Living a Better Story

Every day is its own story; with the rising of the sun comes conflict, twists, turns, and, if we’re paying attention, character development. The ultimate author of each day is God, but within our individual spheres, we are the ones at the keyboard. It is our will that shapes our days, filling them with something meaningful and interesting or with whatever happens to happen to us.

In college, one of my least favorite writing exercises was writing about whatever happened to be closest to me. This was assigned by one of my professors as a week-long project in a writing for publication class; the theory being writers should be able to take the boring and infuse it with meaning. Now that I’m almost 40, I can understand the exercise and even practice it on a regular basis (as anyone who’s read my blogs can attest). But in college, all the exercise produced were pained descriptions of Coke cans, beer bottles, empty Chinese cartons and the ennui of people who weren’t old enough to navel gaze but didn’t let lack of experience get in their way.

Sadly, the stories many people tell with their lives are similar to those college writing exercises. There’s a lot of detail, a lot of observation, but very little in the way of meaning. So many people just drift from day to day.


I walk with my kids to the bus stop almost every morning. We talk about a lot of things, mostly stuff that I consider inane but means everything to them in the moment. Whether it’s the recreational habits of squirrels, the strangely friendly cat that roams around our house, or the odd pink thing with veins lying in the middle of the road, my kids are intentional about asking questions that help them understand the world they inhabit.

As an adult, I occasionally (okay, frequently) find this incessant questioning of the world to be uncomfortable. Not because I don’t want my kids asking questions, but rather because I don’t want them asking questions of me at 7:15 in the morning before the coffee kicks in.

But in my more lucid moments (or when I’ve gotten enough coffee) I appreciate and marvel at their curiosity. In those times, I enjoy hearing how their brains work, enjoy hearing their made up hypotheses and fairy tales, enjoy the fact that they choose not to live in a world of drudgery but rather a world of magic and wonder. My morning is made better by the visits of their fairies and robots and heroes and horses, but it only lasts until they get on the bus.

Then, all too often, my world turns back into mindless detail: bills, work, chores, worries. The magic disappears with my children.

It’s my own fault, naturally, because I too often choose to see the world as drudgery. I’m just as capable as my children of seeing magic in the world but I don’t give myself permission to do so. I resign myself to living a boring story instead of a better story, because that’s the grown up thing to do. Grown up people don’t daydream, don’t have imaginary conversations in their heads, don’t invent different worlds where things are not as they seem.

But we do. Ashley Madison. Fantasty Football. Facebook. TMZ.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it’s not that we shouldn’t have stories; it’s that we settle for crappy ones.


I read a quote this morning that struck me, and I want to share it as a way of encouraging you to live a better story, to choose something beyond the dull sheen of a standard life.

“The story of our past cannot be rewritten.”

That’s from J. Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership. And while Sanders’ context was different than my own application, the idea remains true–we cannot rewrite our stories. We may go back into our yesterdays and try to infuse them with meaning posthumously, but we cannot change the events, cannot change the outcomes, cannot change the words on the eternal page (depending on your view of time travel, that is).

Instead, we have only one option if we want better stories. We must live them today. We must live our lives with eyes open, ears attuned, hearts prepared for the magic that comes even from something as simple as a trip to the bus stop in the morning. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s to keep writing, to stay at the keyboard with discipline and persistence. Not everything will be gold, mind you, but if you don’t write junk you’ll never get to something worthwhile. Inaction doesn’t prevent bad work; it prevents good work from developing.

So today, make a choice to do things differently. To have a better attitude. To see a different perspective. To imagine another outcome. The power is in your hands to make magic happen anywhere.

Live a better story.

It’s possible, today.

Help Me Find My Daughter a Comic Book to Love

This morning, Ella stood over my shoulder as I scrolled through a typical post I like to read: 10 Awkwardly Similar Marvel/DC Characters. As I scrolled through the slides, she kept asking me about various characters. A snippet of our conversation:

E: “Wait. Who’s the green guy with Hawkeye?”

Me: “That’s Green Arrow.”

E: “Who’s the red bendy man next to the blue bendy man?”

Me: “The red one is Elastic Man and the blue is Mr. Fantastic.”

E: “And they’re just stretchy?”

Me: “Among other things. But essentially, yes.”

E: “Why does Thanos have jewelry but the other two [Darkseid and Apocalypse] don’t?”

Me: “Because Thanos is the Mad Titan. He’s obsessed with jewelry that can kill.”

E: “Hold on–who are those two guys???”

Me: “Aquaman and Namor.”

E: “How are they different?”

Me: “They’re not.”

And on it went. When I reached the end of the slide show, Ella sighed and looked at me for a minute. She sat in my lap and put her arms around her neck, which is her sign that she wants to ask me about something she wants but she’s uncertain how I’ll answer.

“Daddy?” she asked.

“Yes, Ella?”

“If they ever make Guardians of the Galaxy into a comic, could I read it, or would it have bad words in it too?”

I explained that Guardians was already a comic, and that yes, the bad words were still in there too. She pouted for a moment, then looked at me.

“Can I read Batman comics?”

I explained that Batman was a bit too grown up for her, and when she pressed me as to how, I tried explaining that comics have come a long way. That they tell grown up and mature stories now, stories that often involve violence and crime and the ugly side of life, and she’s not quite ready to indulge in that type of material.

“Daddy,” she said, “I thought comics were for kids.”

I explained that, yes, once upon a time comics were for kids, and there are still outstanding titles for children her age to read. I mentioned Galaxy Man [written by my friend, Ashton Adams] and Hero Cats, both produced locally by Kyle Puttkammer.

She sighed. “But why aren’t the superheroes written for kids?”

I paused. She had me there. My daughter has grown up with me being excited over Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, and The Avengers. She was so excited when I announced that was working as an extra on Ant-Man. We’ve watched the kids shows based around all of those characters, and she loves getting lost in the stories, loves watching the characters interact and grow and learn. And whenever she asks how I know so much about all of them, I always tell her it’s because I read comics when I was a kid.

So now she wants to read comics as a kid.

And as her father, I’m struggling to say yes. Not because I don’t love comics, but because I simply don’t know if any of the titles I grew up loving as a kid would be kid-friendly in this day and age.

[And before you start, I’m well aware most of those titles weren’t “kid-friendly” when I was a kid. But you have to admit, we’ve made a BIG leap forward in themes and content since the 80s and 90s.]

It’s been a dog’s age since I was in a comic store. So, like all modern-day parents do, I’m turning to the Internet for help.

Are there any current titles featuring the mainstream superheroes that are safe for kids to read?

I want to hand my daughter–and my son–a comic book and introduce them to the joyous marriage that is word and panel combined. I want to see them get lost in the imaginative worlds that so shaped me. But I’m not ready for them to read about the Joker wearing his own severed face, or Tony Stark going back on the booze and becoming a mean S.O.B.

So help me out, Internet. Help me find a comic book for my daughter to love.

Into the Deep End

ImageOn Monday we went swimming at my sister-in-law’s pool. It has a diving board and a ten foot deep end, so Ella was all pumped about being able to dive and jump into the pool. But once she went off the diving board, Jonathan wanted to go too. He stepped up on the board and got ready to go, but the lifeguard blew his whistle and stopped him.

“You can’t go off the diving board with a life vest on. You have to be able to swim,” he said.

Rachel talked with him and let him know that Jon could kind of tread water. The lifeguard said that as long as Rachel were in the deep end, holding onto the wall, Jon could jump off and she could then swim out and get him. That seemed fine, so Jon took off his life vest, Rachel slipped into the water, and my son stepped up onto the diving board.

And he jumped.

He made a satisfying splash, and as soon as his head came back above water, he smiled. But the panic took over because he realized he didn’t really know what he was doing. He started paddling, and suddenly, for a split second, he disappeared under the water…

…until Rachel brought him back up. She had him. He was safe. Together they swam to the pool wall and climbed out. Jon had triumphed. Everyone clapped. It was cool.

But then Jon spent the rest of the day in the kiddie pool. He was too scared to even go in the shallow end of the big pool. In fact, he actually spent most of the day huddled in my lap, sipping his juice, too scared to get near the water. The episode with the diving board just chilled him on having any more pool fun.

This morning, I know how he feels. I tried to make the move to the big time as a writer. I ordered new business cards with the blog logo. Easy. Then, I upgraded my WordPress to a premium account.

Not so easy.

Well, the process was easy. Everything went smooth as silk, got the domain that I wanted, got the site linked to it. And then I went to the part I was really excited about – customization. I was ready to make the blog look like I wanted, ready to bring my vision to life.

But the tools were limited. I don’t know what I was expecting, but essentially I paid $100 for a domain and the options to change a limited number of fonts and colors. Which, by any standard, is a steep price to pay. I immediately regretted it.

WordPress has a great refund policy, so I was able to cancel my purchase. I expect to get a full refund in a couple of days. But that still left me without my goal – a completely personalized website, with my own domain.

So I did some more research and learned that I could get everything I wanted through for around $70. Being cheap, I signed up.

I’m excited. I can download the package and transfer my blog completely over to my new website. I can have personalized email at my own domain. I can open up a store and sell ebooks or t-shirts or coffee mugs if I want.

But the domain is in limbo because I made that stupid mistake with WordPress.

And immediately, I felt my stomach knot up. I felt like I wanted to vomit. Like Jonathan off the diving board, I suddenly seized with fear that I’m an idiot, I can’t do this, that I’m going to make more and more mistakes until I eventually screw my life up so bad I can never recover.

The reality is, I might have to change the domain name to something ending in .net or .org. Big deal. There’s worse mistakes.

But for me, it’s part of the process of breaking free: I’m learning that I can make mistakes – even big ones – and my life doesn’t end. Before, I felt free to make small mistakes, but never big ones. Never. It was why I never risked anything; when you risk, you open up the door for big mistakes, and big mistakes can set you back.

But they can also set you free.

I’m hoping that the domain issue is resolved in a day or so, and I can begin building my website and get it transferred over by the weekend. The neat thing is I can import everything from this blog to the new site, no content lost. The even neater thing is I have the opportunity to add personal skills that can make me more attractive as a freelancer as well.

Today was a huge step into the deep end. For a minute, I thought I was going to drown. But I know now that I can swim.

That’s a victory.

Vacation Bible Old School

ImageLast night I came pretty dang close to time traveling. All that was missing was either the Doctor and the TARDIS, or Doc Brown and his DeLorean. It was so surreal, I had to write about it.

See, I took my kids to Vacation Bible School at my grandmother’s church, Rosebud Baptist, over on Knight Circle. It’s a great church of a couple hundred people, led by their inexhaustible pastor, Dr. Lloyd Stancil. My grandmother has called it home for the last twelve years, and while we’ve visited with her from time to time, last night was the first occasion my kids have had to really get involved. This week, Rosebud is hosting Kingdom Chronicles VBS nightly from 6:30-9:00, all visitors welcome. And if last night is any indication, it’s going to be awesome.

My kids loved it. The theme is knights and dragons, and the message is being able to stand strong against the evil things in the world. One of the men in the church built a styrofoam castle slap in the middle of the church’s Fellowship Hall, an elaborate piece of construction that not only has detailed brick walls and parapets, but an inner court big enough for fifty kids to sit down and learn a lesson. There are other great details all over the place, too, including a woman dressed in full Medieval period costume.

But what my kids came home talking about was the fact that the games were led by Pastor Lloyd, and included throwing water balloons at him. That was all they wanted to talk about: the pastor was willing to get messy like the rest of the kids.

What I came away with was a strong sense of nostalgia, of going back to my own childhood, when I attended church in a little red-brick building, and laughed my way through VBS on lovely summer nights. Listening to my kids giggle and scream with delight, I could taste the Kool-Aid from my long ago years; hear the soft voice of Miss Essie as she delivered her Chalk Talk bible stories; feel the stickiness of the glue as we tried to get our popsicle stick birdhouses put together.

Last night I sat on the front porch of Rosebud Baptist Church and felt like the veil between this world and the next had dropped. Suddenly, I was surrounded by ghosts who had made my childhood special; I was immersed in memories that made me glad my children were getting just a taste of what I knew.

See, my kids have never known a small church. Ella’s only seven, Jon’s four, and they’ve only ever gone to church with over 400 people. The VBS’s they’ve been too usually run around 200 kids, with 70-plus workers. And while they’ve always loved VBS, they’ve never had the kind of intimacy they experienced last night. As Ella said, “I liked the fact that the groups were small. It made it fun.”

There’s something about moments like last night that defy description. The weather was perfect, the kids were laughing, the adults were happy and relaxed. My grandmother was all smiles because her great-grandkids were running around her church, loving every minute, and for just a moment she got to go back in time a little bit too.

The only thing missing was Pop, my grandfather, who passed away in 2011 after a long illness. He loved Rosebud Church, and they loved him. Several people referenced him last night when they spoke to me, telling me just how beloved he was among those folks, how much he would’ve loved watching the kids and VBS. It was a bittersweet note, but one full of truth. Pop would’ve loved every minute, maybe even joined Pastor Lloyd in some water balloon mischief.

But later, as I sat on the porch listening, remembering, feeling transported to another place, I felt something else. That Pop was with me, near me, watching and laughing with the rest of the kids. I felt it so strongly, I almost reached out for his hand. It wasn’t there, of course, but such was the power of last night, when the past and present collided in a way that made connection between the two palpable.

It was a magical evening.

Hopefully, I can recapture it tonight. Ella and Jon have already gotten dressed for VBS and have been asking me when it’ll be time to go. I know MawMaw is looking forward to it as well. Heck, I’m looking forward to a little Vacation Bible Old School myself.

If you’ve got nothing going on, why don’t you join us?

Monster Fighters

ImageSo I’m sitting here this morning, listening to Jon and Ella play. Over and over Ella keeps emphasizing to Jon that the figures they are playing with are “monster fighters – they fight monsters so normal people don’t have to.” Anytime that declaration is made, it is quickly followed by a series of “Hi-yah! Bam! Smack! P-sht! Wee-boom!” sounds that illustrate just how thoroughly the monster fighters are kicking monster butt.

And I’m thinking: “I wish I had a monster fighter.”

I mean seriously – who wouldn’t want to have their own private monster fighter. Especially for the monsters that most of us face: doubt, depression, fear, uncertainty, and other creatures from the adult nightmare lagoon. How many of us wouldn’t love to call on someone else to handle the finances when they get tight, or the office when it gets too stressful? Or someone who could appear and deal with the baggage of our past in fell swoop? That would be awesome.

And even as I write this, Jon calls his monster fighter “Daddy” and Ella calls hers “Mommy.” There’s another monster fighter named “David” too, but I’m kind of hung up on Mommy and Daddy being the leads.

Because there are days when I don’t feel like fighting anyone’s monsters. There are days when I wonder if I have requisite power to fight my own. And yet that’s part of how my children see me: as their protector. Now, they have no delusions that I’m some sort of super dad (Jon asked me the other day if I could lift a weight. A weight. Sad.), but they do know that daddy’s the one to run to when you don’t understand something.

Ella does this all the time; if she can’t wrap her mind around an injustice in the world, or a question about theology or God, she comes to me and we begin one of our hourly games of “The Third Degree” – where she mercilessly hammers away at me with questions until I either answer her to her satisfaction or I finally go insane and scream, “I don’t know! I just don’t know!” To me, it can seem like an annoyance (and really, timing is generally the issue), but for her it’s a form of monster fighting: the world seems big and mean and scary, and she wants to know that there is a way to make sense of it all, find peace in the midst of the scariness.

So I help her fight her monsters.

As a father, that’s a pretty cool thing to realize. I’m not big and brawny and “manly-man” so the notion that my daughter still finds value in me – in a big old nerdy nerd – is even better than a Father’s Day card. In fact, instead of cards yesterday, I got a day full of hugs, thank yous, and “You’re the best dad, ever!”s. I also got approximately 100,000,000 questions between Ella and Jon, but those just laid the groundwork for the hugs, thank yous, and best-dad-evers.

It was a glorious day.

Who are the monster fighters in your life? To whom do you turn when the situation gets scary and you need consolation? We may not have our own private Indiana Jones or Superman at the ready to battle the evil we encounter, but we probably have more resources than we know.

So who’s helping you fight today?