Thursday, 24 December 2015

This is the Funniest Story I Have.

I tell this story when I really need to make someone laugh. I hope it works on you.
My last year of seminary was one of my hardest times of my life. I was part time teaching, full time seminary student, dating someone, and my best friend had cancer.
This was also the year I witnessed my father’s atrocity.
I still lived at home with my parents in my old bedroom. It wasn’t a proud time of my life. So I would lie awake, wondering where I’d made a mistake, how I’d ended up still on the same mattress I had when I was 9. I was 25. My friends had moved out, gotten married, had friends over and drank beer without a dirty look from their father standing there in his underwear in the kitchen eating ice cream. Ice cream that he bought, by the way.
Late at night, I would hear this scratching outside my room, my room on the 2nd floor. It sounds liked a dog scratching to get in the house or a axe murderer using a cliche. I was more afraid that it was dog, since mine was buried in the backyard.
I would hear it, night after night. And I let my parents in on his event. I explained that at night, there is a distinct and profound scratching happening outside my room, on the side of the house.
My father knew exactly what it was.
“It’s the tree scratching house. You know, cause the wind is blowing.”
I’ve lived in that house for 25 years. There is no tree that comes close to the house.
I explained this geography to my father, but he insisted it was a tree. So I said, “Fine. Show me.”
We paraded around the house and I pointed out that absolutely nothing would scratch the outside of the house. He then questioned my sanity. Was I sure heard the scratching? Do I know what I’m hearing? Is it the house creaking? Was I stressed at school? Did I want some water?
Fine, I said. I’ll just listen to the scratching. He shrugged his shoulders and walked back into the house.
A couple of weeks later (I hear you scratching, you are real. I hear you.) my girlfriend and I were driving down to meet my parents for the first time. Now, I’ve had my share of scares, surgeries, and stressful situations. This was a new kind of fear. I was willingly bringing someone into my insanity.
My parents are good people, mind you. But my father can be a bit difficult. He’s like if Red from That 70′s show and the dad from Everybody Loves Raymond had a sterner older brother—without the laugh track.
I explained this to my girlfriend. I explained that you have to ignore about 70% of what they say. It can be awkward. My dad loves to swear. He’s a bit racist. He doesn’t know he’s racist. He gets his haircut at a “salon” where they understand black hair. But he uses the “colored” and the “N” word occasionally.
I turned the car ride into this McRae Parent Orientation. My girlfriend was patient and assured me that her parents were weird as well. I sighed. I’d met her parents. They were the Cleavers in comparison.
Just as we are wrapping up the Orientation and I’m handing out evaluation slips, my cell phone rings. It’s my mother. She’s frantic.
“You have to come home quick. The squirrels. …they almost got me.”
The phone cuts off. I can’t get her back on the line and I’m five minutes away from the house. My girlfriend and I try to decode the message, but we can’t seem to understand. The squirrels? The girls? Where was my mother that the squirrels/girls were going to get her? Did she owe them money?
We pull up to the house, and my father is out there with a bucket of suds, in his jean shorts and ratty white T-shirt which means he’s washing the car. My father was the sexton of cleanliness and order on my block. He washed his car every weekend, and convinced his neighbors on both sides to mow the lawn on the same day so it looked even.
I start to get out of the car, along with my girlfriend. My dad is bent over this bucket of suds, and I notice something strange and out of place—there is no car in the driveway to wash.
No answer.
No answer. He’s about 8 feet from me.
I look over at my girlfriend and she shrugged her shoulders.
I tap on the car horn, and my dad is clearly startled. He turns around and as his hands fly up out of the bucket,  and the suds hit my car.
“Dad, what are you DOING?”
He replies, “I’m drowning F-ING squirrels! What does it look like I’m doing?”
I look over to my girlfriend and she is in shock. She doesn’t know whether to laugh or what. Non-verbally, I clearly communicate to her that right in this moment, right now, she can break up with me and I would totally get. A clear break, like a Kit-Kat.
“Dad. This is Lisa.”
My dad instinctively attempts to shake her hand, in which I block and say, “Easy there. We’re going into the house.”
I lead my girlfriend away from the bucket of dead, floating squirrels and my mother is in the kitchen. I introduce her to my mother and my mother tells us how she was in the bedroom next to mine when she opened the closet door to find a 3 ft circle cut out of the closet. She investigated and apparently a mother squirrel had dug into the house, had babies, hoping that my parents would take care of them.
Sorry, squirrel.
So my dad, did what any lunatic would do: he put on gloves, and drown them all.
When I asked my dad if that was the best course of action, he said:
“What did you want me to do? Raise them and make them T-shirts?”
Strangely enough, I could imagine this.

There is a Good Chance I’m a Racist.

We don’t “do” laundry here for the most part. Most of the bases have drop off laundry. You just drop it off, and in 1-3 days, you get you laundry back—folded ,clean. If you know me at all, you know I hate laundry. It’s too time consuming and it makes me angry (also, I’ve never had my own washer and dryer. Maybe when that happens I’ll calm down. Don’t bank on it.)
So at this base I’m at, Sharana, they don’t have a laundry service, just an Afghani who does your laundry. I hadn’t used it before. I was going to jump to my next base, but right now it’s like hailing and snowing right now. No one is flying anywhere.
My buddy and I go in, he gives the $10, soap and our laundry. It’s usually $2 a bag, but the guy doesn’t have change and he tells us he will when we come back. Simple enough.
We have lunch, read, twiddle our thumbs, and then head back—the guy only gives $2 and refuses to give us anymore back. it cost $8 instead of $4. My buddy is livid and won’t use him again. I walk out and think, Man that guy has some nerve. Who does he think he is? He just ripped us off for $4. (And this wasn’t even my money.)
Four dollars. The guy lives in Afghanistan. He lives in a cold place. He doesn’t get to eat in the cafeteria. I don’t even know where he lives. I didn’t take the time to ask his name. I didn’t wonder how hard is life is until now, sitting down at my $1,000 computer. I make more money in one day doing nothing than he does in a month. I’ve started looking at the Afghani people like a problem, like a nuisance. I’ve wondered if we have done any good here and will it continue. I’m trying to be a light here, a good Christian, see the people who they are.
I am failing. I mean, I can connect so easily with the military. I speak fluent military, seriously. But due to my hopping from base to base, my schedule and my wretched heart, I don’t connect with the locals. I don’t speak Pashtu and I don’t have a way to learn it (and I don’t care enough).
So when I was done, I went back, unloaded my laundry, and listened to my iPod and promised never to share this with anyone—ever.
How has my heart changed here? Has it?


I was going to put the Most Important question, but I figure that would cause a debate. Making it the fifth gives little space for argument.
I’ve started a little project now that I’m down to 51 days. I have a deck of cards and every day I will rip apart one card and post a picture of it on my Facebook. (I’ll do my best. Sometimes the Internet Deities do not answer my prayers.)
I’ve become more and more numb to this place—like I’m just snapping my fingers saying, “Come on. Come on. Come on.” Let’s move this along. I have other things I’d like to do. Like what? Like not all of this. But Ryan, you need to embrace—
Planes land here every day. Hope on one, my friend.
I digress.
See, I don’t know myself very well. This is what I’ve discovered in my time here.
I didn’t grow up with a lot of choices. I didn’t decide on my college of choice, and nearly didn’t get to choose my major (I got a free ride to a college if I became a teacher. So that’s what I did.)
I didn’t really have time or space to decide what I  wanted to do. I’ve basically taken jobs so I can eat and or get out of Illinois. I haven’t yet embraced what I’ve been hoping to do and I’m nearly (gulp) 40. I don’t even know my style if I were to decorate my bedroom.
I once painted my bedroom blood red cause I thought it would be cool (and my most serious ex-girlfriend got married. I might have not handled that well. Someone described my bedroom as The Shining meets Revenge of the Nerds). That lasted a year (and some crazy-ass dreams) and then I repainted it light yellow. Much better.
With all of that, with my inability to make solid choices in my life, this question emerges, the 5th  most important question there is in the world:
Are you living a life that best reflects who you are? 
That’s the question I need to answer, that’s the question I’m struggling with so hard. What kind of life do I want to live after I’m done here. And I think that’s what I’m going to struggle with this week, making lists, and coming up with an answer, guideposts to figure out is this what I want?
I’m applying for a job at charity:water this week. It’s much more admin than I’d like, but I can compromise and see if that’s what I’m to do.
And I have to ask you, loyal reader: are you living a life that best reflects who you are? 
(And the 4th most important question is obviously: is there bacon in the house? If not, do we have access to bacon?)

The Love I Have Found Afghanistan

So I’ve met some soldiers from South Dakota. Great guys. Down to earth. They ride motorbikes and drink really, really bad beer. They will tell you what’s on their mind and they are as crude as the oil in your car (which, if you know me, makes me laugh. I know, it’s horrible. I can’t help it. I giggle like a school boy.) And a couple of them have told me about their lives, the dreams they have when they get out of here. See most of the soldiers that I work with have just gotten here and now I’m the old-timer, the guy who knows how to get things from time to time, like cases of Mountain Dew. It’s the 2nd currency here in Afghanistan.
I’ve maybe trained 300 soldiers here. A lot of them are on my Facebook and I check on them from time to time.
But here’s what’s strange. 
Some of these South Dakotians, these young men—I want to make sure they get into college if that’s what they want to do. I want to make sure they have books and toiletries. I want to make sure they aren’t staying up late and that they have everything they need.
I’ve had lunch with them (I usually eat alone). We hang out for a bit and I spend my free time just shooting the bull.
On my long walk today in the rain, I thought about it—I don’t think of them like brothers and it’s more than friends. It’s this strange affinity, something that I couldn’t put my finger on. And then I imagined them walking across the stage getting a diploma and I was cheering like a fool and taking pictures after the ceremony. I wondered what my suit would look like or if they’d like the watch I got them.
And I figured it out, like the last turn of a Rubik’s cube, the hidden piece of a puzzle,Mr. Green with the candlestick in library. 
I think of them like my sons.
And this thrilled me and at the same time just broke my heart.
Get back soon South Dakota. Get home fast.


I used to have this real discipline for two things: reading and working out. I’d hit the gym 4-5 times a week and read like a jimmy-hound. I’d be just annihiliating books, but now that I’m in my home base, now that I’m 14 days away from getting out of here (reminder: I’m going to Melbourne, Australia. 2nd reminder: you’re jealous.)
But I don’t want to read. I don’t want to work on a project right now (I just finished the application for my dream job.) And I’m just whipped—I don’t have a drop of creative juice.
Oh sure, you can say, just dig deep and focus, but I’m telling you, the well is dry. DRY!
So right now I’m watching Friday Night Lights and then starting Game of Thrones Season 2. Just updating this blog is hard—to come up with a post nearly every day. But maybe when I’m drinking a beer in Dubai or drinking a beer in Australia, or in LA, or in San Diego, or Vegas, or Chicago, or Portland or Nashville that I’ll snap out of this funk and write more.
Or tomorrow.

The Battles in Afghanistan.

I have to battle a lot here, not with weapons or with grenades, but just managing stuff.
Right now I’m battling to teach 12 students in a morning class and 12 in an afternoon class. They are just coming off work.
I’m battling a LT who doesn’t want to give me a table with more than 5 chairs.
I’m battling this chest cough I’ve had for 2 months.
I’m battling my roommates letting me sleep at a decent time.
I’m battling my homesickness, my constant shadow.
I’m battling my Dark Passenger who is just weird lately: YOUR FRIENDS GREW AWAY FROM YOU WHEN YOU WERE GONE. I think he’s just making stuff up now.
I’m battling getting up at 5:00 AM.
But I’m winning most of these, and I’m going to keep going.



What are you doing next? I get this question a lot now; now that my time getting smaller and smaller, my own personal draw-down, I ask myself the same question. And I understand this simple fact:


You see, I really loved Legos when I was little. And I bought a VW van kit last December and loved assembling it. My mom said that Legos was the best babysitter ever. I would sit for countless hours just building and I didn’t know what it was going to be until the last brick got put in its place.
So I’m going to get involved in that subculture when I’m done: (Google: LEGO FANATICS and say goodbye to your afternoon.) I’m going to get the City Legos and the Mindstorm Legos (and maybe play with this kid I know, Tyler McRae or Nathan Calles.) I might build the Death Star. I might invite you to help. I might not though. I might watch Friday Night Lights while I work on it. I’ll have some kits and then do my own designs. You might get a box for your birthday, built out of Legos.
Because my life is a lot like these Legos, the different kits, the different parts. I haven’t followed one path of  a career, but an amalgam of different ones. And I’m going to try to spend the summer figuring out how to assemble them, make them fit. I’m meeting with a cast of characters I’m meeting from the five conferences I’ll be attending. Yeah, you heard me. FIVE. (I’ll talk more about those later.)
But I’m not intimidated; I’m not scared I’ll be homeless. And yes, I’ll have this gap on my resume for about six months. And I’m ready for the question:
“I see there’s a six month gap in your resumé. Can you tell us about that?”
“Yes, I saw my friends, lived and played with Legos. Here I am.”

The 180 I Needed to Find

About four days ago, I wasn’t doing that well. I had a blog post half-written about how I felt like I was drowning out here. You see, the loneliness level of this place is always rising, like when Timmy got stuck in the well and Lassie ran….you know the rest. You might be thinking that I’ve made all these friends out here and we hang out at a restaurant and laugh and laugh about Afghanistan.
I rarely, if ever, hang out with people who get me.
At it got the point where I started feeling like I did on April 16th, this foreboding, this bone-chilling loneliness and this constant voice: You gotta get out of here.
But I’m learning an important lesson—this idea to be patient and things can turn around. Like a ship with no wind, eventually things will pick up. And I’m not good at that. I get stuck in the next 5 seconds and that’s it. I condemn myself to this fact: how I feel now will always be the way I feel forever and ever. 
But all I had to do was wait. All I had to do was be patient.
One of my old staff members sent me a Pokeball asking me to be a groomsmen. (Mission accepted)
I’ve been asked to officiate a wedding in about a year with other friends of mine. (total honor and my first)
I’ve been invited to a special business meeting in June. (Thanks, JT.)
I’m doing a Kickstarter and it’s going to change the face of the planet (like that hype?)
If there is any lesson, it is this: keep going in forward motion. Keep going. If you are stuck, if you are struggling and keep failing, keep goingJust when I was about to throw in the towel, I got a little grace, a little good news and I was back in the game. My exercising has picked up, my reading and my other goals. I’m not doing perfect (I’m the only person on the planet with dust on his digital Bible.) But I’m moving in a forward direction.
Keep swimming. Keep swimming.
No kidding.


I’m currently in Portland attending the World Domination Summit. Here’s what we wound up doing, the “we” being me and Dr. David Powers. Here’s what happened yesterday (I’m afraid I have to keep it brief. I’m currently main-lining Mountain Dew to stay awake. )
  • I tooled around town and ate at Mother’s where they have great sausage and biscuits.
  • Helped David film a waterfront video for his church.
  • Then hit  Ground Kontrol. It’s a huge old school arcade where I tore up some Addam’s Family Pinball.
  • We passed VooDoo Doughnut, which may be a touristy kind of trap, but I dig it.
  • We hit an independent comic shop and then went to Stumptown coffee roasters. Before that, a quick stop at Powell’s bookstore. That place usually overwhelms me, but I can only go into one part of the bookstore. Otherwise I get a headache and want to throw up.
  • Hit Mother’s today for a WDS meetup (met a ton of people).
  • Then spent time with my two buddies, Mike and Dan, at Blue Plate Diner where they make their own soda.
  • Registered at WDS and saw Chris Guillebeau.
  • A bunch of us trekked to Rogue brewery and then headed back to the hotel where I typed this monstrosity.
Bam. Caught. Up.
Private party with author Pam Slim, plus, the opening celebration tonight.
Stay tuned for more pics.

Getting Used to the States.

I wasn’t gone that long, but it’s strange being in Portland. Strangely comforting. Here’s what I’m enjoying.
  • I’ve missed big beds. I sleep on a twin back in Afghanistan.
  • Being able to use a bathroom and lock the door.
  • Choose what I can eat from a menu.
  • Traveling in a car.
  • Going outside and not sweating.
  • Being able to relax.
  • Bookstores. Music stores. Clothing stores.
  • Really, really fast internet.
I’m glad to be here, but the fear of going back is starting to creep up on me. It happens in the pauses of my day like waiting for a traffic light. I suddenly get afraid. I suddenly come up with excuses not to go back.
But I’m going back. It’s definitely a head vs. heart match.
Stay tuned. Tomorrow is the meet and greet of World Domination Summit.


By this time tomorrow, I’ll be in the air, coming back to the States. And there is this encroaching fear in my heart: what if I don’t return. What if I balk and just do not come back. Could that happen? Could I just chicken out?
It’s possible.
You see, I don’t have to be here. I can’t tell you how many contractors I’ve met like myself who say, “I’m doing this to support my family.” or “I’m doing this to get out of debt.” There is some invisible shackle keeping them here.
I possess nor am locked in by any shackle. I could go back and get a job if I wanted. I know for a fact that Barnes and Noble is hiring and I would rule the school at that job. (I’d actually love it. I thought about working at Powell’s someday in Portland for fun)
But I talked to my chaplain here and said, “I’m afraid I’m not going to get back on that plane. . . .”
His response: “Don’t be a wimp. Run the race well and you have ministry here.”
I do. I do have ministry here. Later today I’m talking to soldiers about getting their kids into college and getting them ready. But I’m not going to focus on July 22nd. I’m going to focus on today, cause man, in Afghanistan, tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.


I was the house that always hosted my friends. I rarely went over to other people’s houses. Maybe if they had the newest Atari game.
But I never figured it out until now, why I always had my friends over.
My dad notoriously ordered pizza from Nino’s. They had some of the best pizza ever (and they closed recently. Oh my heart.)
So we’d eat pizza and watch movies, like Stand By Me, or play board games. Maybe some Dungeons and Dragons. Maybe. I can neither confirm or deny.
But over and over, from about age 11-30ish, my dad would yell one question down into the basement.
“Ryan! Ryan!”
(I knew what was coming. I’d cringe, but I’d have to talk eventually.)
“Yeah, dad?”
Now, let me explain—we had no ducks. There were no ducks anywhere around my house. One day my father, who needed some attention, or…something, decided to have that be the question of the night.
My friends would look at me like I lived with a crazy man.
Now, I would usually just say, “Yes, dad” because that ended the conversation quicker.
If I said. . . “No, dad”, then he’d get really concerned and ask my friends what they thought about my neglect of the non-existent ducks. He’s ask me where the feed was and when was the last time they were fed. He’d ask what their names were again. . .It was always different.
“Yes, dad. I fed the ducks.”
Now when I got older, at about 15-16, I’d say things like:
“Nope. Murdered them all.”
“I let them go!”
“I put them in a wood chipper.” (Now before you all say, “Aww, poor ducks.” There are no ducks. Do not buy into my father’s delusion. Snap out of it.)
“We ate them.”
He’d get really upset when I violently ended these ducks’ lives. And when I’d come upstairs for the eventual refill he’d say, “I can’t believe you killed the ducks.”
Dad. There are no ducks.
“You don’t get the point!”
2012. I still don’t. Maybe he wanted me to feed the ducks or pay attention to him. Maybe he wanted me to play the game, but after years of playing, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
And I wonder if I do this. If I’ve been conditioned to worry about invisible things, intangible, unimportant things. I consume my thoughts with the smallest worries, the tiniest wrongs. Things that don’t matter. They quack at me and I give them their undue affection, making sure everything is ok.
For example:
If someone doesn’t like me or if they are upset at me and won’t confront me, I soul search and wonder if there is something wrong with me. What did I say? What should I do differently?
I conform myself to the wants and preferences of others.
I have ton of people like this in my life. People who have just either dropped me, been mad at me, and refuse to let me know why. I used to wring my hands and wonder what is wrong with me.
I never, ever, consider that the other person might be a nutcase.
And I wonder if the ducks are fed. If they are ok.
Man, I gotta find that woodchipper again.


I usually have two backpacks: one filled with clothes and one with tech.
I unpack the clothes directly into my laundry bag and write down what’s in there. (I have to hand in a list.)
Then whatever is left, if it needs to be out of the bag, it’s out, if it stays (chonies I never used) it stays in.
I unpack the tech, plug in everything that needs to be charged, plug in my computer, etc. Again, stuff that stays, stays.
If I have mail, it does NOT get touched until all my housekeeping is done.
When both bags are handled, I look at my paperwork and organize it. I’ll manage it the next day after I’ve finished the unpacking.
I grab my shower stuff, hit the shower and scrub away the other base. Head back, get dressed. I write down all the stuff I have to do: personal, work, etc.
Then I grab my mail and put the week, two weeks or what have you behind me.