Made a Mistake

I made a mistake last week.

A friend set up a training session for some fellows in our new church plant. These guys have signed up to volunteer on a specific team, and they need to go through the training before they are cleared to volunteer.

I am the coordinator for that team in our new church, and we are very short handed, so it was a great help to me that my friend set up the training. An older fellow agreed to do the training, and I had two guys on my team who said they could go to the training.

As we got closer to the date of the training, Sunday at 9:00 am, I confirmed the RSVP with the two guys on my team. I had hoped for more guys to be able to make it, and I didn’t want to waste the time of the older fellow.

Everything looked like it was going to turn out well, and then Saturday morning I got a message that no one showed up for the training.

The training was Saturday morning, not Sunday morning.

I had misread the message and put it on my calendar on the wrong day. I had told those fellows the wrong day!

Because of my mistake a significant amount of time was wasted. I felt so bad, I called the fellow that was to lead the training and apologized, I called the fellows on my team and explained the mix-up.

Still I felt bad.

I felt like I shouldn’t have stepped up to coordinate the team, like they would be better off without me. I felt like I was the reason for much pain in these fellows lives – but that isn’t true. I made a mistake. I did not intentionally cause these men any trouble.

If this had been the other way, if someone had stood me up because they misread my message and they had the wrong date, I would understand and I would not think ill of them.

So why do I feel so much worse, about myself, than I would about someone else?

Are you OK being with yourself?

I am always with myself by necessity, but I am learning that I can also choose to be with myself.

In the same way that I can be, physically present, with my family, and at other times I can choose to be present emotionally and cognitively.

A family member once told me they were in between jobs and had been asked by a friend to care for their friend’s home over several weeks one winter. This home was a small mansion that sat on a lake in Minnesota, and my family member’s responsibility would be watching over the home and taking the family Golden Retriever out for regular exercise, and they would be paid to boot. I was starstruck at the thought of that. What a glorious winter that would be. No deadlines. No expecations. Just the chance to be present, in a luxury home, in the glorious Minnesota winter.

I pictured lots of hot tea and cider, beautiful snow all the time, a warm fire and good books. Oh what a dream. My family member said they didn’t know if they would take the opportunity because “I don’t know if I like myself enough to be with alone with myself that long”. He went on to say that he didn’t think it would be as much of an issue for me, but that it was a real struggle for him. That comment made me think deeply.

It’s been a decade since that conversation, and as each day passes, I am learning more about present with myself and being OK about that. I am not the same man I was yesterday, and tomorrow will be a new day again, but the beautiful gift and the only place I can ever be, is right here, today.

You are not a mistake. You are loved more than you’ll ever know. It’s only life, enjoy the ride.

False Dichotomy

I had a long conversation with a friend today. We covered politics, evolution, finances, college experiences and more. He would throw false dichotomies at me in jest as we got into a debate. I thought there was a single word, or a common expression, for a false dichotomy, but I couldn’t remember it right away. As almost any other 21st century westerner would do, I went to Google and searched the term.

I found this elegant piece on the importance of false dichotomies in programming. I immediately realized that I have relied entirely on constraining the inputs to my system, and I haven’t built in any handlers for when those inputs are novel. This gives me yet another way to make my next project a little more robust and a little more flexible.

Anyway, this conversation got me thinking about all the false dichotomies I have thrown myself into.

I have to do exactly what the client wants, or they will hate me forever.”

If there is any kind of setback, I must be going the wrong way.”

I have to excersise for a full hour, or it’s not worth exercising at all.”

Luck

A client told me this past Thursday that luck was the moment “ability meets opportunity”. One of my old professors used to say that it was preparation and opportunity. I think ability and preparation are often married together when we feel lucky.

There must be a measure of ability given before that ability can be grown through preparation. It’s your starting stats in this adventure of life. For example, if I weren’t given the gift of life, if my parents hadn’t so generously given of themselves to care for me, I wouldn’t even be here at this moment. Therefore, we each have some ability. Just the fact that we are breathing, that you’re connected to the world wide web and reading this blog right now, you have some ability.

Ability seems pretty straightforward, you can (e.g. learn, listen, love, grow etc) or you can’t (e.g. be someone else, change the nucleic acid sequence coded in your every cell…).

Opportunity gets more complicated, because we often control other people’s access to opportunity. We don’t mess with their ability too much, but oh boy do we have influence on opportunity. To think of it from the perspective of Harry Potter, are you even invited to Hogwarts? What about the quidditch team? How about the Slug Club?

Am I the only one that felt the pain of Petunia when she didn’t get a letter and Lily her sister did?

Anyway, we can go a long way to making others feel lucky when we give them opportunities. And, just maybe, they will have the ability and preparation within themselves to match the opportunity. When that happens, when they get lucky, they rise to the occasion, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

Not enough, or too many?

I find that when I sit down to write this blog, much like when I sit down to pen a letter, I seemingly have too much to say. I set words upon the page in haste, and while I am only a couple sentences in, they already begin to feel hollow. All of those moments and stories I want to communicate, they are only trifles compared to whatever my friend is experiencing.

Why would they care about the small events in my life?

So what is the value of me writing about the place I visited for breakfast? Because I certainly want to write about Sambo’s Restaurant in Santa Barbara. We were welcomed, as family, by the manager, and we felt so loved.

Anyway, there is a mix of both in my mind. Not enough important things to share here, and also too many things at once. I certainly don’t want to waste anyone’s time with spammy shills of blog posts. I want quality content. I want a meaningful topic. I want to grow. I want elegant prose. Yet, almost a hundred posts in, it is still scary to let these thoughts out into the public.

Sleep

I’ve heard it said that the night grows darkest just before dawn. In the nights I’ve spent entirely awake, and outside, I felt that was the case. I’m not sure why it feels that way though.

I frequently rise before 3AM with my current job, so I see many beautiful sunrises from their inception. The deep blue begins to fill the eastern sky sometime before is any easier to see the surrounding. There are quite a few times I’ve stayed up past three, but I think there are probably less than a dozen times in my entire life that I’ve been awake all night long. Most of those were in a pickup on I-70 and even then, I frequently napped for an hour or two at some point in the night when I “drove all night long”.

In thirty years of living I’ve only experienced a handful of entire nights with my conciousness. I sleep deeply, and often, these days. That wasn’t always the case though.

When I was a boy I spent countless nights awake, and crying, in my bed for the fear of monsters. The monsters I feared weren’t real of course. I knew that they weren’t real. I knew they were only in my mind. I knew they couldn’t touch me. The monsters were only imagined, but the fear was real. The pain of laying awake was real. The shame of carrying that fear was real.

That shame was lifted. Those fears shown to be what they were, just wisps of smoke. Now I sleep well.

Don’t let fear and shame steal your sleep as they did mine. Reach out to a friend. Ask God to give you peace. He will lead you on a path of peace, and that path may take you to deeper places in your own soul than you ever thought possible.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord , make me dwell in safety.
Psalms 4:8 ESV

Sleep well tonight, for you are safely in your Father’s arms.

Wrangling Onward

I worked as a wrangler at Sorrel River Ranch for two seasons.

It seems like just yesterday, and yet it has been a decade since I spent my first season there on the Colorado river. It was there, in that paradise, where I was told my life was perfect and that I should never change. When I thought about the future that summer. When I looked out ten years later for my life, I did not see anything like this now. I probably would have laughed if someone had told me what would happen. My life is nothing like I pictured it would be. I never expected to be married to Tiffany, or to own a home, or to be in California.

I most definitely would not have understood how I feel about Tiffany and Katarina. My wife and baby girl changed my perspective in a way I could not comprehend.

And yet.

In many ways I feel like I’m still the same, I still feel like I’m very young and naive. I feel like I’m just getting started on life – like I’m at the trailhead of my path.

But I’m not just getting started anymore. If this were football, I am well into the second quarter. If I were hiking, I’m closer to the halfway point than to where I started.

This is not the end. Not just yet. There’s still some time left for you and me.

Let’s take this time we have and use it. Spend it. Make every minute worth it.

Giving and Gifts

They aren’t always the same. The verb can take on a meaning of supplying something to someone, but the noun happens with a very special form of giving. A gift happens when the giving is pure.

I believe there are some qualities of pure giving that are all together forgotten in most of our “giving” today.

  • Pure giving is marked by cheerfulness
  • It happens even when feel the receiver actually owes you
  • It does not demand payment
  • It does not seek any recognition
  • It does not wait for a return of any favor.
  • Pure giving does not ask “what’s in it for me”

In essence, pure giving is all about the receiver. You’re secondary to the whole situation if you’re giving purely. Pure giving is loving.

Love suffers long and is kind;
love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 NKJV

Some examples of modern gifts that I don’t believe are really gifts.

  • Holiday gift exchanges
  • Cleaning the house for your spouse, so they make time for sex
  • Bringing treats to clients, in order for them to feel better about you
  • Buying someone a wedding present because it is socially expected

However… I don’t think any of those things are wrong either! I think those can be good things.

I think it’s completely fine to participate in exchanges. I think it’s ok to give someone a token of appreciation for their business, hoping that they continue their business with you.

I think we just need to be explicit in, our own minds, about what we are doing when we give something.

When giving a gift, do it right. Make it about them. Make them being at their very best, your biggest desire. Lose yourself.

When giving for anything at all in return, a behavior change on their part, recognition from them, continued business etc., don’t call it a gift. Call it what it is. Call it a transaction.

And finally, for what it is worth, beware of creating implicit social contracts, they can lead to fear and resentment.

Changing Perspective

I have written on here before concerning how difficult it is for me to let go of things that once served me.

It’s a process for me. I’m still growing in this area. A week and a half ago, I listened to Greg McKeown, in conversation with Tim Ferris, discuss this very matter in depth, with significantly more understanding and insight than was provided in my blog post.

Anyway, one of the takeaways I had from the interview was that having too many opportunities is truly a problem for us. We often say “oh that’s a good problem to have”, but that does not negate the suffering it can bring to our lives. Even a “good” problem is still a problem.

I hope you’ll listen to the discussion those two men have.

My perspective, especially as I view my career, is certainly changing as I ruminate on their words.

What am I doing only for the sake of saving face?

What am I doing that is truly valuable, both to me and to those around me?

One Choice

I’ve been recently listening to the lectures from an MIT open course, Introduction to Psychology. I’m astounded at the complexity and organization within the brain.
We have an uncountable number of processes running deep in our minds, routines that are far beyond, or perhaps below, our consciousness.

And yet, even with all the influences we aren’t conscious of, we still have a choice. We have the wonderful privilege of being able to choose. In fact, that choice is really all we have. A single choice right now to love, or not to love.

The sun might warm your face today, or the icy winds could cut at your skin.

You may be in a season of bountiful harvest, with overflowing abundance and provision. You may be facing hunger and emptiness.

You might find pleasure in every step, or your close companions may be pain and loss.

Whatever your situation, you have a choice.

Bathroom Tap Pt. 4

Final leg of Saturday’s plumbing work (see Bathroom Tap Pt. 3 for the events leading up to this).

I now had the PEX through the floor and attached to the supply. I went back up to the bathroom to install the new PEX to pipe thread straight quarter-turn valves, and the new extension lines. When I removed the old 90° quarter-turn valves and extension lines, I found a major source of the low water pressure.

The old valves and lines were severly plugged. I tried blowing air through the lines, and there was strong resistance to even that.

Where did all of that detritus come from? I suppose many years of buildup in the old galvanized lines. If this is any indication of the future, I expect to have the chance to replace more line over the next couple years.

Now that the new valves were in place, I opened the main valve on the whole-house water supply. This way Tiffany could have water in the kitchen and garage as she needed. I headed back into the house to make sure my new pipes weren’t leaking and at the front door I heard a roaring of a water jet.

Uh-oh! I sprinted back to the meter and shut the water off as fast as I could. Then Tiffany asked me “should the tub be running full blast?”. Well that was a relief. I had only forgotten to close the tub tap from when I had drained the pressure earlier. So I shut the tub off and turned the main water back on.

At this point, I thought I was only a few minutes away from the end of it all, when I realized the extension line felt funny as it connected to the old faucet…

Uh oh.

The hot water supply within the faucet itself (a 1/8 inch copper line) was corkscrewed and wouldn’t be letting much water through anyway. There’s a good chance it was already this way, because I found evidence of a previous leak and someone had wrapped one of the joints apparently to try and stop it, so maybe they overtightened the hot supply at that time…There’s an even better chance that I did this to the supply when I attached the extensions.

It was then clear that we needed yet one more trip to Home Depot. Tiffany quickly got Katarina ready, and we all three went to pick out a new faucet.

While in Home Depot, my dad video-called us and I couldn’t hear him very well, so I told him I would call back. When we got back home, I was tired and wanted to finish the job rather than talk on the phone. I called him back anyway.

As I installed the new faucet and drain, and took the chance to clean years worth of sludge out of the trap, he talked with me and told me some of his stories of fixing these kinds of things.

It was a beautiful moment.

How To Leave Well?

When is the best time to leave?

How do you say goodbye?

When you’re having a wonderful time, but you must end it soon, how do you do so graciously?

On a couple of occasions, I have quietly gone without saying any goodbyes, and I avoided the immediate pain that way. There is an absolutely beautiful wedding arc in the BBC production of Sherlock, and Holmes himself leaves that way.

That made it much easier for me. My uncle Gordon was known for that, he never said goodbyes, just slipped away. For a while I had planned to make that my life routine. In the summer of 2010 I worked on a Resort Ranch with my dear friend Audra. She teared up when I told her I planned leave that way, and she said would really hurt her if I did that.

The last twelve days we spent in Ohio, and it was a flurry of visits to so many people we dearly miss and don’t get to see enough. We said goodbyes dozens of times over and it was no fun.

There is something beautiful in a goodbye. They hurt. That very pain reminds us that we are still connected to them. That we care about them. I don’t ever want to be happy about saying goodbye to old friends or family. Yes I want to be happy for them, and for the better places they are heading, but not happy about our paths diverging.

Just Like Momma

I am continually amazed at how much Katarina wants to be like her mother.

I heard a neurologist say, on an interview, that the three ways children learn from their parents are; example, example, and example.

Many times I have seen Katarina enthralled by what her momma is doing, and this is just another example. Katarina watches every move Tiffany makes, and is very excited to imitate her mother.

It is sobering how much the little human is watching and learning.

In The Neighbourhood

We traveled from Bladensburg to Gallipolis Ohio today. I have made that trek dozens of times before, but I went a different way today.

On one of our windy country roads, we saw signs for Ravenwood Castle only a few miles away. It brought back memories for my wife and I.

Four years ago we visited this charming location.

Just before proposing to my girlfriend, we stopped in at the castle and I tried to subtly inquire about Ravenwood as a venue for “events”. My thinly veiled attempt was thoroughly pierced by the receptionist, who quickly asked “Like a wedding? Are you two getting married? Congratulations!”…. I am still trying to play it cool, when she says “oh we are having a wedding reception right now, try some of the cake!”.

Today we laughed about that trip, and about how awkward Tiffany felt at that time as we were not yet betrothed. We decided to visit again and look around.

Coming here with our daughter is unbelievably different, and we want to bring her here when she is a little older, when she can all dress up like royalty, and Katarina can feel like a Princess in her castle.

What’s In A Snickerdoodle?

When I ask myself, “what’s in that cookie”? My mind replies with the tangible components, that we would physically put into the mixing bowl, when preparing the cookie in question.

Flour, sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon and all those other precious things, commonly quantified by their calories, which our bodies will use for fuel and structure. Made of proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids, on a molecular level, we will burn them and/or rearrange them into the building blocks of our cells.

This morning I got to visit my grandma-in-law for a morning cup of coffee. We stayed over an hour and that seemed still too short a time. Princess Katarina snuggled into her great grandmothers lap and contentedly fell asleep within minutes of arriving.


Thinking again of the cookie, grandma told me those cookies were the recipe from her mother Babetksi, who made cookies that way when she lived in Poland around the start of the 20th century.

She left the old world shortly after World War I and was fortunate enough to catch a ride on a steamer to North America. This refugee lady left much of her family and set out for a better life. It’s lost to history when, or from whom, Ms. Babetksi learned to make these cookies, but over a hundred years later her grand-daughter Julie carries on the tradition.

I never thought a cookie contained so much history, so many meta properties, until today.

P. Graham Dunn

I got to spend over an hour in the P. Graham Dunn shop today. The cheery decor and inviting charm were overflowing the unbelievably large facility. Elegance seemed the hallmark of the entire store.

Ten thousand photo frames and painted wooden signs adorned the displays and walls. Twine, wire, crystal, leather, ceramic, copper and slate were also commonly incorporated into the products. Not once did I like at something and feel it to be baroque.

Harry, the general manager of the twenty thousand foot retail store, introduced himself soon after we entered. He chatted with us for twenty minutes and told us about the P. Graham Dunn story, and of his own life journey.

This mug was the only thing we ended up purchasing, but we had a great time visiting.

Extended Breakfast

We went to Newt’s Place, in Navarre Ohio, this morning for a 09:00 breakfast. Well we had scheduled it for 09:00, but we didn’t all actually arrive till half past the hour.

Four generations sat around the table for two hours and shared a little bit of life. Coffees all around, and the table was covered with plates of eggs, bacon, sausage gravy, home fries, and toast in various renditions.

There’s no substitute for spending time with our families. It doesn’t have to be in a restaurant. It certainly doesn’t have to be fancy or pretty, but it must be at the cost of giving something else up. To open our schedule, to make time, means to sacrifice something.

We have to give up some other activity of value, for this one that is even more valuable.

Change Again

It is easy for us to call out for others to change and do better, to leave their old ways behind and embrace new and better practices.

It is hard for us to go through the same process ourselves. We have stories. Our choices and habits got us here, and oftentimes we feel we would be happy staying where we are right now. In fact, a gentleman once told me “Your life is perfect. Right now you are in a perfect place. Don’t change anything”.

I think he meant well by saying that, and he wanted to protect me from pain and loss, to shield me from the heartbreak and disappointment that marks so many of our lives.

Would that be a good life?

To live statically?

Suspended in a single moment like an old stone statue?

C. S. Lewis answers this beautifully.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.