Joe’s Cafe — and Here We Go Again

[Part 1 — Word count: 372. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
[Part 2 — Word count: 333. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

1. Joe’s Café

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“We were unbreakable. We were like rock and roll.
—Janelle Monae

Breakfast from Joe’s Café just does something for me. Its tight crew of bright-faced, happy people prepare food like they know how special it is. The place is hard not to like. Light fixtures made out of colanders and cheese graters. Whimsical chalk-drawn menus. There’s love in the details.

The staff seems focused and confident as they move about in a small kitchen space openly visible from the dining area. It’s crowded, but the 7 or 8 of them are comfortable as they graze (but never bump) each other. The chaos is almost choreographed. Continue reading

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Dreams and False Alarms

[Word count: 630. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

Joni Mitchell's Hejira album featuring "Amelia"

“Maybe I’ve never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes.”

A friend once told me, “Mark, you’re emotionally unavailable.” I resented both the remark and its laser accuracy. I would meet a girl who piqued my interest, but it would die out like doused fireworks. I started to believe I was emotionally defective, and incapable of falling in love. It seemed to closely mirror my difficulty walking in faith.

“The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons if it gets through to you.”

And then something awesome happened. A girl flew in from nowhere and descended over me with her soft skin the color of strong coffee. Smiled like she brushed her teeth with sunshine. Moved like a ray of light, electric, blinding, jittery, and larger than life. I couldn’t take her all in, but I didn’t want to miss a thing. I don’t fall in love readily, but this girl got to me faster than I was ready to get got.

“And looking down on everything
I crashed into [her] arms…

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A Prelude to Forgiveness

[Word count: 1839. Approximate read time: 6-7 minutes]

I’ve thought about it often. The scenario loops in mind. It starts a few moments before my heart got broken, but plays out differently this time. Originally, I didn’t know what hit me, but this time I’m ready. My senses are keen. I discern when I’m being patronized, snowed. I know the true words from the constructed pictures. I know the sincere smiles from those stiffly pasted on top to keep me dawdling unawares. This time I’m nimble for the moment when I should parry. This time I’m just out of their weapon’s reach. Prescient of my opponent’s next move, I counterstrike and draw both blood and surprise. I pause and turn up a corner of my mouth taking in the surveyed victory.

Had my reality played this way, I wouldn’t have lost my power. So much might not have fallen out of balance. I would not have become a victim and someone’s casualty. As I step away from my imagination, I notice in running this scenario that my muscles have tensed, shoulders tight having not yet left the fantasy. My brows have furrowed and jaws clenched without prompting. The conflict has become so real during this mental exercise, that if the assailant were to appear before me physically, I could easily burst into a commotion of bared teeth and hurled furniture, expletives zipping through the air like throwing knives. It ain’t all good.

There’s just a moment to break myself out before the scene replays again from the beginning, folding another layer over on an already rugged anger. My conjured emotions have produced an ire that is very present and sizzling hot to the touch. The way I’ve rehearsed this vindication so well for so long, I become more and more confident in my ability to perform it. That scares me. That’s not the performance I wanted to perfect. I was supposed to forgive.

Every Day Can’t Be April Fools’ Day

[Word count: 604. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

They're not gonna laugh at you. What are you so afraid of? No one's out to get you. You're among friends. Why so serious? People are good. People love you. They want to see you succeed. Let your hair down. Have some fun. No one is trying to lure you into a zombie apocalypse.Skeptics, go on high alert. For 24 hours, tricksters will hunt the gullible. Stay in your house all day. Don’t do anything or go anywhere. Trust no text message, tweet, telephone call, e-mail, instant message, news report, police bullhorn, or crowd of hysterical people running toward the nearest mall exit. Don’t believe anything. It’s all a conspiracy to take you down.

That’s me. I am that anxious, ever-suspecting dude for whom every day feels like April Fools’ Day. I have seen my general level of distrust rise like the water level in a Poseidon adventure. It’s hard to take anything at face value now. This is not okay. Have you ever:

  • Asked someone to tell their story and then called their credibility into question to dismiss the validity of their experience?
  • Had someone plead their case although you had already pronounced them guilty in your mind?
  • Gotten a compliment you wanted to hear, but decided the compliment giver wasn’t sincere enough?
  • Been treated nicely by someone, but decided they had an ulterior motive based on their association with someone you perceive as a threat?

If you have, you are as much your own problem as I am. Your inability to trust can block you from receiving wisdom, truth, encouragement, kindness, affection, or all of the above. How broken is your faith if you decide you can never trust anything anyone says? What kind of two-faced unscrupulous people have you known that make you believe this is the way you have to be to survive?

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Lay Your Weapons Down

[Word count: 1605. Approximate read time: 6-8 minutes]

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I’m hearing a familiar voice calmly asking me to “drop my weapons.” I hear you. But I can’t do that yet. I’m sorry. I want to lay them down. They’re heavy and cumbersome. But there’s a conflict. I picked up this weapon after someone I trusted hurt me pretty badly. My guard was down. I didn’t even see it coming. I’m holding this weapon because I have to. Not because I want to. As long as I hold it, they can’t hurt me again. Not like before. And I still haven’t found a safe place to rest yet. Dropping my weapon would be certain death, tantamount to suicide.

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Love at First Sight, but Not Second

[Word count: 408. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

While trolling through a clearance CD rack, I flipped past an album I’d always been interested in. Not so much because of its music reviews, but because the album cover was absolutely beautiful to me. The purpose of good art is to attract attention to good artists, and everything about the packaging just got me excited! Soft, warm fleshy browns contrasted with icy pale turquoise under white minimalist type. I opened up the jewel case to find a classy, translucent frosted disc adorned with a cute, flirty icon to match the front. Flipping through the booklet, there’s only page after page of eye-pleasing photos of the beautiful woman on the cover. I fell in love with that alone.

Biding until the perfect moment to see what the music sounded like, I just popped the disc in today. The first track wasn’t too bad, so I kept listening. The second track was so-so, until the end. I couldn’t identify with the lyrics and then the vamp really started grating on me. The third track was mostly forgettable. The fourth whiny and angry. Midway through, I rolled my eyes and skipped it. The fifth sounded like it was going in a nice direction, but turned out to be just a spoken interlude. The next few tracks used some great samples, but after not too long, it was hard to ignore the singer’s drifting pitch.

By the second half of the album, I went from listening to full songs, to listening to half-songs, to scanning each for a minute. As each song seemed to compound the previous one’s disappointment, my attention span got shorter and shorter. Ultimately, there were a few pleasant surprises, but overall, it really fell flat. It doesn’t even look as good now that I’ve listened to it.

I sat for a moment in silence pondering how such a beautiful cover could be wrapped around such lackluster work. They couldn’t have spent some of that packaging money on improving the actual content? Better producers, writers, or even a talented engineer to AutoTune it all could’ve helped dramatically. Talk about the epitome of anticlimactic.

I couldn’t believe something that looked so good could disappoint so badly. I spent money getting this. I spent time listening to it looking for something of value. It was kind of a waste, except for one thing. In a moment of clarity, I thought: “I really need to stop picking my women this way.”

Cast Away

[Word count: 771. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

Are you a Christian? Do you go to church? If you’re anything like most Christians I know, you probably go to church… a lot. But what if you were like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, stranded on a remote island, far removed from society and its helps? What if your only company was a volleyball named Wilson? Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland in the film "Cast Away" along with his inanimate volleyball friend Wilson. What kind of Christian would you be in that situation?

That’s the situation I’ve placed myself in by abandoning my church membership. For any group of people, there is the temptation to put your best foot forward just in case the focus falls on you. It’s human nature to portray yourself ideally. But apart from having an audience to perform for, I come face to face with what God has to look at every day: the kind of Christian I actually am.

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Deuces

[Word count: 721. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

What would we do without “us”?

In 2003, I found a group of amazing people and together we started a church. These people were especially helpful through my twenties. Peers could commiserate with me about challenges encountered in a life of faith. Middle aged members helped guide us through missteps and unfamiliar territory. Elders with a wealth of life experience sailed out ahead of us all to offer wisdom.

As long as I had them, I felt sure to win! Not only were they great resources, I also came to genuinely love and respect them. When someone becomes that dear to me, I often tell them, “I don’t know what I would have ever done without you.” And then I thought “what if I HAD to do without them?” As strong as we felt together, I always believed we should have a plan… just in case we were ever apart.

I felt I should know how to be a Christian with or without community support, just like you might take a self-defense course in case you’re attacked while alone. I wanted to know I could “survive in the wild” if necessary. Though a fleeting thought, it was my premonition that such a day would come. True enough, it came for me in June 2011 when, after much consideration, I decided to leave my church.

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