The Natural Beauty of Yosemite

Our road trip up the Central California coast peaked in Yosemite. Where Hearst Castle was the most magical part of the journey, Yosemite was the most memorable.

When we booked the hotel from the comfort of our San Diego home without any knowledge of the size of Yosemite National Park and the roads in and out, it seemed like a 10 minute drive each way. That didn't actually work, and each day we were there we spent at least 60 minutes on the road to and from the park. Some people (including two in the car we were driving) might think that was a poor decision, but as always, I tried to see the positive in it. And as we drove back and forth, we had the most fun looking into the forests for waterfalls, burnt trees mixed with thriving, towering Pines, and the occasional herd of deer.

At one point, we pulled off the road leaving Yosemite's famous wall face to look around and found a wooded area that looked an awful lot like the speeder chase scene from the Return of the Jedi.

The sheer beauty of Yosemite is inspiring. We planned to stay in the area for another day but were told that President Obama would be there the next day and that traffic would be insane, so we decided to leave a day early. But I'll always want to go back. Look at these pictures!


Our Trip to Hearst Castle

[dropcap custom_class="normal"] T [/dropcap]he drive took more than 6 hours, up the coast from San Diego, through L.A., winding our way through Santa Barbara, and eventually looping back a bit to take the coastal road more than an hour into what seemed like a dead end highway. Then there it was.

We'd just spent a night in Solvang and really enjoyed the Swedish town and all its charms. But this was an entirely different experience. It came with awe and wonder. I was seriously blown away.

If you haven't ever made the trip, it won't disappoint. The "Castle" is much more than a residence with stone walls; it's an architectural wonder, built over nearly 30 years, and overlooks an entire expanse of coastal property void of any other building or sense of community as far as you can see from atop the hill. Rolling golden hills and the Pacific Ocean are the only things within view, and that's all you need to take in, frankly.

William Randolph Hearst was the mastermind behind the estate. A media mogul with as much money as anyone in America has ever seen, Hearst's genius is world-renowned. And his passions were limitless.

According to the Hearst Castle website, Hearst owned the largest newspapers and media publications. He collected thousands of fine art pieces the world over, with a seemingly endless capacity and desire to buy more. He ran for and won election to the United States House of Representatives as a Congressman from New York in 1902, and many years later entertained British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S President Calvin Coolidge at the Castle (in addition to dozens of Hollywood celebrities and sports stars).

As we walked through the halls, taking pictures of the incredible collection of art pieces, ornate decor, rugs, ceiling frescos, armor, vast dining halls and Hearst's personal study, from which he managed the country's most influential newspapers, the feeling of awe was powerful. How could someone make this much money? How do you finance a 28-year building project and still stay afloat? Room after room revealed one treasure after another. And we only went on two of the tours offered.

In addition to the main home, Hearst built expansive pools (the kind you'd see at the Palace of Versailles, built for King Louis XIV), additional homes, vast gardens with statues littered throughout, and to top it off, he established his own personal zoo on the property, with giraffes, lions, and more.

I've yet to go to Europe, but I can't imagine it would have anything on this place. I think what makes Hearst Castle even more incredible is that it wasn't built by centuries old monarchies or on the backs of peasants. Hearst Castle was simply one man's dream, and through hard work and decades of commitment, it stands today as a living American marvel.

No matter how old or young you are, believe me, this trip up the coast is one you must take.

For more information, check out Travel Caffeine's Hearst Castle Tips and Review. Phenomenal photos.


The Day I Was President

[dropcap custom_class="wh"] T [/dropcap]he packet said For Your Eyes Only. Inside was a brief on the current situation, with the Soviet Union positioning itself to march into Iran and capture its oil fields. The information I had indicated that western civilization would end if the Soviets were allowed to take Iran. I was the President of the United States, and it was my job to keep that from happening at all costs, even if that meant using nuclear weapons to do so.

This was a Cold War simulation in Boston, where I was paired with some of the best thinkers at Harvard, and pitted against a 40-year expert in Soviet affairs. I'd asked for the role because I wanted to experience the pressure our leaders face when making decisions that impact the world. What I learned was invaluable.

The scenario was simple on paper, but overly complex in reality, and designed intentionally to exploit the differences in governmental leadership between the two superpowers. On the US side, I had a cabinet of twelve, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (an actual officer from the Naval War College in full dress), my Chief of Staff (Professor Tom Nichols, Naval War College), and nine others from across the country. None of them had all of the information, and no one knew what I did.

There was a larger Soviet team, as well as a United Nations contingent and a Press Corps.

 

And the weekend proved to be one of the most exhilarating and exhausting 72 hours on the job that I've experienced.

I've led weekend-long brainstorm sessions and business workshops, but this was different. This came with the pressure I'd put on myself--a test I needed to endure. Could I be a good US President?

"Even in a simulation, the idea of going to war and using nuclear weapons is intense."

 


Starting Fresh

I lost my first wife, Jeseca, to cancer eight years ago. Why start with that? Well, because it was the most difficult situation I’ve ever faced, and it has shaped nearly every action I’ve taken in my life since. Something happens when you lose the person you love more than anyone in the world—it forces you to consider a number of things: why you loved them, what you did right and what you did wrong, how you can possibly go on, etc. But the piece that really matters comes when you can logically ask Why. "Why did this happen to me?" As I thought and prayed about it, I realized something critically important: Losing my wife didn’t happen to me. Rather, the life we had together strengthened who I am; and despite the pain, her death forged a deeper sense of character within me, and it would influence any thought I had of moving forward.

Somewhere between the first and second years as a widowed single dad, I started praying about the next woman in my life. It wasn’t that I was ready…I definitely wasn’t. But I was able to outline some very specific characteristics in the woman I might someday bring into the family culture I had worked so hard to cultivate. I never considered that God would steer me in the direction of a woman who’d never had sex before, didn’t know what it was to be a mom, and was so strict in her convictions that terms such as “date” and “boyfriend” took on monumentally different meanings. In the end, though, a small voice assured me that Lindsey Nicole Isham was the woman we needed. And boy did I fight it.

You see, I’d read Lindsey’s book. A friend dropped it off a day or so after she launched her speaking tour. Within those 200 or so pages, she spoke about the man of her dreams; a man she had yet to meet. As I turned every page, I knew more and more that she was talking about me.

I reached out with an email, encouraging her to keep standing strong (just as I had been after losing my wife). Several letters later, we decided to meet, and over the course of three years we developed a friendship, flirted with dating and the very-scary-for-me title of “boyfriend/girlfriend,” went to a few TV auditions for one another, landed on TLC together, and then in front of millions of people across the country, I proposed to her on ABC’s The View. Four months later, with an incredible San Diego skyline serving as the backdrop, Lindsey and I officially began our journey together.

The reception was one of the best nights of our lives, and as we chatted with friends and family, shared laughs together and performed our elegantly choreographed opening number, I’m sure there was one question on the minds of everyone in attendance: How is tonight going to go? Believe me, that’s what Lindsey and I were wondering as we checked into the La Costa Resort and Spa to spend our very first night together. I’ll leave the rest of that story for Lindsey, but what I can tell you is from that night on, Lindsey and I have developed an incredible relationship due almost entirely to the fact that she saved herself for marriage. How can that be true? There are several reasons, but most of all is the very real fact that men care about how they please the woman in their life. Call it pride or just being a guy; it’s real. And with that comes one big question: “Am I better than anyone else she’s been with?” Believe me, no matter how narcissistic the man, that question exists in his head. Lindsey, because of how she lived and the stance she took, removed that thought from our relationship, and it has given us the opportunity to build a relationship based on trust, incredible intimacy, and a great sense of excitement for the future God has for us. God has that for you, too. All you have to do is wait.


Marriage in America: A New Dawn

With today’s US Supreme Court ruling on marriage in America and the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges, we are already hearing an outpouring of support from celebrities and others in the media. How should Christian America respond? I think the best response, ironically, is one that it should already have been using: Love.

 

I lost my wife, Jeseca, to cancer eight years ago. What ensued was an emotional battle that challenged me in every way, from how I would survive the heartbreaking loss of the woman I’d grown to love and cherish for 12 years to the new adventure of single parenting and leading two young boys through their own grief and hardship. A year or so after Jeseca died, a friend of mine lost his partner and asked if we could go to lunch to talk through what he was feeling.

As we sat in the popular Hillcrest cafe, “Jeff” brought back all of the vivid emotions I felt when Jeseca died, without even mentioning her name. He was recounting the memories he had of his partner—the ups and downs, the fun times and the arguments, the sadness and the regrets. But the loss…the loss came through so strongly! And as much as I wanted to resist it, one incredibly profound but simple thought entered my mind: Jeff loved his partner as much as I loved my wife.

It was profound because I had recently supported Prop 8 and the effort to keep marriage between a man and a woman in California. The issue was a political lightning rod that was being pushed to the extremes on both sides, with the extreme right arguing for political boundaries based on religious principle and the far left politicizing everything and accusing anyone who didn’t agree with them of being afraid or bigoted. Neither side was entirely right, of course, but neither did they talk from the middle, where people live and breathe and feel. It was Jeff’s feelings about his loss, more than anything else, that showed me that love is real for everyone. And it challenged me to go beyond the rhetoric and examine who I am as a man of faith striving constantly to model integrity for my boys.

“Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.” – US Supreme Court

If I read my bible right, I don’t see a Jesus who sided with the religious right or those who continually rejected the “sinful.” Rather, I see someone filled with mercy and grace who went out of his way to associate with those the pious condemned. And if I’m reading it right, he didn’t do it for political gain. He did it to show them a love that transcends differences, boundaries and social norms. He went for their hearts. He changed understandings.

Politically, gay marriage will continue to be divisive. In dissent of today’s 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote, “If you are among the many Americans who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

With that said, Christians may not have the luxury of taking a political position anymore. Instead, we should consider Jesus’ model of love over the next several days as we contemplate where and how we align with the new dawn on marriage in America. It may be the very thing that changes society’s understanding of Christianity.


Four years later...

Just looking at this familiar, but so far removed from present life screen is strange. It's been so long since I've had the chance, or even the interest to write again. And now......well, where do I begin?

I made some changes to the site this week. To gain perspective on how long it's actually been, my age read that I was still 36. Time sure presses on. But after Monday's appearance on the Today Show, I realize that I still have much to do and say.

I receive quotes from a friend of mine each day. They're sent automatically, but the quote from Thursday was appropriate for who I am, who I was recognized to be this week (Hottest Single Dad in America), and for tomorrow (Father's Day 2011).

My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it." ~Clarence B Kelland

I hope this will be the beginning of another great segment in time.


Time for a change

It's been a long time since I've written, and I've missed it. I've made myself busy; I've spent time on other things and with other people. But now I want to come back here and begin a different journey. I want to explore what it is to be a man. A real man. I don't like the word authentic...I think it's too cliche today. But I'm driven to become the man I'm supposed to be, and perhaps even take some men with me along the way.

I've spent the past 2+ years trying to become a better man than I was in my two previous lives (as a baseball player and when I was married). I've become a P90X fanatic. I've learned how to cook nearly everything you want to eat. I've broadened my interests in music and movies, and even done some interior decorating to make our condo feel tranquil for the three of us. I've put myself on video for the world to see and entertained the idea of a reality TV show with five different production studios.

I've met incredible, beautiful women, grown my hair out as long as I could stand it, and spoken to 500+ athletes about what it is to trust God in the middle of what seems to be a nightmare. I've thought about one day becoming the President of the United States, writing a best seller, and/or chasing the impossible dream of playing on the PGA Tour.

But what matters most to me are the two young men living at home with me. Do they know what it takes to be a man? Having lost their mom at such young ages, have they seen in me the courage and faith required to make it through the toughest challenges with grace? Time will tell, right?

That's where I want to go now. I want to show them how to be the best men they can be. To be honest at all costs. To be chivalrous. To reach beyond their own grasp on faith, and trust that God will raise them up when the time is right. To never give up. To honor women. And to be courageous when they're scared.

So what makes a man a man? That's what I want to teach them. And that's where this site may turn to next.

From his career in professional baseball to an attempt at professional golf and the tragic loss of his wife, Jon Graves is on the journey of his life.

Year 3 is about to begin

The boys are back again! Well, that's not entirely true. Now they're at their aunt April's house camping out for the next few days, but at least they're back in California. We're just two weeks away from the second anniversary of Jeseca's death and the beginning of the third official school year at The Rock Academy. And perhaps something even more amazing looms.........

I've been going through old video over the past few days, and have taken some new footage of the 3GBs. Two of those videos are below. The first is of all of us at the ice skating rink around Christmas just before Jeseca was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in 2003; the second is from Friday's hair cut session at Sweet Salon in Ocean Beach. We are all so much younger, and yours truly doesn't look nearly as burdened or weathered by the storms that came immediately afterward. But you know what? We're all still smiling because God has given us the hope to go on. He's a great God...

From his career in professional baseball to an attempt at professional golf and the tragic loss of his wife, Jon Graves is on the journey of his life.

Just 1GB at home

Yeah, my boys have left town. They're in Indiana right now and the house is so quiet...so different. I found these photos of a tour of the airport they recently took while I was working away. Aren't they so cute? Hilarious that Christian hit Everen with Rabbit Ears! Love this one... And where in the world do boys get this idea that they have to flex? I just don't get it...
My boys are growing up. They are charming and handsome...much more so than their dad. And they show such promise. I read in the Psalms the other night that brothers who live in unity are extraordinary (it actually said they're like oil dripping down Aaron's beard, but somehow I have a hard time grasping the greatness in that). Most of the time they do live in unity, and I'm so proud of them for that.

Have fun guys!!!!!!!!! I love you.

From his career in professional baseball to an attempt at professional golf and the tragic loss of his wife, Jon Graves is on the journey of his life.

Love never fails

I heard Daughtry's new album yesterday. I know it's not out yet, but through Rhapsody I was able to listen to it a week before its release. I like Daughtry for some reason, and this album's pretty good. One of the most touching songs is called Tennessee Line. It starts with, "I opened my lungs to breathe in forgiveness and love..." What a great beginning......

I've begun thinking about love again. I've thought about it before, but as I approach two years without Jeseca I'm beginning to appreciate how profound love actually is. That may seem weird since I fulfilled my vow to stand by her side for the rest of her life. I guess I've only just begun to understand the depth and courage it took, and takes today, to say Yes to someone and promise that, through thick and thin, you'll be there to see him or her through.

I think love starts all of us on our journeys, anyway. Your first car, first job, first bank account, first trip...none of those work when it comes to our hearts. Love makes our blood rush and our hearts pound, and gives us that unique sense of purpose that comes with knowing that someone cares so much about you that nothing would keep them from standing next to you on your darkest day. Isn't that what we all want?

When you have it and it's suddenly taken from you, whether through death or divorce, life as you know it changes drastically, too. Love is gone, and life means something new entirely. It becomes about survival. It becomes about the task at hand. It becomes about your job, your money, your car, your trips, your whatever... Love is gone, so what else is there?

I get it. Trust me, I never took the time to really ponder how special it was to have someone by my side through all of the bad days. Life was running fast and I was keeping up. If you're married, don't do that. Don't keep up. Look at your wife or husband and know that you are one of the lucky ones who found that person who promised his or her life to you because they love you. They chose you. Spin it all you want, but that's phenomenal.

See, what's most amazing about love, genuine love that puts another person above yourself, is that it's not about you at all. Yes, we want to hear that we are loved. We want to feel it coming back before we jump. But if you're honest with yourself, you don't love someone after hearing them say they love you. You either love them or you don't. And that's why meeting someone who will love you back, someone who chooses to stand by your side through the ups and downs of this life, is an absolute miracle in a world polluted with the search for money and sex.

As 1 Corinthians 13 says, "Love is patient, love is kind. It doesn't envy, it doesn't boast, it is not proud. It's not rude, it's not self-seeking, it's not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love doesn't delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails."

I want that chance again; the chance to love someone better and stronger than I've ever loved before. I know I'll blow it. But I will relish showing someone again that I can be better and stronger and gentler and funnier and happier every day we're together.

Ahh, the perspective of a hopelessly romantic widower...just what you needed, right? Think about it. It's pretty special to have someone say they love you, isn't it?

From his career in professional baseball to an attempt at professional golf and the tragic loss of his wife, Jon Graves is on the journey of his life.