life

Some are less and some are more : An update, of sorts.

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It seems about once a year or so I go through a phase of questioning my writing and the purpose of this blog. This past phase was a bit longer than normal, but also a bit more clarifying. That is, once I was asked to clarify why I was backing off, “Because I’m trying to be more healthy.”

“That’s pretty ambiguous,” my friend said, shaking his head, “explain.”

So I did. It went something like this:

Two maybe, but never three:

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For the past several years, I’ve been working hard on writing more consistently. “One post a day,” I promised myself. Even if it was simple and short, I had to write/publish something on my blog or work on a chapter for my book.

Then we moved (again), I started Grad classes, kids entered sports, and then, and then, and then. Somewhere in there was my marriage, social life, and gaining a few extra unneeded pounds. My life was busy and certainly productive, but it was not healthy.

So I gave up writing for a while.

“But that was really good for you,” my friend reminded me. And he was right, it is. Writing is not only therapeutic, it’s clarifying and inspiring and something I truly love. But so is my marriage, my kids, and the many other things that take up time and demand thought.

Then, my wife posted this:

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Do you know the good years when you’re right in them, or do you only recognize them after your future is the past, and it’s all come and gone? 
I took a small break like I always do this time of year because it is work, heart-life-work, this bittersweet pursuit to hold on to time just so. If I get too distracted, if there is just too many things and I hold it too loosely, life slips through my fingers and falls to regret. But if there is a desperate clenched grip, it squeezes through anyways. Grip too tight? Not tight enough? These are the days, the good days. 
It is finally Spring, which means lamb kisses in barns and sports are over. It also means road trip camping season has nearly begun. 

I’m terrified. Terrified of wasting time, of missing out on opportunities, and of one day looking back with regret. But more than anything, I’m terrified my kids will grow up without great memories of their father. If they one day, many years from now, described me as hard working, loyal, and a man of character, I would be happy. But also a bit disappointed because, as much as those qualities mean to me, I also want my kids to one day look back at the life their dad lived and say, “He inspired me to live.”

Which is why, recently, I ran The Spartan Race with my son.

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If you follow me on social media, you’re probably tired of this photo. But I’m not. This photo, to me, is a reminder to get out more, to try new things, to push boundaries, and to endure. It’s a reminder to prove I’m alive, to myself for sure but even more so for my kids who are watching, day in and day out. “Prove you’re alive!”, I tell them, but they don’t always listen. Because they’re kids. But when I live it, when I put the phone down, the computer away, and the books back on the shelf, when I take a weekend (with the support of my loving wife) and break out of the norm and and run a race with my oldest son, they see it, they experience it, and they want to live it too.

“Can I do it next year?” my two daughters asked.

“You bet,” I said, “And I’ll do it again with you.”

“Me too,” Judah yelled from the backseat, “And next year, I’m gonna beat my time.”

Me too.

I may not be writing as much lately, which, if I’m honest, is frustrating and sad. But because I’m writing less lately, I have more time for other things, for life things, and for the moments that are fleeting quickly. And I don’t think I’ll ever regret that.

So that’s one reason why I haven’t been writing as much lately. It’s also why I haven’t listened to or posted about podcasts either.

Because . . .

Podcasts are cool and all, but sometimes . . .

I listen to a lot of podcasts. Most of the time it’s because I enjoy them and often find inspiration from them. Sometimes, though, it’s because I like being the guy who listens to a lot of podcasts. So when the other day, while heading out for a morning run, my podcasts wouldn’t play, I was super annoyed. I even considered not running at all because, how boring would that be, running in silence? But the Spartan run was nearing and I knew I needed the training, so I headed out anyway. Soon after, I started thinking.

The night before, I didn’t sleep well because I had this thing with one of my students earlier in the day and it was bothering me. A lot. We’d been going around this misunderstanding for some time and that morning it had came to a head. We argued, yelled even, and refused to see the situation from each other’s perspectives. By the end of the conversation, he walked off and I threatened suspension. It wasn’t great and I wasn’t proud, but I was pissed. At him, myself, and the situation. It felt like all my work with him and his fellow classmates was suddenly lost because I handled the situation poorly and because I didn’t know how to fix it.

“Hard choices are often hard because they impact other people’s lives in meaningful ways,” Steven Johnson writes in Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter Most, “and so our ability to imagine that impact - to think through the emotional and material consequences from someone else’s perspective - turns out to be an essential talent” (pg 122). But because I was constantly distracted by work and kids and podcasts, I was unable to think or consider my student’s side of the story. Only mine. Until I ran without a podcast. Then and only then, I had time to think.

“When we are left to our own mental devices,” Johnson continues, “the mind drifts into a state where it swirls together memories and projections, mulls problems, and concocts strategies for the future” (pg 79). It solves problems. But only when it has time to do so. Listening to podcasts every chance I had never allowed my mind to sit and rest, to mull problems, or concoct strategies. It was always busy.

Just like my students.

Recently, after watching and talking and listening to staff and students around my school, we’ve made a few changes for next year: no cell phones during class time and block scheduling. When asked by a few students, parents, and board members, “What is the genesis of these changes?” I answered with, “Because life for our students is too busy, too distracted. We want them to slow down, to dig deeper into their classes and content, and to be more cognizant of their thoughts, emotions, and surroundings.” (Okay, I didn’t say it exactly like that, but more or less the message was the same). The morning my podcast didn’t work and I had to run in silence, I was convicted of this for myself as well because, for me at least, I can get a bit snooty about kids (and adults) playing video games or wasting time watching television. “They’re a waste of time, a distraction,” I find myself thinking and often times saying.

Yet, how often do I allow myself - my brain - to sit in silence and think, consider, and drift? How often do I play with memories and projections, mull problems, and concoct strategies for the future?

In the same way I want my students to slow down, to rid themselves of distractions and to wrestle with the intricacies and complexities of life, I must be willing and able to do the same. Podcasts, although better then gaming, can still be a distraction that quickly pulls me across the surface of thoughts and ideas, preventing me the opportunity to stop, sink, and struggle.

So that’s why, along with writing, I haven’t listened to as many podcasts lately.

But also, I don’t have time. Or perhaps energy is a better way to say it because of course I have time - we all do, if we really want something. We just need to make time for it. But energy? Yeah, I’m pretty low on that.

Here’s why.

For the Eulogy, not my Resume:

I’ve written a few times about the difference between eulogy virtues and resume virtues. It comes from David Brooks and his book, Road to Character, and it is something I think about quite often.

Resume virtues, Brooks explains, “are the {virtues} you list on your resume, the skills you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.” Eulogy virtues, on the other hand, are the virtues that people talk about at your funeral, “the ones that exist at the core of your being - whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.” They describe how you used your resume.

Recently, this concept has challenged me more so than ever because, for various reasons, I have been presented with the possibility of pursuing a doctorate, and for many reasons my answer would have been and very easily could have been “no.” But then my wife got involved in the decision making process and her simple reasoning stuck, “because it will open doors”, which, on the surface is pretty common and not all that groundbreaking. Because that’s what resumes do. They open doors. But my wife didn’t end there.

“Because it will open doors, which will potentially allow you greater opportunities to serve.” And she’s right! Not only will furthering my education (ideally) allow me to better serve my here-and-now local community, it will provide me the opportunity to help others too, if the moment or opportunity should arise.

Or, as Chef José Ramón Andrés Puerta would say, “an opportunity” to help.

José Ramón Andrés Puerta is “a Spanish-American chef often credited with bringing the small plates dining concept to America. He owns restaurants in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, South Beach, Florida; Frisco, Texas; Mexico City, and Dorado, Puerto Rico” (via). He is also credited with dreaming up and creating World Central Kitchen which travels the world and serving 150,000 meals daily to those in need.

Every time you have a disaster, you bring the different experts into different areas for the reconstruction, for the relief process. So you need to understand that if you have to rebuild homes that you'll bring architects. If you need to take care of people in the hospitals, you bring more help with doctors. If you have to feed people, it's only very normal and logical to me that you will bring cooks. And that's what we do. Kitchens, restaurants are chaos. And chefs, restaurant people - we manage chaos very well. After a hurricane, it's a lot of chaos. And people go hungry, and people go thirsty. And what we are very good at is understanding the problem and adapting. And so a problem becomes an opportunity. That's why I think chefs more and more - you're going to be seeing more of us in these situations. We're practical. We're efficient. We can do it quicker, faster and better than anybody (via)

Because of his resume and his intense training, Chef José Ramón Andrés Puerta not only gains access to kitchens around the world, he gains access to people in need around the world. He uses his resume as a foundation to live his eulogy virtues.

And that has been continually convicting to me.

I want to learn and grow and develop my resume as much as possible so I can be as helpful as possible, here in my current job, but also anywhere at any time. When there is a crisis or a need, I want to be ready and available and not stuck behind some bureaucratic red tape. I want access, a seat at the table, so I may best be able to serve and remember the poor.

That is why I’m writing less, listening to podcasts less, and working more on my resume.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Open Thoughts  :  On Parenting

Humility: The Why of teaching, leadership, life

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I’m in Missoula this weekend, attending a principal’s conference, enjoying the mountains, and writing papers. Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

I’ve written various chapters for a possible book on education but have been struggling with how to tie them all together, “What’s the overall purpose?” I keep asking.

At a recent teacher’s conference, I asked those in my workshop, “Why do kids need an education? Why do they have to go to college?” then they discussed. Their answers weren’t shocking.

But then I asked, “Why does a student need your subject? And why do they need you as their teacher?” They had a more difficult time answering this question.

Later the following night, while watching the sun set behind the Missoula mountains, an to my question, “What is the purpose of my book” surfaced, “To discuss why we teach.” So often, at conference or in literature, we as educators discuss What to teach and How best to teach it, but how often do we consider Why we teach?

I asked the group that question too, “Why do we spend so much time on the What and How and not on the Why?” For an almost awkward long while, they were quiet. Then, a middle-aged lady leaned over and whispered to her friend.

“What was that?” I asked, “Can you say that again?”

“Because it’s easier,” she said.

“Exactly,” I said.

This weekend’s writing is based almost entirely off the book, Humilitas: The Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership. It’s a simple read, but it is also one of the most profound because it hits to the core of why we teach, lead, and live.

Summary: 

The thesis of Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership is that most “influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility” (pg 19). But this wasn’t always so. For many years, men and women would never have considered humility a lost key to life, an honorable character trait, or something worth emulating. It wasn’t until just a few thousand years ago that humility was introduced into the Western world, forever changing the way we think, and the way we lead. 

According to John Dickson, a historian and senior research fellow of the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University, the ancient Greek and Roman world was built up on an honor/shame culture. In this time, a father would not have been concerned with whether his son was happy (in the modern sense) “or made money or lived morally, but whether the boy would bring honor to the family, especially to his father, and to himself” (pg 86). Honor could come through participating in a military victory, advancing through the ranks of official society, or by inventing/creating something that would greatly benefit the village – where his name and his family’ name could be pointed to and remembered. “In all of these things,” Dickson writes, “the thought was not so much the importance of conquering evildoers, making a difference to civic life or benefiting others; the chief good was the respect and praise that comes through these activities and the way they confirm the merit of the one so honored” (pg 86). Life was about being honored, remembered, and revered. Humility was rarely, if ever, considered virtuous because it was for the lowly, not the honorable. 

Humility towards the gods was appropriate because the gods could kill you. Humility was advisable to emperors too, because they too could kill you. Humility towards an equal or lesser was completely out of the question because “merit demanded honor, thus honor was proof of the merit (pg. 87)”.  

It was in this context that ancient Greeks and Romans thought nothing of praising themselves in public or, better still, getting others to praise them because it was proof of their merit. 

Then, from seemingly nowhere, came the teacher from Nazareth.

“Unfortunately, after two thousand years of Christian history,” Dickson writes, “it is difficult for people in the modern West to think of Jesus of Nazareth in a non-theological way” (pg 101). Historians however, have very little difficulty in laying “out the sources of his life, describ{ing} the methods historians use for testing claims about him, plac{ing} him in the context of Roman and Jewish history and outlin{ing} what most scholars agree are the facts about Jesus’ life, teaching, execution, and immediate impact” (pg 102). And according to historian scholars, Jesus’ immediate impact upon the Western world was introducing humility as a virtue. Because of Jesus, humility is no longer scoffed at or looked down upon, it is a badge of honor and pride and the mark of any great leader.  

Humility is “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself”, it is the “willingness to hold power in service of others” (pg 24). It is therefore impossible to be humble, in the real sense of the word, without a healthy understanding of one’s own worth and abilities (pg 25). Great leaders are not humble because they are sheepish, think lowly of themselves, or because they are “down to earth.” They are humble because when they look in the mirror, what they see is their gifts and talents and resources. They know fully well how good they are, strong they are, or powerful they are. And they must. In order to be humble they must be fully aware of what they have/are, so they can be equally aware on how best to give it away.

“Humility,” Dickson writes, “is more about how I treat others than how I think I think about myself” (pg 25). Although they have a healthy perspective of themselves, it is not their focus.  

Men and women who understand this concept and embrace it as a principle virtue, they become the most influential and inspiring people in our schools, companies, communities, and world. By living and leading through humility, they not only gain the trust and admiration of those they lead, they inspire and encourage everyone around them to live to their fullest and greatest potential, fully embracing their gifts and talents yet deploying them for the good of the community, not just themselves.  

 

Analysis:  

Several years ago, when I first married and was still considering my possible profession, a friend offered me a leadership book, “How to Make Your First Million, By the Age of Thirty,” or something like that. I believe that individual meant well by the gift because I truly do believe that individual wants to help make the world a better place. Sadly, that cannot be said about many leaders in any work force, which is why, sometimes, the greatest leaders refuse to take on leadership responsibilities. Because the stigma of those in leadership is often selfishness and materialism. They become leaders so they can make millions, have more benefits, or gain more power; it’s about them, not others.  

Leaders such as these care deeply about What they do and How they do it because they compliance from their staff; their concern is efficiency, productivity, and numbers. 

“If we're going to say, I'm not a success unless I'm on that best-seller list or this best-seller list, or I get that thing in advance or I have these sorts of ratings,” Seth Godin states, then “you are playing the game of the industrialist,” and therefore missing the point. “The point is,” he concludes, “will someone come up to {you}and say, based on what I learned from you I taught 10 other people to do this, and we made something that mattered” (Godin, 2018). 

The point of leadership is the same, to help others become the best version of themselves so they can, in turn, help 10 other people do the same.  

If, as a leader, the purpose is to be liked, popular, or successful (according to numbers, money, or achievements), then their foundation – their Why – becomes subject to personal gains and losses, not the community’s best interest. And when their personal purpose motive becomes unmoored from the people motive, bad things, scary things, and destructive things begin to happen.  They begin to deploy their resources or use their influence for the good of themselves rather than for the benefit of others. They begin to abuse their authority. 

According to Dickson, a principal, CEO, and president, have structural power that has been handed to them by an organization. They have “the power to hire and fire, set directions, approve budgets and overrule colleagues where there is disagreement” (pg 39). Leaders who wield this power selfishly, who’s aim is to serve and bring honor to themselves and their position, do so because relying on their authority is proof of their status and authority, which in turn creates a culture of fear, mistrust, and survival.  

In contrast, if a leader’s purpose is to help, to honor those they lead, and to employ their resources for the betterment of the community, if a leader sees their position of power not as a right but as a privilege and responsibility to serve rather than be served, they will create a thriving culture of curiosity, trust, and innovation. 

This is why John Dickson’s book is so crucial, because it addresses the Why of leadership and emboldens good leaders to be great leaders. It allows leaders to fully acknowledge who they are and the gifts they’ve been given, to pursue and strengthen those gifts, and to step into positions where those gifts and talents are most needed. Dickson’s redefining of humility gives talented, gifted, yet selfless individuals the push they need to step into spotlight roles because they know, by stepping into a leadership position, their focus will not be themselves, but those they serve. 

Just like Jesus. 

John Dickson, like many non-Christian historians, believed Jesus of Nazareth to be the defining example of humility. And whether or not one believes him to be the savior of the world or not, his example (in relation to humility) is one worth emulating.  

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! 

Christ did not consider his authority as God’s son as something to be used for his own advantage, it was something He needed to give away! His power, his ability to provide eternal life, his authority over death meant He had something nobody else did, and He understood this. He had to in order to properly and fully serve the world. Christ embraced his Godship, his authority, and chose to humble Himself by becoming obedient to death (allowing Himself to die) so that others may live. He didn’t use His kingship to be honored and served (to make millions), but to serve. That is the true definition of leadership.  

It is also the perfect recipe for creating a culture of trust. 

Plato once believed, “that all of us tend to believe in views of people we already trust . . . even a brilliantly argued case from someone we dislike or whose motives we think dubious will fail to carry the same force as the case put forward by someone we regard as transparently good and trustworthy” (pg 42). Leaders who assume leadership positions with a faulty and selfish Why are not trustworthy. They are the exact opposite, which is why they resort to tricks and gimmicks. In contrast, leaders who spend their time and energy thinking about and serving, who care more about the wellbeing of others than themselves are easily trusted. “Leadership is not about popularity,” Dickson writes, “It is about gaining people’s trust and moving them forward” (pg 43). It’s about their advancement, not our own.  

Another outcome of a life lived in humility is that one will “learn, grow, and thrive in a way the proud have no hope of doing” because “people who imagine that they know most of what is important to know are hermetically sealed from learning new things and receiving constructive criticism” (pg 116). This is a radically important concept for a leader. If a leader is not living with true humility, they are unable to learn and grow because in order to do so, they must admit – either privately or publicly – that their skills and gifts and talents are insufficient. And if they’re insufficient, the spotlight will move and shine upon someone else, which could be devastating. However, if a leader is marked by humility, they and their spotlight are already focused elsewhere, leaving them free and open to new thoughts and new ideas, allowing them to grow and learn and better serve those they are leading. “In his battle against early twentieth-century rationalism and self-reliance,” Dickson writes, “G. K. Chesterton argued that human pride is in fact the engine of mediocrity. It fools us into believing that we have ‘arrived’, that we are complete, and that there is little else to learn” (pg 120). Such is the trademark of a selfish leader. 

Being a leader marked by humility does not mean, however, that he or she is soft, easily tossed around, or meek and mild. Nor does it mean being loud and pushy. “One of the failings of contemporary Western culture is to confuse conviction with arrogance,” Dickson argues, “the solution to ideological discord is not ‘tolerance’,” he writes, “but an ability to profoundly disagree with others and deeply honor them at the same time” (pg 23). Having strong opinions and deeply held convictions is not a hindrance to humility. In fact, in many cases, it is the mark of it. As long as we are willing and able to use or withhold those convictions for the good of others before ourselves. 

 

Closing

Living a life and leading with humility not only signals security, it fosters a healthy sense of self-worth that is rooted in service rather than achievement, in giving and not taking. The more leaders rely on achievement or popularity for a sense of worth, the more crushing every small failure or simple criticism will seem.  

In contrast, knowing, living, and leading with a purpose beyond myself that is rooted in the principle of humility provides an impenetrable fortress of security and freedom, for leaders as well as for their staff. If a staff understands that their leaders decisions and purpose is to serve and honor them, if they believe that their leader’s hope is for them to succeed, to reach their utmost potential, and to be the very best version of themselves, a community that supports and trusts one another, that grows and learns from another other, and that defends and protects one another will be established. A type of culture where everyone is embracing their gifts and talents and using them for the benefit of the community, not just themselves, because they know and trust their neighbors are doing the same. “When people trust us, they tend to believe what we say, and few are considered more trustworthy than those who choose to use their power for the good of others above themselves” (pg 147). 

A leader marked by humility is also not afraid to admit mistakes because they are not concerned about their perfect shine. They’re fully aware of their faults, and the faults of others, and therefore choose to freely admit their flaws and mistakes because they know it is what’s best for the progress and strength of those they lead. “Mistakes of execution are rarely as damaging to an organization, whether corporate, ecclesiastical or academic, as a refusal to concede mistakes,” Dickson states. If a leader is unwilling to admit his or her mistakes, if they are insecure and unable to fail in front of those they lead, they can never expect their school or community to try new things, make amends for mistakes made, or seek reconciliation from those they’ve offended. The culture will be stale and shallow, with each person operating out of safety and survival rather than curiosity and trust.  “Apologize to those affected,” Dickson argues, “and redress the issue with generosity and haste” (pg 130).  

Leaders want their staff to believe that they are not only competent in their job, they also want their staff to be proud of them as their boss, to brag about them, and to consider them a superstar, like players do who have been coached by some of the greats. “I played under Coach K,” or, “I was one of Coach Ditka's players.” Athletes who talk this way are proud of their journey and the coach that inspired them, because those great coaches understood humility.

Dickson writes, an "inspiring leader must control his ego and throw his energies into maximizing other people’s potential.” But also, they must ensure that “{the players} get the credit” (pg 156). Coaches who brag about their play calling, their clock management, or whatever instantly lose the respect of their players. Great coaches brag about their players, lift them up and celebrate them; they shift the spotlight, fully and completely, on others and their accomplishments, not their own.

The most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility. They willingly forgo their status, deploy their resources, or use their influence for the good of others before themselves. They consider others as more important than themselves, and in so doing, they change the world.  

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Education  :  If school was like rock climbing 

A flower from my wife

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“The heart is a bloom, shoots up from the stony ground.”

A lyric that follows me now, down every dirt road path and onto the old cracked sidewalks, where little girls giggle as they silly talk and my mind drifts again to another world we lived in. A place that taught me a plant can survive in the most surprising, sometimes inhospitable places. And the human spirit can thrive, even in change, even if smothered or weary. 
Beautiful flowers can grow out of concrete.
- Josey Miller (@storyanthology)

Yeah, she’s pretty awesome.

Click here for more thoughts, pictures, and inspiration from my wife,

Rewind Forward : When today becomes the past

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I often return to the moment before the accident. One moment, I see a young beautiful lady laughing into the camera . . . CUT . . . three months later, she woke up from her coma. When I saw her for the first time, I asked my father, "Who is this woman?"

This video truly shook me a bit, and not just because of the death of so many family members (actual and relational), but I'll admit, the thoughts and memories of older days, when we were camping and living and struggling together, came rushing in. I easily resonated with,  

Do you miss him sometimes?

Not just sometimes . . . always!  Always!

And I don't think I'll ever stop. But also, 

I'm ready - to stop looking back, and to look forward. For a long time, I dreamed of standing here together again. But life took another turn.

Some of my family have said the brokenness we're experiencing is "God's will" and until He decides it's time for us to reconcile all we can do is pray. I think that's bullshit. I think we are a product of the decisions we've made, of the truths we hold so dear. Life didn't take the turn, we did. And now, we're miles and miles apart, still heading in opposite directions, waiting for and dreaming of the days when someone else will turn around. 

As I write, my family (wife and kiddos) are traveling the country. We're nearing the end of our fifth week on the road (from Wyoming to Pennsylvania with stops in Virginia, New Jersey, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and North Dakota). On our way to Virginia, I wrote in my journal,

We’re nearing 4 weeks of road tripping, and some days, I just want to be home, sitting on a couch, doing very little. Because traveling is expensive, because traveling breaks habits and somehow convinces kids it’s okay to push and break rules, and because one-year olds don’t sleep well on the road. And we are tired. 
But then we stand and look over the valley and I get to see the country with my son, my wife, my kids - my family -and then, through the perspective of young eyes, the miles and millions of cups of coffee are worth it. Because someday, I’m going to wish they all fit in the van again.

I don't know what sort of turns life has down the road, I just know that for now, we're all in the van together. I also know that however I travel now, the way I love my kids, the conversations we have or don't have, the stories we share the memories we create will most definitely and directly impact how we, a family, travers the road ahead. 

You can't outrun the past. With that I agree. But I can choose to sit in the present, to live and love and pursue with the tenacious truth that I'm not guaranteed tomorrow, and that someday memories might be all that I have left. 

Although hopes and dreams will forever be before me, I do have a say in how this thing plays out. These days are about these days and right now. The ripples will take care of themselves. 

Things I mean to know

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This morning, instead of hopping in the car and driving, I walked. It was brilliant. Brilliantly cold, and brilliantly convicting, like the heat of an afternoon sun after a freezing and wind scourged morning, because before the day even began, I was asked to consider everything I know, and how I know it. And I didn't have any answers.

What do we know, fully, and with confidence, but without knowing why? Without knowing the evidence, the facts, or even just simply the other side?

For me it's a lot of things. But when I first listened to this podcast, I wasn't considering me and what I did or did not know, I was considering others and what they don't know. Because from my perspective, they don't know a lot. And they don't even know it. 

The Episode is entitled, Things I Mean to Know by This American Life. 

This little soundbite is from the Prologue:

"I started looking into it and it was too hard." So, she, "jumped back into the ocean with the rest of us dummies." Because it was easier. Because getting to the bottom of things is a lot of work, especially when those things don't have easy or definable answers - when they deal with all that human being stuff.

When I heard these lines, I was about three blocks down from my house, kicking a small rock out of my path, and thinking of all those who could benefit from hearing these simple words. 

Then I turned the corner and headed down 6th street. The rock lost in someone's yard and the chill of the morning beginning to seep in. I pulled my hat down further then jammed my hands a bit further into my pockets. 

A thought was beginning to fester, and by the time I reached the my classroom and chair and Coleman thermos coffee, it was a wild and living thing.

Maybe I'm the one who's wrong?

In recent months I've been questioning myself, my faith, and my life more than I ever have before. Yet, somewhere in all that, I've found plenty of time and arguments for why others have been wrong, why things or ideas have been the source of my befuddlement, and why if everyone could just be as open-minded or loving or accepting as me, things would be pretty damn good.

Then I walked to work and kicked a rock and listened to stories of people talking about what they thought they knew. 

On the walk home, Megan Phelps-Roper describe her time as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, "Most of the time, I would walk away from those conversations feeling like I had won. I never set out to have my mind changed."

Once I saw that we were not the ultimate arbiters of divine truth but flawed human beings, I couldn't justify our actions. . . That period was full of turmoil. But one part I return to often is a surprising realization I had during that time - that it was a relief and a privilege to let go of the harsh judgments that instinctively ran through my mind about nearly every person I saw. I realized that now I needed to learn. I needed to listen.

And so do I. Holy shit so do I.

I need to listen to those who frustrate me, who hurt me, who think incomplete and false thoughts about me. Because they might be right. 

Holy shit they might be right. At least in part.

Because,

You're not letting go of your truth but understanding someone else's. You need that if you're going to build a bridge and get across and get through.

But to be honest, this is really hard because even through I want to get through, I also want to win - at least in part - because even though I want to understand, I also want to be understood. And even though I want to build bridges and find a way to let go of the harsh judgements that instinctively ran through my mind, I also want to be validated and affirmed in what and who I am.  

Which makes the conversation difficult, I think, because - out of self preservation - I talk more than I listen, I defend more than hear, and I explain more than I try to understand.

And that might be the first times I've really understood that. 

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Open Thoughts  :  Other Inspiring Podcasts

 

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That Sunday Evening Feeling

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It descends quick, normally between the hours of 5 and 7.30pm, being especially felt when the weather is turning and the last of the daylight has burnished the sky a shade of crimson pink before plunging into a sea of concluding darkness.

Even since I was a child, I understood this feeling but could never articulate it. As an adult, not much has changed; Sunday evenings are still my least favorite time of the week.

Recently, I came across an essay which argued that "The Sunday evening feeling is ordinarily associated with work, and the idea of going back to an office after a pleasant break." Therefore, the uneasiness or weight we feel is our conscious telling us that "we are going back to the wrong sort of work" (via). But that didn't really resonate with me because I don't work in an office or job I hate. I love and believe in my job and will, consciously, stay in it for the rest of my life

So why do I still feel the weight of a typical Sunday evening?

Because life still isn't enough.

The article continues:

We normally manage to keep the insistent calls of the true working self at bay during the week. We are too busy and too driven by an immediate need for money. But it reliably comes to trouble us on Sunday evenings. Like a ghost suspended between two worlds, it has not been allowed to live or to die, and so bangs at the door of consciousness, requiring resolution. We are sad, or panicked, because a part of us recognises that time is running out and that we are not presently doing what we should with what remains of our lives. The anguish of Sunday evening is our conscience trying to stir us inarticulately into making more of ourselves.

I don't quite agree with everything said, but I do think there is something there. Like the idea of our consciousness banging on a door, reminding us that time is running out, and fast.

Suddenly, spending most of Saturday morning skimming Facebook updates seems like a waste of precious time and that hour at the mountain lake should have been all about teaching Eden how to skip a rock, not taking pictures of my kids searching for them. Instead of watching football, I should have played it, with my son, as the snow fell from trees.

What if that Sunday evening feeling is a little nudge, a jab even, reminding us that time is running out. That even if we live well into our 70's and 80's or well into our 90's, the end will come faster than we expect and when it does, it will be too late, there will be no more weekends to try again.

What will we have to show for it? What will we have made of ourselves? Of our families? Of the world around us?

I like the way the essay concludes:

We should not keep our Sunday evening feelings simply for Sunday evenings. We should place these feelings at the center of our lives and let them be the catalysts for a sustained exploration that continues throughout the week, over months and probably years, and that generates conversations with ourselves, with friends, mentors and with professionals. Something very serious is going on when sadness and anxiety descend for a few hours on Sunday evenings . . .

And we would be wise to consider it. Before it's too late.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Living  :  Resume VS Eulogy Virtues

 

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Self-Confidence: A Mental Wobbling

Choice is the active hesitation that we make before making a decision. It is a mental wobbling, so we are always in a dither of doubt as to whether we are behaving the right way, doing the right thing, and so on and so forth, and lack a certain kind of self confidence. And if you see that you lack self confidence, you will make mistakes. Through sheer fumbling. If you do have self confidence you might get carried away with doing entirely the wrong thing. You have to regard yourself as a cloud in the flesh because, you see, clouds never make mistakes.

Did you ever see a cloud that was misshapen? 

When we believe that, we will  be on good terms with your own being, and be able to trust our own brain . . .

The problem is, I don't want to fully trust my own brain, because I know my brain, and I don't trust it.

But I do want to be on good terms with my own being, accepting it, in all of its limitations, and wobble, because I want to rely on others, need others, and cling to others, not just myself. Confidently.

Because that is Life. And in that, I do not dither or hesitate in doubt, but fully embrace. 

Like the beauty and wonder of the clouds. 

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Living  :  Humanity

 

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Letter from a past generation

This letter, from Will Schoder's grandfather, reminded me of my grandfather. It's something he would have written, probably even did. I'm just not fortunate enough to have it stored in a box.

I'm not a big fan of downing the Millennial generation because, mainly, most of what I hear is unfair and biased. There is probably truth in the criticism, just as much as there is error, and I'd rather focus on the things I can control. Myself. Just like this grandfather here. He can articulate his frustrations with some of his fellow countryman, and articulate it well, but it doesn't drive him to hate or ridicule others. Rather, he pursued his wife, he fought in a war, and he lived his life; he changed himself. 

This letter crosses all times and boundaries and is a good reminder on how to live life: honestly and admirably and fully in the moment - "with our whole being" and with little or "no need to fear the future." 

Thank you, Barry, for the sweet reminder. 

 

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For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Living  :  Will Schoder

The Best That Ever Was . . . a waste.

"If you have dreams of being a rock-star public speaker, pumping up an audience as you stride the stage and proclaim your brilliance, I beg you to reconsider. Don’t dream of that. Dream of something much bigger than you are.”  (TED Talks: the official TED guide to public speaking)

Matt Damon agrees.

"Imagine chasing that, and not getting it, and getting it finally in your eighties or nineties  with all of life behind you" or broken relationships or abandoned friends or ruined lives "and realizing . . . what an unbelievable waste." 

Because

"It can't fill you up. If that's a whole that you have, that won't fill it."

It's the difference between eulogy virtues and resume virtues; the BIG ME and little me.

“THE SECRET TO HAPPINESS IS: FIND SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU ARE, AND DEDICATE YOUR LIFE TO IT.” – DAN DENNETT

Or as Chris McCandless wrote during his last days, "Happiness is only realized when shared."

A grim yet poignant reminder for those of us pursuing dreams.

Oldest Living Veteran - 109 Years Old

Richard Overton fought in the South Pacific in World War II, is 109 years old, still drives, sometimes drinks whiskey with breakfast, smokes 12 cigars a day (but doesn’t inhale), and still lives in the house he built himself in 1945. In this video from National Geographic, Overton talks about his military service, his faith, his long life, and soup. Overton’s short summary of World War II:

"It wasn’t good, but we had to go."

I don’t really care to live to 100, but if I had Overton’s spirit and attitude, perhaps I’d consider it (via). 

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Real People  :  Humanity

 

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