MR. BRAY

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Heaven Is on Its Way

More blasts from my musical past...

Part folk tune Part experimental alternative track, I wrote this song circa 2008 along with my original release of the Bella Rue ep titled "Bohemian Love Songs". While the band name is gone the music still exists. The inspiration for this tune was me trying to create something I've not heard at the time. Not sure if I approached that by any means.

 

Maybe I'm alone in this but don't you ever get a craving for something you've never had before? Your eyes want to see something fresh, new and amazing! Your mouth has a taste for something exotic, foreign and downright new! So to my ears yearn for a sounds unlike I've never heard! 

 

As grandiouse as trying to be original can be that truly is the spirit of this track. It's artsy fartsy and I still very much love it.  

A rythmic layering of samples mixed with folk music and even spoken lyrics. While the contents of the song is about spirituality it's the ambient nature of the arrangement that I enjoy most. Honestly it's a bit repetitive and I've even had criticism for that. Yet, the song helps me focus. Perhaps it's the equivalent of folk trance music, with the blend of organic and synthetic instruments? 

 

Either way I do hope you enjoy it. 

 

thanks for listening 👂   

-Jesss

Naturally Curious

When I was five or six years old I did a bad thing. The night before Christmas I meticulously, or as meticulous as a young kid can be, opened a gift with my name on it. Inside was a radio controlled Godzilla toy with glowing eyes, realistic roar, and animatronic arms and legs. I was so excited I couldn't believe how incredible this toy was!

The next morning when we all got together to open our presents I remember feeling a slight numbness to the excitement I had from the night before. I had spoiled my surprise. However I still had my radio controlled Godzilla. I was intrigued with how this toy worked I couldn't help but eventually pulling the toy apart to learn how it worked. While I made a mess and I'm very sure there were missing pieces and the toy didn't work quite the same when I placed it back together, I learned a valuable lesson. 

I learned the power of curiosity! Learning anything new can be a challenge yet if you're naturally curious it can make the whole experience a rush fueled by interest.  The older I get the more I try to examine my past to help me with my current values. Sometimes I'm embarrassed by my past sometimes I'm inspired. Nonetheless the mini personal archeological digs have helped me. We all have these little treasures hidden within that are worth rediscovery, so perhaps Today let's lean into our natural curiosity.

 

thanks for reading 📖

 -Jesse

Pepsi Unfortunately

One morning I see next to me on the coffee table my unfinished can of Pepsi from the night before. Being 13yrs old and not concerned with the taste of room temperature cola I took a drink. As I was drinking I noticed something wiggly and scraping the back of my tongue. I immediately spit it out and to my absolute horror it was an earwig! The nasty little insect had fallen into my beverage.


Now granted this isn't Pepsi's fault. Yet for years the sight of that iconic blue can made my throat itch. While recently for my health I've been steadily limiting my sugar drink intake however, one bad or in this case an exceptionally bad experience can forever taint your tastes.


Sure the end results might mean me  choosing a different soda yet isn't much of life like this? An awful experience that really was aside the product or service that can steer you clear from a thing all together. Now personally I'm more of an RC cola fan when it boils down to it. Though as I try to challenge myself these days by asking why do I feel or think the way I do about a thing? And even more so examining how personal likes and dislikes can shape and in some cases define you - I want to continue to ask why? And if my old prejudices or painful experiences have relevance today.

 

I don't want to ask anyone to do something that makes them feel unsafe - but perhaps today think about why you feel strongly a certain way about a thing. See if it has value for today.


Thanks so much for reading 📖

-Jesse

Selah

The word "Selah" is a choral term littered throughout the book of Psalms. Over and over again the poet, and musician King David uses the word between phrases. Selah means to stop and think. It's a brilliant device when you consider it. The author is asking the reader to slow down so to speak and think about what you've read.

This attitude of slowing down and reflecting has been very much my current stance on life. In light of all the ups and downs, twists and turns taking time to stop and think has been life giving. From mindfulness meditation, to journaling and exercising to simple reflection these are just bit of what I consider my self care. 

It feels silly to say this stuff but this blog has been very therapeutic to me. Setting aside the time to vent, rant and release the inner workings of my mind has given me so much agency. Perhaps not the most eloquent of essays but I earnestly try to write from the heart. Which is why I've been doing so much digging through my musical past.  

In March of 2008 I released an ep from a now defunct musical venture called "Bella Rue". The band was made up of my wife, Katie & myself. Katie lended her voice and I wrote and recorded all the instruments and sang as well.

The song here that I wrote is from a time in my life where I sincerely pursued being a pastor, a story for another time. Yet here I felt vulnerable enough to share an intimate perspective about my very personal beliefs. The song is about Jesus of Nazareth, which I gather some readers might check out or avoid listening all together. I understand faith has a polarizing effect on people. However while I try to see all sides as much as possible, and be sensitive to other people, this blog is ultimately about my journey and my experiences. So while the track is preachy remember I used to be a preacher haha.

The track isn't about hell, turn or burn or anything off putting like that. It's about gratitude for a person that I love and His sacrificial life. I grew up in the post hippy Jesus movement so love songs were my tradition, which can feel foreign to those used to doctrines or creeds in there music.

To me I get love songs, I kinda feel if your songs aren't love songs then how can you call it a worship song since the word worship translates to "turn and kiss". There's an inherent affectionate quality to a love song that to me rings true with songs about God, unless you don't believe in God or don't love God. Which I get that's a pretty big gap to bridge. I honestly don't judge people that feel different than the way I do. We all have our reasons and experiences for why we believe what we believe.

I plan on sharing more faith related stories in the future, especially my missionary and church planting stories. And they're by no means a bed of roses. I've seen both wonderful and woeful things throughout my faith journey. Yet for now if you feel compelled to listen to this track, a love song, please Selah, stop and think today about loving yourself as well.

 

thanks for reading 📖 and listening 👂

-Jesse

The Corridor

Recently my therapist guided me through a particular meditation exercise that was incredibly powerful. She referred to it as "The Corridor".

Basically what she did was have me close my eyes while focusing on my breath as she painted a picture of a vast and deep hallway. This hallway was populated with endless closed doors on my left and my right. Many of the doors were far beyond my reach because I just hadn't lived long enough to walk by them. Yet many doors were behind me. Each door represented something very personal. There was a door that represented specific people, events, traumas and more. 

She had me approach a door she labeled the "fear" door. And began to ask me what the door looked like. This was the part where I got to interact and I gave each detail an image the moment I was asked it. So for me the fear door was off white, cracked and looked like porcelain. The door handle resembled an egg shell and just as fragile. As I opened the "fear" door I noticed it was light and brittle. Inside the door it was inky black.  

When asked what I wanted to do next I then reached for a light switch. Upon turning the light on I notice the light wasn't a switch but a string dangling from a single bulb that swung in the middle of the now lit room behind the cracked porcelain door. The walls and floor were naked 2 by 4's and the floor was a single particle board between to beems. On this particle board was a sleeping bag. The ceiling was exposed and charred and I could see outside. The stars were bright and the moon was full. This room was my once my actual attic bedroom when I was ten years old. 

 

At this point my therapist guided me to leave this room and to begin to think of the safest place possible. Not far up on the right I saw a red door. It was a familiar and peaceful door. I knew already what was behind this door! When I pulled it open the thick smell of pancakes filled the air. It was my Papa Neil's house and I could see him through the doorway sitting on the couch. As he took notice of me I was a ten year old boy and my Papa rushes to give me a hug. Soon afterwards he piled a plate high of delicious right off the grill pancakes. It was clear to me that this red door was going to be my safe place, my visual inner light that we were going to use to process our work ahead.

 

While I understand this is a deeply personal experience I challenge you to think on this particular metaphor of "The Corridor". What does your fear door hold? And even more importantly what is behind your "safe" door? 

 

 

thank you for reading 📖

 -Jesse

Glass Flowers

Circa 2006 I wrote a song dedicated to my sisters. My younger sister Jaime was attending Oregon State University and she'd graciously let me crash at her place for what I considered songwriting binges.  This is where I had the chance uninterruptedly to pour into my music.

 

I had just moved back up from Mexico and beyond from a year I spent as a missionary, followed by a time playing with bands. Here at my sisters apartment I honed my songwriting chops, and even tested these new tracks out on her roommates with mini living room concerts.

 

I had a very strong & unique relationship with my sisters back then, especially two of my sisters. My older sister, Micah and my younger sister, Jaime. We grew up together and had survived turmoil, trauma and poverty. Which ultimately cemented our connection like "brothers in arms" so to speak.

 

In high school I tried to have a special moment or ritual that I did with my sisters, just to remind them I loved them. One of my favorite memories was how every Thursday I'd buy Jaime and I Carl's Jr. and we'd sit in my Chrysler Lebaron and chat for hours.  

 

I feel so incredibly privileged to have had the love of my sisters growing up, even while there were so many forces that were acting the opposite. I'm forever grateful for those relationships! And it is with great joy I share the following song, which is a love letter to my sisters, my "Glass Flowers". 

Mind & Body

Recently I went to the Doctors for the first time in a long time. By long time, I mean outside of an urgent care or unfortunate ER visit it's been seriously years since I've seen a doctor on the regular. 

 I'm not alone on this but I really dislike going to the doctors. Be that anything from a chiropractor to a dentist or physician. I'm often apprehensive. While I'll goto the chiropractor when I'm in pain and I try to goto the dentist every six months to prevent a cavity the regular doctor has been something that just makes me the most anxious.

 

Eventually I started to avoid the doctors all together. Which is bad. I'll come right out and say it. But what I didn't realize was while I think there are many subpar professionals in all industries I was being foolish about my health. However, what I didn't expect from finding a wonderful therapist was how a healthier mind was going to lead to a stronger desire to have a healthier body. 

 

So here I was meeting with my new doctor and for the first time I felt comfortable with a doctor. I went on to describe some of my health issues including a trouble I was having swallowing certain foods. The doctor then said he believed I had a certain kind of hernia which involves my stomach slipping into my esophagus. So the doctor has me lie on my back. He then uses both of his hands to pull on my belly while I feel a pop in my throat as he pulls my stomach from inside my esophagus. It was crazy! It felt just bizarre!

While it's a little to early to tell if it's cured my digestive issues I do have to say how thankful I feel. The encouragement from my counselor has helped me get over such a significant anxiety I had. We all have bad experiences and they can paint our minds with unhealthy ideas about very healthy things, like going to the doctors. 

 I'm still skeptical of doctors but I feel empowered to advocate for my own health. No one has more skin in the game to save your skin than yourself.  

 

thanks for reading 📖   

-Jesse

Home

As I’ve been doing both homework for my memoir and with my therapist I’ve been uncovering more and more stories from my past. This has encouraged me to dig up and re-release music I wrote quite some time ago. I wrote and recorded this song, “Home” back in 2007.  While it's titled "Home" I seldom had a place to call home as a kid. In many ways my home was the open road since we were always on the move.

Looking back this song was the first time that I felt brave enough to publicly share my story.

I can’t count how many friends or ministers I shared my personal stories with over the years and how with each re-telling I felt a bit like they owned a piece of me. I used to have this feeling that I was entrusting others with my past in hope that I was building a closer connection with them. I think we can all feel this way sometimes - like once someone has heard our story like they fully get you. But that’s just not true. What we choose to share with others is important but it doesn’t mean the hearer is invested in us. By sharing our stories we give ourselves a voice, we give ourselves agency, we give ourselves value! This has been one of the most vulnerable and hardest lessons for me to learn. You might find it odd that I’m now sharing so many personal stories so publicly. You see this is part of my taking ownership of my story and removing my decades old hang up. I’m choosing to make my life an open book. Yes, it’s great if my stories connect with you. However, my greatest motivator is really to heal myself first. I need these truths sixteen inches deep into my soul. And if the added benefit something I share finds a bit of home in you as well that’s just wonderful!

If you've read some of my earlier posts you'll be more familiar with some of the details of my life events. This song is completely autobiographical - from living in a red suburban to my mother and father getting divorced when I was six years old, to me pouring into my faith. It's a semi-optimistic track about looking for love even when life feels unloving. I had found love, and a sense of purpose from my faith in Jesus, but I also felt so empty without physical companionships. The same year I wrote this song would be the year I’d see Katie show up at a concert I was performing in Newberg Oregon. We’d fall in love and less than three and a half months later we’d be married. Katie is the first person that has made me feel at home. The first person to help me heal from years of heartbreak.

Thank you so much for reading and listening!

-Jesse

Drafting My Memoir

Perhaps I'm alone in this but the word "memoir" has always bugged me. Don't get me wrong I enjoy a good memoir: from "Size Matters Not" by Warwick Davis - probably the hardest working little person in Hollywood to "Bossy Pants" by Tina Fey. I've read a fair share of memoirs and autobiographies. But the word "memoir" in my head at least sounds pretentious and kinda douchey.

 

Maybe it's just me but a good life story is accessible and hopefully relatable on many levels. It's earthy, salty and lacking fancy college words. Or perhaps my roots are showing. For me growing up with an inconsistent education I used my vocabulary amongst many things to cloaked my poverty. I was very insecure about my intelligence and felt if I sounded smart no one would be the wiser of my embarrassment. I think we all do this, pretend like we know what someone is saying or we're too afraid to ask a question because we don't want to look stupid.

 

However, I believe we all have an exciting or important story to tell - which should be told from the heart. So here I am with my heart on my sleeve, again, saying a lot of fancy words does not a good "memoir" make. 

 

Let me share a story. When I went back to school in Spring of 2009 I had been out of practice since I graduated in 2000. My math skills and some of my grammar chops were in the gutter. So I had to take a few extra special non accredited courses at my college. It was a bummer for sure, having to fork out a bunch more money for classes that weren't going to bring me a credit closer to my degree. However it's what I had to do.

 

Yet remember I thought I had an excellent vocabulary so I should be able to breeze at least through this non accredited writing class. My first assignment was an essay based off a Edward Hopper painting. Since this was an art college it was really great they tried their best to align our homework with an artistic flair.

So this painting by Edward Hopper was that of a train station. Nothing elaborate or surreal. It was a slice of Americana, rustic and strangely familiar in composition. Perhaps I had seen the painting before or it was just that common of a setting. Nonetheless I decided I would wow my teacher with all sorts of flowery phrases dripping with ethereal metaphors upon metaphors. Again I wanted to be perceived as an educated man. Well my teacher saw right through me! He said "this reads really nice. However I don't believe you're really saying anything." Oh no! I'm busted! He then helped me let go of this odd impulse to complicate my thoughts while writing and just focus on saying what I'm thinking or feeling. It was strange at first but so liberating! 

 

The funny thing is how I was so bent on trying to prove I was sharp when clearly I was placed in this remedial writing class because I was rusty. I needed help. We all need help. It's apart of life and nothing to be particularly ashamed about. 

 

So while I embark on drafting my memoir I'm reminded I have nothing to prove. I just have a story to share. And I believe perhaps this is the greatest reason I'm compelled to share my memoir. Not out of some sorta delusions of grandeur. Not from the insecurities of trying to convince the world I'm not a fool. Heck we're all foolish at times and that's ok. Owning our limits are important, how else are we going to do the impossible if we don't see what we never thought we could do before. 

 

 I'm writing a memoir that is deeply deeply personal. And while if you're here and have read this blog you might have a bit of familiarity to the stories I'll be sharing. But know that this memoir is something that scares me. It scares me to even confess this. I've been locked away in my head: injuries, hopes, fears, dreams and desires that many who know me might have to rethink the man they think I am. And hopefully this will encourage you as I take an emotionally terrifying step forward.

 I'm excited to share these stories too but also nervous. Because this will be the first time I'll literally be able to say "I'm an open book". 

 

thanks so much for reading 📖   

-Jesse

 

p.s.  I've decided on a title for my memoir and plan on calling it: 

"I'm Only Dreaming" 

To Hell With Bullies 🔥

(The following is from an episode of my now retired podcast Go Forth & Nerd 🤓)


From trolls to thugs bullies often want an array of things but the one universal thing I've discovered about bullies is that they all want a sense of power. Be that power to take away your dignity, your lunch money, your joy, your piece of purpose on this hurling blue marble, or just to displace their own frustrations on you because of their low self esteem and lack of control in this world.


A bit about me if you've already guessed:I'm actually a quite even tempered guy. I seldom get physically upset. Even more so I deliberately avoid people that are prone to unpredictable bursts of anger. For good reason but the truth is this has roots into the scars I have from being bullied as a kid. To me angry people have crossed a clear line and have acted very violent to me. And it's these scars some emotional some physical that I have learned to live with.


To illustrate the lessons I've learned I'm going to share three short stories that embody the title of this post:

TO HELL WITH BULLIES!

I'll start off with a funny story.

There was this one time I was being bullied by a kid in the second grade. He kept hitting me while we were waiting in line after recess, and I kept asking him to leave me alone. Now it's important to mention that for some reason at this school they thought it wise to have recess immediately after lunch. Then while he was punching me my stomach started to turn. So I told him one last time to leave me alone - in a menacing grin he continued his behavior and punched me again so I let him have it! I puked up my entire lunch all over this jerk! It was awesome! He was covered from head to toe with a hot assault of irony. It was fair to say he NEVER bothered me again! Now we can't always vomit our way out of being bullied but this story reminds me that if you can't beat'em at least make them regret it.


My next story gets quite a bit edgier. Fast forward we were living in Minnesota outside of the 3M Corp - I was middle school aged, short rabbit trail for those curious I never went to middle school. I technically missed not skipped but missed 5th,6th,7th and 8th grade. Which I've been told by many people especially my wife that that is prime time for bullying. Back to living in what was clearly a ghetto in Minnesota. I was the only white boy in the neighborhood. Here I was a shrimpy white ginger kid completely surrounded by justifiably so angry and frustrated African American kids. And they hated me!

 

Let me explain why these kids were so frustrated - the only white people they knew were the cops that barged into the neighborhood to arrest or assault their family members. To these kids police sirens and gunfire was so frequent it was like a lullaby. These kids weren't in school, they were poor, and treated poorly. I honestly and deeply hold zero grudges against these kids. They were in a system that crapped on them and they felt it. Nonetheless at the time when faced with having my ass kicked multiple times every single day I discovered that:

  1. I was never going to be able to out run these kids. Frankly they could lap me three times on my best day.

  2. I couldn't make them laugh hard enough to forget how frustrated they were - something deep down in them was satisfied in punching out a pale freckled faced red head.

  3. I had no other option but to fight back. That said even when you fight back when you're on your own unless you're Bruce Lee you're gonna lose in someway!


Here's the single greatest thing that changed for me aside from when we moved:

My friendship with Jamal - Jamal was the skinniest scrappiest kid I ever knew! He lived on the bottom floor of our apartment complex and I befriended him after giving him a Maxx comic. He was at that moment hooked on comics! So we became bros! Jamal and I loved watching cartoons together, eating fruit loops until our mouths were numbs and talking about our favorite super powers. Then at a hair pin turn Jamal was by my side when the gang of the usual bullies came to harass me for my timely beatings. Jamal was like a hurricane, he flew at the biggest kid in the group often 2 to 3 times his size and would just wail on the kid until he pleaded for him to stop! Jamal's motto was that you always attack first and go for the biggest meanest looking bully and don't stop hitting until your sure they'll never bother you again! I swear it's like this kid not knowing it lived out Ender's tactic from Ender's Game!

 

Jamal was such a bad ass. There was one particular time a gang of close to a dozen kids had surrounded me. They wanted to really beat the living crap out of me. Then in a moment of pure insanity Jamal came in - he had skewered a basketball size active wasps nest on a stick and he began to smash it to tinder upside their heads like it was some sorta stinging mace. It was insane!!! If you remember the hornets nest scene from Hunger Games that was the tame version of what this looked like. Close to a dozen kids screaming and flailing in all directions. It was one of the most violent and heroic things I've ever seen. Jamal and I fled relatively unscathed. Though I never gained Jamal's eye of the tiger this scrappy African American boy was my hero! He taught me how to fight back and that power is all about the heart and nothing to do with size.


So sometimes you have to fight back but you need to know your enemy enough to why they want to hurt you if you can. Sometimes fighting back is walking away or ignoring them like I've learned when dealing with internet trolls. And sometimes fighting back is through gaining a scrappy ally that'll march into the eye of the tornado with you like my buddy Jamal. There's strength in numbers and every bully has a weakness.


For my last story I want to throw you a bit of curve ball. Sometimes bullying doesn't look like a direct attack but is part of an underlying mob mentality. And the truth is sometimes people just aren't aware they're being bullies and they're just playing along blindly:


You see I went to Glencoe High school in Hillsboro, Oregon. And like all high schools they had a goofy mascot. But Glencoe high school had by far one of most bizarre mascots I've ever seen. It's called the Crimson Tide, and if you guessed that it might resemble a red wave with a ridiculous cartooned grinned you'd be right. The Crimson Tide was and to my knowledge still is a red cartoon wave of blood. You heard that right BLOOD! Yeah weird right?! My high schools mascot was/is a wave of blood! And not just any blood it's a reference to a specific wave of blood that took place from a historical massacre in Glencoe Scotland. Gross right? I agree. But it gets worse. My grandfather informed me that my ancestors specifically immigrated to the US to flee from the brutal genocide of the Campbells clan that was slaying our clan from Glencoe Scotland. So here I was attending a high school that their very mascot was a wave of the blood of my direct slaughtered ancestors. Can you say bloodthirsty? That was my reality from the following...


One particular day I was walking down the hallway and I saw a fight begin to break out. A shrimpy freshman was about to be crumbled by some massive dude. It was kinda of a Marty McFly vs Biff situation. I having had a growth spurt pushing 6ft tall awkwardly towered over both of them and got between them to try and stop the fight. A crowd quickly surrounded the three of us as these bloodthirsty teenagers chanted FIGHT, fight,  fight! Well these kids with their Crimson Tide fury were angry that I got in between them and their entertainment so several of them shoved me to the ground so the fight would continue. And then in a moment it was over, the massive Biff like kid pummeled this shrimpy freshman. I was eventually able to stop the bully again but I learned a valuable lesson that day. People crave violence. Even when it's a spectator sport people like seeing other people being hurt. And because of that being a peacemaker is NEVER an easy task!


The truth is sometimes we need to stand up, walk away or just outsmart these bullies. We can and we're able but we need to fight against the senseless mob, the towering brute or the frustrated and displaced.


So today I want to encourage you by reminding you're not alone, that we all need allies, and that you can as hard as it sounds there is a way tell to take positive stand. As a community we need to have each others back!


As always thank you so much for reading. Let's unite together as we say To Hell With Bullies!


-Jesse

Naming Our Monsters

For the past few weeks I've been embarking on an incredibly scary journey. I've been outwardly expressing my past and present fears and pain. Apart of this scary therapeutic work has involved sharing these very personal experiences here on my blog and with my amazing therapist. 

I can't fully give words to the life giving experience it has been to finally get this stuff off my chest. And for the most part I've received an overwhelming amount of encouragement. Truth be told I really didn't set out to write these stories to garner any attention. I'm just writing to heal myself. I hope these stories make you feel less alone and give you the added strength to seek out your own healing works.

As I've been working through these events from my past my therapist has helped me give names to the specific villains in my life. We all have villains, some constant some intermittent. While having villains or negative forces in your life is unavoidable their power over you can be tempered by a wonder tool. By naming your monsters.

For me there was a very wicked and cruel person from my past. He was violent to me, mistreated and tortured me. He abused me for years and for many years longer after he was out of my life I've tried to supress the pain. From diving into my faith to escaping into music or losing myself in art these things while I love them deeply they failed to help me look my monsters straight in the face.

My therapist helped me dubbed this person as my Step Monster. Since any other title really didn't feel deserved. At first I responded to my therapist that I had more than one "Step Monster" but this man was pure evil. While my other "Step Monster" she was more a wicked Queen than a full blown violent creature. Which I do anticipate sharing stories about her here as well. However hearing my therapist give a name to my monster felt so cathartic! I was free to release myself of the pain of the pure chaos of my experiences. Because that's what people do. We try and make sense of why something happened or why someone would act a certain way. Yet Monsters they don't need reasons, they're just monsters! The world on fire makes them happy. 

 

So while I continue to share these intensely personal experiences I encourage you to give a name to your monsters. Perhaps this can give you an emotionally healthy distance from the cruelty you've been dealt while you allow yourself some proper healing. 

 

 

thank you so much for reading 📖  

 

-Jesse

A Spaghetti Dinner

Not long after we had fled our roach infested burnt to a cinder Minnesota apartment were we on the road again. We had started our journey from Rocklin California up through southern Oregon then straight east through Montana, Wyoming & Yellowstone national park. Sleeping in our extended cab GMC truck.


Well most of us slept inside the truck. I was forced to sleep outside the truck bed with all our possessions. With boxes piled high on all sides of me it was easy for me to slip deep into the junk into a sorta make shift cave. I'd sink down into my sleeping bag, zip it up as tight as possible and cover my whole head minus a tiny crack for air and a place for me to stare at the stars and moon.


I remember the sounds of wildlife howling, squawking and snarling in the night air. The icy chill of adrenaline making all my hairs stand up. The crisp smell of fog and the snap of frozen dew. Finally the deep inky purple skies. The moon was amazing! I felt like it had a hypnotic power over me. All alone in this exposed pickup truck bed at 11yrs old it was this glorious moon that would lock eyes with me and slowly my fears would subside as I'd fall asleep.


This was the common experience for me when we were on the road. I was typically forced to sleep outside either in the pickup bed or if it was raining particularly hard inside a makeshift tent or under a tarp to keep guard of our possessions in boxes.


By the time we had left Minnesota my mother had given away almost everything I owned. All except my briefcase my grandpa Neil had given me. I guarded this thing with my life! On our journey eastward and north we drove through Montreal and parked at a tiny Canadian rest area in the woods. This time my stepfather had me sleep in the tent to guard our possessions at the rest area while they parked the truck some distance away. I remember thinking how nice it was that I could finally use the bathroom whenever I felt like this evening. It rained a relentless rain almost all night. I curled up into a ball in another makeshift cave I constructed with the boxes then fell asleep. I woke only once in the night to a hovering sound like I've never heard. The tent started to flutter then shake. The whooshing sound grew louder and louder. A dim light now surrounded the tent. Then as suddenly as it appeared it went away.


The next morning I tried describing the sound and light to my sisters but they were parked some distance from my tent so they never saw a thing. We piled all our effects back into the bed of the truck and this time my stepfather decided there was no longer room for me to be in the truck cabin. I was to stay outside in the truck bed day and night hidden amongst the boxes and junk indefinitely. At this point I remember it getting really cold both during the day and especially at night. My sleeping bag was no longer keeping me warm enough to sleep. So I tried to sleep more during the day while we traveled since I was too cold to sleep at night. Then one particular evening we drove late into the night I remember being told to get out of the truck bed.


I saw the back entrance to what looked like a school gym. There was a small line of people and I could smell garlic bread! We had arrived at a Salvation Army soup kitchen. We were herded up stairs into a gymnasium where as far as my eyes could see was smiling faces. There was a large row of tables and everyone was eating spaghetti from blue plastic bowls. They even had fruit punch in red dixie cups and the adults were huddled by the coffee makers.


I remember going through the line multiple times and how each time they filled my bowl to the brim! Finally after we were literally stuffed they led us to our sleeping quarters. We each got our own blanket, pillow and a cot. After we had selected a bed they showed us to the designated showering area and told us the downstairs was off limits to kids.


Lying in my warm and cozy cot, freshly showered in my new hand me down clothes and my stomach swelling with Spaghetti I felt content. It was a simple happiness I had never paid any attention to before. My basic needs at this moment were being met and it felt amazing.


Thinking back on this story this wasn't our first experience with charity nor would it be the last but this was the most important. Years later I would end up working for a short time as a youth minister/music director/food bank operator at a Salvation Army and while it was brief it felt like home.


There's a funny thing about life that's so easy to take for granted. That simple and sometimes not so subtle feeling you get after your evening meal. The feeling of satisfaction. We all deserve to know this warmth and comfort on a daily basis but it's only when it's removed from us do we really notice it's power.


Today I feel thankful, thankful and happy to be alive. I know hunger but I also have the means to fill that hunger. It doesn't mean that all is at peace with the world but it does mean that you're at least ready to say peace to the day as you goto sleep.


Thank you so much for reading 📖



-Jesse

​The Apartment Fire

It was May of 1994 and the seven of us had moved into the third floor of a dingy one bedroom studio apartment outside the 3M Corp in Minnesota. All seven of us; my two sisters, two baby brothers, mother, stepfather and 11yr old self all shared one room. The only place in the apartment that had remotely any privacy was the bathroom everything else was an open floor layout like most studios.


My mother said we had moved here for a television part she was casted for. A "Minneapolis In The Morning" anchor type show. Which never panned out. By the time we arrived the show apparently was cancelled after only a couple episodes. Looking back I'm not sure if the gig was really ever viable to begin with since my mother only recorded an audition tape before we up a moved from Rocklin California.


Since the show was in flux whether or not it was 100% cancelled we needed a place to stay. I'm not sure how but apparently we reached out to a local Calvary Chapel in St. Paul and they helped us with I believe the first months rent. I think the reason any of these rent related details remained in my mind was because the Pastor had a silly name to me. His name was Chick. And for an 11yr old hearing a man named Chick that was strange at bests. I'm not sure if this is exactly how we were able to afford a roof over our heads but it was a rare occasion nonetheless.


Now back to the one bedroom studio apartment. While we only ended up living there for a couple months I remember it was my first time encountering a nasty little insect. Let's just say I discovered cockroaches don't get soggy in milk. Yeah these cockroaches were everywhere! They'd crawl on your face at night so you had to cover your head with your pillow case. They'd be in your shoes, on your clothes, everywhere and you guessed it in our food.


I remember one morning pouring a bowl of cereal 🥣 and taking a big bite of a crunchy angry cockroach, which I promptly spit out. They had infested every inch of our already over crowded studio apartment.


To make matters worse one evening around 4 o'clock in the morning while we were all fast asleep we heard a pounding at our door. It was our neighbor from the bottom floor apartment. The whole apartment was on fire 🔥 and she was brave enough to risk herself to rush through the smoke and try and save us.


I leaped to my feet. Grabbed my tiny briefcase 💼 and hopped over everyone and everything in my way. As I was racing down the stairs the smoke was thick but I could hear a strange crunching sound with each step. The ground felt funny but I was too busy being pumped full of adrenaline scared for my wellbeing. Finally as I was approaching the exit I could see the moonlight piercing in and reflecting across the floor. To my absolute horror was millions upon millions of fleeing cockroaches. The crunching sound on the ground was made by each stomp of my feet 🦶crushing legions of these insects like potato chips step after step.


As soon as I escaped the burning smoke and out the door I had noticed  I was the first one out of the building...or so I thought. My mother was already outside the building and well composed. Following close behind me was my sisters whom my mother promptly ordered to retrieve her purse and our baby brothers.


We left this cinder of a residence not long afterwards to another transient adventure. However what I remember so clearly about this event was how for many years I felt guilty that I had been the "first" to escaped. I felt awful and selfish. It wasn't until years later when recalling the story with my sisters that I realized I had no business feeling guilty! My mother was the very first person out the door to save herself. This woman was concerned for her safety above all else. Furthermore she ordered her daughters to retrieve her personal possessions and her babies!


I look back at this bizarre experience and think what other awful feelings I might have that have been rooted in a distortion of self worth? I was just a child trying to save myself.


Today perhaps is a good time to take a minute or two and think about something that made you feel low from your childhood. Well I invite you to give yourself the permission to forgive yourself - you were a child and children shouldn't have to carry such burdens.



Thank you so much for reading 📖

-Jesse

Running Away From Home Saved My Life

It was Christmas break 1992. I was ten years old and it was a rare occasion for my sisters and I, we were at my father's and stepmother's place In Hillsboro, Oregon this holiday season. My mother had just recently remarried and she was living in California.


This one particular evening my mother called us up. She then systematically made all three of us cry over the phone. Now she had manipulated myself and my sisters to pull us away early from Christmas break with my father's to visit her during the holidays, despite already agreeing to this time to let him have us this year.


This would be the last time I would see my father for over three and a half years. When we arrived at my mother’s place we met her new husband. I don’t currently feel comfortable telling all the details about this man. But I'll say this he absolutely hated us and made special sport of torturing me and treating me like his personal punching bag. When you’re punched full fledge as a ten year old by a grown man on a daily basis it changes you in a very deep way.


Almost everyday I looked for an opportunity to escape. Yet I was still just a child. My greatest refuge was through my mind. My dreams kept me alive all those years. My mother and my stepfather would end up dragging  us all around the US. We were homeless, living in shelters, tents, squatting or mooching off strangers and sometimes friends or relatives.


My mother would seek odd modeling and actress jobs, many times just odd jobs or waitressing while my stepfather refused to work while he got arrested time and time again for theft, fraud and a plethora of other felonies he committed.


The Sacramento, California legal system was a complete joke! Not once while they placed him under house arrest, at a home we were squatting in nonetheless, did they take notice of our black eyes, cuts, torn clothes, malnutrition or the fact that we weren't in school. They were just concerned that he had his ankle monitor on. Which never stopped him from traveling across the US. It also didn’t help that our mother was mentally ill and our stepfather hardly laid a finger on her either. Until I finally saw my moment of escape.


In the State of Oregon at the age of 14yrs old you can choose which parent you’d like to live with and while my mother continually tried to paint my father as a monster I figured even if that was true anything was better than this hell.


So at 13yrs old I took an opportunity and got on a train for Klamath Falls the week of my birthday. I was so nervous I kept feeling like I was going to get caught and have to return to my nightmare. 


Here I was making my own personal heroic Oregon Trail to freedom. To this day I will always love trains. From my euphoric treks with my Grandfather to the train museum in Yreka, to the once a lullaby as I’d fall asleep in my partially roofed room in the attic of our shack up in Rocklin California to finally my freedom Amtrak train rescuing me from the jaws of my past.


Certainly this is all pretty heavy stuff to read but this is part of my history and nothing can change that. However, what I’ve learned is that when you see someone that’s hurting, nervous, or afraid please understand  they're fighting a battle and they need allies.


So today I want to encourage you to think about the monsters or harsh events in your life. And remember as long as there's air in your lungs there is hope! We all need this hope even if it's to escape in the middle of the night and never look back.

Thank you all so much again for reading & thank you so much to all the friends & heroes in my life that have given me comfort & encouragement to share my story. 📖

-Jesse

The Clueless Poet

It was 1997 and I was a self appointed beatnik. I had a pony tail, wore a beret and went to poetry readings. At 15yrs old I most definitely marched to the beat of a different drummer. I thought the Bible and Socrates had the keys to understand everything of meaning. I played bass guitar in a Christian rock band called Pre-Resurrection and we thought we were deep.


If you're feeling a silly urge to slap this kid you're not alone. But even more than my coffee drinking, bass playing, 90's Christian Rock vibe. I thought I was a poet. I thought from the Odyssey to Dante that the great artists understood lyrically the world around them. Sure I was grasping for any ounce of maturity I could find and this was definitely a proto nerdy incarnation I was going through. But I dug it man. I did. To me being in touch with my soul, talking about Jesus and both things non permanent and the permanent was where it's at.


It all felt like a second skin to me until I began writing poetry for girls I liked. This is where I started taking notes from Walt Whitman and T.S. Eliot. These authors knew sadness. And sadness spoken in flowery language from my 15yr old brain 🧠 expressed to the opposite sex that you were interesting.


Well so I thought. Now there was a cute girl in my youth group that I had a huge crush on. She made me feel out of breath and a pain in my chest. Her name was Rhea. She had blue eyes and fair skin. Each time I tried to connect with her I felt like I was just stumbling over my words. It was as if my very mouth and brain were betraying me.


Well this is were my genius came to play! I would write her a poem! Yes this would win her over, my wordsmith studies would not be in vain! So I remember staying up all night crafting the most delicate poem. Describing how I felt about her and all expounding on all her many many qualities from her eyes to personality and beyond. I then placed this poem in the mail and sent it away.


Unfortunately she was on a mission trip so she didn't receive it for over a week. The next time I bumped into her she was visibly uncomfortable. Rushing ahead I recited a few lines from the poem and even handed her a necklace which I had purchased for her. I remember it was sterling silver and had blue gems 💎 in it, this was the first piece of jewelry I ever purchased for a girl. She looked at the necklace and pocketed it. Then she decide to talk on about how she read my poem. Looking at her eyes I began to apologize to her and she began to spout on about her boyfriend and how great and cute and wonderful he is!


I was shocked and embarrassed. She had already had a boyfriend? When did this happen? Was this real? I later talked to a friend of hers at the youth group and it was legit she had a boyfriend but she just never talked about it. Why? I really have no idea! We weren't friends I just liked her and she was just clearly not interested in me. But infatuation can give you blinders. You can humiliate yourself in front of someone you have feelings for and it can reveal how clueless you are.


That weekend after my embarrassment I was at my fathers parents place and I spoke with my cowboy 🤠 grandfather Don about what happened. We barely spoke about really anything if I'm being honest. He was a pretty closed off guy and hardly showed any emotion that wasn't serious or laughter. Grandpa Don was for the most part emotionally unavailable, much like my own father.


My Grandpa Don begins to tell me an array of what I still consider bad advice about how it's foolish to tell a girl how you feel and never to write anything down because it'll just embarrass you. But I never saw it that way. Sure I was mistaken that somehow magically my poetry would make this girl have feelings for me but poetry did it for me! Poems made me feel good. And sure it was embarrassing, heck it's a little embarrassing now retelling this but I don't regret it for a second! I was and am in touch with my emotions. I think it's important to know how to express them. Yes you need discretion to know who's the appropriate person to share them with. However I'll never be ashamed for expressing them. Emotions are personal truths welled up inside us.


And it's this unabashed romantic inside me that kept me open when I discovered my wife and best friend, Katie. Sure I was a "Clueless Poet" and a total dork. But I'm cool with that. Yes the beret, pony tail, and Christian rocker personas have all melted away but I'm still a lover of a good lyric and a lover of poetry.


Thanks so much again for reading 📖

-Jesse

19 & Homeless

It was 2001 when I was 19yrs old and ended up homeless. I had enlisted in the military because I wanted to go to college and that was the only door available to me at the time. Then 9/11 happened and my recruiter pushed out my departure date. So I had to wait another two months to leave for my military training. Well being a kid of 19 I hadn't saved much money beyond my date that I was to leave. So my father said I could do some grunt work at his company, to pay for rent while they let me stay at his house for the two months they pushed out my military date.


However, about a month into working for my father I ended up slipping off a ladder and breaking my arm. That day my father fired me to avoid having me file a worker’s comp claim, then he booted me from his house since I couldn't work to pay rent. The military getting news of my broken arm un-enlisted me. So having nowhere else to go I had to live in my van.


So here I was homeless, with a broken arm and I had to live in my van. By now it was entering early winter time and it was getting below freezing at night. Since I had no money and I couldn't get any work until my arm healed up I was living off animal crackers and dry top ramen. I soon got pneumonia and a chronic cough - even to the point where I was coughing blood. Eventually my arm healed but I was still very sick and it wasn't until I received my tax return that I had money to purchase some antibiotics.


This was one of the saddest times of my life. While this is an uncomfortable story to write. For a time it was my reality. This is where even though stories like this happen all the time. Stories are at the cornerstone of who we are as people. Stories have meaning!     


Stories can give us the power to relate and relay strength, change,heart ache, loss, joy and a plethora of other personal truths. Stories are so much more than a way for us to be entertained and escape reality. We are not alone. Sometimes we need to get real!


If you've read the Hobbit there's a powerful illustration of this villainous dragon named Smaug that ruined a whole city just for the dragon's greedy pleasures. Now there are dragons in our lives sometimes. And even though it's beyond us to imagine how we're going to deal with this impossible monster, that creature is laying on top of an incomprehensible treasure. So let's slay these dragons together and enjoy the treasures of being truly who we are!


Thank you all so very much for reading and I hope this particular post let’s you know you're not alone, and to take courage and care. And if you feel led to reach out to me via email (jesse@mrbray.com) - perhaps you'd like to share a piece of your pain or story I'd be honored to listen. Even more so I highly recommend to please also consider seeking assistance from a certified mental health counselor. They can guide you step by step through your pain like I have. Thank you so much again. 📖


-Jesse

What's For Dessert?🧁

My grandfather, Papa Neil 👴 was the king 👑 of breakfast foods, especially pancakes. He would make such elaborate pancakes - some with multiple colors and shapes. He'd often  make ninja turtle 🐢 pancakes or even spell out the first letter of your name in your favorite color pancakes 🥞. 

 

It's such a treasured memory that I've even started perfecting my own flapjack flipping skills for my wife and nieces. My Papa Neil's recipe was a bit usual but at the same time classic. He always used Bisquick and seltzer water for his batter and lots of real butter on the grill. He used to tell me "the secret to a perfect pancake is to watch for the bubbles. Once the bubbles are mostly all gone it's time to flip. Then you remember to let the other side cook for approximately the same time it took for all the bubbles to pop." And it works like a charm. Perfectly golden brown pancakes every time!

 

While my Papa was the king of breakfast on occasion he'd take us out to breakfast - usually after church ⛪️. One of my fondest memories is when my Papa took my baby brother, Ian and I out to a pancake house. I got pigs in a blanket and my little brother got chocolate pancakes with chocolate syrup, strawberries 🍓 and whipped cream piled on top. My little brother, Ian about three years old at the time, smiling ear to ear and face completely covered in chocolate 🍫 exclaimed right after finishing the last bite "Ok Papa, what's for dessert?!"  

 

We all laughed, though I'm sure Ian wasn't joking he could of gone for dessert haha. 

 

Food is a wonderful way we can connect with our loved ones. Be that pancakes or dessert it's this reminder that food can be the most basic thing to make someone or yourself feel loved. 

 

So today I encourage you to look for a bit of dessert in your day - be that to reminisce on a fond memory or make a new moment.

 

 

thanks for reading 📖   

-Jesse

My First Crush ❤️

When I was 11yrs old I experience my first real crush. Now I had liked other girls beforehand but it wasn’t until I was 11yrs old that I experienced the sorta puppy crush that consumes your thoughts. Like you know what I mean, you can’t get the person out of your head. You dream about them, you obsess about them and all you want to do is climb to the top of a mountain and profess your undying love for them.


Well herein lies the problem. She didn’t know my name. Worse yet she in fact would never ever know my name. Why? Because she wasn’t real. She was none other than Rogue from the 90’s x-men animated series. That’s right my first crush was with a fictitious woman. This super babe, and member of the x-men, Rogue was the love of my life! Well as far as I understood it.


Here I was having awkward dreams of my super powered girlfriend flying me around the globe like a sack of groceries. If this is painful to read to just imagine how painful this is to write haha.


However, this is where the story gets really painful. At this point in my life we were living in this dilapidated house in Rocklin, California. Our home was a stones throw away from the railroad tracks. So frequently used were these railroad tracks that I couldn’t roll over and fall asleep until I heard the sound of a train whaling its cacophonous lullaby.

 

To add more necessary details to this story my room was in the corner of the attic - the house had suffered a fire so I was able to the see the stars at night without any sheetrock, shingle or physical roof to hinder my view. My bed was a sleeping bag on a single particle board that connected between two beams.


So on this one particularly starry night I gazed into the gigantic moon thinking of my lovely mutant crush, Rogue, as the nightly train soared across the tracks. So like a trained animal I fell asleep. Unfortunately I had forgotten to zip up the sleeping bag which kept me anchored in my bed, the safe piece of flat ground between the ceiling beams. So nestled in another romantic dream of Rogue and I flying around like I was Jasmine on Aladdin’s carpet, we started to come crashing to the earth. BOOM! I had rolled off the particle board into the ceiling and away from my sleeping bag. I came crashing through the sheetrock into my sisters room hitting my shoulder on their bedpost tumbling to the floor. Talk about a rude awakening!


So as the annual romantic date night approaches us let's try not to crash to hard from our crushes. Happy Valentines Day! ❤️



Thanks for reading 📖


-Jesse

For The Love Of Tacos 🌮

The following is a story that took place while I was working at an orphanage in a border town in Mexico.


Life at the orphanage was relaxed. Day in day out things were pretty chill. We’d get up early in the morning and take care of the kids, feed them, bath them then go about our day doing odd tasks around to keep the place running.


On one particular day we had a visitor that came to the orphanage that swore he had found the greatest thing ever! He called it “Squeezy-Toes” (most likely a Spanish transliteration of exquisite) they we’re bacon wrapped hot dogs. And he had promised that he would gladly trek anyone of us away from the orphanage for a visit to this allusive and delicious hot dog truck some 40miles away. Well it was fair to say I was more than a little intrigued, being myself at the time a professed bacon-addict!


So off we went on our culinary adventure! These hot dogs were amazing! So I decided on that day whenever I could break away from the orphanage to go on a foodie quest I was gonna headset with this visitor. The next time he arrived he now talked of the greatest tacos he had ever had! I didn’t need convincing! “Let’s go bro!” And like promised these were the greatest tacos I’ve ever had in my life! Honestly still the greatest I’ve ever had in my life! However, this story didn’t have a happy ending. While they we’re the most delicious tacos I had ever had they were also the worst gastrointestinal experience of my life. I had caught Montezuma's revenge - basically to spare you the gory details my body was a two way volcano. It was a waking nightmare! I seriously prayed for death! It was just awful. But then a little time had passed. And despite almost dying the memory of those life changing and life threatening tacos crept back in. I started dreaming about them both asleep and awake. The tacos we’re like a tune stuck in your head that you just couldn’t shake. They were calling to me… Jesse we love you! I WANTED THOSE TACOS! Looking back as a grown man I have no idea why I was possessed over those tacos. I’ve never before or since ever had this level of lust for Mexican food.


So the next time the visitor arrived I demand him take me to those tacos! And like before in my mouth they were heaven wrapped in corn tortillas but in my stomach it was time to pray to my maker to save me from exploding.

 

Yes tacos from a questionable vendor in Mexico might not be wise. But this is a story were as silly as my love for tacos was that I draw strength from. Why? Because it taught me to laugh at the little bit of crazy we do when we’re in love. And in a strange way I feel like a badge of pride as I channeled my culinary hero 🦸‍♂️ Andrew Zimmern - a man famous for his love of food. Almost dying for authentically delicious food...there's worst was to go I'm sure haha!


Thanks for reading 📖

-Jesse

Wolverine Was My 4th Grade Tutor


It was the spring of 93’ and I was failing the 4th grade. From the parade of F minuses on my incomplete homework assignments and failed quizzes It was pretty clear I was going be held back a year. However this was no surprise when you looked closer at my life.


My parents got divorced when I was 6yrs old which interrupted my schooling quite drastically. Divorce is messy for those that have dealt with it in any capacity. Adding to that my mother moved us around a lot. Her being a fledgling actress and model our lives were in a constant flux. My 1st grade year I missed six of the total nine months of that school year. From 1st-4th grade I switched back and forth to eight different elementary schools. If it wasn’t for my Uncle giving me a spider-man comic, which I mentioned in a previous story I don’t think I ever would of got over my fear of reading with my dyslexia. So here I was clearly marching towards having to repeat the 4th grade.


Then in stepped my Grandmother. I’m not sure why it was this was particular time she put her foot down and got involved - guess I’ll never know, yet I am forever grateful. My Grandmother was a retired school teacher and she taught me the basics of doing my homework before drawing or playing. But more so than that My Grandmother paid attention enough to know how to reach me. She saw how hooked I was on the X-men cartoon and how much I loved Wolverine. She would take me out after school twice a week to an ice cream shop that sold her favorite diabetic candies while she helped me do my homework. Furthermore she said if I got good grades she would send give me a Wolverine comic every week.  One particular time she gave me a Wolverine action figure with retractable claws. The enthusiasm it gave me was the lightning in a bottle! This was a turning point in my educational career. I saw an immediate reward for my efforts which out weighed the boredom of school work. And then soon I fell in love with libraries! It wasn’t enough to just read comics I wanted to learned more and more!


I especially loved reading Encyclopedias since they contained snippets of myths and other interesting stories I wanted to learn without having to read an entire book. The library became my Xavier’s school for gifted children and where I would continually find inspiration for my art and personal comics. In less than two months time I went from an F student clearly looking to repeat the 4th grade to a straight A student winning awards in the Odyssey of the Mind club. It is here where I gained my official nerd status! I loved learning! And while it was the hands of my Grandmother that taught me to buckle down and do my school work it was the claws of Wolverine that hooked me on knowledge and I was never going back!


We all have defining defining moments yet I wouldn't of realized how pivot it was until decades later. This love of libraries and study habits would be my salvation in the years ahead of poverty and trials.


We all have origins of the good and bad things in our life and today it's my heart to reflect on the powerful positive experiences.



Thanks for reading 📖


-Jesse