The few days I said I'd wait before posting turned into just two. For some reason I feel obligated. Call it a rhythm, call it tradition, but here it is: My end of the year post.
There will be no top fives or tens like there were last year. I just didn't pay enough attention to one or two different things in order to package it up neatly. Consider this a stream-of-consciousness-year-in-review.
Early in the year I set out to write a book. I got the Introduction and two chapters written. I then got intimidated and bored so I stopped there. But I still wrote and wrote. I had no clue how much I wrote until I decided to give some friends, as a Christmas gift, a bound copy of all the things I've written this year-- blogs, sermons, other writings for church, and just random things. It ended up being over 300 pages. I actually had to cut some out in order to afford the binding. The lesson? Like Ann Lamott encourages, write just a little every day and it adds up.
Next year I'll be taking another bit of advice from Lamott-- I'm joining a writing group. An acquaintance of mine and I got to talking and we decided we'd like to form a group of people to read and critique our stuff. This scares me, but excites me. We'll see where that takes me.
Spring was normal. Not much out of the ordinary. In fact, that was the strangest thing about it, it's normalcy. I can't think of a single thing to say about the spring.
Summer started my season of goodbyes. My friend Tim and his (then) fiance' Isabel decided they would move to Germany to work at a church after they got married in August. I met Tim in the fall of '02 and his friendship became my lifeline through a weird and unstable time of my life and with other friends. We were kindred spirits and, above all else, we simply enjoyed each others company. I was in his wedding in August and it was a wonderful time. I miss him dearly.
It was also late spring/early summer that Jason and Christy began to talk with the CBF about working with them. After several options and changes they ended up being selected to serve in France. In late June I attended their commissioning service in Grapevine and said goodbye to them for the next five months. Those five months were wonderful and life giving to me. Especially meaningful was the time I got to spend with Jason on our road trip in August. They finally left in November and it's weird because it still feels like they are here. But I also miss them terribly.
Is it even necessary for me to mention the next goodbye? Kyle's death has been the most significant and horrible event of my life. The most important thing I've ever done was speak about him at his funeral. The most significant person in my life was Kyle. The "Kyle Event," from our meeting over five years ago to our lunches and conversations and the wonderful silent moments he and Jen and I had at their place after the kids were asleep to our trip to the Cowboy game to playing MarioKart with Ben while everyone else worked at the garage sale to the emails and crude jokes to the nightmare of that morning at the end of October, all of it will run through my veins and orient my life in ways presently unknown from now until the end. Too dramatic an observation? Perhaps. But I believe it.
On to art...
I think I'm becoming that person who can be cool by saying he doesn't watch a lot of television? There's a bit of self righteous pride that comes with saying that, and I'm becoming proud. Actually, there's just nothing good on. I scanned for hours all year and all I found was Gray's Anatomy. I'm hooked. It's soap opery and perhaps a bit unrealistic, but I love it. And it has that quality that every highbrow critic loves to use to describe things with-- Nuance. Seriously, I'm rooting for both Merdith AND Mrs. Doctor Shephard in their battle for Dr. Shephards love. I can't make up my mind, so I want both of them to have him.
The only other thing I watch is an old show that I discovered this year in reruns-- Everybody Loves Raymond.
On the movie front only two things stand out. The first was Narnia, which was the first of it's kind of movies that I actually enjoyed and was moved by and, to be honest, stayed awake in. It was great.
The other was Elizabethtown, a movie that will probably be nominated for the Razzies, those awards given out during Oscar week for really bad movies. Critics hated this, as did a lot of "regular people." But I loved it. I cried in it... No, I wept. I watched the movie the week before Kyle's death. We talked about it and I told him what I told you, that it was emotionally sappy and manipulative, but it was something I decided to give myself over to it. He said he understood and that he'd like to see it as well. I told him I'd love to see it again, so we planned on making a time for it the next week. We never got that chance. Regardless, I went and saw it again by myself. Literally, by myself. I was the only person in the theater. It was one of the most meaningful movie-watching-experiences I've ever had. Spiritual, if you will. At one point during the credits I had my left hand in my pocket, the other in the air. Just like Kyle.
As far as music goes, there's also two things I'd like to talk about. But first things first... When are people going to stop pretending that Kanye West is the most brilliant mind since Einstein? I pretended for a bit, and decided that I was just following the crowd. (And as unconvincing as many of you will perceive this to be, it had nothing to do with his Bush-hates-blacks comment.) I honestly don't see the big deal.
And on a side note to the Kanye side note, here's my next prediction-- one that I've shared before. 2006 will be the year people start pretending that they've listened to George Jones forever, like 2005 was for Johnny Cash and 2004 was for Ray Charles and Loretta Lynn?
There was lots of music this year, but only two albums were significant in my world. The first was the David Crowder Band's "A Collision." I hesitated even mentioning it, because my proximity to the group and the fact that they lead worship at my church makes it impossible for me to be objective until I realized that there is little room for objectivity when it comes to art.
El Mol, in our wonderful visit a few weeks ago waxed eloquent and true about how the minds and spirits of great artists work on a different plane from the rest of us-- how they are tuned to a different reality, and that sometimes their music is very prophetic. I know this gets into weird territory, and I don't want to assume things that aren't there, but don't tell me you haven't thought about it.
U2's album "All that you can't leave Behind" was released in October of 2000, yet it seems as if it was written as the soundtrack to our September 11, 2001 lives.
Rosanne Cash released her album "Rules of Travel" in March of 2003. On the album was a duet she did with her dad titled "September, When it comes." One of the most powerful lines ever to pass through my ears was from that song: "When the shadows lengthen/ And burn away the past/ I will fly me like an angel to/ a place where I can rest/ When winds begin I'll let you in/ September when it comes." Johnny Cash died on September 12, 2003.
"A Collision" is an album about life and death and, above all else, God's divinity running head on with our humanity and causing a collision in which one thing lies as the wreckage-- the ancient hope of Christianity, that the largest monster of them all, death itself, stands no chance against the Resurrected One. This album has sustained me and made it possible for me to have faith during the most difficult time of my life. Besides that, it's one of the most creative works of music ever written. And that's my objective opinion on that.
The other album is one that I mentioned briefly in another post, and the one I'm listening to right now-- Gary Allan's "Tough All Over," which has been chosen by both USA Today and Blender magazine as one of the best of the year. This guy has evidently been around for a few years now singing songs that I knew while not knowing who sang them. Then on a whim I purchased this album and realized I had something that most of my friends usually find long before I do-- a gem of a record that no one else is listening to. Allan's wife committed suicide last year, leaving him a single father to three young kids. He hesitated recording stuff about his pain but then realized that he wanted an artistic documentation of his life at this present moment. I can't even begin to tell you how resonant this album is. Musically Gary Allan is part of the California Country-Music heritage that gave the world Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakum. If you have a broken heart and want to listen to something that sounds like your insides, buy this album. Then go buy a bottle of Jack* and spend the evening by yourself or with a friend, and just let life suck. Listening to this album reminds me that when your life is falling apart the most healing thing you can do is to stop pretending that it isn't falling apart.
(*Drink Responsibly :))
This was not a year where I read a whole lot, like in previous years. Through the summer I picked through some nonfiction-- Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" and "The Tipping Point," and of course Kyle's (Re)Understanding Prayer. The most significant read of the year was one that was published several years ago and, like Crowder's CD, seemed to be written for my post-October 30 life, Leif Enger's "Peace Like a River." This novel completes the trifecta of the best books of the past season of my life, joining "The Poisonwood Bible" and "The Kite Runner" as a book that affects all of my thoughts and actions on a daily basis. The story is good but takes you to a place you never expected to be, reading one of the most beautiful chapters ever penned by human hands.
2004 was the year I started running, but 2005 was the year I started to enjoy running. For a while I've wanted to write a post about losing weight and the psychological implications of growing up fat, but it has proven to be the hardest thing I've ever tried to get out. I'm hoping to get it finished soon (I have several incomplete drafts.) But I'll give you the bare minimum. In February of 2004 I weighed 285 lbs. Today I weigh 201. I feel great and am proud of myself and am actually planning on running a half-marathon in March and a full one in July. (The full one is more so I can go to Seattle and see Blake and Karla.)
This was also the year I came to terms with having a bald head and stopped trying to grow my hair long to cover up the blank spaces. I'm totally exposed. In the midst of it all, I've been told I look like Kevin Spacey. I can handle that.
So here I am, a day before the last day of the year-- wanting you to know who I am and the things I've liked and disliked about the past 12 months. This year I've learned by experience what I talked about in previous years, that life is about knowing and loving God, about being together with people you share life with, about laughing and praying and not taking yourself too seriously but about taking some things more seriously and, ultimately, about living life to the fullest which, to me, means tasting every ounce of flavor, every ounce of friendship, every ounce of life. Because it is most definitely a gift.