Apple Peels

apple-apples-background-583841Every once in a while I think about death, usually when I am peeling an apple.  It sounds odd I know but let me explain.  There is a scene in Sleepless in Seattle when Tom Hanks’ Character, Sam, is talking with his young son Jonah.  Jonah tells his dad he is starting to forget his mom, who recently passed away.  Sam begins to tell his son things about her, to help him remember.  One of the things he says is, “She could peel an apple in one long, curly strip.”

For some reason, that scene has always stuck with me.   Now, every time I peel an apple, I think about Death. And even more specifically, I think about my own death. I wonder, what my sons will remember about me when I am gone.  I wonder what my wife would tell them to help them remember the little things about me.

Will they remember me as kind, compassionate, loving, affectionate, honest, trustworthy?  Will they think of me and remember my smile?   Will they remember me reading to them at bedtime or chasing them on the playground, teaching them to ride a bike or play guitar? Will they remember Nerf battles, hide-n-seek, and pillow fights?

I worry instead,  they will remember me as distracted, distant or disconnected.  I worry they will remember my face in a cell phone, or more recently, a video game.  I worry they will remember my flaws, my faults, and my failures because there are so many.

I worry that, like Jonah, they will forget me, and that is even worse.

Sometimes I need these little reminders.  I need to peel apples so they remind me to make the most of my time here.  To live so that when I am gone, my family will remember me, remember adventures, smiles, and laughter.  To impress upon them everything I can now, and maybe when I am gone those impressions will last.  Maybe they will laugh while they reminisce about my quirks and idiosyncrasies.  And maybe one day, they will even remember the pensive look on my face as I peel an apple, in one long, curly strip.

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” -Ernest Hemingway




“Failure is always an option.” – Adam Savage, Mythbusters

In sixth grade, I decided I would join the basketball team. I was not particularly coordinated or athletic. My family had recently moved from Tennessee to Kansas and my thick southern accent paired with my less than stylish hand-me-downs made it difficult to fit in. I thought maybe joining the team was the key to making friends and becoming popular.

It was not.

I lasted about three weeks before I gave up and quit. I was so worried that my Dad would be disappointed. I was upset with myself for giving up and failing. It’s one of my earlier memories of complete failure. Here I am closing in on 30 years later and I still think about it sometimes.

I wish that was the only failure that pops into my head frequently. In the 30 years since quitting basketball, I have failed at so many things it’s hard to keep track. If I look back there is a trail of failure behind me. Exams, classes, interviews, jobs, relationships, hobbies, gym memberships, half-written books, and of course this blog. It’s easy to count failures. I can remember them vividly and so much more frequently than my successes.

I dwell on the one time this week I was short with my kids out of frustration. I easily forget all the times this week I was patient with them.

I don’t sit in bed thinking about all the times I absolutely kicked ass and accomplished a lot at work but that stupid mistake I made this week will keep popping into my head for weeks to come.

Maybe you do that too. Maybe you are like me and focus on your failures and obsess over every mistake. The only thing I can tell you is the quote by Adam Savage at the top of this post is true, “Failure is always an option.”

So why does that matter?

I am not going to stop failing and neither are you. It’s part of life. Everyone fails. Everyone, without exception. The TED talk gurus, tech billionaires, superhero actors, politicians, and sports stars all fail every day. Failure is not an excuse to stop trying it’s a reason to keep going. If I look back at the trail of failures behind me it’s a reminder of how many times I picked myself up and kept going.

Maybe I can’t stop fretting over every failure but I can remind myself that failure is a part of life. It took me over two years to post another blog post. Maybe I never finish a book, maybe it takes another two years to post after this one but that doesn’t mean I stop trying. I am the person I am today not simply in spite of my failures but because of them.

Failure is not an excuse to stop trying it’s a reason to keep going.

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Until earlier this year, if you were near downtown Austin, you might happen upon a local oddity.  The Graffiti Park at Castle Hill was one of the most unique sites Austin had to offer.   For nearly eight years graffiti artists from all over would come to imbue the park with their creativity, even if it was only to be covered up by another artist soon.

Vibrant images and swirls covered every available surface of the park, even the trash cans were ornate from graffiti.  Some of the work was intricate, detailed images of faces, animals, monsters, stylized words.  Amazing and detailed portraits that would astound visitors.


Others were crudely constructed attempts that looked more like something I would do if given a can of spray paint and freedom to express myself.  Undisciplined scrawling across every available surface.

But overall there was this sense of awe.  You could visit the park in the morning and by afternoon the artwork could be different. The countless hours, artists and amateurs it took to create the beautiful chaos was inspiring. 

The Graffiti Park reminds me to appreciate the beautiful chaos of life.  Some days are intricate, detailed portraits of life;  a lazy summer day reclining on warm sand as my two young sons’ attempts to bury my legs in the sand are continually thwarted by the tide. A late afternoon car ride, windows down and the smell of honeysuckle on the warm air as it fills the car.  Then there are the days filled with the boys fighting, the dog barking,  and the car breaking down. Life becomes a scrawled four-letter word on a trash can.

If I focus too long on either, I miss the big picture.  The beautiful chaos of life.  And just like at the Graffiti Park, sometimes it’s best to step back and take in the whole picture, to view life like one work of art made up of a billion unique moments.

A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. – Charles Darwin

Trouble Letting Go

Trouble Letting Go

“Wanna walk side by side a while
Just a few blocks up 7th Ave
By the time we hit the park
You’re gonna be too old to wanna hold my hand
It feels so good I’ll have trouble letting go”

Trouble Letting Go, The Avett Brothers                                                              Songwriters: Scott Yancey Avett / Timothy Seth Avett / Robert William Crawford Jr.

I am sitting in a hospital waiting room before dawn listening to the Octonauts theme song blaring from the wall-mounted television. The bright fluorescents are almost profane at such an early hour. I close my eyes hoping when I open them the brightness will subside.  It doesn’t. 

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My youngest son is having surgery. Countless forms and signatures, check-ins and waiting before he’s in a hospital bed, his tiny frame lost in a tangle of monitors and IV.  The nurse gives him some red liquid to drink, a mild sedative to calm him before he leaves.  A few minutes later, he is smiling but his bright eyes have a dull, heavy haze to them.  Finally, the nurse comes and unlocks the wheels to the bed with an authoritative stamp of her foot.  We hold his hands until the last moment, and he is pulled down the hall toward the operating room. With heavy hearts and worried minds, his mom and I both let go. 

That is always the hardest part, the “letting go.”

And lately, it seems like parenting is various stages of letting go.  When he was a baby, we only let go long enough for him to sleep.  Then we were letting go at daycare, at overnight stays at grandparents. But soon it will be letting go of the bike, letting go to elementary school, sleepovers with friends., middle school, high school.  Letting go to drive, work,  date…More and more letting go, and to be honest, I have trouble letting go.

photo of white paper boat on body of water
Photo by Dan Hamill on Pexels.com

In the end,  I realize there is some good in letting go.  I understand life is sometimes like a paper boat on a river, it only moves when we let go.  So even though I have trouble, I will eventually let him go to dream, to hope, to be his own man. I will be letting go so he can make his own path down the river and I will hope he doesn’t let go of the memories, the laughter,  and the lessons as he does.

For now, though, he is still young enough to wanna hold my hand, so I am not letting go just yet.


“The years teach much which the days never know.” –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have always loved learning.  I love finding some new amazing piece of information.  In school, I loved the feeling of accomplishment that came when mastering some new topic or challenge.

Learning doesn’t stop as you become an adult.  It simply changes. As an adult, the lessons I learn are not about Mitochondria, Colonialism or Algebra but most often about myself.  And take it from me, it is not easy to learn about yourself.

It’s not easy because sometimes you don’t like what you learn.  Recently, the years have taught me that I can be selfish, moody, angry, lazy, hurtful, impatient and unwilling to change.  They have taught me that I am not as creative, smart or talented as I sometimes think I am.

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So what do I do with the knowledge I have gained about myself?  Do I accept that the years have made this of me? Or do I take what the years have taught me about myself and use it to make my days better?

I choose the latter.  I choose to acknowledge my faults, failures, and shortcomings over these past three decades and do my damndest to be better today.  Does that mean I won’t act selfishly today?  Of course, I will be selfish, but I will also strive to be generous.   I will still be angry but I will try hard to deal with it in positive ways.

I will work at learning from the years so that my days are better.  So that in decades ahead the years find that I am generous, kind, caring, hard-working, patient and accommodating.  I hope they find that I am a good parent, husband, and person…. in spite of myself.

The Grinch

Grinch_growing_heartMy wife likes to compare me to the Grinch. Not because I hate Christmas, but because, according to her, my heart grew three sizes when my son was born.

I have never been a very affectionate person.  I don’t say I love you enough to the people I care about.  I am not much of a hugger, an arm-around-the-shoulder or cheek-kisser. It’s just not in my nature.  Maybe I just assume everyone around me knows exactly how I feel about them so there is no need to express it physically or vocally.  The word “love” slips out of my mouth less frequently than so many other four-letter words that when it does I almost feel the need to apologize. 

I was worried my son would be like me, a heart noticeably small.  Certainly, there are traits I own that I would gladly see reflected in my son.  My undersized heart is not one of them.   Not only did I never want him to wonder whether or not I loved him, but I also didn’t want his future wife or children feel distant from him.

This past Sunday, my fears were assuaged.

sean-do-782269-unsplash.jpgThe headset crackled with my son’s loud laughter.  He was only a few rooms away but he always insists we use the headsets when we play video games together.  It’s our favorite way to spend lazy, rainy Sundays together.  

“Okay Dad, I am gonna switch teams now so you won’t be able to hear me anymore.  I love you.” With those words, the mic goes quiet for a split second before gunfire erupts in my ear as he begins to mercilessly kick my butt once again.

At that moment though, I was no longer concerned with winning the game.  I was too busy beaming with fatherly pride.  My son, who is often more teenager than first grader, just told me he loved me without any prompting.

It may seem like a small moment, but it was important.  It was confirmation that my efforts to be more vocal about my feelings were working.  It was some sense that, in spite of the million mistakes I make daily as a parent, I was at least getting something right.

I don’t know if my heart grew three sizes when my oldest son was born or not, but I do know, hearing him say “I love you” makes my smile three times wider.

“Love, and you shall be loved. All love is mathematically just, as much as the two sides of an algebraic equation. ” Ralph Waldo Emerson



Daylight Savings


As I wind through the streets of our quiet, suburban neighborhood, the sounds of a video game streamer coming from my oldest son’s phone and Peppa the Pig from my youngest’s, my wife and I are complaining about the upcoming Daylight Savings change.  Mostly I’m whining about the disruption to the boys sleeping schedule, the difficulty in getting them to bed an hour earlier.  Our complaints are interrupted by flashing blue and red lights less than a block from our house.  As we pull closer, we can see the entire block is closed off with yellow police tape.

Just two houses down from ours, a 15-year-old boy was shot in the chest and killed.

It wasn’t long ago he was likely watching streamers on youtube, playing Minecraft, chasing his friends on the playground and doing the things little boys do.  Maybe, like me, his mom told him multiple times to pick up his shoes from the floor, struggled to get him to eat healthy and scolded him for his cluttered bedroom.   She hugged him, teased him, laughed with him and cried with him.  Today she cries beside him.

It is so easy to fall into the routine, to forget how truly special and fragile life is.  To complain about the little things and miss the big picture.  I’ve thought about that boy a lot since then.  I didn’t know him.  I don’t know his family, but still, I imagine him at my son’s age.  Too few years ago he was full of innocence.

So in the coming weeks, I hope my children forgive me if I hold them a bit closer.  If I hug them just a little longer every time I remember the mom just a few houses down who can no longer embrace her son.

This weekend, I lost an hour.  She lost a lifetime.

Visible: A Short Story

Still soaking wet from the shower, James sat at the dining room table. The wooden handle of the large kitchen knife was in his right hand, the blade of the knife over his heart. He took a long drink from a dark bottle on the table, the only alcohol left in the house. After a long deep breath, he eased the knife into his skin, screaming in pain as he traced the memory on his chest with the blade.


Somewhere in human evolution, before recorded history, there was a random mutation. Ever since the random genetic event, around the age of sixteen, memories would begin to appear on human skin like vivid tattoos. It didn’t matter how dark or light the person’s skin, the memories showed as vivid and bright on any skin tone. In fact, by the time a person reached middle age, their skin was mostly a bright tapestry of memories, making it nearly impossible to distinguish what skin color a person was born with.

The images could stain the skin like snapshots, first-person views of a moment frozen in time or they could appear more dreamlike in their representation of the event. No one really knew why they appeared or how your body chose which moments to permanently press onto itself. Maybe it was the memories that carried the most emotional weight or even simpler than that, it was the memories you thought of most frequently. Sometimes they were almost immediate, sometimes it would be days, weeks or even months after the actual event when the memory would appear. That too was a point of much debate.

James was seventeen when his first memory appeared. It was a large one too, extending from his left wrist up to the inside of his elbow. The memory was a swirling dark purple and black night sky speckled with gold stars. The night sky was broken by the outline of his old yellow jeep parked on top of dark green grass. Inside the Jeep, the two occupants were almost glowing as they leaned into each other, only a sliver of space between the driver and the fiery red hair of the passenger. Both were looking up at the stars, a solitary arm pointing above the open top of the jeep towards a gold-tailed shooting star streaking across the blackness.

After the first one appeared others slowly made their way onto James’ body. Just a few weeks after graduation, a small memory appeared on his left leg. It was a sea of black robes against a blue sky dotted with graduation caps. Another, after he turned twenty-one, on his right leg. The same fiery red hair from his first memory, this time standing in the midst of colorful slot machines, hands outstretched in an invitation to grasp them. Even though the memory was a little blurry and completely sideways, it was still one of James’ favorites.

Not all of the memories were pleasant, though. A month after his grandfather died, a memory of him appeared on James’ right calf. The bald, hollow face looked nothing like the boisterous man James had loved. Every time James caught a glimpse of it, he could feel his throat tighten a bit.

peter-bucks-685005-unsplashIt was late August, the year he turned twenty-three when one of his most beautiful memories appeared. The image extended over the upper half of his right rib cage. It was different than all of his other memories. There was no background, no context for the image. It was as if everything else had disappeared from the memory and only the single, solitary figure of a woman remained. Flowing red hair braided on either side into a crown and laced with jasmine framed porcelain skin that nearly matched her white dress, bunched at the bottom into large concentric ovals. Every once in a while, when he saw it in the mirror, he could still smell the jasmine.

James was thirty-one when the memory appeared that led him to the dining room table and the knife. The memory was his largest so far, it started on his left shoulder and spread over most of his chest, covering his heart. It was upside down. Black leather, white skin, and red hair, all covered in dark, thick red blood. A grey seatbelt pressed tightly across a soft yellow shirt. Blue eyes staring lifelessly ahead with too-large pupils. James was in the shower when he first noticed the memory. After three hours lying beneath the cold patter of the shower, he was able to drag himself to the kitchen. He found the knife in the sink, caked with weeks old white frosting.

Still soaking wet from the shower, James sat at the dining room table. The wooden handle of the large kitchen knife was in his right hand, the blade of the knife over his heart. He took a long drink from a dark bottle on the table, the only alcohol left in the house. After a long deep breath, he eased the knife into his skin, screaming in pain as he traced the memory on his chest with the blade.

The blade sliced through his multi-colored skin easily enough. He was only a few inches across the memory when a hand reached from behind him, grabbed the knife from his hand and slammed it onto the table, the white icing now soaked in red blood. He hadn’t heard the footsteps, he hadn’t even heard the door open. Before he could turn, arms wrapped around him and fiery red hair fell over his body, covering the memory on his chest and soaking up blood from his open wound.

stephanie-mccabe-65991-unsplashJames stared at the arms around him. The arms he knew better than his own, arms that reached to him from his favorite memory, arms he hadn’t seen in weeks. He looked at the pale, freckled arms full of vivid memories and noticed something new. On the right arm was a new memory, one he had never seen before. A bright, colorful memory of red and blue balloons tied to their dining room table rising above mounds of brightly wrapped presents. On the table was a white cake with colorful sprinkles and a large red candle in the middle, shaped like the number five. James’ heart nearly stopped when he saw the face staring wide-eyed from behind the cake. Unlike his newest memory, the red hair and yellow shirt bore no blood stains, the blue eyes flickered with life and young rosy cheeks pursed to blow out the number-five-shaped candle.

James didn’t move. He sat taking in deep breaths of her. Even if this moment never showed on his skin, it was a memory he would need. One he would replay in his mind for years to come. A memory that may fade with time but never fully disappear.

Fall Playlist

Fall Playlist

It might be cliche but I love fall. Even in North Texas where autumn feels like a brief layover between summer and winter, I still get excited as everything turns a shade of orange and pumpkin-spiced.

Every fall I create a playlist of songs that remind me of the season in some way. It could be the song reminds me of a specific fall memory or it somehow feels the way I do when the weather turns cooler.

It’s an excuse to dive into my favorite artists as well as experience new ones. I spend countless hours listening for the perfect songs. I could easily have hundreds on the playlist but I force myself to keep it to twelve.

Twelve songs that move me in some way, that reach out to me and remind me of the season change. It’s personal and makes me feel connected to the music. No one else listens to these twelve songs in this particular order. It creates a unique experience.

Do you do the same thing? What songs would be on your list? Here are a few that made my list this year.

River: Leon Bridges

The Night We Met: Lord Huron

Last of My Kind: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Home Again: Michael Kiwanuka

Morning Song: The Avett Brothers

Home: Bruno Major


Hand-me-down (a short story)

shoes-1560610_1920Koda waited anxiously for his name to be called, his feet tucked tightly under his desk.  It was something he did, almost a compulsion. He did it to hide his shoes. They were hand-me-downs, like nearly everything else in his wardrobe, and at least a size too big. They used to be white with a long blue stripe down the side but now were yellow from age and dirt. Even when they were bright-white and new, they were ugly shoes. They were the cheapest, blandest, sneakers you could buy at Walmart. He knew because he was there when his parents bought them for his older brother.  

Koda looked down at his shoes as he repositioned them under his desk. The left shoe had a new lace, white and clean which looked out of place on the worn shoe, especially compared to the right shoe with its old frayed lace. Why his mother hadn’t replaced both laces he could never understand.  He had asked her to, she simply smiled, gave him a curious look and replied very matter-of-factly that he only needed one.

The first day of school was always the hardest for Koda.  Everyone came in their new clothes. Brand name jeans with strategically placed rips, t-shirts with famous logos, and of course, their new shoes.  Koda noticed shoes. All of the unblemished, new shoes shuffling down the halls made his yellowed hand-me-downs all the dirtier in comparison.

The first day also meant ice-breakers, introductions, and stupid little scavenger hunts for things around the classroom like the recycle bin and class rules chart.  He hated the thought of standing up in front of the class, mumbling his name and an interesting fact about himself. At least he had gotten a seat at the back of the class, thanks to a little bit of understanding from his dad.

Koda begged his dad the night before to drop him off extra early.  His argument had been that their car was old, loud and ugly. His dad had laughed and insisted he liked the ugly old car but Koda persisted, and even though his argument hadn’t been eloquent, it had worked.  When they pulled up to the school, Koda thought his dad looked sad. As he reached for the door handle, his dad had put his large hand on Koda’s shoulder and looked him in his eyes.  Koda could tell it was important because his dad wasn’t smiling and his dad was always smiling. Smiling, laughing and telling stupid jokes that made him laugh and smile even more. Koda wouldn’t admit it but he loved his dad’s stupid jokes. But in that moment, his dad looked serious.  He pulled Koda toward him just an inch, still staring directly into his eyes like he was going to tell him a secret. After a moment, his dad took a deep breath and said, “Koda, you matter.  Not the car you drive or the shoes you wear. But you, you matter.”  His dad had poked the middle of his chest with his large index finger as he said the last two words.  

boy child clouds kid

Now, sitting in the back of the class, hiding his shoes and waiting for his name to be called, he remembered his dad’s words, “you matter.”  His chest began to pulse where his Dad’s enormous finger had poked him. He could feel it growing warmer with each pulse until it was radiating from his chest and spreading slowly through his body.  The warmth had reached his knees when his name was called. He passed neat rows of plastic desks and didn’t even notice the shoes beneath them. By the time he stood in front of the class, the warmth had reached the tips of his toes, filling his whole body.

He stood at the front of the class, smiled his dad’s smile and said proudly, “Hi, My name is Koda.”

Wiener Dogs and Traffic Jams

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It’s over 100 degrees outside but feels much hotter sitting in rush hour traffic.  I’m busy rapping along with Macklemore and tapping the steering wheel when I see something in the road ahead that stops me mid-verse.

It’s a dachshund.

A black and tan wiener dog is running down the middle of Highway 75 straight toward me.  He’s wagging his little black tail and smiling, oblivious to the dangers around him.  Cars slow or swerve around the little guy, creating a parting of cars where he rushes down the highway.

As he gets closer I realize not only is there a wiener dog running down the highway, there is a wiener dog owner running down the highway.

Far behind the little dog is a gray-haired maerda-estremera-581452-unsplashn in jeans and boots chasing after him.  The man is already sweating from the heat, swearing and yelling, “Peanut!” over and over.

Peanut ignores him and keeps running.

Other people get out of their cars in attempts to grab Peanut but he is too smart for that.  He simply dodges, then ducks his tiny little body under the nearest car and keeps running.

It takes several minutes of chasing and some helpful commuters but finally sweaty owner and panting wiener dog are reunited.  Peanut is safe.

*   *   *

I’ve been thinking about Peanut ever since, and how much I relate to him.

Too many times I rush headfirst through life, ignoring the calls of my creator as he tries to pull me from the chaos of my world. I feel him at my heels and hear him shouting, “Justin!” and instead of allowing him to reach out and pick me up, I dodge. I run. I fall. I fail.


But God is diligent.  His love never falters or fails.  He never stops chasing me.  He doesn’t tire from calling me, get exasperated with or give me over to my own stupidity.  Even when I run into oncoming traffic, he is close behind calling my name.

But Just like Peanut, I don’t realize how much better life would be if I stopped running.

Hopefully, I learn to stop running before an unwitting commuter, busy rapping along with Macklemore and tapping the steering wheel, runs me over.

Your beauty and love chase after me
  every day of my life.
  – Psalms 23:6