it’s not me…

it’s you.

it’s the fact that you will never be pretty enough. even if you are a model. because i will always find someone with a nicer smile or better skin or more defined cheekbones.

or smart enough. there she is with more knowledge, more understanding, more student loans. she can take the conversation to new depths while your feet are still planted on the shore.

and i like the way this other girl tosses her hair and does her makeup and laughs at my jokes. you don’t always laugh at my jokes. by the way, she happens to bake better snicker doodles, too. (the trick is to add more butter.)

i will come across someone who’s more patient, more kind, more understanding. who knows, maybe we would even have better chemistry. and babies.

all these other girls get me. they get me. why can’t you?

because it’s not like i ever get awkward or lose my train of thought or fumble around for clever lines. i never lose my temper or get out of line or think inappropriate things whether you are or aren’t in the room.

i don’t try to mask my insecurities with nice clothes or smart remarks. i never worry about my money or how i’m going to provide for a family or where i’ll end up in three years. i always obey the bible perfectly and follow through on my every word and never talk bad about others.

no, it’s not me, really. i’m perfect. isn’t it obvious?

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Love the Broken Record

Clementine: Joel, I’m not a concept. Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to make them alive, but I’m just a f-cked up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.
Joel: I remember that speech really well.
Clementine: I had you pegged, didn’t I?
Joel: You had the whole human race pegged.
Clementine: Probably.
Joel: I still thought you were going to save me. Even after that.

I write about the ideals of love often in my blog. You read through enough of my entries and perhaps you get to thinking that I believe love is perfect. That love goes without struggle. That love is the answer.

Well, I am here to make some things clear.

I understand that this sort of love is not reality. I realize that for many of us, our idea of love has been soured and tainted from previous experiences. For some of us, it is as much about letting go of our past as it is about looking to lay hold of our future. We cannot imagine what a good love story is because we’ve only experienced tragedy in our vain attempts.

What pierces us so much, a movie like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–in particular, this exchange between Joel and Clementine–is that it captures the grounding reality of love. It is the reminder that romance is every bit as bitter as it is sweet. It knows by touch that all roses come with sharp, painful thorns. It warns us about being cautious even as we look for that one in six billion.

Love hurts. I don’t think there is any other way to put it.

For those of us who’ve been through this sort of hell, we know this. We’ve been vulnerable before. We’ve entrusted our hearts to another, only to have it dashed and broken into a thousand little pieces. We’ve been lied to, mistreated, and abandoned without reason. When we experience heartbreak, there is that part of us that shuts up, that refrains from allowing ourselves to ever be susceptible again. Instead, we resort to the very dregs of cynicism, a jaded perception that love isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and isn’t worth our time or effort.

I had a long conversation with a good friend who shared some of her cynicism. She is a couple years into her recovery after a long relationship that ended in heartbreak. She says she’s ready for marriage, but not necessarily for a relationship. She wants something that is perhaps convenient, steady, comfortable. How exhausting it is to have to, in a sense, start all over. And what if that fails again? There are no guarantees in love. I get it, I’ve been through it before.

The paradox of love could not be captured more powerfully than in the movie’s exchange. Clementine reminds him that she is not an ideal. She is not the perfect answer for a man. Joel knows this. Yet, in a way he cannot help but long for her, an ineffable something within that hopes beyond all reason that she can cure him.

What many of us fail to understand is that love is not complete. What I mean by that is, love from another human being can never truly fulfill us. It won’t make us happy because people are imperfect. It is impossible to demand from an imperfect person something that will make you perfectly happy. Simple logic. Love, in this sense, will always be lacking.

Love also demands sacrifice, patience, devotion and self-denial. Those are hard words. Take those words individually and I bet you think more of discipline than love. But I would dare to argue that love is every bit as much science and math as it is free-verse poetry.

Yet, love rocks. Love makes you feel things, do things, say things that don’t always make sense. Joel hoped she could save him because that’s what love makes you do.

All this to say: love is neither for the cynics nor the idealists. Love is for those who want to learn what it means to risk, hurt, and die to self for something greater. It is a weapon that can bring mass destruction; it is also the fuel that could drive one to greater heights of understanding and appreciation.

There just needs to be a balance. There is a rightful place onstage for love, but it does not sit on the pedestal. It is not God. It is hard, it can hurt, but it hopes. And it is certainly something worth fighting for.

Living the Love Story

I read a recent post by Don Miller that talked about love and what it meant for both men and women to be the right people and look for the right things. If you haven’t read it yet, please close this blog and go there instead. Really, it’s a good read.

That entry is what actually inspired this post.

Because it got me to thinking about all the wonderful ladies I’ve met recently and all throughout my life and how society has got me into this twisted idea of what love is, when the truth is finally staring me in the face and telling me otherwise.

Love is…?

Sure, it can be summed up in a famous Bible passage or expressed in a Shakespearean sonnet. But I look at some of those around me and see how they are living their love stories and I begin to understand a little more what it all means. When I go to weddings and see the fresh kindling of emotion. Sure, it involves that. Then I look at my parents and see how love endures. How deep their care and patience is with each other. That is love evolved.

Then I think bout my good friend “Devin” and how he was living his love story. He was single for 28 years. (Twenty-eight years…the Internet, cellular phones, Starbucks and Justin Bieber have all been invented since that time!) Boy meets girl at a church. After a few brief conversations and encounters, he decides he would like to pursue her. So he writes her a letter, declaring his intentions right out in the open. Heart on the table. Hand-written. Probably sealed with a kiss. She says yes. Then on their first date, he tells her, “I am going to be as upfront and honest with you throughout this thing because I don’t want you to think you are dating somebody you are not. I am going to give you every reason to dump me.” Wait, he just did what? Is that irrational confidence? Balls over brains? The most logical man couldn’t explain it. But it’s been four months, and they are going stronger than ever.

Now tell me that’s not a freaking man.

I mean, when I heard that, I was like thanks for raising the bar for every other mortal man in the world. Do I have to bust out my quill pen, and write a French novel in calligraphy for her? Do I just tell her “Hey I’m just going to DO ME, fart around and pick my butt, because I’m going to give you every reason to dump me…?” Say what? Something tells me that she would actually dump me. Like a truck.

But really. What it comes down to is this. A man who said to himself that if she is worth it, if she is the one I should be with, then I am going to let God build it. I’m not going to try to spit any game. Not trying to put my best foot forward. As flawed and imperfect as I am, I’m just going to do my best to lead her and love her. And she’ll know how much I care because it will be real and genuine.

Young bucks out there need to listen up–this is what a real man does. He’s not trying to take advantage of her. He’s not putting in only so that she will put out. No. A real man points her to something and someone bigger than himself. He has her best interests in mind.

A real man would lay down his very life for his woman.

So that’s what I’m praying for myself. God, may You build it. Whoever she is, wherever she is, let it be that we are both running so hard after the kingdom that what binds us together won’t be a mere physical or metaphysical grasping of love, but that it will actually be a romance forged in the depths of the spirit. A love written on our hearts, inscribed in our souls. A love that says I love in spite of, regardless, even though…

That’s the love story I want to be written. But on my own I can’t write it. I’m smart enough to let God take the pen on this one.

And it’ll be one heck of a love story, too.

Dating is Like a Zoo

My best friend Peter rolled by my place last night. He strolled in with his fancy button-up and meticulously styled hair, leaving an exotic trail of cologne with every step he took. How well he was put together was often an indication of whether girls were involved earlier in the evening. That evening, he left no doubt.

He stopped by to measure the trunk space of my dad’s 4-Runner. He had recently set his sights on a new hardtop cover for his white S2k, and he was in need of a car big enough to carry the piece from one place to another. Not wanting to add precious miles to his lovely S2k, he was intent on borrowing my dad’s car. If all else failed, he was even willing to rent a minivan–just anything but add precious miles to his lovely S2k.

Peter lined his measuring tape closely from one side of the trunk to the other, down to the exact centimeter. That was him–always detailed, very exact. “It’s just who I am,” he would say. “That’s how God wired me.” We determined that the fit was possible, though it would be a tight squeeze. Peter said he would return home to research some more; for now, it had settled the matter.

As we sat at the edge, legs dangling from the trunk, we started to talk about life. Though it is hard for most men, it is not unusual for him to bear his soul. Peter was that sort of fish where you’d throw in your hook and he’d bring down your boat. Whether it meant life or death, he was never afraid to bite. The thing with Peter is, you never know how you feel about yourself when he is talking. Sometimes, it can be like reading a deep novel, discovering something amazing; other times I feel like I’m the only sane person in the room. Because of his early life struggles and experiences, he understands things about life that most people his age do not. In a sense, he is a man before his time. But that is who he is–extremely passionate, intelligent, unorthodox, and at times hard to comprehend. Either brilliant or insane.

As we sat there in the trunk, I couldn’t help but feel a bit awkward. Being shirtless didn’t help. We talked for a good half hour before heading back inside. We naturally progressed onto the topic of women and relationships. We were both poor shots in this department–he couldn’t catch ’em and I couldn’t keep ’em. Eventually, I relayed to him my fear of marrying wrong and one day waking up to discover that she has changed completely. Peter paused for a beat.

“You know, dating is like a zoo,” he said.

Like a zoo? I gave him my usual what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about glance before he continued.

“When you go to the zoo, you see a lot of animals, right? Polar bears, penguins, whatever. They act all nice, cute, cuddly…because they are tamed. But these animals aren’t from there. They were captured from the wild, right? They were raised in their natural habitats before they were brought in and trained to act a certain way. That’s like dating. You are taking two people from their natural elements and you’re telling them to act a certain way to attract the opposite sex. But once they are married, once they are comfortable, they revert to their habits, to who they really are. Sure, some of that is ugly, even scary. Penguins can be very mean out in the wild. Oh–but when they love, they love.

I thought about it briefly; I thought I was onto something brilliant. “So…you’re talking about penguin sex?” Peter gave me the you-idiot face.

“No, listen. Have you ever seen March of the Penguins?” I nodded, faintly recalling Morgan Freeman’s smooth narration as black-coated animals froze their tails off. “You know how the Mom leaves while the Dad is caring for the egg? The penguins return after being months apart, and they try to find each other. In the mass of thousands, they call out to each other. The Mom and Dad can locate the voice of the other because it’s unique. They know each other specially, and he knows she’s the one.”

“But I thought I had found the one,” I said.

“Did you love her like Christ loved the church?”

Damn, if you put it that way … I guess we both knew the answer.

“That’s love. With all her faults. You see them, but your love is willing to cover them. Of course, there will be changes–we all change. But God will protect you two from the poachers,” he paused. “When you see her, when you connect with her, when you know her–you’ll know it.”

It was well into the early morning. Before he left, Peter thanked me for listening to his “crazy stories, his crazy life.” But none of it seemed crazy at all. Love, for all its whims and woes, finally started to make sense.

There are nights when I struggle to make sense of it all. On nights like these, God likes to deliver bricks. He’s saying, build on what you know.

Just For The Record…

(Conversation that took place during dinner earlier this evening…loosely translated and/or paraphrased)

Mom (to Stacy): So, has your attitude changed since your youth?

Stacy (cousin): I used to be more pissy, but I’m a lot better now that I’m older.

Mom: Yes, my daughter used to be that way, but she’s gotten a lot better.

Cat (sister): Mom, you too.

Mom: Yeah, I used to get pretty crazy.

(My father and I cast knowing looks at each other.)

Me: Man, girls are crazy.

Cat: Yep! ALL girls are crazy.

Stacy (cousin): Mmhmm, it’s just a matter of how much crazy you can put up with.

Cat: Some girls are just crazy!

Stacy: It’s good that you know this, Marty. That way you won’t be surprised by anything.

Me: Can I record this? I just want people to know.

Yep…and that’s pretty much all that needs to be said about that.

Women That Really Count

Pizza, wasabi, ginger and garlic butter sauce. Items that all on their own might be rather appealing, but mixed together…well, that’s another story. Fresh after their loss to the men in a friendly game of Taboo, the ladies had to make good on the wager that we had made before the game: losers have to eat/drink/survive whatever concoction that the winners decided to create with any four items from the several of leftovers from that night’s meal. And as young men who are very sympathetic and understanding, we of course opted for the most putrid, disgusting leftover items we could find. Thus, you have…

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Yes, that might actually taste worse than dog vomit. Big props to the ladies. I think the guys woulda whined and found a way to get out of it (maybe even played a dangerous “double or nothing” to redeem the situation). But the girls just “manned” up and stuck it through.

Which brings me to my next point and main topic of blog entry. The ladies that I’ve been hanging out with recently are quality. Not to unduly flatter them (cause I’m not looking to score…I see them just as sisters…really!), but if they were meat, they’d be Grade A. (Wait…so, you mean they are Grade A? LOL j/k.) No, it’s not only because these girls can bake, cook, play Taboo (and allow the guys to win because of our egos, of course…), and then down the sickest concoction from the deepest depths of garbage hell with little complaint, though those are all very endearing qualities indeed. But it’s also and mainly because they are women who allow their personality, character, beliefs and values speak for themselves.

I’m sure we’ve all met beautiful bodies with ugly souls, and conversely, not-so-attractive people with amazing depth. To me, it was almost always those people who were real with who they are that seemed the most interesting. People who are just comfortable in their skin, whether taut or stretchy, dark or light, pure or blotched…people who know what they are and what they are not and can accept that with peace. These are people who aren’t afraid to fail because they’ve accepted the fact that life comes with cuts and scrapes every once in awhile; they can laugh whenever they fall because as often or as hard as they fall, they can probably see that we’re all just bodies full of scabs and band-aids anyway.

These are the type of people who only get better with each subsequent meeting, because you know that their real self–the true beauty–is growing on you. The delight of their wholeness is planted and sprouting in the right place: on your heart and not your eyes. I believe this is a glimpse of the soul in its lifted state. This is a hint of what all men and women can become if they see their own worth and value from how they were created, and not what they attain to be because of what society or media says they need to be.

I mention all of this because I find that it is getting harder and harder to meet people who are “real.” I don’t know if I’m speaking out of bitterness or mere discontent–and this is not meant to rail on ladies who struggle with this, because I’m wrestling with the same log as a man–but nowadays, it is quite a challenge to find women who stand for more than episodes of The Hills, LV purses, and “Cosmopolitan” beauty. Not that those things in and of themselves are contemptible, but there is something about those types of people whose lives seemed shaped and defined by the material things that just doesn’t sit right with me.

Not necessarily people who just own these items, but people whose lives seem to be dominated by and revolve around these objects, as though not having them demeans or devalues their entire being. But if you need to wear a top with a brand-name logo or drive a car with a certain emblem on the hood to feel accepted, then you’re probably not running with the right crowd. To define your identity by a man-made item is to do no less than cheapen your infinite pristine self-worth.

I say this to encourage the ladies (and even men) out there who feel like they aren’t pretty or thin or fit or fashionable enough. Don’t take that BS from what others tell you. You are not what you wear or what you buy or who you run with or how much money you make. None of that is real in the end. It is time we start concerning ourselves with the real meat of our lives: our dreams, purposes, desires and ambitions–and it is time we stop caring what others think about us if those opinions don’t concede.

As I’m maturing and figuring myself out more and more, I’m finding it so freeing to just be me. Thin, lanky, goofy and downright dumb at times. I got many weaknesses, but by the grace of God, I am what I am. And that’s the way it should be. No weights and no masks.

So ladies, just be yourselves. Less make-up, more inner candy. Put down the trashy magazines and start filling your soul with music, books, sports, philosophy–whatever it is that makes you feel alive! Just enjoy you being you, even if no one else is watching.

And don’t worry about him. The time will come when it’s time, and as long as you’re being true to yourself. Playing the “personality-soul-nice” card doesn’t mean you’ll get the “man of your dreams,” but at least you’ll be fishing for the right catch with the right lure.

Looks are somewhat important, but it isn’t everything. Because the fact of the matter is, when we grow old and our bodies fail and our hair falls out we’ll be left with physical shells of what we used to be. But the person whose inner beauty glows so much because of her character and personality and other intangibles is the perfect present–the skin above it would be a mere wrapping for the priceless treasures held within.

This is someone you want to live with for the rest of your life. Someone who only looks better with age and time, because you’re not simply seeing her with physical eyes but eyes that can examine right into the heart and soul.

Let us real men find one of those, because those are the women that really count.

Nice Guys Finish BEST

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My dad in his younger days? Guess again.

My father and I were in a particularly jovial mood that night. Perhaps it was the fact that I just landed a new job. Or maybe he had one too many glasses of the White Zin that we shared over a succulent meal. But, as always, and on cue, if every other pressing issue in my life was for the moment settled, the question would arise. “Son, how are the ladies?” he’d ask, shooting me that slick smirk that shone and spoke of his pride over his yonder-years.

My father wasn’t always this rotund, jolly ol’ China-man Santa Claus that you might have known or seen around the house. In fact, there was a time in his life when he was quite the opposite. A time which supposedly found him to be the talk of the town, the flavor of the week for all the ladies he knew, every week. I know this, because he would never hesitate to jump on an opportunity to share about his womanizing prowess.

You see, in a time and life long ago, my father was quite the playboy. Hong Kong found him roaming the streets at a bold sixteen, riding his motorcycle with the cool breeze blowing behind his back, and easy women painting his night time revelries. Girls who would fall for his every word and line, left and right, some even supposedly offering marriage proposals. Ladies who would take after his “bad-boy” player image, who couldn’t resist his charm and reckless abandon.

Granted, I wouldn’t have just taken his word on any of this without good reason. We tend to like making big of ourselves, don’t we? But I know this, because of testimonies from his sister who had shared an apartment with him in New York. I know this, because I once stumbled upon an old Polaroid of him—thin, stylish, with a Paul McCartney hairdo—that would dare to prove me wrong.

So it bemuses him when he thinks upon those days, and then looks at his son, who would appear to be quite the opposite. The nice boy. The clean-cut, well-mannered boy. The church boy. The boy who doesn’t chase after every skirt he sees. —What’s wrong with you, boy? At times, when he doesn’t know what to make of it, he’ll simply resign. “You’re too good, son,” he’d often quip. The translation being: “Your life’s too orderly, too neat. Girls like the bad boys.”

And that got me thinking. I think we’ve all heard the argument before: “Nice guys always finish last.” Girls don’t like the guys who dote over them, who bend head over heels for them, and would do everything short of castration for them. If they can curry his favor that easily, the argument goes, then what more would he have to offer her in a relationship? She has already gotten all she will need from him. She has already defeated the man, a battle that did not see her lay a single finger on her sword.

But now I fight back.

First, let me say that I believe the term ‘nice guy’ is misappropriated to the wrong type of men. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I truly don’t believe those are ‘nice’ guys. I’m sure they are very nice, but that is not the most prominent characteristic about them. Instead, what screams out to the prospective desired female is “neediness.” Or desperation. It’s kind of like a tootsie pop, with all the good chocolate centered-filling covered by layers of harder, less appealing candy (I guess if you like tootsie pops, this analogy kind of falls apart, but I was never a fan.) The fact that some guys would put on a dog collar to be at every wake and whim of the girl reveals not their kindness but weakness. You see, the difference between his 2-7 off-suit and yours is the fact that while he’s still playing his bluff, you’ve already called “all-in,” and now you are left at the mercy of the ever-cruel gender.

For those guys, I would just like to encourage them to see their self-worth. You shouldn’t allow yourself to be played like the fiddle if she does not make it perfectly clear that she wants what you have to offer in an exclusive relationship. I’m sure she’s cute and that when she smiles, the sun and the lilies all come out and play the banjo and do the jig. But the spoiler at the end of the movie reveals that she is not worth it.

Girls—and I do not use this term loosely—who desire the male who give off the “bad-boy” image are not worth my time. If you want the guy who doesn’t treat you right, who purposely ignores you because ‘that’s cool’ and puts his selfish habits before you, who demeans you and belittles your worth, then be my guest. I wouldn’t say I understand it, but that’s okay. Because I probably wouldn’t want to be with you, anyway. You are either insecure, immature or delusional. I’ll just sit back and relax, and wait for someone better.

My dad is right. I am a nice guy. But that’s not all there is about me. I am realizing the freedom in being confident in who I am and what are my strengths and weaknesses. As Saint Paul had written, “By God’s grace, I am what I am.” I don’t need any girl who doesn’t want what I have to offer, and I definitely do not need a girl to determine my worth.

So, as I sat there, digesting the bits of wisdom that my father had to offer me, I turned to him and said, “Pops, you ain’t gotta worry about me.” He smiled. I think he might have been torn. Perhaps one half of him was confused as to how this apple could have fallen from that tree. But I’d like to think that when he looked at me, he was proud, and was delighted to see that I didn’t turn out all that bad.

After all, my dad isn’t the only one in the family who’s got game. (I meant my sister—stay away from her, you freaks.)