Monday, June 30, 2014

Be The Church

Yesterday morning I got to lead two songs at Jacob's Well that I really love: "Build Your Kingdom Here" by the Rend Collective Experiment, and "Be The Church" by Stefan Van Voorst (who happens to be the worship leader at Upper Room, my evening church). The theme of the morning was, "does the Church matter?"

After leaving JW I typically drive a couple blocks out of my way so I can pass by a freeway ramp, where there is often someone on the side of the road holding a cardboard sign. In my car's backseat I've a box of "homeless bags" with water and cereal bars and stuff, that I like to hand out. Normally I try to make eye contact and at least say "hi" to the person, acknowledging their humanity, but yesterday there was a car behind me so I felt a bit rushed and that made it a barely-slow-down-drive-by-handoff. The man was super friendly though, and incredibly grateful (reactions run the gamut, I've been surprised to discover), and as I drove off my brain processed seeing the words "7-year-old daughter" on his sign; normally if I see someone has a kid I'll give them two bags, this time though I just didn't register it fast enough.

Feeling badly about this, I thought about going around for another pass. At this moment, three other thoughts coalesced: 1) I realized that literally no more than an hour prior, I'd led 100 or so people in singing songs about being the church, being God's kingdom here and now. 2) running through my head were the words "what would Darrell do?" And 3) a memory from LA a few years ago: my friend Nathan and his then-girlfriend-now-wife Catherine were grabbing coffee, when a homeless man approached us. We declined to help him, but Catherine was ill-at-ease with our response, and so we went to a nearby grocery store and she bought him a sandwich and talked with him. Since that moment I've hoped my future wife will be someone like that, but why wait - I want to be that person already, before I meet her. I said to myself, "all right, let's go do this."

I drove around the block and parked and walked over to the man with a couple more bags in my hand. He was thrilled to get the cereal bars (healthy snacks for his kid), and waters (something to sip on while he's standing out in the sun). Then I asked him his story. In a recent blog post I highlighted this quote from Beggars in Spain, which, evidently, has begun to inform my life in a tangible, non-academic way:
What the strong owe beggars is to ask each one why he is a beggar and act accordingly. Because community is the assumption, not the result. And only by giving non-productiveness the same individuality as excellence, and acting accordingly, does one fulfill the obligation to the beggars in Spain.
Talking with the man, who's name was Matt, it was immediately obvious from his vernacular that he was a well-educated, intelligent guy. He shared with me that he used to be a gourmet chef, raking in $100K+ a year, but lost his job in the wake of medical issues, and now scrapes by working at Super America for $8/hour; that income isn't enough to make ends meet, and so on weekends he stands outside and begs. He and his daughter aren't homeless, they live in an apartment, and she doesn't know they're poor; and though he knows she'll find out eventually, he intends to keep her from knowing for as long as he can. They live on the edge, but with his income from the weekends, they are able to stay afloat.

We talked for a few minutes, and Matt mentioned he was getting (or had just received?) a Cisco networking certification. Hm. I asked him if he'd done much with Linux administration, and though he said "not much", I noted he at least knew the word "Linux", which I saw as promising. I handed him my card asked him to email me, because I know we're hiring an entry level admin at my work. I also qualified: no promises, I'm a nobody, but I can still get his resume into somebody's hands. The man wants to work, so who knows, maybe I can help make that connection.

Most importantly, though, I engaged him in conversation and acknowledged him as human. I didn't give him any money, and he didn't ask me for any. Maybe he'll email me, maybe he won't; God only knows if ever in fact Matt and I will interact again. Though I can't imagine begging on the side of a road in order to pay the bills, my belief is reinforced that for those of us who claim faith in Jesus and how He lived, we also then must own a responsibility to being the Church of Jesus, "Going beyond just words and songs .... Being the first to serve the last .... [and being] A blessing to the world without a need to be the stars."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Years later, a reminder that miracles still happen

In recent months I've shared my story of miraculous healing with a number of friends; time to re-post it for a wider audience. If you're like I used to be, and believe miracles are a thing of the ancient past, or if you don't believe in God at all, I hope you'll read my story anyway; maybe it'll provoke some questions in your journey, maybe it won't, but if nothing else you'll have something to ask me about next time we talk! And if you already think I'm crazy to believe in God, you're going to think I'm even crazier after you finish reading (just warning you).

Growing up in a traditional Lutheran church, I didn't know much about the Holy Spirit, I boxed miracles neatly away into Biblical times, and the last person I expected to show up in church was God, or Jesus. I suspect many Christians are in that same boat. My reality changed dramatically in 2008/9.

For the first part of my story, I defer to my own journals from 2009, when this all went down: My Miracle and Physical and Spiritual Health Update. I know those posts are long, but take a few minutes to read them, please; they capture me in the middle of my turmoil, which is infinitely more powerful than anything I could write now.

Since 2009, I've continued visiting my amazing doctor, Chris Romine, every 6 months or so. I always book the last appointment of the day, allowing for our conversations to last well over an hour; we talk a little bit about my health, and then the rest of the time about God and stuff. Chris is more than just my doctor, he's my friend, a mentor, a role-model. Every encounter, we encourage each other, pray together, and if I may be so presumptuous, help make each other better human beings.

When I retell my story, I now insist that, "I was given a miracle of healing, but my real miracle came after that" - the "real" miracle I think, was God's providence post-symptoms-returning, working my situation so I would be with my AWAKEN family when my symptoms hit, so that we'd be performing at a school doing a "Coins for Crohn's" fundraiser, so that I'd meet Chris, and in the years that followed, allowing me the privilege of sharing my story with friends who, like me before, are spiritual skeptics. I still struggle asking why I was gifted with a temporary healing, when there are so many other people who need miracles, much more desperately than I did, for whom the answer was "no." But even so, never ever again can I pretend that the spiritual reality of the Tanakh, Gospels, and Acts belongs locked away in antiquity.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Beggars in Spain

In first-world America, most people[citation needed] have contemplated at least once what their ideal superpower would be, if superpowers existed. I myself always answered this question with: "[selective] mind-reading." As a single data-point, my coworkers and I frequently (and exhaustedly) have exclaimed "I can't read minds!" Consider how much easier / productive (or even manipulative) conversations with your coworkers, manager, HR, spouse, random dude on the street, everyone, would be if you could tell what they were really thinking.

This year I demoted mind-reading to my superpower slot number 2, superseding it with a new answer: Sleeplessness.

What I'm dreaming about is different than insomnia. What I'm dreaming of is not requiring sleep at all. Such a superpower would give you back 8 hours every single night (one third of your life!!), and also all the time wasted getting ready for bed, waking up in the morning (hitting snooze 3 or 5 times like I do), and suffering from general tiredness throughout the day.

My change-of-heart followed on the tails of reading Beggars in Spain, a 1993 Sci-Fi masterpiece (in my humble opinion) set in near-future America, in which in-vitro gene-modifications make it possible to create children who require no sleep. When I mentioned that to my friend John his first reaction was "no parent would EVER want a baby who doesn't sleep!" and that dynamic does come into play in the book, however it's [mostly] offset because the people who can afford gene-mod therapy, also can afford private overnight tutors for their Sleepless children.

The book is "SciFi," but it's less about the fictional science and more about the fascinating socio-political ramifications: because Sleepless children don't waste half their lives sleeping, they attain early academic success, advancing many classroom grade-levels beyond their physical years, and thus eventually become the top-rated lawyers, doctors, athletes, investors, etc. Unfortunately the human nature for the sleeper-counterparts remains similar to how we are today (fearing what is "different"); the Sleepless are ostracized, banned from competing in the Olympics, targeted by mob violence, over-taxed, and so on. I thought the book painted a fairly realistic picture of how this might go down. It also raises a fascinating dialogue about the famous words, "all men are created equal." All people may be created equal in human rights, but even today it is self-evident that not all people are created equal in abilities. Therefore, what obligations, if any, do those who have more talent and giftings owe toward those who don't? And by natural extension: what obligation, if any, do the rich have to the poor?

The book's title derives from an academic argument about handing out money to a group of beggars in Spain; if you give money to one beggar, but 100 more come to you, where do you draw the line? Is it the beggars' right to demand money from you, because you are able-bodied and able-financially, and they are not? Do productive members of society owe anything to those who are not productive (either from lack of ability, or by choice)? The wikipedia article articulates these questions better than I have.

Halfway through its story the book proposes a most elegant answer, that I absolutely have fallen in love with:
What the strong owe beggars is to ask each one why he is a beggar and act accordingly. Because community is the assumption, not the result. And only by giving non-productiveness the same individuality as excellence, and acting accordingly, does one fulfill the obligation to the beggars in Spain.

And as one last food-for-thought, toward the very end of the novel, was this:
There are no permanent beggars in Spain. Or anywhere else. The beggar you give a dollar to today, might change the world tomorrow. Or become father to the man who will. Or grandfather, or great-grandfather. There is no stable ecology of trade, as I thought once, when I was very young. There is no stable anything, much less stagnant anything given enough time. And no non-productive anything either. Beggars are only gene lines temporarily between communities.

As a man of faith who struggles with "what can I do? What should I do?", these are powerful excerpts.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

What's the dream?

All the time I ask friends (heck, and strangers) "what's the dream? If income were no obstacle, what would you want to do with your life? What do you love?". Here are my own answers.

My most precious and important dream is to have a family. This trumps everything else.

Penultimately, assuming having a family can co-exist with another dream, then career-wise, here are what I'd love to find myself doing, if training and income and innate talent were no obstacles:
  • Chaplain on a movie set (this job does not exist as far as I know, but it should; maybe I'll be the first), or a chaplain in a prison, in a hospital, or on tour with a band
  • Produce / manage / somehow work on live concert or theatre productions
  • ASL interpreter at a mega-church, or touring Christian concert
  • Movie producer (movies like Bridge to Terabithia, Moonrise Kingdom, Soul Surfer, or any of my other favorites that inspire)
  • Worship leader / singer / songwriter / performer
  • FEMA / disaster management (ever since I saw Volcano as a child, I've thought about this career idea)
  • Reality TV host
  • Stay-at-home-Dad (one of my close friends and mentors is a stay-at-home-Dad, and seeing his career choice opened my mind to the possibility for myself)

Most importantly though, any job by which I can provide for my family's needs, would be a fine job. Right now I'm a missionary in Corporate America, and I really like what I do; staying where I'm at for the rest of my career, would also be wonderful.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Why I invited you to church

In the weeks leading up to Easter, I felt called to invite several coworkers to an Easter Sunday service at one of my churches (I am actively involved in both the Jacob's Well and Upper Room communities). Extending said invitations is scary for me, especially when they are to coworkers, and especially when I expected flat-out rejection. Two of them did, in fact, immediately decline my invites, which frankly wasn't surprising (though I had prayed earnestly for different answers). The other two were receptive, but either because of health or schedule, it didn't work out. To be honest, I have suspected for a while that one of the lessons God and I are working on is 'do what is asked of me, even when I know I will not "succeed."'

Very intentionally, my faith has become engrained in every part of who I am and how I live my life. At the same time, I've also striven (successfully) to live non-threateningly - anyone who's talked about "God-stuff" with me knows that I'm not out to "convert" them - I'm just being me, and being me involves talking about God.

When it comes to inviting friends (and I am truly blessed with coworkers I also call "friends") to church, I want to make it clear: I'm not trying to "save" you. That's between you and God. What I am trying to do, is share with you the unearthly peace, and hope, that my faith gives to me. My faith is the reason why I am an eternal optimist, and can remain so even while I'm frustrated or disappointed or hurt or whatever; in no way am I delusional about earthly life's reality - I just live for something else.

Months ago I read an article that articulated this so much better than I can. Thank goodness for Google, who helped me find it in .42 seconds:

It's short, I hope you'll take 2 minutes and read the whole thing (4 minutes if you're like me and not a fast reader). But if you don't read it, then let me highlight a sentence I think summarizes the piece: "Every invitation to church is an 'I love you and I want this indescribable love, peace, and joy for you because I genuinely care about you.'"

If I invite you to one of my churches, it's because I love you, I love my church communities, and I want you to have a vibrant life that you love, and that is full of hope. The only way by which I know that to be possible is through my faith, and that's why I want to share it with you.

I refuse to keep this buried deep inside of me
Yeah this little light of mine, it's time to let it shine a bit
'Cause there's no point in hiding it
It's everything I am
The source of all my hope
And it's the reason why I stand
And I pledge allegiance to being somebody real
There's no more holding it back
I'm showing them how I feel
'Cause love is more than a word
It's a noun, and a verb, and hiding it's absurd

Monday, April 07, 2014


I signed up for a 7-week badminton meet-up through Minneapolis Community Ed, and tonight was the first session. Historically badminton is the only sport I've ever really been "good" at, and therefore was also one of my favorites in school. But I haven't played since college, meaning, at least 6 years. Going into the community ed group, I figured I wouldn't be the best, nor the worst, just somewhere in the middle.

Well... I don't believe I'm at the bottom, but... I might only be one or two people up from it. I dun got schooled by an upper-middle-aged man who was very friendly, but clearly in much better physical shape than I am. In fact, almost everyone in the class - mostly middle-aged men - seemed to be in much better shape than I am. Good for them. And in all seriousness that gives me a goal to work toward - I really hope I can be that fit in a few years.

But for tonight, I am sore. My feet, legs, arms, and neck all hate me. They are all crying "why did you do this to us?" and I'm pretty sure they will continue hating me for a couple days. I guess 10 minutes on the elliptical each morning isn't going to cut it anymore.

On the plus side, I will sleep well tonight. And, I had a fun time, which is the whole point anyway.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Get off my lawn! (or, what I really mean when I make an age-related joke)

I am blessed with amazing adult role-models and mentors in my life - honorable, stand-up men and women who make me a better person just by allowing me to spend time around them. I continue to glean so much wisdom from our conversations, and from watching how they live their lives.

Along with my admiration, though, I can't help but make jokes when one of my mentors says something that... well, "shows their age." Phrases like, "double clutch," or, "pencil whip," that are not part of my generational vernacular. To these I often respond jokingly, "get off my lawn!"

Or, if someone starts talking about, for example, phonographs (that's "record players" to you youngin's) or rotary telephones, or if they start the story with the words "you wouldn't know about this because you're too young," then I'll respond with a question: "that was right around the time fire was invented?" or, "was that before or after the wheel?" or, "you walked uphill both ways, side-by-side with the dinosaurs?" My co-worker John has another phrase he uses frequently: "Let's see, Lincoln was shot in '65..."

I say everything in a spirit of comedy, but it goes deeper than that. For anyone to/at whom I've made an "old joke," the reason I can make jokes like these is because you have welcomed me into your life and made me feel like an equal in our relationship. Every time I make an "old joke," it carries with it a deep respect, admiration, and love. It means I'm acknowledging that you have valuable wisdom from a life I consider well-lived, that you are a person I respect, and it's me saying that I desire to model my own life after the way you live yours.

Thank you for being you.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

New Car (or, how car shopping is not fun)

While visiting Los Angeles over Halloween, I drove a Ford Fusion rental car that I really, really loved. This got me thinking (for the second year in a row) : maybe it's time to go new-car shopping. My Pontiac Grand Prix was 10 years old (2003), and starting to show its age. While it hasn't had many expensive repairs recently, I'd rather buy a new car proactively, and on my own timeline, than be forced into a purchase because my old car goes up in smoke on the freeway entrance ramp, which for the record, actually is what happened last time.

In mid-November, I visited a Ford dealership to find out more about the Fusion. After researching on the Interwebs, I decided I should also check out the Hyundai Sonata, which had higher customer satisfaction and safety ratings than the Fusion. Facebook friends also encouraged me to audition the Kia Optima and Nissan Altima; the Kia was okay, but I didn't love it; and the Nissan dealer, I doubt he could possibly have been any less helpful (maybe my salesperson was just having an off day, but seriously, they made me feel like a terrible inconvenience).

Walking into Inver Grove Hyundai I was greeted by Lisa, who broke many of my stereotypes about car salespeople. She was friendly, helpful, respectful, not pushy. We chatted about what I was looking for in a car, she gave me her card and we emailed about different models and prices. Long story short, after reading online reviews and gathering input from friends/family (my Aunt even put together a spreadsheet comparing the different models I was eyeing), I decided to purchase a Sonata. Thanksgiving night, I left Dealer Lisa a voicemail and email, letting her know which two specific Sonatas I wanted to test drive from their online inventory (one was a decked out hybrid, the other a middle-of-the-line normal non-hybrid), and asked her to call me when she got in in the morning.

Lisa left me a voicemail at 7:15 a.m., right when she got into the office. I was still asleep, thinking I wouldn't hear from her until the dealership opened at 8:30. I woke up, called my parent, they picked me up, and we arrived at the dealer about 9:15. Lisa had parked both cars alongside the building, idling their engines so they were toasty warm for our test drives.

Dad and I both had read reviews claiming hybrids experience awkward delays after pressing the brake pedal, and likewise that the acceleration is a bit dodgy while the car switches from electric to engine. Though the hybrid was my preferred choice between the two cars I'd picked out, I wanted to make sure I could live with these braking and accelerating issues (if they existed), so I took the hybrid out first. We got out onto the road, hopped on a highway, and I didn't notice any issues with the acceleration / deceleration. Cruise control worked as expected (I use cruise all the time, so that was an important test). Overall, it was a beautiful car. When we got back to the dealership, we hopped out of one car right into the other. My parents and I pretty much knew right away that I'd be picking the first car over this second one. Had I driven the second one first, maybe I would have loved it, but simply put: it just wasn't as nice a car as the hybrid (mostly owing to it not being as spec'd out). I drove it anyway, just to see if it handled any differently. Same model, the only difference was no hybrid assist.

That is where the fun ended.

Back at Lisa's desk, we looked through all the numbers. And by "looked through," I mean I completely mis-read the deceptively phrased numbers. Yes, shocking as it is, the dealer lied about how much the car would actually cost. The real tragedy, though, is that I didn't catch her deception until much, much later. For that moment, right after the test drive, all I saw was "good deal."

I realized I'd left some important paperwork at home, like my proof of insurance (it's in my car... which I didn't drive because Mom and Dad picked me up). Fortunately, my insurance agent's office was open, so they faxed over new insurance papers, already valid for the new car. Shortly thereafter, Lisa deposited my parents and I in the waiting area and took her leave, while we waited, and waited, and waited some more, for the financing guy. During this time, I came to the awful realization that, despite all my research about how to haggle car deals, I'd completely forgotten to negotiate. I was pissed at myself (still am). The whole point of going at the end of the month was to put myself in a good negotiating position, and I utterly failed.

After a long wait, Mr Financing (Mike) made his appearance, brought us into his office, and I began signing paper after paper after paper. Granted, the house I live in I bought from my parents, but seriously, buying this car took several-fold more papers than buying my house.

Much time was spent haggling over warranties and extra options. In this at least, I remembered what I'd read online, and politely declined their deals-that-aren't-really-deals.

Then, we got down to the final paper. And as I was just about to sign, I said, "wait a second, that price is wrong. It's $3,000 more than it should be." I asked Mike for another 5 minutes alone with my parents, and I was about ready to walk out. The issue: Lisa was outright deceptive when she talked about the pricing. The "$1,000 off here, $1,000 off there", turns out that was already included in the online price she showed me, even though she made it sound as though it would come off after that price. The killer is, even reading the fine print online, it's not written in understandable english, they use car-dealer-legalese, abbreviations, and words that have no meaning unless you already know what they mean (that sounds self-evident, but what I'm trying to say is: unless you know what to look for, you can read the fine print all day long and it won't raise any red flags, even though it should; and as a first-time car buyer, I didn't know what to look for).

It broke my heart, but I signed the final paper anyway, deciding that $3,000 over the course of the 10 years I own the car was going to be okay, not that big a deal. I should have walked out, but after wasting half a day there already my stubborn ego couldn't bear the thought of it all being for nought.

I have yet to stop regretting that decision. Every time I get in my car, nice as the vehicle is, my regrets re-surface.

The rest of the day was supposed to be a fun game day with my parents, but instead was marred by my obvious malcontentedness with what had gone down at the dealer. Though I shouldn't have let it happen, my day was ruined as I ran through the memory over and over. I did not sleep well that night.

The next morning, I knew Lisa would call to ask how I liked the new car. One of my goals for personal improvement recently has been to be more courageous in my interactions with people. Therefore I decided I would go in, in person, to talk with Lisa, rather than over the phone. I explained to her how I felt deceived by the pricing, and how I would not be able to give her or the dealership a high score on the customer survey. I knew this would get her attention, because she had made a very big point about how important it is for her to get perfect marks on the survey (I don't know if I believe this or not, but she claimed that receiving anything less than a perfect 10, meant she wouldn't get paid any commissions for 3 months).

Instead of hearing me, Lisa guilted me into feeling that my car-buying naiveté was my own fault - she claimed no one had ever misunderstood or felt deceived by their prices in the past. I explained how I thought she should have gone through the prices more thoroughly, because this clearly was my first rodeo. It is my fault for not asking enough questions, but at the same time the numbers she showed me were deliberately misleading, and it is my opinion that when you have a brand new client, you ought to take extra care to make sure they understand.

She insisted instead that she had done no wrong, got very emotional, and teared up, which means she's either a phenomenal actress, or it was actually true that not getting a perfect survey score would cost her financially. My intent never was to hurt her, and I felt truly terrible for putting her through the grief. At the same time, I needed her to hear me (which, again, she chose not to). When I went through a similar exercise with the Sears home delivery people last August, they took the time to listen, and did what they could to make it right. That never happened with Lisa. However, in the moment, because I felt badly for putting her through that emotional ordeal, I went back home, and then back to the dealership to drop off a thank you card.

It's counter-cultural that I chose to spend time talking to Lisa in person rather than just filling out the survey and avoiding a face-to-face confrontation. It's just plain weird that I'd spend time driving back and forth to drop off a thank you card that same day, rather than mailing it, or doing nothing. But that's who I am. I genuinely care about people.

Sadly, the only real satisfaction I got from the experience was knowing I'd "manned up" and talked to her face-to-face, rather than via email or over the phone. When I did get the survey a few weeks later, I gave Lisa her 10s, having been guilted into it. I also answered honestly when the survey asked "did anyone at the dealership try to influence your answers on this survey?" Yes:
My salesperson (Lisa) was adamant that any score less than 10 would result in her not getting paid for 3 months. If this is true, then please consider all of her scores to be 10s - she was phenomenal, treated me with respect, worked with me to find the right vehicle, and was just overall wonderful to work with. I visited 3 other dealerships while car-shopping in the past month, and Lisa was, hands-down, the best salesperson I worked with.

With that said, if the "no pay unless I get 10s" is *not* true, then my response about salesperson honesty needs to be adjusted from 10 to 0, and I request that you contact me for further comments."

I did not receive a follow-up call or email or anything, so... presumably I guess she was telling me the truth?

My co-worker Glen told me about some of his car-buying experiences and the games the dealers play, so next time I have to buy a vehicle I might bring him along to help me avoid making the mistakes I made this time. I also know next time to bring a physical paper checklist with everything I need to remember at every step of the deal.

Dad insists I got a good price for the car, but whether that's objective reality or not doesn't even matter, because the emotions overshadow any facts: I feel awful (still) about the experience, and at the end of the day that's what will influence where I buy a car next time, as well as what I tell people about the dealership. There's a systemic issue in the way car prices are advertised, and I don't expect that to get fixed overnight, but Lisa could have A) chosen to be up front with me and honest about the pricing, and B at least listened to me when I raised the issues, instead of focusing on herself and her survey score. She could have said, "I/we are so sorry, let's make this right." But she chose not to. Buying this car was one of the most stressful and awful experiences I've had in my life. (first world problem: acknowledged) Maybe what I'm most bitter about is how much the car-buying affected my time spent with my parents the rest of that day.

Some closing thoughts:

At the end of the ordeal, my Sonata Hybrid is a very nice car. The buying experience was terrible, but the car itself is wonderful. It has built-in GPS and maps, a back-up camera, streams bluetooth music from my phone, and I can use my phone handsfree with the car's speaker system. It's missing a sunroof, which I'll long for in summer, but I guess in winter that's not so practical anyway.

My old car, my Grand Prix, served me very well for 7 years, and I miss it. My parents bought it used in October 2006, after my first car threw a rod and went up in smoke. I remember the first night I drove it: I accidentally left the sunroof open (never having had one before, I wasn't used to closing it) and it rained. Oops. It dried out eventually. That car and I have driven hundreds of round trips to Northfield, and many dozens to Des Moines / Ames. Rather than trade it in at the dealer, I chose to donate it to Cars for Courage. The physical part of donating was very easy: a one-page form when you drop off the car. Emotionally, though, it was very hard saying goodbye.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Goals for 2014

Since 2010, every summer I have set out a list of goals / areas for self-improvement for myself for the coming year. It made sense to do this in summer, because I worked at a school and my life revolved around the school-year. Now that I'm working in Corporate America, keeping track of this mid-year goals cycle is confusing even myself, so I think it's time to switch to calendar-year-based goals.

Time now to review my mid-year 2013 goals:

Set reasonable, achievable goals
Also, Stop stressing about how much I can't accomplish
Continues to be a roller-coaster of success. Honestly, I think I'm regressing. If you consider yourself a close friend, or even distant acquaintance, and are reading this: please, text or email or Facebook or call me every now and then, and remind me to stop stressing about my todo list. Seriously. Please do.

Sub-goal: Punctuality
Regressing here as well. My follow-on goal remains to take this beyond being on time, but instead aim to be early. Aka, plan for bad traffic and other unexpected hold-ups.

Avoid procrastination
I continue to do well. I also continue to struggle classifying my "todos" into "important and urgent", "important and not urgent", "not important but urgent", and "not important and not urgent". See Randy Pauch's lecture on time management for further explanation.

Focus on tasks that matter
I'm slowly getting better. Still not there.

Focus on people that matter
Continue to succeed here. Mostly.

Take one thing at a time
I constantly remind myself, "just do this one thing, focus on this one thing", because otherwise I thrash. I continue working on how to reduce the "clutter" that induces thrashing, like having too many separate todo lists, or physical todo piles, etc.

Accept that I cannot solve every problem
I'm getting better at this, particularly when it comes to listening to other people's stories and wanting to help, but knowing my own limits.

Strive toward better anger management
I continue to ace this. My friend John, who has served as my unofficial anger management counselor, has on a few occasions read some email drafts I wrote, and said there was nothing he would change. Rock on.

Move on from Minnehaha
As complete as it's going to be.

Eat more healthfully
Yeah... I should do that. Regression.

Take responsibility for my own actions
Doing well.

Sub-goal: be discerning about whose opinions I let matter
Still succeeding. And still work to be done (always :)

Second sub-goal: find my value in the Lord; aka, be myself, and do so unashamedly
Success. My value as a human being is not found by the measure of my job / career, income, number of friends, relationship status, number of blood donations, the movie projects I've worked on, and so on. My value as a human being comes from being a beloved son of the Most High God. And not only do I just say that, but I've witnessed myself actually live it out, which was pretty cool.

Regarding the "be myself": I still only know how to be myself, and I have been somewhat successful in worrying less about what other people think. Particularly when it comes to expressing my faith, and the eternal optimism that grows out of that faith, I'm successfully living out what I wrote about in my last goals post: "This is me. Deal with it."

Spend time with God
Mixed success. I have committed myself to attending both of my churches every week (I'm part of both Jacob's Well and Upper Room), and I volunteer frequently at both.

I sometimes ask God, "what do You want me to do?" and when I get answers, I have tried to follow through. After a conversation in early December, I felt God challenging me simply to read for 5 minutes a day in my Bible, which I have been doing since then. If you've known me for any length of time, you know the Bible and I have a love-hate relationship, and for many years I refused to even pick one up, because of the pain and hurt I saw from The Church using the Bible as a weapon. The fact that I'm now choosing to read anything at all in it, every day when I wake up, is quite monumental. There have been a few other "what do You want me to do?" experiences, too, that's just the most tangible.

Continue maintaining a healthful life/work balance
I'm getting decently good at booking "me time" in my calendar, and defending it.

Take more risks
Yes. Particularly with being bold in my faith (at work, in my prayers, with friends, even at church), I've seen a lot of growth in myself here.

Take a vacation
I need to do this.

Always speak my heart, and always speak what God is asking me to say
I continue to grow and do relatively well here.

Let go of some grudges
I still have a ways to go here. However, thanks to some EMDR therapy, I'm happy to say I'm now pretty much ambivalent toward my 9th grade year at North High School. If you know me, this is dramatic progress.

Gossip less

Being where I should be
Mostly succeeding.

Know thyself
It boils down to: why am I feeling what I'm feeling? I'm getting pretty good at this.

Recognize when there is no one "right" choice
Continuing to improve.

For 2014, I continue to hold all the above goals, and I'm adding one more:

Chase after my own dreams, rather than getting distracted by other people’s dreams
Too often I have found myself longing (dare I say envying?) for the careers and lives of my friends. I'd like to be very deliberate this next year about discerning my own dreams.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Signed up for ASL classes

As a young lad, my elementary school (Anne Sullivan Communication Center) required students to take sign language classes for ... four years, I think - second through fifth grade. Of course, ask me how much I remember from those years and the answer is sadly, "not much." Frankly I don't remember being all that interested at that age.

A couple years ago, though, I had a housemate named Ellen, who was studying to become an ASL interpreter. Between learning a lot of signs from her, and also from some AWAKEN friends around the same time, my interest in the subject was piqued. (Typical me: tell me that I have to learn/do something, and I'll resist, but let me come to that same conclusion on my own, and I'll embrace it wholeheartedly). And so, for the past year or three, every time a Minneapolis Community Education catalog shows up in my snail-mailbox, I've thought about signing up for an ASL class. Thought about but never executed. The classes are dirt cheap, but my concern has been the time commitment, and the fear of adding "one more thing" into an already over-busy schedule. Yet, for the past two class seasons, I've felt very specifically "called," or at the very least, "affirmed" in my desire to sign up for this class, so tonight I finally took the plunge and enrolled in a 7-Monday course starting later this month.

You might ask why. I'm already busy enough. Why add this "one more thing"?

Emotionally, I continue to feel a deep yearning toward wanting to learn more in ASL. The few signs I know have become part of my worship experience; or, rather, most of the few signs I know, I know because I wanted them as part of my worship experience. The physicality of signing during worship is reminiscent of AWAKEN, and seems to help me feel connected to God.

The answer might be as simple as that. Maybe this is simply an experience for my own spiritual growth.

I do wonder though if my future holds some other purpose for this present-day desire. I highly doubt I'm called to be an interpreter (although I think it might be fun to interpret worship services; that would be quite a different career path from working with supercomputers!), but on the other hand, maybe I'm destined to meet a [blonde] deaf girl and fall in love with her. Or maybe someone in her family will be deaf. Or one of my future children (natural born or adopted). Or maybe I myself will lose my voice or hearing (re-reading the Christmas story last week, I made particular note about Zechariah, and how he was made mute during Elizabeth's pregnancy and had to use ... HSL? [Hebrew Sign Language?]). Or maybe none of these. I don't know. And I don't need to. It'll just be something fun for right now, and like ComedySportz classes did last year, something to push me out of my comfort zone.

Also, now I'll finally be able to keep up when Ellen and her boyfriend visit and start signing at each other right in front of me.