Remote School

Imagine starting a new job.

You have seven different supervisors, in a new building, with new coworkers. The seven different supervisors all give you consistent daily work in seven different areas. Here’s the catch, you will only visit the office twice a week. And you’ll only see the supervisors in person twice a week.

The work is different, more advanced, and fast paced. Your performance review is available daily to see online. There’s no leeway in terms of tasks. If you fail, you fail. If you pass, you pass. Sometimes you can retry a task but once you needed to complete it in 3 minutes because your time with that supervisor was up then (true story).

As an employee you are kinesthetic, you want to move. You are the kind of person with a standing desk, always tapping a pencil as you try to do your job. But, by the way, you can’t during your three other days working at home. Those days are spent staring at a screen. One you get marked absent for if you happen to be late logging on because you were taking four blissful minutes of movement outside.

The days at work are better. You see and make friends. You try to find your place. You think, hey maybe I’m fitting in here. Then at home you wonder. You worry. Maybe a friend didn’t answer a text. Maybe they are busy or, maybe, they don’t really like you as much as you think?

And your mind goes in many different paths as you try to find normalcy, pattern, something to calm the worry. Your first supervisor, he talks for ten minutes and logs off after telling you to do an assignment. The others are shorter. One is longer and she takes every minute of her time to make sure her points are made.

Then you have a lunch break at 10:30 am. By the time your day of remote work is done you have seven new assignments, an assessment coming up, a pair of projects due soon, and you are tired. You sit on the couch as your head spins. You are starving.

Not only do you have to figure this job out, understand how to fracture yourself into seven different pieces and become a subject matter expert in areas you couldn’t give a damn about, you have to do it and discover who you are as a person.

There are times it sinks in. You get angry. You cry. You feel like the world is crashing down. You feel like you’ll never make it. You wish things were simpler. You think about being a kid and spending days at the playground in the summer sun and part of you mourns even thought you don’t know that word yet or why it causes pain deep in your soul.

Your days are a roller coaster. Some you feel confident, you feel like you could take on anything. Some you are scattered and lost. Some, by the seventh period of work, you are done physically, mentally, and emotionally.

You go to bed at night and set your alarm for 6:30 the next morning because the bus will pick you up at 7:15 and it starts over again.

Your dreams, your likes, those things you could see yourself doing, they feel like islands on a misty horizon. You’ve just started to consider a future, years passing, what it means to age and do something as your life. To get there, you have to get through here.

This shell. This premise. This system that everyone is improvising, no matter what they try to sell in emails. This moment where everyone is lost no matter how confident they sound.

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You love The Flash. You’ve watched every episode of Barry Allen’s story. You feel like you know the characters personally. Allen is smart, likeable, handsome enough to have girlfriends that you’d love to find. Most of all, Allen is fast. He can move is a split second. He can escape in a moment. He can take care of trouble, rescue the victim, and defeat the bad guy. So at night you watch The Flash and you dream. You dream of being the hero, the one they all look up to, the one with speed.

And you smile as you imagine it. You put your foot into the ground and you run.

Fishing

I remember the feeling of the blue leather seats, the push button radio and the air vents pushing the faint smell of aftershave. The radio played a cassette of Mel Tillis. My grandfather pulled up to a pond at the front of a development.

His tacklebox was in the tailgate of the small pickup truck. He’d hand me a finishing rod and set up his own. The summer mornings were on the crux of haze, the insects just starting to make their way into the air and circling us.

We’d start directly down from the truck. There was a small island in the pond and I remember throwing towards it thousands of times. I remember the sound of the lures hitting water, an amplified drip, the tension of the line and the fight of the small fish we’d find every now and then.

I remember watching him work his way around the pond.

Like any kid, I’d get bored. My mind would wander about the surrounding houses. What were people doing? How were they living? I’d imagine crazy movie scenarios.

And I’d watch him fish.

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And I realized today, it wasn’t about the results.

For a man who had seen the Depression, fought in WW2, experienced multiple eras and generations, the point was the quiet. The point was the few hours he’d had with his grandson.

The point was to stand in it. The rhythm of the casts, the sounds of the morning, the birds flying overhead and cars passing in the distance. Patsy Cline in the car on the way home singing about being Crazy For Loving You.

That kid, that me twenty-five years ago, didn’t get it.

I’d kill for a walk around that pond right now. To drive by early one Saturday morning and see his truck parked there, tailgate open, and see him standing by the water, the rod moving in a smooth motion and the sunlight reflecting off the line as it settled in the water.

We’d had no noise, no barrage of news, no cell phone on our hip.

We’d had time. And peace.

And a moment that would only live on in memory, as the best do.

Inheritance

Both of my parents turn 70 years old this week. They were born, and spent their formative years, not far from each other in small towns here in Pennsylvania.

Landmarks, as they often do, take you back into memories.

I am an only child. People would often ask if it was lonely. It wasn’t, the space taking form and shape into an identity you learned to hold. It certainly informed the man I am now as did both my mother and father.

Mom grew up Catholic, an issue in the 60’s much like our cultural unrest today. She taught me the power of a laugh and the appeal of a story. I remember the first time I heard her playing B.B King blues rifts on a record player and identifying with the music. She spent her career in a hospital as a nuclear medicine technician.

She still tries to teach me to throw away the recipes and improvise, remembering the early years when my grandparents and great grandparents were alive, Italian, French, Ukrainian. The oldest house in town. I remember the smells, tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic. I remember handmade meatballs. I remember the last remnants of conversation with hints of old languages.

Dad grew up Methodist, and the combination of the two in marriage caused quite the stir. He was the youngest of three, a post WW2 baby, athletic and serious, though not always. He’d spent his career as an operator at a nuclear power plant.

Dad taught me the importance of words, of expectation, the idea that quiet is powerful. I remember the dark green ’67 Mustang and the smell of the exhaust that I can still catch a hint of on summer breezes. I remember fishing, hours on the lake, the feel of the sun reflecting off the water.

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I remember dinners, family, stories, the intersection of past and present, aunts, uncles and cousins. Watching children grow into adults.

When his parents, my grandparents, passed away I learned that holding your father in an embrace and feeling his tears is the closest thing to an inversion you’ll ever experience as a child, the point in time that you understand pain is universal, that no matter how long they tried to protect you from it, it will come around in the end.

Both laid the foundations of faith, the appreciation of making it through, the value of simplicity. Both could cook, both showed their love and affection in different ways.

Now, as a father, I say things and hear them speak through me.

As a child, you never picture your parents growing older. As a parent, you mark the passage of time through your own children. Suddenly you look into the future and the past seems to shift into the lingering fog of a cool September evening.

Both taught me, no matter what their faults, they would be there.

When Val and I suffered a miscarriage, I called my father on the way home from the hospital, just after five in the morning, and he answered the phone. And really he didn’t have to say anything, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever convey how much that meant.

My mother maintains, takes care, makes the drive from her house to ours more than once a week.

Both taught me the meaning of being a parent, being a man, and being present. They showed me that, no matter how often I screw up, the sun still rises and I’ll get another chance tomorrow.

So thank you, both of you, for the years. For the time, the purpose, the ups and downs and everything in between. You are both still an important part of our family, no matter the distance. I couldn’t do this without you.

Happy Birthday.

Psalm

Oh Father hear me.

When the fear takes over. When my boys ask if their masks are on the table for school tomorrow. When they ask, what’s next? And tomorrow is a mystery.

Oh Father hear me.

When the miracles are sparse. When the prayers are not answered. When hope drifts away on the wind and it seems the darkness prevails.

Oh Father hear me.

When getting out of bed is an act of faith. When we’ve had our last argument. When everything is tight and, no, you can’t have a snack at night because that food has to last.

When we are one moment away from a lock down. One moment from violence, anger, sickness, rage.

Oh Father hear me.

When worship is illegal, faith is under attack, community is discouraged, help is dangerous. When the loudest voice has become the media, the politicians.

And our hearts are quiet.

Oh Father hear me.

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When we lose our heroes. When we lose the strength to go on. When we close up, close down, sit in the darkness and wonder how we got here.

Oh Father hear me.

Hear my prayer.

For revolution. For fresh faith. For new purpose. For the Big Yes, the move that no one could have predicted. The miracle that could only come from you.

For closer families. For better friendships. For distance learning that works. For students that feel safe. for communities to rise up and help each other.

For the new.

For release from fear, anger, frustration, and resentment. No more worry.

For the strength to look in the eyes of children and tell them it will all work out.

For the strength to believe it.

Oh Lord hear me.

Let your work be done.

Because we’ve reached the end. And it will be a long year. And we can’t do it alone.

And with you all things are possible.

All things.

Read and React

We assign meaning.

What is something for someone may not be the same for someone else. Struggle is an emotionally-charged word.

I help with my son’s tournament baseball team. We’ve had a busy summer as baseball at his level is still happening across the country. We are about thirty games into our season. I’ve had the chance to observe a few hundred youth players.

An ace pitcher for one team is not the same for the next. Your best hitter may barely make an elite team somewhere else. Your fastest runner may not keep pace with a different group.

The value is in where your pieces fit together.

We assign meaning and value.

We are in the midst of a generational year. Things are changing and some will never change back. Families are feeling the pressure. As school approaches for some, and others have returned already, the pressure only increases.

Fear is heavy and pervasive. How do we move forward?

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Reframe.

Students learning virtually are stepping into a job world that will demand those exact skills. We are forced to examine what value truly is. Where do we contribute. How can we give and help those around us.

How can we see problems as opportunities?

What if there is no such thing as a problem, only a situation that demands a response?

There is always a response. Not moving forward is a choice as much as picking your path and going.

Dread is addicting. Cynicism is romanticized. Anger is supported with enthusiasm in the guise of action.

The infection is not the virus.

The infection is what it has exposed about our world, our medical system, our politics and our country.

Reframe one step at a time. Read and React. One day, one plan. One move to handle one situation.

What’s coming will not be easy. What’s coming is also great opportunity. The choice is yours.

Watch Your Narrative

A friend of mine was a professional boxer. He’s held titles and appeared on HBO‘s boxing programs. Our boys have grown up playing baseball together.

The other day, in casual conversation, I asked him if his son ever asked about learning to fight.

No, he told me, he hates it.

I’m in the midst of reading Ben Hardy’s Personality Isn’t Permanent. In it he discusses how we process the past. The past, he writes, can be changed by how we access memories. Studies have shown the more memories are accessed the more they change. The past is malleable.

The past can be used to our advantage. The past can be shaped and constructed.

The present is an interaction between our past and future selves. If your future self could sit down with your past, what would they have to talk about? Hardy poses this question in his book and it hits hard.

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I’ve had my share of pain in the past. It has taught me things though, it has laid down markers in the path that has become my life. It has taught me the meaning of love, the reality of faith, the value of fatherhood and the treasure of time.

It has taught me that running will not solve a problem, that fear is meant to be engaged with and understood. It has laid a valuable foundation. Your pain, your frustration and troubles have done the same.

For we have a choice.

A family member is critically ill right now. He’s a genuine person with a big heart and he’s immensely skilled in his profession. He’s fighting his battles right now, a conflict his future self is desperately trying to win.

This week I decided on a break from reading the news. I still find myself scrolling through the headlines, but I won’t click into anything. It took a day or two, but weight started to lift. My narrative was getting overwhelmed with dark and intense articles, the kind of things put in front of our faces on a daily basis.

Watch your input. Watch what you tell yourself. Watch what you tell your children.

Your input equals your output.

Your past does not have to equal your future.

Your future, though, needs room to breathe and grow. That can only be obtained through processing the pain, worry, and fear.

You can be different. You can be totally different.

You can be the first.

Be willing to do the work and take a break from the noise. Process the past. Look to the future. Win your battles one moment at a time.

You are not your labels, your past, your pandemic.

You are more and your story can start today.

The Best Gift Ever

It is almost midnight.

Standing in front of the mirror way too late, drying your hair because the morning is too crazy getting kids ready for camp. And work is long. And it is mid summer hot, the humid blanket of a Pennsylvania July.

I watch you and I think about all the times I’ve watched you get ready. I think about our first Valentine’s Day, handing you a necklace I’d saved up for from Zales, feeling that crazy pounding in my chest that only comes with doing something right.

I think about the you I’d met when she was seventeen. I can see her now, see her eyes and her feline smile. I think about old cars and part time jobs, going to the movies because Saturdays weren’t anything. Walking around the mall and window shopping for stuff for our first house.

I think about the moment I knew I’d propose and the moment you’d said yes. I think about our wedding and our honeymoon in Mexico, laying on a bed on the beach as blue waters rolled in the distance.

I think about the times you’d told me we would be having a child, about all the work you’d done carrying the boys, about how you’d changed and the glimmer of hope in your eyes because this was something you were born to do.

I think about the family members we’d lost over the years. I think about the miscarriage and the feeling of heartbreak. I think about holding you and sinking in that sorrow, standing in the cemetery listening to the remembrance service and wondering why us.

I think about our dreams, the ones we’ve done and the ones we’ve yet to do.

You ask me to talk more. Sometimes my voice fails. So I go to words.

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In a few days it will be your birthday. I may not have cool things to give you, but I can build with words and here’s my shot.

You are the strongest person I know. You have the biggest heart. You’ve taken our traumas and I’ve watched them paint your soul and, every morning, I see you get up and do it again.

You are an amazing mother and a stunningly beautiful woman. You still freeze my heart every day the first time our eyes meet.

Our boys look up to you, they look like you. The moments when you laugh with them I see the imprint of your soul on theirs, I see your eyes in their eyes and your heart in their hearts and it makes me proud because you are so much easier with love and compassion than I am.

You’ve taken a kid you met when he was sixteen and taught me what it meant to grow up, to open up and be a husband. You’ve taught me about being a father. I’m blessed by your patience, honored by your love and survive through your sense of humor.

You hold this family together. You hold this house together. You hold our souls together. I know, in the years to come, when the boys have their own families they will talk about these days. They’ll tell stories about playing in the back yard and riding their bikes to the playground. They’ll talk about watching America’s Funniest Videos on Sunday nights.

They’ll talk about mom calming their fears, helping them feel better, giving the best hugs and packing the best lunches in the morning.

They’ll talk about camping, about holidays, summers and winters. They’ll talk about the little place they grew up in. They’ll hold their wives up to you, so get ready.

Things haven’t been perfect. But, you know what? We weren’t meant for perfect. We were meant to be fighters, to survive in the moments we didn’t think we’d make it through. We were meant to hold hands on the couch at night. We were meant to be able to speak to each other in silence.

Because, next to you, is the only spot I’m truly at peace.

And I can’t tell you how much that means. Someday, I’ll find the words.

You are an amazing wife, an awesome mom, and you are my hero.

I love you.

A Matter of Trust

“What would happen if your future self came to you and told you that everything you want to see happen was going to happen? Would you believe them?”

Ben Hardy

I read in the car before work every morning, usually a book geared towards self improvement or study. The quote above, from Hardy’s book Personality Isn’t Permanent, stuck with me for the past few hours.

If you, from 2025, showed up at your house and said that every dream you have will happen, would you believe it? What if the end result relied on your faith?

Would I believe it?

What if the largest challenge in your life isn’t that mountain you are facing right now, what if it is the faith to take the first step? What if it is the faith to believe enough to take that step and get your feet in motion?

We all have different stories and experiences that impact our self image. We grow up thinking we deserve what we want, or we don’t. We grow up thinking we are worth it or worthless. Support and trauma shape identity.

We are living in a time where forces demand we hand over the keys of our lives and go along for the ride. Control is a dream. And when you are not in control, then the act of faith itself isn’t worth the effort because the let down is always just over the horizon.

Or is it?

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If you are anything like me, the question is a huge challenge. You’ve found yourself in a place you may not enjoy, working days that are unfulfilling. You phone it in. You get home and consume, letting the time slip away because the mental and emotional effort of the day literally took it all and there’s just a shell of yourself left for the very people most important in your life.

We were not meant to live in offices.

We were not meant to give in to the onslaught of technology and the relentless call to keep up. Our kids’ names are not YouTube, Facebook, or Messenger.

I’m not just preaching to you, I’m preaching to me.

If the answer is no, you wouldn’t trust your future self, then the next question is why?

Because faith acts on evidence. Evidence that your brain is triggered to pull up in every discussion of future. Oh no, it says, not now and not here. You’ve been hurt, you’ve struggled, you’ve had prayers not get answered. Your dreams haven’t happened. You are still clocking in and out, still drifting through one day to the next, setting your alarm for the morning, and going to sleep.

Like in The Matrix, we can be batteries for the machine.

Or we can take over.

We can find freedom. We can look forward without the voices from the past screaming.

I don’t know about you, but some days my faith is a matchstick. It is a candle flame in a dark room. The circle of light is barely enough to catch anything beyond its radius.

The question is simple. The question is daily. The question can and will shape your future.

If the you from the future showed up to dinner tonight and told you all your dreams will happen, how would you react? How would you act moving forward?

How would you wake up tomorrow? How would your vision change? How would your dreams change? Would you be challenged and inspired to dream bigger?

Life is not easy. Get to know your future self. Spend some time in their head-space and learn to act towards it. Move forward, not backward, and see where momentum takes you.

What If?

“What if paying the bills was no longer your goal? Would you still keep that job you hate?” -Ben Hardy

What if hate isn’t hereditary? Would you have that difficult conversation with your child?

What if love is meant for forever? Would you kiss your spouse goodbye?

What if you can’t get time back? Would you put down your phone?

What if faith isn’t passive? Would you be courageous?

What if dreams are meant to be chased? Would you take the risk?

What if sorrow is the most important teaching moment? Would you stop avoiding it?

What if miracles can happen? Would you pray?

What if a cure is coming?

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What if heroes aren’t who you think? Would you thank that person that just popped into your mind?

What if art and music can still carry you away? Would you stop and listen?

What if anxiety is too much control? Would you let yourself be free?

What if pain is only temporary? Would you hold their hand?

What if small acts last into eternity? Would you check on your neighbor?

What if your kids are watching?

What if school is virtual? Are you ready?

What if…

2021 is different

We stop listening to the media

We start chasing who we want to be

We love, we hope, we dream

We stop waiting for permission

Our time is now

Time is a Distance

One of my favorite writers, Ben Hardy, has examined this concept extensively.

Time is a distance. It is not how long you are going, but how far you move as a person. Are you the same person you were yesterday? Are you moving towards a future that will pull you years down your timeline?

As a family, we’ve been reminded of this recently on a few different fronts.

Our boys have trouble helping out around the house. Our oldest apologized the other day for something he always neglects to do. I told him, here’s a tip for later in life; apologize too often for the same thing and you will not be considered sincere or genuine. You’ll be a liar.

How far have you moved from your past?

Have you considered what you value and what is worth chasing?

Hardy writes;

“A person choosing to spend large portions time in an unsatisfying job in order to
make ends meet is on a fast track to his deathbed. Time will move increasingly faster as
a result of his slow pace—the relativity of time. The minuscule moments of freedom spent
doing what he desires will seem to disappear far too quickly; and before he knows it,
he’s back at the grindstone.
While at work, he may as well not be living as his time spent is detested. When the
goal is merely to “get through” the day as quickly as possible, life will pass full of regrets.
Time becomes the great taskmaster when it should be the liberator. His time is endured
rather than enjoyed. He is often late and constantly missing the moments that matter
most—caught in the vacuum of time-acceleration toward death without any perceived
way of slowing it down.”

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Authenticity is scary. What if we are rejected? When you’ve experienced rejection in the past, it is way easier to imagine for the future.

When you look at the weight of bad choices, all the things that could provide freedom seem unreachable. Good News is something for a social media feed. It is because we long for the grand “Good News” and not something that applies directly to us.

I had a sales job for two weeks after college. They taught the Keep Up With the Jones’s technique. Tell your customer that everyone around them is doing it and they might miss out.

We take our Good News with the same intent. Does it fit with our friends and family? Is it something that we can text and get a positive response? How about a few Facebook likes?

Or is it authentic?

What drives you?

What fills your time? What do you value? What is valuable to you?

Make no mistake, they are two different things.

This is a challenge I am working on right now and, reading through some resources I’m realizing some things that excite me, an authentic self I’ve buried under just getting by.

I’m realizing how much time I’ve traveled, how much I’ve lost, and what is left to accomplish.

Time, the distance, can be as we make it.

Be bold. Create. Follow your path even when you are the only one on it. Love deeply. Love well. Engage.

Slow things down.

See what happens.