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…

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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….