A Fairy Tale?

A few months ago a student I had in the Czech Republic messaged me on Facebook. Our conversation was brief but at the end she said, “It seems you are living fairytale life.”

Tomorrow is my wife’s and my third wedding anniversary. By all accounts we have a very blessed life. We love each other, we have meaningful employment, we have close and caring friends and family. I am very thankful. But on an occasion like this it seemed appropriate to write about, while I deeply appreciate my former student’s sentiment, I do not think I would use the term “fairy tale” to describe any marriage, let alone my own.

Marriage is hard because you voluntarily decide to give up a life of doing basically whatever you feel like as an adult and live with another adult. Ideally for the rest of your lives. It literally not about you anymore but about US. You sacrifice your freedom and independence because you think your life will be better living with this other person. I’ll explain in a bit why it is worth it but it is certainly not a fairy tale.

When I got married I was waking up at 5:15AM and driving an hour to teach a group of students who gradually over six months became almost impossible to teach. If I rushed home for school I could get home by four but I was not happy newlywed Matt. I was an exhausted, emotional wreck. I did not know all that marriage required and even if I did I was not in a place to give it. That was our first three months of marriage.

Life is complicated. In the past three years we have moved once and gone through multiple job and position changes. My knees decided to start hurting when I run for the first time in my life. My wife got a cat. Going through all this change (we both detest change) is inherently stressful. We have had to lean on and support each other all the while learning how to do that. Every time I mention I’ve gone to therapy people act a little strange so maybe this is not normal but we have both been to therapy. Together and separate, during engagement, and off and on during the past three years. Marriage takes work and if you don’t invest in the relationship it will not work.

I feel like I have been profoundly negative so far so lets get to the good part. Three years in I can say with absolute confidence the following: marriage is worth it. I can hardly do justice to the commitment I feel to this woman who I decided to marry. Every step of the way as we progressed from dating, to engagement, to marriage I expected to feel worried and unsure. But I didn’t. I simply made the calculation that my life would be so much better with her in it. So I kept going. And it has.

Those first few months when I was a braindead zombie teacher? My wife made my lunch almost everyday and often woke up when I did. Just because we were married. And solidarity or something. I still don’t always get it. Everyday my wife pushes me to be a better man and husband. We don’t always hit the mark. We disagree, we fight, we irritate the crap out of each other. That is life. But our commitment to love each other is still there and we push through.

Our society likes to push the idea that getting married is a fairy tale. That’s a lie. You can be happy and fulfilled single and you can be miserable and frustrated married. The reality is more complex. Marriage takes a lot of work to be successful and to weather all the storms life brings. But, fairy tale or something else entirely, tomorrow my wife and I will be celebrating.

Advertisements

Perspective

As I started teaching in January I came across a bigger theme repeatedly. My goal was always to give my students the big idea or theme, the one word or phrase that they could turn over in their head and then I would hit on that word again. and again. and again. As I started my unit on the Revolutionary War the word “perspective” was that theme. We all know as Americans what the war meant but how did the British feel? What were the Native Americans thoughts? Where did slaves motivations lie? It was all a matter of perspective. I realized i had stumbled upon something interesting and important, an anchor for my teaching. I touched on that word repeatedly over the next six months.

I read an article yesterday that got me thinking about perspective again. I almost did not read it but at the last moment of my 15-second, twitter-influenced attention span, I clicked it. You can read it here. The story highlights the struggles of Janette Navarro to make a better life for herself and her son while working at Starbucks. My wife was a Starbucks barista in college and loves the place so I kept reading.

Ms. Navarro is 22 years old. She has a 4-year old son whose father disappeared sans child-support. A boyfriend who is a refuge and strength for her and her son does not last the article. Her mother passed away from an overdose. Her father was not around growing up. She has an aunt and a $9/hour job at Starbucks. She is trying to take classes but her erratic schedule and 3-hour(!!!) commute makes this increasingly impossible. Ms. Navarro’s life is so different from mine it borders on absurdity. And yet as I read I felt ever more involved and connected to her story.

Over the past 8 months I have worked a temporary job without benefits while seeking a full-time job for this fall. I woke up at 5:15am on weekdays and drove over 65 miles to get to my incredibly challenging students. Since that ended in late June I have had 7 interviews. None led to a second round until yesterday (for a part-time position). During this time I have been tempted to get frustrated and feel sorry about how challenging my life has been. And than I read about Ms. Navarro and I realize I am a idiot.

Perspective is everything in history as in life. Every advantage that I have enjoyed in my life: school, family, income, stable relationships, has seemingly been denied to Ms. Navarro. And yet I feel sorry for myself? I am not trying to romanticize Ms. Navarro’s struggles or throw her a pity party. She is evidently an incredibly resilient young women who is holding on to the hope of giving her son a better life by working incredibly hard. I was incredibly pleased to see Starbucks respond almost immediately to the article here.

Perspective gives us humility. Regardless of where I end up job-wise in the next week or so I will be fine. I have faced challenges and will continue to do so. But for today I am thankful for Ms. Navarro’s story and the perspective it has given me as I move ahead. 

A year of Jubilee

I really like the idea of years of Jubilee mentioned in the Bible. A very brief (and incomplete) explanation is that every 50 years, there would be a year of Jubilee to the Lord. What this meant is that in the 50th year no planting would be done. All debts would be forgiven and all slaves would be released. Foreseeing the possibility of abuse in this system, God made sure to note that prices for land should reflect how near or far to the year of Jubilee it was and then be sold accordingly. Years of Jubilee were to be years of rest, rejuvenation, and fresh starts.

I like this idea not only because it is explained in Leviticus (and who knew there was anything worth reading in Leviticus?) but because there is no record of anyone following the years of Jubilee ever. No one has ever seen a need or practical way to actually put these radical ideas into practice even though as much as any other scripture they are pretty straightforward.

Obviously actually making the year of Jubilee work in today’s society would be completely unfeasible, but I feel like it has something to teach us nonetheless. As I continue to walk that long, windy road into full blown adulthood I feel a lot of conflicting expectations on my life. American society seems rather obsessed with the idea of settling down, starting a family, buying a house and getting the job that supports all these glorious endeavors. The good life or the “American Dream”, if you will.

However, my life since college has not really reflected those values. I have been overwhelmingly nomadic. I have lived overseas twice for a year each time, possessing only what I could fit into two large checked bags, plus my backpack and laptop. I have worked at a camp for 3 summers, fitting all I would need for two months in my car. During in-between times I have lived at home, worked part-time and seasonal jobs and gone to school. I have lived cheaply and I have enjoyed it. Each time I have gone to or left a place has been like a year of Jubilee for me. I have had to pack up and clear out. I have had to decide what to take, leave behind, and throw away. It is freeing in many ways to realize how little one needs and it is also unsurprisingly cheaper.

There are downsides of course. Everywhere I have gone I have met wonderful people who I have to bid goodbye. A few I will see again but the vast majority are simply great memories. Perhaps this is why the year of Jubilee has never been practiced; it is just too hard to always leave that which you have come to know and love.

Lord willing, at this time next year I will have a job as a teacher. I will have a school to work at and will need to find housing near that school. By any definition I will have to start the lifelong process of settling down. I cannot wait to finally teach again but I just hope that even as I do I don’t lose my perspective on settling. I hope I keep an open mind to the opportunities that exist for me and places I can go. I may never have an actual year of Jubilee but perhaps, if I am lucky, I can make it a small reality throughout my life.

Not a Strategy, the Cornerstone.

This past Sunday there was a great article about Evangelicals in the paper. Being one myself it caught my eye and I read it with great interest. You can read it here. It gives a balanced portrayal of why evangelicals often get such a bad wrap in many circles while noting that many actually do a significant amount of good in the world. I think it was an article I would write if I was a journalist of a world famous newspaper. But I’m not so I’m happy to read such things for free.

I gravitated towards the comments section not because I care much for this section typically but because I wanted to see what people’s thoughts were on my faith and way of life. Predictably their was a whole grab bag of negative and postive thoughts. Some were interesting and thought-provoking. Many were worthless polemical dreck. One theme that stuck out to me though was the confusion from many about why Evangelicals couldn’t just do nice things apart from Jesus, religion etc. People need help, it feels nice to help, why get all messy with the Bible? Added to this was the generalization that Christians “only” do good works to further proselytizing efforts. I feel like a few short comments are warranted.

Jesus is not my strategy. He is not a gimmick, a selling point or a product that I am trying to purvey. He is the central cornerstone of  my life. His life,  example and existence informs everything that I believe and every action I decide (or don’t decide) to do. Having Jesus exist outside any good works I may do is simply not an option. I don’t tell people about Jesus because it makes me feel good, I do it because it just comes up. I will applaud good works wherever I see them and I will call out bigotry, hatred, homophobia, stupidity, sexism or anything else that is contrary to God’s incredible love for humanity.

I imagine that first sentence in my last paragraph lost a lot of you but if your still reading know this: I’m not asking, forcing, persuading, or trying to manipulate you into a false sense of religious security. I am living my life  for someone, something incredibly bigger then myself. In fact it is bigger than all of us. I have no idea what that will look for you. I do know that if Jesus is not in the picture it will be less than what it can be. We have been created to do good works not to glory in ourselves and our goodness but to exalt and proclaim Jesus.

One more personal example. This summer I have worked at a Christian camp for boys and girls ages 7-15. In my position of leadership I have been the one that my counselors have come to when they have a camper with an issue, serious or otherwise. I have talked to kids dealing with homesickness, bullying, and trouble in their home life. Just last week I spent 45 minutes consoling a boy who was literally cowering in the darkness because he was exhausted and scared of his cabin mates and any potential judgement they might dole out to him. It took every ounce of my patience and energy to console this camper enough for him to go to bed.

It should be noted that I would console a camper, child, person, human being regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, appearance, religion, political leaning or sexual orientation. I have no idea if this kid was a christian or if and when he will ever become one. But the important question is really “Does God love them?” Then I better do my best to mimic that the best I can. God is the cornerstone of my life and I hope it will be evident to whoever I come across.

My Journey with Camp (Part 3 of 3)

The next morning after my epiphany I got the news that the two biggest antagonists in my CIT program were being sent home for transgressions on their day off. A bit of me was sad; I didn’t want people to be sent home. But a larger side of me said, “Wow…God must really want me to pass this thing.” And so I set out to do it.

I gave devotions to my fellow CITS and even spoke to the whole camp as part of a chapel we did. The last week I shadowed a chief and stayed in a cabin. No major issues arose. When I sat down with my CIT director for my final evaluation I was confident. I got the sense he was not enormously impressed with me but it didn’t matter. I told him I had done what was expected of me as well as if not better than any of my peers. I think the big change here was not anything tangible it was simply a slight mental shift on my part. People were never going to treat me awesome everywhere, but that was not my responsibility. I simply had to do my best no matter what at all times. People could take it or leave it.

I passed my CIT.

My LIT was 11 summers ago. Since then I have been a chief all or parts of 6 summers. This summer I am a unit director. I plan activities and games, chapels and cabin bibles and am directly responsible for half the chiefs and campers in camp each week. It is in a word, unbelievable. Camp is amazing and fun, difficult and heartbreaking all at the same time. Without a doubt though, I love it. It is not the most glamorous or high-paying job and I realize many people may look at me and wonder why I am still doing this at 26. But overall I have gotten a tremendous amount of joy out of working at camp and will continue here for as long as I can.

My journey has not been short or simple. It has been marked by trials and missteps at every turn. But to close this long-winded episode of my life I’ll say this. God is there, however unnoticeably, working to turn you and me into the tools he desires to glorify him. And in that work, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.—Romans 8:28

 

My Journey with Camp (Part 2 of 3)

I took the next summer off. I went on a summer missions trip with my church. I think some people attribute too much import to this experience in terms of my growth. Did it help me grow and mature? Certainly it did. Was it the magic bullet that led to what occurred the following summer? Not really. Life is complex and lots of factors work together to bring change and realization. I was in contact with the camp director during the winter. He said if I wanted to do the CIT program next summer I would be welcome to. I still remember that first day I got back to camp, walked into the dining hall and shaking the hand of my LIT director from two summers before. He was cordial and was glad to see me. I was happy to be back and determined to succeed with my second chance.

The CIT program involves serving camp in whatever way needed. In my summer it entailed washing the dishes at every meal and cleaning the shower house and bathrooms around camp daily. I still remember pushing my mop bucket up a small hill one morning a few days into the program and breaking down for a moment. This was becoming almost as difficult as LIT.

It got worse.

The CIT is a month long program and as the first couple weeks passed I realized (unbelievably and inexplicably) that I was failing in the same way I failed LIT. My relationships with most of my fellow CITs were awful and my behavior was suffering because of this. This is still a huge question mark for me. I have never been popular or well understood by the majority. But one of the best things about camp was that I got along with most people really well. I had friends, I talked to girls. It was a fantastic alternate universe to my life at home and school. But with LIT and CIT I just could not get along with most of my peers to save my life.

Again here I see a failure of leadership to recognize what I was going through and to understand why I might have been struggling. At one point I was pranked by having shaving cream put in and on my sleeping bag. I was furious and walked across camp to talk to my CIT director. He listened to me but only meekly told the guys to lay off me. No attempt to understand or work with me, just a meaningless reprimand and a desire for me to just get along. I’m not trying to place blame solely on my leaders but to acknowledge that when a person does not get along with a group it is not solely their fault.

At this point however I had the epiphany of my whole experience. One night I realized I could not let the actions of my peers result in me failing again. I had to grow up, do my work and make it impossible to fail.

And quite surprisingly…I did.

 

My Journey with Camp (Part 1 of 3)

I have had a long and fruitful experience at my camp. I have never fully explained my camp story to people. It has not been a secret; at times I have told people openly bits and pieces. Having returned to camp this summer in a leadership position I thought now would be an appropriate time to write out what my journey looked like to this point. I’m telling this story, my story, because I think it is unique and it ultimately served as a vital shaper of who I am today as a person, a leader and a Christian.

I started at camp at the age of 8 or 9. Not the youngest possible age but still pretty early. I started with one week a summer but enjoyed it so much that when I was 13 I went three weeks and four weeks when I was 14. At this point I was ready to move on from being a camper and pursue what I thought was the ultimate job: camp counselor or “chief” as we call them at my camp. My camp has a two year process before you become a chief. First you do a three week Leadership in training (LIT) program when you are 15. This involves a week of backpacking, a week of canoeing and a week rock climbing and on a ropes course. It’s an intense experience but as I prepared to go I felt pretty confident. I knew camp, I knew this was what I wanted and I knew this was the next step. I was ready.

LIT was hell.

There is no nicer was to put it. Aside from certain moments being overseas, doing the LIT was the most difficult thing I have ever done. The funny thing is the physical part wasn’t the hard part. I could out hike anyone and my canoeing and climbing skills were tenacious if not precocious. The difficult thing was getting along with the other boys on my trip; I did that terribly. My leaders responded by failing to understand what I was going through and interpreting my sometimes exasperating behavior as unacceptable. I do not claim to be perfect but at a root level I think I was treated unfairly. This next part probably won’t mean much to people outside of camp but it was ultimately a significant and low point of my life.

I failed LIT.

To move onto the next year, the Counselor in Training (CIT) program, I needed to pass. I had a long conversation with my LIT leader that last night. I think I remember almost pleading with him. But ultimately he thought I needed more time to grow and mature. The clearest memory I have of that night is just bawling in the tent in front of the others. I was convinced I was never going to return to camp.