A Vision Of Two Worlds

I missed last week’s post.  I’m in danger of missing this week’s as well.  There’s so much to do…

When I was laid-off in February, I didn’t anticipate how busy I would be in unemployment.  In the last two weeks, I spent a day’s time applying for food stamps and almost two days reapplying for financial aid for our two college-aged children.  And then there’s the job search, which has settled into a frustrating daily effort.

I’m working harder now than I have in years, but with very little to show for my efforts so far.  In fact, this is the answer to the question I posed in the last post:

I’m not unemployed, I’m under-compensated.

Compensation can be corrected – that’s the good news.

Unfortunately, I can’t correct it all by myself.  That’s the crux of my challenge; my problem, my opportunity to grow.

I’ve enjoyed the extra time I’ve had at home with my family over the past two months.  Our relationships are growing stronger, and the flexibility in my schedule is a real benefit.  It’s exciting to envision all the new career paths available to me with my friends and family.  These have been mountain-top experiences.

But I still find it daunting to reach out to “weak” network connections.  When exploring potential leads not perfectly in alignment with my previous career tract, I drag my feelings of lack and self-doubt with me into the conversations.  I stack the deck against myself before I even pick up the phone.  The truth be told, sometimes I lose faith in myself and don’t even make the call, unwilling to risk possible rejection.  A valley like that can feel very deep indeed.

I’m trapped between two visions of competing worlds.  In one, we’re all connected at a deep level, sharing one spirit, brothers and sisters working together in peace and strength.  Success comes through our connections, providing an abundance that is mutually shared and beneficial.

The other world is a far darker place, dog-eat-dog, where our success comes at the expense of others.  Those others I see as my competitors at best, my enemies in my weaker moments.  I fear they hold a power over me that keeps me from fulfilling my purpose on this earth.

These two worlds are mutually exclusive.  They cannot both exist.  One is true, the other is false.  Yet I’ve experienced both over my lifetime.  And I continue to vacillate between the two, with more and more frequency.

A loving person lives in a loving world.  A hostile person lives in a hostile world.  Everyone you meet is your mirror.  — Ken Keyes Jr.

The time has now come to choose.  I made a plan in share group today with my friend Jim.  Starting today, I plan to reach out each day to at least one person that challenges my comfort.  In this way, I will test whether I can perceive the Savior that faith tells me is in each one of us. I share this plan with you so that you can hold me accountable.

May we all behold the light that others hold out for us.


Stories From Unemployment – 4

Graduation Cake Guy image by CarbonNYC.  Click image to see his entire photostream.

"Graduation Cake Guy" image by CarbonNYC. Click image to see his entire photostream.

Earlier this week, I heard a news report stating the last time the national unemployment rate was this bad was back in the early 1980’s.  I graduated from college in 1983, at the height of the Reagan recession.  I had no interest in pursuing a graduate degree, and there were very few recruiters who visited our campus that year.  Consequently, I found myself at the end of my senior year saying goodbye to my friends and heading back to my parent’s home with no job prospects and no idea what to do next.

My time back home only lasted about a week before my mother was counseling me, “Douglas, I love you, but there’s nothing here for you anymore.  You need to go back to Alfred.  Get an apartment.  Get a part-time job.  Take some art course if you’d like, but keep in contact with your profession there.”

And that’s just what I did.

The Fifth Year of College

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about that extra year I spent at Alfred University.  I supported myself working at the sub shop, selling some short-run custom pottery pieces, and working as a lab assistant.  I even did some substitute teaching in my old high school during the Christmas break – the horror.

When I graduated from high school, I had a dual college prep / art major.  I decided to pursue a degree in engineering for the financial security that career offered.  You can always be a full-time engineer and a part-time artist, I figured, but it doesn’t work so well the other way around. The price of that promised security was four solid years of math, science, and technical course work that left me feeling empty in spite of my academic success.

I made it through my college years by taking every art option I could.  I even discovered a model design and mold making elective that could be counted for either art or engineering credit.  Wally Higgins, the instructor of that industrial pottery arts course, didn’t fit comfortably into either school.  His class was considered too rigid by the artists, too low-tech by the engineers.  I was drawn to him as a kindred spirit.  I even took my senior thesis under him.

When I returned for my fifth year, Wally accepted me as a lab assistant, and helped me get into a number of upper level art courses most engineering students couldn’t access.  I took advanced drawing, neon, sculpture, and glass courses.  Here at last was my opportunity to unleash my creativity.  I should have been in heaven.

Instead, I was miserable.  I judged myself a failure.  All my college friends were either working or enrolled in graduate school.  Why didn’t I work harder to find a job?  Why didn’t I apply for grad school? I allowed myself no satisfaction in my art work.  I’m an engineer, I thought.  I don’t belong in these classes.

The only accomplishments I valued were the dozens of job applications I generated over the long winter months.  But even that work was frustrating: I rarely received acknowledgement the letters had been received.  It was seven months before I got my first job interview.

The tide finally broke my way in May of 1984.  I landed two job offers, and left with great relief for my first job choice in Syracuse, happy to have the long year at Alfred finally behind me.

It took several years before I realized just how badly I had missed the opportunities of that fifth year.  I was supporting myself and doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, but my self-judgements turned a potential heaven into a hell.  No one considered me a failure but me, still that was all it took.  I cut myself off from the support and friendship that was mine for the asking.

I looked past all I had, and focused on what I felt I lacked.  I reaped the bitter harvest that I sowed.

All This Has Happened Before…

And now, twenty-five years later, I’ve been tempted to fall back into the same trap again.

I learned Friday from the hiring manager for the job I wrote about in the last post that his company just went through a down-sizing earlier that week.  They’re filling that position with an internal candidate from another division to avoid one more lay-off.

He was very kind to call me, and I felt well-treated through the whole experience, but as the weekend dragged on the stormy weather outside mirrored my internal frame of mind.  Now what do I do? I brooded.  There are other applications out, but no real prospects on the horizon.

Thankfully, the quote in my planner Monday morning helped me start to turn my thinking around:

I have learned to live each day as it comes, and not to borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow.  It is dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us. — Dorothy Dix

When I stopped and took stock of all we have, instead of what I lack, I couldn’t help but feel deep gratitude, and peace, and hope.

I enjoy the support of my family and we’ve grown closer over the past month than ever before.  We’re making ends meet financially with the full family’s cooperation and a little assistance from the government.  This experience has also helped me to see how many good friends I have, far more than I would have guessed before the lay-off.

For the first time since I took that first job in Syracuse, the possibilities for my career are wide open.  I limited myself during that fifth year at Alfred by thinking of myself as an unemployed engineer.  In fact, I further limited myself by thinking of that time as my fifth year of college instead of as the first year in my career.

And the world I experienced mirrored the internal thoughts I held closest to my heart.

So, some changes are in order.  This will be the last post titled “Stories From Unemployment.”  I’m excited for what the future holds, and unwilling to carry the “unemployed” label anymore.  Any suggestions you have for new titles for this series would be appreciated, but please don’t suggest the dreaded “seeking opportunities elsewhere.”

Where will my career go – writing, consulting, free lancing, teaching, full-time employment, or some blend of each?  I don’t honestly know at this point.  I’m on a journey of discovery. But I’ll find the answer with the help of my friends and our extended network.  These relationships will show me the way.  They’re the most important asset I have on this journey.

Ultimately, our relationships are all we truly have, or need.

Mind Your Pace

It has now been a little over a week since the layoff.  300 people were let go over two days.  One of them was my friend Brad, who used to work in the IT Department.  The two of us immediately decided to form a support group.

I don’t know how I would have gotten through the past 9 days without Brad’s help.  It’s incredible how many things need to be done when you’re unemployed.  We’ve got each other’s back, so nothing important falls through the cracks.

Brad and I are working harder now than we have in years, we’re just not getting paid for it.  Since we were let go on Ash Wednesday, we joke about giving up being paid for our work for Lent.  Of course, all work looking for a job and no fun will make Doug and Brad crazy-psycho nuts, unsuitable for hiring.

So we agreed to go for a hike in the woods by my house this past Thursday.  We could catch up on our progress while getting some exercise and also get out from under our wives’ feet, so they could both have a break from us – a tri-fecta!

It was clear and cool as we headed up over the hill and down the trail into the Forrey Preserve.  Perfect hiking weather.  Since Brad had never hiked these woods, I led the way, choosing the trails to lead him past some of my favorite areas.

We spoke of what we had been doing the past several days, and  I told Brad how frustrated I was at the pace of my progress.  I hadn’t applied to any jobs yet.  Heck, I was just getting started updating my resume.

As we walked and talked, I discovered I needed to slow my pace a fair amount to avoid leaving Brad behind. “You’re not going to get much of a workout at this pace,” a voice nagged from the back of my mind.

So be it, I decided.  It was too nice a day and I was enjoying our time together too much to worry about whether I worked up a sweat or not.

“It sure is a nice day to be unemployed,” Brad said, as if reading my mind.  The sun shone brightly on the naked branches of the trees, their light gray tips glowing in contrast against the deep blue sky.

Brad has been a computer geek for as long as I’ve know him, but he actually went to school for anthropology, and he worked several years doing archeological field work on local Native people.  As we walked along the trails at his pace, his eyes were always scanning our surroundings.  He paused often to pick something up or to point something out, each time explaining to me what he had found.

I began to understand just how much I had missed by hurrying through the woods at my normal pace.

Brad found a “fire-cracked” stone.  He explained how the Natives didn’t have cook pots that could be heated directly on a fire.  Instead, they cooked by heating stones in the fire and then dropping them into a stew or a soup.  The thermal shock to the stone would often break it, making an edge that resembled a dull axe.

Brad found bits of stone not native to the area, carried there by others in times gone by.  He pointed out an old, shallow trench where someone had mined a small vein of coal.  He spoke of Civil War times, how Ohio had been completely strip-forested to make charcoal for the foundries in the Ohio River valley to make weapons for the Union army.  He explained how the ravines we were passing, like the rest throughout Ohio, were so much steeper than they would have been because of the ecological damage from the run-off of this deforestation.

Brad also showed me the best places to look for arrowheads when I told him I had never found one before.  “Freshly plowed fields are usually the best places to look,” he said, “but in the woods you can find them in the roots of a downed tree.”

At the top of the next hill we found a number of trees that had been blown over by a recent storm.  We wandered like little boys from root ball to root ball, scraping at the dirt, examining everything we unearthed with the solemn focus that only occurs in play.

We continued down the branching trails, my pace now matching his better as I listened to his stories, and that’s when I found it.  There where the trail curved to follow the edge of a ravine just a hundred yards up from the river, I stooped to pick up a bright-white stone nestled in a patch of moss in the middle of the path.

“That’s a piece of Flint Ridge flint that they made into a core,” Brad said.  “See the sharpened edges.  They would have used this to make flint tools like arrowheads.”

Score! I thought, but Brad was looking intently around us.

“I bet this used to be a Native campsite,” he said.  “It’s elevated, so it would have been dry.  The ravine makes it defensible, there’s water nearby, and you can see a long way in all directions.”

I had been past this spot a half-dozen times, but I had never noticed it, nor seen the flint core, in my haste.  I followed Brad into the heart of the ancient campsite, imitating him as he carefully searched under the fallen leaves and around the tree bases.  Before long, he found another flake of white flint.  Then he found a solid black flake.

“This one’s from West Virginia,” he said, handing it to me to examine.  He said another flake of dark gray flint was probably from the Coshocton, OH area.

Now that I knew how to look, I discovered several more flint pieces.  I pocketed my first piece and another large Flint Ridge flake to take home as trophies.  Brad was content to leave his finds where they had been dropped by their original Native owners.

It was the same forest I had hiked scores of times before, but it was a completely different experience, simply by slowing my pace.  I would have passed right by the treasures we found had it been up to me.

I realized in that moment that this was the answer to my job search worries as well.  I’ve been staying focused on the present, following the “flow” minute by minute, working on the top priority of the moment.  In the past week, communicating with my friend, and especially with my family, had been the biggest priority.  They needed to share their concerns and fears, and even their anger.  They needed me to listen to their ideas, to understand their viewpoint, and to share the strength I’ve been receiving with them.

In my heart, I have a sense of peace that I am fulfilling my role since the layoff.  Worry crept in only when I started comparing myself to others, or worse yet, to what I judged I should be doing based on past experience.  I never would have found the treasures in relationships I’ve experienced over the past week listening to that nagging voice in my head.  There wouldn’t have been time moving at his pace.

Yet the miracle this Saturday morning, just two days later, is I have those treasures and good progress on the job search.  There are two solid job applications out in two different fields with two tailored resumes, updated profiles on internet job boards, and a number of other potential leads in the hopper.

There’s still so much to do, but I’m happy to be experiencing the peace that comes from heeding the pace that comes from our higher Source.  My prayer is for you to share this same peace.  May you have faith in the pace He asks of you.

We’re Going Home

It was late May, 1982 and I was sitting on a wooden bench at a roadside bus stop in a small Italian town.  In my mind, the Beatles’ song “Two Of Us” was playing on repeat loop as I silently watched the traffic lurch and weave, honk and gesture in that aggressive way Italian drivers have perfected.

I was twenty-one at the time and halfway through my seven-month study abroad trip.  This was my third journey into Italy.  My travel partner this time was John Edmund, a fellow exchange student from Alfred University and the valedictorian of our class.  John and I “knew” each other in a small college kind of way, but we weren’t particularly close.

Let’s Visit Uncle Joe

It was John’s fault that we were sitting there waiting for a bus.  John and I had been sharing a room in the international student dormitory for the past month.  As our mid-term holiday approached, John surprised me by asking if I’d travel with him to Italy. 

I remember agreeing with some reluctance.  I had a poor opinion of Italy; I felt it was dirty and coarse.  I preferred the clean and punctual northern-European countries.  Still, I had no better plans for the holiday, and I knew the loneliness of travelling alone.

We had travelled first to Florence, then to Rome, and it had been a good trip so far.  The art, the architecture, the history – I was seeing a better side of Italy.  Even the bustle of the city streets and the volitile way the Italians acted seemed less threatening to me.  I had to admit, it had been a good trip, right up until that morning when John said, “Let’s go visit my great-uncle Joseph.”

“Who?” I asked, my mind still struggling to shake off the last cobwebs of sleep.  Uncle Joe was John’s grandfather’s brother.  He lived in a town not far away from where we were staying in Rome.  John had met Uncle Joe once back when John was a young boy. 

I asked some further questions, alarm rising in the pit of my stomach, and John replied: no, he hadn’t kept contact with Uncle Joe after that visit; no, Uncle Joe didn’t know that John was currently in Europe; yes, he was sure that Uncle Joe would remember him and would love to have us visit.

This did not sound like a good idea to me.  Being self-sufficient and shy to a fault, I was sure that John’s distant relatives would want very little to do with him, and nothing to do with me.  I tried to explain my concerns to John, but my words just weren’t getting through.  The idea of visiting his ancestral home had taken hold on him.  There was no stopping him from going to visit his great-uncle, and I couldn’t keep myself from going along too, as if sucked along in his wake.


We had to take a local train to a small town to catch a bus to his Uncle’s even smaller town.  By the time John led me to the bus stop, I had resigned myself to a painful death by embarrassment.  No doubt I’d burst into flames under the withering stares of a group of Italian strangers as they guarded their home from the unwelcome American stranger.  The final straw came when John read the posted bus schedule and commented that there was only one bus to his Uncle’s village scheduled for that day.

“My mind screamed, “You’ve got no way back to Rome tonight!  Leave!  Now!  Before it’s too late.”

John sat down on the bench to wait for the bus.  Then a strange thing happened: my butt sat down next to John.

This surprised me so much that my thoughts were stunned into silence.  For half a minute, maybe more, all was still in my mind.  Then quietly, that Beatles’ song rose out of my memory, its words half remembered, its melody soothing and calming me.

…Two of us sunday driving/ not arriving/ on our way back home.

We’re on our way home.

We’re on our way home.

We’re going home.

 That song played like a theme song for me as we waited on the bench for the bus.  It played as we rode that bus, watching all the other passengers exit until only the two of us and the driver remained.  The bus climbed up steep mountain roads, weaving between pastures and fields as we drove far out into the countryside.  Finally, our bus turned off the country road and onto a lane made of ancient stone pavers, turning a corner and coming to a stop in a small town plaza circled by a dozen stone houses.

John was out the bus door as soon as it openned.  I made my way off the bus at a more reasonable pace.  By the time I stepped down from the bus, John was already surrounded by two dozen people.  Half the town had turned out to gawk at the strangers from the bus. 

John was valiantly wading through the crowd pointing at a piece of paper he was holding with his great uncle’s name written on it and asking, “Do you know my Uncle Joe?”  No one in the crowd spoke English, not that it mattered that much.  It was all but impossible to hear anybody speaking over the noise and bluster of the gathering crowd.  We were apparently the most excitement that these villagers had seen in a long time.  More doors were opening, more people were joining the fray.

Then, just when all looked lost, a young man not much older than us was hustled into the center of the crowd where we stood.  The crowd grew quieter as he explained that he was attending the university and was studying English.  Then he listened as John explained why we were there. 

It took a couple of tries, he wasn’t used to John’s American accent, but eventually the man’s eyes grew wide, and he turned and spoke to the crowd in Italian.  They roared and cheered.  He turned back to us and explained that yes, Uncle Joe lived in their village.  John was also related to the English speaking man and a good portion of the crowd there in the plaza.

Uncle Joe was the Postmaster.  He was hurried out to the plaza and he greeted both John and I as long-lost family.  It was immediately decided that they would shut down the post office and the town one store early, and prepare a feast for us.  The women in the crowd bustled off to their homes to prepare the meal.  Meanwhile, some of the men and a number of curious boys gave us a grand tour of the town, which dated back to early Roman times.

Soon it was time to eat, and we sat crowded around a long table with at least twenty of John’s relatives.  We had a tasty, traditional Italian meal: pasta as the first course, meat for the second, and wine through out.  What a happy gathering!  We bonded quickly with our new-found family.  By the end of the meal, we were laughing at each others’ jokes, correctly interpreting them through hand gestures and inflection before John’s cousin could interpret.

That visit meant more to me than I could express at the time.  John’s family welcomed a stranger into their home and adopted him as a son.  Years later, their open acceptance stands out clearest of all of my travelling memories.  I couldn’t repay their gift to me, I couldn’t even properly thank them, but I’ll always remember them.  And perhaps it’s not too late to work at taking after my adopted side of the family.

Teaching And Learning Abundance

Image by permission of KM Cheng, Hong Kong

Image by permission of KM Cheng, Hong Kong

I just got the good news Friday: I’ve been selected to be one of the Scoutmasters for the Simon Kenton Council contingent to the 2010 National Boy Scout Jamboree.  I am so excited!  For twenty-five years I’ve been associated with the Boy Scouts as both a youth and an adult leader, but this will be the first time that I’ve ever participated in anything beyond the local council level.

And I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead a group of young men and their adult leaders on such a meaningful experience.  Over the next two years we’ll work hard to develop into a unit that can represent our council with honor.  Several of the scouts in our troop, including my youngest son Derek, have signed up for the Jamboree.  It’s going to be a memorable adventure.

There is one small challenge however, the current estimated cost of attending the Jamboree for our central-Ohio contingent is $1,400 per attendee, leaders included.  Derek and I will have to raise well over $3,000 during the next two years to cover the costs of uniforms, equipment, transportation, and the Jamboree fee itself.

This is a huge roadblock to Derek.

When I first described the Jamboree to Derek, he was excited and enthusiastic about attending.  He’s been making great progress in scouting, and he’s on track to earn his Eagle rank in the next two years.  The local scout camp has gotten a little stale after four years.  He’s ready for some big, new experiences.

But recently, Derek has been telling me that he doesn’t want to go.  “I sounds boring,” he said.


Derek wasn’t being straight with me and I knew it.  “What if money were no object?  What if you already had all of the jamboree fee in your scout account, would you want to go then?”  He shrugged in a noncommittal way, but he knew he was busted.

And I knew that I was busted too.  Derek doesn’t get his scarcity mentality from anybody strange.  He learned it from me.  I’ve written previously about my struggles with money.  I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with money for years.  It has been my false idol and my achilles heel. 

My scarcity mentality began during one of the proudest periods in my life.  During my junior year of college, I participated in a study abroad program.  From February through August of 1982 I was in Europe, attending college in Erlangen, West Germany and travelling by train, bus, and ferry all over western Europe. 

I may not have learned much about ceramic engineering during my study abroad, but the experience and growth I gained more than compensated for that miss.  Nothing builds your self-confidence quite like figuring out the correct train to board at 2:30 in the morning when you don’t even speak the language.

Everything was going great until early May, when I realized I was running low on funds and still had almost three months left in my trip .  In my mind I had two choices: I could either travel or I could eat.  I figured I could eat the rest of my life, how often would I get to travel to so many different countries?  So I took to eating one meal a day.  I considered a large bowl of oatmeal to be a thrifty dinner.  I stretched my food money just as far as I possibly could, but in the end I still needed some financial help from my parents.

Looking back now, I realize that I was able to do everything that I had set as a goal.  I travelled to twenty different countries and experienced real life in Germany, not just the packaged tourist high lights. 

But at the time, my stomach ruled my thoughts.  I can remember strolling through beautiful Italian streets and cathedrals, unable to enjoy them because my mind was fantasizing about what I’d eat for dinner that evening.  I remember running out of money in England with a week to go before flying home, my one remaining asset an unlimited Interail pass, which I used to travel all the way to Switzerland so I could crash at the house of a distant cousin.

The struggles of that time have stayed with me over the years.  I now see how they’ve colored my thinking through most of my adult life.  When I travelled to Europe, I wanted to support myself.  My parents and my relatives in Europe were happy to help me, but I looked on their help as a personal failure and defeat. 

Over the years, I’ve unconsciously fed the false belief that I can’t make enough money to support myself.  Getting married and having children only added to my anxieties.  I postponed pursuing projects I felt passionate about in the name of being a practical and responsible provider.  I’ve earned a good living over the years, but in my mind I never measured up.

Give Us Each Day Our Daily Bread

This scarcity mentality recently came to a personal crisis point forcing me, thankfully, into a place where I can no longer ignore it.  The very short version of my epiphany goes like this:

  • Times are tough for the company I work for and I haven’t seen a pay raise in several years.  Meanwhile, the costs of maintaining my family have increased significantly as my children hav moved into high school and college.
  • I’ve been looking for a way to pursue my passions in my career and make additional income for my family.  I learned of a creative staffing agency in nearby Columbus where I could work as a freelance writer.  All I needed to do was write a resume and submit it on-line. 
  • In my mind I could visualize unlimited success.  I would share my gifts for writing and communication with clients, building a reputation and a thriving business while earning extra income for my family.  I knew in the very core of my being that this was the right move for me.
  • Then I made my mistake.  Before I wrote the resume, I took the time to balance our family checkbook and pay the bills.  Suddenly, the certainty I felt towards my new writing career turned to anxiety and fear as I fretted about needing extra money for our family.
  • For two weeks, I struggled to write that resume.  The words were completely blocked, and every other personal priority I had slipped as I struggled with that resume.  Frequently I retreated to the TV to watch the Summer Olympics, avoiding my life’s struggles by watching others live out their lives’ dreams.  I was miserable.  I was also miserable to live with.

It was at my lowest point, feeling completely defeated, that I stumbled upon a great blog by Mark David Gerson that spoke directly to the heart of my troubles.  I was causing the blockage in my writing, in our finances, and in my life by clinging to my fears, doubts, and anxieties.

My ungrateful, controlling, faithless attitude was drawing scarcity into my life.

So I gave it up.  I’m not trying to control it or suppress it.  I’m not fighting it.  This time, for the first time, I’ve given it over to our higher power.

The log jam broke.  The words started to flow.  The resume was completed and I’m officially listed with the agency as of this week.  I’m officially on my way, and I have faith that my new writing business will be successful.  I don’t know how the future will unfold, but I’m excited to see just how God will provide.

Does this sound like a bunch of wishful thinking or new age mumbo-jumbo?  Perhaps, but before judging consider this: in the past two weeks, since giving up my scarcity mentality, I’ve been given three exciting assignments at my full time job.  Last month I felt completely worthless and under-utilized, now I’m bursting with enthusiasm and purpose.

Teaching Best What I Most Need To Learn

So what did I tell Derek when he finally confessed that he didn’t think he could raise the money to attend the Jamboree?  “Have faith in yourself.  You can earn that money.  You’ll have to work hard, but it will be worth it.”

“That’s easy for you to say Dad,” he said.  “You work full time and can make that money easy.  I’m only 14.  How am I supposed to earn $1,400?”

We looked at each other for a long second, my mind a blank.  Then I heard myself say, “I believe you can do it.  If you can’t believe in yourself, then believe in me.  I wouldn’t lie to you.”

What an opportunity!  To break the legacy of scarcity that I’ve allowed to grow in my family, and to show Derek how to live his life in an abundant way.

Live to great success, not to avoid failure.  — Denis Waitley

So, does anyone have a good fund raising ideas?

An Open Letter To My Wife Carol

Picture by KM Cheng, Hong Kong
Picture by KM Cheng, Hong Kong

Dear Carol,

I’ve missed you while you’ve been away visiting your twin sister this past week.  I’m glad that you’re having a good time and getting a break from the usual routines around the house.  You deserve it.
I’m writing to tell you how much I appreciate all that you do.  You’re right, maintaining our house is a full-time job.  And it’s a thankless job, too.  I’m sorry that I’ve been so thoughtless and ungrateful.  It’s nice to come home to a clean, organized, orderly home.  I’ve really missed that these past several days.
I’ve done my best to care for the pets, the house, and the yard like you do, but I have to admit that it has been a struggle for me.  While I enjoy our house and our pets, I take no great pleasure in completing all the daily, weekly, and monthly chores necessary to keep and maintain them.  Several times over the past week I’ve been overwhelmed at the thought of all the tasks left to be done.  I’ve been angry and irritable, flying off the handle at the slightest set back.  More than once, I’ve lost heart and given up, pushing off the workload to the next day.  Of course, that means even more work to do when that next day arrives.
I don’t understand how you can do this work each day, much less want to do it.  Housework to me has always been a necessary evil; something that you do quickly so that you can get to the “more important” activities in your life.  But as I’ve stumbled through this past week, I’ve gained a new appreciation for you and all that you do for our family.  It takes a special kind of heart to want to do the work that you do, a mother’s heart.  To willingly want to serve your family by doing all those thankless tasks necessary to maintain our home each and every day, that’s love. 
You give our family comfort and care.  You give me structure and stability.  I can rely on you in so many ways.  Your support at home strengthens me, encourages me, and frees me to do all that I do in this world.  Without you here, I’ve been like a ship without a rudder, tossed about in the storms of life.  I can’t claim to be a great man, but I do know that I’m nothing without you behind me.
I feel that I’m seeing you with new eyes.  You are a marvelous woman, special beyond my ability to describe, and I love you.  I’m anxious for your return.  When you do come home, I ask you to hold me accountable: each and every day, I need to thank you for all that you do for me and our family.  It’s because of you that this house is a home.

Thoughts From East Aurora

Our family is visiting Carol’s twin sister’s family in East Aurora, New York.  We made the five hour car ride together yesterday to attend cousin Drew’s high school graduation celebration.  I set a goal for myself to write a post on the road, just to be able to say that I did.  I’m a geek, no need to deny it.

There are no great themes from this trip to report at this time; I’m still to close to the event, living within the experience of this weekend.  Following are some of the thoughts and observations so far:

1. Yesterday, I awoke before the rest of my family to do my morning chores and pack for the trip.  I also made my way to my study, as is my habit, to do my daily prayer journalling.  I’ve learned to start my journalling first in scripture.  I’ve been reading Genesis, and I was up to Genesis 50.  It came as a surprise to me to discover that 50 was the last chapter in the book of Genesis.  Later, as I was reflecting on the back porch, I was reminded of Carol’s observation that this trip to East Aurora may be the last time that was travel as a complete family with all three of our children.  Erika is 19 and in college, Brett is 18 and planning to attend college after his upcoming senior high school year, and Derek will be starting high school next year.  This thought also came as a surprise to me.

I’m saddened by that thought.  I wish we had done more travelling together in the season of childhood.  This is the end of an important chapter in the life of my family.  Still, we did the best we could at the time and there’s no opportunity to go back and change the past.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to travel together, and I pray that this will be a happy trip where we can grow closer, sharing with and listening to each other.

2. We went out to dinner last night at a diner located on the shore of Lake Erie in Hamburg, NY.  The kids sat at a separate table from the adults.  It was amazing to see the cousins all sitting and talking together.  They’ve all grown and changed so much.  They only get to see each other very occasionally due to the large distance between our homes, yet they talked with in an easy and familiar way.  Yet it was different as well; they had a lot of catching up to do, filling each other in on the happenings and changes that have occurred over the past year.

Sitting and watching them, I became aware of those changes.  The changes are gradual, one small step each day, but over time those steps add up to a great journey.  It’s easy to loose track of those small steps of growth in the daily hustle and noise of life.  It’s good to be able to participate in these family gatherings, to come back together after time spent apart.  Old perceptions and beliefs can be challenged.  We can see those we spend our lives with in new ways, letting go of old, out-dated peridines and allowing them new space to accept their growth and change.  It gives us space, if we’re open to it, to see them as who they are, not who we believe they are.

3. That knowledge helped me to gain insight into my relationship with Carol this morning.  We’ve had a couple disagreements over the past few days that resulted in Carol stating, “You always…”  Fill in the blank.  (The specifics of the arguments aren’t important, the insight from our discussions are).  It’s a familiar argument.  We’ve danced to this tune a million times before.  This time, I defended my view that I’ve changed, that she’s right that I used to fill in the blank, but I’ve changed and no longer do blank.  I challenged her to give me a recent example of my bad behavior, and she couldn’t do it in the moment.  So I encouraged her to point it out the next time that I do it.  We’re still waiting on that example.

The insight this morning?  I am changed.  I’m not perfect, and I can’t say that I’m even a better person than I used to be.  But just as our children have changed and grown, yet are still themselves, so have I changed.  I was given the space and the confidence to accept my change, regardless of Carol’s opinion.  I’m grateful for that change, which is the work of our Higher Power, and the peace I felt in my heart at recognizing myself.  Carol is still more comfortable holding to her old way of seeing us.  It’s not my place to make her change.  I love her, and I’m grateful for the grace and patience I’m given to see live with the differences that we share in our marriage.

4. Cousin Drew’s graduation is going on as I finish this post.  He has lived with difficulties in his family life, and I’m impressed with how strong he is.  He has turned out far different from what I predicted when he was just a boy.  Thank You Father.  That strength has come at the cost of his trust and intimacy.  He’s only just turned 18, so perhaps I’m expecting far too much of him.  Still, as a loving uncle who is amazed at the teenager soon to be a young man that he has become, my prayer for him is that he learns before too long that true happiness and fulfillment comes from allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the others in your life.  Living with an open heart will be painful, but it’s the only way to live a full and abundant life.

Signing-off from East Aurora,