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…

 

Perfect

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I think inside of each us, is this idea that we can attain perfection. The perfect job where no stress ever befalls us. The perfect house where nothing ever breaks. The perfect pet who never eats our furniture. The perfect friend or spouse who is always there for us in every way.

I have a sneaking suspicion why this is… 

As humans, I believe we have this innate desire to make things whole or right again. We see relationships every day that inspire or frustrate us. We want relationships that encourage us and help us grow, but we are not sure how to foster those in others and often even ourselves.

As a child of divorce, like so many others, I have hurt to see relationships of all types sour and sever. It is hard to watch it unfold. The actual finality is not so sad, as the road to the split of the relationship wears on everyone involved. The drama of a severing can become exhausting, so it is not surprising that most involved are just ready to have closure.

When I write of this, I am talking about any level of relationship. It could be a boss/employee, a spouse, a friend, a family member, or a friend. I feel that I am often better at the continuing of a friendship when the relationship is pretty tattered. It is hard for me and many others to just accept the person or situation for what it is, because what it is, is brokenness.

We are all broken in some way, we have many issues that make us not trust and doubt others. Why we open up our hearts to some and close off others, is a mystery to me in many ways. Many will say that they just feel “connected” to someone, some say they just respect the person’s character or emotional track record.

In all relationships, we have to bury hurtful things done or said to us. Often those buried hurts resurrect like a zombie coming back for us. They rear their grotesque faces at us when we come into a conflict with the person. We hurl the many times that the person has wronged us. What would happen if you I, decided to just confront in a pleasant way the wrong. What if we were willing to have that conversation?

If someone has wronged you in a way, could you first rate it as something you could forgive, or something you need to talk with them about? I think the issue many times with myself is not wanting to have the difficult conversation, even though I consider myself someone who does not mind conflict, it is often hardest with people who I am not sure how they will take it. I am not scared of the conversation, but actually more how the conversation could go sideways and I could just say “to hell with this”. Being willing to say the hard things, is only the beginning of forgiveness, because once you air your grievance, you reopen the relationship and you set yourself up to trust the person again or you know moving forward the relationship is different.

I think this is one of the many reasons why Jesus asked believers to forgive people 70 x 7, 490 times. Of course, Jesus was being a little funny here, because I think he means we should continually forgive others. If I rate myself on a 1 to 490 scale, I am about a .5 on the forgiveness scale right now, I need to work on it.

How about you? What situations have you been putting off? Will you choose to forgive or confront? Either way, you should not leave this hanging on you? You were made for more than being stuck in this emotional state.

P.S. This is written mostly for me, but maybe you got something out of it. 

Settling

Change comes into my life like a big boulder on top of layers of rock and sand. As I shake through and work through all the shifts I will make because of the change, I start to settle and realize I can do this with the help of others. In essence I find the gold through the sifting. 

It is not a settling or shifting of surrender, but a settling towards peacefulness. To my friends making shifts in the months of ahead, I hope you find the settling calm of the shifting sands and find your feet firm in the decisions you have made for you made them in peace or chaos, yet I believe in my heart God will use them to further shape you. 

Change

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I am not sure when it started, but I have not been a fan of change for a long time. I have made what many might view as many changes in my life in search for a better career, new school, new house, or even changing cars. To be honest every single one of these decisions is extremely difficult. I always do it with a lot of trepidation.

My stages go like this:

  1. I grumble and gripe.
  2. I find out about the necessity for change.
  3. I find out there might not be any other option.
  4. I complain about the change incessantly.
  5. I try to escape the circumstances.
  6. I end up accepting the change
  7. I end up doing okay.

See change leads into transition, so maybe transition is what I fear. I wonder at times if I have the ability to transition into a new career or learn the culture of a new school as a teacher. The transition is sometimes more difficult than the change. Experts say that you know if a job is a good fit in three weeks. I would have to agree, the trouble is escaping that bad job, sometimes takes 3 months or even years.

What do you do with yourself during that time?

 

Five Feet High and Rising

In the past storm our neighborhood experienced some major flooding. Businesses were surrounded by water, many basements were flooded out. Traffic had to be diverted away from two major intersections nearby. I am sure there will be news stories reporting the vast amount of damage in coming days, while others down the Neuse River will be experiencing issues over a week after the initial rain. All the water has to go somewhere.

It reminds me a lot of how we use our time on this earth. Our actions and words will carry on through positive and negative “streams”. Our words and actions have a lasting affect, much like a rainstorm producing copious amounts of rain.

After Hurricane Matthew, our basement was flooded with three feet of water. The water shorted out our furnace and washed into our water heater breaking both items. As the rain poured in and in on Monday, we held our breath.

After Hurricane Matthew we did many waterproofing measures to help the house never flood that bad again, but I did not think it would be tested that quickly. The water never rose above three inches, of course, we were relieved. We came out better than so many others who have lost everything.

Psalm 29:10-11 
Above the floodwaters is God’s throne from which his power flows,
from which he rules the world.
God makes his people strong.
God gives his people peace.

I pray God will make those strong and give peace to those dealing with the floods of this past rainstorm, and for those who life has given a “flood” to deal with may you gain strength and peace.

This Old House

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This old house has tried my patience many times. Our house was built in 1949, I have a shoe from then to prove it. Back when it was built, people believed if they put an old shoe in the crawlspace it would bring them good luck. Upon purchasing the place, I had some crawlspace work to do and happened up on the old shoe that was built with quality in mind, much like our house.

This old house has tried my patience with crazy mishaps with flooding, animals in our crawlspace, and even having to replace pieces of our plumbing, but I still love it. Many real estate vultures would love to have the land this old house sits on, but we will keep it virtually the same as it was originally built. Of course, there are a few issues here and there, I mean it is sixty-eight years old.

I threaten to sell it every time it rains hard, when plumbing becomes an issue, or even when I feel the temptation of an offer, but we will stay as long as the house will have us.

Last night the rain poured around the house, and my stomach churned all night. I went to empty out my recently “waterproofed” basement to find that the water was creeping in at a much slower rate. In fact the basement made it through about 24 hours of rain without getting much more than three inches of rain in the basement. It is unfinished, so as long as it stays 8″ or less in water depth, I am happy. Otherwise it knocks out our water heater and hvac. Waking up this morning, I was so glad to see that the pumps held out overnight, now just to make it through today.

Storms come and storms go, but this old house will keep standing.

50 Days of Easter

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I am sure I heard it before growing up in a Methodist church and attending most of the time when at my Dad’s house. I am sure the pastor said that we were entering the Easter season. In some way, I switched it through my adult years. In my mind Easter was the end, not the beginning of a season of resurrection.

One of our pastors at church reminded me of this yesterday. The quote that inspired me the most, she said, “Push through in hope.” Later during communion our head pastor reminded us that there is such a thin line between a miracle and crappy circumstances. I totally agree, but if we push through in hope, we can make it.

So today, on a day when I woke up with dreams of being lost in a city, late for work. I wake up from the fog of a bad dream and attempt to push through in hope. I want to push through to see the students who need me to encourage them and I position myself to receive their encouragement as well.  We all need each other, sometimes we need to push for each other. She also quoted a great quote for anyone, but especially for teachers from Bob Goff author of Love Does, “People grow where they are truly accepted, not where they’re merely informed.”

May I accept others today and from this day forward…

Loneliness and the Resurrection

I am not sure about you, but this year New Year’s day did not seem like a good day to start any new habits. I was worn out from a lot, 2016 was a year of a lot of effort. We had to make a lot of difficult decisions:

  • Buy our house or keep renting in the real estate market we live in.
  • Choose a president and a lot of other government positions.
  • Finding a church that we could worship in without reservation.
  • New commitments to our careers, friendships, etc…

One decision that I made that I did not necessarily mean to make was to become skeptical of other people. To be honest, I had done this for a very long time, but for the sake of this writing let’s just deal with the present.

I recently listened to a podcast about why men have such a difficult time making and keeping friends in their middle ages. (Listen to the podcast here)In the podcast, it pretty well described me to the exact description; growing up with close friends, playing sports and just always being with my group of friends. We never had to schedule around other events, we were just young kids with very few responsibilities. I played endless hours of basketball with my friends, there was never much effort put into it. This followed as I went on to college, living in a dorm, I always had people to hang out with. I remember a birthday party that I had where we took over thirty of my friends and had dinner in a restaurant. I just always remember being a part of a larger group who really cared about each other.

Now in adulthood, I have very few friendships. I used to think it was just me (which it partially is), but it is more what my friendships were based on. I realize that in my thirties, most of my friendships were with guys who were trying to imagine church differently, I was stuck in the discovery mode for a long time. Meanwhile, many of my friends started non-profit organizations and churches, started practicing their theories. I continued to question and struggle with what the church should be. I gave up that struggle a little under a year ago. I officially decided I did not really have any voice left in this conversation, and very few people were still talking about it much.

I am slow to change, but I am really praying that on this resurrection day, I can find a few more friends to sharpen me, as I can sharpen them in their faith. I more fully understand that I must make more sacrifices to keep friendships going. I also want to keep working to resurrecting my optimistic, positive spirit that I had years ago. I know it will take work, I know it will not be an easy path, but I commit to it.

If you are reading this and feel a pull, please comment and I would love to sit down with you and talk about it. I know there are more men and women out there who experience loneliness than I ever thought.

 

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.