Monday, December 31, 2012

Couch Family Year in Review 2012

     CNN has a news article that seems to appear on every page of their website: "Ted Dansen turns 65." Who cares? Lots of people have turned 65. Reading about the Couch's adventures and mishaps in 2012 is a lot more worthy of your time.
  • Early in the year, Ella was chosen to be a part of the Young Author's Faire and read her original work in front of parents and students. Only two students are chosen per class, so we were right proud. Yet, while Ella was receiving an outstanding recognition, Marty and I got the bad parent award. We couldn't be there! We had a training on the calendar months before we knew about the Faire, so Gramma took Ella. 
  • Speaking of training, Marty and I completed ours for becoming Sexual Addiction Specialists. After we finish our supervision, I will officially be a CPSAS (Certified Pastoral Sexual Addiction Specialist). I love having a bunch of letters behind my name that nobody knows what they mean!

  • Speaking of letters behind my name, add M.A.R. to the list. A journey that started in 2008 came to completion in July. I received my Masters of Arts in Religion: Pastoral Counseling through Liberty University Online. I started at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, but decided to go Baptist. Not really, but Liberty had the focus I wanted for my current ministry. 
  • Speaking of our current ministry, Marty and I continued to see pastors and spouses in private counseling sessions, helping the hurting and bringing hope to the hopeless. I've had the great opportunity to travel and preach, speak at special functions, and once again do break-out sessions with Marty for our own denomination's District Council. We are definitely called to minister to the ministers.
  • Speaking of ministers, Marty became a licensed minister with the Assemblies of God. Once again, she had to hit the books, study for her test, interview with a scary panel of pastors (actually, we personally knew all of them and felt very comfortable), and then received her certificate stating she is now the Reverend Marty Couch. We are all about more training and further equipping ourselves to be all that we can be in our ministry. 
  • Speaking of the army... (officially done with the "speaking of's"). Max signed up for his first organized sport and played coach pitch/T-ball. He was a Marlin, and had a great time. I loved hearing him crack the bat on that ball. Carting him to games and practices showed us what is in store for us as our kids get more involved in extracurriculars. 

  • We had to say a sad good-bye to Ingrid this year. Ingrid was our '98 Honda Accord (named after the lady who sold her to us). Ingrid served us well for almost 15 years until I ran her into a Cal-Trans trailer hitch that was sticking out in the middle of the freeway lane in the dark of early morning. But God redeemed the situation when a very kind couple from our former church gave us their 2000 Honda Accord AND we got a check from our insurance company. 
  • Speaking of our former church... (Dang! Couldn't escape it). We had to make a change this year that wasn't fun. We said good-bye to Pathway Church in Redwood City after attending for over two years. After much prayer and conversation, we made the painful decision to leave our friends there and go to Bethel. As much as we didn't want to, we feel going to Bethel is fitting for this season of life, but we miss Scott and Sue Aughtmon and Brett and Jenny Moody and everyone else there. Pathway was definitely where we needed to be the last two years.
  • Our family grew by one. Her name is Daphne. She cost us 26 cents. 

Best Books I read in 2012

Share Jesus Without Fear by William Fay (1999) was a very challenging and convicting read. It was one of my text books for seminary, but it reminded me what my job as a Christian is, not to "save" people, but share the love of Jesus. The author was a staunch non-Christian, until someone shared Christ's love with him, and then someone else, and someone else, until he finally accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. I may not agree with all of his tactics, but I am inspired by his conviction and passion to be a witness for Christ.

Wherever I Wind Up by R.A. Dickey was the first book I cracked after graduating from seminary and it was an enjoyable autobiography of a professional baseball player who not only became known for mastering the elusive "knuckleball," but also had to overcome childhood sexual abuse, typical marital strife for a Major League ball player, and learning to walk with Christ. Dickey is a proficient writer making this an easy read.

Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones is an essential book for anyone who speaks publicly. Very practical and concise book. If the reader happens to hear a message from Stanley after reading Communicating,  they'll find he practices what he preaches which is what makes him an effective public speaker. 

A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser refined my philosophy of life. The book was birthed out of the tragedy the author experienced when a drunk driver struck his mini-van killing his mother, wife, and one of his daughters. He recounts how he walked through the tragedy and began healing while experiencing God's grace. It's hard not to pay attention to a man who's lived through this kind of trauma, and hard to believe he is a better man of faith after the experience. Very, very inspirational. 

Quotes I Read, Heard, or Said Myself

"He that has but one word of God before him and out of that word cannot make a sermon can never be a preacher." - Martin Luther

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there." - I. P. Hartley

"I can't change who I was but I can change who I am." T. S. C.

"The devil doesn't tempt with ugly." - Rick Fry

"The problem of expecting to live in a perfectly fair world is that there is no grace in that world, for grace is grace only when it is undeserved." - Jerry Sittser

"The greatest tragedy in life is the prayers that go unanswered because they go unasked." - Mark Batterson

     I'm expecting great things for the Couch's in 2013. I believe it will be a year like we've never experienced. The New Year will be happy, and it will be sad, but make it a joyful year regardless. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Best Gifts I Can Give

     Every once in a while I come up with a good idea. When my oldest daughter was born 10 years ago, I decided I was going to give her a greeting card on Valentine's Day, Easter, Christmas, and, of course, her birthday. In the card I would write my sentiments, my exact feelings in that moment about her. Then, I would save the cards and give them all to her when she was much older. I have done this for all three of my kids from the time they were born. At this age, a greeting card is not the most exciting thing about a holiday or their birthday. They politely acknowledge it, but soon, I find my very intentional gift laying on the floor somewhere while the kid is off playing with a new toy or trying on fresh clothes. That's when I go pick it up, and put it with all the other cards that have been collected and saved over the last ten years. It doesn't bother me. I know and understand that it's not a big deal to them right now... but it will be.

     I'm not sure exactly when I'll give each of them their own collection, but when that time comes, I know they will cherish them. A dad's words to his kids are so important, so impacting. I don't want my kids to ever wonder about how I felt about them. I want them to not only hear me say, "I love you," but I want them to have it in writing. And when I'm gone, they will never have to guess how much they meant to me, impacted me, and were cherished by me. Those "discounted"cards will one day mean the world to them because every child wants to hear good things from their dad. Toys break and become obsolete, clothes are grown out of and go out of style, but these cards are the best gifts I can give.
     It is Christmas Eve, and I have a stack of cards waiting to be addressed. Pardon me while I go gush over my babies. The card won't be the highlight tomorrow, but someday, it will be.

Peace and Quiet

     When I was a kid I used to ask my dad what he wanted for Christmas. He always said the same thing, and usually in a slightly exasperated tone: "Peace and Quiet." It was a little difficult to grant that Christmas wish with four kids residing in our home. And the fact that there were four kids bouncing off the walls or battling with each other probably caused his semi-terse response to my question. I get it now. I have three of my own, and I have been asked the same question. And on more than one occasion I have heard my dad's voice coming out of me and I have answered thusly: "Peace and Quiet."
     One year Dad got exactly what he asked for, though it may not have been what he had in mind. Marty found candles with the words "Peace" and "Quiet" printed on them and we gave them to Dad for Christmas. He chuckled after he opened them and I was pleased that I was finally able to give him something he really wanted for Christmas.
     After my dad's funeral a few years ago, we all went back to his house for a luncheon. My sister had placed those candles in front of a picture of him. I had to smile as I thought that Dad had finally got what he had requested.
     This Christmas, I wish for peace in your homes and quiet in your souls. God bless you all.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top 5 Christmas Specials of All Time

When I was a kid, the CBS TV network had an intro for it's special presentations that would make me thrill whenever I saw it. It usually introduced a show that I could only see once a year since vcr's were not a household appliance at the time. That intro guaranteed that I would be captivated for the next 30 or 60 minutes. The drum beat, the graphics, the short musical riff got any kid of the 70's excited for what was about to happen. 

In this season of giving, I wanted to "give" you my opinion on what I believe are the best Christmas specials ever produced. Christmas movies are not included. That's a list for another time. So, sit back, relax, and get ready to agree or disagree. 

#5 Frosty the Snowman (1969)

This one is almost as old as I am, but has always been a part of my Christmas experience for as long as I can remember. Every kid wants a best friend, and who better than a magical snowman who can give the best belly flop rides around? Even though I knew how it ended, watching Karen cry over Frosty's demise in the greenhouse always tugged at my heartstrings. A timeless classic that my own kids now enjoy.

#4 How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

The narration, the animation (classic Chuck Jones), the song!... all so very memorable. One aspect that makes this special so intriguing is the fact that the mean old Grinch has a pet dog. I guess everyone needs someone to pontificate to. Which brings us to Max the dog. His expressions are priceless making him a very memorable character in the Christmas special genre. Favorite line in the song: "You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch." And recording artists everywhere, quit trying to cover this tune. No one can touch the original with a... "39 and a half foot pole!"

#3 A Muppet Family Christmas (1988)

I recorded this charming TV special when it first aired and still have the vhs tape, complete with commercials from the 80's for Osh Kosh B'Gosh, Doublemint Gum with the Doublemint twins, and MnM's holiday candies. The commercials only add to the experience at this stage in the game. Four Muppet franchises are brought under one roof from The Muppet Show, Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock and Sesame Street. The result is pure Muppet bliss. There are laugh-out-loud moments, plenty of Christmas songs, and this is one of the last Muppet productions that included Jim Henson before his untimely death in 1990. The home video release has been painfully edited down because of copyright issues, so I cherish my vhs copy. 

#2 A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

This holiday gem could be considered the one that started it all, and the one that almost didn't happen. The network was concerned about the "religious" aspect of the program, but Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts gang, insisted Linus' now infamous speech about the true meaning of Christmas stay in. The dance sequences, the brilliant jazz score that accompanies the animation, and Snoopy's ability to convey a complete personality without speaking a word all add up to make a classic that is practically on everyone's "favorite" list. 

#1 A Pinky and the Brain Christmas (1996)

Among other things, the chuckle factor of this cartoon lands it at number one on my list. The concept of two lab mice trying to take over the world always struck me as genius, so the concept alone is already funny. The plot involves Pinky and the Brain applying to be elves at the North Pole so Brain can slip in his blueprints for a doll that will obtain mind control after Santa delivers it to every home in the world, allowing the Brain to command the whole earth's population to obey his every command. The climax of the story is very touching which balances all the silliness of the show. The spirit of Christmas and friendship truly culminates in this underrated classic. 

Epilogue:   So where's Rudolph? Though I did enjoy the red-nosed reindeer growing up, I've lost interest, therefore can't put a special on my list that I feel I don't need to watch to make my holiday season complete. "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town?" Never really liked that one. Even as a kid, felt the back story of Santa was kind of contrived, even though I didn't know the meaning of the word. "Year without a Santa Claus?" The Heat/Snow Miser anthem is the best part of that one. The rest is so-so.  And I have absolutely no use for "Rudolph's Shiny New Year" or "Frosty Returns."

So there you have it. May all your Christmases be "special."  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Side of the Tree

     Years ago I used to have a rule that no ornament went on the tree unless it was "Christmas-y." No sports figures, no movie characters, no inanimate objects unless they were covered in snow, red and green, or wearing a Santa hat. I have digressed since. Now the rule is, if I like it, it gets a hook. Therefore I want to present to you, "My Side of the Christmas Tree." Let's take a look, shall we?

My superhero ornaments are the main reason for the rule change. I love my superhero collection. They are predominantly from Hallmark who does a good job putting several out each year. Captain America is a cool, colorful ornament. I never was a big "Cap" fan when I read comics, but I always thought he was a stud. 

This Golden Age Wonder Woman ornament was one of my first purchases on Ebay years ago. I like my superhero stuff to be vintage, specifically the Bronze Age (the 70's-early 80's). 

Pac-Man was a huge part of my adolescence, so this piece is about recapturing some of my childhood. How many quarters did I stick in to that machine? Probably more than what I paid for this ornament. 

Last year, Hallmark produced this Green Lantern ornament, probably because of the release of the movie prior, but here's the deal with me and superhero ornaments: I do not buy ones based on the films.  Their costumes usually reflect the movie characters' and not the comic book's. I'm a purist. Don't like the modifications, but this GL is NOT Ryan Reynolds. Don't need a reminder of that milquetoast movie on my tree. 

This Batman and Robin set really fit the mold. Robin's cape is in great form. 

Had a huge crush on Catwoman because of Julie Newmar's portrayal in the old Batman TV series, and this design is straight from my comic book days. Sigh. 

I did read Marvel Comics as well as DC, but didn't buy Spider-Man mags. My son was really digging Spider-Man when this ornament came out, so I bought it in his honor. I do like the 3-D effect of him swinging through the buildings of New York. 

Everybody had a lunch box as a kid in the 70's. It's a shame I didn't have this one and I coveted the kid's who did. This is an exact replica of the Super-Friends lunch box (with Catwoman prominently displayed on the thermos! Sigh). 

I was a big Archie fan back in the day and bought this from a comic book shop in 1988. Still have the original box. It has been on my tree every year since acquiring it. There was a whole set including Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and Reggie. I should have sprung for them all. Thank God for Ebay. 

Hallmark did a short-lived series on comic book covers. The first one was a generic Superman cover that didn't represent any actual comic book issue. I have it, but it's not on the tree. This one depicts Spider-Man in his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962. Love the way he's flying off the cover.

This Hulk cover is a little more understated than Spider-Man's, but still better than the Superman one!

And could this Avengers cover have been inspired by one of the biggest movies of all time? 

Here's Spider-Man with his most famous arch enemy, the Green Goblin. 

Harley Quinn wasn't originally in the comic books, but rather a character made for the Batman animated series in the early 90's. This ornament was an exclusive issue, limited quantity only available while supplies last. She didn't prove to be too popular as an ornament and I found her on the shelf way past the ornament premiere (when exclusives usually disappear). Wish she looked more like the cartoon character, so not one of my favorites. 

Batman and Robin in the Batmobile. This ornament was issued several years ago, but I just bought it online last year. 

I can't believe this ornament is on the tree. I debated because it is an excusive. It was available only at Comic Con 2010, made in limited quantities, and was not cheap online (I got it at one of the lower asking prices and I haven't seen it go for that low since). I ended up putting it on the tree because life is short. Might as well enjoy it rather than stow it in the closet and then die one day!

Just this month I found Jughead on eBay at a pretty good price. With shipping, he was only 10 bucks! His Christmas sack is full of hamburgers! 

Bought the Flash a year or two after his debut at a Hallmark store, so he was on clearance. Works for me!

This is one of the most dramatic superhero ornaments I have. Batman's cape is awesome in this design. Plus, his costume is all the right colors from when I read comic books. The Joker is in the bottom left corner of the shot. I always position Batman on the tree swooping down on his arch enemy. 

Just got this at Target. Not a huge fan of blown glass ornaments, but it suits the Superman insignia. 

Closing off my side of the tree with Superman from the now defunct WB store. Got this in the late 90's when my "Christmas-y" rule was still in tact. Love the "Peace on Earth" globe he's holding. 

     So, there you have it, my inner-geek displayed on our Tannenbaum. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Art of Listening

     I had a three hour flight ahead of me. My carry on had plenty of books and of course, my journal to keep me occupied. I dove into one of my reads and about an hour into the plane ride, I noticed the lady next to me was just sitting there. No book, no Nook, nothing to pass the time. I didn't want her to be bored the whole flight so I put my book away and asked her how she was and where was she headed. For the next hour or so I listened to this woman's heart which contains stories about her two adult sons, one that moved out to Dallas recently with his wife and four boys whom she was going to visit, and the other that lives in Fremont but works in Walnut Creek and also directs the award winning drum team from Homestead High School in Cupertino, so he drives a lot. He's not married, and she and her pastor just pray for that right woman to come along. One time he moved in with his mom because he had a mice problem. He can't handle any kind of bug or rodent, so she gladly took him in. She remarried 14 years ago, but her husband doesn't go to church, but he volunteers a lot, doing grounds work and whatever's needed. Her mother passed away a few years ago, strong Portuguese woman. She lives in Oakley. She was forced into retirement a couple years ago, but she wasn't ready. Worked for a lumber yard until it went out of business...

     I admit, it was a little tedious to hear so much detail about this stranger's life, but I wasn't listening for me. I wanted to lend an ear. So I asked questions along the way. I was interested. She confessed she's a talker (really?), so I let her talk.
     I got up to use the lavatory and when I came back, she asked the passenger on the other side of her if he liked his Mac (because her son works for Apple). I pulled out my journal and began writing about my flying partner when I had to chuckle softly because I heard her telling the man to her right that her son had to move in with her once because he had a mice problem.
     At the baggage claim I recognized her loved ones. She had shown me pictures. I watched out of the corner of my eye so I could catch the reunion between Mom and son and Grandma and grandkids. I watched those boys bolt for her open arms and it made me smile. I thought to myself, Now, there's some ears that probably don't ever get tired of hearing Grandma talk.
     After I grabbed my bags, we waved a silent goodbye to each other, and I was glad I met the talkative Portuguese lady. She helped teach me further the art of listening.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

And the Winners Are...

     Sorry for the delay, I flew out to Texas the day after the 31st, but I'm ready to announce the winners of the journal give away. First, just to clarify, my very first commenter posted on my facebook after reading my blog, so he is actually the number 1 commenter. Then, those who commented on my blog are numbers 2-4. And the winners are, according to the random number generator on
#3, Randi, who wins the first choice of Lands, then #1, Don, who wins The Hardy Boys, and finally, #4, "Unknown," who will take the Hollister book. Congratulations. Either private message me your name and mailing address on facebook, or email me at and I'll get those in the mail next week. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Giving Stuff Away Over Here

     You know I love journals. If you didn't know that, let me tell you, I love journals. Sometimes I impose my love for journals on others. Even if friends are not journalers, I've been known to give them a journal for a birthday or a graduation. It's time to impose once again. Up for grabs are three journals made from vintage books by Jacob at Make sure you pay his site a visit and find the exact journal that suits you. There are so many to choose from. In the meantime, here's the first of three journals I'm giving away to three lucky readers:

This journal was made from a book called Lands and Peoples from 1961. The cover has a cool texture to the black colors

Inside each journal, Jacob includes plain white paper for writing or drawing, and also incorporates pages from the actual book throughout. 

The next free journal is made from a book called The Happy Hollisters and the Old Clipper Ship from 1956. The cover is actually a deep red though it may appear orangish in the pic. Cool retro art of little kids running in the bottom right hand corner. 

And here we have a classic Hardy Boys book, The Mark on the Door

     To win a journal, just leave a comment here on my blog and put in order which one you would like to have the most as your number one pick, then your second, and then your third. Winners will be randomly selected and posted here on my blog. All comments must be posted by 11:59PM October 31.
And don't forget to visit Jacob at or like his facebook page, Ex Libris Anonymous. Good luck!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Life Keeps Happening

     Sunday was not a day of rest. Our little adventure continued (little, hmph). We decided to go to church. I was hoping for a line in the pastor's sermon that went something like this: "Even if you were down to one car and now that car is sitting broken down at the 76 station in El Dorado Hills, take heart, because help is on the way. And by the way, here are the keys to a brand new car for the handsome silver-haired guy sitting in the second to last row looking a little disoriented." That didn't happen but maybe if that pastor had prayed more before preaching...
     My mind was spinning, trying to come up with a plan for the day, getting the van re-towed to a Firestone service station since it was just there a couple weeks ago getting a tune up and shouldn't be breaking down on good people, what to do with the kids while we're car shopping, how to get Marty home because of work the next day and a friend's car at our house who was flying in and her key was locked inside our home plus cats in the garage whose food supply was only rationed through Saturday night...  My sister-in-law and her husband were gracious enough to let us borrow their car to get a few things done. I was clueless enough to drive it with the emergency brake on therefore causing smoking brakes by the time we reached our destination. Felt a little stupid about that. Then we were scrambling to get a ride to meet the tow truck driver since he was on his way. Cue my incredible mother-in-law who carted me around for the rest of the afternoon.
     My kids and I are still stranded here in Shingle Springs as our van gets repaired. My mother-in-law left for a trip early this morning so it's just us, no car, no food, no hope... I'm being a bit dramatic. On Saturday night I read a passage that I have reviewed many times in my life. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts... and be thankful." I have a part to play in this. God's peace exists. It is found in his presence. I have to decide if I'm going to let it rule in my heart or not. And I need to be thankful. After the smoking brakes debacle, I was recalling this scripture, reminding myself that I need to let the peace of Christ rule in this crazy day, and I need to give thanks. And there was a lot to be thankful for. We had family members that bent over backwards to accommodate us, my kids got extra cousin time, we met with supporters who decided to partner with us financially, a good friend who is in the middle of his own crisis lent us his van so Marty could get home, and the night ended with someone offering us their car to have since they were getting ready to buy a new one.
     Life keeps happening, but that shouldn't only be a reference to the bad stuff. Blessings are a part of life happening, too. So, I'm learning to be thankful for the blessings and trying to be thankful through the difficulties. But check back with me on that if for some reason we don't get home tonight!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Life Happens...

    After my car accident I stood on the side of the freeway waiting for the tow truck, and even in that moment, I knew God would redeem the situation. Yes, my car was totaled, but I knew God would provide for us, or at least take care of us (and God's "least" is huge). Yet, that assuring thought led to a question: If God is going to redeem this, then why did it happen in the first place? Why didn't He prevent it? These weren't questions of doubt, they were just questions I was waiting for the answers for, knowing very well that I may not get the answers and being fine with that, too. I trust my God. I have for decades. Wasn't going to quit now.
     As I mulled over these thoughts, I realized life just happens sometimes. That trailer hitch sticking out in the middle of the freeway lane in the dark morning hour was an example. Life happened and God has redeemed it. I was worried we would only get about $3000.00 at best from our insurance for our 15 year old car. Kelley Blue Book predicted so for a vehicle in "excellent" condition. I didn't know if the appraisers from State Farm would see our car in "excellent" condition, so that left me hoping for the best. For some unknown reason, State Farm saw our car as worth a few thousand more than Kelley Blue Book. Life happened (I wrecked my car), and God redeemed it (way more moolah than I anticipated).
     Some have said everything happens for a reason. I'm not sure I believe everything happens for a reason, but I believe there can be a great purpose birthed out of the happening. Lessons can be learned, growth can occur, thankfulness can spring forth.
     The opposite can also happen. Bad happenings give birth to bitterness, unforgiveness is harbored, and blame is placed. "It's not fair!" we may cry like a child. But life isn't fair! It's just not. We don't always get what we deserve, good or bad. In his book A Grace Disguised,  Jerry Sitser suggests that the universe we live in is a cruel place. Instead of asking, "Why me?" he has learned to say, "Why not me?" He did not come to this philosophy easily, for this is a man whose above mentioned book was inspired by the tragedy of losing his mother, his wife, and one of his little daughters at the hands of a drunk driver. He writes, "The problem of expecting to live in a perfectly fair world is that there is no grace in that world, for grace is grace only when it is undeserved." I'd rather live with opportunities of grace bestowed upon me then getting what is fair all the time. Sometimes "fair" isn't fun.
     My wife and I were discussing this "Life happens and God redeems it" philosophy this afternoon. We were on a fundraising trip. We were headed to pick up our kids, keep one more appointment then hit the road for home... when our only automobile began to sputter and eventually die. Hmph. So now were stranded in Shingle Springs (thankful for a place to stay), repair shops are not open on Sunday (glad the kids are out of school on Monday), and I have no idea what is wrong with our van. I do know this, it was a lot easier to say "Life happens and God redeems it" this afternoon than it was later this evening standing on the side of the road waiting for the tow truck AGAIN... but I still believe it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True...

     I got angry tonight. I had plenty of justice juices pumping inside me and I wanted someone to pay for their crimes. We're looking for a second car since my accident several weeks ago. We found a steal on Craigslist, a 2005 mini SUV for $2250. A poor, recently divorced woman needed to sell it quickly because her husband wasn't being very kind to her and she needed the funds. We inquired through email and received a response back that the transaction would happen through Google Wallet "for both of our protection, so please provide your name, mailing address, and phone number." What does she need our address for, I wondered.
     When we got home from church, I looked for the original listing and it was nowhere to be found. That struck me as strange. I started to get suspicious. I went to the Craigslist scam warning page and found an example of a fraudulent post that had several similar components as this dream offer; divorcee,  low price, car in great condition, low mileage, transaction will be handled through another payment service, asking for shipping address.
     I then priced the 2005 make and model of this car on Kelly Blue Book and a car of this style in fair condition sells for 11 grand plus. We stumbled upon a scam. Yeah, the deal was a steal, this put upon "divorcee" was trying to steal from us. And it made me angry. I had flashbacks of feelings after our house was ransacked and robbed in 2009. How DARE they! Who do they think they are? How heartless to take possessions and money that doesn't belong to them. I wanted this "Sarah" person to be found and stopped. I looked up reporting the scam, but I realized they've probably already set up another email account and are waiting for the next potential pigeon. I probably wasn't going to get my serving of justice around this. Simmer down, justice juices.

     At dinner, before discovering the swindle, I said the blessing over our food and threw in there an inquiry to God for wisdom about this car. I'm thankful He quickened me regarding the details of this "sale." And I realized this was uncharted territory for me. All my life my parents have been involved in providing or helping to finance a vehicle for me. This is my first time venturing into Cars Land without them. My anger turned to thankfulness as I remembered my incredible parents who were not too good to be true. And now I'm left thinking about them. Sigh (but a good sigh).

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Marty Poem

This month hosts my wife Marty's birthday. I recently came across this poem I wrote for her back in 1999 when we lived in a little one bedroom apartment pre-kids. Couldn't wait to share it...

M is for the merry times that I think are so neat,
A is for the arches on your sweet and petite feet.
R is for the romance that in these walls abide,
T is for the teasing that you love deep down inside.
Y is for the years gone by, 31 to be exact,
C is for the counseling for the disturbed and whacked (posting as is, unedited in all its mature glory).
O is for the opposites we are and I must say,
U is for your underwear I folded just today (This happens to be true right now in 2012 as well).
C is for the caring and compassion you convey,
H is for, um, "Happy" that goes with your birthday!

So glad you were born, my Beautiful Marty. Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Makes You Think

     I was out the door at 5AM this morning headed to Fernly, NV. I had a window (speaking opportunity) that would last fifteen minutes and I hoped to make some good contacts while there. Then I was going to drive home all in one day. That would have been a first. It was kind of a challenge that I was looking forward to accomplishing, driving all that distance in one day. It wasn't to be.
     I got on the freeway and the world was still dark. There were a few other motorists on the road but not the swarms there would be in an hour or so. I was driving along at the normal freeway speed when I don't know what happened. I hit something, hard, and I said out loud, "Oh my gosh!" (I know if Hollywood made a movie out of it, they would definitely be re-writing my rated G dialogue). Something was in the middle of the freeway lane that couldn't be seen and it sent me in to a chaotic suspended animation. For a few seconds, I didn't know what was going to happen. I was very aware that my life could be over as my car felt very out of control at 65 miles per hour. So I waited to see what would become of this, of me. In the midst of it, I was able to steer the car to the side of the road, collect myself and call 911. I heard other cars driving by that were hitting pieces of whatever it was that I just did, when a truck skidded to the side of the road just like I had. As he approached me, he didn't hesitate to use a more PG kind of language. He had no idea happened either.
     As we waited for the police officer and the sun began to rise, we could finally lay our eyes on what was obstructing the freeway lane, one of those giant Cal-trans sign trailers, the ones that are supposed to warn you of things on the road like closures and construction. Someone had even struck it before me but couldn't do anything from the side of the road as they watched me collide with it.

     I'm fine, for now. Don't know how I'll be feeling tomorrow, but I've been in kind of a fog today. I think back to those few seconds when I didn't know how it was going to turn out. Many have had those few seconds. Some lived to tell about it, some didn't. Those few seconds make you think. I'm very thankful I'm here tonight to write about this. Grateful that I was able to walk away from this accident, and though I didn't make it to Fernly, NV, I did make it home in time to walk my kids to school. Thankful for walking. Thankful for kids. Just grateful to be alive.

This is what I hit. 

So long, "Ingrid." You were a good car.

Friday, July 6, 2012

It's Only Hair

     Money's tight, so when I walk past a sign that says "$8 haircuts for men by Vivian," I take notice. Never mind that the salon used to be called "Lovely Lady Coiffures." It is now "International Hair and something something." AND, Viv only charges 8 bucks. This was a place I had to patronize at least once. I had a gut feeling it would be an experience to remember.
     When I walked in, Viv was casually sweeping the floor and told me to take a seat. As I settled in, Viv kept sweeping, veeeery casually, and then started to prep her hair cutting tools. She asked me what I wanted and I pointed to a picture on the wall and said, "Just do what that guy has." Right as she was about to clip my sides, the phone rings and I wondered if Viv would be the type to answer the phone in the middle of a hair cut. Viv goes and answers the phone and starts giving directions in her native tongue very loudly to the caller. Apparently, they weren't getting in on the other end, so Viv kept repeating herself and got louder each time. Once she returned she told me that they were here from New York and she didn't have time to see them, so they were coming to the shop. Yes, Viv would be entertaining family during my hair cut.
     Viv finally took the clippers to my head but suddenly stopped and said, "Sorry," and something else I couldn't understand because the clippers were right next to my ear, but I was thinking "Sorry" isn't really what you want to hear come out of your haircutter's mouth.
     Then the family arrived and as she was still clipping, she shouted out some greetings or instructions to her loved ones. And sure enough, she walks over to them and continues the not so light banter. But I just kept thinking, "8 bucks for this experience."
     Viv returned and asked me if my hair was short enough. As I checked out the top, no, it wasn't, She suggested using some gel, but I had her take some more off. As she did, she says, "Oh, I see what I did." Again, not something you want to hear from your hair cutter. Then she muttered something about my gray hair. I'm just going to assume that she was calling it distinguished.
     As she wrapped it up, she was blowing the hair off me with a hair dryer, and as I stood up and was walking away, she was still blowing the hair off me with the hair dryer. I paid my 8 bucks plus tip and was on my way, but not before Vivian said to me, "Come again."
     Once I got home and on further inspection, I found that Vivian took me literally when I said, "No sideburns." She had raised my sideburns higher than they have ever been in my life. Now I know what she was apologizing about. But it's just hair, and it was only 8 bucks and quite a memory. And the crazy thing is, in a month I'll probably be visiting Viv again and paying 8 bucks for another experience. The even crazier thing is, I'll probably be taking my son!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I Just Want to Help People

     I started attending seminary classes mostly out of convenience. My denomination's theological seminary was opening a branch at the church where I was on staff. And we were given scholarships and a discount for enrolling in classes. Hey, why not? But could I do it? I had three kids five and under, like under my feet, in addition to a full-time ministry. I hadn't been in school for fourteen years. Could I do this? I took it one class at a time.
    In one of those classes, I observed my professor's passion for the topic. Being a father and husband in a blended family, he was driven to help others affected by divorce. This class was designed to equip us as pastors to minister to this population in the church and their special needs. The professor was so... impassioned! There's no other word. He lived out the painful experience he was teaching us about. He studied the topic, he wrote books and materials and started a ministry. As I sat in one of his sessions, being remarkably impressed by him, I said to myself, "I just want to help people." I'll never forget that moment. I wasn't feeling called to that specific people group (though I have used the information gleaned in that class on several occasions), but I just felt impressed to help others. I didn't know who or what issues I would be tackling, I just wanted to help in a way that I hadn't before.
     As the years passed and our focus in ministry became more clear, I transferred to a university that offered a Master's in Pastoral Counseling. This resonated with me. In other classes I would get A minuses and B's, but I got solid A's in all my counseling classes, affirming that impression of just wanting to help people.
     About an hour ago I finished my Master's program. Recalling the last four years and working on this task boggles my mind. We took a trip to Disneyland and played all day then I had to study all night. When we went back to Springfield, IL to be commissioned as US Missionaries, I lugged my heavy textbooks on the plane because there were book reports to write and discussion board posts to create. On my first fundraising tour, I would get up early in the morning to get some homework done before driving off to my appointments. We left our home church of 17 years. We established a non-profit ministry. We were living life and all the while I had looming due dates and tests to take. But now, the last test has been taken. I have finished. This is probably as close to an awards show as I'll ever get so...
     I'd like to first thank my God for seeing me through. There were several times I didn't think I could do this and I begged Him for help. And He helped. I want this to be for His glory and purposes.
     I'd like to thank my wife for her support and belief in me. I know it's cliche' but it doesn't make it any less true: I could not have done this without her.
     My kids... Now I don't have to tell them "no, because I have homework," or "don't bother me, I'm taking a test!" I know they're grateful for that.
     I'd like to thank my professors, each one bringing a unique dynamic to my experience. Each of their names have been logged in my journal and the notebooks saved, so they can be credited when necessary in the future.
     And I would like to dedicate this achievement to my parents. This is when it gets hard, when they're not here to witness these things, but I know no one would be more proud of this accomplishment than those two dear and dearly missed people.
     So, now what? I just want to help people.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Friday the 13th, Graduations, and Anniversaries

     June 13 is a significant date for me. I graduated from high school on Friday the 13th. I heard a rumor that some girl from another city wasn't allowed to participate in her graduation ceremonies because she was seated in the 13th row and the 13th chair. It also happened to be my parents' wedding anniversary. I was their fourth and only kid who walked the line, so I think that was a good present for them. As I waited for my name to be called, I tried to work up the nerve to take the mic and say "Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad." What would they do, take my diploma away? Suspend me? Suspend me from what? I was done with that place! I couldn't work up the nerve to step up to the mic, so I did the next best thing: I yelled my sentiment at the top of my lungs after receiving my diploma. Friday the 13th of June 1986 was a pretty good day all around.
     Twenty-four years later I found myself at a different kind of graduation ceremony. I had been on staff at one church for sixteen and a half years, but my last Sunday had come. So, on June 13, 2010, I said my final good-bye to that congregation. I felt like I had grown up there. Lots of milestones occurred for me. I was married, all three of my kids were born, I lost my parents... In my last sermon I told the church the story about my high school graduation and how I screamed my congrats to my parents. And since I was graduating from that place on the same date, I whispered through my tears as I looked up to heaven, "Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad."
     In summary, June 13 is a significant date for me... Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

To Zzzz or Not to Zzzz?

I'm at my mother-in-laws' house with my oldest daughter. The other two are staying at their cousins' tonight. I had some fund-raising appointments and I brought the kids along so they could have extended family time and to give my wife a couple days of peace and rest. Julia usually shares a bed with her sister here at Gramma's, but Ella is not here. I was tucking Julia in and she subtly let me know that she didn't want to sleep by herself all the way down the long hallway where her room is when she stays here. I asked her if she wanted to sleep with me. "Maybe." She's too cool to admit she's a little afraid to sleep alone. She won't dare admit that she misses her sister. But she clearly conveyed that she still needs her dad. So, I'll be bunking with my daughter tonight. It may not be the most restful night of sleep for me, but sleep wasn't the priority when these new arrangements were made. Good night.

Friday, April 13, 2012

I Like Now

I was thumbing through an old journal today. One entry was dated December 26, 2000. That date is very significant to me now since it is my firstborn's birthday, but looking at that date with a 2000 following reminded me we didn't have children at that juncture. It was like I went back in time but I wasn't comfortable doing so. Going back there meant I didn't have my kids yet. We still lived in a one bedroom apartment. We had only been married three years. December 26 only meant "Boxing Day," the day after Christmas, a big shopping day, the day to drive back home from whatever relative's house we were staying at for the holidays. That was it. Nothing more. There was no baby crying in the middle of the night, no poopy diapers, no trips to the emergency room, no sibling in-fighting, no scrambling to make lunches and rushing out the door for school, no time outs, no Hannah Montana marathons on Netflix, no force feeding vegetables, no multiple cases of strep throat, no constant potty talk, no squabbling over toys or TV remotes,  no incessant messy bathrooms, no hair ties and legos scattered... It was just... Boxing Day. It was quieter, more peaceful, serene... Life was calmer and less chaotic. I like now.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


I was on the road the last two days and found myself in three different environments that were perfect for writing in my journal; alone in a house out in the country with a fire going, a mellow coffee shop (Starbucks is NOT a mellow coffee shop), and a lavish hotel lobby with no one around. One problem, I did not have my journal! I posted on facebook about these various locations and how great they were for journaling. Then someone asked me, "Where do you NOT like to write in your journal?" Hmmm...
The shower.
In an uncomfortable chair.
In a moving vehicle (though I have written on planes on several occasions).
Lying on the floor.
In dark places (can't see).
At a concert.
On a roller coaster.
In a box with a fox.
In places where journals are outlawed.
The grocery store.
A movie theatre.
In a tree (I'd fall trying to balance the journal on my knee, probably).
In windy places (blows the pages over).
In a stockade.
Needles, CA.
Turkish prisons.
Fabric stores.
The post office.
Happy Feet (the foot massage place. They hurt!).
Sitting on barbed wire.
Next to the cat litter box.
In an earthquake (makes my writing messy).
The 13th floor of hotels.
The basement in the Alamo.
At the Hunger Games.
Angelina Jolie's house.
On Star Tours.
Where there's no bathroom close by.
At my next door neighbor's house (that would be awkward).
The Motown Cafe (because it closed down right before I got to New York. Still upset about that).
The bank.
While surfing.
Hanging upside down.
In hell.

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Heart Soared

     I had always wanted to be the father of a son. I adore my girls and wouldn't trade them for anything, but there was a part of me that wanted to make up for what I felt I missed in my relationship with my dad. If our third would have also been of the female persuasion, I would have been completely fine with that. Girls rock! Girls rule and boys drool (which is actually true, I've come to find). But I still wanted a drooling boy. When Marty was having her ultra sound for her third pregnancy, we wanted to know. The tech performing the ultra sound was kind of cranky and not very personable. She didn't ask if we wanted to know, so as she worked, I finally asked, "Can you tell us if it's a boy or a girl?" "You want to know?" she asked. Um... I wouldn't have asked if... YES, we want to know! Then she very cooly said, "It's a boy." And my heart soared.
     Fast forward 6 years. We went to Max's first baseball practice this week. I never played any organized sports but I always wanted my kids to have the experience. I had so many unspoken desires for that first practice. Max didn't have to be the best, but I didn't want him to be... the least experienced. I wanted him to enjoy it. I wanted him to go on with it through the years and have that team photo on the mantle along with his individual shot with him holding the bat over his shoulder. I wanted to be there for him. I wanted to cheer him on and encourage him when he made an error.
     Max stepped up to the plate, first time batting off a pitcher. First pitch, swing and a miss. Second pitch, the same. Third pitch, CRACK, ball goes flying over his coach's head with a repeat performance the next time he was up to bat. And just like that ball, my heart soared.
     His first game is tomorrow and I'm excited. But today is his birthday, and we get to mini golf with three of his friends from school and eat pizza. Today we celebrate Max Colby Couch. Happy Birthday, my son.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

God Moments

     I was traveling last week and the next appointment had me in Roseville, CA. I don't get out to Roseville much. In fact, I believe it's been well over a decade since I've set foot in that town. I don't even drive through it. My journeys just don't take me there, until last Friday. I was meeting a couple at 11:30 but I had 20 minutes before the appointment so I walked into an unfamiliar coffee shop hoping they had WiFi. I went to order something and a young man approached me. He took my order, engaged in small talk, and then said "You look very familiar." I mentioned that I had been thinking the same thing. "What's your name?" I asked. He told me and the light came on. He used to be in my friend's youth group back in my youth ministry days so we had done summer camps together and the like. He was also my friend on facebook, but being out of context I didn't recognize him instantly. He came around the counter and gave me a hug and was able to sit with me for a while. He shared that he had been dealing with a lot lately, and that last week was the worst week of his life.  He had called his former youth pastor to talk about his issues, issues that my current ministry addresses. Knowing this, his youth pastor said he needed to give me a call. That was the week before, and there I was sitting across from this young man last Friday. He said he felt God had brought me there that day. I was in full agreement as I listened to him talk. I gave him my phone number. I'm waiting for his call.
     I left that coffee shop in amazement. God knew. He knew that kid's work schedule and what my calendar had for me that day. Being 20 minutes early, the coffee shop, Roseville... God was aware of it all. When I told Marty about it, she commented on how much God cares about us to orchestrate such a meeting. I agree. He cares so stinkin' much.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pig-pen Part 2 (or Sobered by a Stranger)

     In my last post, dear readers, I left you in the parking lot of Jack in the Box, humiliated and vowing never to return, but there was always Taco Bell down the road.
     One Sunday evening, I decided to write the 12 steps down in my journal along with a scripture and I prayed for God's help. As I worked my way through the steps I stopped myself because I wasn't ready to give over my late night eating binges. In fact, I was looking forward to having a couple beefy crunch burritos in a couple hours (after everyone had gone to bed).
     Later that evening, I was checking my facebook and I met Kristian.

     Kristian made a birthday video for his wife that became quite popular on the internet. What can't be seen in the tribute is Kristian was battling bowel cancer at the time the video was made. This man immediately got my attention. The video was moving and intriguing and pulled on the heartstrings when he incorporated his two young sons at the end. I was compelled to learn more about Kristian's story. Marty had recently told me about cancer and how sugar can exacerbate it. Mm hmm. Then I got an automated email from some fitness dude that discussed research dealing with sugar and cancer. Coincidence? Then I met Kristian.
     I found the blog he started once he was diagnosed. I read what his reaction was when he first found out. I discovered a man who had his faith securely in God and would believe for healing. I read about his fears, not of dying, but of leaving his young family without a husband and father. And I was sobered when I read his very last entry, posted by his wife after he had died on January 2, 2012 at the age of 36.
     I went to bed that night and laid my head on the pillow with my eyes wide open. Kristian did not choose to have bowel cancer, yet I was choosing destructive behavior regardless of the consequences. Kristian did not want to leave his family, but I wasn't insuring that I would be around that much longer if I continued doing what I was doing. I realized I couldn't keep living like that. Tomorrow was going to be different.
     It has been two weeks since meeting my life-saving friend Kristian, and I am happy to say that I have not patronized a fast food restaurant since. No soda has touched my lips. No candy has been consumed. We had cake at church last week and I passed. And I made a lofty goal. As much as I love candy, I resolved to not eat one piece of holiday candy for the entire year of 2012. No Valentine's, no Easter, no Halloween or Christmas candy allowed. It will be a first, and if you know me, this is huge because I've been known to hit the clearance shelves after the holiday and stock up on the sweets.
     Kristian is one of my best friends that I will never meet here on earth. He was my bucket of cold water and he has impacted my life drastically. I am so glad I ran across his story and I look forward to thanking him someday in heaven... but not any time soon.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Friend in Pig-pen Pt. 1

     I've long been fond of the character Pig-pen from the Peanuts comic strip. One cartoon shows him clean himself up, go outside, and as he walks only a few steps, he is back to his same dirty self. Even when he tries to be well-groomed, life just makes him messy again. I can relate to Pig-pen. Just when I've cleaned up one area of my life, there's another that needs tending to.
     I'm about to get vulnerable, fair warning. However, I know as I share out of my weakness and brokenness, it will connect with someone else's and offer them hope (which, I guess, has become my mantra). It is no secret that I'm a recovering addict and I thank God for sobriety and healing in certain areas of my life. But addicts are known to struggle with more than one addiction, or trade one for another. And I'm humbled to admit that's me.
     My eating habits never really matured. I'm not a big fan of salads, always preferred regular sodas over diet, and helped myself to something sweet to eat after a meal. For the last few years I have been dealing with aspects of food addiction. I hesitate when I think of typing the details because it's embarrassing... I got into the habit of waiting until everyone was in bed at night, sneaking out and driving to a nearby fast food joint, and bringing home an entire meal to consume in front of the TV. This would happen at least three or four times a week.
     Marty and I would have discussions around my diet and I would brush off her concerns or admit I needed to change, but nothing ever really stuck. I knew she was worried about me, but it still wasn't enough to make me do something about my issue.
     One night I pulled up to the window at the Jack in the Box that is two blocks away from my house. The worker greeted me warmly and asked,"Are you coming from home?" "Yes," I said. "You're earlier than usual," she observed. And at that, I was humiliated. That was as bad as it could get. The drive-up window attendant knew me on sight and knew my late-night routine. As I drove away, I told myself I would never patronize that place again. And I haven't been back since. Maybe I wouldn't be as familiar at Taco Bell down the road...
     To be continued...