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.

Photo by Hoang Loc on Pexels.com

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.

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.”

Photo by Alex Powell on Pexels.com

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.

What You Don’t Know About Your Hair Stylist

Originally published on medium.com

She stayed up late last night looking at a list of names.

This list is more than one hundred people. She looks down the list as her cell phone alerts sound. Facebook, text messages, questions. She puts the phone down and goes back to the list.

Her list is not just names. It brings up faces in her mind.

Families.

Children she met as babies and cut the first time they were ready and not afraid to sit in her chair. Men and women, old and young. She takes a breath and she thinks about her list.

She thinks about her year. She thinks about what she knows and she wonders.

How is your wife dealing with her illness? How is your elderly father? How is your child dealing with home schooling?

She thinks about the client she invited to Thanksgiving, the lady who has no family, the one she hasn’t heard from in months and she worries.

She knows about your problems. She knows about your new job, about the child you are sending to college in the fall and she wonders how they will do because she’s cut their hair since they were in elementary school and she’s planning a small graduation gift for you to give to them.

Something to show she cares.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

She knows about your friends. She knows about your fights. She knows about your sex life or lack there of. She knows about your worries and she listens.

Her chair is a confessional, a psychology session, a bar stool. Your words never leave the salon and she will always keep it that way.

Her phone sounds again. She looks at the message.

When are you opening?

She closes her eyes.

The pandemic has taken months of time. Time is valuable. Days can be twelve hours, standing for most of it, morning to night. Appointments, cuts, colors, perms.

You need her to stay late? Sure. Your color didn’t turn out and you need it fixed? Let’s do it.

She works without breaks. She gives you her time. She gets home after midnight again and kisses her kids goodnight as they sleep in their beds. She changes in the dark, listening to her husband shift under the covers. She warms up dinner from a container. She sits at the kitchen table shaking her hands to wake up her wrists.

Her fork feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. Her right arm held a blow dryer for hours today, elevated, an extended single arm pull up that would hinder any grown man.

And she pours a glass of iced tea. And she eats as night passes outside.

Her phone alerts again. A comment on the salon’s Facebook page. People are angry. She scrolls through replies. She scrolls through her main page. She scans new status updates.

So happy to get my hair done finally.

Got my hair cut. Had to drive to do it, but it was worth it!

Two names on her list. She grabs the paper and makes changes.

The salon meeting happens over Zoom. PPE is purchased. Stations will be spaced out. Protect yourselves. Protect your clients. No one in the waiting room. They will enter from the parking lot, get cut, and leave.

No paying with cash.

And there’s the catch. The commission will be less, sure, but it will pick up eventually she believes. No cash though, that hurts. Credit card tips get taxed.

Cash is a tank of gas on the way home. Lunch money for school. A cup of coffee.

No cash.

Color is complicated. Color is chemicals. Color is heat and she’ll be wearing extra layers, so she’ll be sweating. So she’ll need to drink. Drinking means taking time. Time she doesn’t have with a crowded parking lot waiting to get serviced.

So she doesn’t drink.

Oh, and by the way, no blow-drying hair.

The final touch. The masterpiece. The way a client can see their beautiful new color in action.

Not anymore. No, they will go home and do it themselves and, if it doesn’t look good enough they will call that night to get it fixed.

And they will go back on the list.

“Mommy, I’ll miss you.”

She hugs her son. She’s spent months with them. She’s planned days and activities. She’s been a teacher and cook, mother and manager. She’d had weekends for once, months of weekends!

She’s gotten used to weekends.

Saturdays now will be different.

Saturdays will be her Mondays. Driving to the salon as the sun comes up some mornings, no traffic, window down and radio playing.

Nerves kicking in.

Her phone sounds again. It pulls her attention from a picture on the wall from when she was younger, fifteen years before. The first time she’d stepped in to a salon.

The moment she knew this would be her calling.

“It’s all I know,” she told her husband.

So they would wait until they could open.

One final weekend. One final week.

Looking at the list 1,000 more times.

She looks in the mirror. She tries on her work clothes and loops the mask over her ears. She wonders how this will work. She takes the mask off.

She finds her equipment. She cleans it.

She loads her car and she looks at the quiet house.

It’s time to go to work.

Matt Shaner has been married to a hair stylist for fifteen years. This is his tribute to his hero and to all stylists out there getting back into it. Stay strong. You will make it through.

Haunted

How many people from your wedding party do you still talk to?

This was a question floated to me the other day.  At the moment, the answer is one and that’s because he’s my brother-in-law. There’s a phenomenon out there known as ghosting and we, as a society, are particularly good at it.

ghost·ing

noun: ghosting

1.the appearance of a ghost or secondary image on a television or other display screen.

2.the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

Val and I were friends with another couple for a year or two.  Our kids played together.  We had dinners, trips to the playground, they even watched our kids once which is not something we normally ask of anyone outside of family.  One day, out of the blue, the calls and texts stopped.

I realized, after a while, we were ghosted.

Relevant magazine did an entire article on this, about how people in the church are skilled at ghosting. The entire concept of friendship has shifted over the years.

pexels-photo-638701

Digital communication has increased availability but decreased depth. Those we care about can be reached with a few taps of a phone screen.  This has made our walls and armor quicker to deploy.

I worked for a financial company right out of college.  One team had me on a 5 am to 1 pm schedule.  It wasn’t horrible once I’d gotten used to it.  I liked the people, thought I had fit in well, and it wasn’t too hard of a job.  One day, HR called me into a meeting.  The rep slid a printout of an email across the table.  It was from the supervisor of the group saying about how I was a liability, didn’t fit in, and it wasn’t working out.  He advised an internal move that I eventually completed. This was in 2008 and, eventually, I was laid off with a few million other people across the country.

I still have trouble trusting people.  This creates an issue because we need people.

Writing is a solitary effort at heart.  I loved the process of getting my MFA and working in writing groups but, in the end, it was always me and the story.  It was my wall to climb. Depending on someone else requires trust and accessibility.

For Val, her background lends her to a different path.  She handles things on her own.  It is easier to just do it than to rely on someone else who could let you down.

Community is never easy.  Humanity is not pretty or nice or politically correct.  People let us down, they walk away for no reason.  They leave us behind.

The trick is to not let your ghosts haunt you.

Because someone out there needs to hear from you today, a text or a phone call, a note of encouragement or just to know that you are there. Someone needs to be lifted up.  Take a second a give it a try.  You may find that, when you lift someone else up, you get lifted yourself.

We can climb out of the wreckage of ourselves and rebuild.  We can rise above the mess. We can restart one day at a time and rewrite our stories.  We can do it together.

Suspension of Disbelief

Edgar Allen Poe created fiction that defined a genre. He made the literary rounds of his time, eventually dying mysteriously in the city of Baltimore  and starting a tradition where followers would leave a black rose on his grave for the anniversary of his death. I have a Collected Works of Poe on my bookshelf.

When he ventured into writing about writing itself, he gave us the idea of suspension of disbelief.  It was the dividing line when a reader gives in to a story no matter the content.  The lovers cause your heart to race, the stormy night makes the corners a little darker, and the fanciful world seems like it is just outside your door.

Think of your favorite book or movie.

Odds are it is a story with a quick suspension of disbelief.  Whether a space opera, teen post apocalyptic fantasy, or guy building a baseball field to connect with his dead father. The themes of great stories cross over into our lives and provide an escape that keep us coming back to turn the page or see the movie just one more time.

mirror-light-black-glassToday didn’t feel like one of those days.

Maybe you went to a job you don’t like, clocked in and out, and drove home to go through the motions.  Maybe your spouse or loved one didn’t acknowledge you when you walked through the door, the house is a mess, the cushions are off the couch for the 1000th time as portable gym mats while your kids do flips from the couch (not that I speak from experience, or anything).

Maybe the paycheck arrived and it is already spent. The student loans pile up. The lenders are calling and the car is two months behind an oil change, but getting one means taking time you don’t have and money you don’t have.

So something has to suffer.

How do we learn to love our own stories?

Embrace the characters- Your circle will expand and contract as the years pass. People come and go but some will stay forever. Find those who make your life full; the dreamers and visionaries, the creatives and the ones that make you laugh.  Find joy and the hearts it inhabits.  Bring these people close and, when you do, look out for others who could use some joy in their own lives.  Expand your circle and make a difference.

Embrace the conflict- It will not always be clear or easy. Some of the most powerful conflict has shifting lines of allegiance.  In one of my favorite novels, The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, the conflict is between the author, his lover, and her husband. All sides falter and the humanity of the characters draws you in. When conflict comes, you have two choices.  You can run or fight. There is no other option. I tend to procrastinate and, really, it is only another form of running. As the saying goes, if you aren’t moving forward you are falling behind.  Always keep moving forward.

Embrace the crescendo– The hero is down on the mat and the ref is counting to ten. The bases are loaded with two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The big presentation is due and the PowerPoint file is corrupted.

Thunder sounds over a trio of crosses on a hill so many years ago.

You’ll know when it happens.  We are all called to a crescendo, to a taste of the edge, to the point where all seems lost. We are called to suffering.

That may make some uncomfortable.  It is not a popular message in a world of quick fixes, success strategies, coaching courses and prosperity ministries. You won’t find too many graphics at the local Christian book store with the phrase behind an artistic sunrise print.

We suffer because we are being refined as part of the Greatest Story Ever Told. We suffer because we follow the one who went before us.

We suffer because we are called to do great things, to change lives and spark a movement that will electrify the world.

You may be facing a crescendo right now as you read this.

If you are, I pray you find courage to stand and be in the moment. I pray you love your story and walk forward with suspension of disbelief. As you wake tomorrow, look with new eyes and know you are a part of something so much bigger. Embrace the flow of the story, the characters and the conflict and start writing your own fresh pages.

~Matt

 

Define Your Regrets

Last week we went to visit friends.  Both our families have kids the same age and they love to play together.  As the kids watched a movie, I sat at the kitchen table with my friend Matt (besides sharing the same name, an awesome guy).  Conversation moved to the past.  We talked about growing up.

I mentioned my grandfather taking me fishing on Saturday mornings.  No cell phones. No deadlines or dilemmas.  He drove his old pickup truck to the pond, parked next to it, and gradually walked around throwing his line in at various spots.  I talked about learning how to play cards and feeling like I was an adult as I sat in on rounds of family pinochle. Matt said his grandfather was a farmer and they would go on long walks at the farm, just talking and throwing rocks into the fields.

I regret the past my boys won’t get to have.

Regret, you see, is a tricky thing. In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he writes about regret.  As people age, they long for the missed opportunities.  In the short-term it is more regret of things done. Time draws your attention to the probabilities. If only I had started that business, chased that dream, asked out that guy or girl.  If only I took that vacation, adventure, mission trip.

We must reframe the concept.

beach

If there is anything I regret, it is not changing the narrative of my life. I told myself a story shaped by my experiences.  This kept me out of leadership opportunities, creative endeavors, ministry to friends and family  It told me I wasn’t good enough, said I was the sum of my past and not a new creation.

It was condemnation, pure and simple.

And we know that, according to the Apostle Paul in Romans, There is no condemnation for those in Jesus.

It is so addicting.  In this country, we love throwing condemnation around and drawing our lines in the sand. We are fine with grace as it extends to us, just don’t ask us to push the boundaries.

We are called into the void, past the battle lines.

The cross allows us to live without condemnation, destroying the influence of the past and old narratives on our lives. The voices that trap and snare from the dark now fall on deaf ears. We are new creations, made to chase down callings that shine light on the world.  We are meant to create, to sing, dance, write, act, draw, sculpt, design, build, and plan.

We are here to destroy old ideas and break new ground.

We are called out of the safety of our regrets (for excuses are always safe) and made dangerous.  Dangerous to the ways of the enemy, the one seeking to destroy lives.  Dangerous to the ones saying this kind of radical love is impossible.  You want to donate, serve, open your home, give your time?

You want to be selfless?

This year redefine regret and let it move you forward.  Take nothing for granted.  Dive in and know that you are called to so much more.

~Matt

How to Know and Escape Toxic Environments

When I worked in the emergency room, it happened every few nights.  The waiting room was full, the treatment rooms full with at least two or three intoxicated patients in the back. Parents would be holding injured children.  Hours ticked past and you felt the tension.

Soon, a person would snap and start yelling at us and we’d have to get security involved.  They’d calm until the next one yelled.

Eight hours of work in a toxic environment is enough to ware down even the strongest of souls. It doesn’t always take the dramatic form of an emergency room.  It can be a classroom, an office, a factory floor or retail store.

It can be the dinner table.

Toxic environments impact every person inside their borders. The tension is real. Loved ones hurt each other with words and actions. Coworkers gossip. Creativity is stifled and hope vanishes. There is no ownership, no teamwork, and no personal or corporate incentive.

You show up, put in time, and leave

pexels-photo

There are ways to escape.

Find Your Passion– Make your work line up with your passion. This is easier said than done in the current economic environment but, the advent of social media and technology has leveled the playing field.  You can learn a new skill through research and free resources found online.  You can set up a website and start finding customers through various free platforms. Think of what you’d do if you could pick anything and chart out the path to make it happen.  The biggest risk is not taking a shot at all.

Find Your Community– Toxic environments destroy community.  They isolate and capture, creating conflict and discord. The only bonding occurs over negative talk and stories as criticism becomes the accepted language. Finding a genuine community helps you break free.  Some of those nights in the emergency room, I was blessed to work with others who followed Jesus and we made a point to make each other laugh and keep things light. At home, start small with a walk around the block, date night, or doing homework at the kitchen table. Build bonds and know you are not alone. Walking the path together always makes things easier.

Find Your Creativity– Break old routines by making something new. Creation breeds passion and community. Look at your current situation and make a list of what could change.  How could you be a part of it? What new ideas could you bring to the table? We are all called to create.  Listen to your calling.

Find Your Faith– I believe we are meant for something more.  We are here to break through toxic environments.  We are to be light in the darkness and salt of the earth. I believe we were born with purpose and passion.

You may read this tonight and feel the tug of truth.  You may look in the mirror and know your soul is incomplete.  Work tomorrow seems like jail and not freedom. The person sleeping next to you is distant.  The kids are wild. You just had a fight with that parent that can’t seem to understand.

You are tired.

Make a list.  Check the points above and find your freedom.  It is possible and it can happen.

I’m making the journey and we can do it together.

~Matt

What Lights Your Fuse?

Most of us can articulate what we want.  Ask someone on the street or in the next desk at work and you’ll get a quick list of the usual answers of bigger, better stuff and success.  We have these dreams that quicken our heart rate and all it takes is one negative voice for them to quiet down.

This week, as I near finishing the editing process for my upcoming book about the fight against poverty, I’m devoting time to refining my dreams and goals:

~A writing business that makes a difference in the lives of clients and organizations.

~Publications that inspire, engage, and spread hope across an international audience.

~To be able to work from my computer.  Whether at home, a Barnes and Noble, a bench at the park or a blanket on the beach.

~To be there for my boys as they grow up, create a legacy they’ll be proud of, and set a foundation for their future and generations to follow.

The choice is really a tipping point. Google success stories and you’ll find plenty. What makes those people different from you and I?

The decision to go.

The last instructions of Jesus were to Go and Make Disciples of all the world. The order still applies. Time is too short to stand still.  Make use of every day you have and keep moving.

12182521_10205152759640215_360975160441931274_o

This is our son Aiden in a pic taken this weekend.  Every time I see it, I smile and I understand.  This is why.  This is one of the flames that light the fuse every morning, in every quiet moment and dark time, and keeps me burning for what is to come.

Find your inspiration this week, grasp it, and get to work.

~Matt

 

The Joy Shortage

It was a short walk. Our building at work is three floors.  This past week I was upstairs in the testing center.  I had to run some documents down to the second floor. I left my desk, went through the back hallway and down the stairs.

I crossed the second level and passed patients, nurses, and doctors.  After delivering papers to our financial guy I returned upstairs.

Not one greeting, smile, or acknowledgement. I made eye contact with patients and other coworkers, tried to engage with people, and found nothing. As I sat down at my desk, the realization hit me.

We are missing joy.

pexels-photo-14275

I work at a cardiology office and the irony is not lost.  There are many people with sick hearts, young and old, rich and poor. They go through the motions and decide if they have enough reason to keep moving forward.

Society isn’t helping.

We’re facing a higher cost for everything, from healthcare to groceries. We’re patronized from the media and politicians forever out of touch with the people they represent.

So how do we find joy again?

Friends: Val and I are meeting friends tomorrow night for dinner and a concert in the city. There is value in genuine community. There is value in sharing success and struggle.  It is too easy to feel alone.  I had a person this week show up way early for an appointment and tell me, “It is better than being with my husband.” Don’t live a life without the release that comes from the shoulder of a friend to lean on.

Function: I am not where I’m meant to be.  You may think that wouldn’t be conducive to joy, but the opposite is true.  I work with many people who have settled and don’t have the energy to make a change.  They spend their days miserable, trapped in comfort that has robbed them from passion and purpose. It is never too late to move.  What is the dream you have? The art you are meant to make? The missions trip that has been on your mind every time you hear about it at church?  You have set days on this planet and a designated purpose. Connect the two and you’ll find joy.

Freedom: There is no such thing as a required pace in this race of life. There is no reason to “Keep Up with the Joneses”. When I first got out of college, I spent two weeks working a sales job and “Keeping Up with the Joneses” was a technique they taught you on day one: always tell people their neighbor/friend/competition just completed a sale with you. It will push your target do throw their money down.

We do the same thing to ourselves all the time.  If that person on social media just got a new car, we are angry that we can’t do the same.

It is time to let go of the comparison game and free ourselves from the trappings of stuff.

This weekend, be sure to take some time and experience joy.  Laugh, love, and live deeply.  You’ll be refreshed and relieved in the end.

~Matt

 

Everything Will be Okay

I sat on the bench at the playground as Carter ran around the various areas.  We had just finished baseball for the fall season. I watched other kids play, parents talk and teenagers throw football off to the side. It’s amazing how you can be lonely in the midst of a crowd.

I sent Val a message wondering where we fit in. Our story isn’t set yet.  Our roots aren’t in the dirt. We are different from so many of the other couples, ones that don’t consider Monday the worst day of the week.

We’re a work in progress, a life being written.

This morning I read an article about Micro Church.  It cited one in Brooklyn meeting in a storefront every week to share a meal, an interesting image so close to the massive Brooklyn Tabernacle. Two buildings for the same purpose. Two congregations existing on different paths.

Now is the perfect time to examine the journey.

pexels-photo-12628

Later in the day we visited an orchard a few miles away.  The one we normally go to was closed. After having to pull over and GPS the address on my phone, we finally found it. A dirt road led up and across rolling hills.  Finally, we parked on a hilltop with fields and trees blazing with color all around us. The girl working the small shed where you paid said the pumpkins were up over a hill in the distance.

We kept walking and, when we crested that hill, I was struck by the beauty of the moment.

A constant breeze pushed us forward.  The gravel road paralleled a field of pumpkins to our left and apple trees to our right.  Carter ran ahead to find his pumpkin.  Val and Aiden walked together.  I snapped some pictures.

It was a reminder, the creator tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “If I can paint these hills and grow these apples, things are under control.  Every blade of grass in this field holds my fingerprint. The wind carries my song. If I care about this, how much more do I care about you? Everything will be okay.”

Life will be okay.

I stored the moment in my heart as you must do with all divine communication. Maybe Monday won’t be so bad after all.

~Matt