Appreciation

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Appreciation is something we all want, but we often struggle to give it to others.

As an educator, I often ask my students to find something positive about someone else and speak to them about it. I don’t let them cop out with statements like, “you have cool shoes” or “you are nice”. They have to say something specific to a person who is not someone that they normally hang out with.

In this day and age, I notice more and more people stuck behind their smartphones. They often are more used to interacting online than live and face to face. Less and less of my students, which I serve over one hundred each year, even know their classmates name. Often, they don’t even attempt to learn other students’ names. Although I do think many of the technological advances we have made have helped us, they have also created new addictions. This addiction alienates us from each other, with only a false sense of community. People gather around each other with only those who agree, apart from the meaningless online arguments from those hiding behind a screen.

In 1923, Martin Buber published I and Thou, whose basic premise was that we should work towards knowing the people we interact with. For example, at our grocery store that we go to weekly, we know the names of the people who check us out. For example, Mary who was recently moved over from the flower department, lives in a great expanse of land and loves to garden. She is a kind hearted person who recently drove thirty miles through the ice to work at the grocery store. She is a consistently kind person who always greets us and even follows up about other things we have spoken about. She embodies the hard working spirit of an American working hard and making ends meet.

Our visit to our local grocery store is much different than other places that we frequent. We often see people and they wave and we even ask them how they have been doing. My wife even helped one person on some college essays. I spoke to one person about their gambling addiction. I wish that we had more spaces like this because it changes us.

What happens when we build an appreciation for others, is that we seek to know them. We appreciate the people more that we actually know. We hear their stories of struggle and joy, we know them. I want to show more appreciate to people, not just by my words, but by my actions. I realize I am often naturally drawn to only appreciate people who are serving me. That is not enough.

I could do better to appreciate the people who I am in closer quarters with. Often, appreciation for people you around daily looks much different. It means following through on promises. It means not being negative or mean, pulling people down. It means keeping promises to yourself as well. Appreciation can even go to the level of self-care. Of these last categories, I could use some work. I am sure all of us struggle in one of the areas.

I hope you will work this week to appreciate those serving, co-laboring, and living with, especially yourself. Now that I appreciate you for reading this, please leave a comment below, so I know who is reading.

Wilderness

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We came upon a clearing that day, hiking near the James River in Richmond, VA. It was set against the wilderness, it looked like something more out of The Walking Dead set, than an old abandoned hydroelectric plant. A clear path led to a gigantic steel gate that was indefinitely closed.

This old abandoned place, reminded me of a place in our lives when we thought we were part of something life giving and healthy, but as we dug deeper we saw it was a place ready to be abandoned and closed. This building reminded me of all the times that God has placed me in the wilderness, feeling out of place and extremely frustrated. I have felt this in schools I have taught in and churches that I was on staff at. We, on a path, in the wilderness would see what we thought was a clearing, so we worked so hard to swath away all the branches to find the next peaceful place to be at.

The funny thing was that I never found a peaceful place to be at while I was in the wilderness. Part of it was because I did not believe I was in the wilderness, I just believed that the right opportunity had not reached me yet, so I interviewed with numerous churches trying to find a good fit for us. We traveled to Missouri, Michigan, Florida, and Georgia all to find places that I was not offered a position. We were in a transitional mode for years, but really we were in the middle of the wilderness. God was teaching me more about who I am.

We exited our most recent wilderness period in 2012, when a church I was hired at started to stress over financial woes. The pastor who was trying to transition a church had more money going out than coming in. We signed onto a church that was much different than we pictured it. It was like walking into something frozen in the 1960’s. An extremely impoverished area, and a church that had little to give its neighbors besides outdated frozen food.

I was used to being a part of churches where volunteers helped with a lot of the manual labor jobs, or at least assisted. I ended up being responsible for picking up the outdated frozen food from a transfer truck in the back of a storage lot. I would fill my vehicle up to the brim and deliver it to the building that we would freeze it more and than give it away. Much of the food was spoiled, so we ended up having to sort through each piece, sometimes there were 5 or 6 leaf bags full of food wrapped up for a convenience store.

The church had a large full color sign that must have cost thousands of dollars, of course as I was put in charge of it it broke and we could never afford to fix it. It was the bane of our existence, because it spoke that our church was doing well when it was working and that we were broke when it was broke.

The pastor tried his best to build community between the staff, but it was difficult because he had a plan, but was holding it tightly. He treated me like a friend, but had not really earned my friendship. He could be erratic and extremely patronizing.

There were many other times that frustrated me, but the biggest frustration is the wedge that was created between my wife and myself. It was hard to get up every day and go to work knowing that I truly hated 90% of my job, save the time I spent with the amazing kids we served. My wife and I attended marriage counseling while we were there and we were back on the road to a healthy marriage, but it was hard for a few months. I was miserable and I brought it home with me everyday.

The final straw for me was when my boss asked me if I would mind getting a side job to help with my salary with the church. After being told three weeks into my job, I was a “Going out of business sign.” I knew the writing was on the wall, but with this new information I had to find a way out and back home to Raleigh.

I contacted a school with an opening and interviewed, I accepted the position at the end of the interview and felt relief that I had not felt in years. I had escaped the worst decision I had made in my life.

Through all of this, I still would never trade the five months I spent at that church. It taught me a lot about myself and it eventually helped me work out a lot of things. The great thing, is that after I left another staff member left and now the church has been taken over by a more healthy local church and they are helping it become what he originally envisioned it to be. I don’t hold any bitterness, and I don’t hold any shame, because in that wilderness, I was on my way back to finding the man God had called me to be.

 

 

Less?

Great thoughts for a new year! Check out my wife’s post on minimalism.

Tattooed Daughter

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http://www.theminimalists.com

So sometimes I turn on Netflix and find something mindless, but for some reason, possibly a masochistic need to torture myself, I watched Minimalism. This gives it a false bill of sale however, as it’s not so much torture as an ultimate game changer.

The bigger reasons I was drawn to watch it are that my mother was very poor growing up and whether she meant to or not, she often made “things” way too important in our lives. We were filled with not what would make us better people, rather what would make us look better.

As an adult, I find myself increasingly shedding that skin that was handed down, and looking for what I can do without more than what I can do with. Though, I must admit, when those old hand me down ways of thinking creep back in, I am left with a certain shame…

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Love

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Psalm 36:5-6 God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, His purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks. The Message

I am not sure where you are on the spectrum of love right now. Yet, I am sure of one thing, you need this scripture above. Not from the God who is all about who is in and who is out, but from the God who is above all, supreme. Let this verse be a reminder that God can help us overcome everything that ails us in life. May our minds rest in this today, as diseases spread, family strife continues, fires rage, and earthly lives are lost.

God is in control of all for all time, before and after.

 

Electric Chair for Bugs

 

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Growing up, I remember seeing a lot of these bug zappers hanging on neighbors’ porches. It was somehow relaxing to listen to the wind blowing through the leaves, trees creaking, and the random zap of bugs meeting their demise.

My brother and I were always fascinated by these fantastical machines. I think we were a little too interested, so my mom wisely never purchased one for us. I think one of us would have ended up electrocuted.

The bug zapper reminds me of some social interactions I have had in my life. See, I struggle with zapping people myself, drawing them into conversation and then going negative zapping their positivity. I am not sure when it started, but throughout life, I have struggled with this. I used to consider myself an optimist, then I turned realist, but now I sit in a balance of a realist with hope.

As I have tried more often to unplug my zapper and not harm others, I have realized I am not the lone zapper. Many others are hanging around just ready to zap the next person. I hope during this holiday season, I will measure my words more carefully and show the ones I love and even the ones I don’t like very much, that they have no fear of approaching the light, for I will not send them to a dark place. God help me.

 

Control

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Janet Jackson sang about it many years ago. We all still want it, at least I do. I can’t help myself. I want things to go the way, I want them to go.

This year, we find ourselves for the first time in many years, without any guests for Thanksgiving. I am relieved in many ways and sad in a few. I am relieved that a day centered around eating and gorging myself, will not happen this year. I am relieved that I don’t have to deal with cooking and hosting a bunch of people this year. I am relieved that the awkward conversations about who was awarded our presidency do not have to take place. If I think about it, this year in particular, I am relieved I can just go hike with my wife and dog, escaping the state of things.

I am sad that not everyone sees eye to eye on the fact that all human beings matter and deserve love. Whether race,religion, or sexuality divide us, it is sad that we can not just choose love first. See, I just want control, but I think you want it as well.

I am excited for my neighbor who will be taking his boyfriend home for his first time to meet his parents. I am sad for the family members who will not be around because of disagreements. I have been there, divided by race, religion, or sexuality, it really hurts people.

I hope this Thanksgiving, whether you are alone or surrounded by others, embrace your ability to control love, control it by giving it freely to everyone, even those that hate you and/or your beliefs.

In My Shoes – BBQ Sales

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When I was around fourteen, I decided I could work a few weekends while living with my grandparents in Herington, KS. My grandpa connected me with Mr. Catlin, who owned Catlin’s IGA. He was a big man and was a very boisterous kind hearted person. At first, I went on a catering job with him.

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My dad worked at a grocery supplier for IGA, Fleming Foods. 

We arrived on the scene of a church function. We had packed all kinds of items that our deli had made that morning. I could never forget the searing pain of spilling a hot soup on myself as I hurriedly carried it to the event. Donned in a white dress shirt and jeans, I was a mess. I quickly figured out catering would not be for me. I could not handle the pressure and not spill things, repeatedly. Of course, I don’t remember being asked to do this again. Probably wise on their part.

A month or so after this event, Mr. Catlin asked me if I would like to sell barbecued ribs for a couple weekends in the summer. It would be long days, nearly twelve hours each day, but the paycheck was worth it. I think I made a whopping $100 in two days of work.

I would be responsible for taking the ribs from a container, wrapping them in aluminum foil and selling them. I think I also ate my fair share, which my grandma Lois came in and purchased. I don’t remember ever feeling so fulfilled as I did when I worked those long days and serving people something that they really enjoyed. The ribs were really amazing, I can still taste the Kansas City style barbeque basted on them.

It is a unique position to be selling something that is not normally offered inside a grocery store, you instantly become a spectacle among the other choices in the grocery aisle. I handed out endless supplies of samples and people would stop to talk to me and ask about my family. I would hear how much I looked like my father and I would grin.

Serving those ribs was like giving people happiness. I envisioned many of them not always having the money to eat a lot of prime meat. It was a unique experience that really made me take customer service to another level. I mean it was easy for me, I was fourteen and had a whole life ahead of me. I knew I would not be doing this when I was twenty-five. I was headed to college and I knew I was going to get a job where I could have a life outside of work.

Those two weekends of work, reminded me of what it means to put in hard work, deal with frustration (I cut myself pretty bad once), and dealing with the bottom line.  When college was hard, I thought of these times and all the people who had no choice but to work in that grocery store, making minimum wage. To this day, I always try to humanize anyone who helps me at the grocery store, they are not a number, they are “making the best of it”, grinding a long making a percentage of what I make now.

God be with them, help me be among them and be a light.

If you want to read more about what it means to live on minimum wage, I think you should check out the excellent book Nickel and Dimed . It is a first person account of someone who intentionally took jobs paying much less, and her experience.

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