,

Proverbs 3:5

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

Had any other condition been BETTER for you than the one in which you find yourself, divine Love WOULD have placed you there.

-Charles Spurgeon

Clean the Air – By: mOUNTbRENDON

The air was a clean and clear as I remember for a long time as I sat outside the other day for about an hour. The blanketing sun was warm, evened out by the light, cool breeze. My head was like a submarine, stuffy from my cold, but the stillness and quiet of the Wyoming air made me forget about that. I brought a book out with me, but within minutes, it found itself closed on my lap. I didn’t need a book to fill my mind with distraction. The atmosphere was too inspiring for anything outside of it. I just sat and thought, and soaked it in.

There were several birds that struck my attention after twenty or so minutes in the whiskery tree at the edge of the yard a few yards away. I wouldn’t have noticed those birds, camouflaged in the tree branches if I didn’t allow myself to soak in the surroundings – to be still. I would have missed their short, jerking head motions and their silent communication with one another as they hopped from branch to branch.

There is a certain quality to Wyoming that I have always criticized, always wanted to escape from. But there is a certain quality to Wyoming that I absolutely adore, something I will always miss when I am away from it. I’m not very journeyed, but I can’t imagine very many other places where you can sit in your backyard, in the middle of town, and experience that same stillness and quiet. Even the occasional revving engine of a passing truck contributes to it.

I couldn’t smell anything as I sat out there thanks to my cold, but I didn’t have to to internalize the brown, sagy pungency that I have taken for granted most of my life. That dry, dusty smell will be something I carry with me the rest of my life, reminding me where I come from. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

It struck me the past week or so how critical our society is. We love to criticize at any chance we get. Newspaper columns, blogs (mine included), news stations, sports commentary, etc. is filled with critical opinion. For some reason, that is quickly becoming the only opinion worth publishing. We’re moving to the point where we are on the verge we totally disregard, like me with Wyoming, the good aspects of things.

In an ideal world, I think that politicians would not spend the entirety of their energy criticizing the perceived weaknesses of their opponents, but instead look at the strengths of their opponents. Instead of pulling each other back like children fighting over a loose football, they would push each other forward, challenging each other like Bird and Magic fighting over an NBA championship.

It’s easy to criticize. It’s not easy to criticize correctly and constructively. And it’s not easy to slow down and empathize, or emphasize the good. But I am going to challenge myself to do just that, to not look at what I disagree with so much, but focus on what I agree with and what makes me disagree.

I don’t think this world needs another writer going around criticizing everything he sees without offering any kind of solutions.

There’s no poetry in that.

But there is poetry in the inverse.

Lazy Saturday Poetry features, “Little Hope”– By: Uncle Charlie Westerman

So this week, in honor of the arrival of the 6 pounds baby, 6 ounces man Beck William Westerman, my new little nephew, I read this poem in my poetry classes as we were asked to share our work from the exercise below.  I hope you enjoy it.  I’m happy to report that Beck is already a Functionalist, has big Westerman hands and a big Westerman nose, but big mysterious Van de Pol eyes.    

Choose a topic you are interested in and make a list of at least 10 words/jargon for that topic. You can do research to come up with this list. Then write a poem using all of those words at least once.

Topic: The miracle of giving birth (my sister-in-law is due with my first niece/nephew in less than a week!).

 

10 Words—

1)    Dilate

2)    Caesarean section

3)    Braxton Hicks

4)    Contractions

5)    Circumcised

6)    Epidural

7)    Umbilical chord

8)    Womb

9)    Labor

10) Infant

This poem mixes the metaphors of “the miracle of life” with “the sink-or-swim of college.”  I did a summer session last year, and it turned out to be my toughest stretch of college.  All of my major friends were gone, I was burnt out on school, and sick of living in a filthy five-bedroom house.  I called my mom live from the absolute-low of my college existence, and for the first time I seriously doubted my ability to get through college without having a major life-screw up.  About a week later my brother called me and told me he and my sister-in-law were pregnant.  I’m incredibly close with my brother (and sister-in-law, she’s really like my sister) and this is the first kid of us five siblings.  They had also had trouble getting pregnant for awhile and weren’t sure if they were ever going to make it happen.  So little Beck has been a miracle beyond the miracle of life.  He gave me the hope to push through summer session with my head still above water.  I remember when my Jer and Tara first told me the news, they said the baby was the size of a blueberry.  One of my better moments in the poem was working that little detail into the framework of the piece.

Little Hope

I couldn’t tell you how you do it, but you did.

Swimming to a sinking me, neck deep in college, you came to life.

I was about ready to ‘kick it’ for the last time.

Treating bourbon and cigarettes like they were an epidural for real life.

It got real,

real quick.

My stomach as barren as social-desert life can be.

Called mom. Told her my life’s a mirage & I’m about ready to pop.

“Honey I think you’ve just got a case of Braxton Hicks.”

She’s too sweet to say it, but I knew what she meant—

“Cut the damn Umbilical chord Char. You’re too big for me too pick you up.”

We’re here at This American Life halfway house to learn one thing:

Growing up just isn’t a miracle of life—it’s a pro’s choice.

A decision as painful as a Caesarean section…

“Well of course its gonna leave a scar dumbass, reality’s about to gut you with a knife.”

But then I heard news of you,

And put a camera to my womb

“Would ya look at that…

I think I see an undigested blueberry of hope in there.”

And so you, little hope, you grew.

And I started praying again.

And all the sudden the labor of growing didn’t hurt so bad.

Then I felt you kick.

And so, little hope, I too, started kicking again.

Got my sea legs back.

Went right up to my class, “Alright you bastard! Let’s sink-or-swim!”

As so, little hope, the battle began.

All the college and the pressure and the no getting dates.

But suddenly I didn’t mind getting circumcised on Friday nights,

by sexy plastic surgeons with pretty, dumb eyes.

I didn’t make my pupils dilate if everything wasn’t alright.

Nora you little hope you—or if you’re Beck you’ll be hope too.

You’re already a Westerman with your knack for irony—

That you, an infant, finally gave me the strength to become a man.

And yes, I cannot wait to party with you over Spring Break!

You’re favorite shot is breast milk?  It’s been a long time since I’ve had one of those…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some words about Grace– By: David Landrus

Song: Devotion – Hillsong United

Post:

There has been something following me, hiding behind every corner, just waiting to approach me. This thing has no ill will towards me but Love. It stays at a close distance so it can keep its ever watchful eye upon me, ready to approach and lend me a helping hand. Grace.

Rarely do I find myself truly acknowledging its presence but mistake it for that of a foe. As humans we are constantly weary of turning the corners of life because we expect to get beat up, get hurt, get let down. We think that if we turn that corner and meet what is waiting for us that we are going to face something that will put us into worse shape than we currently are. I encourage you friend, don’t listen to that lie. It may be reproof, or chastisement, or having to let something go, but the Grace that will present itself to you will be more than enough to get you through the pain.

This week has been one of emotional ups and downs, as I am sure it has been for us all. Embarrassment, regret, frustration, guilt, happiness, uncertainty. Admittedly I do not approach those corners in life with the confidence that I will meet grace every time. But, the joke is on me. Grace watches as a shepherd looks after his sheep. He doesn’t always stand within petting distance but He is ALWAYS within a staffs length. Accepting grace has been my big take away this week and I want to share that joy with you.

Just yesterday I was hanging out with a good friend. A man that I would say is close to my heart. In this lifetime we will all have two types of friends: repentant and unrepentant. Both are very similar, prone to the same actions, the same decisions, but the difference in the two is one says “Fool me all you want” while the other says “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” This friend is one of the prior notion. He is a self-made man who builds his life one accomplishment at a time with heart pats to his own back. This is not something that I look down on with distain but rather something that I look at with pity.

During our conversation he brought up the fact that he had read his Bible the previous day and even said a prayer. Oh how I would love to hear that prayer. And on top of it all he’s going to church this weekend.

“Thud Thud, Thud Thud”

The sound of a heart starting to beat again. In this small act my friend has by no means established an eternal justification but he has done something just as powerful: accepted grace. Wether it is unbeknownst to him or not his heart has been softened. And how I plead with my maker that it is the beginning of a vibrant, healthy and eternal heartbeat. How can something that is so hard for me to do, even with the saving knowledge that I have, be the knee jerk reaction of my friend. That is truly Grace at its finest. The small, still whisper that calls us all home.

Encouragement:

Pray today. Pray that the fortresses in your life that holds Grace out would open its gates and embrace Grace as its friend. Pray that same thing for your friends. And heck, maybe cry a little bit for those who you see desiring it the most. Take a note from our Lord

John 11:35 “Jesus wept.”

Weep for your friends.

Introducing a new series: Lazy Saturday Poetry– By: Charles Westerman

When I started this blog, I said I was going to write a little bit of everything I really like to write.  And there is some stuff that I get absolutely jolly writing.  There’s nothing like capping off a sports column with that perfect last sentence, that last neat little stitch to bring it all together.  There’s nothing like learning something big about your faith and then finding a way to put that life-lesson into words. There’s nothing like inventing a new fictional character in your mind that even you yourself find interesting, funny, complex and mysterious.

But to be honest, sometimes my column feels like a chore.  Sometimes I go months without telling people what’s going on in my walk with God.  And most of the time, I want to punch my main fictional character in the face, because he’s just a bad metaphor for my life and he can’t gain his own independence and have his own unique personality (which is what good fictional authors can do).  When it comes to those forms of writing, I often have to dig down deep and pull something out of myself… and though it’s exhausting, when I find the discipline to do it, it’s always very rewarding.

Yes, readers, I’m going to finally admit one of my most awful secrets to you: my favorite writer is myself, and my most loyal reader is me.  I get a tingling feeling when I read my own stuff; I’d imagine it’s sort of what doing crack is like.  Nobody thinks I’m wittier and craftier with words than I do.  Seriously if anyone has a good shrink they should call me, because as you can see, I’ve got some ego-issues going on.  But hey, admitting it is the first step right?  But even more seriously I think all writers have to have this confidence and satisfaction on some level (although my levels are admittedly are a little high).

Personal Hamartia aside (if you don’t know what Hamartia means, Wikipedia that bitch) I’ll get back to the point.  That a lot of the writing I do sometimes feels like pulling teeth.  But even though it feels like I have to dig a lot of this stuff out of me, there’s one form of writing that has always just flowed out of my pen onto the paper, or came in a text message to myself, or that taps itself out on a little document I’ve had open on my computer for four years saved under “Playonward– Cause for Effect” (playing on the phrases ‘pause for effect’ and ’cause and effect,’ you have no idea how much I stroked my ego when I came up with that one).”

What I’m talking about is the writing form of poetry and lyrics.  Since my freshman year of high school it’s something I just have to do or I’ll burst.  Come to think of it, it’s a lot like peeing.  I never really know if I’m writing poetry or song lyrics, but when it’s three in the morning and my mind is roaring like a Harley, I know I won’t be able to get some Z’s until I grab my phone, open a text to myself, and see what knots my head is trying to untie.

What happens as I furiously tap those little button on my En-V3 is a rush I can’t explain.  A kind of trance or orgasm of the brain.  What I’m left with is an explanation to myself I’ve been working out for days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years.  I wrote a poem about my relationship with my late-father on the 20th anniversary of his death that I’d been trying to capture the complexity and feeling of since my freshman year of high school.

If my other writings are what crack is like, poetry is to me, the brief moment of clarity I’d imagine someone gets when they smoke meth.  I still remember the first truly satisfying poem/lyrics I wrote in a text message to my brother one day the summer after my freshman year helping my Dad fix fence on the ranch.  Back in 2005 I’d just got my first iPod and was finding my own unique taste in music– listening to a lot of Dashboard Confessional, Fall Out Boy and The Starting Line.  That angsty teenage music about how girls are the source of all their pain and all their joy.  And though it’s childish, I remember thinking that Chris Carrabarra (the lead singer of Dashboard) was like the Hemingway of angsty teenage music. So naturally I wanted to be like Chris (I don’t so much anymore).

I opened a text to ‘Mitch’ and wrote the following lines, “What goes around comes around and kicks you in the back of the head, I’m chasing your tail, which has me chasing mine instead.”  Yes it was very 15-years-old of me. But hey, that’s what 15 year olds do right?  I had officially started my mission to figure out how to deal with this angst and ultimately conquer it. Once I hit send I didn’t stop the rest of the day.  “Alright bro, here’s another one: ‘Your skating on thin ice and I’m under water with a blow torch to bring you down.'”  It was a bad imitation of Chris Carrabarra, but had Mick not been a good older brother and texted me back telling me they were really good, I’d probably still be looking for some form of my identity to this day.  In fact, I owe most of my confidence as a writer to Mick (and for that bro, I can never repay you).

Eventually I became competent enough with a guitar to start writing songs.  I wrote my first song the second semester of my freshman year at WSU and haven’t gone three months without writing one since.  I’d estimate I’ve partially written about 40 songs and have finished about 25 of them, putting me at about a completed song once every six weeks.  It’s something I have to do to keep my sanity.

With that in mind, I’d like to start consistently sharing with my small handful of faithful readers, where my true heart for writing came from.  I’ve posted a few poems on here before, but I’d like to make it a more regular occurrence. So I’m going to start a series title, “Lazy Saturday Poetry.”  One poem will be posted by yours truly at 12 pm Pacific Time every Saturday.

And when you read them, know that the writer your interacting with felt nothing but bliss and exhilaration as he wrote the words.  That he was refreshed and not drained as he hammered them out.  That even though writing his sports column was like doing layup drills, or writing about his faith felt like practicing free throws, or the short story your reading came from countless hours studying film– the poetry your taking in, was to him like all that hard work paying off as he took the court for the big game.

Below is the first ever edition of the Lazy Saturday Poetry series.  I wrote it in church last week.  It by no means stands out from the dozens of other poems I’ve written on this exact subject; trying to motivate myself to conquer my pride, and remind myself that only Jesus Christ has the power to do that.  But in a way it’s kind of a classic Charlie poem.  A good way to introduce you to my style: pure, flowing vulnerability.

Lately I’ve been trying to write some poems that have a rhyme scheme that’s more complex than my natural Mother Goose style.  I’ve been playing around with structure, punctuation and capitalization more, and learning how to make something flow that doesn’t necessarily rhyme, or at least rhyme all the time (you see, I can’t help myslef).  And though I’ve made strides in this department, I’ve come to the realization that sometimes a poet just needs to be true to himself and his natural style. I hope you enjoy it.

Why The Wine is Red 

See your face, and I shake like a quake.

The center of the flock breaks,

And the lambs disperse in every which way.

But the shepherd speaks a stern command:

We can be united again,

When you come back and feast from the palm of my hand.

Will you wait for me to find you or will you wander in the land?

If you’d ever stop screaming you could hear me calling back.

Calm down and come back.

You get a little closer with the tiniest of steps.

Deliverance will find you when you eat the bread,

And remember why that wine is red.

Go back to all the times where you thought your soul was dead.

And you prayed that sweetest phrase,

“I swear I’ll start living it.”

I don’t want another start, I just need another chance.

One more day to sing a song, strip off my clothes and dance.

Another night to ponder stars and praise how small I am.

I’m just a man without a plan because instead I chase my dreams,

That Christ would take my life until there is no more of me.

So I bid good riddance to that sore in my eye.

That swollen, black, pride.

There’s Nothing like a Long Hard Talk– By: Charles Westerman

One of the things that happens in college (especially in the later years) is you start to realize the difference between friends and acquaintances.  At least I think the people who successfully make it through college do.  You realize that you had a lot more acquaintances in high school than you did actual friends.  You realize you hung out with some people in the dorms, not because you were great friends, but because you both liked to play video games and they were right down the hall.

That’s not to say friendships haven’t been formed this way.  You’ll find out the next year when you move off campus and they move off campus out of walking distance from where you moved…  and either you built a meaningful enough relationship to make the effort to stay in touch, or you didn’t.

If you didn’t, you’ll come to a few realizations on why you don’t hangout anymore: you’ll probably realize that neither of you ever really learned about each other’s families. You didn’t ever talk about a truly difficult time in your life.  And though there’s probably more, the last one I’m adding to this list is the epiphany I’ve had about friendships in the last month— you’ll realize that you hardly ever– if not never– disagreed with each other.

The more I think about it, the more it rings truth.  Good relationships are built on honesty right?  So let’s be honest: we humans disagree on things constantly; most of the time we’re simply too frightened to voice our disagreement, but tell ourselves we’re just being polite.

Take my friend David for example—he is the friend at college I’d say I just flat out have the most in common with: we’re both the youngest children of big families.  We’ve both lost a parent at a young age.  We both like sports and competing.  We both have hauntingly similar taste in music (even the stuff we listened to in high school when we didn’t know each other). We both like good beer and cocktails, economically feasible fashion and have similar approaches to the way we approach dating.  Most importantly we both have the same beliefs about Jesus.

Yet even with all that in common, it seems like David and I have disagreements all, the, time! Sure we both like the same music, but we gripe about which song in particular should be played during a particular mood and moment.

David and I didn’t start seriously hanging out till last semester, yet he’s become one of my closest companions, and will be one my lasting friends from college.  Why? Because we can be honest with each other.  We can disagree.  We know each other’s major character flaws (and everyone, everyone has major character flaws) and we feel comfortable calling those flaws out when they’re out of control.

You see, I think my generation, in the culture we grew up in, thinks that good friends live their own lives and only help each other up when the other is hurting.  I’ve definitely done and thought this.  And though the intentions are good, I don’t think it makes for a truly good friendship.

In college and your mid-twenties especially, it’s hard to flourish if you live separate lives.  You have to do life together.  It’s a scary, but exhilarating truth that in college, your friends really become your family.  It’s a unique opportunity in your life, because it’s the time in between your actual families.

So is it better to have friends/family that will warn you when you’re going down a road that will end up in you hurting yourself and others, or to have a friend that will stand by and watch you go down that road, and then be there to tell you everything will be alright when you get to the end of it and you’re not alright?

Why is marriage the most intimate human relationship we have?  Because it holds you accountable.  You have to work through disagreements.  You constantly have to sacrifice your selfish desires for the greater good of your relationship.  I know this not because I’m married, but because I’ve been around good marriages (my parents and my siblings).

The same goes for a good friendship.  My friend Brendon—who happens to co-administer this website with me—is a lock to be in my wedding party.  The reason I have such confidence in that is because when we have to, we will have the tough conversation.  We’re planning on moving to Portland next year to try and make a living as writers.

But over Christmas break, as we drove back from Denver after our New Years fun, Brendon confronted me on some of my deepest issues—mainly my desire for life to be all fun all the time, even if it came before a time when I needed to be more practical and disciplined.

Neither of us our confrontational people, so I know the last thing he wanted to tell me was that if we were going to go out in the world together next year, I was going to have to make a few major changes in my life.

It was the last thing he wanted to tell me, and it was the last thing I wanted to hear.  But the conversation was necessary for a couple reasons: One, it was what I needed to hear for the benefit of my overall long-term happiness—and though I didn’t want to hear it, I did, because I knew Brendon was coming from a place of love.  Two, if we hadn’t talked through the issue, it would’ve come up in our apartment in Portland and it would’ve been a bigger, stinkier, angrier issue that might have seriously jeopardized our friendship.

So I’d encourage you to take stock of the friendships/acquaintances in your life.  Are there tough conversations you need to have with a person you consider a close friend?  Are there acquaintances you’d like to become friends with and you need to make the effort to have a few vulnerable, breakthrough conversations?  Are their relationships in your life that are meaningless and unproductive?  Do you need to do the unpleasant, but beneficial thing and cut them out of your life?

Don’t make snap-decisions about these questions.  Reflect on them, pray about them, think about what you really want to say before you have the hard talk.  Ask God for courage if you’re into that sort of thing.  We all have beautiful, but incomplete personalities, (only Jesus’ had the whole package) and they all need to be balanced out with honest, sometimes polar-opposite viewpoints.  It’s why God gave us this unexplainable desire to not be alone.  To crave community.  He wants us to do life together.  To be accountable to each other in order to find his perfect balance of truth and grace.

 

Resolutions? By: Lynn Kirkbride

From site creator Charlie Westerman: This is a blog post my mom did on her blog.  I’m gonna start featuring her to guest write for Play Onward when she can.  She’s a good writer when she is communicating about something she is passionate about (and has the time to write about it!).  And I don’t know many people more passionate about their faith than my mother.  She challenges and encourages daily.  Here’s what she has to say about embracing the unexpected…

A New Year is upon us…

But before we we say “out with the old” I want to do what my husband often encourages our family to do and simply reflect. I think I might reflect a bit better on paper than just in my head so here goes.
A theme emerged from the events of this year:
Unexpected Changes
As the kids know I like to have a plan. I always believe that after the plan is executed then there will be a lull in the action and I will actually have a chance to relax and do some those things that I never get to do. Never happens. (You have to just take the time to do those things because peace and relaxation is not the natural order) This year was no different. Maybe actually worse because I did truly believe that is was going to be different.
The Lowe’s outreach training project for people with disabilities that I was directing looked like it was going to continue for another year and in April I believed, that since the foundation had been laid, it was going to be easier. Instead, unexpectedly the money was found to hire my coordinator. Quickly it went from corporate sponsored to corporate owned (hooray) but it left me unemployed unexpectedly. Ok…. maybe some days off and less stress. Not to be… Out of the blue, after a conference call, I got hired as the Director of Affiliate Relations for the USBLN. (I never could have dreamed that one up) A big hooray and an amazing opportunity for this girl from Wyoming to work on the national level helping to build BLN’s on the local level! Score for the Lynnester….God certainly surprised me with that turn of events.
Second unexpected… our BLN Director, and long time friend, Marla Lewis resigned to move to New Mexico and take a position as the Director for the Ruidiso Chamber of Commerce. A great chance for her but sad personally for me to lose my dear friend and the one staff person closest to me on our WBLN team. I found myself doing a lot of training with our new staff director to help ramp him up quickly our huge fall BLN event schedule.
A third unplanned event was Dad’s colon cancer in July. That wasn’t in the 2011 plan either and caught us all off guard. Dad has hardly had a health issue in his entire life so this was BIG. I went to Wisconsin three times in four months. Hard to care from a 1,000 miles away but I did my best and am happy to say that my Dad is on the mend fairly well at 87 and he and Mom are still living in their house at 240 Woodland Drive but the implications for me in terms of time and energy were big this year.
The final unexpected change was Hannah’s marriage to Tom in October. At this time last year she wasn’t even dating Tom so upon reflection this is a stand out. We added a significant member to our family this year…. hooray, again, for that. A wonderful partner for Hannah and friend for all of us in Tom Kraner. Who would have thought up this good gift?!?!
Additionally there were some fun little gifts that God threw my way and some looming on the horizon of 2012. The most prominent one is the eminent birth of our first grandchild! Big woo….I can’t really count that as part of 2011 but it will soon stand up and be counted! Everyone that is a grandparent tries to tell Dan and I how great and is and how it will change our lives like no other…. can’t wait to try it on, try to out, take on this most esteemed role. Thanks, Jeremy and Tara for all we have to look forward to!
God gave Dan and I some new friends this year as well that we didn’t expect. Several came through Dan’s Leadership Wyoming group which will continue through April this year. A couple that we met at a friend’s party on the Fourth of July have turned out to be wonderful additions to our lives! God has some new tricks up His sleeve that completely take my breath away. Last year at Christmas time the kids did a sort of family intervention with us to see if they could encourage us empty nesters in some new directions. We must have appeared alarmingly pathetic. The area of friends was one of those weak places in our lives. Look at us now. Dan has 45 new friends who he is writing about for Leadership Wyoming, we have a supper club, I have a whole bunch of new co-workers and friends on a national level and a couple new really close friends that have been cultivated this year in Gretchen and Dana.
Through Gretchen I learned of Ann Voskamp and her 1,000 Gifts book (check out:http://www.aholyexperience.com) and was challenged to look at all of life through the lens ofeucharisteo (grace, thanksgiving, joy). Not to see things through the lens of ingratitude…. the sin of ingratitude which was the first sin of all humanity back in the garden with the crafty serpent hissing that somehow God wasn’t enough….that what He gives is somehow inadequate and that we should have something more. Shame on me… that is often my lens.
But rather to have a sense of gratitude for all that comes my way…. that God is indeed in it whether it appears at the onset to be bad or good…. to see that the holes that God allows into your life are really just peep holes into the beyond where He dwells. “Open places to the see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. The God whom we endlessly crave.” (Ann Voskamp) So I have been trying to see through this lens just this fall. I take this new lens into the New Year. I had many times of doubt this year. I had many times of pity for myself and others around facing more than difficult losses… times where I resent what is dealt to me, question God’s wisdom… really I know a better way, don’t I? Can 2012 be different? Will I have 1,000 gifts by this time next year? Will it change and shape me?
So what sense do I make of all this unexpected change in my reflection at the close of 2011? Have I seen through the God-holes to more of who He is? Lowe’s unexpected led to the USBLN position, Marla’s leaving led us to some new energy for our WBLN, Hannah’s time at home led to a marriage partner and unexpected time with my parents was good and some things gotten taken care of and things were discussed that needed talking through. Holes for sure but God was on the other side….all along.
I have already began my list of 1,000 gifts and am up to 86. I am practicing so when the big stuff comes I am ready. What will next year look like? Will the unexpected changes that are bound to come have me less rattled? Will the thanksgiving keep me more grounded and able to accept the changes in my life? Will I be calmer and more able to cope trusting better that it is all a gift from God? Will I trust that He really knows what He is doing? Will I know in my knower He does have my best interests at heart. Will I know Him better, live more fully, love others more deeply?
That might be the best unexpected change of all… don’t you think?
I have enlisted others to join me on this journey of eucharisteo. Anyone is welcome…. will you come along too and try to see the “holes” as God holes…. chances to see Him more fully? Chances to see His glory despite what the circumstances appear?
May the New Year be blest for all of us with new eyes… eucharisteo… thanksgiving, seeing His grace…. leading to JOY….Thanks for being there….

Journey with me,
Yours Trewly
P.S. My dear friend Joy has been on a journey of cancer for six long years now. She is lives in eucharisteo…. I see it more and more the longer this has gone on what a witness she is for us in 2012….wow….