Monday, February 01, 2016

An open letter to my 5th grade classmate, Michelle Furst

Michelle,

I couldn't find you on Facebook, so I'll write to you from my blog, and hope perhaps you'll come across it some day. I didn't want to write this letter at first, because it won't be flattering to me (and as you know, people usually only post things online that make themselves look good). But, it's sincere. And maybe some other 5th grader will stumble upon this post and find encouragement, or empowerment.

5th grade was a long time ago (1996-97), and you probably don't remember me. I wonder some days if you've chosen to forget 5th grade altogether. I've never forgotten you, though. Our class was so. cruel. to you. Everyone teased you relentlessly. And even though I didn't pick on you myself, I also never stood up to the ones who did. I never stood up when they brought you to tears in our classroom. When they erased your photo from their yearbooks and wrote "too ugly to be seen" in its place.

It's not enough to brush this off by saying "kids are cruel." While that may be the case, it doesn't excuse my passivity and lack of action, my self-preservation because I didn't want to be the next target. I could have, and should have, done something.

For what little it is worth now, almost two decades after the fact, I am sorry. When I have kids of my own, I will tell them your story, and I hope I can raise them into better human beings than I was.

I hope the last 19 years have treated you with more dignity than 5th grade. I hope you have grown into a strong and powerful force for good in this world. May God pour out abundant blessings upon your life, and bring courageous men and women to your side. I wish you well.

- Jeremy

Monday, January 25, 2016

Enoughness

Disclaimer: When I told this story to some friends in person, I mis-remembered some of the exact details, and since that version is funnier than the truth, I'm going to employ the use of "historical fiction" in my opening paragraph.

The other day I ordered some calcium pills from Amazon (because I'm an old man now - I'm thirty! :) and combined with a couple other items in my cart I had maybe $50 or $60 worth of merch. Then I realized, "hey, this deodorant is half the price at Sam's club," so that got deleted from my cart. And some of the other stuff in my cart, after reflection (and asking myself, "what would Alissa [my girlfriend] buy?") I deleted them because I realized it was an irresponsible impulse buy that I didn't need.

This left me with a cart of things I "needed" (calcium pills, and an iPhone car charger), and it also left me $10 short of getting the free shipping. Ain't nobody got money for shipping around here! I desperately needed to spend 10 more dollars so I could save five dollars on shipping. I'm not sure whether that's real irony, "Alanis Morissette irony," or just plain silly, but nevertheless an hour later, I was still wracking my brain for something that I "needed" to buy. Eventually I found a used book I've been wanting (Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn), a movie (Harvey), and some honey in a bear-shaped container to round out my purchase.

As my friend Matt pointed out when I shared this story with him, the opportunity cost of my time was way more than the price of shipping. I'm probably a little too stubborn and don't know when to call it quits on a sunk cost.

My point, though, is this: in that hour wasting time window shopping at Amazon, I realized I have reached that magical, mythical, unheard-of-in-America, land of enough. Now of course, there are plenty of things I could spend more money on, like Star Wars Legos, or lightsabers, or more board games, and on and on and on. Which is what my society tells me I should do, because what I have already can never be enough. But it is. That moment for me was profound.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Gary, part 6

From October 30, 2015.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

'Twas the night before Halloween and I was on my way to Northfield to meet up with a friend. Standing outside in the dark, there you were. I pulled a hard left turn, followed by one of the most awkward parking jobs I've ever done (it involved a few extra turns, a loop, and backing into what I'm not sure in retrospect was a legitimate parking spot), and walked over to talk with you. I admit I was not in the most sympathetic (or is it empathetic?) mood.

As we small-talked, you mentioned your characteristic refrain of your unstable health. I was sad to hear your woes, sad to hear your body has rejected two transplants (for which organ, I wasn't clear), and sad as well at my reaction. This blog post is going to be the real me, with no make-up covering my struggles and opinions that may be, perhaps, judge-worthy.

To put it bluntly and unlovingly: how does an unhealthy, non-working and non-employable older man come in line for a transplant (twice) in front of younger patients who, given a chance at life, might change the world? (a child who, with the gift of a transplanted organ, might become be the next Steve Jobs, or Mother Theresa, or Rosa Parks, or...) I suspect I'm lost to the dark side of judgmentalism, but it just plain bothers me that you were given two, and possibly soon three, chances at a transplant, when so many people are waiting on organs (over 120,000). Even in the time it will take me to finish write this blog post, another person will die waiting on a transplant. (My frustration is now assuaged marginally after researching and learning that, of those on the waiting list, less than 2000 are children. Statistics generated from US Department of Health & Human Services.)

And then there is the sheer dollar amount involved. Hospital stays are expensive, surgeries are expensive, the new special medication you're going to start is ultra-expensive, and even before we first met, all those trips to the ER you've always talked about are expensive. Someone's paying for those. My inner-curmudgeon asks, "is it my tax dollars?" And am I okay with that? How should my faith influence (dictate?) my response?

My curmudgeon also wants to know: at what point does this system break? How much public assistance can (or should) be given to non-productive members of Community until it becomes untenable? Can a Community sustain itself with that kind of drain of non-productiveness?

For my girlfriend, the answer was easy: you're a child of God, and that makes you worthy. Period.

I probably should be okay with that answer, but I find myself still struggling. Of course, then I also must face the question: "who am I to say who's life is more worthy than another's?" Am I more worthy than you? I mean, my own Crohn's treatment is expensive, the brunt of which is borne by my insurance - is it my place to say "I'm a productive and contributing member of society, and therefore I'm more worthy"?

I could probably ramble on for a while, but I think instead, this is the place where I simply pray, "God, please soften my heart."


There is a second part to this story. As we wrapped up our conversation, I told you I would go grocery shopping and buy you some protein shakes, cereal, and milk. (to be honest, I also thanked God that you didn't ask to join me in this trip to the grocery store, because I would not have had the patience or humility to walk slowly with you through the long aisles). I confirmed which apartment building you were in, you told me your apartment number, and we agreed on a time when I'd drop the food off the next morning. And because you couldn't remember your own phone number, I gave you yet another of my business cards (you'd lost all the previous ones I've given you) and you said you'd call me so I would get your new number.

The next morning, after wrapping up coffee with a friend who himself is deeply involved in social justice for people experiencing unstable housing, I visited the grocer and picked up all the items on your list. When I got to your apartment building, I scrolled through the entryway's phone directory and didn't see you listed. Thinking maybe I had your last name wrong, I went back through the directory - since there were no first names, only first initials, I dialed up the only "G" name in the list... and reached a kind-but-definitely-not-Gary woman. I waited, hoping the door might see some traffic, and was rewarded 10 minutes later when a postal worker let me in.

You'd said you lived in apartment #46, and since all the numbers on main floor were in the 100s, I went down the elevator to level 0, where I found... cars. Lots of cars. And no apartments. Then I tried going up to 4th floor, thinking maybe I'd misunderstood and you had said "406". I knocked on 406's door and when a friendly young African American lady answered the door I exclaimed "you're not Gary!" She was very sweet, but she'd never heard of you.

Walking back to my car, I saw another apartment building across the street. The front door was locked, but the back door wasn't. ... In retrospect this all sounds incredibly creepy and stalkerish, but I swear all I wanted to do was deliver the two [heavy] bags of groceries I was lugging around! Anyway in apartment building #2 I looked at the directory and your name wasn't there. There was only one "G" name here as well, and I tried knocking on that door but no one answered.

Not willing to admit defeat I drove several times up and down the street where you panhandle, but you were not there. I checked inside the Arby's you like to eat at, and you were not there. I checked a third nearby apartment building and you weren't in the directory.

Then I gave up. I sulked back to the grocery store to return the food that I had bought for you. (they weren't able to take back the dairy, so I kept the half gallon of milk). If I see you again, maybe we can try this again, but until then I'm very miffed. By your irresponsibility in failing to call me so that I had any contact information for you, and by your irresponsibility of not even knowing your own phone number so I could have put it in my phone right away last night when I asked for it, you have reinforced negative stereotypes (that "homeless people are irresponsible", which I know is an unfair and unjustified stereotype) at a time when I was already struggling to fight against those in my head. And you've reinforced the notion for me that no good deed goes unpunished. It makes me sad and less inclined to do nice things for strangers. Is that fair? No, not at all, but it is reality. You wasted my time - two hours of my precious "me time", of which I get so little, now squandered, and that is not OK. My heart is growing hardened and jaded, and that makes me very, very sad.

One might reasonably ask why I even bothered at all? It's a valid question, especially when the previous paragraph sounds like I'm playing a victim card when I'm not the real victim. The answer boils down to a different question, and how I answer it: "Do the Weak have a moral claim on the Strong?" I don't think so. But the Strong do have a moral call to help the Weak. You (Gary) may not have a moral claim to demand my resources (time, money), but I do have the moral obligation to provide them. Or, put another way: the world is unfair, but those who are in a position to help make the world a little bit less unfair, also carry a moral obligation to try.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Goals for 2016

Apparently I completely missed setting goals for 2015, because the last blog post I can find about goals was from March of 2014. Oops! Guess that means I didn't accomplish anything last year :)

Now now, that's not true. I in fact wrote two blog posts about life lessons learned (blog post 1, blog post 2), which are closely tied to my personal-improvement goal-setting of 2014 and prior years. I also actively pursued online dating, and have been in a relationship with a wonderful (and very patient) young woman for the past 9 months. For those of you who've been to my house and noticed my goals & timeline wall in my basement, well, eHarmony is checked off that list!

As I reviewed my goals from 2014, most of them were linked to personality traits - for example: anger management or maintaining a healthy life/work balance - and I believe I've accomplished the majority. A couple, such as punctuality and eating more healthfully, I've done less well at, so I'll continue to work on those.

For my 2016 goals, I'm leaning more heavily on the tangible, measurable accomplishments than previous years, though I still have at least a few personality-related improvements. Here we go:

  • Aspire to live more like Elwood P. Dowd (see my "next decade" goals from Life Lessons part 2)
  • Spend time with the people I want to spend time with, and learn to say "no" to other invitations
  • Stand up for my right to "me time" and not overbook myself
  • Continue to refine my budget, and be better at saying "no" to eating out; also, continue my trend of not buying alcoholic beverages when I'm out with friends (unless someone else is buying!), which easily saves perhaps $10 each outing
  • Pay off more than half of my remaining car loan (~$13,000, so at least $6,500) by year's end
  • Max out my 401(k) contributions for the year, or, purchase a rental property using that money as a downpayment
  • Listen to 30 or more audiobooks, at least 5 of which are literary classics (aka, my typical Star Wars books won't count :). This should be very reasonable to achieve, since last year I listened to 60 audiobooks (and read 4 paperbacks). Considering my goal in 2010 was to read ONE book, I think this is good progress!
  • Practice guitar at least once a week
  • Exercise at least twice a week
  • Lose 15 pounds - I'm currently at 155, and I'd like to be at 140 by year's end; this means eating fewer sweets :(
  • Visit my friend in prison at least once this year
  • Have an environmentally conscious yard, which will include lots of milkweed and butterfly & bee-friendly plants (this work is already planned for springtime)
  • Have a clean basement by year's end; this means spending at least an hour each week working down there
  • Try again to record a CD, which roughly means finish writing 1 song every month, and saving money from each paycheck for the recording process

Those are Jeremy's "official" goals for the year. Please help hold me accountable!

Friday, January 01, 2016

Books I read in 2015

Throughout high school, college, and early adulthood, I struggled and failed to fully board the "reading books" bandwagon. This is partially because I'm a slow reader (who would have thought?) but mostly because sitting in one place to read a paper book, without being able to multitask because "reading" requires my eyes stay focused on the page - ain't nobody got time for that. Then in late 2011 I discovered audiobooks, and my world changed.

In 2015, I read 4 old-fashioned paperbacks, and listened to 60 audiobooks, a new personal record. Some were phenomenally amazing (Blue Like Jazz, Ready Player One, William Shakespeare's Star Wars); some were phenomenally boring (Howards End, Monte Christo); a few were just plain "bad" (*my opinion; I'm looking at you, Maze Runner trilogy; and also that Joyce Meyer book, and also Chuck Wendig's Aftermath); some were classics (Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes, Dune, Monte Cristo, To Kill a Mockingbird, Dracula, Animal Farm, et al); and 22 were Star Wars books :) Beggars In Spain was a re-listen because it was life-changing for me the first time; and William Shakespeare's Star Wars I listened to twice in a row, because it was just that good.

The average length of these audiobooks was 11 hours and 9 minutes (thrown off slightly by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 70+ hour complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories; without Holmes, the average length of my 2015 books drops to 10 hours and 8 minutes). My average amount of listening per day was 2 hours and 4 minutes.

TitleAuthorAudiobook length
Star Wars: William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh BackIan Doescher3:25:25
Star Wars: AftermathChuck Wendig12:16:00
Star Wars: Backlash (Fate of the Jedi book 4)Aaron Allston11:10:20
Star Wars: Abyss (Fate of the Jedi book 3)Troy Denning11:19:03
Star Wars: Omen (Fate of the Jedi book 2)Christie Golden8:25:51
Star Wars: Rule of Two (Darth Bane book 2)Drew Karpyshyn10:12:00
Ready Player OneErnest Cline15:40:00
Star Wars: Dark DiscipleChristie Golden11:12:00
Brave New WorldAldous Huxley8:00:02
Animal FarmGeorge Orwell3:11:46
Star Wars: Outcast (Fate of the Jedi book 1)Aaron Allston10:12:11
Star Wars: Path of Destruction (Darth Bane book 1)Drew Karpyshyn12:16:00
Star Wars: The Old Republic: AnnihilationDrew Karpyshyn9:39:27
Star Wars: The Old Republic: RevanDrew Karpyshyn10:52:23
The Fate of TenPittacus Lore10:41:25
DraculaBram Stoker14:32:38
Star Wars: William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth ReturnIan Doescher3:35:00
Star Wars: The Old Republic: DeceivedPaul S. Kemp9:25:59
The Screwtape LettersC. S. Lewis3:36:38
Star Wars: The Clone WarsKaren Traviss7:47:14
Star Wars: Red HarvestJoe Schreiber7:56:10
Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal AllianceSean Williams13:47:44
William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope
(listened again, because it was that good)
Ian Doescher3:29:15
Peter PanJ. M. Barrie5:39:49
William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New HopeIan Doescher3:29:15
Go Set a WatchmanHarper Lee6:57:00
My ÁntoniaWilla Cather7:19:57
Star Wars: CrucibleTroy Denning12:08:00
The Death Cure (Book 3 in the Maze Runner series)James Dashner8:55:19
Star Wars: ScoundrelsTimothy Zahn13:57:27
The Kill Order (prequel to Maze Runner trilogy)James Dashner10:02:00
I Am Number Four: The Lost Files: Rebel AlliesPittacus Lore8:04:13
The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnMark Twain9:24:00
Howards EndE. M. Forster11:04:14
To Kill A MockingbirdHarper Lee12:17:00
The Scorch Trials (Book 2 in the Maze Runner series)James Dashner10:23:03
The Battlefield of the MindJoyce Meyer6:27:08
Mere ChristianityC.S. Lewis5:52:41
What We Talk About When We Talk About GodRob Bell4:25:20
Star Wars: TarkinJames Luceno9:27:13
Maze RunnerJames Dashner10:50:27
Star Wars: Lords of the SithPaul S. Kemp10:56:53
Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedRob Bell3:39:27
Children of DuneFrank Herbert16:51:10
The Count of Monte CristoAlexandre Dumas46:56:39
What on Earth Have I Done?: Stories, Observations, and AffirmationsRobert Fulghum6:15:39
Dune MessiahFrank Herbert8:57:00
DuneFrank Herbert21:02:12
Life TogetherDietrich Bonhoeffer3:37:54
Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in ExileRob Bell, Don Golden3:25:10
Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy ThompsonPatricia Briggs14:53:09
The Normal Christian LifeWatchman Nee7:42:56
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the VoidMary Roach10:27:52
Dead Heat: Alpha and Omega, Book 4Patricia Briggs11:25:48
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: No PrisonersKaren Traviss7:10:39
Jane EyreCharlotte Brontë21:47:32
Blue Like Jazz: Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian SpiritualityDonald Miller7:00:57
Beggars in SpainNancy Kress16:10:52
Brentwood's WardMichelle Griep10:24:19
The Complete Stories of Sherlock HolmesArthur Conan Doyle70:48:20

And the paperbacks:

  • Shadows of the Empire, by Steve Perry
  • The Grimjinx Rebellion, by Brian Farrey
  • The Shadowhand Covenant, by Brian Farrey
  • The Vengekeep Prophecies, by Brian Farrey

Monday, December 07, 2015

Thirty (or, Life Lessons part 2)

In a few hours I will begin a new decade of life. It would be difficult for me to proclaim my twenties as the "best" years of my life, because every year of life is it's own unique "best"; but overall my twenties were pretty excellent, and I will mourn their passing.

Since I expect the barrage of Facebook well-wishes to begin soon, I thought perhaps I might put up a blog post for everyone to read. A year ago I wrote a short treatise called "Life Lessons I've Learned," and since then I've been compiling a list of more lessons that I forgot to write about the first time. In my personal opinion, that blog post and this one you're about to read constitute the best of my wisdom, but, I should add disclaimers: your mileage may vary; use only as directed; keep yourself well ventilated; resemblance to real persons 100% intentional; some assembly & effort required.


Personal growth advice and lessons-learned

First, advice from my mother: "I strive for perfection, but often have to settle for good enough."

Don't wait on other people in order to live your own life. A trivial example: I spent years waiting to go back to DisneyWorld until I finally had a "significant other" to bring with. This year I decided, "I'm going, whether or not I'm in a relationship." Don't wait on someone else in order to schedule that vacation you've been thinking about, or starting grad school out of state, or buying your first house. Live your own life, do your own thing. If someone else comes into your life that would alter your plan, guess what, you can change the plan.

This is closely related to a life-lesson from last year's post: don't be afraid to do things on your own. Last year when I visited friends in Los Angeles for example, I went on my own to the LA Zoo Christmas lights show, and on the Paramount studio tour, and had a great time at both.

I mentioned this one in last year's list as well, but it's worth re-iterating: schedule "me time" and guard it. The amount required will look different depending where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.

Also schedule project time (writing, movie-making, music-composing, card-writing, home-improving, whatever it may be), and do a better job guarding that time in your calendar than I've been doing lately.

Find your own voice, and avoid assuming every opinion you hear from your teachers, friends, mentors, or pastors is true.

Optimism is a daily choice. And being able to laugh every day sure feels good.

Find a todo-list manager that works for you, be it electronic or paper. The specific tool doesn't matter as much as whether it's something you can use every day to help keep you on track. My current todo-list manager of choice is OmniFocus, though before I've also used Wunderlist and Apple's Reminders. (Also I get really excited when I talk about todo lists and todo list software, so if you need a more technical run-down on any of these options, let's chat!)

Exercise is important, but I still don't enjoy it. Harrumph.

Re-iterating another lesson from my previous post: it never hurts to ask, and the worst that can happen is someone says "no." You may be surprised how far this mentality can bring you.


Interpersonal advice and lessons-learned

I still struggle with this one, but: if you're listening to someone and you realize your only intent in listening is to prove them wrong, stop. No one wants to be listened to just for the sake of being told why they're wrong. (except on the rare occasion when someone actually does ask you for this, like if they ask, "tell me where my thinking is wrong here," which is a completely different situation).

Don't assume that other people are learning the same spiritual or life lessons that you are at the exact same time. Everyone is at their own spot in the journey and we also learn lessons in different orders. Definitely do share your lessons-learned anyway, because you might plant a seed for later on, but don't feel too disappointed if your huge breakthrough turns out not to be immediately applicable by the other person.

Listen to the opinions of people who are older than you. This does not necessarily mean you need to agree with them or adopt their opinions, but even if they're wrong, they have had many more years of life experience that inform that wrong opinion that you have had; at the very least, it's an opportunity for a conversation.

Beware of the "if only"s. "If only that person had done such and such, I'd be less angry" or "if only they would... " Every permutation of those phrases is a trap (cue Admiral Ackbar). People make mistakes, and even if they had done your "if only," you'd still be upset (because the "if only" would move to a new requirement).


Theological advice and lessons-learned

Theology is not black and white, and you can justify anything you want from the Bible. I believe God gave us brains with the expectation we would use them, rather than becoming lemmings. Jesus talks about having faith like a child - now admittedly I don't have children of my own, but one thing I've noticed in others is that they're always asking "why? why? why?" Asking questions about why and what you believe can be scary, but it should never be taboo. If it is, may I suggest you examine what kind of foundation your faith is built on, because if asking one question can bring the whole thing crashing down, that doesn't sound like a very sturdy foundation.

Following on to that, the Kingdom of God has and also requires all kinds of people, including some of the ones you (and I) disagree with. God loves Donald Trump as much as God loves Mother Theresa, or you, or me.

And following on to both of those, make time to spend time with God. My current solution is to read Jesus Calling and a Bible chapter each morning first thing when I wake up, before reading email, when I'm still groggy in bed. While God may not be getting my best at that time of day, God *is* getting my first.

There are certain things that I believe you should be certain of: God's existence, God's love for you, and Easter. Beyond that, if you can remain open to the possibility that your current understanding of the world or theology might not be ultimate truth (which is not to say that you *are* wrong, but just that you're open to the possibility that you don't know everything, or that there might be a deeper understanding than what you have), you will be more mature than pretty much everyone else you ever come into contact with. This also isn't to say that you should doubt everything you know or believe, but rather to acknowledge there exists a possibility that there's more than what you know.

When traveling out of town, try to find a church to visit in your destination city; it's a cool way to explore other forms of worship.

Go on physical walks around the block and invite God to come along, in whatever form you best relate to God. And if you're feeling brave, engage in an out-loud conversation, and be open to hearing back from God in your heart. This idea I got from the movie Harvey, which has nothing specifically to do with God, unless you believe God is a giant invisible and mischievous bunny rabbit.


Financial advice and lessons-learned

Set up a simple budget. If you need a starting point as an example, mine includes separate savings accounts for: rainy-day savings, vacation, home improvement, insurance & property tax, car maintenance & new car fund, love and ministry, child sponsorships, gift-giving, and pre-tax deductions to my 401(k) and FSA. The amounts don't really matter as much as simply saving *something*. Every paycheck, dollars are automatically pulled from my checking account into each of those savings accounts, and then whatever's left I know is available for spending. Also you can have up to 30 free savings accounts at CapitalOne360.com, so, really, no excuses.

If you need to rent a car, I discovered priceline.com can actually work out to name your own price. Last year I saved $60 on my LA rental, and another sum (I forget the exact number) on a car when I visited Denver. The only caution is that you can't change the reservation.

I've discovered that public libraries have audiobooks you can check out for FREE. I've since canceled my Audible.com account, which had been a $200+/year expense. The drawbacks are that the OverDrive app isn't as stable as Audible's app, nor as full-featured, and sometimes you have to wait before a book becomes available (just like any popular paperback may have a waiting list), but, did I mention the audiobooks are FREE? (Including a ton of Star Wars books...)


Lessons I hope to learn in the next decade

I hope to choose being pleasant over being smart. To quote Jimmy Stewart's character from one of my favorite movies, Harvey:

"Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me." - Elwood P. Dowd

I hope to continue finessing my balancing act of busy-ness, between friends, family, work, relaxation, projects that are important to me, and leaving more room for God, because right now I think I've largely crowded God out of my busy schedule.

I hope to learn that my money and resources are not entirely my own, and how to honor that reality.

I hope to better understand people who are different from me.

Relatedly, I hope to learn how to use my own white privilege and upper class privilege to further some societal justice outside of myself.

I hope to start assuming positive intent.

I hope to continue working at my life's goal, which is to point people to God through Jesus, and to do this by the way I live my life, leaving a wake of Good, and leaving people better than I found them.


In less than half an hour I turn 30. I'm ready.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Responding to fiascos

In an email exchange this morning, one of my coworkers wrote to me "I'm honestly at a loss here, I don’t even know how to respond to this latest fiasco." This particular coworker and I talk about faith a lot, making it feel natural to replying with what I think ended up being a Spirit-led response. I'm posting that here because I think most of us feel "at a loss" at work from time to time.

You could respond by saying, "my job is stressful, but my job doesn't define me. God defines me. My job is stressful, but I don't need to allow it that power to consume me. My job will not follow me home and stress me out there (I have my family to take care of giving me stress there!). My job is stressful, but I am employed. My job is stressful, but my spouse supports me unconditionally. My job is stressful, but I know I live for something so much more than just my job. My job is stressful, but every day at my job, I have the opportunity to minister to my coworkers, usually in ways they won't be conscious of, but subtle ministry that affects them nonetheless. My job is stressful, but my God is bigger than that stress. My job is stressful, but I am God's child, I am beloved by the Most High King, I am a son/daughter of the Most High King, and that will get me through the day."

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Giving up bitterness for Lent

Lent only happened 7 months ago, no big deal. Here's something I *meant* to publish back in March.

I've never seen the point in giving up sweets for Lent (or anything else for that matter, it's just that in my social circles sweets always seemed the go-to choice). Now I guess for the folks who do, well you're living a healthier lifestyle than I am, but, physical health aside I've never seen that giving up sweets would somehow help me grow closer to God. The closest I ever came to altering my life during Lent was in 2009, when I attempted to make 40 donations in 40 days (I ended up stopping halfway through).

For 2015, I felt inspired to try something new, to give up something, the act of which might actually help me grow in my faith and grow closer to God:

I gave up bitterness. (or at least, gave my best effort at doing so)

It wasn't necessarily a conscious thought each day; I kept intending to write myself a recurring reminder but never got around to it. This was more than a checklist item, though - it was a mindset change, a choice that "I'm not going to dwell on things that make me frustrated/angry." This meant releasing anger it as quickly as possible, whether from a dumb driver, world injustices, or interpersonal conflict with a friend or coworker. From the small to the major, I would refuse to allow bitterness to gain a foothold in my spirit.

Establishing that mindset for even the first couple days proved enough to change the course of my entire Lenten experience. For one, I noticed I was much happier; the new attitude helped me maintain my even-keel, maybe even an upward-trending emotional state. Now that's not to say I never got angry, it's just that I'd do my little forehead flick thing (like Glinda from Wicked), and say "it's gone, it's Your problem now God. I will not dwell on this anymore, I will not let it consume me, and I will not waste any more emotional energy on it."

I found this to be a much more rewarding experience than my previous Lenten journeys, and I had hoped it would be habit-formed so as to continue. What I've discovered since then is that, like all emotional and spiritual journeys, there are ebbs, and I must continually remind myself (such as right now, as I'm writing this), to actively choose this path.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fully baked

At some indeterminate time in the past (I can't recall exactly when, so let's just say about a year ago), my friend Allie described to me the metaphorical similarity of baking a cake, to being single and/or dating. You see, when you pull a fully baked cake out of the oven, it is complete, in and of itself. But if you're like Allie or me, you want a little (or a lot of) frosting on the cake, to make it even better. The cake is still a cake without the frosting, but the frosting helps enhance the cake's existence - it's taste, it's appeal, basically frosting makes everything better.

With this metaphor in mind, in March I sent the following text to my friend whom I call "Girl #1", because she was the first in-person date I had from eHarmony (we went for a few dates, decided we weren't a good fit romantically, but remained friends and supporters in each other's quests for "true love") :

I'm doing well. Finding a good balance of life, work, devoting time to churches, and friends. Have had a few dates and also a lot of "no"s but I remain optimistic! She's out there. I'm also at a tremendous peace of saying my life is good and complete, I do not need another person to complete me, though I would still like to share life with someone. It's like baking a cake - I'm completely and fully baked (wow this was not the best metaphor) but I'd still like to have frosting on top.

That may be the first and last time you'll ever read me utter the words, "I'm fully baked"...

Less than a month after I wrote that text, I went on yet another first date; "Girl #20" I call her, though I'm pretty sure she has a real name, too. And we've been dating since then, coming up on 6 months now. (that is one reason why I've not had as much time to blog recently, but I do like frosting on my cake, so I think the trade-off is worth it). I mention that because I'd started scribbling notes for this blog post back before aforementioned relationship, and so you must read them in the context of single-Jeremy:

I'm not going to claim I'm 100% "there"; I think finding this peace is a life-long journey, but I'm closer than I've ever been before to saying:

  1. I completely trust God in this (actually, I think I'm there)
  2. I'm okay with being single for right now because life is good, life is complete; and
  3. in the words of my friend Janelle's friend Rusty when I visited LA last December: I need to be equally okay with being single my whole life as I am with having a relationship / being married; if I'm not equally happy with both of those outcomes then it means I'm not trusting God fully.

Here's to being fully baked and trusting God to supply the frosting.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tattoo of Hope

In a move that shocked nearly every one of my friends and acquaintances, I got a tattoo! This happened back in April, so it's high time I wrote about it.

More than a few times through the years friends have asked me, "would you ever get a tattoo?" While I don't have any objections toward tattoos, I've simply never been able to conjure up an idea that I could picture having permanently etched onto my body, never had that "one thing" so meaningful that I'd want to live with it on myself forever. If I were going to get something, I'd want it to be like my friend Bernadett, who has Xena's chakram tattood on her arm because of how deeply meaningful and inspiring that show was to her growing up. So while I've for years thought, "I'd like a tattoo that has that kind of deep significant meaning", I'd just never come up with anything.

You may recall that a couple years ago one of my best friends went to prison. Before his sentencing, we'd get together for burgers and drinks and to talk about life, especially what life after prison would look like for him. The word "hope" came up often in our conversations. After visiting him in jail, I started thinking about "hope" as a possibility for my tattoo. That was in July 2013, and it took until late 2014 for me to decide this wasn't a whim, but something I truly and actually wanted. I gave my parents a several-month warning in December, and meantime reached out to friends who had tattoos, asking them "where?" and "who?" and would they recommend said where and who?

From this intel I elected to phone up Billy at Anchor's End Tattoo in Hudson, Wisconsin. Well Billy was booked out until mid-April, but he had come so highly praised that I was willing to wait (I had *hoped* to get the tattoo before Easter, but again, permanent change to my body here! My friend Debbie who gave me the recommendation said she loved Billy and that the shop where he works is super clean; since she's had Billy draw an entire sleeve of tattoos on her, I figure she's earned the right to vouch for both his artistic skill and the shop's cleanliness). In the time of waiting, I Googled for others who had a tattoo of "hope" (apparently it's not all that uncommon) and found a couple fonts and designs I liked. During this time I also worked on a documentary movie about homelessness called Out In The Cold, the experience of which consistently reaffirmed my desire to have "hope" indelibly inscribed on my body.

Ultimately for me, a tattoo of the word "hope" is an outward symbol of the eternal hope I hold inside because of my faith. I don't need an outward symbol to remind me of that, but some days I know it's going to be nice, because I'll be able to look at my wrist and remember I'm not alone, I have a God who's always with me.

I also recognize that tattoos are a great conversation starter. Last summer when I visited Denver for a friend's wedding, another friend and I were hanging out with in the park playing Bubble Soccer with a few of her acquaintances. During a lull in the action, as we sat around talking, I asked one of the guys about his tattoo and what it meant to him. I've since forgotten exactly what his tattoo was, but I recall thinking at the time it appeared to be Jesus-related, which befuddled me because based on how this guy spoke and acted, I would never have guessed him to be a man of faith. A good lesson for me on not judging, because when he started talking about his tattoo, it brought us into an entire conversation of Godstuff, his faith life, his relationships, and at the end of the conversation my friend and I prayed for him right there in the park. Meanwhile, another of their acquaintances, who didn't really have a place for God in his life, witnessed all this.

I digress. Onto the pragmatic side: what did the process of getting my tattoo actually look like?

In mid-April, I drove to Hudson and met with Billy for about half an hour. I showed him the pictures and fonts I'd liked, which he used as a starting point to sketch his own design. I had psyched myself up to get the tattoo that day, not realizing this was a consultation appointment only; we scheduled a get-down-to-business appointment for the following week. During that week, Billy re-drew and refined the sketch. When I arrived at 6 p.m. on April 18 for the real deal, we made only a few minor tweaks.

I signed the paperwork saying I accepted all the risks, and by 6:15 / 6:20 I was sitting in "the chair." Billy shaved my inner wrist, and rubbed a non-permanent stencil of the design onto my wrist, using a wax paper-esque material with purple ink. He encouraged me to stand up, walk around, look in the mirror, put my arms in different positions, and so on to make sure the positioning was good, because "this is very hard to undo." The first round of this, I decided the image was too big on my wrist, so he wiped off the purple ink with an alcohol swab, resized the stencil, and put it on again. The second time was the right size, but I wasn't quite happy with the placement, I wanted to rotate it slightly, and so he patiently wiped off my wrist and applied the thing again. I apologized for being picky but he reassured me that I should make sure I'm really happy with it beyond question, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The third time, I was happy, and so I sat back down, and Billy got out his needles.

Let me say at this point that, truly, needles do not bother me. I got over that fear back in 9th/10th grade from all the blood tests the doctors needed to draw in diagnosing me with Crohn's. Once diagnosed, I received intravenous Remicade infusions every 6-8 weeks for a number of years, and since 2009 I've been taking Humira injections (self-administered) every 12 days. I'm also on allergy shots, one in each arm every 2 weeks, and I donate blood regularly to the Red Cross. In other words, I've accepted my lot in life as a pincushion, and I barely feel the needles anymore.

Now with that said, OH MY GOODNESS THIS HURT. The best comparison I can think of is it's like getting a cardboard cut (much worse than a paper cut), except the cutting sensation is constant for half an hour (or however long your tattoo takes, but mine took half an hour). My palm was quite sweaty by the time we were done. Oh sweet relief to have the needle removed at long last!

The needlework was like a quill pen: dip in ink, engrave in arm (tracing the purple ink outline), wipe away excess ink and / or blood droplets, repeat. What I hadn't known existed until this time though, is a cool "shader" tool, with a bunch (5-10?) of tiny skinny little needles all in row half an inch wide, that the artist can use to fill in the tattoo between borders. As you see in my picture, this let Billy create a nice gradient / shade in each letter. As I recall, that thing hurt as much as the big needle.

During my half hour of self-inflicted torture, Billy tried to distract me by asking questions. It took a lot of effort to ignore the pain and focus on answering him. He asked "what does hope mean to you?" so I shared a little bit about my faith, a little bit about my friend who's in prison and how the word has been meaningful to us, and then we also talked a little bit about Billy's faith-life, too.

We finished right at 7 o'clock. My total bill was much less expensive than I'd expected / feared (if memory serves, $120, and then I added a generous tip). Billy gave me an after-care instruction sheet and I hit the road.1 At Walgreens I picked up a special skin healing lotion to rub on my wound that evening and then 4x a day for the next 4 days. After that, normal *unscented* lotion several times a day for a few days, and at all times: avoid scratching and itching! Fortunately I took very good care to moisturize, and so I didn't have too much itchiness with which to contend. A few days in a layer of dyed skin started flaking off around the tattoo lines, making me nervous I'd done something wrong, but that must have been just the top layer of skin because 5 months later my tattoo is still intact!

Will I ever get another one? I don't know. Several people have joked I should get "less" inked on my other wrist so when I can combine my wrists it makes one word. I can definitively say I won't be doing that, but I'll leave the door open to other suggestions in the future. For now though, this is my one and only, and I do love it.


1 Side-story. Immediately following my tattoo expedition, some friends invited me over to hang out, and to try to set me up with their friend, named Hope. Had I not just started dating another girl the week before, this would have made for the BEST pick-up line EVER: "Hi Hope, nice to meet you. I just got your name tattooed on my body. Wanna go out?"