Breaking Bad By Community

I think there is something in my DNA that loves to break type casts. I think it might have started when a family member lost their farm for housing a portion of the Underground Railroad many years ago.

I think there is a wrestling in my mind that wants to struggle against the powers that be. Often it can come off that I like dramatics or just enjoy chaos, but I am finding a greater purppose, I was born to rage against injustice.

I am figuring out as I age that raging can be actually be healthy. Not in the way of raising blood pressures and screaming, but in the way of helping people see that others are out that suffering exists and what they can do about it.

It happens in different places, today, it happened in a Jiffy Lube waiting room. I was talking with a woman and we started to discuss affordable housing in our neighborhood. She lives a few miles away from me, but we both have seen the property values skyrocket in our neighborhoods. We talked about the challenges there are for affordable housing. She is a retail store manager and stated if she had to find another place right now, she would have to live at least thirty minutes away. We did not solve the situation in the waiting room, but we both left feeling that someone else sees and wants to change an issue in our city. I believe the most gigantic changes in history started with conversations much like this.

I used to think it was better to just talk about trivial things when I meet a stranger, but I now realize I only have so much time, so I often lead with topics that really matter to me. It has lead me to some interesting viewpoints and a greater appreciation for my city. I constantly find people who really care about their neighbors, very deeply care for their neighbors. I am amazed at how many times I thought I was right about an issue, when I saw it from other viewpoints, I changed my position drastically. I learned to empathize with me people not like myself.

I go to many places that many of my neighbors would never darken the door of. I love to get into a lot of places that make me uncomfortable. My doctor serves mostly Medicaid patients who are very poor and struggling to make ends meet often. I like to shop in places where I rub elbows with other people who are much different than me. It stretches me, it challenges me and it reminds me that there is something that goes deep beneath the veneer of my seemingly wealthy city. There are many issues that we, who have quite a bit, stay blind to.

I have visited homeless camps, been in “dangerous” neighborhoods, and been in a few places I was not sure I would come out of alive, but it has made me a much different person. “Therefore by the grace of God, go I”, I often think. I am only a few steps away from being where some of the people are, but I also realize that they are many steps ahead of me in other areas. When you get away from a capitalistic mindset that states, financial success = happy life, which many people know is a lie yet they strive to be wealthy and “independent”. I have given up on the idea of my independence and know that I need other people and they need me (often they don’t even know it yet).

This exhibits itself more and more at a monthly dinner gathering we have. I find that I miss the people who come together regularly to have dinner and conversation in between our meetings. We have began to count on each other in much deeper ways as we just spend time together and get to know each other. Community is a beautiful thing, but it is hard to cultivate without commitment. Aren’t most things difficult to grow without commitment?

I see the power of the rhythms being our life. Rhythms that interlope with people that encourage and challenge us to be more than what we were, when our time began. Community is beautiful that way, I never feel alone or like I could not contact someone to talk. We may not believe the same way, but we care enough about each other to support each other.

I used to balk at the idea of going to social gatherings a lot more, now I am slowly learning to embrace it as a chance to change. A chance to learn something new and to teach someone else something new. To find a new avenue towards learning and peacefulness.

I challenge you today to start a weekly or monthly flow of connecting with others that will stretch you a bit.

Here are a few resources to help you!

Craigslist

Has groups under a section entitled Community. You can find a lot of nice people through these ads, of course with anything be wary of where you are meeting, etc…

MeetUp

Meetup is a great app/website for meeting people with similar interests

Volunteering

My wife and I have a friend who set out in 2017 to volunteer at all kinds of organizations, while she has been doing that she has had so many opportunities to connect with other people. You can follow her posts here!

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Broken

Since I was a young person, I felt set apart. I felt other, different, and strange. It was hard because I always had an easy time making friends and being social, but I had a hard time keeping friends unless they were regularly in my life. My closest friends in high school were people who I constantly hung out with. I was one of those kids who had two best friends, we were together so much, we just knew we would be hanging out.

My friends were very athletic, so I tried my best to play sports as it seemed like this was an easy way to make friends and be a part of a social group, but I never felt comfortable there. I was often the last one to make a team, I was often concerned that I only made the team because of being a needy kid.

As I went into high school, I started to pull away from the identity I had created. I did not want to upset my social status too much, so I did not make the changes I probably should have. My senior year, I thought about trying out for a play, but I could just not bring myself to become a “drama kid” so late in my high school career.

I settled into being an architecture geek, especially after I placed in a state competition. It again made me feel like I belonged because I had success. I had a natural ability to draw straight lines and spatial sense. I knew this made me much different than my peers. My mom embraced this unique side of me, taking me to see architectural feats in our city and we even attended a few musicals, because she knew I had an interest in them as well. She never seemed to care about fitting me into a box. She never considered me to be broken.

I think when we grow up, we begin to fit into a track and it is hard to break out of the expectations our families have for us, even if our families are behind us 100%, like I believe mine is. It is scary to try something else, because if we are not successful, it appears that we are a failure. It appears we are broken.

I used to believe that this, that many of us must find the “right” path, if we did not we were really broken people who could not experience fullness of life without getting back on track. Life was like a one track railroad without no other ways out, no sidetracks, no detours at all.

As a forty-two year old man, I see the error of this. I see how this thinking made me extremely judgmental of others, who appeared to be very broken or who had lost their way. I now see those who are wandering a bit as hopeful beings, who have a lot of potential to find peacefulness. Notice, I did not say success, because it really looks different for every person. I have progress far past success being financial, but it has been hard to come to the point I am nearing now, wherein success = peacefulness of mind.

I wish I could tell you the numerous conversations I have with young professionals who tell me what a gift I am to young students. How they could “never” be a teacher, how they wish I was paid more money, and how they really should volunteer for my classroom. For them, I would rather they eventually ask the self the question, “What will bring you the most peace?”

This is a dangerous question, that I am glad no one asked me when I was younger. I would not be ready for the dismantling that has taken place in my life these past few years. For the last ten years, life has beat me down, truly it has broke me. I have experienced depression that I never thought would ail me. I have dealt with a darkness that has never been in me before. I have seen what it is like to have your life changed drastically, in a moment. Yet, I am more full of hope than when I was young and full of so many options.

I am full of hope, because I realize that as I stay on the path of peacefulness, it matters less what I do, than who I am, admittedly broken and constantly being put back together by the peaceful loving existence of a God who cares for me.

Tired

I remember growing up wondering why the older people in my life were always so tired. I am beginning to understand the level of tired that they experienced.

At some point, we all hit an age in which we realize we will not change every aspect of the world. We realize that our gifts must be used and focused in such a way that they impact the few more than the masses.

I get up each day, try to help my middle schoolers feel loved and encouraged to learn. Of course, some days I get frustrated with the student who still has not completed missing work. I am learning to just love them anyway. Love should be unconditional, love should encourage others to be responsible, but first love should encourage others to feel. If others feel, than it might motivate them a bit more, I believe. If I knew that someone believed in me, I would put in a lot more effort for them, to be honest, this is still true.

I have spent many more hours of my life pointing out the negative points in others, especially towards myself. I will never regain that time, nor will I mourn it. It simply was.

I forgive myself for being rude or short with others. I seek forgiveness from those who I have wronged in the past, yet I don’t pander to them, begging for forgiveness. I just know that in my heart, I am sorry and I most likely stress more than they ever did about my poor behaviors.

Negativity is truly exhausting and is probably one of my biggest energy suckers in the past few years. Like a leech on my back, I have to remember to pull it off and not give in to it, more often that I would like to admit. Most days though anymore, I almost feel too tired to be negative. I feel tired in the sense that I am becoming more peaceful and less full of the rage that once fueled me.

I realize that the tired older person that I used to begrudge, is not actually tired, but just a calmer person. They don’t have the need to rage against the machine, because they made their dent in the universe. They did their time to improve the world, now their time is meant to encourage others to not give up and stay the course.

In moments like this, I remember what Paul said in Hebrews 12:1

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

I thought I was tired…

If I am honest, I am just more calm, focused, towards not letting my mind run circles, but walk steady into the race Paul speaks of. My resolve is more solidified. I have more experiences than I had yesterday. I have seen the impossible become possible. I have endured, I will endure.

For this race is long and the finish line is not yet within grasp.

Time to rest in my resolve and continue to seek wisdom the moments I will push harder again.

The First Time You Said No

I am sure someone reminded you of the first time you ever said no. I remember many hearing many young children hurling that word around as I walk through stores and am in other public spaces. It is seen as an act of disobedience, or the child is just being obstinate towards the parent.

I am talking about another first time in sayin no, the first time that you said no to something and then stuck with it.

You said no to…

An abusive relationship

A dead end job

Unhealthy habits

Addiction to a myriad of other issues

At one point, you have said no to something and you came out better for it. I just know it.

I have said many “no’s” in my lifetime, and there are a few other “no’s” that are left for me to conquer with God’s help.

What is something that you need to leave behind right now? What would you give up?

What comes to mind?

I find when I ask myself that question, many deeper issues come to mind. It is easy to say at this moment, I will eat healthier or I will be a better husband/employee/friend. Yet, I hesitate as I know this is not just some snap decision. It is a commitment. This is why I am focusing today, on the no.

Your no’s, are you unacceptable acts or ideas. They are not your, “I will try not to’s”

What is one thing right now that you can work on actively saying no to?

Mine is anxiety, I refuse to succumb to the unknown future. I refuse to worry about what may happen. Enough of my life is taken up with what is happening. I have y wife counting on me. My family counting on me. My students counting on me. And that matters to me.

I can’t live in the future or the past, so I say no to anxiety and give it over to the One who who knows my future and still embraces me as His child.

Yesterday

Beat Yesterday

I am not sure where you were yesterday, to be honest I am not even really sure I remember much of yesterday, besides the adversities that my family and friends were going through. Today, they are still working through the tough news that came their way. Through their treatmeants and diagnosis, they woke up today, and started another day.

My wife recommended reading the book Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, and I can’t recommend it enough.

I am a middle school teacher, who strives to teach students that their emotional intelligence is as important as their academic intelligence. I have done this work for years after-school and during lunches, but this year our district challenged us to do one day a week of Social Emotional Learning. I was excited to hear about this, and we have been working through many different lessons with kids to teach them empathy, open-mindedness, and how to truly be a well rounded person.

It has become one of my favorite moments of the week, because I know that the lessons and the issues we talk about in class will change their lives. I know they are already changing mine.

I have not written as much lately, actually it has been a long time. It is not that I did not have a lot to say, it was more than I just felt raw. I still feel raw, but I am learning that in my fragility, I am beginning to allow God to seep through the cracks.

As I teach, I am teaching myself to live in the present and not look back to yesterday, I am just deciding to beat yesterday, by having a greater today.

Shady in the Picture

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Recently, I was taking pictures of the interior of our house. While doing this Shady kept following me around, I would have to shoo him out of the way to take the shot. I wondered if it was in someway his silent protest.

Since a puppy, he has only known this house. There is a tinge of guilt, when I think this house could be sold in a matter of a few months, leaving Shady a new place to learn how to be. New rules, neighbors, and spots to walk would no doubt be our new norm.

Growing up, I was in the same house from Preschool to my Senior year of high school. This brought a lot of stability to my friendships and I would never want it anyway, but the world is different now. Our neighborhood is full of third places.

If you have never heard of third places, they are the places you hang out with friends outside of work and home. Often it is a coffee shop or bar, but it can be anywhere outside your home or work, that feels like community.

As I thought more about Shady constantly following me, I realized he was following me. Suzanne and I are his only source of life and recreation. He could care less about this house, as long as we bring the long line of friends through our new place and allow him to be part of our pack.

I was challenged by this thought, “Who else am I leaving out of the picture?” When I thought about it, I realized that there are a lot of people who have not experienced community in the way that I have realized. How can I bring them in? How can I make them know that they matter? How can I value our differences? How can I give others a voice? How can I stand up for injustice?

I just get in the picture and stand strong.

I just use my voice to advocate.

I just listen carefully,

without need to respond verbally.

I just allow my soul to feel the pain that others suffer,

As I place my feet in their shoes.

I just know that everyone is broken,

And in need of other broken people.

I just let them know,

That no matter what they are my friend,

No matter where I am,

I love them and they matter.

 

Groundhog Day

There are many days when I wake up, and it begins to feel like the movie Groundhog Day. If you have never have seen it, it is a movie where Bill Murray gets stuck in living Groundhog Day over and over again. I love the movie so much, that when my wife and I were on our 10th anniversary, we even visited Punxsutawney Phil. Okay, I might be a little obsessed with this holiday in general.

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Think about it, a groundhog wakes up like any other morning, but on this day, he predicts the weather for the entire country. In Punxsutawney, Phil is pretty much the most important animal, by far. On any other day, you can find Phil in an enclosure that can be viewed from the outside or inside the public library (in the children’s section). Of course, I had to go see Phil, I sat and watched him a few minutes, I was the oldest and biggest kid in the section. Phil appeared happy, but I am sure he is just counting down the days to his next big day.

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So, back to me, waking up every day, often feeling that days repeat themselves over and over again. I have had a lot of interruptions in my thinking lately. On Monday, I won an award for teaching at my school. It is my first award in seventeen years of teaching. It was the third time I was nominated for the award over a span of twelve years. I worked many repetitive days to get to a place where I have been recognized for my work with students.

The next morning, I woke up feeling transformed, because the night before I was the first person to walk up out of 30 winners (one at each area school in Cary). The speaker spoke my name and schools that I attended, then read some other pertinent information. Applause scattered throughout the crowd and I had my moment captured by a few pictures.

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Honor a Teacher Award from the Cary Chamber
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Discovery Award from the Ashworth Family
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the presentation, the sponsor asked to talk with me behind the stage. He told me that after I left, every other contestant talked about me and said I was doing a lot of good work for our students. I knew that they all told him about the formal and informal mentoring I have started at my school. I had to keep it together, as I felt that I had been formally recognized as someone whose passion is mentoring students. I still feel elated, I feel recognized, I feel like Punxsutawney Phil.

I may never win another award, and I am okay with that, because although the plaque, trophy, sculpture, and monies were amazing, it meant most for me to have my other staff members, recognize me for what I want to be known as, a mentor to students. I needed that. If I ever felt there were cracks in my resolve as a mentor, it could be this year. I needed this moment.

So now, I have escaped this endless cycle, I shall live differently…