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Word of the Year 2016

This might cause you to think that some of my screws have come loose, but I’m way beyond the point of caring about seeming crazy.  Do me a favor, though.  Read all the way through.  ūüôā

 

In December of 2015, I had the pleasure of sitting with a dear friend at a wedding reception.  While we were waiting for the wedding party to arrive to the reception site, we spoke in the manner that our conversations usually assume: the “get in there, share life, talk it out” kind of manner.  She told me about one of her colleagues who receives a “word of the year” from God, and that she had taken his advice to listen for her own.  She proceeded to tell me about her experience and encouraged me to ask God for my own.

That night when I laid my head down to rest, I decided to give it a go.  So I’m lying in bed and start chattin’ up the Almighty like “yo, dude, let’s make this happen.  2016 word of the year, lay it on me” and – BOOM – outta nowhere: “perseverance”.

Can we talk about the still small voice for a second?  It’s one of those things that, if you forget about it, startles you upon its return.  I can hardly fathom a whispered word from a God that literally cannot be exaggerated, but it’s exactly what I got.  Immediately I thought to myself “Uh…ok.  Well I’m just gonna wait it out in case that wasn’t it.”  It makes sense that I’d doubt it for a second, because an almost audible word spoken by neither of the two people in the room isn’t something that my flesh usually indulges without a second thought.

I awoke the next morning all excited.  I was thinking “Man I’m gonna be awesome by the end of 2016.  Perseverance?!  I’m gonna be able to handle anything that comes my way.  And not just “handle”, but destroy because I’m gonna be all steadfast and stuff.”

lol.

Let me tell you what perseverance really is.  (Hint: it’s not something to make you more awesome.)

Perseverance is a warning.  If you’re going to have to persevere, it AUTOMATICALLY means that things aren’t going to go the way you want them to.  Persevere defined is “to continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.”  The word itself should’ve signaled an urge to gear up for what would inevitably be a tough year.  I did not see the warning, and I was not ready for what was to come for the duration of 2016.  I should also say, I think “perseverance” carries a positive connotation.  Sure, the implications can be negative, but perseverance is a positive response thereto.

Perseverance is simplicity.  About 8 months ago, my wife and I got rid of 1/3-1/2 of our crap and moved into a house that is 600 sq ft less than the one we left.  It’s been one of the best decisions we’ve made in a long time.  Our daily lives are so much simpler, and the kids are very happy in our current situation.  Our lack of crap and a smaller house has been great in and of itself, but that theme has spilled over into other areas of our lives.  Our theme is simplicity.  It’s been a blessing during this season of perseverance, because so much of the distraction that all the extra usually brings is out of my mind.  It’s certainly full of normal life things, but all the other garbage isn’t taking up the extra mental space I need for pushing through one day to the next.  It’s also the simple act of living each day, each day.

Perseverance is mundane.  I had this notion that I’d be peaking regularly through 2016; that I’d have victory after victory.  It’s not so.  That’s just not how it works.  It’s an incredibly monotonous, daily drift: to wake up with the single goal of putting one foot in front of the other.  There’d be spurts of seeming joy, followed by ten times as much anguish, which ultimately led to stoicism.  I learned that being stoic isn’t the most ideal way to live, but it was the only option I had for success at taking one step at a time.

Perseverance is to look directly in front of oneself.  This one is twofold.  First, if I looked directly in front of myself, I could get a grip on what I needed to do to drift through the current day to the next.  “Make it to work” or “make it to the gym” or “make it to nap time” or “make it to bed”…thinking too broadly doesn’t serve most of us well when in the middle of trials, because it scatters everything on “the list” (ugh, the list – I hate the list) into a widespread mess that is too hard for us to keep together – simplicity, remember?  Second: when I look directly in front of me, I see the things that give me life: my wife, my kids, my house, my couch, my dog, my kitchen, my open curtains to the sunlight…  When I’ve made it to the rocking chair to rest my body and mind, these things and more serve as a reminder to keep going.

Perseverance is trusting your loved ones.  My wife, who walked with me in 2016, was a constant support and helpmate.  In my most vulnerable year ever, I had to trust her with every burden, and she didn’t waiver in that support.  (By the way, THIS is what it looks like when a wife “serves her husband”.  I am forever grateful, and hope to reciprocate the same service in the same manner when needed.)  I placed a similar trust in some family members and friends as well.

Perseverance is hanging on by a thread.  It’s knowing that this day will end, and I will wake up tomorrow.  It’s trusting that the thread will not break, and that if I hold on for JUST a little bit longer, I’ll make it to solid ground.

Perseverance is reaching your hands heavenward and saying “Jesus, this is me clutching the hem of Your garment.  Give me something.”

Perseverance is deep, calming breaths at 3 AM that lull you back to sleep.

Perseverance is living second by second if necessary; closing your eyes and knowing that right here, right now, everything is okay.

Perseverance is letting the tears flow, when weeping is might seem like the only hope you have for numbing the pain that brokenness brings.

Perseverance is, to paraphrase Watchman Nee, to keep my hand on the plow while wiping away those tears.

But…

Perseverance, I believe, is a promise.  2016 was the “year of undoing” for me.  Or maybe it was more like deconstruction.  Actually, you know what?  On third thought, it was probably the year of destruction.  [Not to worry, though.  I’m okay.  My family is okay.  We are not in any danger.]  I had a dream recently about a giant statue falling to the ground, leaving a crumbled mess of broken stone.  That’s me after 2016.  It would be impossible for me to forget this year, because the struggles I was up against were the hardest I’ve endured.  (Also, I’m not going to tell you what they were, so don’t ask.  I love you.)  Yet, the stone that’s now lying in a mess all around me is a hint of a hope to come.  Once everything is a mess, the only thing to do is rebuild…restore.  I cannot believe that all of this perseverance was for naught.  There has to be something at the end of it, even if that thing is seeing the fruit of what I suspect will have been the most shaping year of my life thus far as well.

So, onward.  Though I could possibly find an answer one day for all the struggle, the perseverance won’t stop now.  It was merely being developed over 2016 (though maybe not quite so “mere”.  Perseverance wouldn’t be necessary if things weren’t dire.)  I’m going to keep persevering to the restoration.  And I have good reason to…

In December 2016, on the EXACT date I received my word in 2015, a new word was spoken  to me (audibly – it’s the craziest thing) for 2017:

Rest.

The promise is real.  So now I will persevere to rest; to find where rest is and what rest means.

Rest is, after all, where restoration begins.


[for bracelets like the one pictured, visit mudLOVE]

 

To be completely honest, I’m not sure why I wrote this, especially since I’ve chosen to keep my circumstances concealed, other than for the hope that maybe it’ll help someone who feels like they’re in the throes of hardship.  Also, if you can resonate with anything I’ve said, please let me know; kinship can be a huge relief for the struggling.  Try to listen for your word, too, and if you have one, tell me what it is!  Let’s talk about it!

Safe Place

Everything has been on your own terms from the time you were born two years ago today.  Thankfully you decided that being only three weeks early was enough to shake things up a bit.  You succeeded, by the way; we didn’t even bring a car seat to the hospital with us.  Clearly your mom and I weren’t prepared, even if you had been born on your due date, but you also didn’t give us enough time.  From start to finish, you were born in 1 hour and 44 minutes.  What a blessing for your mother, sweet girl.

You slept right after you came into the world.  I remember thinking how sweet it was that it took only a minute for you to fall asleep on your mommy, where you stayed for the longest time.  She couldn’t see your face because it was nuzzled under her chin, but she felt you, little girl, of that I’m sure.

I didn’t predict that this would be the theme of your life thus far.  I thought for sure you’d turn into a rascally tomboy for trying to keep up with your big brother.  It turns out, that even though you can certainly hold your own, you’re reserved, demure, and aware.  It’s beautiful.  You keep your cards close, you’re measured in action, and guarded with your affection.  There’s safety in you, for us and for yourself.

One of my sweetest memories is coming home from work to your 8 or 9 month old smiling, perfect circle of a face.  What a comfort you were, reaching to touch my face with a giggle.  You were a balm for my oft weary soul, and without any effort you absorbed the busyness inside of me.  In those short, healing moments, you gave me more security than an infant should be able to.

The intrinsic qualities you possess fill a hole in our family that I didn’t realize existed.  A few days after we brought you home from the hospital, I remember standing, overcome, as I watched your mom, your brother, and you (my better three quarters) live life in front of me.  I’m sure it was in part due to being slightly overwhelmed at having another life to take care of (and adding another arrow to my quiver), but it was then that I realized that your presence was special, because it brought new life and energy to something that had existed beautifully before.  The way you spin around and dance when music comes on, how you show affection to your stuffed animals and baby dolls, when you say “pretty” as mommy is looking in your armoire for the day’s outfit, how you call anyone in a dress or gown “princess”, how you touch your nose to ours when we ask “where’s your nose?”, how you’re sure to say “ni-night mommy” or “ni-night daddy” sometimes through tears of exhaustion during bedtime, the way you bring us book after book to read to you and the way you crawl on our laps to listen (for as much as I love it, I’d be fine with getting a small break from “Little White Rabbit”), your desire to be close to the ones you love, the joy you find in dainty things, the way you bring out a tender side of your spirited brother when he gives you a hug or tells you he loves you…all of that brings a treasured softness to our household.

And I hope you stay the way you are.  Of course I’ll love you just the same if you don’t, but I see a future for you as someone who many find refuge in: the same safety I find when you look into my eyes and smile.  And if you do become an older version of your current self, I hope you grow in the same security you’ve already found even at two years old.  One day you’ll hear a lie that the qualities that make you, you – the sweet, girly you – were imposed on you.  Don’t believe it.  You were fearfully and wonderfully knit together.  Your inner workings aren’t there by happenstance or persuasion; they’re there on purpose and for a purpose, and it blows my mind sometimes that you seem to already know that.  You’re a daily encouragement for me as I watch you live as the person you are, even if your freedom coincides with your comfort.  That’s okay, stay guarded.  While it may make it harder for things to find their way in, it also makes it harder for things to become lost.

It took a long time for your mom and me to decide on what your name would be.  Some might think it silly that we searched for something that had a certain feel, but we were sure of it once we found it.  As it turns out, you live up to it in feel and definition.  You are precious to me, and one of my biggest blessings.  So keep being you, because it’s beautiful, and because it makes me feel safe to be me.  I’m proud that I can find that kind of comfort from you, my daughter: my safe place, my refuge…my sweet, sweet Haven.

Happy 2nd birthday, sweet girl.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Where the Heart is

The sound of the garage door lifting open and the familiar smell of what was contained behind it hit me like a one-two nostalgic punch. ¬†If you were to ask me what comes to mind when I think of home, the garage wouldn’t be it. ¬†I was surprised at how readily my brain brought me back in time from the smell of the garage alone; back in time to some point in the 21 years I lived there.

My parents bought a house in the part of the state that my brothers and I now live in order to be closer to us and their grandchildren – well, maybe just their grandchildren ūüėČ – so my dad and I were back home to move more things to the new house. ¬†It’d been a while since I’d been at home, so for a season, I’ve been in a mindset of looking and thinking forward to the new house. ¬†I realized pretty quickly when I got there, that it’s been a long time since I looked back.

Dad was looking for something in the garage (the garage that has always looked like a mess to me, but apparently is organized chaos to him because he found what he was looking for), so I went in through the front door to get some things ready to put on the truck.  Sentiment made a fool of me, because for a half of a second I expected to be greeted by my black lab, Koda.  We lost him over 7 years ago.  Just in front of me was the old upright piano we got for next to nothing 10 or 11 years ago.  It reminded me of the Christmas that I got a keyboard that I used to fall asleep playing.  I practiced for hours trying to learn to play two hands together on that keyboard; that one was an upgrade from the Yamaha I tried my best to make music on (it only had 19 keys Рor was it 28? Рand only 2 could be played at a time).

The floor in the foyer is probably 20 years old, and I remember when it was put down (and the yellow carpet that was there before it). ¬†I can still hear the sound my rollerblades made when I’d skate to the front door to go out and brave the hill of the driveway (which, by the way, is a minuscule decline, as it turns out). ¬†I’d make my way through the threshold of the front door onto the porch, which has no rails, and squat as low as I could with my hands just behind me to catch myself the moment my feet rolled out in front of me. ¬†I’d scoot down the brick stairs on my rear end (the same stairs I slapped the side of my face into once), then slowly stand up at the bottom and make my way down the sidewalk, with my headphones on, and my Disc Man in my fanny pack. ¬†It doesn’t get more 90s than that.

The living room has a huge window that I didn’t appreciate as a youngster. ¬†If you could’ve watched from the outside in through the years, you would’ve seen hours of Nintendo playing, instrument practice, and boyfriend/girlfriend hangouts. ¬†You also would’ve seen one of my proudest moments: finally, after years of being picked on as the youngest by the middle child, I beat my brother at his own game. ¬†He was messing with me in one manner or another, and I ended up sitting on the floor facing him standing before me. ¬†In a split second I decided to grab both of his ankles and yank his feet out from under him. ¬†He might not acknowledge such defeat (or remember, really). ¬†If you look out the window to the front yard, you’ll see the tree that he swiftly cut behind as I was chasing him during a game of Marco Polo (not in the pool – I don’t know why that sounded like a good idea). ¬†I was chasing him around the yard with my eyes closed, so naturally he led me to that tree and stood behind it and yelled “Polo!”, thus making it seem like I had a chance at catching him. ¬†I lunged, hit the tree, then hit the ground. ¬†That one gave me a pretty bad goose egg. ¬†These are just the beginning of the stories that house holds.

I looked around the house and remembered very specific moments from each room. ¬†My bed is still in what ended up as my own room. ¬†I spent the majority of my life going to bed in the same spot, but now, 10 years after leaving, it seems like a lifetime ago. ¬†Even now, I’m remembering a time I cried in my closet after having my lip busted by a bag of hard candy that one of the neighborhood kids had. ¬†Each room has its own feeling and story; even each of the yards surrounding the house has its own feeling and story. ¬†I was shaped in that house and in those yards and under the big oak tree (I won’t get into that right now – it’s one of the main identifiers of “home” to me), and now they’re becoming empty.

My Grandma moved into the basement apartment of my parents’ new house from the same city that I grew up in. ¬†The day she moved, I helped on the unloading side. ¬†I recognized most of what was in the trucks and on the trailer: it was every one of her belongings that had just come from her old apartment that she had been in for 20 years. ¬†(She should really get a Tenant Lifetime Achievement Award or something. ¬†Could you ask for a better tenant?) ¬† A lot of the things that she brought with her had also been in the apartment she was living in down in Gainesville, Florida, the one she left to come to North Carolina. ¬†I wonder how many times she’s left a home.

A day or two later, we all gathered in her new apartment for dinner (including all three of her children). ¬†A lot had been unpacked by this time, so it felt like Grandma’s house already. ¬†I saw reminders of my Grandpa in some of the things he made (and even a sock monkey that was made for him when he was in the hospital long ago), the potato lookalike that is actually a rock had made it, all of the binders that hold photos of all of our lives and journals of her travels were there on the bookshelf (she’s been to every state except Hawaii), the dining table I sat at a quarter of a century ago in Florida was set up…it was her home. ¬†She seemed to already be comfortable. ¬†She was making dinner and didn’t have to guess about anything. ¬†She’s almost 93, so of course she knew how to make the meal she was making, but a new kitchen didn’t trouble her in the slightest. ¬†I looked around and saw my aunt and uncles and parents talking at the table, my own children playing with toys I probably played with as a child (and chasing their cousins around), my Grandma beating an egg with such familiarity (she grew up on a farm, so she’s been doing that for at least 80 years)…life was happening, as comfortably in her new house as her previous one. ¬†I can see her happiness to be here, and not because she has expressed to me a few times that she was eager to move. ¬†So I guess the old adage is true. ¬†I guess home really is where the heart is. ¬†Grandma left a house to come to NC, and one to get where she was before that, and who knows how many others before that. ¬†I’d be willing to bet that she figured this out a long time ago.

When Dad and I got back to the new house with the load, my uncle and oldest brother helped us get everything inside. ¬†Slowly, the new house is filling up. ¬†The new dining room is gigantic and is open to the family room. ¬†The dining room table that once filled a kitchen now seems small in such a vast space. ¬†The couch is apparently mammoth sized because it had to be taken apart to fit through the door, but it’s there now, too. ¬†Even the kitchen utensils (some of which my mom has probably had my entire life – I guess if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. ¬†Some of them are broke, so I may or may not be hinting at what part of your Christmas present will be, Mom) found their way there. ¬† The house still looks like somebody’s moving in, and probably will for a while, but home is starting to take shape.

It’s kind of exciting to know that familiar things from my past get a new life. ¬†Going “home” to a new house will be an adjustment, but I’ve become an expert at adjustment. ¬†The day is approaching quickly that the old house won’t be a part of my life anymore. ¬†When I finally faced this reality, it stung a little. ¬†I moved out 10 years ago and proceeded in life thinking that no matter where I go, the house will always be there. ¬†I was wrong about that, and it’s ok. ¬†I love that house. ¬†It’s a modest house, but I hold it dear and will miss it. ¬†Who knows if I’ll have the chance to go back one more time before everything is moved out. ¬†If not, it’ll be just fine, because even though we are leaving a house behind, we are bringing home with us.

The Parenting Manual

Y’all, I think I’ve done it.

I have written the best, most accurate, fail proof (though not fool proof) parenting manual of all time. ¬†And it’s only two, three-worded chapters! ¬†Are you ready for this wisdom I’m ’bout to drop on y’all? ¬†Here goes chapter one:

Figure it out.

Whoa.  I just heard all of your minds being blown.

My generation is popping out babies right and left these days. ¬†The church small group I was once a part of has produced 13 babies since the fall of 2011 – with another one on the way in the next few months! ¬†That’s a lot of kids. ¬†One big sweet, precious, sleep-siphoning pumpkin patch of kids.

Just scroll down your Facebook timeline. ¬†Birth announcements seem to pop up every other day, some for first time parents, and a lot for repeat parents (including adoptions). ¬†They make me happy. ¬†I love newborns…I mean LOVE. ¬†Those little tiny brand new babies swell my heart so, and I love that expectant parents are feeling the same things I felt when I learned of my little bundles.

I also feel slightly sorry for them, because they have no idea what they’re getting into. ¬†I am not trying to call them ignorant – oh no, not that in the least – but they actually have absolutely no idea what they’re getting into. ¬†I was the same way: having cute little nuggets in the house is such a novel idea. ¬†After having survived two newborns (“survived” being a term that I can use as a father, because what their mother has gone through far exceeds mere survival), I know now what it means (mostly) to parent small children. ¬†Now I see that what I thought I knew before having children was hardly a fraction of what I’ve learned. ¬†It’s an impossibility to understand it unless you’ve been there, and I figured that out pretty darn quickly.

I mean, I always heard “they don’t sleep at night.” ¬†Ok, so you mean, like, I don’t get to sleep in anymore because they get up at 5 AM or something?

Ha. ¬†Hahaha. ¬†Nope. ¬†(And I didn’t even nurse!)

“You will literally have to give up your life for your kids.” ¬†I mean, sure, I won’t have as much free time as I do now.

TERENCE.  THE AMOUNT OF FREE TIME YOU HAD BEFORE KIDS IS ACTUALLY INCONCEIVABLE.

Then there’s the biggest “I mean, duh” statement of all time: “You guys (parents) need to be sure to make time for yourselves.” ¬†That’s cool, yeah. ¬†Sure. ¬†If not we’ll just bring the kids with us.

Rrrrright.  You go right ahead and have your relaxing dinner with your toddlers.

You have to figure it out. ¬†Almost any parent that has ever lived is a wealth of information and advice. ¬†Even then, it’s not enough. ¬†I can’t deny that it’s helpful; my wife and I have sought our fair share of help and advice from our parents and in-laws, but it’s not enough.

I know I’ve thought this to myself many times, which is also why I know that other young parents like me are thinking it too: “Nobody told me.” ¬†Nobody dang told me. ¬†I didn’t know, however, that they didn’t tell me because they actually couldn’t tell me what was to come. ¬†The handbook is that there is no handbook. ¬†You will know when you get there, but there is very little that I or anyone else can do to prepare you for the nitty gritty, day-in day-out, no sleep, no money, no time, no sanity, sometimes harsh reality of being a parent. ¬†It is the hardest thing you will ever do. ¬†I don’t care what you’ve done before. ¬†Listen to me: ¬†It is the hardest thing you will ever do. ¬†And you have to figure it out.

But y’all, thank God for chapter two:

You got this.

You’ll see.

There will be plenty of times that you’re going to think you’re the worst parent in existence. ¬†It’s a guarantee; it comes with the territory. ¬†You will fail your children. ¬†Repeat after me: “I will fail my children.” ¬†For the amount of times you mess up, you’ll have at least one victory. ¬†Rest will come, you will sleep again. ¬†I promise.

But YOU GOT THIS. ¬†And you know why YOU GOT THIS? ¬†Because you WILL figure it out. ¬†And you know why you will figure it out? ¬†Because of the fierce, stubborn, foolish, indelible love you have for your children. ¬†Trust it. ¬†Y’all, that love is a well, and it is deep and full and teeming with exceedingly more than you ever thought it could produce. ¬†It is a well that will never dry up. ¬†You got this.

And you got this because you are going to rearrange. ¬†The most precious thing you have on this earth is going to be replaced real quick, and it will happen with the blink of an eye. ¬†When you hold your newborn, the thing that you think will hurt immensely to let go of is going to fall so far down the list without you even noticing. ¬†I’m telling you, you won’t realize it. ¬†You’re going to pore over every inch of your baby in such amazement and wonder that you’ll forget about what you thought you loved before holding that little tiny life in your arms. ¬†And that prioritization will, by default, lead you to figure it out. ¬†(Whatever form “it” takes at the present time.)

And you got this because you’ll change. ¬†My kids love to wake me up in the morning with mirrors held up to me. ¬†Are you following me? ¬†They’re experts at drawing out the dirtiest parts of me and, quite honestly, won’t relent until I start to clean some of it up. ¬†This is the single most difficult thing that I can say I’ve endured as a parent: those little buggers have waged war against my flesh. ¬†When I am awakened by¬†a knock on the bedroom door at an hour that is earlier than I’d like it to be, standing right behind that door is my 3 year old with his dang mirror. ¬†If I open that door and it is anything but a smooth start to the day, it will NOT resolve until I look in that mirror and make a change (props, MJ). ¬†After all, I’m the adult here, so it is my job to die to myself a little bit so that my kid can start the day off on the right track. ¬†He doesn’t know that I’m exhausted or stayed up late the night before, nor is it his problem. ¬†In those moments is when you find success. ¬†Although I fail at this more than I’d like to admit. ¬†It’s offensive, in a way, because being Mommy or Daddy to your little one is a sure-fire way to reveal your flaws. ¬†You just aren’t as awesome as you thought you were. ¬†You thought you were patient, honest, calm, gentle, etc etc etc. ¬†This part is tough, y’all. ¬†Parenting forces you to let go and change, because really, you don’t really have a choice. ¬†The stakes are high, because the responsibility to guide them in their first, formative years rests on your shoulders. ¬†So you have to fall in line, because those beautiful babies are exceedingly more important than your pride. ¬†There is no other option.

You’ll see. ¬†You’ll see that you got this when your baby latches on for the first time, when nothing seems to keep him from crying until you stand up and bounce around, when she sits up and stays, when he successfully puts food from hand to mouth, when you wake up in a panic after she slept the night through, when the doctor confirms your instincts about what his sickness is, when she laughs at you, when he says “mommy” or “daddy”, when she takes her first steps, when he sleeps successfully in the toddler bed, when she hugs you at the end of a day that seemed like you were her worst enemy…you’ll see.

I promise you got this! ¬†And you got this because you’ll figure it out. ¬†And you’ll figure it out because of the undying love you have for your babies. ¬†And that’s the long and short of it, my friends.

Any publishing inquiries for the aforementioned manual can be directed to the comments section of this blog.  Thank you.

Journey to Authenticity – Pt. 3

A converging of paths.

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and gotten one of those carts that likes to veer to the right or left when you push it? ¬†Man, they are annoying. ¬†For a while there, I thought I was a dang magnet for those stupid things. ¬†I’d spend most of my weekly trip to Target feeling like everybody was noticing how wonkily I was walking while trying to simply steer the cart (or “buggy” if yer from dayown heer, y’all).

If it is a particularly bad one, you gotta basically do calisthenics to get the thing to go where you want it to go, and turning it in the direction opposite of which it tends to veer can be a royal pain in the rear.

And this is when the cart is empty.

(If you ever wanna see all my faults on display, join me on a shopping trip and hope I happen to grab one of these tools of Satan.)

Do you ever feel like you are one of these defected shopping carts?  I mean, dang.

Y’all, I’m happy with the direction my life is heading in –I want you to hear that — but for a long time now I’ve felt like I tend to veer…

Sometimes I wish there was another decade between our 20s and 30s. ¬†I’ve felt like my 20s were¬†such a growing, changing season that I probably missed out on a lot of life that, looking back, I want to experience more fully. ¬†And I could do that if I had 10 more years. ¬†It would be nice to have the wisdom that I have now and re-experience a lot of what the past 10 years brought me. ¬†I wonder if the energy, thought, emotion, and time I put into things would be different now. ¬†I don’t regret the path I chose, but I long for more fulfillment from the path I didn’t.

We all make decisions in our lives that will completely change its trajectory. ¬†I’m realizing that one of my biggest fears is regret, and so a lot of my decision-making flows through that filter. ¬†So far I’ve done pretty good, though there are MANY times that I wonder “What would’ve happened if I chose the other option?” ¬†Life changes are usually hard for a reason: every option is good. ¬†In some way or another, the choice between two directions is the choice between what you love more instead of what is right and wrong. ¬†You know what I’m saying, right?

Dang, that’s frustrating. ¬†Then you spend the years following a major decision wondering what stages you would’ve performed on, what countries you would’ve traveled to, what college would you have gone to, what friends you would’ve made, what places you would’ve lived in, what things you would’ve created, what opportunities would’ve presented themselves… ¬†ONE DECISION has the power to make your life look VASTLY different from what would’ve been. ¬†It’s amazing and frustrating. ¬†Dang frustrating.

And it’s frustrating because I still want to experience it. ¬†Maybe I don’t want to live the life I would’ve had, but I need to find ways to be connected to the parts of myself that wanted to. ¬†I’m happy where I am, but I want to tip my hat to where I could’ve been, and that is a big part of what I hope my near future holds for me.

I have a mental, tentative 10 year plan to incorporate old things back into my life – the things that I’ve let collect dust over the past 5-10 years. ¬†And here it is:

In the next 1 year: Get back in dance class (while I still have my youth, teehee).  Just once a week, by January 2016.

In the next 5 years: Hopefully teach dance, either regularly or as a sub, and have some opportunities to choreograph.  Also, to have spent time (by the time 5 years have passed) playing viola more, and getting better at piano or guitar, or both.

In the next 10 years: All of the above, plus learning a new instrument and potentially joining a choir.  Also, maybe venturing back into the land of ceramics.

With a small business and two kids, that’s a tall order. ¬†Goals aren’t always reached, but at least in the process I’ll reacquaint myself with SOME of the above. ¬†Everybody has things they wish they had time for; things that nurture the passionate, artistic, dedicated, focused parts of themselves. ¬†Without them, we are without a huge chunk of what makes us ourselves – what makes us authentic.

So, I’m ready. ¬†Even though I am pushing this cart that doesn’t want to just go straight (my life), it is full of things that help bring fulfillment (thought most certainly not the only source of it), and I’m ready. ¬†I’m going to start pushing it where it wants to go when appropriate, and even if I have to struggle with it, I’ll keep it on course when necessary.

And you should do it, too. ¬†You probably owe it to yourself. ¬†You’ve endured a lot and faced huge life decisions that meant sacrificing – or better, still – putting something else of value on hold. ¬†It might be time to revisit those things; to feel like yourself, and experience the authenticity that comes from nodding to the potential direction in which your life might’ve gone.

I’m excited! ¬†Are you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Overlooked

All names have been changed to protect the identities of those herein.

It was always an odd time for me: when summer nears its end, and the impending school year was to start anew. ¬†Looking back, I can see that my affinity for office supplies (and the smell of the stores) has been a part of me for a long time, because I always had a ping of excitement when my mom would take me shopping for new school supplies for the new grade. ¬†Then there were the few new items of clothing that I’d get, and that was cool, too. ¬†And the last sign that the beloved days of lazing around, probably annoying the mess out of my parents, and little to no scheduled anything were over: school open house. ¬†I suppose open house was always bittersweet for me. ¬†Summer was ending, and something new was starting. ¬†It was exciting, kinda.

I remember going to open house for 3rd grade. ¬†I think that might have been a special year because my teacher had actually been my brother’s 5th grade teacher a few years prior. ¬†Her name was Mrs. Blake. ¬†From what my brother said, she was cool. ¬†She had a good relationship with the kids, joked around with them, liked The Simpsons…cool.

Her classroom was walled off by these bizarre partitions that looked like they could’ve come down with enough force, and the door was extra big, with a slot machine-like arm for a handle. ¬†I walked up to the door and pulled down the handle and opened it into the classroom.

I saw Elizabeth at about the same time she gasped and said “TERENCE!” ¬†Smiling, she ran over to me and greeted me with a hug. ¬†My 3rd grade self felt both a little awkward and flattered. ¬†I can’t quite remember exactly where my history with her began – it was obviously prior to this event – but this moment stands out as a marker in my relationship with her. ¬†So we were in the same class in 3rd grade.

Later in life, when I became old enough to put two and two together, I figured out (not with complete assuredness) that Elizabeth and I weren’t in the same class by chance. ¬†I’ll never know if others were placed there specifically as well, though it wouldn’t surprise me, but she was the only child in our class – our school, I think – with Down’s Syndrome, and I had befriended her previously. ¬†And I would become her ally.

[Pause: It’s important to note that there were others who certainly could’ve found themselves in my class under the same circumstances. ¬†I had somehow built a reputation in my elementary school; I was smart, accomplished, and well-behaved. ¬†I guess I was a teacher’s pet, but I know I was well-known by staff and well-liked. ¬†I know this is horribly boastful, and I really don’t mean to brag, but there’s no reason to sugar coat. ¬†I think my reputation might’ve had something to do with why we were placed in the same class. ¬†That is absolutely not to say that Elizabeth was lowly and I was there to rescue or protect her – I was not her savior, but maybe she needed a support system. ¬†Lastly, I don’t wear my elementary school amazingness like a crown of laurels. ¬†That was 20+ years ago. ¬†My amazingness these days measures around “poor to average” on the amazingness scale at best.]

 

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…” ¬†Proverbs 31:8a

I’m not sure why I had a soft spot for her.¬† Kids can be cruel, too cruel, and I suppose I took great issue with people mistreating her because of a genetic disorder.¬† How unfair.¬† We sat next to each other for a good part of the school year, if not all of it.¬† I can remember how she would play with her pencils, tapping them across her desk on their erasers. ¬†One time I tried to join her.¬† I hadn’t the slightest idea of what exactly she was doing, but I thought I’d give it a shot.¬† WHAM!¬† It took a half of a second before she swatted my hand away.¬† Apparently I was way off in my interpretation of the pencil-dancing.¬† It still makes me chuckle.

I can remember how she liked cowgirls, or at least I think she did due to the gusto with which she would say “RIDE ‘EM COWGIRL!” as she galloped around the room.¬† It made us all laugh.¬† I’m pretty sure most of the kids were laughing at her expense, and to be honest I think I did, too, the first one or two times I saw her do it.¬† Eventually I laughed with her.¬† How couldn’t I, feeling such joy coming from her?

Perhaps what I remember most was a sad moment during PE class one day.¬† The challenge of the day was to run towards the two posts with a jump rope stretched between them and jump over the rope.¬† There were only two posts and one jump rope, so that meant that each of us gave it a go by ourselves with everyone watching.¬† One by one we went, cleared the rope, then sat down in the grass to watch everyone else.¬† We were getting down to the end of the line, and Elizabeth was up next.¬† Off she went running, then she jumped, and down she went.¬† She pancaked face first into the mat.¬† Can you imagine the sound of roaring laughter from a class full of 3rd graders?¬† That’s what it sounded like.¬† But it wasn’t funny.¬† It wasn’t funny at all.¬† During the uproar I remember shouting “At least she tried, y’all!!!”¬† And again, “AT LEAST SHE TRIED!”¬† Thankfully my voice was heard by the teacher, who thanked me then addressed the class in the same manner.¬† I remember seeing her pick herself up and walk back to sit with the rest of us.¬† I wish I had been old enough to think to walk over to her to help somehow, or at least offer…or even just walk with her.¬† My heart still hurts when I replay that defining moment of my childhood.

Eventually middle school came, and Elizabeth wasn’t there, or at least I don’t remember seeing her there.¬† I’m not sure if she stayed behind in elementary school or if she went to a different school for 6th grade.¬† I still thought of her, though, and to this day she still holds a place in my heart.¬† I think she went to my high school, but it had been so long since I had seen her that I wasn’t completely sure if it was her or not.¬† I think I said “Hi, Elizabeth” to her once, but she must not have recognized or remembered me, if it was even her to begin with.

But middle school had it’s own memorable moments that bore similarity to the ones with Elizabeth.¬† Middle school is hell for almost everyone in some way or another.¬† If you aren’t part of the elite that seem to separate themselves and become elite for no tangible reason, you’re going to have some problems at some point.¬† I know I did.¬† I was obviously picked on in elementary school because of dance, but when boys start becoming “men” (in quotations because a lot of them still haven’t earned that title in the past 18 years) in middle school, differences are magnified and far less accepted.¬† Not to mention, I made the unfortunate choice to have longer hair when I started middle school.¬† Why on earth I thought that was a good idea, I’ll never know.¬† I guess I was naive still, and saw people as mostly good, so I didn’t think it would be an issue.¬† It shouldn’t have been.

 

“Rescue the weak and the needy;¬†deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” ¬†Psalm 82:4

At some point in the 6th grade, I started hearing about a boy who was supposedly a big loser.¬† Sickeningly enough, I found solace in that.¬† Somebody was actually more despised than I was, and he made them forget about me for a minute.¬† If I remember correctly, he was a “baby”.¬† “John Glass is such a baby.”¬† I had no idea who he was as he had come from a different elementary school than mine.¬† It didn’t take me long to figure it out.

One day we were spilling out of the gym after an assembly.¬† I don’t know why hundreds of 6th graders were allowed to rush the halls like a herd of buffalo, but we weren’t in any sort of lines.¬† I remember the crowd turned down a certain hallway near the cafeteria, and I heard a bunch of commotion, shouting, and loud laughter.¬† In my memory this whole occasion is a flash, but I think I remember seeing teachers trying to pull kids away and push through the crowd, and I couldn’t see why.¬† Then before I knew it, there he was.¬† John was at my feet, crying in the fetal position, face red, eyes squeezed shut, and tears streaming down his cheeks.

I stopped dead in my tracks.¬† My jaw hit the floor.¬† I felt the crowd sweep past me on either side as I bore against the force of people who kept coming behind me.¬† It was like when a wave crashes on your back, or when you stand at the shore while the undertow pulls at your feet.¬† I felt like I stood there for an eternity, but it must’ve only been a few seconds, because I eventually walked past him as the crowd was coming to an end and the teachers managed to get to him.¬† I kept looking back at him and seeing myself.¬† There he was, on the ground, crying out for it all to stop.¬† I can’t really bear to think of what might’ve happen to him as he was there, defenseless on the ground while hundreds of kids surrounded him.

I never actually met him, but I tried to defend John after that incident when I had the opportunity. ¬†Sure, I had once taken delight that I wasn’t alone down at the bottom, but even then I couldn’t just let people continue to trash him. ¬†I’m not sure what happened to him, either, other than the few times I saw him in high school.¬† He seemed to be hard and shut off from the world.¬† Why wouldn’t he be?¬† When you’re forced to a place of such vulnerability – humility – it’s no wonder that walls go up.¬† Who knows how high or wide or strong his were…or probably still are.

 

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” ¬†Hebrews 13:16

Fast forward to about 5 years ago. ¬†(I don’t mean to skip my high school and early 20s years, as I’m sure those years held enough lessons to be learned and pivotal moments. ¬†If I’m being totally honest, I might’ve turned a little more selfish then in order to re-establish myself as somebody important, as well as focus on my career. ¬†The lessons I learned during those times are different from the ones that came from the first two situations I’ve mentioned.) ¬†If I remember correctly, 2010 was a pretty cold winter for us.¬† I remember one particular January morning walking outside to my car in 18 degree weather.¬† As a North Carolinian, these kinds of temperatures don’t work for me.¬† It is beyond frigid, and borders on unbearable.¬† I went to the gym anyway.

On my way back, I saw someone on the side of the road, begging.¬† It was 18 degrees outside, and he was standing there in a sweatshirt.¬† A sweatshirt.¬† His sleeves were pulled over his hands, clenched in his fists, and the drawstring in his hood was pulled tightly around his face.¬† Thankfully, the gym, Target, and the apartment I lived in at the time were all within 5 minutes of each other.¬† I made a quick decision to take a detour to Target to pick up a few things to help this guy in even the smallest way.¬† I got some granola bars, and made my way over to the outerwear section to get some gloves and a hat.¬† As I was trying to make an educated guess on what size gloves I should buy, I felt myself getting choked up, so I moved over to the underwear aisle to hide my mini breakdown.¬† Here I was, using my money to buy something to help make somebody more comfortable as he stood in the freezing cold, asking for help.¬† I didn’t really think what I was going to give him could do much help, and even if I shouldn’t have, in that moment I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for having the luxury to walk into a store and spend money on something (that I wouldn’t even use), then return to my warm home.

Thankfully he was still there when I returned to give him the bag of stuff I had gotten. ¬†I stopped at the light at the intersection he was standing near. ¬†By the time he walked over to me, the light was turning green, so I quickly rolled down my window to hand him the bag, so I wasn’t able to have any sort of conversation with him. ¬†I quickly rolled the window back up, shutting out the obnoxious cold, and drove away. ¬†I hadn’t gotten very far through the intersection when I looked in my rear view mirror and saw that he already had the hat on and was putting on the gloves.¬† It really was so bitterly cold.

 

“Carry each other‚Äôs burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” ¬†Galatians 6:2

Every now and then, one of these three moments runs through my head, and I’m sure they will for the rest of my life. ¬†It seems as if there is a definite reason why I can’t escape the memory of these; why I’m immediately taken back to how I felt as I experienced them. ¬†Those are feelings that I can’t shake. ¬†They are ingrained in me. ¬†But how can these three all be connected? ¬†Obviously the first two can be easily linked together, but the third?

The truth is, I wasn’t completely sure until I was well into writing this. ¬†After re-living these moments from years passed, shedding tears for the downtrodden, and for the times that I was the same, I got it.

In order to help those in need, we have to become like them.

No, I can’t literally become somebody with Down’s Syndrome, I most likely won’t ever be in a situation where I’m on the floor while surrounded by a taunting mass of people who don’t like me, and at this point in life (hopefully never) I can’t be without what I have and beg on the street.

But I CAN gain try to gain understanding, empathize, and sacrifice.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had started to understand Elizabeth. ¬†I tried to get into her world and play with my pencils like I would have several years earlier in my life. ¬†At an age where imagination begins to fade away, I could join her in the exhilaration of riding a pretend horse. ¬†When things came easily to me, I could see and appreciate the full-hearted effort she put into trying to jump over the jumprope. ¬†Thankfully I get that now, so hopefully in the future I can bring myself back to that place so I can be giving of myself to somebody I don’t quite get. ¬†Or that maybe my first reaction to somebody who is a mystery or makes me uncomfortable is one of acceptance instead of shunning. ¬†I pray for that.

I’ve never been even close to being at risk of being trampled or kicked by a group of people, or at least not physically, anyway. ¬†But I felt what John was feeling on the floor that day. ¬†My heart broke for him, and felt real empathy for the first time in my life. ¬†Empathy is what drove me to defend him, even when I was viewed as the same as him. ¬†Given my position in life at that point, I wouldn’t have naturally spoken up on his behalf, but for the same reason, I did speak up, because even if I was someone who was shunned, John needed somebody to support him.

When I gave the beggar those few items, I only felt the smallest amount of sacrifice. ¬†I was out $20. ¬†I have no idea what it’s like to be without to a degree that would put me on the side of the street and hope that somebody would look upon me kindly, but isn’t the first step to making a difference in the life of someone who¬†is,¬†a small step towards sacrificing something?

Becoming like the ones who are in need, the overlooked, is to take their yoke upon ourselves. ¬†We ought to be bearing their burdens. ¬†Sure, we could write a check to our favorite charity or smile at strangers, but to make a difference in someone’s life, don’t we have to walk with them? ¬†Share in their journey somehow? ¬†Connect ourselves to them in a real way? ¬†It might mean an uncomfortable conversation, acting in opposition to our reputation, or bringing ourselves to a place of humility, but we have to. ¬†We have to identify with the overlooked lest we become the overlooked.

 

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” ¬†2 Corinthians 5:21

As a Christian, shouldn’t the gospel¬†compel¬†me to act in this way? ¬†Christ, who knew no sin,¬†became sin so that I could be His righteousness. ¬†Christ became what I was in order to bring me righteousness. ¬†His perfect act of¬†becoming is the perfect display of understanding, empathizing, and sacrificing. ¬†Can’t it be that those who are forgotten or overlooked are brought to a higher place in a similar way to how Christ has made me His righteousness through His sacrifice?

Modeling this behavior is difficult, and God help me, definitely something I need to work on. ¬†It is the ultimate act of love; one which contains immeasurable power. ¬†It’s an act that can reach much farther than the three examples I have mentioned. ¬†Perhaps you are already doing it and don’t realize it, so keep an eye out. ¬†Just what would happen if we all became servants to those who are “beneath” us? ¬†It’s ¬†a concept that seems counterintuitive, right? ¬†But just as we should have a desire to deeply affect the lives of the overlooked, that same generosity will probably be given to us. ¬†And I think Somebody already has.

Journey to Authenticity – Pt 2 and Thoughts on 30

Death begets life.

“Even in the desolate wilderness, stars can still shine.” ¬†-Aoi Jiyuu Shiroi Nozomi

A few weeks ago, I was surprised by my family and friends with a birthday party to celebrate my impending (now present) 30th birthday. ¬†My wife threw the whole thing together, and it turned out to be quite a fun occasion. ¬†At the time I still had about 2 weeks until I officially began a new decade, but the celebration was timely, as it happened to fall on the coldest day we’ve had this Fall so far.

I think November is a great month. ¬†There are the obvious reasons, of course, like the weather, the leaves, the holidays, but it’s an extra special month around my house because my wedding anniversary is on the 10th, followed by my birthday 9 days later. ¬†The novelty of November always sets in when it arrives. ¬†I love the warmth that the celebrating of year-markers of major life events brings. ¬†And who doesn’t love just stuffing their face on Thanksgiving? ¬†(Oh, is that not what it’s about?) ¬†The scents are fuller, that air crisper, sentiments greater. ¬†There is a certain exhilaration that ushers in this season of change.

And with that exhilaration is an inescapable sting. ¬†I went into a funk when I turned 29 last year. ¬†I don’t know, y’all, I guess I thought that my youth only had a year left to stick around, and that any vitality I had left in me was about to run dry. ¬†It didn’t help that, added to the sadness I felt for that particular birthday, I get seasonally depressed. ¬†I know there are a lot of you (if not all to some degree) who struggle with the same thing. ¬†I typically gain weight (not just from the holiday sweets, either), become numb to just about everything (except my children – MAN they carry some dang joy with them), and I go into a mental hibernation. ¬†The things I love about Autumn are mudded by the things I dread about Autumn.

The death that cold brings about is twofold. ¬†The earth retreats and withers, is cloaked bleakness and¬†numbness, and shrouded in bitterness and dreariness. ¬†And so am I. ¬†So you can imagine that, in a time of year when I already feel lifeless, going into the last year of my 20s was an extra blow I wasn’t ready for.

But not much longer after the cold began, I could see Spring on the horizon; a new season. ¬†Turning 29 started to signify new life instead of loss…the brink of change, the first line of a new book. ¬†I started to realize that 30 isn’t old. ¬†My youth hasn’t actually escaped me, and actually, I get to begin a new decade with youth AND¬†wisdom hopefully. ¬†It’s like when you restart the computer: there is still life, everything starts fresh, and some things begin again with new improvements. ¬†Yesterday has been shaken off, and today is a blank slate.

The outside is deceptive in Autumn and Winter. ¬†Plants shedding their foliage is actually an act of conservation: nutrients are kept within, cell membranes are maintained, proteins are broken down and re-made. ¬†I have finally realized that the same can actually happen to me. ¬†This time of desolation is a time of refinement, the cold a preparation for warmth. ¬†29 has been a year of internal investigation. ¬†I’ve been trying to take account of my make-up and rearrange and strive and grow.

Growth…maybe that’s it.

Maybe the pain of Winter is actually the pain of growth…growing pains. ¬†Maybe the ache of losing my exterior is actually the ache of something greater welling up within. ¬†Maybe the pain of this temporary dormancy is the pain of the dam beginning to burst from the life building up behind it…like a web of bones around my heart is coming undone*, getting me ready for the zest and bounty of warmth and Spring. ¬†Or a new decade.

So, welcome, Fall, and welcome, 30. ¬†I have to believe that joy is waiting at the end of the slumber. ¬†It HAS to be waiting. ¬†Color of a new dawn, words of a new song, life of a new season – of weather and age…all awaiting, being refined in the death that precedes them. ¬†I’m going to accept this death in light of the joy that will come because of it.

I would say that it’s appropriate that I celebrated my birthday on the first bitter day of the cold season, wouldn’t you agree? ¬†I think that evening was the impetus to me really understanding this process. ¬†Instead of glooming and dooming in the sadness around me, this year (even if I still retreat) I’m going to strive to hold onto the hope I’ll be revitalized. ¬†It’s possible to celebrate a new age in the cold, because they are both signs of something greater to come.

 

*This is a direct quote from a song written and performed by Audrey Assad called “New Song”. ¬†I am posting the video below if you want to take a listen. ¬†I think it goes well with this post, and possibly fills in the blanks, as this particular blog post feels a little scattered. ¬†The song might not be your taste in music, but the lyrics ring incredibly true and speak to this theory of death begetting life. ¬†It’s about the yearning for something to breathe life back into the mundane, for the things that typically bring joy but somehow seem to do be doing the opposite be renewed, that even after a difficult season, there is something greater to live and feel: a new song. ¬†Water still flows underneath a sheet of ice. ¬†Enjoy. ¬†ūüôā