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Monday, June 27, 2016



My B-Town.

Fierce. That’s how I describe Brooke. I think the hardest thing right now is switching my description of her to the past tense. Because to me, Brooke always IS. Not WAS. She moved with a ferocity through life that had nothing to do with her crazy sugar highs of Dr. Pepper and chocolate cake. 
For breakfast.

She’s not a past tense girl. She’s a right now girl.

Brooke wanted to become a rocket scientist. So she did. She wanted to become a pilot. So she did. Brooke wanted to fill a barge with supplies for Africa. So she did.
Teaching the kids at the orphanage the importance of sound effects
Brooke worked for the government writing and approving finances and proposals for space, but she wanted to write slam poetry and become a deejay. So she did. Oh, and did I mention how she went to India for a month to worship school because she wanted to learn to play the... wait for it... sitar. Why? Who the hell knows?
Brooke wanted to change the world. Literally. Not just as a cliche platitude. So she did. She changed everyone she came in contact with. She blew in like a force 12 on the Beaufort scale and you never were the same. You were winded and exhilarated. And hungry for more. She made you think. She made you laugh. She made you feel loved.  
And her eloquence. Her word choice. How the words that came forth from her mouth in spontaneity felt like a choreographed dance:
"Dear October" written and performed by Brooke after her first bout with breast cancer.

She was so tender. But so fierce. This world wasn’t meant to stay the same if you lived in it. That was her mindset. Let’s make a plan. Let’s go. Let’s shift things and get uncomfortable. She was so rich in thought, and so antsy to make things better, more efficient, more thriving.

Brooke was a macro thinker.

I think that’s why she had such a problem with God’s plan for her life. Our trip to Uganda is the perfect example. 

The city of Gulu was a mess. Chaotic. Hundreds of sick children waiting outside of the hospital. Villages ravaged by Kony and his rebel army. I, unlike Brooke, am a very micro thinker. Give me a kid to love that day and I’m golden. I can pour into that kid and feel I did what I’m wired to do. But Brooke wasn’t wired that way. Isn’t wired that way. I went home after the trip, and it didn’t take me long to decompress and adjust back to American life. Gulu was too big of a problem for my mind to solve. I knew I did what I could. I had peace with that. 
But Brooke. Brooke was a wreck. For weeks. She wanted to solve Gulu’s problem. Unbeknownst to me, while my mind was occupied jumping rope with the Gulu neighborhood kids, her mind was thinking of infrastructure. Of fixing the whole city of Gulu. 
And she felt she was intelligent enough to come up with a solution, so she was dashed against the rocks when she couldn’t design one. Couldn’t wrap her head around how to solve the suffering. The problem was too overwhelming, too much even for Brooke’s brilliant mind, and she wrestled and fought against that truth. 

In Africa: "Oh, Americans...Worst Clothes Donation Award goes to Lion King Eskimo Outfit"
2nd Place: Thermal Underwear. For those chilly below 118 degree nights.

In the same way, when the cancer came back terminal, Brooke couldn’t accept it. God, you are the designer of everything, you know the inner workings of my body, we are co-workers here on earth, you’ve said so yourself, so let’s work together to fix this. It isn’t a city. It’s just a person. It’s me. Your beloved. And I’m damn smart. So let’s solve this. And when she finally realized she couldn’t, she surrendered it to Him in full hope that He would. Because Brooke was a fixer. A solver. A healer. And He, by definition, had to be better at all those things than her. 
"Take THAT, chemo!"

So totally 80s
"Who am I?"
The Don King

Ladies Night

Done! Celebrating the first time she kicked cancer's ass.


But here is where the world often goes awry in their understanding of God. People shake their fists and shout, “Why her? Why not someone who wasted life? Someone who didn’t try to make this world better? Why Brooke? Why so soon? Her thirties?”

Brooke believes God's words, so I will share a few of them: "Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Psalm 139:16

The truth is this: Our worth in God’s eyes is not deemed by length of days. God has numbered our days before we are born. Given us each a different amount. Each a different lot. June 24, 2016 had been marked before she was born. It gives me peace to know it was decided, and it’s not a failure on someone’s part — a doctor, an earlier checkup, a different choice of meds — He had given her these days, the beautiful ones to the ones at the wretched end, and he trusted her enough to believe that she would hold on to Him through this all. And she did. A short while ago, she wrote this in a piece on bravery: 

"I’m not sure how to encourage you when I’m so deeply in the midst of figuring my own business out, but I will say this: Life is beautiful. Every sunny day running the dog, or crummy day in the bathroom. The ones that take five pain pills and the ones that only need two. I think we are meant to know that it’s ok to feel it all – the hurt and fear and joy and love and even anger. Because we are loved by a complete God. And He gets it. All of it. We get to be brave by being true to what’s actually happening and living in daily moments of resurrection.” Here is her whole article if you want to read her thoughts on bravery.

She wrestled with God like Jacob did. Argued with Him like King David did. Even yelled at Him for his sadistic plan of giving up his only Son to a life and death of suffering. She understood suffering. And out of her suffering, she was raw and scathingly honest. But she believed. She believed He did what He did. Didn’t like it, but didn’t deny it. And God was not thwarted by her volume. He loved her through it. Adored her. Understood her pain. Grieved with her. Remained by her side. And welcomed her, His sweet feisty world-shoving beloved, by holding her and wiping every tear from her eyes.  
B's FB status: Beach View? Check. Huevos Rancheros? Check. Great Company? Check.
Cancer doesn't take you softly. There were texts when she would describe what was happening to her body, and I would sob as I texted her back what I knew were weightless stupid words. So, why? Why her thirties? Why a world changer? Why cancer - the pain ripping demon that is relentless and so unfair in how it steals your life so savagely? 

I don’t know.  

But somehow in the eye of the chaotic storm of heartbreak choking me on all sides, I know that God remains good. I know it like I know I have breath. 
In London in a bathroom not made for short people

Believe me, I have not committed intellectual suicide to have my faith. It is so much easier not to believe. I do not know how those two can simultaneously be truths — her suffering and God’s goodness. Maybe it’s my simple-minded micro thinking. But I don’t think so. I didn’t solve Gulu the day I jump roped with the neighborhood children. But my jump roping was part of the plan. Necessary. Beautiful. Perfect in the eyes of the kids that day. God used me in that. I was working the way I was wired. And right now, I think Brooke is so grateful for my relentless and stubborn faith. Because she’d want you all to know that she is whole right now. Healed. Alive. Wreaking havoc in heaven, no less, but alive. 
She IS. Not WAS.

The missing doesn’t go away. That’s the most heart-wrenching part of death. If Brooke had lived 80 years, and left before me, it would not have felt like enough time. Our hearts were not built for death and separation. Everything in the very core of us rebels against it. I want her with me. Now. In this moment. As she would say...

I know it’s hardly been enough time yet for me to miss her. But I miss what is yet to come because now I know that it won’t anymore. I don’t get more memories with her.

And she’s a damn good memory maker. From sailing to trapezing to Paris to Mammoth to Vegas. And it was never just dinner. It was dinner in the rain in a DC outdoor cafe under our umbrellas. 

It wasn’t just an African safari. It was a safari where we sat on a luggage rack atop of a soccer mom van offroading towards a lion with Brooke and Paul bantering and joking that, to the lion, we looked like we were on a dinner plate being presented to him. 

If there were $3 machetes being sold at the Quicky Picky, then hands down we were buying them with our grape sodas. 
And as we hiked in utter darkness, it was her crying wolf at every snap of twig that it was a “Cobra!” until she jumped on me screaming and I blew her off laughing… and it really was a cobra. 

I am SO grateful to God for the gift of these memories. She made my world better.

There’s a beautiful art piece called “Ancient of Days” by William Blake. In it, God is holding out a compass into this dark void below Him, mapping out the world and life and time all from above. 
He sees it all. There is no way from our perspective, below the base of His compass in the picture, inside of time, that we can see what He sees. And yet we try, don’t we? We scream and holler and shout that we could do a better job, or when things don’t make sense, that He must not be up there; the truth is, we don’t want to hate Him. We just want to understand. And when we don’t, we get frustrated and angry. We long to climb up on His shoulders and look for one moment so we can get it — make sense of it all. We hate the confusion. The darkness. But His promise is that the clarity will come. "For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known." (1 Cor. 13:12)

God created the earth in a finite time period. And yes, it’s beautiful. But it’s also broken. He says He is preparing a place in heaven for us. Still. If this world, which we love and never want to leave, is so great, then it is but a shadow of what heaven is. Heaven is not boring. We will not sit on clouds and play harps. It will be better than here. And I will see her again. There. And He will wipe every tear from our eyes when we are reunited. And we will know fully, even as we are fully known. But for now, we must be good to her and ask, “What would she want of us?” What would she want of you? And then make a plan. And do it. She always did.

Miss u too, B-town. Miss u too.

Friday, January 1, 2016

For The Love and Hate of The New England Patriots

Me heading to work on Opening Day
I’m getting myself in trouble even beginning this. Why? I love the NFL. Like stupid crazy love. Like if you’re a guy who doesn’t have 17 weeks of Thursdays, Sundays, and Mondays already marked on your calendar as “sorry, I’m busy” days, there is zero chance for a second date. I love the sport, the play calling, the yelling at the TV screens, the beautiful game of chess and evasion and collision that manifests in a gorgeous dance of speed and power across 100 yards of turf. I don’t know every Super Bowl fact or every player’s statistic or the name of all 32 teams’ defensive coordinators. But I know football. And I know that I love it. And that is enough. It is enough to feel my heart rate accelerate before every kickoff on Sunday morning. It is enough to bathe in the beauty of it for four months of the year, and go through withdrawals every time it leaves me in the beginning of February.

And let’s get something straight. Contrary to popular belief, Tom Brady is not my first love.

The NFL is.

And in order to write this, I’m going to have to shed a little light on my true love. And what's under that light is a little ugly. When you choose to love someone, you love them wholly and completely, regardless of their faults and vices. And let’s do a little math (and Captain Obvious common sense): the NFL has 53 players a team, if you’re not including the practice squad. At 32 teams, that’s 1696 players who were not hired for their moral uprightness, but for their passion, drive, and intelligence of the game.

One thousand six hundred and ninety-six.

Since last year and Deflate Gate, I have received an avalanche of disparaging remarks when people see me don my #12 jersey: 

“How can you support a cheater?” 
“I thought you were a good person.” 
“Of all teams, you’re a PATRIOTS fan? You?” 
“Tell me you’re from Boston. There’s no other excuse.” 
“I can’t believe you can actually feel okay wearing that.” 
“How can you have a crush on such a fraud?” 
“They are the most dishonest team in history. And you’re a fan?”

I must clarify that I rarely hear these comments among fellow football fans. They’re usually from those who don’t follow the sport, yet feel the need to attack it as if they own stock in it and have a Masters in the game that they’ve most likely never sat through four quarters of, except during the Super Bowl with a good multi-layered bean dip to keep them on that couch.

Mind you, I never rebut these comments, as I have often found people like to hear their opinions as universal truth, and then move on. Any defense I could offer would bore them, as they don’t care about the sport anyway, much less my opinion. Plus, I cannot nor will not justify that my team was innocent or clueless of the deflation.

Brady over my right shoulder (oh, and my parents and Jen - haha)

At the game 3rd quarter

This year, I was lucky enough to fly to Denver and watch the Patriots play the Broncos in a sold out stadium of orange and blue. 

I was at the 50 yard line, fifteen rows up from the field, stomping my frozen feet for four quarters of snow. Denver’s back up QB Osweiler held his own against an injured Pats defense, and in OT, they took down the Pats and their undefeated record. It was heartbreaking, but still an incredible experience, even as my parents (big time Bronco fans) would reach to hug me every time their team did something magnificent.

Of course I came back home to comments like, “It’s about time the cheaters got brought down,” and “Sweet justice.” People rallied around Denver, the heroes who conquered the enemies, The Robinhoods who served those thieves right! Yes, my sweet non-NFL-watching hecklers were defending Denver.

Let’s travel back to 1998. Let me introduce you to three fantastic Denver offensive linemen: Brian Habib, Gary Zimmerman, and Mark Schlereth. It was the AFC divisional playoff game and the Broncos won in Kansas City. Fair and square, right? 

Well, except for the Vaseline.  

Yep, those three linemen were fined after it was discovered that they lathered each other’s arms in Vaseline pre-game. My friends and I used to play water polo in the Delta River with a watermelon that we slathered in Crisco. Ever tried to catch one of those? Yeah, impossible.

You wanna compare advantages between Crisco linebackers and 1.6 PSI? I don’t. I’m not justifying one over the other. I’m just reminding us all that these players were not picked out of a church lineup. They love to win. I get it. But let’s not come up with patronizing nonsense that the team who leads the NFL with suspensions for Performance Enhancing Drugs DESERVED to take down the New England Patriots.

And a note on PEDs. If you’re going to play the comparison game to conclude that the Pats are SO MUCH WORSE in their cheating tactics than any other team, let's just remember that PEDs increase risk of injury to other players, and THAT is far worse than a ball that is more catchable. Since 2010, the top three ranked teams for PED suspensions are the Washington Redskins, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Indianapolis Colts. In a four way tie for fourth, you have the Baltimore Ravens, The New York Giants, the St. Louis Rams, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. All of the above teams have had more PED suspensions each in the last five years than The New England Patriots have had IN TOTAL SINCE 1960.

But the Pats have a reputation! Remember when they filmed games and defensive signals? Yes, I do. But I also remember in 2010, when the Broncos also secretly filmed, except it was of the 49ers walk-thru practice. And THAT is illegal, on or off the field. What the Patriots did is actually legal and common; it’s just not allowed from the field. Had it been in the stands, it would have been no harm, no foul.

But Belichick is such a cheat. Other coaches aren’t as shady as Belichick.

Are you a Jets fan? Do you remember when Coach Sal Alosi was suspended for the rest of the 2010 season after he intentionally tripped the Miami Dolphins corner Nolan Carroll running up the sideline?

He’s not the only coach who has forgotten that he’s not wearing a jersey. Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin walked on the field and into the line of Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones as he was returning for the kickoff. Jones literally had to move out of his way and into a tackle.

Raiders fan? Then you may know that your owner Al Davis once posted a sign in the locker room that read “Raider Rules: #1. Cheating is encouraged. #2. See rule #1." Does that mean they cheated? Nope, but it doesn’t seem like your owner is frowning on rule-breaking.

However, while we’re talking Raiders, it is important to note that Stickum was only made illegal after the 1980 season when Raider Lester Hayes would cover himself fingertips to elbows in the stuff. Did it work? Well, he did intercept 13 passes and receive the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. You be the judge.

NY Giants fan? By far my favorite of the shady NFL moves is from Linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who wrote in his autobiography that he would routinely hire escorts the night before football games to “entertain” the running backs he would face the next day. The escort’s job? To “weary their legs.” Ha! Talk about covertly preying on men’s weakness to give yourself the advantage. Well played, good sir.

I could fill pages with different players in the 32 teams who have cut corners, helped themselves, and hurt others in their fight to have every advantage on Game Day. They’re fierce. Not flawless. Notorious. Not noble. No one ever said they were noble. 

Should there be consequences? Absolutely. I’m not trying to advocate for a rule-free league. However, before you come down on the Patriots as THE cheaters, take a step off the field and back up to the nosebleed section. Look down on the NFL as a whole. Add up every team’s multiple violations, from PEDs to Salary Cap infractions, from Vaseline and Stickum to dance/sex partners hired for their opponents, and I think you’ll find that the New England Patriots are far from the front lines in the ranking of “scandalous teams.”

As for Deflate Gate, let's take a look at the two refs' measurements of the footballs at halftime (credit:
So, no, they weren't all at least two pounds under, as originally reported. But it doesn't erase that most were one pound under. One is still one.

Here’s my quick stance on the deflated balls: I don’t think my coach was aware of it, and if you know anything about NFL coaching, you know that when preparing for a game, the footballs are not even on a coach's radar. That’s petty janitor work, when he's the principal: he's assuming the classrooms are ready for students, but he's not checking the desks for gum. He's dealing with the important administrative logistics.

But sadly, I can't say the same for my quarterback. Brady’s too good to be ignorant. If he didn’t do it, which I don’t think he personally did, his hands would have still recognized the difference. Brady is good. Really good. No one, no matter how much he or she may dislike Brady’s fame or good looks, denies that. Brady is damn good. He knows his football as if it’s another appendage. And therefore, I only have two options: he either knew or he didn’t know. Here, his talent deceives him. You can’t be that good and not recognize the meticulous differences. Would it have changed the outcome? No. That’s what’s so disappointing about it all. It would be like Michael Phelps wearing invisible fins. Why, Michael, why? You're good enough to kill the competition without them. 

Do I think the balls were deflated in the same way I let air out of a soccer ball? No. I think they were inflated to 12.5 PSI in a warm inside environment on purpose, knowing that Mother Nature’s cold weather would do her magic. Subtle. But nothing new. Andrew Luck does the inverse. He has his footballs inflated in the cold outside on purpose so that his footballs naturally increase in PSI in the slightly higher temperature of the field. It’s preference.

Aaron Rodgers has admitted to overinflating his footballs. CBS broadcaster Phil Simms recalls Rodgers stating pre-game, “I like to push the limits of how much air we can put in the football, even go over what they allow you to do.” Does it help with his grip and confidence? Probably. Do I think he’s a cheater because of it? No.

Brady can throw a deflated ball. He can throw an overinflated ball. He can throw a regulation inflated ball. And would you be able to tell which is which if you just watched his throw? No. Brady can throw a helium balloon as if it were a rocket. I think it affected the catching more than the throwing, but then it really just comes down to good field playing, because if you can intercept, it’s an easier catch for you too.

So is it that big of a deal? Eh.

Every team is guilty. Every. Single. Team. Yet The Pats are the ones with the mark on them.
Which leads me to the question, why so much hate for The Pats? I mean, truly, there is no middle ground. It’s crazy passionate love or vehement hatred. 

I think it’s because America loves an underdog. We rally, don’t we? We tune in for the Cinderella teams who squeak into the March Madness bracket. We are America: the eternal optimists. Believers in miracles through enough hard work. We fight for the impossible. We hope for the hopeless. Look for life among the ashes.

At the end of the day, I see a team who is really good and a coach who is never pushed around and a quarterback who is that talented. And hot. And married to a supermodel. And dammit, just stop it already, New England! Why would I cry for the popular head cheerleader who loses an earring when she is basically nice with awesome parents and a sexy-and-good-to-his-mother boyfriend and no financial struggle. Can she just trip going down the stairs? Just once? Or get a gnarly wart on her face?

I get it. I do. And you are perfectly entitled to hate whatever team you want. What I’m trying to prevent is the untrue absolute that The New England Patriots are more deplorable than 31 other teams and their naughty shenanigans.

Newsflash: They’re all naughty. And for the 17 weeks in the regular season, I will park myself in front of multiple screens and soak in the bliss of a beautiful and well-crafted symphony of strategy and strength known as the National Football League. Because at the end of the day, the scandals and shadiness are far outweighed by the beauty and sexiness of the game. I love all 1696 of you. Play on.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

My "Grand" Movie

"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels." -Hebrews 13:2

There's such a beauty in going places alone. For me, it's the heightened awareness of the people around me. People are fascinating and quirky and beautiful. Everyone has lives full of both great things and sucky things. But they all have their stories. And if you look closely, you can have your own front row "movie" every day.

Today, while traipsing through five miles of the Grand Canyon upper rim alone with my dog, here were the characters I was lucky enough to have enter my movie reel:

The foreign couple speaking their native tongue in quick words that felt giggly and devious; then I noticed they were trying to get a photo of the boyfriend peeing over the edge of the Grand Canyon, but tourists kept rounding the corner every time they got set, which resulted in the boyfriend repeatedly doing a frantic "zip up" that left the girlfriend doubled over in fits of laughter.

The old lady in the wheelchair who was so excited to tell me that they couldn't figure out why she couldn't walk after her operation, but she wasn't going to let it ruin her vacation. Her daughter was riding a mule for the first time because her granddaughter, who was a rodeo star, couldn't go alone on the mule ride down the canyon since she was only 12.

The homeless man with the dog who played with my dog for 20 minutes, who used to live in L.A. but bought a van, gave up work, and is now secretly sleeping near one of the Grand Canyon's campsites. Every day, he walks to the upper rim to enjoy the free nature talks and sunset walks.

The lovebirds making out on the bench who have been married for 52 years and were on a road trip from Florida. Florida?! My butt would be sore after Memphis.

The man from Connecticut who was bringing his daughter's car across country for her so she could have it in college. Dad of the Year Award.

Caitlynn, who asked to pet my dog, then asked my name. When I told her, she said, "Oh, that's great! I'll never forget you. That's my sister's name." Sure enough, three hours later, someone yelled "Heather!" across the parking lot, and I looked up to see Caitlynn waving both hands wildly like we were old friends, and she had missed me so much through the years.

Today was a grand movie.

But today actually started a long time ago.

Back at summer camp when I was in junior high or high school (the memories merge), there was a campfire talk. The guy spoke of something profound and life changing, I'm sure, but all I remember is one phrase: "That's a huge hole." He was speaking of his visit to the Grand Canyon, and no doubt it was some extended metaphor to our walk with Jesus or our plight through the scary halls of middle school, but all I remember was the humor of his understatement as he recalled staring into the vastness of the canyon and saying, "That's a huge hole."

I remember laughing when he said those words. It's funny what the brain holds onto. Maybe it was because the speaker wasn't easily impressed, and the size of this "hole" made him stagger. Maybe it was just because he was a funny guy, and he made me laugh. Why do we remember what we do?

Years later, I don't recall the point of that talk, whether it moved me to improve my morality or to square my shoulders back and walk with a new "hell yeah" confidence, but I do recall his four words: That's a huge hole.

Since then, and primarily because of that campfire moment, I have wanted to visit this huge hole. Today, en route to visit my parents in Colorado, I finally went.

I walked to the edge and looked down. There it was. I looked out. There it was. I looked to both sides of me. There it was. And like I did at campfire years ago, I laughed, only not from the humor but from the truth. I found myself saying out loud, "That's a huge hole."

I mean, what else can you say? There aren't weighty enough words to encapsulate what it truly is. Epic chasm? Gargantuan gorge? Colossal cleft? Those words minimize the reality of what your eyes can't even take in fully. It's just this huge... hole.

I'm struck by why those four words stayed. But they did. They played a part in me getting here today. They played a part in my "movie watching": the dad driving his daughter's car 3000 miles to her because he loves her, the lady in the wheelchair rolling around the Grand Canyon because she loves to get out and live, the homeless man who loves a good sunset, my instant old friend Caitlynn who loves all Heathers, and foreigners in the midst of their peeing shenanigans who love a good memory.

I'm reminded of so much today.
I am small.
That's ok.
People are beautiful.
That's a huge hole.