Filtering by Category: Life

Stack of Bills

I want you to picture a stack of $100 bills, 4 inches tall. How does it change your life? Does it make you happy thinking about it? Let's bypass the stack of bills.

I want you to picture a room of your favorite people, doubled over in laughter, patting you on the back, offering hugs as they leave.

Which makes you happier? One is probably more likely to happen if you'd just make a few phone calls.

Rain

My wife and I catered a wedding this weekend. We have an Espresso Cart that we use to spread the gospel of caffeine to the masses.  From a work perspective it was a disaster. It was a new venue that we were in hindsight unprepared for. We were rushed to get set up, we had to pull the gear through mud, because of my mistake on distance to the venue we had to set up outside during the ceremony to be ready on time, it was hot so almost everyone got iced drinks (which meant more work and more supplies used per drink).

To top it all off, an hour and a half in we got dumped on by a thunderstorm.

But from a customer service perspective it was gold. When people see you sopping wet and marching on with laughter, they are rooting for you. The couple and all the guests were by their own account pretty dang impressed. 

But more important to the story is whathappened  afterward. As we drove back, soaked to the bone and smiling—maybe because we were smiling, my brain was working overtime figuring out how to make things better. "What things that I thought were important were a hindrance? If I had a zero risk redo what sort of outside the box approach would I take?" As a result I came up with at least two ideas that will transform the catering we do in some fantastic ways. I will get more done with much less work.

But this isn't only about business ideas. The cliché approach is a cutesy line about making lemonade, which is only slightly less annoying than "cheer up, it all happens for a reason." What these overused and undereffective mantras are getting at is when you put the shit in the right place and it gets rained on things will grow.

Local News

Yesterday's crisis is largely forgotten. Give it a week and all those critical newsstory-blogpost-watercoolerrumors that people didn't care enough about/cared too much about/were missing the truth on, will be long gone, only to be revived in bytes twenty years from now on a show called "I love the 2000's." This week's crisis/stories:

Israel/Palestine Ukraine (Which is nearly last week's story) Robin Williams Islamic State in Northern Iraq Ebola

Last few month's crisis/stories:

Phil Robertson on gay marriage Iran's Nuclear Program Malaysian Airlines (The one that disappeared. Not the one that got shot down.) Syrian Civil War (Which is still going on by the way.)

 

We tend to buy pretty hard into these distilled stories—boiled down, presenting only the most intoxicating elements. They keep us glued to our screens, refreshing the feed, inhaling the back and forth like the last donut in the box that you only eat because you know it will be stale by morning.

And like overconsumption, whether it be moonshine or cruller, it leaves us with next morning regret. The act of consuming and spreading sensationalism without the follow up of substantial and life-giving action makes our soul stagnant.

But local news,—the next door neighbor kind—doesn't allow us the luxury of riding the merry-go-round of passion, inaction, and forgetfulness. That inspiring video about a single mom working three jobs to pay for her kids college sure makes me look thoughtful. But if the single mom lived next door and I wouldn't bother helping her out with groceries after seeing the video (or preferably finding out through front porch conversation) my compassion would turn from sentimentalism to the pain of inaction. Compassion is after all an uncomfortable venture.

Instead of turning into tomorrow's "remember when"—the local stuff knocks at my soul and demands my response daily. So maybe just for this week (I promise, you can turn back on the fear box eventually) let's look up from whatever shocking news we're reading on our phone and find out what's going on with the people next to us.

How You Arrange Your Kitchen....

unnamed...will determine what you use, even what you will create. After deciding to leave the kettle on the stove top and set up a shelf with all the items necessary for pretentious drinks, my Tea and Coffee consumption has risen considerably. I liked tea before, but not enough to dig through cupboards for all items needed to assemble a cup before putting it all away again. Especially if I was only home for a few minutes in between guitar lessons. It's also true as a musician. If guitar is within reach, it is more likely I will practice at a moments notice. How we arrange our life alters our behavior.

But the most significant rearrangement has been a matter of geography–where I live, work, worship, and play. Which for me used to be North, South, East, and West of Goshen. I don't think I realized how big of a deal this was this was until Courtney and I were fortunate enough to have three of those four items focused within a six square block radius. Our kitchen has been rearranged, and so has the way we make choices. For example, while I continue to make trips to Indianapolis and Columbus every so often, a twenty minute drive feels like a trek. I can't tell you the last time I took 45 minutes to make it to South Bend. When you are used to walking to your bank, your job, your haircut, your friends houses–even on the most frigid days, your priorities shift to focus on the world immediately around you and words like neighbor start to make sense again.

 

Dysfunction Blindness: Why I Keep Opening the Fridge Part II

On Monday I ended with a clip of one of my favorite comedians. While I don't look to Louis' nihilistic approach as a source of hope, he is an expert at digging up human nature. Warning: Late night broadcast levels of swearing.

This particular clip nailed me between the eyes. It got me asking, "Why?"

"Why do I want to check facebook?"

"Why do I want to pick up my phone right now?"

"Why am I eating yet another one of those yummy pumpkin bars my wife made?"

"Why am I checking facebook again?"

Why is a question with difficult yet simple answers.

"Because I'm afraid and lonely."

"Because I'm afraid and lonely."

"Because they are AMAZING. But also because I'm afraid and lonely."

"Because I'm still afraid and lonely."

Not that all my use of social media is driven by emptiness. But if we're going to assign arbitrary numbers, I'd dare to say about 85%.

It's tempting to ignore the reasons, nothing to see here folks. That is after all what I'm good at. But the call to redemption, to daily become more of who I was made to be, haunts me. Words from God's ancient spokesmen come to mind:

My people have committed a compound sin:     they’ve walked out on me, the fountain Of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns—     cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves.

The question lingers, "So, hows that working for you?" Not so well as it turns out. For all our hyper-connectivity and over abundance of food, those who buy into culture wholesale, myself included, don't seem all that full of life. If following Jesus seems to be lacking any transformative power, it has more to do with the fact that I  go to inadequate sources to medicate rather than go to the one I've touted as worth my devotion for life-altering healing.

While He doesn't give me more than I can handle, and while He does comfort me in my severe disfunction, He also keeps me seeing the painful tension between way things are alongside the way He will make them be. Continually asking the question, "Why?" keeps before me the insanity of self-medicating attempts and the building of broken cisterns that come so naturally.

Dysfunction Blindness: Why I Keep Opening the Fridge

Everything we do has something driving it. Whether it’s sensible or not, even the most minuscule actions are an outworking of internal chemical, emotional, and spiritual reactions. Whenever I am at my parents house in Oregon, I open the fridge several times per hour, which makes sense when you realized that the last time I lived there was as a teenager. The metabolism has changed, the habits have not. Eventually, I realize that I’ve already persistence of desire, it turns out, will not make Twinkies appear out of thin air. It’s silly, but also sad. My refrigerator liturgy isn’t just bad memory. In fact it becomes painfully obvious around the fifth or sixth time that I’m either bored out of my mind or lonely and looking for some sort of soul comfort.

“Why?” can be a depressing inquiry for anyone interested in maintaining a ‘positive self-image’ in and of themselves. But it is, I think, one of few questions leads to who I was created to be. Some might call it confession. I call it admitting the way things are, telling it like it is, a daily turning myself in.

But seeing something in ourselves can be difficult if not at times near impossible. As much as we like to tout self-awareness in our culture, we are horrible at seeing our own dysfunction while easily finding it all over those around us. It’s easy to point the finger at brokenness we don’t have and just as easy to miss or even justify our own dysfunction in others as a way of patting our ego. Desperate Housewives comes to mind.

An ancient and current philosopher put it best, "Why do you point fingers at specks of sawdust in your frenemies eye when you have a 2x4 in your own?" (My paraphrase).

The words cut. They aren’t just for 1st century Jews. Jesus spoke to a cultural context, but he also spoke to humans whom are, even within our respective cultures, a worn variation on a theme.

And the blindness isn’t only on the individual level. There is much that we as a nation can and do miss. As C.S. Lewis put it (If you’re skimming, I’ll put the highlights in bold):

 "Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books...Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"...None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them."

"Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction."

I need external sources of truth to hone (if not entirely alter) my internal vision.

I need people like, Louis C.K. who ran me through the grinder this weekend. I'll unpack it on Wednesday, but in the meantime here's the clip.

Warning: Some late night broadcast TV level swearing.

 

I Have No Clue What I'm Doing

At least when I start. What confidence I may appear to have is probably just good acting. Most people I've met, worth their salt in whatever category of this or that, started out this way: unsure, insecure, incompetent, paranoid, bumbling, terrified. But they picked up a pen, or a hammer, or a spatula, and kept whacking things till something worked, then worked more often, then consistently worked.

Following Jesus is has been the same way. As I grow, I care less about having it down before setting out, even before arriving. And when I do look back, my regrets are only that I wouldn't have started fumbling through failure much sooner.

But I understand why I didn't. I used to fear my daily and severe failure, my incompetence, my bouts of apathy. As a friend once put it, "if I know I'm going to screw it up, why bother beginning?" God was the angry grandpa, ever disappointed. I didn't feel like giving him any more ammunition.

I am gratefully beyond (for the most part) the God-I-Made-In-My-Image, which deserves the best southern sweat-rag radio preacher I can muster, "Prayeeessah the Lawd!" I once was blind but now see the face of the one who can sympathize with my weakness, who invites me to bumble into glory. In a line that Rich Mullins may or may not have coined (which inspired a piece of music), "If I make my way swaying drunk from side to side, is it any less the way home?"

After all, the man walking home sobers up faster than the one who never leaves the bar.

Why I'm Trying to Give Less Advice

I give advice–a little too freely in fact. It's understandable, I have an associates degree in pastoral studies, I've preached thirty or so sermons, and a chunk of my employment is giving guitar lessons; I get paid to tell people what I think they should do. A good friend of mine, who is constantly asking the air what she should do with her life, gets the worst of it. My reaction to a posed question is to answer it, immediately, whether it was addressed to me or not. I have an opinion, and my gut assumes she probably cares a whole lot about what I think. Even if she didn't ask me specifically...ever. Halfway through my diatribe my brain realizes what's going on and I try to start listening again.

Some advice if you ever end up on the receiving end of one of my advice rants. Smile, say, "thank you for the input," and walk away. The truth is, you'll save me the trouble of apologizing later and save yourself the trouble of adding white noise of my voice to the conversation in your head.

Advice is not a bad thing. My goal isn't to wipe it out entirely. But I have been trying to sit and wait until it's wanted (if ever).

And here is an incomplete list as to why:

1) I won't typically take advice from people I don't ask myself, unless of course you are a very select group of people who I severely trust and respect. Even if I verbally engage the ideas you bring up, I'm probably just trying to be nice. It's likely that I don't really care about your opinion on things. Otherwise, I probably would have asked you what you thought. I assume (and yet so often forget) that it works the same way with others.

2) Whenever we are making life decisions (or even little ones), everyone is going to have an opinion. After a while it becomes a cacophony of preferences. And as much as we like choices, choosing between a dozen different "absolute best ways" of doing something can be paralyzing. By the time I've offered my unsolicited input, thirty or so others have probably done the same. When Courtney made a visit to the emergency room a few weeks ago, while waiting for results on the cause, we discovered there were at least 25 supposed PhDs among our acquaintances willing to give us their free medical opinion. It's easy to miss that my two cents is being added to a pile of loose change. I may only be making someone's choice more difficult.

3) Much of the time, even if they ask you, people already know what it is they want to do. In which case, they're probably looking for your validation. This isn't always the case, but it happens often enough to be note. This isn't bad. Sometimes we already know and need encouragement to do so, but it feels awkward saying, "Can you encourage me to do this?" And so we question until someone comes along and pats us on the back. If you think someone is making a stupid decision and looking for validation, talking them down probably isn't going to do much good. If they ask for advice, give them a summary of your opinion. If they really care, they'll keep digging. If they just want validation they'll start arguing with whatever you just told them.

4) If you're living a life worth mimicking, you're probably already giving advice people somebody will pay attention to anyway. I have several friends who advise me a hundred times a day without saying a word. They are my unknowing mentors to whom I compare my own decisions. I could ask them what they think I should do, but I've already seen them act out the answer. And yet people who are obviously terrible with money seem think congress should take their financial advice.

 

But that's just my two cents.

 

 

Outside My Circle

I am several things.

...Follower of Jesus

...sub-culturally Mennonite

...Theologically Anabaptist

...American

...White

...Farm Raised

...Town Dweller

...Musician

...Writer

...Millennial

I am not necessarily ashamed of any of those items. But I am aware that each brings its own blessings and subversive temptations.

I don't try to flee what I am, but I do try to get outside of myself, my perceptions, my assumptions about the world.

Which is why I hunt for people like Propaganda, the spoken word poet and rapper; they help me understand which aspects of what I believe are universal and which ones only work in the white-middle-class-evangelical-world in which I largely work, play, and worship.

So props to Propaganda.

Keep looking for people who stretch your imagination.

You can get the full Excellent album free on noisetrade.

Playing to the Hype...

...is enticing. With six billion people occupying the planet alongside all sorts of deadly animals, tornados, and poisonous foods, there will always be some sort of crisis to address. If you are looking for ways to find or create fear, you won't have to look too hard. As much as we all say that we wish the world were a better place, palpable fear is sexy like adrenaline, and as a result, short lived.

You realize there are still flattened houses in Oklahoma City right? Of course you do, it was all we could talk about for a week. It's also in the front of your mind that there are still tent towns in Port A Prince (that's that city in Haiti that everyone texted $10 to) only a few miles away from the place where bodies were carried by the dump truck load and covered in dirt by bulldozers. And of course we daily think of the many people in Louisiana still grieving in the wake of the most tragic, and still very recent, event of their life.

Of course we do, because we care.

While I've addressed current events before, most of the time I intentionally avoid them. I don't get my jollies by giving a drunk a drink. In fact, there have been several times I've covered a subject that coincidentally hit headlines just before I clicked the publish button.

While there may be a time for breaking news, my goal isn't to throw more sugar into the crisis cool-aide. But it's tempting. Crisis is sexy and sex sells.

If you will allow me to make a left turn...

The_ScreamAs it turns out, our propensity toward national crisis fever is actually about individual crisis and our desire to dramatize, our need to have something tragic happen to us in order to feel like our life is important enough to have actual conflict.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, look for it as you go through the checkout line, or ask your friends about how their week is going.

We understand that a meaningful life has conflict, it's inherent in our entertainment. Bruce Willis has to jump through at least eight panes of glass before he can throw Hans Gruber from the skyscraper. But when an East German terrorist fails to show up in our particular skyscraper, we settle for embellishment of relational conflict. We get the benefit of feeling important without actually having to do anything difficult meaningful.

Yippee kay yay.

But characters in great stories don't go hunting for crisis; they're trying to reach a goal (personal growth, liberation of the oppressed, spiritual enlightenment). When you pursue something worthwhile, there will be obstacles to overcome and probably some embarrassing failure.

Meaningful life will result in conflict and even crisis, but crisis doesn't mean you're getting anything done. So stop looking for hyped up drama.

If you are doing something worthwhile you'll have as much of the real thing as you'll ever want.

Community Requires Sitting

...for a very long time.

DSCF7746

I wrote Tuesday that community takes a lot of mediocre and mundane interaction. Maybe it goes without saying, but for that to happen, you have to stay in the same place.

As we sipped our first cups of java at the new Electric Brew location on Tuesday, my friend Allen told me about the time he met Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Allen curled a smile as he recalled how she chewed out his friend who asked questions about community, "You people!" she shouted, pounding her fist on the table, "You scoot all over the country 'trying to find community.' Why don't you just stay somewhere!"

First of all, it is an elite group of people who can claim to have been chewed out by Dorothy Day.

Second, I think she's absolutely right.

I know because from age 18 to 23 I moved from Albany, Oregon to Cochabamba, Bolivia to Sweet Home, Oregon back to Albany then to Rosedale, Ohio, spent a summer in Virginia, and another summer in Oregon then again to Ohio to travel all over the country doing promotional work for a college before finally landing here in Goshen, Indiana. Just as I was getting ready to move to Baltimore (I was accepted to the University of Baltimore) I crashed, I couldn't do it anymore. I was beginning to find community in Goshen again and couldn't let that go.

It may be obvious that state hopping isn't conducive to community, but a more localized version of my story is all too common. We swap jobs, churches, responsibilities, small groups, friendships, and favorite restaurants like they're going out of style.

Wendell Berry, Kentucky native and writer, wrote a book called Jayber Crow (one of my favorites), which is in one sense and exploration of the death of the communal society in America. To oversimplify, from what I gathered, he blames it on interstate highways; the ability to find yourself three states over in the amount of time it used to take many people to get to the next town exponentially grew the possibilities for work and entertainment. To reduce it further, there is simply more things to do and people to see than ever before.

Opportunity kills community.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

A friend (who took the above photo) just got back from a week of in New York where he spent the greater part of a couple days wandering the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan Island. What he found was remarkable. As he moved from one block to the next, there were very clear demographic changes. Low income occupied the block next to hipsters who held the next two blocks–white collar, Jewish, Vietnamese, and high end artists after that. At one point he said there were middle class white 20-somethings pushing strollers on one side of the street and elderly black women shuffling on the other. Not that I think we should partition ourselves off by race or occupation, but in the city of extremes and endless opportunity, entire blocks of people have separated into hyper-community.

Community finds a way.

But it's not possible without limitations. Two people deciding randomly from endless opportunity will rarely connect. In order to build community, you have to learn to say no, to limit the number of places you go, how often you move, even the number of people you spend time with (which maxes out at 150 by the way. It's called the Dunbar number).

So here are some suggestions.

  • Stay in the same place for more than 5 years at a time, it takes that long to really get plugged in.
  • Frequent small businesses (even if it does cost more money, you are paying for community and quality) that are closer to where you live.
  • Live close to your work, play, and worship. Driving 30 minutes to work, 30 minutes to friends, and 30 minutes to church, is exactly the sort of thing that makes solid community more difficult. It may mean you have to switch jobs, or move, or switch church communities. It may also mean that you have to leave something good behind in one of those categories, which is your call as to which one that is.
  • Pick less extras, and do them well. This one is most definitely for me. The more things I try to do, the more stretched my community becomes, and the more I end up just 'doing things' rather than experience life with others, which seems to be the thing we crave the most in life.
  • Fight for it. We live in what is called an associational society, which means that most of the people you interact with on a daily basis, your bank teller, your grocer, the guy at the Verizon store, are people that you don't know and have probably never met before (or don't remember meeting).If you aren't digging for community, you probably don't have very much of it.

Community is a Cup Made of 1,000 Mundane Drips

The Electric Brew (the coffee shop I work for/live at) opened today at it’s new location, across the street from the old spot. Since Courtney was scheduled to open, I dragged myself out of bed at 5 in order to come in with her. I’m glad I did. As the sun came up, I found myself looking for regulars like, Mike, Harv, Vera, and Rick–friendships that emerged out of a mutual love of coffee and this community we call the Brew. These connections of course didn’t happen over night; I can’t really tell you when they began. All I know is that a joke here and a comment there suddenly turned to this morning’s conversation about experiences with depression and why we so often wait till so late in life (sometimes till the very end of it) to be vulnerable with each other.

You see, community cannot be rushed. Even relationship suddenly forged in tragedy takes years to develop into something with lasting and dynamic substance. There is a checklist of oddities that must be worked through.

 

  • Someone must spill something on themselves. 
  • Someone must go on a significant geographical or emotional journey. 
  • Someone must make a life transition. 
  • Someone must offer a gesture of unwarranted kindness, or at least buy another a cup o’ joe–just because. 
  • Someone must lose someone close to them. 
  • There must be some sort of potentially relationship ending disagreement to work through. 
  • Some event of significance must happen to the community, or the nation–something unavoidably talkaboutable that affects all parties involved.

 

Then there is that line that must be traversed, an event often only recognized months after the fact.

A_small_cup_of_coffee

 Like a good cup of coffee, it takes a thousand seemingly insignificant drips to fill a steaming cup.

Consequently, it seems silly when we try to find ways to “create community” because it is so obviously simple, albeit mundane: spend a lot of sometimes awkward, uncomfortable, bumbling, mediocre time together, whether it seems important or not.

Wash, rinse, and repeat until you look up and find something has happened around you that you couldn’t have created on your own.

Two Minutes of Terror

4:30 a.m. I was wide awake with headphones in, wishing I could sleep. Five minutes later, still awake, now grateful I had pulled out the ear plugs. Our apartment and my heart were shaken by something falling in our bathroom. I called. No response.

It took me, by estimation of emotional hindsight, 35 to 40 minutes to reach our bathroom, where Courtney sat on the floor, eyes wide, staring to the left at the wall, mouth open as if struck by severe disbelief.

She would not respond.

I pulled her head forward. Her dilated eyes looking right at me. Again I called her name. No one was home.

I was on the phone with dispatch for another 35 to 40 minutes according to panicked husband standard time, Courtney still answering my questions with nothing more than a blank stare. In hindsight, finding her passed out on the floor would have been less terrifying.

"Do you need me to send an ambulance?" the woman on the other end said.

"Um. Courtney are you ok? Courtney." Nothing.

"Yes, send an ambulance. Courtney, an ambulance is coming."

She mumbled a bit, then tried to say, "I'm fine." Then bit by bit came to.

I rattled off a series of questions, the sort of thing I'd seen on any number of TV melodramas,

Where are you?

Who am I?

What did we do Yesterday?

My panic subsided with each correct answer. A ambulance ride, a cat scan, and my vending machine breakfast later, we were home with orders to rest. Cat scan showed no problems. It was probably a perfect storm of not feeling well the day before, not eating much, and her existing thyroid issues.

They didn't seem too worried. So that's that.

But there were three minutes stretched to eternity when the veneer of my polite little life was ripped off and I witnessed fragility and terror of our temporal existence in two fully dilated eyes. And all I could do was hug the shell of my love.

A Small Kindness

Chances are, you've probably made your life almost entirely about you. Seriously–think about how many of your scheduled events, obligations, and leisure activities are by and for you. It's natural. It's easy. It's us on autopilot.

Not trying to guilt you, I just want to make a suggestion.

Take a single hour sometime between now and when you die to do something for someone who has nothing specifically appealing to offer you in return.

460px-Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_-_A_Lunatic_behind_Bars_-_WGA10170There are a lot of very lonely people in the world–many for good reason, the sort of people who have spent a lifetime pushing others away by "saying it like it is." Or maybe they have been so thoroughly battered by others that they only know how to hate things and be wounded. Or maybe they have closed themselves off for so long that no one bothered to keep digging for their heart. In any case, believe it or not, there are people in your proximity who have gone days, weeks, even months without even a small voluntary kindness expressed toward them.

So maybe,

call them,

buy them lunch,

go visit them.

But I have to warn you, they might smell funny, or be a close talker, or a long talker, or a conspiracy theorist. They might want you to stay for another hour–or five.

But don't worry, this isn't about you anyway.

Running For Others

I.   When left to my own devices I'm rather sedentary –sleep till 10, sit all day, surf the web, trudge through moderate depression. In short, while I posthumously enjoy invigorating exercise, or a solid day's work, I'm much more of a slug than anything. And when I do muster the motivation to take on a massive project, getting off the couch takes more emotional jet fuel than the first fifty feet of a shuttle launch. And yet I find myself getting up earlier and getting more done than ever before.

Not that productivity is everything, or even a good reason.

II.   Courtney and I went for a jog the other day, which probably looked something like this. Neither of us have done much running lately (Courtney told me afterward that she hadn't run a complete mile in over 4 years). We both felt like quitting after the first block and a half.

Though my wife is a much healthier eater, and gets out more often than I do, I have a genetic advantage by way of long legs. As a result, I felt a responsibility to pace myself according to her needs.

Knowing that I had an extra breath or two on her, a quarter mile or so into the run I began popping off cheesy motivational lines like, "one foot in front of the other" and an underwhelming, "you can do it" or two. Funny thing was, whenever I did, the searing pain in my lungs subsided.

III.  I love molding ideas into something intriguing, rephrasing the unimaginative. I used to think it was for the thing itself, that I simply loved word-smithing (which I do); but when I write items I know won't see the light of day, I just don't seem to care as much. If I sit down to write a song for the heck of it, I don't pour in the same love for the craft and hope for the result.

IV. I feel best about what I'm doing when I think to myself, this might actually help someone. Not that I naturally crave that. On any given day, I make more me based than other based decisions. But the days I push past what comes naturally and get outside myself I end the day much happier, more productive, and far more grateful for the life I have.

"Oh, that's cute –for a first apartment."

A couple of years ago, as we were sitting in our little apartment, window air conditioner rattling away, a Christano's take-n-bake pizza in the oven with both sides rolled inward an inch so it could fit into the smallest oven with stovetop I've ever seen, my wife looked up from the book she was reading and stated as matter of fact, "You know, we have a really good life. I feel content." In the following months, that astonishing item was repeated with the same sentiment.

It was a bit like the first year of our marriage when I would with joy (or, depending on the day, horror) look at Courtney and say, "Huh. We're married. Isn't that weird?" And from time to time that phrase still gets repeated, an obvious but deep truth that we both know but feel the need to express to each other. It was like that.

But our newfound sense of satisfaction wasn't/isn't impervious. People have a way of using your shoulder as a rag, wiping discontentment off their own hands as they say something like, "Oh! This is cute for a first apartment."

I'm sure they mean well, but I can't tell you how many times we've had to resist the urge to explain that actually we've come to the place where we've realized that if we never moved out of this 600 square feet, we could still have a rich and full life. Not hypothetically. Actually.

The same goes for our employment. By North American standards, our income is meager. We both work at a coffee shop, and I give guitar lessons, a combined 60 hours or so a week. But contentment means that the insurance on our no-payment, 12 year old cars, frees us up to pay cash for repairs, have health insurance, and work at a job that allows moments like the other day when our commute to work was a ten minute early morning walk –and yes, we were holding hands. Again we had one of those, "huh, this is a good life", moments.

I'm not saying this to toot my own horn. Well, maybe a bit. I often have mixed motives. But more than that, this is an encouragement for those who find themselves strangely and awkwardly content. You probably have enough voices shaming you to want more and need someone to say, "No. It's perfectly alright to be weird. You are allowed to be thoroughly satisfied with whatever you do or don't have. You aren't the first, and you won't be the last."

 

 

 

 

 

When I Should On Others....

Should deals in unfulfillable expectations. It denotes disappointment. Should is rarely, if ever, satisfied.

"They should have..."

"I should have..."

The past tense version of should is particularly nasty. It's a pit made by Vietnamese guerilla fighters with ankle piercing bamboo spikes; it wasn't built to let people go.

When I "should have" on another or myself, what I'm really saying is, "I'm disappointed in you." "You failed." "Had you been good enough you would have..."

Not that there isn't a time and a place for expectations. But should doesn't give me hope for the future; it locks me into a forever disappointed version of the past.

Forgive me for the times I have (and will) should on you. Old habits die hard.

I really should have been more thoughtful.

 

Once You've Won The Gold...

...there isn't really anywhere else to go. Unless of course we someday find lifeforms on Mars that enjoy running 100 meters for the heck of it. We all peak, most long before we die. Michael Jordan's jump shot won't be winning any more rings. Bill Gates continues to make billions but it's not as if he's offered the world something revolutionary in the past 10 years.

For me, when I do well, raising the bar can create paranoia. "What if such and such was the single greatest accomplishment in my life?" Monday's post, which I'm proud of, struck a nerve with people and became an acute virus, just under 900 hits in 3 days. I barely get 900 hits most months. Minuscule yes. But in terms of my own writing, it is my greatest accomplishment to date. And it has readjusted my notions of what it means to succeed. A level I won't likely reach in the coming months. It might be years before that sort of lightening strikes again. And if I'm not careful it will taint my writing method: slow and steady–singles not home runs.

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I used to feel sorry for has-been rock stars. As if they were somehow now pathetic for still existing. When Steppenwolf come to the Linn County fair when I was a kid, I saw them as desperate old men trying to relive glory days. Maybe they were, or maybe they hadn't wrapped their identity around being a rock star. Maybe they didn't do it for the success. Maybe they just loved it whether they played for ten or ten thousand. I felt sorry for them because I was the one tying up my own identity in aspirations.

Weeks like this remind me of the pitfalls of success, that accolade is short lived and long forgotten, that even the most severely talented will someday go the way of the Buffalo, that identity wrapped around something so paltry as our accomplishments is a setup for disappointment.

 

A Cure For Anxiety

Maybe cure is too a strong word. But here it is anyway.

Be more interested in other people.

In a survey done on me by me. 100% of respondents actually felt less anxiety when they were doing things that directly benefitted others, even if that action made the respondent's life more difficult.

AnxietyIt's partly perspective. If you pay attention you might not be the only one having a bad day, or financial worries, or toe fungus.

But it's also purpose.

Because I really don't think we are happiest when life revolves around us. We think so, but in the same way that every time I pass the golden arches I think that a Quarter

Pounder would really hit the spot. It hits a spot, just not the one I intended.

The happiest people I know are those who find joy in serving others, making their life better. If you are that person, you will never be unnecessary.