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.

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.

My Biggest Challenge Right Now as a Dad

Originally published on Medium.com.

My son is eleven years old and he has anxiety. Not just worries or concerns. His triggers can be large or small. Change plans and you’ll create an emotional response. Take something away, discipline, ask for him to do something he doesn’t want to do and all this can lead to emotions that take time to calm.

He told me yesterday that sleep makes him nervous.

Yesterday was not easy.

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Fears come from pressure, real or imagined. Pressure comes from adversity. We have two options when faced with adversity; fight or flight.

Make yourself better. Now. In the moment. Get tougher to rise with the occasion.

I read about this stuff and, almost forty years into life, I get it. The message is not complicated. Every day I page through my worn copy of Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.

My son has started to look at it. He’s interested.

The larger concepts are not easy to cross over.

When you are facing middle school. You are facing a summer that will not look like the last few. When you haven’t seen your friends in months. When the last day you entered a school was to drop off your stuff from home and you went as fast as possible to get the mask off quick enough to not have anyone see or make fun of you.

These changes in his personality have been coming for a few years.

In 2018, my wife and I experienced a miscarriage. He did not take it well. He was excited for a sibling and the loss hurt him, and all of us, deeply.

I’ve come to understand that loss offers us a choice. We can stay in it or use it to move forward stronger.

In his eleven years, we’ve dealt with other things large and small.

Nothing like this pandemic. Nothing like trying to explain why he has to distance and why he has to wear a mask in a store and may have to wear one eight hours a day in the fall, in a new school.

Nothing like this time of civil unrest, explaining to him that physical appearance means something in this world no matter how much we’d like to think otherwise, explaining that his job as a young man and eventual adult is to love everyone and work purposefully to stop hate whenever he sees it.

The biggest challenge I’m facing as a dad right now is this:

Standing in the center of this storm with two sons reaching for my hands looking for encouragement that the winds and waves will subside.

Looking to be steadied.

When the lesson is that adversity will never go away.

That forces moving against us call for us to rise up. That fear may be tempting you to run away but, in the end, running towards the source of the fear is the only option.

That’s the challenge.

Looking in their faces and saying no, the storms won’t stop. The waves will keep coming.

You two, my boys, will rise up and grow stronger.

Your sails will one day catch the wind and you will take off away from mom and I on your own journeys.

Until then we’ll be here. In good times and bad. When you laugh and when you are scared. When you fear. When the shadows seem too long.

We’ll be here to call you forward, to catch you when you stumble, and set you on your path once more.

A Letter to Heaven

Two years ago, you went home.  On a dark and cold winter night we drove to the hospital with you and, when we left the next morning, you were gone.  Your mom was a little more than twenty weeks pregnant.  You’d made it half way.

Then you were called home.

I cried when I found out you were coming, not out of joy.  I was scared, to be honest, to meet you.  We never found out your gender but something tells me you were meant to be my little girl.

Your brothers grow each and every day.  Carter is so active and he has a huge heart.  Aiden is so smart. He loves to sit and relax, play his video games and watch his shows. They would have loved you. They still do.

I like to read.  You never found that out, but I’ll tell you because it’s important to me.  I read something yesterday that asked “how would you live if you had 6 months left?”

I thought about this question.

And my mind went to you. You had six months.  So what if I could live inspired, grab that time, know and remember every second of swirling emotion. What if I could see you as an inspiration?

What if I could live these days to make you proud of me.

The world is hard.  It is loud and noisy.  People get distracted.  I like to think the chaos was too much for you and God called you back to heaven because your heart was too pure for this.

Because we struggle.  We suffer. We hurt.  Your mom and I, our hearts were broken when we lost you.  Your brothers, they were so excited to meet you one day.

We’re not perfect, but we were your family.  We are your family.

You will always be in our hearts.

Until the day I see you again, my little girl.

~Your dad

 

Rebuild

One of my favorite current podcasts is “The Only Way is Through” from Under Armour. UA is active in the world of sports and athletic training.  This podcast shows some depth at the creative minds behind the company.  It is a series of profiles of athletes, coaches, and their families as they deal with adversity and prepare for competition.

The last episode was a profile of Notre Dame Women’s Basketball coach Muffet McGraw.  Mired in the first losing season in decades, McGraw is attempting to get back to the basics and draw success out of a challenged group of players.

The theme of these, as stated in the title, is how to handle adversity.  Adversity often arrives in a formula in life.  It starts, we follow to a breaking point, then must discover how to rebuild.

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In my experience, rebuilding takes three things.

Faith that God works for good.  That struggle is not without purpose. That the rise comes after the fall.  I’m still fighting a three decade battle with cynicism.  And the choice to be optimistic has led to more struggles.  Yet, it is all part of the process. Contrast is important for humility.  Recognition breeds appreciation. Interruptions are opportunities.  We must shift our viewpoint.

Hope in new life. We are never too far gone, too old, in too deep, or too far away. We are never out of the orbit of God.  We are never past our chances to redeem ourselves. It will be hard. It will take effort.  It will be filled with discomfort but, in the end, it is worth it.  We must learn to love the fight and never stop.

Love the process. If we are not struggling, we are not growing.  If we don’t mess up, we are not trying hard enough.  If we don’t push ourselves past our limits we will miss our potential. There is joy in the process.  Destruction breeds creation. Bonds can be rebuilt better than before.

This afternoon Aiden determined to nail down shoes with laces. It was a time of laughter and tears, ups and downs, frustration and disappointment for him. He wanted to see how I did it, then how Val did it, and finally how Carter did it.  In the end, after time, he figured it out.

At some point, it will be a job, a car, a house, a wife and kids.  At some point it will be losing a job, a car accident, selling a house, and dealing with family emergencies. The sooner we learn how to rebuild, the more equipped we will be.

For the Day Ones are not easy.  We can only prepare and equip ourselves and, when the day comes, take the first step back.

 

Tuxedo

Carter and I were riding in the car this morning.

“They had a meeting with all of fifth grade this week as a reminder about how to act at lunch and in class and with friends,” he says, “this one kid got in trouble a few times for doing things, like real bad things he shouldn’t have.”

An unusually warm February sun shone in the window. I thought about what he said.

Do you know what a gentleman is? I asked.

Not really, he said. I took a breath.

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Open doors.

Say please and thank you, loud enough to be heard.

Pull her chair out. Push her chair in.

Ask to hold her hand.

When the time is right, ask to kiss her.

Be a friend. Stand up for the bullied and stand up to the bullies.

Be a leader. Make those around you better.

Talk. Listen. Respect.  Shake hands. Say goodbye. Look people in the eyes.

Stand at the table when people arrive or leave.

Make your word your bond. Tell the truth. Be honest. Mean it.

Be a good man. Be a good friend. Be a good husband. Be a good father.

Be confident.  Give confidence.

Celebrate wins. Learn from losses. Apologize for wrongs. Don’t gloat over rights.

Be humble. Be sympathetic and empathetic.

Does it make sense? I asked.  He nodded. I think, he said.

Me, your father, and your great grandfather were raised to be gentlemen, to be good men.  I expect you and your brother to be the same, I said.

I want both of you to be known as good men.

He smiled.

We drove on into the afternoon.

Tides

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In the moment before a tidal wave, waters on the surface recede.  Witness accounts have placed this happening sometimes hundreds of yards out, a once calm process broken up and disturbed.  Life on the ocean floor suddenly exposed to air.  Moments of routine destroyed.

One second you can breathe, the next you cannot.

And in that pause, the rumble of miles of water, pure tons of force.  A flow moving at speeds beyond understanding, plowing through borders and boundaries.  Everything held dear is swept away.

I’d like to write about some cinematic moment, some vast realization played out against the backdrop of soaring violins, fall sunsets, and family embraces.  I’d like to write that an angel appeared, told Carter to not be afraid, and peace settled. None of these things happened.

We’ve explored options and have found some that seem to work.  Carter is progressing.  Formally large worries are not as large anymore.  He’s faced some fears and walked through them. We are on the dawn of tween years.

This past weekend he played baseball in a tournament just outside the city where I’d attended college.  I took Carter to dinner after the games in a restaurant that Val and I often frequented.  The night was cool with families milling around outside.  We walked through the restaurant and shopping area around it while my mind was in a different time.  We went into the Barnes and Noble where I’d stood almost twenty years ago waiting for an engagement ring to be finished in the mall down the road, one I’d give to Val later that night.

So many hopes and expectations, excitement looking forward.

At some point, life teaches you that expectations will fail. The path will not come easy.  Fear and worry will hound you, large black dogs of acceptance whose red eyes shine when you look at the window of a sleepless night. The things you believed as a child will be shed and the nuclear explosion impact will hit that nobody is perfect and you’ll spend decades processing that fall out.

Slowly you’ll emerge and realize:

Optimism is a choice. Hope is earned. Dreams can change.

Fear can hold you back or push you forward.

Nothing breaks your heart like the pain of a child.

Love is not the passion in the early years of marriage.

Love is the overdue bill, the unnecessary credit card, the change in body type, long hours, cold dinners, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, text messages about nothing, arguing and still, after the kids are in bed, sitting on the couch with each other and watching a movie.

Love is seeing a broken heart and standing next to it. Love is knowing every pain and scar and still holding hands.

Friendship is golden, community is scary but both are necessary.

You will get angry and yell at your kids and you will sound exactly like your parents and your child will look at you. You’ll see yourself and in that moment the entire universe stops spinning.

 

Then the waves settle. The sun sets. Night falls.  You climb in bed next to your spouse and say I love you and realize there is nowhere else you’d rather be.

 

Smoke

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I recently finished the book Vicious by V.E. Schwab. She has a razor’s touch and style that carries you into a world of heroes, villains, shifting allegiances and every role in between. There are great lines in the book itself but one, an aside of descriptive observation, lives in my head.

A character is waiting for his girlfriend on their college campus.  She writes,

“Eli was waiting on the building steps in the late afternoon with a cup of coffee in each hand. The dusk smelled like dead leaves and far-off fires; his breath escaped in small clouds as he held one of the coffees out to her, and she took it and slipped her arm through his again.”

Writing is powerful and these few sentences put me right there on the steps.  The time, smell, breath and taste pulled me into the past.  How many of you read that paragraph and were immersed in sensory feedback?  I could smell the smoke and taste the coffee.

Fall puts me in the past, in the midst of slate skies and Friday Night Lights. The sound of the school band echoing down the streets of our home town, the nights where pumpkins and candles just start to wink through the darkness.

Time is a double-edged sword. It is that fire that never stops consuming our memories and expectations.  It has a unique talent to absorb the past and future. I look at my sons and realize they’ll be looking back at me one day as teenagers, men, husbands and fathers. I look at Val and realize one day we’ll be holding hands as our grandchildren play in the yard.  I look in the mirror and wonder what happened to that kid staring back.  No debt, no regrets, no missed opportunities.  Just chance and an open road of time.

And almost four decades later, here I am. God, that sentence scares me.

The smoke from far-off fires reminds us. Everything changes.  Everything will burn and emerge a new creation. We will raise our boys until one day they’ll step out into this world on their own.  We will keep on our path as it grows and changes.

In a way, things are the same. Yeah the weight of life is heavy.  The choices we’ve made, good and bad, have shaped our story. Our love and mistakes as parents have helped to shape two boys into growing kids.

We are still that couple walking home from high school holding hands. We still stand at the edge of opportunity.  Some days dusk seems closer than others.

And the sun still rises.

Every day is a chance for something more.

The Lake

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Do you have a sense of purpose in life?

Have you come to terms with life and death in a way you resonate with?

How much power do you have in designing your future?

Death, it turns out, is not your greatest fear. Actually, your greatest fear is reaching death and having never truly lived.

When you organize your spiritual life, you become clear on what your life is about. You become clear on what you stand for, and how you want to spend each day. You develop conviction for what really matters to you, and what is a “distraction.”

No matter how well defined, everyone has a moral system governing their behavior. Most people believe in being honest and good people.But until you organize your spiritual life, you’ll experience internal conflict when acting contrary to your values and vision.

-Benjamin Hardy

 

I shut my eyes to sleep and open them to the lake.

Waves lap against the boat. The metal reflects the heat of the morning. Mist rises from the water. Dragonflies land and take off.  To my left, a fish blasts through the surface and the dragonfly, a living flash of emerald, buzzes past my head with too much peace for having faced death.

I am young. I turn in my seat and see no one.  I am alone and fear grips me like ice.

Do not be afraid. The voice sounds from all sides, from the water and sky, the trees and forest, the earth and air. The boat dips as a weight settles behind me.  I turn to see a man.

He wears a suit the color of fall Pennsylvania sky.

Who are you? I ask.

I was wondering the same, he says.  His voice is a mix of many. I hear my father, my grandfather, years of blood running through the past.

He tents his hands on his lap.

Ask.

I feel a drop of rain, hear thunder in the distance. Rain destroys the calm surface. My shirt sticks to my chest.  I shut my eyes as memories roll like waves. Every moment, conversation, up and down. Joy, sorrow, embarrassment. Frustration.

First hand held, first kiss, slow dancing at the prom, proposing marriage. Moving out. Plans, dreams, visions, struggle.

Loss.

Wind rips through the trees, pulling the breath from my lungs. I force out a word.

Why.

He laughs.

Because I formed the first star and set its place in the sky and, in that moment, I knew you. I knew your purpose. I shaped the wind and every single drop of rain.

He raises his hands. The storm dies.

The story is unfinished. The ending is written and your role is of vital importance. I need you in the place that can only come from hurt, from loss and suffering.

I need you to walk through the fires and come out refined.  The fires will only get hotter, the journey longer, the force harder.

I need you because you need me.

I’m scared, I say. An eagle soars from a distant tree top.

I’ll be with you.

Stand.

When you fear          When you cry

When you can’t take another moment

When you lose

When you feel like you have nothing left

Stand.

More storms are coming, he says.  Know I will pull you through.

Thunder crashes and he is gone.

 

 

My eyes open to a storm outside. Aiden climbing into our bed. Red numbers on the clock.

And the sound of rain tapping against the glass, peaceful in the night.  

 

 

Night Swim

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This past weekend, Val headed to the beach with her sister and mother while I was home handling some errands and spending time with the boys.  On Friday, the pool we joined had a movie night/night swim. I took Carter over as Aiden was sleeping at my mother’s house.

We sat in the parking lot as the pool had closed their gate for thirty minutes to get the lights up and pool ready.  They were also showing a movie and had to get the large screen set on the lawn next to the pool.  As we waited in the car, the parking lot filled with families.  Other cars arrived and started dropping off teens for the swim.  When the time came, the gate opened and we made our way inside.

I took position on a bench while Carter played with his friends.  In about twenty seconds I realized how much time had passed.

Things I wish I’d known twenty years ago:

1/  Everyone is insecure- The crowd was a mix of the “popular kids” and the outsiders.  One girl ran past me telling her friends “People want me in the pool and you are all up here hanging out.  I don’t know what to do!” Some guys swam in full t shirts, others without. The posturing was interesting to say the least.  If there’s anything I’d tell myself at 17 is that all people are insecure, not just you.

2/ These years aren’t forever I thought everything was huge.  All the conversations, interactions, days in school and days in summer.  I thought it all mattered for the rest of time. It does not. Time is fleeting (in the words of the Rocky Horror Picture Show) and the sun will rise tomorrow.  Eventually, it fades to memories.

3/ Have fun– A group of kids stood off in the corner hanging out and watching the others swimming, laughing and joking around. I know, from my own insecurities, that I missed out often on experiences and taking chances.  Courage is not an easy thing, often it may seem  cool to stay off to the side, but you must take advantage of the moments and grasp them tightly.

Because soon you’ll be a dad, watching your son swim, and wondering where all the time has gone.  You’ll know, soon enough, he’ll want to be dropped off and ask you to wait in the parking lot.

The fear of a parent is not missing out.  It is not how our kids will survive and will they make it though to adults. The fear is not having enough time.  It is knowing that one day they’ll leave the house and start their own families.  One day they’ll have their own lives and your conversations will change.

You’ll watch them graduate, meet significant others, stand in front of you and exchange vows. You’ll see them in their own house and get the call one day that you’ll be a grandparent.

One day there will be no 10 year old to take to the pool. No player to drive to baseball practice. No head resting in your lap as you watch a movie on Friday nights. No one strolling into the kitchen to give you a hug just because.

One day they’ll be out there, on their own.

And you’ll think of the day you sat at the pool and watched him swim and you’ll wish, just for a moment, that you could go back there and do it all one more time.  Have one more summer night as the sun set, listen to the laughing and splashing, and maybe you’ll get up and join him.  Maybe you’ll tell him how proud you are. Maybe you’ll stop checking email and just be there in the moment.

Because one day he won’t. He’ll be the sum of his childhood out there in the world and, God willing, be a better man than you.