Saturday, January 28, 2017

What I Learned from La La Land

"It's easier to be a dreamer in Los Angeles," I told my friend Karl as I lamented my lost status as an Angelino. We moved back "home" to the South last year and it brought about the toughest season of our family's lives. One contributing factor was that I had moved to LA to pursue film, and so in moving back with little to show career-wise, I can't help but feel like some sort of failure. It's not entirely true -- as I told a friend recently, every time I had time to work on a movie, I ended up surfing and skateboarding instead -- I guess our habits have a way of revealing what our true passions are. I also discovered that pursuing something as competitive as filmmaking required a great amount of sacrifice, particularly relationally, which was something I guess I wasn't willing to do.

Anyway, being away from it all and trying to figure out my life has got me thinking a lot about dreaming. As I said, it's easier to dream in LA, where you're surrounded by like-minded individuals. Here in the South, it's far more common to find a normal, productive, good paying job and just do that the rest of your life. Nothing wrong with that of course -- these folks usually make more money and have far more stable lives than I have ever had. But as I seek out these types of jobs, hoping to find some glimmer of creativity in them, something inside just feels wrong. It's not a good fit for some reason, and over the past couple of weeks I've come to the conclusion that the reason is that I am a dreamer. A hopeless dreamer; hopeless because I can't stop, yet unceasingly hopeful in the pursuits of such dreams.

The problem is that people frown on dreamers. We're not in touch with reality. We're irresponsible. On a different planet, we float and drift while we gaze longingly into the horizon, seeking a sunrise, anticipating a sunset, watching for waves or even whales; anything to spark our imagination. Maybe that's why surfing strikes such a chord with me and so many other dreamers I know. And that's where La La Land comes in, the new musical that reminded me that it's okay to be a dreamer. And not just okay, but necessary. The world actually needs dreamers.

People like watching others do things they are passionate about. I paraphrase the film there, and it is so true. This life is so filled with passionless moments, drudgery and the grind. When we see someone who is passionate about anything, it injects just a little spark of life into our own existence that we can't help but be drawn to it. Like moths to a lamp, we float around, wondering what could happen if...watching to see if others try...maybe flying away or maybe, just maybe, getting closer. And closer. Until...zap. You're dead.

And that's the other thing La La Land taught me: to truly pursue dreams requires sacrifice. It was the same lesson I learned in the real La La Land, the one that brought me back home seven years later. I wasn't ready to make those sacrifices, and so here I am.

But I'm still a dreamer, right? What does that mean, then? Will I be caught in this weird limbo of half-trying, half-pursuing forever? I hope not. Really, I think I have some decisions to make:
  1. Kill the Dreamer: Maybe it's time this guy just leaves and never comes back, right? But then I am abandoning a portion of myself that I feel was placed by God. And not just a portion, but the motivator, the spark plug, if you will. Without it, I'm not firing on all cylinders (or firing at all).
  2. Try Again: Maybe I gave up too early. Maybe it's time to give it another go and see what happens. This requires a level of planning I was too immature to prepare for, and, again, sacrifice. But this time the stakes are higher -- I have a wife and kids I'm dragging along with me. Is it fair for me to bring them through what it would take to attain the dream? I'm not sure.
  3. Dream a New Dream: Dreaming is like a journey. You imagine a future that is more wonderful than your own and set out for the new country. But what happens when you get there? Is that home? Or is there another home just beyond that horizon? Or maybe you take a detour, or a few different turns altogether, and realize home is where you never expected it was. It's all a process, and probably should be, lest we end up like the drummer in Whiplash (by the same director as La La Land).
I think I like the third one best.

It took several years to realize I didn't have the passion for filmmaking in the avenue that I had originally set out to attain. But in the process, I found other passions, some related and some not. I have a passion for story, surfing, skateboarding, music and watching God move. It's the same passion that led me to starting this website, which is generating zero income for me by the way, but still helping someone in some way I hope. If anything, it's helping me get these ideas out and in the open. (Who said we have to make money off of what we love anyway?)

I think this will be a good year. My focus is narrowing as I mature. I'm completing songs and books I've been working on for years. I'm realizing what sparks my heart and embracing it as a part of who I am, who God made me to be.

The day after Katie and I saw La La Land, I was driving to work and feeling energized by the story. The city was covered in fog as I drove through downtown. But then, I hit a bridge that lifts high above the Cooper River, and as I rose, the brilliance of the sun broke through the clouds. It felt like I was driving to a cloud city, high in the sky with nothing below me for miles and miles. It also looked like the sun was on a path to collide with the earth, destroying everything we know in a glorious explosion. As my imagination soared, I remembered that there was certainly reality below me -- water, boats, rocks -- and that the sun wasn't going anywhere. But the dream was more fun, so I stayed there a little longer. Two fantasies. Two stories. One mind exploring.

Before too long, I inevitably was headed down the bridge, back into the fog. And that's when it hit me -- we all have a choice: to focus on the dream or the reality. Not that dreaming I was driving to a cloud city made it true -- my four wheels were still on the ground -- but the dream made that drive better. It was fun to explore and think and imagine. It's inspiring. And that's what dreams do: make things better. Lately this whole city has been covered in fog.

Maybe it's time the sun comes out and some things get brighter...

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Longing

I've been spending time with some artists lately and heard one of them describe his art as a pursuit and a longing. He said that he used to think he could write a song that would sum it all up, ending the pursuit and satisfying some sort of lack in his life; but later he realized that this would never be the case, and that life would be a never ending pursuit of satiating this nondescript longing.
As an artist myself, I can relate. I have an overwhelming desire to write, tell stories, make music and shoot movies; so much so that any free moment needs to be filled with one of those pursuits. What's worse, is that the ideas keep coming, but the time to flesh them out is rarely there, and so I'm left with a constant feeling that I'm behind and may never catch up. So what would happen if I never told all of those stories, or wrote all of those songs? Would the world be any worse without my art? Would I be any better or worse of a person because of it? Or is all of this just a distraction?
As I listen to men speak about longings, and follow pursuits on paths such as these (or even more "noble" endeavors, like child rearing or finding a spouse), I can't help but think that we're all just looking for Jesus.
There is a longing inside all of us, a God-shaped hole as Audio Adrenaline put it:

Scripture reveals this to us as well:
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
- Ecclesiastes 3:11
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you."
- Hebrews 13:5
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
- Matthew 6:33
Only God satisfies. So why do we endeavor so hard after anything but God? I think the answer is that, when we create, we are acting like God. He is the ultimate Creator, and I would argue my truest moments of creativity come about from God. I've tried writing songs and stories on what was clearly my own volition, and they usually are empty. And then there are times when the words fall from the sky and spill onto the page, as if God lassoed me with some sort of inspirational conduit and shot sparks of creativity into my being. Ask any artist, Christian or not, and he or she will tell you about this experience.
The same applies to fatherhood or serving these cases that seem to provide some sort of satisfaction for our souls, it is because we are acting like God. God is a Father. God sacrificed Himself for us. When we perform these acts, we are imitating our Father, and it feels good.
A beautiful album by All Sons & Daughters.
But will it ever totally satisfy? Is there such a thing as complete satisfaction? The bible speaks of the "fullness of Christ Jesus" -- how does this come about?
 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.
- Colossians 2:9-10
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
- Ephesians 3:16-19
According to that second verse, we are strengthened with power through the Spirit, so Christ can dwell in our hearts. Then, with a foundation of love, we will have the power to understand how deep Christ's love is, which ends up filling us with the fulness of God. There are a couple key ingredients: love and power through the Holy Spirit.
So if we want to satiate that longing, and attain the fullness of God, we must have Christ dwell within us in love, and ask God for power to understand His love more deeply. It all begins and ends with Christ's love. These verses sum it up well:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I write a song that will move hearts...if I paint a picture that will inspire the masses...if I write a piece that alters the course of history...if I create anything, and have not love, it is only a noisy distraction from the true longing of all our hearts, which is Christ.

Friday, November 14, 2014

You Will Never Have It All - Part 1

They say entitlement is a problem with my generation, and I believe it -- I know I've had my moments. I think you could even say that it is more of a problem amongst Christians. In my mind (and probably the minds of others too), this is the way it works: I serve God, the Creator of everything, and He loves me, so why wouldn't He just make everything work out in my favor? In a way, I can even support this with scripture (Romans 8:28). The problem with this thinking though, is that things don't work out all the time, just the way I want them. And then what do you do?
I was thinking this weekend about how nothing is ever perfect; not in a defeated, self-pitying way, but just realizing that life rarely works out 100% the way I want. For instance, I've wanted to work from home for years, and by work I mean write things I want to write, make music I want to make, shoot movies I want to shoot...and get paid for it! Well, we had a daughter this year and I was able to become a stay-at-home Dad through getting an apartment manager job (an act of God we believe). So now I am here! Staying at home, with the freedom to write! Oh, but there's just this one thing...having an infant is a full-time job! So while it's true that I do have more time than I used to for pursuing creative endeavors, it's not what I expected.
Think back on your life and you may see that things haven't necessarily met your expectations or worked out exactly as you planned. And that's okay. The other thing is that scripture supports this even more:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
- John 16:33
And then God is our Father:
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."
- Romans 8:15
I know, as a father, that good parenting does not mean giving our daughter everything she wants, whenever she wants it. Actually, that's called bad parenting. What a good parent does is allow his or her child to make mistakes, endure hardships, overcome troubles, which leads to something much more valuable than an easy life: character. As Rick Warren says,
God is more interested in your character than your comfort. God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy.
(If you check out the previous link, it has a little devotional about dealing with suffering.)
So expecting everything in life to work out is a fallacy, a pit, which I have fallen into many times in life. But on this side of Eternity, in a fallen world, how can we expect perfection? Which leads me to another point, one which I'll explore in the next post....

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tips for Handling Standouts

Have you ever been sitting in the lineup and waiting for a set when, out of nowhere, a giant bulge of water comes at you like a miniature tsunami? You're in line for a normal set, but this is something different, breaking farther out and bigger; and so you have to make a split-second decision to either paddle and beat the wave, or sit and duck dive six feet of white water.
You choose Option 1: Paddle, as fast as you can! The wave is growing, becoming dark, ready to double over. You're close, just a few more strokes away! The wave crests and you thrust your board down just in time to avoid taking it on the head. When you come up on the other side of a miracle, you look back and watch boards and heads pop up in a massive pool of sea foam and whitewater, gasping for air and hoping there isn't another one on the way...but there usually is. This is the story of a standout set, my friends, and knowing how to handle these are key for a successful surf session on a big day.
Standout approaching! (photo by @jinheejoung)
Handling standout sets is all about decision out deep and wait for the standout, or go back and catch a few, hoping the standout doesn't come. I've been on both sides and I'll tell you the results:
  • THE GOOD THING ABOUT WAITING DEEP is that you'll be safe from rogue waves that clear the lineup, and you might even catch one if you're bold enough to ride a monster. You also may be able to take advantage of the aftermath and have some waves to yourself if the next set allows.
  • THE BAD PART is that you may end up waiting forever for these standouts, and miss a lot of regular set waves in the process.
  • THE GOOD THING ABOUT STAYING SHALLOW is that you'll catch the regular set along with everyone else.
  • THE BAD PART is that you probably won't be in position to beat the standout and will be cleared out along with everyone else.
Taken at El Porto, a spot notorious for standouts. (photo from
The last time I was in this situation was during the Hurricane Marie swell at Leo Carillo. The standouts were rolling in at 8-10 feet and with a lot of rocks hidden by the lineup, I did not want to miss a duck-dive and go over the falls on one of these. And so what I did was camp out between the regular lineup and standout set. I'd see a standout and paddle out, beating it, and then paddle back to just past the lineup to catch some of those.
The problem with this strategy is that you miss a lot of waves because you're just past the regular break, and you're also living in constant fear that a standout is imminent. It's kind of like a person who builds an underground shelter in fear of a zombie apocalypse, spending a considerable amount of time there, but also tries to live a normal life above ground -- this person will live a halfway-life on both sides.
And so I learned an important lesson that day: DON'T FEAR THE STANDOUT.
The risk, the reward. (photo by @jinheejoung)
I was so stressed paddling back and forth from the lineup to the standouts that I never caught a wave and didn't enjoy any of the epic swell I was receiving. In hindsight, I would have joined the lineup and caught some waves, and should a standout come...held my breath and tried to dive deep! (some tips for duck diving here)
It was a silly thing to live in fear between the lineups. It's best to take what waves you're given and hold on when the big one comes. Either that, or wait for the standout and get a few massively epic rides rather than several mildly epic're choice.
There's a life lesson in there somewhere too, which is often the case with surfing. I'll let you decide what it is...but whatever you learn, hopefully this post will help guide your decisions when that monster approaches!
[Originally published at the blog]

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Humility - Pride Comes Before a Wipeout

They say pride comes before a fall...but they didn't mention anything about the washing machine tumult after the fall, followed by gasping for air and a long swim in. Last winter was a big one for me in Southern California, with waves in the 20+ foot range at some breaks. As we head into this winter, I thought I'd share a couple stories of some of the bigger days from last year, and the lessons learned past the aftermath.

Surfing is a progression, and so calling a wave "big" can be a relative thing. That being said, I spent last winter paddling into progressively bigger surf, and as I had been thrashed and also conquered, my sense of what I could handle grew. And as it grew, I have to admit that a little pride creeped up in my water-logged brain....

February 2014: Massive swell coming through. My friends and I shared bloated surf reports through texts and social media leading up to the weekend, excited for the potential glory ahead. But deep down, a tiny nagging worry was there in the pit of my stomach asking if I could handle it. Of course I could handle it...right?
Photo courtesy of Brian Esquivel.
The big day comes and, after checking out a couple unsurfable spots (huge closeouts on shallow sand), we back-tracked to a break where some other guys looked like they were having a good time. We suited up and paddled out, only to immediately be swept into a current and carried down into a cove and back to shore. The humility began. This happened three more times as I'd head for the break, only to get carried away and pounded by the ten foot waves. All the while I was watching guys shred these beautiful right-handers, snapping the tops of overhead sets and then paddling back for more.
After the fourth thwarted attempt, I decided I wouldn't be kept down and, hitting a rare lull between sets, I made it out. I rested for a quick minute before going for a wave. I paddled and caught it, but that's when things get hazy...I'm still not sure exactly what happened, except that I was soon falling down a steep drop with no board.
I hit the water and found myself in the washing machine -- a recently frequent friend of mine -- I stayed calm and made it out, catching a breath before the next wave hit. I made to the surface again and then reached for my leash...gone. I looked ahead to find my board being tossed and carried off to shore.
I back-stroked my way in while praying to not die, and God must have heard because after a little swim I found my board parked about halfway in, caught on some kelp I think. When I finally hit the shore, I didn't go back.  For the record, my friends didn't do much better than me, so we all chalked it up to experience and a little extra duck-diving practice, and headed to Jack in the Box for some self-indulgent fast food.
Well, fast forward a few days and my friend Russell tells me he went out again, not able to make it to the break. "Really Russell? You couldn't even make it out?" I haughtily thought to myself. "What a wuss...."  And then it happened --a few days later I pulled up to what is normally a fairly docile beach and the waves were breaking 30 yards past their normal spot in huge sets. Fear set in.
I watched the waves as I approached the beach, thinking to myself, "Your daughter is due next week, Rick. Don't die." The middle waves were heavy closeouts, unless I could make it to the huge sets in the back, so that was my goal. I looked for my spot, eventually finding a little lull, and went for it.
I then got slapped by some incredibly handsome whitewash as I watched the only other surfer out catch a beautiful right-hander and ride it with style. Eventually, I made it pretty far before I realized I didn't put nearly enough wax on my board because I'm sliding all over the place. So I went back in without catching a single wave and waxed up.
Humility is often found in experiencing something bigger than yourself.
Try #2: more of the same -- pounding and never ending sets. As soon as I thought I'd made it out to the break, I peeked over the crest of the wave I was paddling over and a wave twice its size was crashing in front of me. I got a lot of duck-diving practice that day...a lot.
Well, a man can only take so much. For some reason, I was also getting spooked paddling in the white after-wash of the larger waves. So after biting my lip on a duck-dive-gone-wrong and feeling like a shark hit my foot, I paddled in.
Defeated and dejected, scared and bleeding, I performed the walk of shame back to my backpack on the beach -- all the while watching awesome waves roll in, one after the other. Soon the other surfer came in and told me about how wonderful the waves were at the break. I sheepishly told him I never made it. "Oh," he said, with a little consolation in his voice, and nothing more.  After he left, I stood there for a long time, watching the water and wondering if I should have paddled back out. I wanted to. I'm not one to quit easily. But the reasons to stop (bleeding lip, responsibilities back home, the "shark") kept popping up, so I left.
As I walked to my car, I decided that this would not be a defining moment in my life. I won't be the guy who gives up after half-an-hour of paddling because he's tired. It was just an off-day. A day counted as experience and a good workout. A day to be forgotten, save the lessons learned. A day for humility.
[Originally published in part on the blog]

Friday, October 31, 2014

Known by God

Now about food sacrificed to idols: we know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.
1 Corinthians 8:1-3
Read those verses a couple times and ask yourself: Why is loving and being known by God the answer to haughtiness in knowledge? I would have picked something like, "the fear of the Lord," but Paul says this; it seems kind of like an odd combination to me.
I had the privilege of sitting next to Curt Thompson, M.D., on a plane once. He told me about a book he had written, Anatomy of the Soul, which is about the importance physiologically to being known by others and God. It was an idea I had only heard a few times, as the Western church puts way more emphasis on knowing God, usually through disciplined actions. But look at this:
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
John 11:1-3
I heard a great Judah Smith sermon about this verse, where he pointed out that the sisters only said, "the one you love is sick," rather than list all of the reasons he might be worth saving otherwise (i.e. - he's a great brother, he is a pillar of the community, he loves you). Apparently, the way to God's heart is to focus on how much He loves us, rather than how much we love Him. In this way, it makes sense that God's love would be a combatant for arrogance, as we clearly don't deserve it, so how could we be haughty? 
The rest of 1 Corinthians 8 is about how we should be careful to not exercise our freedom at another brother's expense -- in this case, it meant eating food sacrificed to false idols, which meant nothing to the mature believer, but would potentially be a stumbling block to someone with weaker faith (and not weaker in a bad sense, just newer).
Paul says:
Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
1 Corinthians 8:13
As a meat-eater, I can say with assurance: that is love!
And so we are humbled by God's love for us, and allowing that to invade our lives will overflow into unreasonable love for others. That's a beautiful thing!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

New Skatepark, Better Skating

When I moved to Los Angeles five years ago, I have to admit I was a little unsure about what to expect from LA skaters. It's a big city where the level of skating is sky high, and so I imagined territorial skaters protecting their little pieces of turf in the vast concrete expanse of Southern California skateparks. To my surprise, though, I found the opposite...

Most skateparks I visit are filled with kids who love skating and love the people they skate with. But I just had a particularly awesome skate session at the Alondra Park in Lawndale, CA, and as I reflected on the sweetness that happened, I wanted to share some things that made it stand out amongst the plethora of skate spots LA has to offer.

1. The vibe at the park was great.
I love going to a park where people actually enjoy skating together. High-fives abounded as friends challenged each other to skate better, along with other typical skater hijinks. The park was even crowded with both bikes and boards, but I saw no run-ins. And though I was a stranger, the local guy shredding one of the bowls gave me some tips on working the angles. Solid park, solid people.
2. Live music
Two dudes were jamming on guitar by the bowl the whole time! It was probably the first time I've experienced a live music skate session, but it was totally rad, and added to the homey feel.

I also love to skate a pool in Culver City where a bunch of old rippers from the 80's come out and play music on a huge boom box -- usually skater punk, but sometimes Devo! These guys are also top notch skaters, minus the ego, and are happy to share the space for a rad Saturday session.

3. SoCal summer weather
As I stood by the bowl, listening to Sublime, I looked up to the sky and watched the sun setting; a ball of fire enveloped by the clouds while silhouettes of tall palm trees lined the skyline. The air was cool as a Pacific ocean breeze wafted through the park. The weather was perfect to join people of all ages having fun skating together...and it was good.
Skate sessions like that don't come along too often, but today I was lucky enough to get one. Southern California has a lot to offer as far as skating goes, but it doesn't mean you can't have just as awesome a session wherever you're at. So go out and find your chi session...then come back here and tell me about it
[Originally published on the blog]

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