Monday, September 22, 2014

How JobShift Helped Me Survive

Following is my piece in the High Calling series Best Business Books.

In 1996 my family faced multiple—nearly overwhelming—crises that included me leaving a long-term stable job in a ministry setting. No big deal, just the loss of job, church, friends, and a deep-rooted support system.

One challenge involved helping family members make it through each new day. Another was the added pressure of an employment search. Oh, and because of the depth of our stress, I committed to not moving. I feared moving for work might become a final tipping point. I hoped that somehow holding place would provide a bit of hope that everything hadn’t been lost, a possible place to build from going forward.

Rare was the day I had energy and excitement about the search process.

Read the rest of my story at the High Calling:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

I Love My Place

My childhood home on Stephens Street was a poorly built track piece in the booming suburbs of the fifties. Ten miles from downtown and a few more from a farm town that would transition to little more than one of the states largest strip mall repositories over the next few decades.
Our place was one of the smallest, cheapest models in the neighborhood, with three bedrooms, one bath, a single garage — maybe a thousand square feet. The yard was never finished, maybe because of my mom’s scattered-ness and dad’s drinking. Who can say?
The place was defined by contradictions. It was home, my place of rest and protection. It was a mess of screaming fights, lonely fears, abuse and waiting for the next bad thing. I remember Mom would give us pajamas hot from the dryer on a winter night. I remember days without seeing my dad, not knowing if it was a blessing or a curse.
We moved in when I was four and stayed for about fourteen years. Moving came up a few times and I was terrorized. When I was nearing my last year of high school, the momentum increased. I made it clear that the family could move, but I was finding a way to finish school with my friends.
My childhood dream was that somehow I would live in the house forever. In the far future I’d be there, probably with a family of my own. I’m not sure where my parents and my brother went in the dreams, but they were gone. It was home, my home, and I wanted or needed no other.
The move happened soon after I graduated and the fragmentation of my family became its own version of a modern tragedy over the next decade leading to my parents’ eventual divorce. We may have been fortunate to get out when we did. I hear it is now within spitting distance of some of the worst crime and poverty in the metro area. It is the stuff that fills local news and idle conversations.
Connie and I married young. We went through the somewhat common series of rapid moves in our early years together — about an address change a year on average. In 1985 we made the move to owning our first home (actually, the bank owned it and we just got the privilege of paying for and taking care of it).  By this time we had two preschool-aged sons. We moved a few blocks in 1992 making sure to stay in the same school area for the kids’ sakes.
This new home, new for us, was built in the fifties and went through a major remodel in 1970. It was twice the size of our first place and twice the size of my childhood home. Within a few years we had reworked most of the interior. The kitchen took a few extra years, but we finally got it done. My wife worked to provide our own outdoor sanctuary by transforming the yard and gardens.
We live on Tulip Road, formerly a tulip farm. It is a solitary piece of road with about fifteen homes. Most people in town have never heard of it. It is the home our sons most identify with. It is the only home our grandkids know us in. it is the home both my wife and I have lived in longer than any other.
It will soon be twenty-two years that we have lived on Tulip Road. It is getting near twice as long as I lived in suburban home of my childhood.  According to any standardized accounting system this house experience far exceeds my childhood residence. More house, better organized and cared for and a far from perfect, yet more stable family.
But when I think of “home” I am still driven by my childish memories. I can quickly skim the bleak realities and ruminate on memories that may or may not be real. This house, the place I have lived longer than any other, the place that has truly provided refuge and strength, has an ongoing feeling that I can only describe as temporary. Not that I expect to leave soon.
I think it may be wrapped in the sense of childhood innocence and distance of memories. I somehow thought living on Stephens Street could last forever, maybe my first self-definition of heaven on earth.  Tulip Road has always been held with awareness of responsibility, my own limitations and knowing that there will be an end.
Occasionally when I am back near Stephens Street I’ll drive by the old house, maybe get out of the car and walk the street a bit. It looks so small and uncared for. I no longer have delusions of what life would have been if I had stayed there for what I thought would be forever. I am thankful for where I live and how my life has been shaped and guided over the years.
But I realize there may be a gift in the sense of idealized home that touched me all those years gone by. I may never sense it again. It may be unreal but it shaped me and it provides a bit of an idealized memory for moments when I need them.
And in unique ways, each home has shaped me and each continues to be a part of defining who I am.

May God have mercy on us all.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Really, I saw it

You should’a seen it! Mrs. Dobbins
slammed the brakes, she said
the “S” word, I heard it. My lunchbox
broke and my sandwich
got squished, bologna’s my favorite.
Books were flying everywhere. Kids were
screaming, crying. There was
blood on Stevie’s face, I couldn’t
tell where it came from. All ‘cause
that stupid dog ran in front of
the bus. Best thing is I was sitting
up front, close enough to see
everything, even his eyes pop out!

Really, I saw it, they popped right out.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lessons Learned

After two successful weeks on Romper Room (local franchise of the national TV pre-school), I entered first grade at Lynch View Elementary in September of 1960, as there was no public kindergarten in our area. Following high school I went to community college and then a state school to finish my degree.
Three months after graduating from college I was teaching in an elementary school in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Over the years I have been an involved parent and community member (including a failed school board run), taught at virtually every level from pre- to elementary to middle to high school, university, grad school and community education, and now I’m doing a bit of substitute teaching.
All of this leaves me with observations, strong opinions, respect, hopes, concerns and questions. Here is a random sampling of my thoughts surrounding schools and education.
1.  There’s no such thing as compulsory education.
To put it simply, you can’t make anyone learn anything. You can build buildings, train and hire staff, set curriculum, establish programs and force attendance. But you can’t make anyone learn.  I used to say that all adult learning is self-learning. But I have adjusted my view to say that all learning is self-learning. You can create opportunities for learning; you do things that make learning easier or more interesting. You can inform people of the values of learning and the dangers of not learning. At some point, each individual will make a choice when it comes to actual learning. I have watched kids sit in a daze for an hour and a half more content to exist in a near state of nothingness than to make an effort to participate in learning.
2.  Some stereotypes are deserved.
I was recently in a high school history class being taught by a basketball coach. She was talking about the American political system and she referred to a fact in the federal election system related to presidential elections. She said a change happened around 1970. I cringed and looked it up. It was closer to 1800, which was the time I was thinking. I waited until class was over, thanked her for the time of being an observer in her room and mentioned she might want to check the facts in question. She gave me a not-too-subtle look letting me know she was the teacher and implying my day was long past. I hope she’s a good coach.
3. There is no level playing field.
Some kids are naturally smarter. Some have more self-determination. Some are easier to like and thereby get more attention or better grades. Some are hard to like and easy to ignore. Some have great parents and eat breakfast everyday. Some are hungry to learn or driven by the sense of accomplishment. Some stay up all night playing video games or listening to fighting adults. I challenge you to find an easy way to motivate and evaluate this small sample of the realities lived out in student’s lives in most any school setting.
4. School is as much about socialization than education.
Class sizes, schedule constraints, standardized testing and ever-fluctuating government regulation add to varied levels of interest, ability and participation and thereby impact learning.  I watch kids in and out of the classrooms. From playgrounds to the campus commons, students take advantage of loose supervision to create, or at least discover, their emerging sense of community. Students have their methods of subverting teacher’s expectations and control. Conversations, whispers, looks and other creative forms of communication are discovered by each new generation of students.  For better or worse, students are living into what they will become, especially in how they relate to others and live in community.
5. Grades are a conundrum.
Grades may do more to discourage learning than they do to encourage it. Grades often encourage learning and working a system more than mastering a subject. Grades ultimately tell how a specific teacher judges a singular student in a chosen moment. Period.
6. Good teachers are good teachers.
I do think teachers make a difference. Caring deeply makes a difference. Kids need it and know when it is real. Teachers who are self-aware and mature with a mixture of academic competence create a classroom that sets the best baseline for students to become interested in and open to learning.  I will wrap up with memories of teachers who made a difference in my education, but much more in my life.
Mrs. Jones was my second grade teacher. She may have been tuned into the troubles I was experiencing on the home front. I remember her pulling me aside for brief conversations and the day she gave me a tropical fish to take home. I guess she knew we had an aquarium.
In upper elementary (we did not have middle or junior high school), there was Mr. Meyer and Mr. Barker. Mr. Meyer was the cool art teacher. He was single (cool) and his parents owned a (cool) drive in theater. He drove cool cars, had a cool haircut and wore cool clothes. But he was much more than image. He had a bit of aloofness toward the system and others’ expectations. He treated us like something more than little kids or simply students.
Mr. Barker taught eighth grade U.S. history, still my favorite class and subject. I remember the day he stood on his desk kicking books to the floor and imitating Mussolini for us. I was transfixed. He and I would talk of presidents from past days and events that shaped our heritage. He was fascinating, larger than life.
Mr. Lamb was our high school speech teacher. He had a reputation on the state and national level for the quality of students he coached in speech and debate competitions. I was not one of those students. I hung around with speech kids because I liked them and because I loved his classes. Often the hour would be filled with random stories about life and of far-ranging people and situations. Conversations with Mr. Lamb were rich, always about much more than the surface subject.
Miss Vincent was the other major influence in my high school days. She taught my freshman algebra class. It was not a class I liked. To be honest it was a brutal struggle. I do not know how or why but we stayed connected after I finished her class. We’d touch base when I would walk by her room or passing in the halls, lunchroom or some other school setting. I never excelled in algebra or any math that followed, but I valued the connection with her, the support she extended and the memories that still encourage me.
My advisor in college was Dr. Ferguson. There were stories of women who would leave her office crying. She would talk of needing to be tough to build a career and that she wanted to get rid of those who were not committed. And this was in elementary education. Once I got past her initial screening we developed a sense of trust and respect. She was a great support in completing my education and launching my career.
Observing what happens in school fascinates me. I am aware of how deeply the people and experiences of my school days have shaped me. I am intrigued to watch my grandkids make their way through the system and their parents support them along the way. I appreciate the relationships I have developed in schools as a student, a teacher and in other roles over so many years. And I hope I am still helping make schools something more, something better, in my corner of the world.
May God have mercy on us all.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I read the news today -- oh, boy…

So said the Beatles a few years back.
In theory the news is about being informed, becoming aware through gaining a sense of what is happening and possibly shaping one’s life in response.
I remember a time when news was easy. Radio was the closest to being an “in the moment” news source. You could get half hour updates with occasional emergency reports. Television gave us a couple of half hours at dinner and bedtime with a bit more depth. The paper would arrive the next day with more details, including sports scores and game details. Magazines would eventually arrive weekly or monthly as scheduled.
These days it all comes at warp speed and I am pressed to deal with the privilege and responsibility of choosing the news I tune into. There is now an unending number of online sources I touch base with, some by my choosing and others at the nudging of friends. Occasionally I jump on some digital trail that takes me places that rarely seem connected to the beginning.
There have long been discussions about the slant of each source and the limitations of selected medium. My honest evaluation begs the question, “How much do I choose my news to support my beliefs and values or am I trying to gain, and share, a deep and diverse understanding of the what has been, is and possibly might be?”
I have a small following of people who look to me for suggestions and connections. I recommend and they read. I connect people with what they see as cutting edge or a new perspective.   A friend once called me a “maven.” People ask me to add others to my “list.” I don’t have a list. Each time I send stuff around, I think about who might be interested. It is inefficient and I doubt I’ll turn it into a moneymaker any time soon.  I trust I am usually making my best effort to bring light to cultural moments and forward leanings, hear voices outside the usual circle and push toward understanding new possibilities.  Some consider my passing along info is a sign of automatic support. Not true. I hope I am more interested in sparking ideas than pushing my singular agenda.
The worst case is when things devolve into petty, tit-for-tat arguments. This invariably happens when either 1) I am trying to encourage (that’s the nice way to say it) others to see and agree with my perspective more than honestly encouraging thinking and dialogue or 2) people take things the wrong way (per my determination).  My best hope to is that I am getting ideas out and encouraging thinking and conversations.
I imagine I will continue my practice of skimming, sifting and passing along news items to those who have expressed interest. If there is power in this process, it is first that I keep learning and hopefully growing. Second, it may be the potential of influence. The act of encouraging others to consider and possibly change can have impact that transcends a singular relationship or specific setting.
May God have mercy on us all.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Caught in the middle

My mom’s life mission was to rescue those left out. If you were marginalized, ignored, mistreated, in crisis, new to the area, lost, lonely or in any other way an outsider, she wanted to help. She would find you in a crowd, at an event, walking the neighborhood, while shopping, at the park or wherever. I think you get the idea.
At first meeting, she would invite you to over for a meal or a chat or, better yet, to some gathering, usually one she was hosting. And she would keep inviting. And if you didn’t show up, she’d find you and be with you on your own turf.  The stories of my mom’s caring are legendary and the grateful recipients of her kindness are many.
My Dad relished being an outsider and wondered why anyone would want to “join that stupid club” or organization. From his perspective, joining in was the same as giving yourself over to the system. And the system was bad. Leadership was almost always corrupt and who would want to trust their future to people who were empty-headed, arrogant, evil or foolish — and in many cases, all four of the above?  In any situation, he knew what the games were, but refused to play, a straight shooter all the way. His attitude may have been rooted in deep distrust that grew during a childhood now clouded in memories long forgotten.
My Dad has been gone almost seventeen years, but the better part of his reputation still holds. He was trusted and respected by friends and business associates. Others knew his word was gold. If he promised it would happen, no extensions or excuses would be forthcoming — the deal was as good as done. He made agreements with individuals, not companies or organizations. Plans were set, and commitments fulfilled.
And me, I’ve spent much of my life living this tension in my own way. I resonate with my mother’s desire to help those who are, for whatever reason, overlooked or abused. And with my dad, I am quick to see the flaws in systems and leaders — a big stew of nature and nurture.
Much of my adult life has found me in roles where I have been able to open doors for inadvertently overlooked or intentionally excluded people, and I sense this is a reflection of the best of my mom in me. I have helped people gain access to new ways to further careers or shape life paths. There is deep satisfaction in seeing someone beat the odds or prove others wrong. I believe I have been gifted with insight or intuition that helps me see deeper potential and encourage it to surface.
I have also lived in a love-hate relationship with organizations. Organizations have given me the opportunity to live my deeper convictions and commitments. But I often find myself hitting my head against the wall. I can’t tolerate perfunctory rules. I am mostly unable to ignore incompetence. I shut down when encountering self-serving, egotistical leadership. 
For things to happen, people must somehow become a team, tribe, club, business, non-profit or other form of organization. And as soon as that system is established, it will show the signs of becoming self-serving and, possibly, corrupt.  Some are simply gifted with an ability to overlook situations that step up my race toward some future heart health incident.
Another perplexing piece of this puzzle is the contradiction of my values and experiences. At times I must admit I am helping people gain access to or be elevated within systems that I distrust. Yes, you might want to read that again. At times I have helped people gain ground in settings within which I question the health of the organization.
In all honesty, I think my Dad was more of an institutional joiner than my Mom. Mom could take or leave the structure, cared very little for politics and was truly focused on helping people. If the organization helped people, she’d go along with it in spite of internal imperfections. Dad worked in and with systems of business, associations and government. He may have more accurately been seen as one who felt ostracized, but wanted to find a way in. The only problem was that no organization lived up to his standards.
Belonging is deeply rooted within. The desire to be accepted, included, valued and ultimately loved is human. The realities of belonging are complicated. Think of the stories you have heard, or lived, in relation to the complexities of being a part of an extended family.
I do not blame my parents for the ways in which I have struggled with being a part of organizations, systems and groupings. I appreciate what I learned from them along the way. I imagine I will continue to struggle with the tension of belonging in both my current context and new opportunities that I will discover in the future.
I need others. The mess we create in trying to do this life stuff together frustrates me. But I have yet to find a better option.
My God have mercy on us all.

also catapult magazine

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Beyond my ability

As a child I was never able to color within the lines, cut a decent shape with scissors or make the glue only cover the intended area. Making model cars was a favorite activity of my neighborhood friends. Mine never looked anything like the box cover.  My school art projects were disasters. Whatever it was I made as a gift for my parents resulted in awkward moments. Either they had to ask what is was or fake appreciation for what they held, but didn’t understand.
As for my family, my Mom dabbled with painting and other artistic endeavors. She an eye and the touch. I struggled with an unsatisfied eye; I could see it, but never create it.  Both of my sons have exceptional artistic talents. My oldest son paints, sketches, sculpts and more. He does custom tattoo work, taking ideas and images and creating something beyond expectations. My younger son dabbles in graffiti art having created a wall on his garage that continues to amaze as he covers one great piece with another.
Even from a young age, there has been something in me that wanted to create — to take what is within and make something, something that would express that which stirs deep within.  I had a poem published in a primary school anthology (and it was not one in which every student had a piece included). In eighth grade we wrote autobiographies and I mentioned wanting to write as a possible future career. The desire lay dormant until I stumbled into writing as a young adult. 
In the late 70s, I was a camp director and was asked to write a training piece for the national journal. The piece got published and something clicked. I was asked to write another piece, and then another.  I loved the validation that came from seeing my ideas become print and get “out there.” Soon I was looking for other places to get published. I started with training-focused pieces and soon shifted to leadership, satire and op-ed pieces.
Satire became my primary vehicle for a few years. Growing up in my family provided great fodder for snarky insights into organizations and relationships. I found ways to take basic ideas and re-craft them for numerous settings.
I made a few bucks here and there and set a goal of getting at least one piece published each year. I wrote for national journals and some local publications. I made a list of publications that I wanted to work with. I learned to live with rejection letters. And I learned how quickly the buzz of publication faded.
I was writing on assignment for a local magazine when I got a call from the editor. Could I come by and pick up my kill fee? “My what?” I asked. Kill fee. They had decided to go another way with the story and no longer needed my work. I picked up the envelope a couple of days later.
I waited until I was in my car to open it, and then started to laugh. The check not to print my work was bigger than any I had received to date for a published piece. I wanted to go back in the office and ask if there was anything else they’d like me to write for them not to print.
A landmark was the day an editor introduced me as a humorist. Mark Twain and Garrison Keilor are humorists. I was not about to consider myself their peer, but was energized to be a part of their writers’ community.
I later expanded into short fiction, poetry and essays. I won a few local contests and the bug kept me going. Anytime I have been called a writer, even occasionally a poet, it fuels my drive.
I have been writing for over 35 years now. I know my style. I took little more than required writing classes in my schooling. I know I want to have my voice, a more casual, personal tone. I do not want to come off as using vocabulary to somehow prove educational or academic superiority. I know at times my stuff is weak and mangled. At times I avoid an editing process that feels endless to me and send too quickly.
I have a sense of deep gratification when my words connect with others stories, feelings and hopes. There is something magical about working alone digging within to produce something that will eventually be out there for others — others who hear my stories in their own way, adding or shifting meaning beyond my ability to imagine.
May God have mercy on us all.



Thursday, February 20, 2014

(Dis)comfort food

If you know my Mom, you know how she is attached to food as the source of comfort. She loves to cook and lives to cook. I am not sure I can find the dividing line between cooking to share love and cooking to receive love.
In her younger days, she was a legendary whirlwind in the kitchen leaving the room looking like something of a war zone. She rarely if ever used cookbooks or recipes. Baking was a specialty and there’d be flour splotches all over her and most any available surface.  When not baking, country-style cooking ruled: meat, potatoes and lots of gravy, pot roast, pork chops, fried chicken, canned vegetables, casseroles and Jello salads. On creative days, she’d whip up a giant pot of spaghetti that would last for days.
When my brother and I were young, she was nearly obsessed with cooking to please our Dad. We’d eat what he wanted, or when for some unknown reason she wanted us to eat something he didn’t like, she’d prep a separate meal for him. The best example I can remember is liver — he refused to touch it and we were given no choice. I covered mine in ketchup and raced to get it over with.
By the time I hit my teen years, she was cooking for the tribe of friends who would come and go from our house. She loved it and never balked at adding someone or many someones to the table at the last minute. There were times when I was gone and friends would wander over to our house at mealtime. Neither the friends nor my Mom seemed bothered by my absence; her cooking was the reason for the visit.
When my kids were growing up, she became known as “the Cinnamon Roll Grandma.” She’d overtake our kitchen and practice her craft. Word would spread and neighbors, family and friends would stop by to “visit.” There would be fresh, hot treats for all and the favored would leave with a platter to enjoy in the coming days.
After my parents divorced, Mom worked as a sorority house director. Although not part of her job she usually had fresh baked treats for the “girls” and nearly anyone on campus who would stop by. She was passionate about caring for those she viewed as lonely or left out and her baked goods were how she’d start a friendship and keep it growing, often for many years. Security staff and delivery workers would route their daily rounds to meet her baking schedule. And she didn’t always wait for people to drop by the house. She’d often take a tray or basket to pass out her gifts of love as she’d wander the campus.
Mom eventually purchased a small house in a retirement community and remarried. Anytime I’d visit, she’d prepare what she thought was one of my favorite meals. There was always more than enough. My brother and his family live near and would usually join the meal. With aging, her skills began to drift and the quality of her efforts became unpredictable — well, actually, maybe predictable in a less-than-positive way.
Her love of food goes beyond her own cooking. She loves trips to buy groceries, going out to restaurants and talking about food. Tell her about a trip or vacation and she’ll ask about restaurants you visited and what you ate. All family gatherings are rated on some inner “food scale” for which only she knows the key.
About eight years ago my Mom had a stroke, actually her third stroke that we know of. Initially she seemed to recover well — that is, until her sight started to diminish. Now she is essentially blind.
She tried to keep cooking. She and George attempted forming something of a tag-team with her instructing and him trying, for the first time in his near ninety years, to navigate a kitchen. The results were not always pretty.
Mom is painfully aware that she no longer “has it.” She laments the loss and it only adds to her questioning the value of living.
A while back I took my Mom for a day exploring Portland. Portland was the city of her youth and my childhood. I let her guide the trip, which was a bit of a challenge because of she was never good with directions and further complicated by her lack of sight.
Mom would try to describe a place and I’d start driving. We visited former neighborhoods, homes of friends or family members and our old church. She’d reminisce and ask questions and I’d try and remember with her while also telling her the current state of affairs.
A highlight of the day was finding restaurants of her choosing. We talked about many but ended up at a fondly remembered place. She knew what she wanted and was ready to critique. At the end of the day I had tears in my eyes and a sense that if this was the last time I was with my Mom, it would be a wonderful finish.
My memory is that Mom was a bright light at most any gathering. She’d flit from person to person and conversation to conversation making sure that all were included and cared for. She introduced strangers, encouraging new friendships. She called everyone to gather for a feast or roam the crowd extending the gifts of her love.
My Mom was always about more than food. Yet food and her passionate relationship with it were indicative of her broader approach to life. Giving and seeking love, serving and caring for others were her hallmarks.
Like the proverbial fish out of water, she now thrashes gasping for some sense of hope and purpose for life. She struggles trying to find some meaning in her physical and emotional darkness.
I have no idea how I will respond when, if I live long enough, my comfort and identity are stripped away. Will I be complacent, letting others guide me into the dreaded unknown? Or will I fight like a cornered cat, trusting no one and ready to battle to the finish? It is easy to think I will handle it in some better manner. But that is all projection and reality can be a viscous taskmaster. I’ll get my turn, and as they say, “Time will tell.”
May God have mercy on us all.

also catapult magazine

Monday, February 10, 2014


I guess hormones get things started,
creating some sense of social order,
maybe keeping the race alive.
Something other binds us,
whispering deep within
for almost forty years now.
Naming seems simplistic or incomplete
but it exists, we are together,
and it is good.

published in the Bellingham Herald 2.10.14

Read more here:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

It’s only paranoia if...

She fears that credit cards
and government servants
have replaced Santa and Jesus as all seeing,
all knowing powers to be reckoned with.

Ignore the ever-present snoops
and be labeled an out of touch fool.
Try going off the grid and
be compared to the Unabomber. 

Voicing caution
may accomplish little more than
elevating her place on some list,
that she has been assured does not exist.

Welcome to the new America,
and the global neighborhood,
the new now,
and by the way, good luck.

This poem is from the current issue of catapult magazine with the theme of Privacy. Here's the link for further reading:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Schmotzer’s never...

“Don’t worry Dad, I’m a Schmotzer and Schmotzer’s never quit.”
So said my four-year-old granddaughter to her dad, my son, when recently being instructed to “really” clean her room.
My first response to hearing the story was I wish my Dad could have heard it. He would have loved that his great-grandchild wasn’t a “quitter.” Dad was no nonsense. Never give up was S.O.P. I could almost hear him, “Yep, she’s a Schmotzer.”
Personally I was proud she had learned endurance from her parents and I considered that a fine legacy. Tenacity is one of my high values and I hope my family shares it. I love the idea that at a young age she has a beginning awareness of the importance of seeing things through to the finish.
I eventually got off the cloud of thinking my granddaughter had it all figured out and was ready to meet any goal and overcome every challenge that life will bring. Reality check: she’s four and probably parroting something her parents said. It’s something positive, but something that will take years to learn, and more to live out.
Then I thought about the danger of the simplistic motto, “Never quit.” Remember the whisper, “There is a time for everything…”
As I thought about quitting, and my tendency to think not quitting is the best option, I realized that my interactions with quitting have been varied in importance and value.
Here are some of my life “quitting” stories and ideas:
The real deal. My Dad was a nail biter — actually, a chewer. Chewed ‘til they bled. I followed suit, only I was more of a biter. Being filled with anxious energy, and choosing not to smoke, chewing or biting your nails seemed a good option. One day in my teens I decided I no longer wanted to continue the habit. I made a decision and quit. This might be an example of why some people compliment me on my strength of discipline. I, though, can think of too many things I have wished to quit or change that still refuse to die or disappear.
Glad we keep choosing not to quit. Personally I am thankful for numerous times my wife and I have refused the pressure to crumble or the lure of an easy way out in our marriage. I am glad Connie and I have pushed through difficulties that could have buried us. Each day is an opportunity, a challenge and a choice.
Too stubborn for my own good. From city league basketball to long distance races, I have participated in athletic activities suspecting, and maybe at times knowing, I was injured. I had good reasons. Others were counting on me, I had made a commitment or set a goal and I needed to finish what I started. Fortunately I never had a major sports injury, many minor ones — but that may be more a gift of grace than making the best choice.
Giving up too soon. Honesty indicates there are times I have quit when something better was possible. Relationships come to mind — the times I have “had enough” and walked away. Sometimes it has been overt and direct; usually it has been more of a silent drift.
Not soon enough? There are situations in which I may not have quit soon enough. I look back at certain job situations and wonder why I didn’t leave sooner. Why did I stay? Great question. It may have something to do with my inner hard wiring. I am highly loyal. When I get involved with people I want to stay involved. I want to see projects through, and there is always something in process.
My best hope in dealing with “quitting” is to learn to live the tension. There are times when emotions must be ignored and commitments fulfilled. Short-term gratification may need to be trumped by long-term goals. There are other times when quitting and letting go are the best options.
Refusing to quit can be a form of arrogance that is more about personal reputation than accomplishments and commitments. The hope is that I am growing in wisdom that enables me to make decisions and take action based more on matters of greater importance than my petty ego.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became (an adult), I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Children are taught concrete structures and systems, black and white, right and wrong for safety and protection. These can serve us well for the start-up phase of life. At the same time they can constrain and imprison us as adults. Being adult is more about living in the muddled world of options, choices and nuance.
Life is about growing in wisdom so we can know when to go forward with tenacity and when to cut our losses. It is being able to quit, or not quit, and live with the consequences in the face of ambiguity or a lack of simplistic clarity about our choices and related actions.
May God have mercy on us all…

also catapult magazine:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Just another year

From my limited viewpoint, nothing earth-shattering or life-changing happened for my family and me in 2013. More seemed the same than different — something like twelve months circling for a landing. It may be the impact of aging: when you’ve seen about 60 years, at times they seem to blur together. But most of life is lived in small movements, routines and commitments. So in the midst of another year I will attempt to draw out some of the special moments and happenings from my corner of Planet Earth.
  1. (My) book of the year and favorite gift find. One day while filling in as an elementary school librarian, I found my favorite book of the year, The Gift of Nothing (2005) by Patrick McDonnell. The book is a short, simple, sweet reflection on life and what really matters. While I may never be able to fully live into the message, any progress along the way is worth the effort. I gave a copy to my wife for Christmas. We have often talked about what we “really need” in the way of life and gifts and the book was a perfect symbol of our shared values and journey.
  2. A new volunteer opportunity. Through connections in the local school community, I was asked to volunteer with Special Olympics. I helped with basketball, bowling and soccer. The human-interest stories about kids in Special Olympics have become such common news fodder that they may have little impact for many. Do not be fooled. Through helping with Special Olympics I am able to be present for, and in a way share in, moments when athletes and supportive family and community members experience the fullness of life and joy that transcends what most of us drift through on a daily basis.
  3. A new learning opportunityI became a referee for middle and high school girls’ basketball. I have always loved basketball, I like helping kids and I thought I could benefit from the extra exercise. I went through the training, testing and began calling games. I soon found myself to be the proverbial deer in the headlights. The pace of the game and pressure of responsibility overwhelmed me. I dreaded each assignment. I learned that I am not good at refereeing and don’t like it. Not one little bit.
  4. A surprise reconnection. I was asked by a denominational leader to be a coach for a church in a transformation process. I was initially matched with a church about an hour away. At the last minute, a call came requesting I switch to another church. That second church just happened to be one that I was on staff with from 1985–1997. It has been a bit surreal. I have enjoyed reconnecting with some friends and meeting new members. The congregation has become something very different and I hope I am different as well.
  5. Best decision: I quit refereeing basketball! The coordinator tried to talk me into sticking it out for a second year with promises of “it gets better” and “you’ll start to love it.” I was not convinced.  I hated the pressure and the possibility of negatively impacting a game. Now every time I watch a game or walk through a gym, I am assured I made the right choice.
  6. (My) movie of the yearClosure. “Closure is a documentary about a trans-racial adoptee (Angela) who finds her birth mother, and meets the rest of a family who didn’t know she existed, including her birth father.” We know Angela and her family. She grew up in Bellingham and worked with my wife for a period of time. Adoption is a significant part of our family story. Closure a great movie!
  7. Two are better than one. It has happened innumerable times over the decades we have been married, those moments when Connie (my wife) and I draw together and overcome a challenge, big or small.  There were two situations in late 2013 that quickly come to mind — moments that had unforeseen beginnings, in which emotions could have been irreparably damaged and relationships severed. Together we chose to keep breathing, be proactive and avoid cheap interpersonal battles. We found time and space to process and support each other and make shared decisions. Listening and laughter replaced disastrous moves that might have derailed significant relationships and brought a shadow over our future days.
  8. A lesson learned.  I work as a substitute teacher to supplement my self-employment income. Having taught middle school in the 70s, I decided to give middle school physical education a try.  Part of my teaching involved PE and coaching. I wanted to see if the current reality was as bad as I presumed. After the one-day experience I choose to honor mothers everywhere (”If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”). I will say nothing more on this subject.
  9. “You’re telling me there’s a chance.”  Sports fans in the Pacific Northwest have an inferiority complex. We believe in the east coast bias. We feel ignored (if not abused) by referees, league officials and other fans. Listen to announcers try to say “Oregon.” This year brought some vindication through the rise of a number of Northwest teams into the national spotlight. Here is an overview of “my” teams in 2013. The Seahawks came through big time (so far) and the Timbers and Trailblazers (so far) exceeded my expectations. The Ducks crushed my hopes in football (by not going all the way), but are showing promise in basketball. Lastly, the Mariners were once again…the Mariners.
  10. Best moment of 2013. For about 25 years we have gone camping on Orcas Island. It started with our boys, spending days at the lake and scouting the island. As the boys grew, we invited other family members and friends, although Connie and I were the only two on the trip for a couple of years. In August 2013 all of our kids and grandkids were there, except for our youngest son. He had been through a recent job transition that impacted his vacation schedule. We considered various options that would allow him to join us, but the travel difficulties (getting to the island requires driving and a ferry ride) and time constraints (he had only one day off) eliminated the possibility. In mid-week our daughter-in-law returned from a trip “get groceries” only to surprise us with Kyle stepping out of the car. The momentary joy of being together, even for a short time, made the week and memories that much better.
May God have mercy on us all….