Category Archives: Just Me

Seriously Ridiculous

pic-029After a very busy late-November (Spirit Day and then the Centennial Celebration at GM Place a week later), I was looking forward to the first weekend in December, when I would attend 2 conferences back-to-back: the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry (NCCYM) in Cleveland and the Canadian Youth Workers Conference (CYWC) in Toronto.

So it was with great anticipation and excitement that I met Gerard at the airport at 4am on Thursday morning. The anticipation and excitement was more for my trip and not really for Gerard, though I was happy to see him too…haha. After checking in, we reminisced about some of our memorable trips together: Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Toronto, home to the now-famous MuchMusic appearance. 

After an uneventful flight to Salt Lake City, Utah (unless you count sleeping from take-off to landing eventful), we grabbed a quick bite and waited patiently for our 10am connecting flight to Cleveland. 10am quickly became 10:15am. Which then became 10:30am. Then 10:45am, 11am, 11:15am, 11:30am, and 11:45am leading the announcement we most feared: the flight had been cancelled!

The airline gave us each a lunch voucher for $7 and a new flight that would get us into Cleveland the next morning. There was a mad rush to the phones as travelers scrambled to make alternate arrangements. Luckily, Gerard was quick on the draw and was able to secure 2 of the last seats for us on a flight that went through Minneapolis to Cleveland. So we grabbed another bite (my Pizza Hut lunch cost $7.25 so I had to reluctantly shell out a quarter) and then boarded plane #2.

Thankfully the connection to our final flight was fine, and we finally landed in Cleveland at 9pm, a full 5 hours later than scheduled. After quick deliberation and debate, we decided on taking the subway into downtown, as it was much cheaper (ah yes…we are good stewards of the Archdiocese’s resources. As long as our stewardship doesn’t get us mugged!!!).

Finally, we were at Gerard’s hotel by 10pm and mine by 10:15pm. By then, the general session had ended and the exhibit hall was closed. So, remembering a generous invite from a certain awesome keynote speaker and good friend of mine, we made our way up to the suite of one Mr. Mike Patin, who was hosting a shindig for 50 of his closest friends. Even before we made it to the door, we were greeted by the always-hospitable Scott Miller, who welcomed us with this gem:

“They really gotta do something about border security.”

And with that, we said hello and he led us into the room, announcing “Canada is in the houuuuuuuuuussssssssssssssse!”

Mike’s wife Marlene served us with some delicious gumbo, and soon fellow Canadians Warren and Mary had joined us. In greeting me with a big hacksaw-like hug, Warren actually knocked my gumbo from my hand, sending soup and rice hurling to the floor. Thankfully it was easy to clean up and thankfully it was my 2nd helping.

Later that night, I met up with Dan and John, who were to be my roommates through Gene’s generosity. It was quite funny actually as we quickly deduced that there were 3 of us but only 2 beds. It was a fine display of Christian charity, as each of us took turns offering to either sleep on the side-chair or the floor. Each offer was genuine, but it would have been funny if someone answered: “Yeah good idea, you sleep on the floor and we’ll take the beds.” We went around in circles for about 10 minutes before John suggested that he stay with another friend. Turns out the beds were huge, and the guys were small (well at least those 2 guys are) so we would have been okay either way. As long as it wasn’t all 3 of us on one!

Friday was my only full day at the conference, started off with a spirited Mass celebrated by Msgr. Ray East. It set the tone for a great day; a day that I spent most of hanging out in the APeX Ministries/Joia Farmer booths selling t-shirts and CDs and convincing people that I wasn’t Brad or Gene (or Joia for that matter). Needless to say, people didn’t need much convincing.

We spent the evening at the historic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where spiritandsong.com hosted a benefit concert for the poor. It was a great night of music and nostalgia, and there was something cool about seeing and hearing Matt, Jesse and Steve among others belt out rock and roll tunes from the stage. My favourite section was the one dedicated to Michael Jackson. I got to see his original sequined glove, his Thriller jacket, and the blue military-style jacket he wore to the Grammys. Thankfully, they didn’t have pieces of his nose.

It was also neat to see all of the Elvis Presley paraphernalia. As I went through the displays dedicated to the King of Rock and Roll, I couldn’t help but think of Dad and just how much he would have enjoyed it. I also shared with friends that I was either going to be named “Clayton Sean” or “Elvis Presley.” Let’s just say I’m glad my mom won the argument. Or else I would have been All Shook Up. That was a good one…Don’t Be Cruel.

I got a couple of hours sleep and then made my way to the airport at 5am with Matt and the band to catch 7am flights for Toronto and CYWC. I went with the direct route, arriving in Toronto just after 8am, while they went the scenic route through Philly, arriving at lunch time. The Westin in Toronto was very busy, as both the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins were staying there for their Sunday NFL game.

The theme for CYWC was “Seriously Ridiculous,” an homage to our seriously ridiculous calling as youth workers and the seriously ridiculous grace that’s available to our lives and our ministries. Marko, the president of Youth Specialties wrote that “the truth that the Creator of the universe knows each of us and loves each of us – that’s serious stuff. Seriously amazing stuff. In fact, it’s so mind-blowing that it’s really the definition of ridiculous. Not ridiculous in a “that’s not true” sort of way, but ridiculous in a “this truth is cool beyond words” sort of way. Very cool. And true.

It was a busy day as I attended a general session and lunch for ministry leaders before returning to my room to prepare for my session the next morning. Then, Derek, Alisha and I went to Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral and then grabbed a quick bite in Eaton Centre. Derek and I thought we had lost Alisha as she wandered off without telling us, and wasn’t answering her phone! Thankfully, she showed up a few minutes later and all was good with the world. Not sure what was worse: Alisha taking off or us treating her like she was 5 years old!

Saturday night’s session featured Matt as the worship leader and he was awesome as always. It’s funny, although I have nothing to do with his success or ability, I’m always so proud to see him at non-Catholic events. I’m always rooting for him (not that he needs my support) and I’m really curious to see if my brothers and sisters from another Christian denominations react and engage. As usual, my worries were unfounded, as Matt engaged the participants beautifully, while Alisha, Derek and I beamed with pride…haha. After all, we Catholics gotta stick together (considering we accounted for a whole 1% of the registrants!)

After catching a bit of the late night entertainment, I put the finishing touches on my session. The alarm clock rang Sunday at 7am, and by 7:50am I was in my workshop room, preparing for the 8am session on “Surviving Youth Ministry.” To me surprise, there were quite a few people seated when I started at 8:05am, and there was a steady stream of people throughout the 75 minute session. I resisted the urge to start again every time someone new came in (as my opening was pretty good if I may say so myself…haha).

The conference ended with 2 more general sessions (sandwiching a workshop rotation in the middle). It was an amazing experience for me, and it gave me a greater appreciation for my brothers and sisters in Christ from other denominations. It’s nice to see so many different people involved, as we celebrate our commonalities as opposed to bringing forth our differences. Thanks Darian for inviting me to be involved and for trusting me!

After I helped clean up for a bit, Pat picked me up and drove me to his new place, where I saw Bernie and baby Natalie for the first time since September. Natalie made strange with me for a few minutes, but quickly settled down and allowed me to carry her and play with her. She must have sensed the “Daddy” in me. Either that or she thought I was going to give her money.

We had yummy Chinese food (despite Bernie’s fear that I would starve) and spent a wonderful evening catching up and watching the Canucks lose a heart-breaker to Colorado. Before going to bed, I warned them that I hadn’t had much sleep, so it might be a late start for me.

Sure enough, I awoke just after noon, and slightly embarrassed, I shared a spaghetti lunch with Bernie and Natalie. We made our way to the Hockey Hall of Fame, a place I hadn’t visited since 2002. We had a great time taking wrist shots, blocking slap shots, and sulking that there was barely any Canucks stuff to admire. We spent a lot of time in the TSN “Be an Announcer” booth as we had fun making our own recordings (see and hear mine here).  The other highlight was seeing the Stanley Cup, and of course, taking pictures with it. We ordered sushi for dinner and had a nice quiet night at home.

On Tuesday, I woke up a lot earlier (okay…it was 11:45am) and I made my way to the Archdiocese of Toronto. I had a great afternoon meeting and catching up with old friends before returning to Bernie’s place via subway and a somewhat-direct trek through Eaton Centre. We rammed through a quick dinner at Burger Hero before I caught my shuttle to the airport, only to find my flight had been delayed by 90 minutes. I didn’t care, as long as I was sleeping in my own bed that night!

What a blessed week. I was part of 2 awesome gatherings, among a combined 3,000 fellow believers and youth ministers. It was perfect start to the Advent season, as it gave me great hope and reminded me just how blessed I am.

Trips and conferences have a tendency to have that effect on me: I return home committed to be better in all areas of my life: as a husband, as a father, as a director, as a youth minister, as a friend, and as a servant of God.

I say it all the time: I have a lot of serious responsibilities, yet I don’t take myself too seriously.

But I do think it’s time to get a bit more serious: SERIOUSLY RIDICULOUS.

Things You Don't Want to Hear

There are certain things you just don’t want to hear, especially when starting off a conversation. Now I’m not talking about the obvious ones, such as:

“I hope you’re sitting down.”

This usually indicates that you’re about to hear bad news, perhaps news about a sickness, accident, or in the worst cases, death.

“No.”

Depending on what you’re asking for, this can range from trivial (asking for another piece of cake) to tragic (asking someone to marry you).

“You’re fired.”

Self-explanatory.
What I’m talking about here are a few discussion starters, or more accurately, things someone might say to you when he (or she…but I’ll just stick to one pronoun for now on to make it easier to read) has something to say. For instance:

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”

I can’t recall one single instance where someone said this to me, and I DIDN’T take whatever was said the wrong way, or at least in a negative way. This type of statement puts the listener in a very uncomfortable situation, as you only get about 1 or 2 seconds to brace yourself for what’s coming. You just know that “somebody bout to get hurt real bad” when you hear this. I’d rather the speaker just say whatever he wants to say without the pre-amble. In other words, cut to the chase and let me have it!
Very similar to this is this gem:

“No offense but…”

You can truly just copy my paragraph above about “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” and paste it here. When you hear that, you know it’s going to be something you don’t want to hear. Your knees start to feel weak and you get a funny feeling in your stomach (or is that just me…haha). And again, I can’t recall one single time where I DIDN’T take offense to what was said. Otherwise, the speaker wouldn’t have started with those 3 words, right? I’d take less offense is he just said what he had to say without the set-up!
Then there’s this one:

“If you want my honest opinion…”

This is usually yet another set-up for a crushing blow. In volleyball terms, it’s the quick back-set to the middle blocker before getting six-packed off the top of your head. There are a couple of fundamental flaws with this statement. Firstly, of course I want an honest opinion: why on earth would I want a dishonest opinion? Secondly, if this statement is unsolicited, then technically I could answer “No, I don’t want or need your opinion” but that just makes me look really really bad. But this is assuming that I even get a chance to interject. Usually the speaker will just continue on, giving me no choice but to listen.
And finally, this one from my good friend Andrea:

“We need to talk.”

Speaking from personal experience, what this really means is: “You’re going to listen. And you’re probably not going to like what you’re going to hear.”

When I hear this, I know I’m in trouble, especially when the speaker is my lovely wife Gail. Inevitably and invariably, these conversations end off with me uttering 2 words that I’m certainly not to proud to proclaim:

“I’M SORRY!”

Border Blunders

2flagsAs we started our much-anticipated road trip to California, we thankfully made it through the border without incident. In fact, Gail actually let me talk to the Border Guard and I didn’t have to pretend I was asleep in the back seat with the boys. I think I’ve finally gained Gail’s trust back when it comes to crossing the border. But it’s taken a while…and looking at the evidence I can’t really blame her.

My Border Blunders started way back in high school. I can’t remember if we were in grade 11 or 12, or if we were 16 or 17 or 18 years old. All I remember is that there were 4 of us and we weren’t that smart.

After buying a bunch of clothes and a new Nintendo system in the States, we headed north back towards the border only to stop about 15 minutes from the crossing. Being young and impressionable and immature, we decided that we weren’t going to claim everything (anything???) and we proceeded to throw out all of the boxes and receipts for the merchandise. We put on our new clothes, even ON TOP of our older stuff. I remember wearing 2 shirts, a sweater and 2 jackets up top, and 2 pairs of pants below. Needless to say, I was very warm. And unable to move. My Einstein friends even hid the new Nintendo underneath the spare tire in the trunk.

Continue reading Border Blunders

Bridesman or Groomsmaid?

I was blessed to be part of an amazing wedding last month: two wonderful friends of mine, Aya and Ken, were married at the Brock House. I was involved in two main facets: I co-emceed the reception in the evening, and I served in the wedding party for the actual ceremony. With one twist: I served on the bride’s side.

I was humbled, flattered, excited, and surprised when Aya took me out to lunch earlier this year in March and asked if I would serve in their wedding party at her September 30 wedding. I said yes without hesitation, as Aya is one of my closest friends and Ken and I have known each other since 1993, through our days at UBC Commerce and then PwC.

Then she calmly stated: “There’s just one catch: you’ll be on my side…with the girls.”

“Pardon?”

After she repeated herself, my first question was “Does that make me a bridesman or a groomsmaid?”

Aya shot me a wide grin and replied: “I’m not sure, but you can come to the stagette, you just can’t dress with us.”

After removing the food from my throat, we went thru a few other details: I’d wear a suit and not a dress (though my pink tie would match the pink lining on the ladies’ chocolate brown dresses), I’d wear a boutonniere and not carry a bouquet (more on that later), and I’d be processing down the aisle while my “partner” Leigh would wait at the front with Ken and the other guys.

I went home and shared the news with my family: Gail was surprised yet supportive, Sean called me a girl for about a week, and Jake had no clue what I was talking about. For the next seven months, I corresponded with Ken and Aya (who had since moved to China for work) via email and in person whenever they came back to Vancouver. Then, they arrived in mid-September to prepare for the wedding.

As if on cue, the murky clouds parted in the morning setting the stage for a wonderful day. After taking Sean to his soccer game in the morning (he scored 5 goals…including 3 in one minute…more on that in another blog) we rushed home to get changed, dropped the boys off at Grandma’s, and headed downtown to meet Aya and the ladies at the Hotel Vancouver. We got to the hotel on time at 3pm and headed up to a beautiful suite on the top floor: Aya was getting her makeup done, Kanoux (Aya’s sister and maid of honour) and Tiffany (Aya’s friend and bridesmaid) were finishing their hair, and Sandy (the photographer and coincidentally the same photographer for our wedding 6 years prior) was snapping shots. Meanwhile, I stood in the middle of the room and took in the sights and sounds (the sights being a lot prettier than the sounds).

Turns out that when Aya mentioned to me in March that I could go to the stagette but not dress with them, she had it reversed: I ended up not going to the stagette (but I went to Ken’s stag…well half of it…so it worked out) but indeed helping Aya get dressed into her wedding gown. It was quite surreal having my lovely wife in the room watching me assist two lovely ladies helping another lovely lady get dressed. Technically, Kanoux and Tiffany helped Aya, while I just stood there and smiled.

We took some pictures in the hotel lobby, then more across the street at the Art Gallery before making our way to the park beside the Brock House for yet more photos. We hurried back to the Brock House by 5:30pm to prepare for the 6pm wedding.

By 6:05pm, the guests were seated and Ken and the guys were waiting at the front with the Justice of the Peace. As the music started, I excitedly yet calmly (if that’s possible) made my way up the aisle. Then something weird happened. Extremely conscious of what to do with my hands (it’s one of my annoying hang ups…just ask anyone who’s seen me on the dance floor), I proceeded to move them from behind my back to in front of my body to behind my back and then back to in front of me, as if I was holding a bouquet. So there I was, walking up the aisle with imaginary flowers in my hands.

The ceremony itself went well, with the Pacific Ocean and North Shore Mountains serving as the perfect backdrop. The plan was for me and my partner Leigh to exit separately, but we quickly scrapped that and decided to walk out together. In a truly Leigh moment, he proclaimed “This is mildly awkward” and proceeded to half-slap, half-hold my hand to the giggles and cheers of those in attendance.

The rest of the night went off without a hitch: dinner was scrumptious, the speeches were entertaining and heartfelt, and most importantly Aya and Ken were very happy, especially when their guests would tinkle their glasses.

Except for the very first tinkle…that one was for me and Leigh (who also happened to be the other emcee). He’s 6’2”, I’m 5’6.” So he planted a kiss on the top of my cranium.

Even with that kiss, it was all worth it to stand beside one of my best friends on the happiest day of her life.