To the kid that saved my Christmas, a sincere thank you

I have to admit that the amount of Christmas spirit I have this year has been slim to none.

There is no Christmas tree in my house, and Christmas music does not ring out from my sound system. I pass by my neighbors’ Christmas displays and feel nothing.

I am mentally exhausted. The patented headaches I suffer from have increased in frequency and intensity. I find myself wanting to withdraw from people more now than at any point in my life, and I can’t figure out why.

I am 30 years old and facing the prospect that I may very well not find my future wife in the area in which I currently live. I am bombarded on social media with posts and photos of friends and their significant others enjoying the holiday season. I try to be happy for them, but largely cannot.

Many other circumstances have led to this Christmas season becoming one I would rather pass by. It all culminated yesterday when I had to force myself to participate in our town’s Christmas parade.

It is easy to temporarily hide the exhaustion, put on a smile and go out in public. I did just that, knowing I would go back home right afterward and things would be the way they were before.

Our group in the parade passed hand warmers to people in the crowd. Several received them with enthusiasm, especially young kids who probably thought the bag contained a ridiculously large piece of candy.

I came across a boy who was shivering somewhat in the cool weather. I asked him if he wanted one, and he paused for a second before replying, “That’s okay. Give one to someone who needs it more than I do.”

As the parade went on, my mind kept going back to the boy and his words that shined more brightly than any lights on the parade entries. I returned to my car after the event ended and sat there for a couple minutes to reflect.

“…someone who needs it more than I do.”

Those words made me realize a central truth: even through my own struggles, there are people in this world struggling with entirely more stark situations. Some have lost loved ones, others are seeking employment, and still others are about to miss a rent payment because they had to choose between sustenance and shelter.

I looked back on my own problems and realized they seem pretty trivial after that. I began to pray that the Lord would bring his joy back to me and enable me to share it with others, and immediately after that prayer something stirred within me.

I don’t know who that kid was, and I don’t even much remember what he looked like. Maybe that is the way it should be, because after all, his words indicated that his gesture wasn’t about him in the first place.

That kid very well saved my Christmas and made me focus on what really matters. I am thankful to God for such a simple, perspective-changing encounter that served as a catalyst to truly enjoy this holiday season.

Merry Christmas to everyone out there, and today I can say that and truly mean it.

A letter to Oma, eleven years after an untimely day

Dear Oma,

It’s been eleven years, but it doesn’t seem that long.

I don’t know if you’ve been getting the yearly letters I write to you, but as always I wanted to fill you in on how things have been down here. I’d be remiss if I didn’t continue this tradition.

Thanksgiving nears once again, and it’s probably going to be my favorite holiday this year simply because the year has been so good.

I moved back to Centralia after two years in Missouri. I know, I know — it seems like I was waffling back and forth, but there really wasn’t much green grass in Springfield, and the opportunity arose for me to get my old job back. So here I am, back at the newspaper, at the church I used to attend and living life in Lewis County once again. I’d venture to say it’s even better this time around because I am closer to my old friends than I was before, and I’ve made some tremendous new friends.

I’m still unmarried. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news in that sense, but hey — it’s alright with me for now.

Just the other day, I thought of you as the anniversary of the day you left us approached. I vividly remember the times that you would sing hymns as you were performing some task such as bringing wood in to stoke the fire or checking the oven to see if your apple cake was done. In fact, I can remember the words you would sing as if I just heard them an hour ago: Rescue the perishing, care for the dying — and then you’d put your own spin on it — Jesus is powerful — and you’d pause for a second, as if to increase the impact…

Jesus will save.

To this day, the quiet faith in Christ I saw you live continues to inspire me. Even if you did watch TBN a bit much, you had a heart for the Lord and I appreciated that. I still do.

I also continue to appreciate the legacy you left my family. Mom told me the story again a few months ago of how you would ride your bike to work at Tollycraft in Kelso so you could support four kids. Shortly after she told me that, I rode the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic — 204 miles in two days — and each time I found the going to be difficult or felt my energy falter, I remembered that story and it provided me a psychological boost.

For that, I dedicated my entire STP tour to you. I figured it would be the best way I knew how to honor the sacrifice you made for the family in keeping them together.

When I’m reminded of the time and effort you spent trying to create a better life for Mom and the others, I’m incredibly grateful because I know that resourceful mindset was passed on to her, and she did a tremendous job passing it on to Jason and I.

Speaking of Jason, he is in seminary now. He’s back in Missouri and loves it there. You would be proud of him.

Remember those old apartments in Longview you used to live in just northwest of the Civic Circle, by the college? The college built a new science center and needed a parking lot, so they decided to tear down Maple Terrace and put the lot there. Pity, because I really enjoyed watching LCC baseball games from your living room window when I was a kid.

Other than that, Longview hasn’t changed too terribly much. Lake Sacajawea is still as beautiful as ever, it’s still surreal to see that the Triangle Mall is no more, and the city in general feels smaller each time I visit.

The old church on Walnut Street in Kelso still stands, and you’d be pleased to know the cross on the front of the building still radiates that glorious symbol of hope to the neighborhood I derisively used to call Felony Flats. I haven’t attended a service there in years, but I pass by every now and then and take a look just to remind myself of my roots.

I have to say it again: I can’t believe it’s been eleven years. I turned 30 in July, and if you were able to see me again, you’d see a few flecks of gray in a beard that still can’t grow properly. I still have all my hair on top of my head though, and I haven’t started to lose it as you famously predicted I would.

Anyway, my time here draws short, but rest assured I’ll visit soon. Keep taking care of a few of my friends up there, and tell them I say hello as well.

Missing you as always. Ich liebe dich.

Chris

I bought an iPhone 6 Plus, and here’s my review of it

Confession: I’ve been an Android guy through and through for about the past few years.

I tend to go through phones a lot, and with me having AT&T service without a contract, why not? I had gone through such phones as the HTC One M7 and even the OnePlus One, trying the latest in cutting-edge Android technology when it came out earlier this year.

As awesome and customizable as Android is, there is one thing I felt was lacking in all of the Android phones I owned: the ability for the phones to take truly awesome photos. None of them inspired me to set down my Canon Digital Rebel T2i for multiple hiking trips and opt for something more compact.

Apple announced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in early September, and I watched as millions of people ordered the phones. Reviews praised the camera quality, especially that of the Plus, and when I spoke to two photographers I know who swore by the Plus and said they could ditch their point-and-shoot cameras, the idea of buying one began to turn a wheel in my head.

I knew I’d have to go back to contract service, but I took the plunge and bought the iPhone 6 Plus. Now after a week with it in my possession, I feel I am qualified to write a review of it.

Continue reading

Caught in the middle of an intense cloudburst

It rained a bit yesterday and then IT RAINED, while I was on the road, no less.

I was driving down to Portland after church when I came upon an intense cloudburst that dumped mass amounts of water and hail upon Woodland, Washington at about 1:30 p.m. I don’t think I’ve seen a rainstorm that intense in the Northwest in years — I’ve seen many in the Midwest like this, and the storms were usually severe in nature, but we just don’t get this type of stuff often in the Northwest.

Conditions were awful for driving, so naturally, I took out my iPhone 6 Plus and shot video of the phenomenon.

It was LOUD in real life, especially when the hail began knocking all over the windshield. The hail wasn’t large, but the National Weather Service ended up receiving a storm report that showed .75″ of hail hitting Battle Ground, a town just to the south and east.

Note that the speed limit in the area is 70, and going 35 while this storm hit was the prudent and reasonable thing to do.

All told, I’m really glad no major traffic incidents came out of this, from what I heard.

Epiphany #83

Sometimes God brings people into our lives forever, sometimes it is for a few years, sometimes it’s a season and sometimes it’s a month.

I don’t know why God works the way He does. But I can say this: He knows what we need, and I can say with certainty that He knows how to cross our paths with others so all may mutually benefit.

Thank You, Lord.

The most disturbing thing about Oregon’s loss to Arizona

I wasn't particularly happy to see Arizona Wildcats players celebrating on the Autzen Stadium field.

I wasn’t particularly happy to see Arizona Wildcats players celebrating on the Autzen Stadium field.

I am an Oregon Ducks fan and apologist to the core, and scenes such as the one pictured are seared into my memory because they have happened all too often in recent years. Or have they?

In 2010, Oregon lost the national title game.

In 2011, Oregon lost at home to USC when they had a legitimate shot to become the #2 team in the nation.

In 2012, Oregon lost at home to Stanford when they were the #2 team in the nation and had a clear shot at the national title.

Last year, Oregon lost to both Stanford and Arizona away from home, taking them out of the running for a fifth straight BCS bowl game.

Oregon Ducks fans have endured our fair share of heartbreak over the past few years, being a few plays away from a run at possible multiple national titles. With the exception of the blowout loss to Arizona last year, the Ducks had a good three and a half-year run of playing every team close when it mattered most.

Look at the past five years of Oregon Ducks football: 10-3, 12-1, 12-2, 12-1 and 11-2. Only five conference losses in that entire timespan. That’s a pretty good record.

It’s also grounds for fans being spoiled. We enjoyed the best stretch of success in Ducks history beginning with Mike Bellotti’s last year in 2008, through Chip Kelly’s four years, and to a large degree Mark Helfrich’s first year. The team is 4-1 this year with a narrow loss to Arizona, a game that I attended that was frustrating for me on multiple fronts.

Yes, the team didn’t perform up to expectations, but I’m a bit more upset with the Oregon fan base. I’ve been to a few Ducks games at Autzen and I’ve never seen a worse atmosphere among the fans than I did last Thursday.

The crowd threw out a few boos and I admit I was among them, but that was for several questionable referee calls that, looking back, equally screwed both teams. But to persistently boo a team because they haven’t scored 40 or 50 points in this game? Heaven forbid.

About the only thing I agreed with any fans on was that defensive coordinator Don Pellum’s schemes have not worked for the second week in a row. I am quite scared for the Ducks because the defense has been like a sieve the past two games, nearly giving up yards as if they are donating to The Salvation Army.

Here’s the worst part of Thursday’s game, and it wasn’t on the field. It was a palpable sense of entitlement among the fans, a feeling that we as a collective fan base have become spoiled in seeing consistent blowouts over lesser opponents and don’t know how to stomach adversity. Even worse, there was a pervasive feeling that being a Ducks fan in recent years was okay because it looked cool or is somehow a fashion statement.

Speaking of fashion, the comment an older man at the stadium made that I overheard on my way out after the loss summed it all up: “They weren’t even wearing our school colors.”

I thought about that for awhile and realized the man had a point. The Ducks wore black and pink in honor of breast cancer awareness. That’s noble and all, but to the die-hards and the purists, those that have been Oregon Ducks fans since the days in which three wins were considered a success, uniform schemes like the one foisted upon the public Thursday (it looked atrocious, I thought) seem to be sending a message that the team is more about style and flash than substance.

When it comes to what happens on the field, Oregon ran such an innovative offense over the past few seasons that other teams began to emulate it. Arizona did on Thursday with a wrinkle, and it worked to perfection as they upset the Ducks in Eugene. From my perspective, that win seemed to show me that the innovation has run out on the Ducks’ end — and that’s not a good sign.

If your success is emulated and replicated, you continue to innovate to remain a step ahead, and I don’t know if the Ducks have done that.

Again, that hearkens back to the fact the Ducks have had a tremendous five-year and nearly six-year run. Coach Mark Helfrich is in an unenviable position having to follow Chip Kelly. Heck, I wouldn’t even want to follow Chip into a grocery store because he’d probably be so successful in his shopping endeavors.

Maybe the cold hard truth is the run of success is over. If it is, are the fans going to be okay with it? It would suck, but I know I would be.

In the grander scheme of things, I have begun to get a feeling over the past couple years that people tie their self-worth in way too much with how the sports teams they root for are doing. I love the Ducks and I want them to win a national championship, and maybe the fact the losses are so deflating are a product of a system in which you basically have to run the table to be the champion. Regardless, I’m the same guy whether the Ducks go 1-12 or 12-1 (or in a perfect world, 13-0).

The rest of the Ducks’ season isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, and to that I say hang on because it’s going to cause all the bandwagon fans to fall off. And that’s okay with me.

Go Ducks, even if they don’t win another game this year.

Time-lapse view of the sun setting over Astoria

A friend and I visited Astoria, Oregon yesterday. We took in the sunset from the Astoria Column and saw this. It was awesome and wonderful.

The entire sunset sequence took about a half-hour, but I’ve created a two-minute time-lapse of it. The backing track is John Beltran’s “Inexorably Tied to You,” from his album “Amazing Things” released in 2012 on Delsin Records.

A difficult, yet necessary, changing of seasons in Year 31

The number of leaves falling from the maple tree in my yard will increase exponentially in the coming days and weeks.

The number of leaves falling from the maple tree in my yard will increase exponentially in the coming days and weeks.

Autumn reflects the process of deciduous trees losing their greenery and hunkering down for an upcoming cold season, and my life is going through an autumn of sorts itself.

Autumn is a season of beauty for a short time, as we get to enjoy the colors of leaves turning and the radiance they bring about our neighborhoods. It is a truly gorgeous portion of nature that I enjoy, yet at the same time realize those leaves will be gone as they are dying. Not to mention, the unenviable task remains of cleaning them up so our street doesn’t flood.

The autumn seasons of life — and I believe we have many of them — are similar in function, bringing forth a desire to brace for a season of life that one can feel will be incredibly difficult.

I don’t know how I know that it will be difficult, but I just do. My soul feels it, my body feels it and my mind is making preparations for it.

As such, many changes are taking place.

I’ve been coming to terms with the continued contraction of my social circle. I know a lot of people, but I don’t truly know a lot of people, and that is by choice. That’s not a bad thing, but rather a reflection of what happens in life as some friends who were once close just gravitate further apart simply because of where life is taking them.

It happens to everyone. Friends get married, have children, get involved in things that require intense time commitments (work, anyone?) — and due to all that, end up with a slightly different perspective on life that you once shared before. That slight perspective change brings forth a giant dynamic shift.

As I get older, I seek friendships and relationships that have a meaningful and redeeming value for all parties involved. I am not content to simply have acquaintances that I spend small amounts of time with, but instead I want to be able to benefit them in some way, with a home I receive a blessing in return.

As such, the people I meet and connect with instantly and consistently are much more treasured to me than they would have been in years past. I hold my smaller group of friends in a higher regard than I would have held a large group of friends in my early 20’s, if that makes any remote amount of sense.

Part of this stems from a new facet of life, and that has happened since I learned to live with myself over the past year. I’ve been able to increasingly be okay with not being noticed. Gone are the days of seeking adulation from many, and in their place has swept in an era of being just fine with

This autumn season of my life has me finding myself more content in silence. I’m becoming increasingly okay with grabbing a book, sitting down to read in front of an open window while rain falls down. There’s something cathartic about it.

Speaking of catharsis, I’ve needed a sort of emotional release. I have lately been extending myself too much in activities, work and more — and I’m finding it is perfectly fine to say no to some people who ask me to partake in commitments that would ultimately cause me unneeded amounts of stress, although the tasks I would do could be beneficial to many people.

Being in my 30’s has placed me in an interesting spot. The 30’s are considered by many to be the “prime time” of one’s life, but at the same time you’re expected to make more adult decisions than you ever have. It’s a time that so far has forced me to take a quiet personal inventory and be okay with where life is taking me.

One thing is for sure: I’m not going to enjoy winter, but then again, winter passes and then spring will come afterward. I just hope this winter will be shorter than most.

Travelogue: Coldwater Peak — hey, who’s that mystery guest?

For the second week in a row, I hiked to Coldwater Peak in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument — and for the second time in as many weeks, I did not go alone.

Hiking in the Mount St. Helens area is an awesome experience, which is the reason I’ve done it nine times since April. But when you bring someone with you and the hike involves some great conversation and just time to get to know them, it cranks to 11.

The circumstances were pretty cool: a friend of mine I worked with in Springfield, Missouri came to visit her friend, also from Missouri, who lives not far from me. We all spent some time together on a recent weekend, and I (somewhat nervously) extended an invitation to her friend, who became my friend in relatively short order, to join me for a hike sometime.

It worked, and that hike took place sooner rather than later.

We met up in Kelso on Sunday morning and drove to Johnston Ridge. We promptly hiked six miles to see this:

A familiar view: Mount St. Helens from the Coldwater Peak area.

A familiar view: Mount St. Helens from the Coldwater Peak area.

Over those six miles I came to learn a lot, and I mean a lot, about a fellow believer in Christ. As wonderful as the views were, the conversation was better.

Faith as a basis of an instant common ground brought about some great talks. And as exhausted and short of breath I was, it wasn’t difficult to keep up those conversations.

We stopped for lunch on Coldwater Peak, with lunch being a very gracious term for a granola bar and a Gu energy shot, and we marveled at the scenery.

The Missouri native takes in the views from one of the Northwest's most unique landscapes.

The Missouri native takes in the views from one of the Northwest’s most unique landscapes.

She got out her camera and started snapping, so I figured I’d join in.

My friend Ashley taking a photo of Mount St. Helens from the top of Coldwater Peak.

My friend Ashley taking a photo of Mount St. Helens from the top of Coldwater Peak.

We spent about 30 minutes at the top of the peak, a great idea given the fact we had gained nearly 2,500 feet in elevation. We didn’t sit for long, though — we took the opportunity to scurry around the top of the peak and take in the sights around us.

A wayfinding marker lets you know you're pretty high above the Toutle River Valley.

A wayfinding marker lets you know you’re pretty high above the Toutle River Valley.

The lunchtime view, with a friendly stick pointing the way to Mount Adams.

The lunchtime view, with a friendly stick pointing the way to Mount Adams.

If the way up was a time for some serious conversation, the way back was time to make the communication turn into a festival of laughter. From stories of foibles at church camp to failed sports exploits and more, the time and mileage seemed to pass effortlessly as we laughed, joked and semi-cried our way down the trail.

Never mind the fact there were some steep drop-offs on the trail — I generally don’t recommend doubling over in laughter in precarious places, but what can you do?

The last little bits of sunlight were upon us in the 6 o’clock hour and we were out of water, but it didn’t stop us from continuing to walk along, all the while laughing and stopping to snap some more photos of the mountain’s imposing presence.

Mount St. Helens looms as always.

Mount St. Helens looms as always.

By the time we reached one of the most dangerous points on the trail two miles from Johnston Ridge, the conversation ensured that I wasn’t paying attention to the danger just a couple feet to my left. Funny how my trepidation of that trail changed over just a few hikes.

She's not very scared of the drop-off on one of the most dangerous areas of the trail. In fact, she embraces it.

She’s not very scared of the drop-off. In fact, she embraces it.

The second-best portion of the hike came about a mile from the end of the trail, when the sun dipped below the horizon and began to cast a beautiful purple hue on the volcano, bringing it to life in a whole new light.

The sunset casts the volcano in a different view.

The sunset casts the volcano in a different view.

As for the sunset itself, whoa.

The Sunday sun dips below the clouds, waving the day goodbye in the distance.

The Sunday sun dips below the clouds, waving the day goodbye in the distance.

Most of my recent posts have been about Mount St. Helens and my rediscovery of an area that has inspired me throughout my life. The photos of the area show my absolute love for one of the Northwest’s most unique landscapes that has been a favorite of mine.

But there is something absolutely captivating about being able to experience that with someone who found it equally inspirational, yet in their own way. Being able to enjoy a love of the mountain is great, but being able to do that while forging a friendship over the entirety of a late summer day made yesterday the best hike of 2014.