The Best Thing I’ve Ever Done

There’s been so little good going on in the world lately, today I decided that was what I wanted to talk about–something good. Except what had I done that was good? What was the best thing I’d done? I knew I’d made a ton of mistakes.

What was the best thing I could think of? What was the best decision I’ve ever made? What that I have done has made my life better? For that, I go back to December of 2008.

Ken and Linda came to San Diego for a visit, and we went to Old Town to look at the sites and have some Mexican food. I decided that would be the day I said something to them about wanting to marry Jenny.

We did Old Town for a while, and we had lunch at some place whose name escapes me. I think that night, we also took in the Christmas program at Shadow Mountain Community Church, where David Jeremiah preaches. I remember when I attended there, the Christmas programs were quite extraordinary. I don’t remember the one we saw with Jenny’s parents, though, because I was kind of nervous, knowing what was coming later.

We stopped to get something to eat at Denny’s on the way back–it was the first place Jenny and I had eaten together–right before going to the zoo, and we had breakfast. So that night, it seemed like a good enough place to go with her folks for a late dinner. About halfway through, I decided that Jenny needed to take David to the restroom, and I would text her after I talked to her mom and dad.

After a minute or two, I mumbled something out–I don’t remember what I said. I do remember that Linda did one of those fist pumps people do. “Yes!” The only problem was that I forgot to text Jenny and tell her to come back. She must have waited five minutes in the Denny’s bathroom with her chicken sandwich getting cold.

Worked out for the best, though. At least I think so.

Now that the talking part was out of the way, we actually had to get engaged. I began formulating big plans for that. There would be a horse. An expensive dinner at Seaport Village. Clowns and balloons–Ok, maybe not that. But if you have a cliché in mind regarding a marriage proposal, I was going to do it.

It would be December 22, 2008.

Only one problem–I found out a couple days later, that was the annual Whitson family Christmas. There was nothing I could do–I couldn’t tell her that it was marriage proposal weekend. It would have ruined the surprise. So I drove to Yuma that Saturday, as I always did. It was around lunch time, and I knew everyone was already there, or would be soon.

I had to pick up the ring at the jewelers (it had been sized), and it wasn’t ready yet. So I walked over to the Walmart a couple of stores over to kill some time. I stood in the book aisle and read the ending of Marley & Me (see, I have a dark side. But I didn’t know what would happen to the darn dog at that point), and was soon puffy-eyed and teared up over the grave-digging scene. Big mistake.

Eventually, I secured the ring and went to Ken and Linda’s. The party was already on, and soon after it was time for gifts. The ring was in my pocket in a little ziplock baggie, wrapped in white tissue paper. Jenny and I were sitting on the blue and white “love seat,” and eventually, I figured “what the heck?” I went into the bathroom to fish the ring out of my pocket. I came back and gifts were just about done. David was across the room, and Jenny’s brother and wife were standing with their back to us. Her grandma was on the big couch, but wasn’t looking at us. I told her I had one gift left. I started to kneel, and said something stupid, like asking her what she was doing for the next 50 years or so. 4 year old David crashed into us right then–exactly then. I realized Grandma Marie HAD been looking after all. I slipped the ring on her finger, and that was the beginning of the best thing I’ve ever done. The smartest thing I’ve ever done.


George Michael and 90 Seconds in Hell

Anyone who’s seen much of 2016 would have to acknowledge that quite a few celebrities have checked out this year–and there’s still almost a week to go, so there could be more. What I’m thinking about today, having just heard about Carrie Fisher, is not Princess Leia. It’s George Michael. Why, you might be wondering? I know little of his music, and that video with the “Choose Life” shirts? My goodness. Before I continue, watch/listen to this…and think of the portly doofus in that picture below.

My George Michael/Wham! memory is from an audition for a musical I did back in high school. I did OK on the acting part, and didn’t embarrass myself singing–as part of the chorus, anyway–I didn’t do a solo. The problem was the dancing.

Anyone who knows me knows I lack even the smallest gracefulness.


Yes, I’m that guy. Many pounds and many years later. But dancing was part of the audition. One of the cheerleaders (Mona Nicholson) came up with a short, choreographed routine to the Wham! song Wake me up Before You Go-Go, which was a pretty big hit for George and his silent, guitar “playing” partner. I’m sure he had a name, but I don’t want to look it up.

So there we are–a handful of guys–on the tarmac outside the gym where the play would be performed. We’re standing there while Mona (yes, she was attractive) demonstrated the few steps for us. All I could think of at the time was to pray that no one saw me. The finger-snapping, “Jitterbug!” intro to the song came on and my humiliation began.

My hands/arms were held out from my sides like I was playing a drunken airplane running in a loose circle. I put the “boom-boom” into no hearts that day. I am tall. I am clumsy. And I demonstrated that fully on that 80’s afternoon. 85? 86? I can’t remember that part.

Maybe if any of my friends from those days read this, they can help me fill in some time gaps. I feel like it was springtime of 1986. Anyway, I’ll remember that time as long as I live, even if it isn’t the most masculine thing I’ve ever done.

I also remember there was this big number toward the end of the title song, “The Pajama Game.” We all had to wear pajamas for that last song. Someone (I have my suspicions) decided it would be funny to hide my pajama top. I searched frantically for it, but in the end had to “borrow” one from somebody that was about five sizes smaller than my own. Years later I would see Chris Farley crooning “Fat Guy in a Little Coat,” and it made me think of that. I had to raise my arms and do jazz hands at the end, looking like an obese genie that had just popped out of a bottle of Crisco.

I think my sisters came to the performance, but my mom didn’t, that I can remember. She was alive, but without much health or energy left. Probably a good thing–I put a hurtin’ on that pajama top.

So when I think about George Michael, I think it’s sad he’s gone–I think it’s sad when anyone shuffles off this mortal coil. But I don’t think of his hit songs from the early 90’s when his image comes to mind. I think of that white tee-shirt emblazoned with “Choose Life.” I think of stuffing my midriff into a third grader’s pajama top.

So “adios,” George. Thanks for making my 90 seconds of horror possible.


Life’s Too Short

There’s this video going around right now that’s making everyone feel all the feels. In it, a youngish African-American man comes home and his younger brother is in his house. He hasn’t seen him in 4 or 5 years, I think it is. They laugh, and hug, and it’s great. Then his mom enters the video, and he hasn’t seen her in ten years (I think both mom and brother had been in some African country). The older son completely devolves to his childhood, it looks like. He falls on the ground, cries, and hugs his mother.

The first thing I thought of was this one time I forgot my lunch when I was in high school. The bus stop was literally right across the street from my house, and I remember standing there with a big group of kids when my mom came onto the front porch with my brown bag in her hand and yelled “Tommy, you forgot your lunch!”

I must have rolled my eyes or something, because she set it on the porch and went back inside. Immediately, all the kids started mockingly calling out “Tommy, Tommy.”

I went and got my lunch, and it was more of that stuff the whole way to school. I don’t remember how the situation was resolved with my mom. It was true I’d been extremely embarrassed, but it wasn’t right to be rude to my mom.

Anyway, I saw that video of the kid breaking down when he saw his mom and it occurred to me that’s probably what I’d do, too. I’d give anything now for my mom to hold up my lunch and call out “Tommy!”

The point of this isn’t to have a pity party–my mom’s been gone many, many years. I just want to say that life is too short to be consumed with stupid things. If you’re a kid and you somehow read this, your parents are going to embarrass you sometimes. Maybe they’ll even do it on purpose (I remember taking the boys to the fair a couple years ago, and my older son brought a friend. They were playing this really loud fair music and my wife and I started dancing along behind my son and his buddy–he was horrified. And when we ran into one of the cool kids from school, he practically screamed “stop!!” Too bad, really, because my booty song came on…). Let it go when that happens. It’s making memories. Things you’ll look back on later and be glad they happened.

Be embarrassed, that’s fine. Just never forget that if your parents didn’t really love you, they wouldn’t take the time to act the fool in front of your friends. For my part, I love doing that stuff, and I am not above sacrificing my dignity for a laugh. I just wanted to say that, in the words of Bradley Nowell from Sublime, life’s too short, so love the ones you got.

RIPs in Advance

So the celebrities have really been checking out at an increasingly rapid rate, especially musicians and singers. The men and women who made the music of the 60s, 70s, and 80s are getting a little long in the tooth, and you never know what’s going to happen, or when. I enjoy a lot of that older music (real instruments, and real vocals–good and bad) because I have older sisters that introduced me to it when I was younger. I am really grateful for that.

When they pass, social networking goes bananas with tributes and RIPs. So I thought I would pay some respect to the bands I loved when I was younger, and love today.

Ozzy Osbourne/Black Sabbath and solo. My friend had a Paranoid LP, and we played it a lot when I was younger. Then I got one of my own from my sisters, I think. Such a great and heavy record. Today, Ozzy speaks like a stroke victim in recovery, but he can still sing. Ozzfest 2002 was awesome.

Deep Purple. Amazing band. I only need two works to prove it. Highway Star.

Styx. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.

Journey. They rock, and the ladies love them. What’s not to love?

Judas Priest. Oh, my gosh. Still one of my favorite bands from the 80’s. Rob Halford is in his 60’s, but he still has it.

Iron Maiden. A friend had a recording of Live After Death. So good. And Piece of Mind? Please…

Don’t let me forget Bruce Springsteen, either. Not metal, but Born in the USA and The River were like old friends during a really tough time. And then my sister gave me the live boxed set for my birthday, I think. Done–lifelong fan of his music. Never mind his politics.

That’s the beauty of recorded music. The performers will be gone, but we will have the music forever.

Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes

I heard noises coming from my kitchen this morning, or at least I thought I did. They were not the kind of noises from someone breaking in, or stealing, because I know my otherwise worthless dogs would have barked up a storm, and they were not making any noise at all. It was not my wife, because she was sleeping next to me. It seemed more like the sound of someone moving about and getting ready for their day—the sound of small dishes clinking together, a radio coming on softly. I looked at my bedside clock and it was 0330 exactly (shortly before I normally get up).

I got out of bed and wandered down the hall in my boxers, because why not? I immediately saw a light on in the kitchen, and when I came around the corner, my mother was there in a bathrobe, frying something in a skillet. She turned to look at me and said my name, “Tommy.”

I haven’t been Tommy in a number of years, but this morning I was. I started to respond, but then I realized my bladder was really full, and I rolled over and looked at my clock, and it was exactly 0330.

Although I realized it was a dream right away, it also occurred to me that I hadn’t seen my mother since 1987, and the last time she’d been in a morphine coma. She looked pretty good today, all things considered.

So I sat on the couch, and I read a little. I had a couple microwave pancakes. I was restless, and I couldn’t concentrate, so I pulled up an episode of Hawaii Five-0 on Netflix. Kono was lost at sea on a catamaran trip she began in honor of her mother. There were a lot of flashbacks with Kono and her mom, where the mom would relay this…homespun Hawaiian wisdom to her that helped her survive. “For crying out loud,” I thought. What on earth kind of morning was this going to be?

I guess I was supposed to think about my mother. Which I do almost every day, anyway. So that is what I’ve been doing.

I don’t have a lot of stories of mom passing along wisdom—I don’t remember her that well, honestly.

But I remember she loved old-school country music. In San Diego, the station was called KSON. I don’t know if it still is.

I know she liked to dance—I remember seeing her cut a rug with her brothers when I was very small. We have a couple home movies as well.

I remember rainy picnics on the kitchen floor. Sitting cross-legged on the floor and eating PB & J as my mom sang “rain, rain, go away.”

Other times she taught me this snippet of a George MacDonald poem called Baby. “Where did you come from, baby dear?”

To which my response was “out of everywhere into here.” My sister tells me she had this old book, and it came from there.

I do have one of her old books, though, and I really treasure it. It’s an old and falling-apart Living Bible, featuring marks she made with a fading felt-tip. It was given to her by my aunt Cathy back in 1979. I don’t know how much she read it then—I don’t remember seeing her with it until the months before her death.

There was one psalm she underlined in several places, and I just found that a couple of weeks ago. 31 years after she died. Amazing. And very comforting. Here is Psalm 116, which she underlined in purple, at some point before the end.

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice  and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen,     I will pray as long as I have breath! Death wrapped its ropes around me;     the terrors of the grave[a] overtook me.     I saw only trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord:     “Please, Lord, save me!” How kind the Lord is! How good he is!     So merciful, this God of ours! The Lord protects those of childlike faith;     I was facing death, and he saved me. Let my soul be at rest again,     for the Lord has been good to me. He has saved me from death,     my eyes from tears,     my feet from stumbling. And so I walk in the Lord’s presence     as I live here on earth! 10 I believed in you, so I said,     “I am deeply troubled, Lord.” 11 In my anxiety I cried out to you,     “These people are all liars!” 12 What can I offer the Lord     for all he has done for me? 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation     and praise the Lord’s name for saving me. 14 I will keep my promises to the Lord     in the presence of all his people.

15 The Lord cares deeply     when his loved ones die. 16 O Lord, I am your servant;     yes, I am your servant, born into your household;     you have freed me from my chains. 17 I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving     and call on the name of the Lord. 18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord     in the presence of all his people— 19 in the house of the Lord  in the heart of Jerusalem.”

So today I will remember my mom all I can. I will thank the Lord for the time I did have—18 years. Not all good, but good enough. There were struggles, but there were also a great many blessings. I’m grateful for them. If anyone I know reads this, I’ll show you that old bible next time you’re at the house. It’s awesome.

I just remembered my mom used to talk to people on a CB radio my dad put in the kitchen. Her handle was “Ol’ Blue Eyes” to my dad.

That’s awesome, too.

Not trying to be sad, or make anyone tear up. Just remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes.

A good thing to do.

Dysfunction, with a W

Today I read an article online about the TV show Six Feet Under. It was pretty much just a quick oral history of how the show came to be, but there was a small part of it where the actor Peter Krause, I think, was talking about how the Fisher family was dysfunctional on the show, but that cast as a family was very functional.

It got me thinking about my own family growing up. Not that we were terribly dysfunctional, really. I think we were like lots of families during that time period. My brother and sisters grew up in the 60’s and 70’s (I came along in 1968), and it was just a different time then.

My siblings dealt with the same things lots of people did during that time period—Viet Nam, drug issues (not necessarily their own), probably some politics, meeting (or not meeting) societal and parental expectation, and simply finding their own way.

And they had this baby brother come along, and they were really more like parents to me than anything else.

My mom dealt with health and alcoholism issues as long as I can remember. Then it was cancer issues, and it took her a really long and painful decade to succumb to them.

I got along with my sisters much better than my brother. They showed me the love and support my parents couldn’t, for whatever their reasons. My brother, not so much. If I had to name an individual responsible for most of my woundings and scars, it would be him. Both literally, and figuratively.

He single-handedly formed the self-image that almost completely undid me.

I didn’t get it before—not for years—but I think I understand why things played out like that a little better now.

He was a little different as a kid, from what I have been made to understand. Perhaps there could have been some mental or chemical issues, I don’t know. He wasn’t always easy to love. Still, the girls did what they could.

Then I come along, and for whatever the reason, I was treated and loved well by my sisters and was a total mama’s boy. I don’t think there was anything special about me, but the love I was shown shaped my personality as much as my brother’s hate did, I think. And I get that it upset him and probably caused a lot of his issues with me.

Plainly put, this new brother did not help his issues at all, and certainly stole a lot of the time that he used to get. It felt like he hated me for being more loved than he was. I don’t know if that’s true.

I suppose that is a dysfunction.

Yet there were also moments of kindness. He would give me things of his I wanted that he didn’t use or play with anymore. He would take me for rides on his motorcycle. One time I got sick in the middle of the night and puked all over the place. He cleaned me up and put me back to bed, and then cleaned up the mess all by himself without waking anyone else up.

Lots of things like that.

My dad seemed a little aloof, but I think that was a generational thing. Men of his time (the greatest generation) were not always the touchy-feely uber-dads you see so often these days (I try to be that kind of dad myself).

I think he did the best he could considering what he had to deal with himself. There were periods of unemployment, my mom’s alcoholism and cancer. Probably hopes and dreams he had of his own that never happened. I don’t ever remember him striking me or anything like that. But I also don’t remember encouragement coming from his direction. I don’t remember much in the way of physical affection, though I suppose he did love me after his own fashion.

He died when I was 16.

Still, I had my friends, and I had my mom and sisters. My brother was thankfully not home much that I remember, and that was good. He only seemed to come around when something bad happened, and he wanted me to feel like it was my fault.

Like when my friend shot himself about ½ mile from my house.

Like when my high school girlfriend broke up with me shortly after graduation.

Like when my mom died in 1987.

That was when my downward spiral started, and didn’t end for a really long time. There weren’t really drugs, unless you count binge-drinking. There was lots of that. There were also several empty relationships, the last of which ended in the early 2000’s. There was a short foray into occultism. Pornography. Despair.

More dysfunction, I guess. During most of those years, I was not a good brother, or probably friend. I preferred shadows, and I would walk in them.

Then God started to introduce people of faith into my life—slowly, so I didn’t notice it was happening.

And for the first time I can remember, I also had accountability.

I met a guy in college who introduced me to a Jesus I hadn’t heard much about, and he called me on it when I was doing dumb stuff. My self-image began to change. Slowly, and I didn’t notice it was happening. The Jesus he told me about loved people as they were—even in their imperfection and sin. He forgave. He changed them from the inside out.

He changed me, in the fullness of time, with many missteps along the way.

I think about all the dysfunction, and I think about the many valleys I’ve been through in my life. Lots of pain. Lots of bad things.

I would not change any of it, and I know how that sounds.

But had I not experienced that stuff, I would not be here today, literally.

There’s a line in the Pat Conroy (one of my very favorite authors) book, The Prince of Tides where the narrator says something like “There are lots of families who go their whole lives with nothing of interest happening to them—not a single thing. I’ve always envied those families.”

I like the book a lot, and used to feel that way myself.

Not anymore.

My family is interesting, and has overcome a lot. Everything I have and more.

I love them.

We are weird, and we have phobias, and predilections, and strange habits.

But strange and dysfunctional as we are, we are a family.

Wilkins in various forms, ideologies, shapes, and colors.

I have been shaped by my life experiences, and by the love I have been shown over my life. Not by the hate. Nothing good is.

I am not the person some of those experiences led me to think for so many years.

God showed me that.

So here I am today.


I work for the Army (indirectly), doing a job I like very much.

I have my own family, and though we might not be Wilkins-level dysfunctional, we try our best. We are loud, and crazy, and we fight, but not as much as we love.

My wife is literally the most extraordinary woman I have ever known, and I will love her until I look like this:


All that dysfunction was for a reason. It got me here, by the Grace of Jesus, my abba.

The Wilkins family is here to stay. We’ve got branches all over the country, though my main concern is the San Diego Chapter.

I am grateful beyond measure.

I love show tunes, and I love metal, the language of my people.

My wife has introduced me to country, and I like that, too.

I like mince pie, even though I seem to be the only person in Arizona who does.

I love books, and my kids, and carne asada tacos.

Life is pretty good.

Bionic Dad

Father’s day is coming up once again, and I am understandably thinking about my own father. Every time you turn on the TV, there are Father’s Day commercials. People post them online, and tell you to grab Kleenex before you watch. Inevitably, I will watch, and often end up a little (or a lot) on the misty side. The commercials all show dads doing dad things, and what usually tears me up is that I don’t remember a lot of that with my own dad. This is not to say that it did not happen, only that I don’t remember it.

My father was from a different generation than a lot of my friends parents were, and he was much older. He was 39 when I was born, but he looked and acted much older. The irony there is that he was younger than I was when my little guy was born. Anyway, it seems to me that the generation he came out of was not so…nurturing and…”touchy-feely” as a lot of men–a lot of dads–later became. I don’t remember a single instance of him talking about his feelings, or anyone else’s. It wasn’t his fault–it was just how things were.

So most of the memories I have of feeling nurtured or loved on concern my older sisters. I suppose that is often the role of women in the lives of boys. It certainly was in mine. Consequently, I wanted to spend as much time as I could with my sisters. It made sense to me then, but I have no idea how it made my dad feel that I didn’t want to be around the house much. I never had the opportunity to ask him. Not when I was old enough to understand that my behavior toward him might have been hurtful in some way. He died in 1984, when I was 16. He died before I learned to drive. He didn’t see me graduate. He didn’t usher me off to college (nobody, did, actually. I didn’t start until I was in my 20’s, and I didn’t graduate until this year).

Recently, though, I have been actively trying to remember things, and looking at a lot of pictures, and little snippets of Dad have been coming to me. Rising up in my memory like little slips of paper with things written on them.

Dad sitting in the kitchen with a BB gun, waiting to shoot a mouse.

Dad driving through Jack in the Box to get me pancakes before we went out on his sailboat.

Dad making me rubber band guns in the garage.

Dad taking me and one of my friends to see the first Jaws movie.

Dad finding me when I got lost at the swap meet once.

Dad taking a washer or dryer in his arms and wrestling it out of the back of his pickup.

Dad seeing a swear word on a rock at the bay and draping a towel over it so my mom wouldn’t have to see it.

Dad teaching me how to pull the guts out of fish.

He didn’t often–possibly ever, that I can remember–tell me he loved me, but he sure showed me an awful lot.

I remember listening to him getting ready for work and drinking coffee and talking with my mom. I would go out to the kitchen and say goodbye. We would do that whole “see you later, alligator” thing, and I loved it.

So there was a lot of good there, I just needed to go looking for it. There’s much more than the things I shared above, but I’m keeping them just for me.

I wonder what I would say to him given the opportunity?

I think I would certainly tell him that I loved him. Part of me would have wanted him to be different, but an even bigger part would have wanted me to be different. I suppose I was just being a typical adolescent and teenager, but that doesn’t excuse anything. Of course, had I known he only had a few short years left, I would have perhaps tried to do things differently. I didn’t know, and consequently I wasn’t the person I would have wanted to be.

I can’t live in the past, though when days come around like Father’s Day and Mother’s day I think to regret a few things.

What I do know is that I don’t want my own kids to wonder about me later on in their own lives, so that means I need to be a better and more significant part of their lives now. My generation is touchy-feely, and I need to get off my ass and touch and feel (in a non-creeperish sort of way, of course).

So as you might have guessed, I’m feeling pretty sentimental right now. I haven’t seen my kids or my wife in almost two weeks, and it is weighing on me something terrible. I hope the conviction I’m feeling now does not leave me, but stays burning in my heart.

I want very badly to be a good dad.

To that end, I know that some things need to happen. I need to depend more deeply on God, and not on myself and my own understanding. I need to turn to God, and trust him more (I don’t think we can ever do that enough). I need to stop thinking so much about what was lost and think about what is–thanks to His provenient Grace–yet to come. I need to think about God’s promise, given in Joel 2:25 to “repay the years the locusts have eaten.”

Absolutely no credit to myself, but I feel like things are looking up in that regard. Over the past week, all of my siblings, finally, are in touch. Yes, it is via social networking, but that is a very big something for us, and I feel that more good is to come.

There are only a few weeks left in this program, and then I will be home. And I can begin to do things like seek his truth for my life in scripture–along with my kids. They need to see that is important to me, and I need to show them.

I can’t turn back any clocks, and I don’t think I would want to if I could. What I can do is my best to be different.

Better, stronger, faster (ok, no, I’m not bionic, but I’ve always wanted to be. I liked that noise it would make when he did bionic stuff on the show–sort of a ch-ch-ch-ch kind of thing).

So there I go again. Out of place humor.


Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce

It was fourteen years ago this month–the exact date escapes me.

My friends and I were on our way to Peoria, Arizona for a Padres Spring Training game, with a stop along the way at my friend Ken’s father’s vacation spot on the Colorado river, somewhere between Blythe, CA and Yuma Arizona. Not really that far, relatively speaking, from Martinez lake. A little place called Walter’s Camp, which was not a lot more than a small store selling bait and tackle, and renting boats. There was a small park for mobile homes, and perhaps a couple dozen (I’m guessing) fishing cabins and halfway decent vacation rentals along the river.

During the day, people water skied some, or kayaked. You could swim in the river if it wasn’t too cold, and a little ways down was a sandbar where people would hang out and drink, and enjoy the sun. At night, though, it was a little bit different. The cabins were far enough apart and it was dark enough that you could have a good amount of privacy while still getting your party on. I don’t know about everyone else, but we would usually indulge in almost medieval amounts of beer, and often were still in fairly bad shape when we headed off to the game the next day.

It was the sort of fun that it seemed only single young men could have, and with the exception of Ken, the other three of us were exactly that. This particular trip, though, was a little different for me.

Over the past year or so, I’d developed a healthy curiousity about God, thanks to a good friend I’d met at Grossmont College, otherwise known as Harvard on the Hill. It would have been a fair statement at the time to say I was seeking in earnest. I wanted answers to what in the blue heck I was doing on this weird, sad, and sometimes outright tragic planet. To that end, my friend introduced me to his pastor and friend, an ex-chaplain named Tim Wakefield. He was a really great guy, and had a lot to say about Jesus, and what he could mean to a life. My friend was a great example. He’d come from a serious drug addiction and almost losing his marriage to leading worship and beginning his own road to pastoring.

I was developing a friendship with Tim as well, and was started to feel comfortable at his church (Calvary Baptist, in Linda Vista). Then the week before our trip to Peoria, he was killed in a motorcycle crash, while in Arizona.

I thought about cancelling my trip, but I knew my friends were counting on my being there (and also on my car), and decided to go anyway. I couldn’t stop thinking about Tim, and how messed up it was for God to take him when I had barely gotten the chance to get to know him. I also knew his family would he utterly destroyed, and wondered what would happen to them as well. And to me, for that matter. Who would help me find my way to God, if that would even still happen? I was angry, and sad, and looking forward to getting into my 30 pack of Bud Light and forgetting about things a little.

I remember driving up and unwinding on the back deck a little, looking down at the river and talking about whether or not the Padres were ever going to get back to the level of excellence they’d shown back in 1998. Right about sunset, my friends went to the fire ring in front of the cabin to get a bonfire going (because alcohol and fire sound like a great combo when you’re in a certain state). I remember hearing them call to me to bring the beer coolers, and I stood up from my chair and lifted a cooler in each hand. I looked down at the river, and for some reason, I decided to walk down the short ramp to the boat dock.


(That was pretty much the view I had, although I didn’t take that picture. I Googled Walter’s Camp, and selected the image–it was perfect)

I thought about Tim, and thought about God, and thought about all the shit that had happened in my 32 years that to all intents and purposes pointed to the absence of God, rather than the presence. It actually surprised me when I started crying.

I remember crying out something almost primal, more sound than words, and then dropping the coolers at my left and right and dropping to my knees on the dock, ripping out both knees on my Levis. It was about as simple as that. I would later read something from CS Lewis talking about his own conversion, and he referred to it as giving in and admitting that God was God. That’s what it was like. There was no voice from above (at least not then), but it did feel as if a blanket or maybe a strong arm dropped over my shoulder and I remember slapping my palms onto the dock and saying something like, “God, please…

My tears cut the wood beneath my bowed head and I waited for…something. I could hear a cabin maybe three down having a party, and smell their fire as well as the one in front of our cabin. The Rolling Stones song “Midnight Rambler” was playing and I could see people milling around on their deck and down on the dock when I turned my head to the side:


(I’m pretty sure this is the exact cabin, but it was fourteen years ago and I was tipsy and emotional so I can’t say for certain)

and then it was like…being enveloped by a sense of peace about things. They weren’t totally OK then, and weren’t even the next day, or for a while after that. In fact, our weekend continued on our planned course. Something was different, though. I stood up, and I knew God was real, and wanted to know me, and have me know him. I hadn’t known that when I fell to my knees. It gave me hope, and that was something I hadn’t really had before. I knew I had a long way to go, but now I also knew I would not be alone on the journey.

That was how it started, fourteen years ago.

Today, things are different. I live a short drive from Walter’s Camp, but I’ve only been back once since that time, and it was over a decade ago. I’d like to go back sometime, and take the kids and Jen. I’m doing about as well as I’ve ever done, and life is pretty good.

I love God, and I love my family. My wife is my best friend, and we’re coming up on five years of marriage. It never would have happened had it not been for that day in Walter’s Camp.



Since my niece’s memorial not long ago, I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot. My sister made a comment that my niece was the first granddaughter for my parents to come along, and then the first to join mom & dad.

I thought about my mother because with the exception of my brother, all the rest of us siblings were gathered in one place, with a great many extended family members there as well.

I could count on one hand the number of times that had happened since my mom checked into ward 2 East for her final stay–maybe even one finger.

It was a terrible last few weeks and months for mom–for all of us, really. It wasn’t like in the movies, where the sick person cracks jokes right until the end. It was ugly, and she hurt, and we couldn’t help her. We hurt, watching her die, and there was nothing to assuage that pain, either.

I remember what an awful son I was during that time. Right when she started to get really sick, I’d gotten a job I liked at a local steak house, but had to quit because I needed to help take care of her. I resented it, and resented having what was supposed to be the fun part of my life encroached on by my mom’s cancer.

I wanted to goof around with my friends, and play, and have a girlfriend (well, that finally did happen, but it wasn’t easy, and for some reason I never told her about my mom). I wanted to enjoy the time after my high school graduation, but that was when things really started to go bad.

So I did as little as I possibly could of her caretaking, in order to still be some sort of teenager. I missed a lot, and I regret it terribly. I spent–no, wasted–a great many years crippled by self-loathing because of how I’d treated my mother over her last few months.

And this is one of the places where I experienced true inner healing, where God reminded me of who I was to my mother, and who I was to him.

The healing came in the form of a memory, and a sort-of vision.

The sort-of vision was this. At the moment I came to faith, I was kneeling on a smallish wooden dock with the knees torn out of my Levi’s. I remember having a slide show of my life scroll before me, of all my transgressions, sins, and times of darkness one after another. I pounded the dock with my palms and cried out to God, wondering if the world was a place I even belonged.

I felt the warmth of a hand on the back of my neck, and a stream of words in my heart.

You are meant to be here

and then the warmth flooded down my arms, and swirled through me, and I struggled to my feet.

I wondered if someone had slipped something to me and on the heels of that was this is God and this is love and this place was where I belonged for a time, because work had been prepared for me to do, and all I had to do was lay my burdens down. So I did.

It was only the beginning, and there were still quite a few hard times to come, but I think if it hadn’t been for that experience, I never would’ve had the other. I never would have remembered that day in the hospital.

The memory came to me quite a few years after I came to belief. It was 2007, I think, and it was during a church service at CVCF, right around Easter. Pastor Mike was talking about how he’d led his mother to Christ, sometime soon before her death. He talked about his mom’s last few days in the hospital, and how they used to play old school, big band music in her room.

It made me think about my mother, and her room–her death-room, as it turned out. Pastor Mike mentioned how at the moment of her death, the song “Heaven, I’m in heaven” came on. He spoke of the peace he was able to find with the knowledge of his mother finally being home.

All the guilt I’d ever felt about my own mom came rushing back, and I got up quickly at the end of the service so I could scurry out.

At the door, the overwhelming urge to sit back down with my friend Ron came on me, and I did exactly that. “Could you pray for me?” I asked him. “I don’t know what about.”

I both heard his words, and didn’t hear them as he prayed. I couldn’t tell you a thing he said today, but that was when the memory rushed into my head and my heart, and I

picked up my brother in my old Mustang II, that had passed through many hands. We had to get to the hospital because it was time for mom to go. I hurried, and let my brother out in the front while I parked. please, don’t let me miss this, too. Pleasepleaseplease. I remembered running up stairs, and following a painted line on the floor to the nurse’s station, and then turning into her room. The girls were there, holding her hands and touching her leg. My brother stood at the end of the bed for a minute, and then turned and rushed out of the room. “Where’s Tommy,” she said.

“I’m here, mom.” I said, and I looked on the cork board next to her bed. My prom picture was pinned there, and I remember looking at it as she said the last word I ever heard her say.


She didn’t die that day. She lasted until February 27, 1987, and then quietly went home while my sister Valorie was with her in the middle of the night.

I don’t know why it took me most of my adult life to remember that, but I’m glad I did. I’m glad my friend Ron was there, and I’m glad he just let me grieve for a few minutes. I literally cried on his shoulder almost until the second service began. But I also felt a wound begin to close.

It was a start. And here I am today, where I never even thought about being.

Another family gathering is in the works for next month, and it occurred to me at the memorial that my niece did something in death that hadn’t seemed possible until that Saturday afternoon in Old Town, and it was truly miracle.

She got the band back together.

Egg the Fat Kid

I usually try not to respond to or write about things out of anger, but just this one time I’m going to make an exception. My friend Justine shared an article a little earlier that was about the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch and why he “hates fat chicks.”

The article explains:

“He doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people,” Lewis said. “He doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing. People who wear his clothing should feel like they’re one of the ‘cool kids.’”

It made me remember my high school years, when I was definitely not one of the cool kids. We were not well off at all, and my clothes were never designer, and sometimes not even new. It shouldn’t have mattered, but kids can be more cruel than the Marquis de Sade so it ended up kind of making things harder.

I was bussed from Santee to Grossmont high school, and I remember how crappy the kids from that neighborhood were to those of us who could not afford the trappings of wealth many of them could, and who didn’t look the way cool or attractive people were supposed to.

That was me for sure. Overweight by the in-crowd’s standards. Average-looking at best. Generic or used clothing, for the most part. The “fortunate” kids were always kind enough to let me know where I fit in the scheme of things.

There was one time in particular that stuck with me–well, two. The first was one day early in the school year. I remember getting on the bus and feeling like the clothes my sister had purchased me looked pretty good for a change, and my new Payless shoes looked just like Adidas. I thought it might make a difference.

I remember one kid when I got off deliberately stepping on my shoes and making them dirty, while another berated the “Kmart specials” I was wearing. I was utterly humiliated.

The other time I was getting out of my car at the Parkway Bowl theater about a year after my mom died and I was wearing this rugby shirt I liked a lot and a pair of actual Levi’s I’d purchased myself. A carload of high school boys (football players, by their jackets) drove up and yelled “egg the fat kid,” which they proceeded to do. Thankfully, their aim was much worse than their probably beer-impaired judgment, and they only hit me once, right on the chest of my rugby shirt.

Egg the fat kid, indeed.

So when I read that article Justine posted, it made me think of the careless cruelty of my peers when I was the age of many potential A & F customers. I so wanted what they had, because I thought I’d fit in. Maybe even get popular friends.

The friends I did have had nothing to do with how I dressed or the how much weight I carried. They still don’t. Maybe that’s why I never really cared much for brand clothes as an adult.

It might be worth adding that by all accounts, the A & F CEO is supposedly a bit of a troll in addition to his PhD in douchebaggery. It seems evident he is attempting to make up for whatever he feels he missed out on in his youth.

He’s going to fail, and no matter how expensive the clothes are he wears, in his heart he will always be the fat kid, or the poor kid, or the kid with buck teeth. There is only one way to find healing for those kind of wounds, and it is not through wanton buying sprees and callow and superficial attitudes toward people who don’t meet some arbitrary fashion standard.

If it weren’t for Jesus, I would still be trying to meet those standards and trying to please people who didn’t like me for who I was, and would never love me for who I wasn’t. It was and remains ridiculous.

I’m writing this on my phone and I can’t see all the stuff I’ve written further up, so let me just say in conclusion that I have never been in an A & F store, and thanks to this article, I never plan to be. it sounds like I wouldn’t be welcome anyway.

This CEO (who shall not be name dropped by me) can go take a flying uh…leap at a rolling doughnut.