A Toast to the New Year

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Another year has come, another has gone.  New Year’s Eve is always such a wonderful time of reflection and celebration, and this year was no exception.  Some friends of mine hosted a party this year and they asked me to prepare and deliver a speech, which I did.  For your reading pleasure I post it here now.  Most of the party-goers were fellow USC Trojans recently graduated, like myself, thus the references to that storied university.  In any case, I hope you enjoy.

 

~New Years Eve, 2013~

This was a year of firsts, a year of seconds, and for the particularly gluttonous, it was a year of thirds.  Many of you graduated from college for the first time.  Many of you graduated from college for the second time.  The particularly gluttonous did not graduate from college at all, but rather helped themselves to thirds at thanksgiving dinner. Monty Kiffin was fired this year.  Then Lane Kiffin was fired.  All signs point to a T-5 Sarknado heading for Los Angeles next year and the USC Trojans who are so near and dear to all of our hearts, are poised for a year of greatness.

We have been a nation at war, both abroad and at home over domestic policies.  We have been a nation at peace, trying to build a better life and learn to live as the adults that we have so recently become.  Some of you were married for the first time this year.  For those of you who were married for the second and third times this year: shame on you.  You’re only, what- 22? 23 maybe?  But in all seriousness, the marriages that we have seen thus far this year, our friends J and S, B and A, and soon, K and C, we know that with God’s help they’ll go the distance.  That distance is no small one.  Psychology and our own life experience tell us that as we get older our perception of time speeds up, because we base our idea of time on past experience.  We have more of it now.  The days are just as long, but the years begin to feel shorter.  Yesterday was 2009.  Tomorrow is 2020.

Drones seem to have been on the scene in 2013.  The military uses them, certainly, but also Amazon has now thrown their hat into the drone ring.  By the end of 2015 this speech will likely be given by a speech drone, which is progress for certain, but also very boring.  The mechanical orators of fiction always seem to drone on.

It is an interesting thing, this night of reflection.  Man has always reached for the future just as he has always reached for the stars.  The only difference, then, is that not everyone travels among the stars, but all men reach the future, one day, one second, and one breath at a time. Suddenly another wisp of what was once the present has passed, is past, and at last we are here and now, but that sentence was only accurate a few moments ago.  We cannot help but speculate here on the eve of 2014 what the future will be like.  What will we be like?  We are certain to make resolutions and changes, may they be for the best and may we keep them.  A certain dejected sense of inevitable failure surrounds New Year’s resolutions, but it does not need to be so, nor should it.  With a long and healthy look at our lives on this night of reflection, we are apt to find some new weakness or some new opportunity for growth.  With God as our strength, our hope, and with no small amount of perseverance, the changes can and will be lasting.  Yet even so, I caution you with the warning of Ecclesiastes, where it says that it is better not to vow at all than to vow and not pay.  Therefore, let our no’s be no’s and our yes’ to the affirmative.  Anything else is evil and of this world.  There is grace for stumbling, always, but let us not make a habit of breaking promises, even to ourselves.

2014 feels foreign now, but it will soon feel comfortable.  It will be strange writing a four at the end of the date when we write checks and sign forms, but before long we will bemoan having to shift again, feeling the strangeness of a five.  Time marches on, but we march on with it.  The difficulty is remembering that though we are now young and fancy-free, the time will soon come when the sands in our glass grow few.  None knows when his time may come- a comfort to us, surely, for heaven will show us the meaning of pleasure and rightness.  Yet even so, let us remember that we will not be young forever.  They say that youth is wasted on the young, but we, the young, have the benefit of the old young telling us that the young waste their gift of youth.  So may we be an exception.  My speech, like the year, once just beginning, is now at an end, but I leave you with these words of blessing:

May you work diligently and well and yet rest fully when it is time to rest.

May your relationships grow deeper, abounding both in depth and in joyous levity.

May you find love this year.  It has many forms, yet all are in imitation of the First Love.

May you run and not grow weary, may you walk and not grow faint.

May you trust in the Lord in all that you do, and may the only fear that your heart knows be the fear of God, knowing that neither man nor beast nor sea nor storm nor demons nor circumstances nor death’s sickle itself may harm you.

Finally, I find that I can close in no better fashion than by quoting the immortal words of William Shakespeare himself as they pertain to the blessings, the warnings, and the encouragements that have been given in this speech: “If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

2013 has ended.  Here is to 2014.

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Thankful

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I generally update on Wednesdays, but I thought that today being Thanksgiving warranted its own post.  Thanksgiving is a holiday that I love- a first tier festival in my book.  It’s great to see the family, head back home for a while, and to roast the big bird (not THE big bird.  He’s still on Sesame Street, as far as I know), but it’s a wonderful time when most everyone stops and thinks about all the things they have to be thankful for.

So here’s what comes to my mind:

I’m thankful for my incredible family.  They have always supported me, sharpened me, taught me, listened to me, corrected me, and loved me.  Seeing them later today is going to be a good time, and I’m very thankful that I never have to dread the holidays like a lot of people do.  I’m extremely blessed in that regard.

I’m thankful that I’m able to be doing what I love, and I’m only a year and a half out of college.  Spending that last year and a half writing fiction and getting to hold published copies of books that have my name on them has been pretty special.

I’m thankful for my church here in Los Angeles, Reality LA.  Every Sunday I feel as if I’ve been wrapped in a warm embrace, then had a bucket of cold water dumped on my head, and then wrapped up once again before I’m sent on my way.  I always leave more awake than I had arrived, so to speak, and always feeling more loved.

I’m thankful for a roof over my head and terrific roommates.  I’m thankful that ends always meet.  I’m thankful for music when I’m having a hard day.  I’m thankful for dancing when I need to celebrate.

It’s so terribly easy to focus on what I don’t have, or what I still have to accomplish, but on this day I feel as though I’ve taken in a big breath of fresh air.  Being content is a difficult but beautiful thing, and I think that thankfulness is the road that leads that way.  God has given me so much, and certainly more than I deserve.  So I’m thankful.

Finally, I’m thankful for you, dear reader, as you read this now.  Have a terrific Thanksgiving, and may we all use this opportunity to begin a more grateful lifestyle.  Everything is a gift.  Every day is an opportunity.

Another Day

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Today is my 22nd birthday.  In a sense, it may be the first of the “unimportant birthdays”, but I don’t think so.  I was born 22 years ago today; I was given the magical gift of having a life to live.  I think this is worth just as much celebration, because that’s really the point of birthdays, isn’t it?  A time to celebrate and be thankful for our very breath as it’s placed in our lungs.

There are two prevailing attitudes in our culture about growing up, neither of them particularly healthy in my opinion.  The first, as I heard much of when I graduated from college, is that your life is over when you get out of school.  A lot of people have told me that college is the highlight of life, and once you’re through, the rest of your life is a perfunctory exercise in merely surviving.

Another group of people must be from Egypt, because they’re living in denial.  (Bad joke.)  A lot of people never take up the mantle that they’re supposed to drape over their shoulders as adults.  You’ve heard a lot about “man-children”, I’m sure you even know plenty of them.  These are people who think that life as an adult is simply the life of a child, but without rules and with more disposable income.

I don’t buy either of these philosophies.  I think that there’s a lot of incredible, unique aspects to every stage of life, and if I’m not thankful for my present, I think I’m going to miss it.  Every day that I add to my life, things change a little bit, but that’s a good thing.  Childhood was not the pinnacle of my life.  Neither was college.  Both were great, but I firmly believe that bigger and better things are ahead.  The amount that I’ve learned about life in only the past year has changed my perspective greatly, and I can’t wait to keep growing and learning.

It’s really easy to rest upon our haunches, thinking that the time for working hard is over.  It’s really easy to think that our time of enjoying life is over, descending into cynicism.  I don’t like either of those options.  Today is a reminder that every day is a gift.  I hope to use them well, and I’m certainly going to enjoy them as best as I can.

Forgive me for raising a glass on my own birthday, but I hope that you raise yours with me.  Here’s to change, new adventures, hard work, and bigger and better things.

Do Hard Things

My friends tend to tell me that I’m a pretty confident person- occasionally too much so, even.  Throughout my young life, I’ve often found myself speaking in front of my peers, performing my original work, and jockeying to get onstage whenever there’s opportunity.  I’m a creative who loves to test the waters in all sorts of different mediums, see what I can create, imagine, produce, etc.  Here’s a secret about me:

 

It scares me to death.

 

All of it.  I mean literally to the bone.  Showing my book to people, standing up onstage, trying to convince reviewers and journalists to write about me- it’s terrifying.  I do all of these things and I do them often, but it’s no hyperbole for me to say that they’re scary endeavors.  I feel like every day I walk on a razor’s edge of rejection and acceptance.  Every single time before I perform onstage, every time I have to pitch my book, every time I stand up in front of anybody- terror.

I was struck by a thought the other day as I was working out.  I’m still in decent shape, but back in high school, thanks to some pretty draconian wrestling coaches, I was in very good shape.  As I was exercising, I thought, Man, this used to be easier.  And then I stopped myself.  I thought about it.  And I realized I was wrong.  It was never easier.  It was always a struggle.  I routinely felt sick or tired before and during a workout, but I had to push through anyway.  No excuses, as my wrestling coaches taught me.  I think it’s an easy thing to look at people we admire, skilled professionals, seasoned veterans, etc. and to assume that what they do is no challenge for them.  “That’s so easy for them!” “They can’t miss!” “How do they never get scared?”  I tend to think this way about some of my heroes.  This is a fallacious, though understandable line of reasoning.

Granted, there is a certain amount of skill involved in a lot of things we do, and we can certainly increase our skills.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  In so far as the heart behind a matter goes- the courage to face a daunting task, the tenacity to push through pain, the patience to endure- I think it doesn’t actually get easier.  I think we either grow into a habit of pushing ourselves or being pushed around by ourselves.  We always want to find a magic formula for change, for success, for fill in the blank, but I think there usually isn’t one.  In a lot of areas, I don’t think it ever gets easier.  I think there are just some things that need to be conquered over and over, day by day.

I hope this doesn’t sound discouraging.  In a way, I hope it’s even liberating.  It’s okay that good things are hard- I’m convinced that just about everything worth doing is.  It’s okay to struggle, just don’t give in.  Keep struggling.

The biggest lie we were ever told as kids was that we are all winners.  Anyone with a firm grip on reality will tell you how wrong this is.  Heck- I’m a loser sometimes, as are we all.  Life, for all of its blessings and beauty, is not easy, and if we don’t struggle and overcome, well, we certainly aren’t winners then.  Participation rarely gets a medal worth anything.  I’m scared to death of having my work rejected, disregarded, panned, and by proxy, I’m scared of people rejecting me.  But sitting around full of fear doesn’t accomplish anything.  It tends to be sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy, in my experience.

All of this to say- I’m going to keep doing what’s necessary, because it was never easier in the past.  It probably won’t ever be easier in the future either.  Yet the rewards are good, and the prize is alluring.  Keep running the race, friends.

Auld Lang Syne

2012 is over, the world didn’t end, and here we are.  I find that in my own life, and most likely in just about everyone else’s as well, there is a lack of reflection.  Life certainly is not meant to be lived in the past, but from time to time I think there is occasion to review what has happened, what sorts of decisions have been made, and how it affects where the present stands.  New Years Day is one such occasion, and if you will permit me, in lieu of what I had planned to post this week (a quick short story called Haunted.  I’ll post it soon) I’ll share a few of my New Year’s reflections with you.

2012 was an eventful year, to say the least.  I completed a degree at the University of Southern California, I travelled across Europe and saw incredible things, I ran with the bulls in Pamplona, I wrote a novel, I wrote all sorts of other material, I started serving at my church, and I ran a marathon under trying circumstances.  I went broke twice, a hope I held onto for the last 14 years fell through utterly, and on too many occasions to count I found myself wondering what I should do.  I lost two grandpas and an aunt.  I met some incredible people.  I realized a lot about myself, how the world works, and God.  I’ve seen some friends engaged and others split up.  I’ve picked up a few new skills and realized how many more there are to master.

I could go on, but suffice it to say- I lived this year.  I made good choices and I made mistakes; I was ecstatic and I was crushed.  What occurs to me in looking back at it all, good and bad, is that it was all worth it.  I’ve gotten to do and see a lot of incredible things this year, but even if I set aside all of the great experiences I know that the hard things were worth it too.  The times I’ve been confused, let down, or in error will all add to my experiences and God-willing will they will make me a better human being.  I certainly wish I could have skipped the bad, but that’s not how life works.  At least there are reasons for it all.

Reflecting back causes me to realize several things, but perhaps the most important is this: everything can change in a moment, and beginnings and endings are continuously happening all around. 2012 was a year of foolish end of the world predictions, yet the world went on.  It’s so easy to look around inside a situation and think that nothing will ever change, that we’re trapped, that it’s the end of the world.  This rock will certainly come to its doom one day, but until it does it’s worth it to keep hoping and keep trying.

 

Here’s to 2013- may we live it the best way we know how.