Uncorked: Messages Once in a Bottle


Walking along the beach

Toes massaged by sand

Carefree

Awash in memories

Adrift with glint and grin

Comforted by the waves

Dancing

Wrapped in the wind’s

Gentle arms

.

A bottle floats ashore

Smoothed glass

Translucent teal

Weathered

Well traveled

Released 

From yonder horizon

Surrendered

Set free

.

Going places

To someday connect

Words encapsulated

Bouncing on waves

Suppressed through storms

Soul’s expressions

Half authored

Sealed for safety

Embracing the journey

.

To one day

Be lifted from the sands

Uncorked

Released

Reflected

Reaching

Gracious hands.

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Turn and Face the Strange

The spirit of David Bowie was humming fiercely last Saturday evening as I ambled through the crowds at my high school reunion. The length and breadth of thirty five years evaporated as faces once again became familiar and friendships reconnected. It was a delightful and simultaneously awkward experience, stepping through a crease in time and trying to pick up people’s storylines while having skipped an abundance of their lives’ chapters.
Entering the bustling restaurant / pub / outdoor patio, it had been decades since I had seen virtually any of my former classmates. With the exception of following a few friends’ posts on facebook for the past couple years, I hadn’t laid eyes on these folks since The Love Boat, M*A*S*H, and Fantasy Island were ruling the ratings on network television. 
We had been instructed to look for a set of tables with green and white balloons attached, somewhere near the back of the building. A waitress directed me to a section where she believed several of my classmates had already gathered. As I approached I thought, “good lord, I have no idea who any of those folks are!” But I’m a social butterfly, so I walked in ready to chat it up, even if I would have happened upon a complete group of strangers. 
I was warmly greeted and welcomed, and within moments, familiar faces came into view. Hair styles and wardrobe fashions had changed (thankfully) over the years, but the eyes of my old friends rekindled memories from our past. In many ways, it felt like going home.
Now I’m a praying man, and I had asked a few times in the preceding days to go into the event with a giving spirit. Go to encourage. Go to celebrate. Go to enjoy. I realize this mindset helps me set aside the desire to entertain comparisons. As Teddy Roosevelt said “comparison is the thief of joy” and I’ve found that it is usually accompanied by creeping anxieties. This peace allowed me to genuinely enjoy my reunited classmates, exploring and celebrating their journeys. I was enthralled by how they used their gifts and talents to build beautiful families and fulfilling careers. I was in awe of roads they had travelled; obstacles, discouragement, illnesses and tragedies they had overcome; and challenges they had courageously embarked on. And while I missed being a closer part of their lives over the past few decades, I was grateful for the opportunity to reconnect, and the prospect of perhaps being a closer part of some of their futures.  
So much has changed over the years, and yet foundations were still intact. Introverts were still in many ways thoughtfully quiet, and delightfully engaged. Chatterboxes like myself flitted about, trying to engage in as many conversations as one could pollinate in a short evening. We had each matured through life’s bumps and travails, but emerged stronger and hopefully a bit wiser, refined by the journey. The high school memories of young bodies and vibrant personas had morphed into resilient hearts and toughened characters. 
We had undergone the ch-ch-changes that Bowie crooned about, changed by time, and perhaps able to trace some of its’ meandering, persistent, relentless forward progress. We turned to face the strange, and caught glimpses of ourselves. No longer fakers, but somehow refined, genuine, versions of our celebrated youth.

Damn Near Manute Bol.


With the exception of a maternity ward or most elementary schools, you’re hard pressed to avoid encountering someone who has a meaningful message or memory inscribed in the form of a tattoo. While still being ink-free, I am fascinated by the droves of people in my everyday circles who emblazon inspiration upon their bodies. And since I genuinely love people, I find myself drawn to their stories. I’m curious about their ink inscriptions, and the backstory behind each tattoo. From time to time, I hope to honor those people, and their unique stories, right here.
Damn Near Manute Bol.
-Stories in Ink: 8.5.17
You’ll likely encounter Kacper (pronounced Casper) working at the park district where he oversees the rental of kayaks, canoes, and fishing equipment to be used in the park’s waters. I was taken by his quiet demeanor, yet obvious strength of character. He was articulate, helpful, and obviously has still waters of his own that run deep. On his right bicep he wears the phrase:
damn near Manute Bol
Now I’m pretty sure my friend Kacper was born after Manute retired from basketball in 1995, and it was likely not Bol’s athletic career that inspired the tattoo. Apparently the reference comes from a song by Mick Jenkins, but the phrase points to some of the specific traits that Bol possessed. 
Listed at 7’7″, he was one of the two tallest men to ever play in the National Basketball Association, and was arguably the greatest shot blocker in the history of the league. Despite his imposing size, he was a gentle giant, and made his real impact off the court, as a giant-hearted humanitarian. 
Bol used his celebrity to play hockey, get in the boxing ring, and suit up as a horse jockey, all in an effort to raise funds and awareness to help build schools and promote peace in his native country, the war torn Sudan. He spent all of his wealth and energies to that end, overcoming obstacles and blocking shots to help open doors and opportunities for legions of people that came after him. It is no wonder that the name Manute means “special blessing”.
Bol tended his family’s cattle during his childhood. He often told others that he once killed a lion with a spear after it had attacked his cows. He was an extraordinary individual, of whom friend Charles Barkley once said “If everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it’s a world I’d want to live in.”
damn near Manute Bol
This seems like a genuinely purposeful life to aspire to, and when you meet Kacper, you’ll quickly notice he is a formidable young man. Not because his physique is towering, but instead his spirit is stout, and his dreams are vast. Like Bol, he isn’t afraid of obstacles, but instead welcomes the challenges ahead, as he makes his own indelible impact on the world around him.

Clueless – Lessons from a Hospital Waiting Room


I was in my early 20’s, serving in a ministry position, filled with what I thought were the answers to life. At an age where I thought I had accrued wisdom, and was ready to share my insight and knowledge, dispensing it freely, or forcibly, in an unsolicited manner. Obviously people needed what I had to offer, or so I thought.
I was clueless.
Fortunately I had a friend who mentioned that one of the experiences that most grounded him was spending time in a hospital waiting room. Hesitantly, I carried my sagacious self into a local waiting room and planted myself on the orange, hardened plastic chairs, observing the various interactions around me. 
An older couple, tired with years but patient from experience, comfortably waiting together. A blue collar gentlemen, paint strewn across his work boots, anxiously scrolling through his phone. A young college-aged woman, turning the pages of a magazine but not really reading.
All of them waiting, likely for loved ones on the other side of that door. A door that years before, separated me from my own loved ones, never to return. 
In that moment I realized that I had experience, but no wisdom. I had empathy, but no connection. I had questions without answers. I nervously ambled over the the young woman and asked her what brought her to the hospital on that day.
“My father had a heart attack this morning. They’re not sure if he is going to make it.”
And though I was a complete stranger, I could relate. I sat quietly with her for a while, listening as she told me some of her favorite memories with her dad. Her worried eyes lit up with each story, the little girl with her hero. Her protector. Her dad. She didn’t really need any answers, at least none that I could offer. I got her a coffee, and hopefully gave her some connection, that grounded us both. 

Counter Culture


Books and coffee. Words and aromas. Stimulation of the senses. 
Taking time in the local Barnes and Noble cafe has long been one of my favorite pastimes. I peruse the aisles looking for new titles to consider, new characters to get to know and new worlds to visit. This used to be our Sunday night date night for my youngest daughter and I, and while she has temporarily outgrown this tradition, I keep coming back, because some of my best friends are books.
Yet just a few feet to my right, there is a counter that divides the bookstore from the cafe. And behind that counter, the barista brews order after order. The stories she enjoys come up to the counter, sometimes smiling, sometimes crabby, but always wanting something from her. Always needing. Always asking. Always pouring out their words. The aromas welcome me, but I wonder if they don’t stalk her, relentlessly, in layer after layer of clothing. Books just out of reach. Quiet interrupted every few moments by another person needing another cup or another bite or another shot when all she wants is to get lost in the solitude that rests just beyond the counter.
This is my happy place. My escape. My weekly retreat. 
She just wants to escape. 

Lesson Learned.


Outside of the maternity ward and most elementary schools, you’re hard pressed to avoid encountering someone who has a meaningful message or memory inscribed in the form of a tattoo. While still ink-free, I am fascinated by the droves of people in my everyday circles who emblazon inspiration upon their bodies. And since I genuinely love people, I find myself drawn to their stories. I’m curious about their ink inscriptions, and the backstory behind each tattoo. From time to time, I hope to honor those people, and their unique stories, right here.

Lesson Learned

-Stories in Ink: 6.25.17

This afternoon we ventured through the vast array of food trucks at the festival downtown. The scents wafting about on this glorious summer day were mostly heavenly. Thai food, pizza, pineapples cut in half lengthwise and filled with all types of delectable goodies. Sizzling burgers, fries seasoned spices to delight the olfactory senses, jambalaya, and one of my favorites when I’m getting on my food-feasting-juju, Korean Beef.
The folks who run the “Lunchbox” food truck are masters. I’ve never been disappointed by their food, or their service. They blast good tunes while you have a short wait while behind the scenes they create pure magic to stimulate your taste sensations. 
As I was purchasing the Korean Beef on rice, with a perfectly fried egg resting on top, the smiling chef reached out with my receipt, and I noticed a “Lesson Learned” tattoo. I wondered what had caused him to have this specific phrase adorned along the length of his left arm.
“It was the birth of my daughter. She was the reason for me to take the lessons I learned along the way, and change as a result”. Given the long line behind me, there wasn’t time to delve deeper into his story, but his bright spirit told me all I needed to know. He has been taught some hard lessons by life, and has come out the better, and his daughter is blessed because he was a willing student.
Stories like his make a delicious meal even more memorable.

Barcode.

Outside of the maternity ward and most elementary schools, you’re hard pressed to avoid encountering someone who has a meaningful message or memory inscribed in the form of a tattoo. While still ink-free, I am fascinated by the droves of people in my everyday circles who emblazon inspiration upon their bodies. And since I genuinely love people, I find myself drawn to their stories. I’m curious about their ink inscriptions, and the backstory behind each tattoo. From time to time, I hope to honor those people, and their unique stories, right here.

Barcode 
– Stories in Ink: 6.11.17
As members of a consumer society, we handle products everyday that are scanned and coded by category, size, production date, lot origination, and price. This series of lines and numbers is frequently referred to as a products UPC or bar code. 

Each product has its’ own unique set of thick and thin lines floating above a sequence of symbols and numbers. So while many products seem very similar, their codes identify how individual they are as well.

These codes are also used to take inventory in stores; to track manufacturing and shipping movement; and to tabulate the results of marketing efforts. They detail the life of a product, or in this case, the new life of an individual.
I ran across this smiling barista at a Starbucks near one of my favorite running trails. If you want to find some real interesting ink, hang out at a Starbucks. This particular barista, who I found to be friendly and focused with each of my visits, was wiping down tables when I spotted the unique bar code on his calf.

After inquiring, “Dave” (pseudonym) was happy to share his story. Apparently the code is a celebration of his new life. Fourteen years ago he had been stricken with cancer, (he’s rather young mind you), and he survived a successful bone marrow transplant, giving him a new lease on life.

Undoubtedly this was the most Unparalleled Precious Collection (UPC) of lines and numbers I’ve ever encountered. Kudos Dave. And cheers. My java never tasted better.