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for hallowe’en a couple years ago, we bought our daughter a skull on a stick. before you call child protection services, i’m not trying to get my daughter to be fascinated with death. she picked it, out of all the hallowe’en toys. and while we thought it strange that a 1 and 1/2 year old would want a skull, we bought it for her anyway. she loved it. she would take it to bed with her, in the car, in the bathtub…it was her sidekick. she could speak fairly clearly at this point, but for some reason she couldn’t pronounce ‘skull’ properly. she kept calling it ‘gus’, and so to this day when she sees a skull, she calls it ‘gus’.
i got a tattoo the other day, a huge skull with a rose growing out of its mouth. i thought i looked pretty tough. who wouldn’t be intimidated by someone with a skull tattoo? i know i am, even though i have one. they pretty much scream out, ‘i will kill you if you make eye contact with me’. not that i am stereotyping people with tattoos at all. i mean, they are all lowlifes and sinners, but other than that…so i felt pretty tough with my new forearm tattoo. nobody had better mess with me, because my skull tattoo has given me power beyond measure. until i got home…
my daughter ran up to me and said, ‘oh look, it’s gus and the flower.’
that took some of the steam out of my toughness train. what looked really tough at one point now reminded me of springtime blooming and my old school bus driver. i don’t think he was named gus, but he reminds me of what a gus should look like.
tattoos tell stories. and while you might not understand why someone would desecrate their body so, every tattoo tells you something that’s beneath the surface. something deeper in this person’s heart and soul. sadly, too many people’s souls are filled with weird tribal art that means nothing to them, but other than that…
i got my first tattoo the day i turned 18. i had just graduated. i made the appointment months in advance in anticipation of this day. my parents were strongly opposed, so i knew i needed to stay in cognito on this quest towards tattoodom. the design was brilliant…or so i thought at the time. it was a bat logo from a band that i loved. AFI… i still stand behind the fact that they were a great band, and maybe still are. not really my cup of tea anymore. but it is a pretty dumb tattoo if you simply judge it by its appearance between my shoulder blades. but if you look deeper, it describes a huge part of my life. music. cheesy pop punk riffs that made me feel like i mattered on some level, like nothing had before. traveling to see bands like AFI, deathbystereo, Good Riddance, Layaway Plan, Choke, Moneen, Face to Face, Gob, etc…these bands were what i lived for. it is where my greatest friendships were formed. not sleeping for 40 hours straight in order to follow a band (death by stereo) through the prairies. cramming 15 bodies into a 4 person hotel room the night before warped tour in minneapolis. eating gravy with the loaf of bread i stole from home in grafton, nd because i had no money to buy food, but poured what i did have into gas money to go to a show. 341 productions. the old fire hall. goodsampark and means split tapes. the adrenaline of hearing the perfect beat. the smiles on the faces of those moshing/dancing/whatever you want to call it. music is where God found me, or where I found God, depending on how you look at it. it’s where i grew. it’s where i matured (somewhat). music was everything to me, and still is to a certain extent. and so this dumb little bat tattoo that resembled my crush on davey havoc’s (lead singer) great singing intertwined with gut wrenching screams looks stupid. but it resembles so much more. it resembles a time in my life that shaped me into who i am today. a time of pure joy. a time where i found real joy and purpose in life.
and so now i look at my new tattoo and don’t really miss the tough guy feeling i had. i simply smile when thinking of my daughter’s beautiful face and the excitement with her declaration of my gus and the flower tattoo. because it’s not what the tattoo looks like that’s really important. it’s what’s behind it. it’s where the meaning is found. i’ll take that beautiful image any day over intimidating old ladies in the grocery store.
although, maybe i can still do both…
‘move over grandma, that’s my last package of farmer sausage. i have a skull tattoo.’
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i had this weird sense of deja vu the other day.
i went to my old school to meet a teacher who wanted to test drive my vehicle i’m trying to sell. he went for a drive and i was left waiting. i didn’t really feel like going inside and making conversation. i wasn’t being a snob or anything, i just knew i wouldn’t have time for anything worthwhile. so i sat on the swing out front. and that’s when the memories came flooding back.
wcc, or wcchs as it is now known, has been a part of my family since the day i was born. literally. when i was born, my parents lived on campus in their apartments. as far back as i can remember, this school has been a part of my life. it has moved to three different places from it’s original location, and the second place it was at is where i remember first experiencing the swing. there was nothing special about it. there were two of them. white, wooden swings. and i don’t mean swing sets. i mean two people swings, where you could sit side by side and watch passersby. they sat along the edge of the fence line between mammoth trees. and as a kid, i remember thinking i have to go play on those, and so i did. they intrigued me for some reason. maybe it was the carvings in them. mostly it was random names, and more often than not it was br + jo (blair roberts loves jeremy olson) or something like that. but i spent much time playing on those swings the first time i visited the school in dauphin. soon after, our family moved there for a second stint working at the school. i was still pretty young, and i remember pulling into the parking lot and seeing the same swings that i had so much fun on the year before. being a little kid, i didn’t know the rules of the swings, so i upset the powers that be. i was out there every chance i got. climbing on them. pushing them, reading for new carvings. and, i guess…swinging on them. later on, i learned the rules. if there was no one on them, they were fair game. but if there was a boy and girl sitting on them, it meant there was a private emotional conversation going on. either they were asking the other out or breaking up. and so i finally understood why so many couples would walk out only to turn around with irritated looks on their faces when they saw some weird little kid run past them at the last second to sit on the swing. i just thought we were racing…
- i remember making my first carving on the swing. it was just my initials, but it was thrilling. i wanted it to stand out, so everyone would know KBR had been there. and i was terrified someone would see me doing it. i had stolen a steak knife from my kitchen to do it, and mom would be super ticked if she found out.
- i remember my friend sitting out there with some random girl who i don’t remember. everyone thought they were making out, but they were really just holding a coat up over them so they could smoke pot without having to leave campus. i’m pretty sure they got a big talking to about pda’s, and i’m not talking about the handheld devices. public displays of affection. they were strictly prohibited. to this day, i still look both ways before kissing my wife to make sure there were no dorm directors watching.
- i remember my buddy telling the girl who liked him that he didn’t like her. the crushing conversation on the swings. the slow walk to the girls dorm for her. the brisk walk back to not caring for him.
- i remember my friend asking if he could borrow some tylenol from our apartment. i gave him the bottle and didn’t know he had taken 20 pills. he ate them, and then sat on the swing waiting to die. he never did, because the girl who dumped him went to see if he was okay only to hear his confession, and be rushed to the hospital after a call to 911.
- i remember the swings being the judge as to whether a windstorm was huge or not. if the swings were still up, it wasn’t that bad. if the swings were tipped over, it was crazy-ness!
the swings were a place of laughs, a place of drama, a place of heartache, and a place of childish play. i remember walking out there when i was in high school, only to have some little runt run past and beat me there. it was sooo irritating, yet for some reason, it felt very familiar…
and now i sat on one of these two swings in a completely different city and thought of everything that had happened on them. and then i thought, i probably shouldn’t sit on this, because at some point i’m sure someone had peed on them. i looked for the carvings, but they were painted over. no giant KBR carving left to mark my place on the traveling swing set. i felt so lost and alone.
just kidding. i didn’t really care. then the teacher came back with my car and i left, still not caring. but it was fun to remember the swing. and it was nice to go home and change my pants, because i guarantee someone had at the very least spit on it and not cleaned it up.
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in high school, i called my teacher a b**ch while her husband was standing 10 feet away listening. and i survived.
let me back up a bit.
my maturity level did not grow as fast as my body. actually, it kind of did because i have always been short. but you get the picture. this left me as a high school nerd, not happy with who he was and desperately trying to fit in. i suppose that isn’t all that surprising. lots of kids are there. but acting out in class seemed to be what kept me going to school each day. i didn’t like getting in trouble. but at the same time, i couldn’t resist. so when mrs. brennan refused to call terace bert and i by the names we wanted to be called, we decided to make things difficult for her.
she was a new teacher. no one knew what to expect from her. she was young, fresh out of college. i think we assumed she would be a pushover. she was anything but that. during the first class, she asked us to write on a piece of paper the name we liked to go by. for instance, my actual name is kenneth, but people call me blair. that is what she meant. but me and terace decided we wanted to be called t-bone and b-rock. i don’t think that’s exactly what she had in mind…the requests didn’t seem to unusual at the time. we hoped she would go by it, but she didn’t, and things went downhill from there. most days ended up with us being kicked out of her class. we refused to follow any orders she gave unless she addressed us by t-bone and b-rock…which, of course, she never did. so as you can imagine, this led to many conflicts. it all came to a head one day at the public library. we were there to do research for our projects. while the librarian was talking to us, i leaned over to whisper something to my friend. i was met with a quick snap back to attention from mrs. brennan. i shrugged it off, not thinking much of it. she apparently had had enough of me. looking back, i don’t really blame her. i mean, to come to a new place with a new job and have the kids who you are supposed to care for and educate slap you in the face (not literally, although sometimes i thought about it) day after day must have been disheartening. and so on this day, when i committed the most minor of offenses, she decided to slap me with detention. it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. i got detention most days. but something about that day with mrs. brennan, i decided it was time to stand up for my rights…as a…jerk.
i disrespected her like i had never disrespected an adult. i knew her husband was standing close by, but i didn’t care. the adrenaline was flowing. blood was pumping. i think it was just before lunchtime, so stomachs were churning. and then i let it out. the word…the word that is so disrespectful to women that to call someone that now would make me sick. i walked away feeling pretty satisfied. i told all my friends and they thought i was pretty cool, or at least t-bone did. i was banned from her class after that. i’m surprised at the restraint of mr. brennan. if some snot nosed punk like me said those things to my wife, i would gladly knock them upside the head…ahhh…wait…i guess youth ministers shouldn’t say those things.
communication almost ended there.
i got married to melissa and had mostly forgot about my jerkish history. i still had tendencies towards that behaviour, but for the most part had left it behind. and so one day, i was approached by the brennans at church. they wanted to know if melissa and i would like to come to their christmas party. i wasn’t sure what to say. we had gone to the same church for a couple years, but our past had caused me to avoid them at all costs. i made an excuse, and so they invited us for supper instead. i am not very clever, and one excuse was my limit for the day, so i had to say yes. i was half worried it was an ambush. she would invite me in while he hid in the closet with a baseball bat. but it was a nice time. full of good conversation. they became some of our closest friends in regina at the time. they were a couple that loved on us and cared for us and fed us and taught us how to raise kids. we were close many times to giving up on church, but i believe this expression of grace is one of the reasons we never did.
and they never brought up my past. i apologized at one point, and they just laughed at me. i’m not sure what prompted them to approach me that day. i don’t know why they would even want to. humans are creatures of habit, and we tend to stay far away from those who hurt us. but they took a chance and broke that habit. and i wish more people in the church would let go of their hurts and move towards love and reconciliation. i know we think some things are just too messy and overly complicated to be that simple. but maybe they aren’t. maybe we need to break our habits and take the first step. maybe it’s some punk kid that lipped us off. maybe it’s some older person that made you feel little. maybe it’s some overly conservative person who hurt you by looking down on your ideas about the way the world works. maybe it’s some left wing liberal that believes some crazy things you don’t agree with. maybe it’s someone who lied to you and cheated you.
maybe we need to start letting go of our past in order to grab on to something new. expressions of grace are beautiful. lets practice grace more often. there you go, john c. i ended with that picture perfect sermon ending just for you.
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i know my dad loves me. i have no doubt about that. he is a special man who has always been there and done whatever it took to provide for his family. i’m proud to be his son, and proud that many say i’m just like him, which is just another way of saying i have lame jokes and smoked too much weed when i was a teenager. he still denies that he ever did…i haven’t decided whether i believe him or not. i saw those high school pictures, dad. you can’t fool me.
there was nothing quite so amazing to me when i was a kid as the cartoon “masters of the universe”. i don’t remember much of it now. just some dude wearing a loincloth with a giant sword. i wanted to dress like him, but mom said i would get kicked out of school. i still think it would have helped me with the ladies. and trust me, i needed help. my skill was, to say the least, lacking (read here). to this day, i have never tried the loincloth and sword idea. i think i should call up johnny depp and ask him to do it, because then it would be cool. if i did it, i would just get fired. but if he started it, i would just be following the trends. since i have him on speed dial, it shouldn’t be a problem…
hockey playoffs are life and death situations in the roberts family. and so came the night when masters of the universe conflicted with the worst abomination to walk the face of the planet…the toronto maple leafs. i don’t know why i’m telling you who it was, i’m sure you all know they are uglier than sin. while i didn’t know this scientific fact at the age of 7, something inside of me must have sensed it, because i knew masters of the universe was way better than some stupid hockey game. so every time my dad would sit down, i ran to the tv and changed the channel. i pretended it was a joke at first, because i hoped he would give in without me having to beg. but my stubbornness came from somewhere, and it was then i realized it was him. it was a showdown like no other.
father vs. son. HE-MAN vs. toronto wussy leafs. 7 yr old vs 32 yr old. it all came down to this moment. dad firmly said as calmly as can be, “son, please quit changing the channel. i really want to watch this game.” would i give in? would i fall flat on my face in defeat the way the toronto maple leafs do every single year (did i mention i enjoy that?)? would i crawl in bed and be the bigger man. of course not. i pushed my luck. dad got up to go to the bathroom. i turned it to the real deal. when he came back, eye contact was made and frustration was obvious. and he walked away. he gave me what i wanted. he gave up. he gave up something important to him so i could do something trivial. i felt really guilty. i tried to convince him to turn it back to the game, but he wouldn’t. he just sat with me and watched masters of the universe. i felt pretty low. i thought victory was supposed to be sweet. but it tasted stale and empty. but i knew my dad loved me. i’m sure i knew on some level before. but in this moment, dad let me win in a meaningless fight. if the stakes were higher and i was doing something destructive, he would have loved me enough to not let me win. but in crappy hockey vs. crappy cartoon fight, he knew that i was more important.
as hockey playoffs start tomorrow, and i understand now how important it was then to my father, i hope i can have the same grace when my daughter switches from the Canadiens game to Dora. i hope i love my daughter enough to let her win the meaningless fights. i know i will. because my dad did it for me. and that’s what dad’s do. they let their kids win because they love them. thanks for loving me enough to let me win, dad. if only they loved me a little more to let me wear the loincloth, i would have been set, but i guess their hearts just aren’t that big.
and p.s. i’m not as good as my dad. i’m just lucky enough to have a lap top to let her watch Dora on, so i don’t have to be as giving as he was. sucker…love you, dad.
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i’ve only had one surgery, and it was to have my appendix removed. surgery is an intimidating thing at any point in your life, let alone when you are in grade 5. but i survived the surgery, as well as the embarrassment that came with nurses seeing me naked. i felt so exposed…one thing i appreciated about the surgeon was that he finished. that might sound obvious, but i was thinking about it today, and man, i would have been angry if he had quit halfway through to go get a meatball sub. just left me on the table, with my appendix hanging out for the whole world to see. the reason i was thinking this is because i’m the kind of guy who doesn’t always finish what he starts. i suck at it actually.
our house is an ancient wreck. the owner before did a number and often resorted to cheap cover up jobs rather than fixing things the right way. it has slowly come together over the years, but i had this inkling today. we’ve been talking about replacing our deck for years, and so i decided to pull up a couple boards to see what was underneath. the boards are all rotting out, so it needed to be done. i had no real intention of finishing, or even starting for that matter. i just wanted to take a peak to see how hard it was going to be. it turns out that the previous owner had also had a rotting deck when he lived there…so he decided to just screw another layer of wood over top of the old rotting wood. so i pulled up board after board after board. they came up easily enough. i would take off enough of the top layer to get to the point where i could start taking off the boards underneath and start that layer. i felt this sudden rush of motivation, as if my life depended on finishing it in that moment. so i pulled the boards away and found a treasure trove of trash underneath. one might think our house was built on top of an old dump. pilsner cans that go back to the early 1600′s, or at least the 70′s. old candy wrappers, random bits of trash, and even a mini stick from the credit union. i half convinced myself i would find a dead body underneath. i’m not sure if it was exhaustion setting in or the discovery of the trash, but suddenly the inspiration left me. i had half torn apart my deck. i’m not really sure what i was thinking. it’s not like i had boards to replace what i was removing. so even if i finished tearing it apart, i wasn’t about to follow through on going to buy supplies and finish it that day. and so i stopped. i went inside, had a drink, and watched some television. my dog goes outside now and just sort of stares at this gaping hole with 20 year old trash inside of it. i see him shaking his head once in awhile, as if he’s disappointed in me.
i have trouble finishing the things i start. not just decks. but everything. it’s hard to follow through because it takes dedication. i do it all the time. i make new friends and then when things get regular or a little hard to deal with, i just sort of drift into the abyss. i do it to my wife sometimes too. the only difference is that she slaps me and tells me to pay attention. she’s one of the few that makes me finish the things i start. mostly just the dishes part. i’m not sure why i’m like this. to see a finished product is so satisfying. the few times i do finish something, i am so proud and excited. but how do you finish relationships? it’s a bad thing when a relationship is finished. i think i keep people at a distance when they get too close because to finish what i start in a relationship means being fully open and available, and that takes too much effort. the truth is, it doesn’t really matter if i finish the deck right away or not, although it’s uglier than it would be if mick jagger had kids with stephen tyler. brutal to the max. but it’s a theme in my life, not finishing what i start. i want to finish what i start. i want to see relationships through. i want to be someone who finishes strong rather than starts on a whim and ends with a sputter.
what i’m really trying to say is…does anyone want to finish my deck?
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i got home from the gym and just wanted to soak in the bathtub. my legs were burning and i was sweating out of my eyeballs. i started running the bath and went to the kitchen to get some water, and realized i had made mistake number 1 of having a bath when you have kids. ‘if you want peace, wait until they are in bed.’ i think that rule is followed by ‘lock the door behind you.’ when i got back to the bathroom, makena grace was already splashing water all over and bella gracie wasn’t far behind. i guess my bath would have to wait. i couldn’t help but sit there and laugh as they both looked up with their beautiful eyes as if to say, ‘screw you, dad. don’t you know your life revolves around me?’
my girls are the most beautiful in the history of the world. i’m sorry, but it’s a fact that is not debatable. i am smitten and will always be wrapped around their little fingers. every day there is something new that makes me smile. every day they are more beautiful than the last. and every day, they teach me something beautiful.
makena is the craziest of the crazy. she runs at full speed every moment she is awake. she stops for nothing, except for a hug when she wants a popsicle. the amount of miles she puts on in a day makes her faster than any marathon runner in my books, or at least she has more endurance. she loves life so much. and most toddlers do, so maybe that’s nothing out of the ordinary. but if you’ve ever met makena, you know there is nothing ordinary about her. her smile, her mischievous eyes, her wild spirit, and at the same time this beautiful gentleness that is unseen in most people these days, let alone children. she will be a handful as she grows up (she already is, i’m getting what i deserve), but she is her own person, and i can see at the age of 3 that she will rock this world with whatever she does. she will make her mark on many more lives than my own. i am so proud of her.
at church the other week, i was in the cradle roll room because she couldn’t sit still in church. most parents get embarrassed when their kids are rowdy in church. it took 2 years to get her to sit through the first 45 minutes without screaming every time we walked into the auditorium. so if she wants to talk through service, i’ll try and get her to be quiet, but i’m just glad she is sitting still. i’m the youth minister and i can’t control my own kid. what are they going to do, fire me? oh wait…i guess they can.
but on this day, she couldn’t sit anymore, and i believe it happened so i could share a beautiful moment with my girl. the passer brought communion back, as they always do to make sure everyone gets communion. as i reached for the bread, makena asked for some. my first instinct was, ‘no way. you are just a kid, you don’t understand.’ i remember being a young boy in church and one of the older boys had been baptized, so he had the honor of taking communion. he used to rub it in our faces and brag that he got a snack in the middle of church. he used to rub his tummy and say ‘yum, yum’ being totally over dramatic about it. so i’ve always had it in the back of my mind that kids shouldn’t have communion. mostly so they weren’t jerks like jonathan was. but on her persistence, and my not wanting to have a fight on my hands, i grabbed a bigger piece of bread and knelt down to be on her level. i planned to simply give it to her as a snack. maybe that’s blasphemous. i don’t know. but jesus ate grain in the fields on the sabbath, so i’m sure i could twist that to make it okay to give communion to my child as a snack. before i gave it to her, i asked if she knew what it was. she said ‘cracker’, looking at me like i was a moron. of course it’s a cracker, dad. i said, ‘jesus saved us, and so we want to remember him’. she slowed down a little bit, which is not normal for her. i asked if we could pray. she doesn’t usually like prayer. another knock against me, i suppose, as i should be the super pastor with the 3 year old mother theresa. but she slowed what she was doing and looked at me, waiting. in silence. which makena doesn’t do. she may have just been waiting for the cracker, the mazzo bread that tastes kind of stale, just a snack. but it felt like more. it felt like something important. and in that moment, i saw him. God was standing in front of me looking through the eyes of my baby girl. i don’t see God very often. even when he’s right in front of me, i have trouble picking him out. but i saw him in that moment. i couldn’t miss him. when our eyes met, i believe that God was very much in her and trying to speak to me. and so i prayed. and she repeated after me. a simple prayer.
‘thank you, Jesus, for saving us. we love you so much.’
and i shared communion with my daughter and with God. i know church tradition, or at least mine, has this unwritten rule that one should be baptized before partaking of communion. heck, even the catholics don’t take communion that young. i felt like i was doing something forbidden. but i don’t think God lives in our unwritten rules, or even the written ones most of the time. God lives with us and in us. he lives in my daughter. i met him there.
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the silence screamed as he made the announcement. people frozen in place, unsure of how or what to feel.
there is something strange about silence. it can be both beautiful and terrifying. i can’t think of one single thing that can bring out so many different emotions depending on the circumstance. in that beautiful sunset in the middle of nowhere we can lose ourselves and find peace. in the awkward pauses of a broken marriage, the silence is a constant reminder of what has been lost. silence is terrifying and awe inspiring. but silence never lasts.
in this instance, silence soon gave way to tears as 1oo+ people began weeping. some softly. some uncontrollably. a young girl has killed herself and there isn’t a person in this room that it doesn’t deeply impact. there isn’t a person in this room who isn’t hit by the dark silence.
for her dearest friends, they mourn the loss of a loved one and torture themselves with questions. what could i have done? why didn’t i see this coming? for those who didn’t know here, but just passed her by in the hallway, they were haunted by their own set of what if’s. what if i had reached out to her? what if i had befriended her? for those that bullied and pushed her around, or even those who had just made one passing comment, feelings of deep remorse and guilt coursed through their body. what if i had been nicer? what if i hadn’t said what i did? for the teachers, a profound sense of loss and disappointment. what if i had helped her with her school work? what if i had gone above and beyond the role of teacher? for her family, the deepest pain they will ever feel. what happened? this can’t be real. but it is. and everyone feels it.
of course, for them to ask these questions of themselves is a pointless endeavor. feelings of guilt, remorse, shame, anger, hurt, and many others will only be followed by stronger feelings of the same stripe if they blame themselves. and i could tell them that. i could tell them that blaming themselves would only hurt them more, and that it wasn’t their fault anyway. after all, i was an outsider. brought in by the powers that be to try to be a presence in the midst of unspeakable pain. i didn’t know the young girl that gave up her life, and i didn’t even know most of the kids. so i could tell them.i could use my reason and logic to bring them to some sense of peace. but in these moments of screaming silence where the pain hits you like a curb stomp to the teeth, logic and reason are thrown out the door.
all these questions are okay, however unfair it might be to ask them of ourselves. all these feelings of pain, doubt, fear, anger, guilt…they are all okay. they are not fun, and they do not feel good, but it is okay to stay there for awhile. and all you can do is move into that space with them. your words won’t help you. your bible classes won’t do a thing. reason and logic make no sense in the midst of tragedy. but your hugs will help. your shared tears will help. your prayers for God to bring light into the darkness will help. and so you sit. unable to do anything but utter weak prayers and hold someone. to feel the pain these friends and classmates are feeling is the best i can do for them. and in these moments, the screaming silence can still be found beautiful.