Saturday, May 28, 2016

Finish Strong

Pixel #3: ...?

Ok.  Writer's block.  Kind of.

I've been working on the Pixel #3 post off and on all month.  It was a post I started back in 2014 and never finished, so I picked it up again at the beginning of May.  Frustratingly, though I have plenty of thoughts and content, I can't get it to come together.  A more accomplished/experienced blogger would have moved on to something else in order to revisit it another time, but "accomplished/experienced blogger" doesn't accurately describe me and finishing is something in which I take pride.  So, instead,  I plowed ahead for 4 weeks writing and rewriting.  The fruit of this persistence?  I still have a two-year-old, unfinished post, haven't posted for a month, and am moving on anyway.  (Inexperienced and prideful are not the best of attributes.)

However, I did move on finally this week.  I still can't get that post to come together, but moving on caused me to think about why I have such a hard time doing it.  And it really boils down to what I alluded to above: I am a finisher.

Pixel #4: Finishing

I don't know if I am a hard worker, but I am definitely a finisher.  That isn't to say that I don't work hard.  I do, but it is the finishing that drives me.  Work is just the means to get there.  Work isn't to be feared or avoided.  It is to be embraced.  It gets you where you want to go.  But work for the sake of work?  Value in work in and of itself?  That's always been harder for me.

building a deck for my future in-laws
My dad stressed(s) the value of hard work with us.  He stressed not setting limits on what you may accomplish through effort and determination and perseverance.  Earning the moniker "hard worker" is among the best compliments you can receive from him.  Somehow though, whether my dad emphasized it, or it was implied, or I just connected the dots between work and finishing, I definitely picked up finishing as a value as well, or maybe instead.

I'm not sure how it happened, but, at some point, I concluded that work done without finishing is just dust in the wind.  It is meaningless.  A hard working sculptor who sweats over a mass of granite, who hammers and chisels chunks off of the whole, has done nothing more meaningful than the sledge hammer wielding prisoner in a quarry if he doesn't see the work to completion.  If the sculptor doesn't finish, he hasn't brought art out of stone.  He has only smashed rock.  Similarly, a runner that races the mile and stops after one lap hasn't run the race.  It doesn't matter how well she did up till that point.  Even if she worked her hardest, ran herself to exhaustion, and was in the lead when she stopped, stopping, not finishing, negates the effort.  Success in the race is only measured of the finishers.  Hard work is important, but only in the context of finishing, because the value of the work is directly measured by the value of the finished product that the work produces.

Right?

As I said, I'm not sure exactly when I figured this out, but I do know one of the experiences that shaped this belief.  When I was six years old or so, my dad signed me and my brother up for a track program called Rainbow Runners.  We went to a couple of practices, and because I didn't like running (still don't), I decided that my event would be the shortest one: the 100 yard dash.  Also, I was pretty fast, so I figured I'd do well (because being one of the fasted of the 19 kids in my 1st grade class clearly should translate to winning a city-wide sprinting competition).  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Not Bubble Wrap

This is the time of year when school starts to wind down for us (yesterday was Emy's last day of 8th grade!) and I begin to think about our plans for next year. Every year, Joel and I take a look at each of our kids, determine needs and goals and attempt to chart a course that best fits them and our family. It is also the time of year where I reflect on how I've come up short, failed to meet an objective or have done a disservice to one or all of my kids. Since I have also had quite a few people ask me over the past several weeks about why we homeschool and to avoid the ever spiraling "I could have done better" narrative, I thought this the perfect time to document the "why" of our homeschool journey.

Joel and I are both "trained" school teachers. I have my elementary teaching certificate and he has his secondary teaching certificate. We both spent about 5 years teaching in the public schools and neither of us ever imagined that we would wind up homeschooling our kids. I remember when Rylee was about 4, Joel asked if I would ever consider homeschooling. My answer was a clear "NO WAY!" Or as Joel recalls "Over my dead body!" Either way, I knew she and I would butt heads and was convinced that she would never be able to learn from me.

Rylee started Kindergarten at a small private school, Providence Christian School and Joel and I were involved from day one. Joel was part of the board and I had the opportunity to help choose curriculum, write objectives, and train teachers. The small class sizes, loving teachers and Christ centered education was precious and the lessons we learned during that season are for another post. But like with many, homegrown, grassroots, types of things, our numbers dwindled and the school closed its doors when Rylee and Emy were in 4th and 2nd grade respectively. I had spent that last school year visiting different schools in the area and none fit the specific type of education that I was seeking for my kids. I had had a few friends that already dipped their toe in the homeschooling waters and after lots of prayer, I knew I could at least give it a try.

I have such wonderful, fond memories of those first few years of homeschooling. 5th grade, 3rd grade, kindergarten and a toddler. (Jack and Halle are actually just finishing 2nd and 4th grade and it is crazy to feel like I am beginning the journey all over.) During those early days, we had so much time. We were no longer bound by someone else's schedule. The kids could sleep in, stay in their jammies for the morning, I didn't have to pack lunches everyday or make sure the uniforms were clean and accounted for. As the kids have grown and their stages of life change, Joel and I revisit the homeschooling conversation often. But at the end of the day, we come back to the same conclusion, homeschooling is best for our family.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Live Like You Are Alive

(For an explanation of what I mean by pixels and pixel #1, go here)

Pixel #2: Living Isn’t Not Dying.

That may not seem to be the most mind-blowing statement, but I don't think many people get this.  I know that when I reflect, this isn't how I actually view life, and from what I observe in others, I don’t think I’m alone. And while it isn't completely clear to me, I’m pretty sure I’m on to something here. 

It’s like when you are heading out the door to the zoo so your son (I'll call him Johnny) can go see Simba (all lions are Simba).  Before you leave, you check your bag for the 3rd time because you’re sure you’ve forgotten something, but everything looks right, so you apprehensively head out anyway. Sometime about three hours later, you’re standing next to the lion exhibit with Johnny wishing that the obnoxious family with the ice cream would quit showing up at the same exhibits and proceeding to the front of the viewing area as if all you were there for was to hold their places while they stopped at another snack kiosk about which you just told your son “no” for the 347th time.  You’ve spent the last 20 minutes standing in the sun trying to point out how that dirt colored lump differs from the rest of the dirt colored surroundings, convincing Johnny the aforementioned dirt colored, inanimate blob that looks like a discarded carpet remnant is actually the same animal as Disney’s majestic movie star, and internally cursing these big cats for acting like, well, big cats.  You are on the verge of giving up on the lions and caving in to the repeated requests for ice cream, partly due to the futility of the lion-spotting exercise and partly because while standing on the pavement, in the sun, arguing with Johnny, your body temperature has risen to 103.7 degrees, when you triumphantly notice movement: the subtle, (can I say catlike?) twitch of a feline ear.   But as you are asking Johnny if he has noticed the smoking gun in your case for the existence of the lions (because an ear twitch has now become the equivalent of Simba roaring from a rocky ledge while Elton John sings in the background), you notice that Johnny has long since ceased watching the mound of dirt that his parents have been lying to him about.  Instead, his covetous stare is directed at the bratty girl with the ice cream, which just about pushes you over the edge into the oblivion of insanity when he says, “My skin hurts.”

“Oh, #@%!  I forgot the sunscreen,” you say.  To which the obnoxious family with the ice cream glares disapprovingly at your clear lack of parenting skill and ushers their daughter away to protect her sensitive ears.

So, just like when you know you are forgetting something on the way to the zoo, I’m pretty sure I’m on to something here.  And here it is.  Drum roll.

All of us die.  Death is part of life.  But unlike death which none of us choose and which will happen to each of us whether we like it or not; unlike death you have to choose to live.

Okay, this probably needs some unpacking. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Time to Post Again

It’s been over a year and a half since I posted.

When I looked back at my last post, I was surprised that it had been that long since I last wrote.  The past 20 months feel like they have flown by.  It doesn’t feel like nearly two years.  We all understand this relative nature of time, because regardless of what our clocks say, regardless of how we talk about time, for each of us, it flows at different speeds and those speeds are determined by our perception. 

We usually associate time moving quickly with fun, but the past year and a half didn’t pass in a time-flies-when-you’re-having-fun way.  In part, it went quickly because I’m getting older, and I no longer catalog life by how many Gilligan’s Islands I can watch in a given amount of time. 

When I was eight, 30 minutes (about the time of one episode of Gilligan’s Island) was a long time. I would watch the clock in school with 20 minutes till recess and tell myself that it wasn’t very long.  I’d say, “If you started Gilligan’s Island right now, you’d be running out on the field about the time the professor makes a nuclear powered blender out of a banana and some palm fronds.  It’s not that long. Really.”  But it was.  It was an eternity.  And even though the long awaited recess was equally 20 minutes long, those 20 minutes were criminally short.  The bell seemed to ring ending recess before they even finished the song.  “…the professor aaand Mary Aaa… Brrrriiiiiiiiinnnnnngggggg!” Try telling an eight year old that time is constant.  He knows it isn’t true.

I’m not eight anymore.  Life no longer passes in stranded-boater-chunks. It now passes weeks and months at a time.  It passes with seasons and estimated tax payments and Super Bowls and Presidential cycles.  Even TV doesn’t pass in nice 30 minute segments anymore. With Netflix, I now measure television in entire seasons or series, but that doesn’t mean that my sense of time is now more accurate.

I had my teeth cleaned this morning.  It went really well.  No issues.  In and out in 25 minutes, but that doesn’t really tell the story does it? In the context of my inner eight year old, it felt like the equivalent the entire Gilligan’s Island series, all 98 episodes, twice. 

The cycle is the same every time:  I recline in the chair and tell myself to relax.  I willfully release the tension from my feet; then my legs; my hands; my shoulders; my head and neck… Oh crap!  Sorry.   I open my mouth back up.  I try not to gag on the saliva pooling in the back of my throat.  I ignore the hygienist scraping the plaque off my teeth with that tiny tool made of discarded chalkboards.  I hope that on the next pass, her little pick will slide cleanly between my teeth rather than catching again and threatening to pry two of my incisors off the bone. (I actually don’t think my gums are receding.  I think my teeth are just yanked slightly farther out of my gums during each cleaning.) About this time I realize there isn’t any blood in my hands.  Somehow, even though I’m not gripping anything, I have rigidly contracted all the muscles below my elbows to the extent that I can feel the blood flowing back into my palms as I force them to loosen.  So, I tell myself to relax.  I willfully release the tension from my feet; then my legs…

I also think time passed quickly between posts because the recently, my life has been characterized by a lot of growth and thinking.  Whether with my wife, or my small group, or my counselor, I’ve been working through a lot of “stuff”.  Some of it spiritual.  Some of it relational.  All of it personal. And even though I may still have the sense of humor of an eight year old boy (because every man does), I know my wife would agree that I’ve grown up a decent amount in the past year or two.

So, with all that elapsed, when I tried to encapsulate it into a post, I drew a blank.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of anything.  It was more like when you get too close to a video projected on a big screen and all you see are the pixels.  I think there is something there if I can step far enough back, but right now, I’m still seeing the pixels.

It’s been several weeks since I started thinking about this post (approximately equivalent to 2 Gilligan’s Islands), and I’m still struggling.  So, because I couldn’t compose something out of all the bits of information, I decided to write several posts about the pixels and hope they coalesce into a coherent image.  Since I already started, pixel #1 is time.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Rest

Have you read Jen Hatmaker's new book, "For the Love?" Other than "What is your Myer's Brigg's personality type?" or "What is in your backseat?", this is my favorite question these days.  I have wanted to read this book since its release but was too cheap to buy something that I knew I would devour in no time. So I put a hold on the book at the library and waited for my number to come up. After reading the first chapter, I was wishing I had purchased it so I could highlight, underline and star all the nuggets she offers in this book.

I am loving this book for so many reasons. One, it is hysterical! Laugh out loud funny! I have even had my kids read certain parts aloud in the car, or at the ballet studio. I have shared pieces with Joel. Jen is so funny and so spot on, it is hard not to want to share with everyone you come into contact with. Two, her nuggets are meaningful. Her chapters on marriage, children, aging, church offer deep thoughts to ponder, choices to be made and actions to be taken.

My favorite chapter so far has been the first one. In this chapter, Jen addresses the issue of women (most likely all of us) that try to do it ALL. She likens this life, this balancing act, to doing a trick on the balance beam. Her conclusion is that not everything fits on the beam, not every trick is worthy of being rehearsed, not every gig is worthy of our time and attention. This has really struck me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In our backyard

I love homeschooling our kids. Don't get me wrong, though, this journey has been far from perfect and has had almost as many challenges as successes. But overall, homeschooling fills my cup. I love being the one to chart the course of learning for my kids. I love that my finger prints are the ones that are imprinted over the hours of the day. I love that there is time during the day to process character issues. Now, I don't do all the teaching. We attend co op's and online classes, ballet and basketball, music classes, etc. One because I don't know everything (spoiler alert) and two because Joel and I are always looking for ways to have other adults speak life and truth into our kids' lives.

The last couple of years of school have been especially challenging with Jack. Jack is very smart, curious, creative, inventive but has struggled, really struggled in the area of reading. Each one of our kids has read at a different age and I have learned along the way that kids will read when they are ready to read. I have tried countless programs with Jack to no avail. I have looked at myself long and hard in the mirror and wondered if it was me. Am I not disciplined enough to spend the consistent time with him that it will take to have him read? Am I not skilled enough to teach actual reading? Maybe with the girls I just got lucky? Finally after a long summer of really being consistent and pushing through, Joel and I decided to take Jack for a learning assessment. When we sat down and looked at him as an overall kid, there were pieces for us that weren't lining up.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What's up these days

These days I have been obsessed with Podcasts. I am not sure when or where I made the discovery but I am so glad that I did. Each time I start to clean my house, fold the laundry, take a long drive in the car by myself or prepare a meal, I throw in my earbuds and tune into a Podcast. It makes the time go by quickly and I feel like I learn something new each time.

I started with The Simple Show by Tsh Oxenreider. I have been a faithful follower of Tsh and her ideas of simplifying life for a few years. Emails would come into my inbox and introduce a new podcast and I would delete it not knowing where to start or how to access it. Finally, one day I just decided to click on my podcast app on my phone (comes pre-installed, who knew?) and give it a shot. As my kids and husband would tell you, since then I've become a little (or maybe a lot) addicted. Halle has even started listening to Webkinz Podcasts on her iPod. She came home from cheerleading and let me know that NONE of her friends had ever listened to a podcast. My little trendsetter!

Tsh's show led me to The Sorta Awesome Show with Megan Tietz and three of her sorta awesome friends. I love listening to their show! It is like sitting down and having coffee with girlfriends. They dish on their "sorta awesome of the week," goals, confessions, books, holidays, birthday parties, tv, you name it. I look forward each week to their new podcast.

But the area I have become most enthralled with and the reason and I am back to take a stab at blogging is the podcast called Personality Hacker. Megan mentions in her show (actually almost every show) her obsession with Myers Briggs personality types. One day she talked about the Personality Hacker podcast and how it has helped her with personal growth. I was instantly drawn to this show and really can't get enough of it. It feeds right into the part of my brain that led to my psychology degree.