10. Having three of my best friends get engaged.
Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 11.11.27 PMBetween July 2015 and June 2016, basically all of my best friends are getting married. And they’re getting married to incredible girls whom I love spending time with, mature women who perfectly match these dear friends of mine. Early January has already been highly-informed by these engagements; I purchased clothing for one wedding’s groomsmen outfit and plane tickets to make it to another wedding. But the real deal-sealer for 2015, and what made these engagements particularly memorable moments in my own life, was being asked to be the best man in one of the weddings and to give the speech in another. In a society where self-worth is measured in Facebook thumbs-up and Instagram hearts, it’s humbling and heartwarming to receive reminders that I’m truly loved and that I matter in the lives of others.

9. Keeping up with the film industry and all the movies I watched.
poster artAt the beginning of January ’15, I decided that I’d track all the films I would watch over the course of the year. I had no idea I’d end up watching 110 movies, almost half of those being visits to theaters. I saw Inside Out five times, indulged in favorites like Dinner for Schmucks and Into the Woods, and sought out nearly every film Steve Coogan’s been in. (The full list can be read here.) This was my first year to do an admirable job keeping up with all the award season contenders, which makes me feel more like a movie critic than ever before. I’ve fancied the idea of freelancing as a film critic since 2009; by the year’s end, I felt like I had the chops and the experience to write a proper year-end list. I’m really happy with my list of top 15 films, which I released in multiple parts (one & two & three), and I’m also well-pleased with the blurbs I wrote concerning 30+ films. But as important as the films themselves were my experiences seeing them. Saying I saw Inside Out five times and placing it #3 on my year-end list doesn’t tell the whole story: how I saw it the first time on a road trip to New Mexico; how I reunited with good friends Abbie and Maddie to see it again (and there agreed to reunite one final time to watch The Good Dinosaur); how I cried four of those five times; or how, when seeing it with my best friend Jeremy, a contact fell out of my eye and I watched the whole movie with only one contact in. Many of these movies represent cherished time spent with friends I wish I could have spent more time with.

8. Thrice 2016 and vinyl records.
tumblr_ny9wgg2rnu1qdd55xo1_500I used to call them vinyls. I apologize. I was wrong. A year ago, the only records I owned were Thrice albums: The Illusion of Safety, Identity Crisis, two different prints of Vheissu. I wanted to own all the Thrice records, for memorabilia’s sake, plus I liked the idea of continuing to support the band during its hiatus. But then my family bought me a record player for Christmas ’14 and a new buying fervor was sparked within me. I began raiding Half Priced Books for old Barry Manilow and Frank Sinatra albums. I came across lucky finds such as Mew’s +- and Jason Isbell’s Something More than Free. I’d quickly pre-order limited edition records online, sometimes buying records for friends, like As Tall As Lions’ s/t and I the Mighty’s Satori. It became a sickness, as I never ceased my regular purchasing habits of at least one mp3 album or CD per week. Of these many reckless purchases, one of the standout CD’s was Carry the Fire, a solo album by Thrice’s Dustin Kensrue. As great as it was for Thrice to end its hiatus in 2015, play some shows and announce a new album, it was equally wonderful to realize that Kensrue had been gifting the world with solo music or side-project music (via The Modern Post) each year from 2012-2015, with a live cover album due for 2016. This consistency makes Thrice an anchor in my life, and everything involving those four members ends up being a memorable event for me. Heck, even my favorite Christmas gift this year was a wallet made by the guitarist Teppei Teranishi’s leather brand.

7. Playing tennis with Adam.
Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 5.20.50 PMBecause of my height, basketball coaches in high school often attempted to recruit me. If only they’d seen me try to throw the ball! I’m no good at sports, so I’m not a big fan of playing them. I’ve never enjoyed watching sports on television, either, except for a two-year period when I was following Rafa Nadal’s nonstop Grand Slam victories. For whatever reason, tennis has always been the exception, as it’s also the one sport I always enjoy playing. While living in my apartment this year, I had the prime position of being able to walk down my stairs and be at the tennis courts. That left me with one thing: needing someone to play with. Thankfully, I’d recently befriended a quiet fella from the guys’ Bible study at my church, who started coming over to my place on Fridays for lunch and tennis. His name was Adam and he was my opposite in many regards: he didn’t listen to much music or watch many movies, he instead spent a lot of times playing video games, he’s studious in school and he’s frugal in his lifestyle. Oh, and he’s great at sports. Regardless of how many sets and matches we played, no matter how easy he went on me, I never beat him in a single game. Not once, and yet I always had a great time. Some of the best, most honest conversations I’ve had all year were out on that tennis court. I love sports the most when they’re about companionship, not competition.

6. Starting the Songbook of Hebrews.
600x600srOverall, 2015 must have been my most prolific year ever for songwriting. And I’m talking about fully finished, beginning-to-end music-and-lyrics songs. Partially, this was due to my Song Shop (which I’ll discuss later in this list), another part was one-off songs I’d make as life inspired me, and then there were even two or three hip hop songs my brother and I wrote and recorded together. But a large chunk of these tunes were of a type I’d never dedicated much time trying to write before: worship songs. As far as the Christian songs corporately sung by modern churches go, I’m extremely cynical. There’s a very limited selection of worship albums I both enjoy and approve of (The Water and the Blood by The Modern Post, O Ransomed Son by Ascend the Hill, Love Will Have Its Day by Laura Hackett Park, The Great Awakening by Leeland), and in a perfect world, churches would be singing songs from these albums every Sunday morning without having to hear another Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Elevate, Bethel, or Jesus Culture song ever again. That won’t happen. But over the summer it was suggested to me that I join my church’s songwriting team, where I’d be able to help influence and participate, in a small scale, with how a reachable group of people and friends use music to worship God (hopefully) in spirit and in truth. After breaking the floodgates with a song called “The Time We Have,” I began the terrifying self-induced task of attempting to write one song for each chapter in the Book of Hebrews, with as many word-for-word quotes as possible. As ridiculous as this task may seem, it’s been an absolute blast. As 2015 concluded, I’d finished songs 1-3, along with lyrics for the next two songs. As I head into the new year, I can’t wait to continue chipping away at this stupid, crazy, inspiring challenge.

Read Part 3 here. Subscribe below if you want to receive email updates.