Monday, June 25, 2007

Reunions and the burden of false appearances

OK it's been way too long since my last post. Sorry about that. I've been working on this one for about a week -- hence the backdating. I hope the SEC doesn't inquire about that! [Investment humor? Only DA will laugh at that. I hope.]

Jen and I went to our 15th college reunion last weekend. It's hard to believe that we've been out of college for that long. We went to Asbury College, a small Christian liberal arts college in Wilmore, Kentucky. While we were there, the women's soccer coach asked me to come out and kick around with some of his players on Saturday morning. He has given them a set of challenges they must meet to make the team. Some of them asked him to come out to help them. So I went out there. There were 5 girls out there. They were working on chipping the ball first. They need to chip it 40 yards as one of the challenges. Not an easy task. I was chipping with this girl for a while. She was working up to trying the longer distance. I was standing at the 40-yard distance to show her how far she had to go. She was getting close at around 33-35 yards. Where I was standing, it was a little muddy from the previous day's rain and the regular watering they are doing to reseed the field. On one kick, I went to chip it the 40-yard distance. I knew I would need to give it a little more leg than I had been for the shorter chips. With the mud, my plant foot slipped, and I fell right down on my hip. The girls erupted in laughter. Then they asked if I was OK. I'm sure they're asking me this because I am so old. I give them a hard time for laughing at an old man -- especially because I could've broken my hip in the fall. More laughter. (I'm old, but apparently, I'm funny.) Later, we're getting ready to leave, and one of them points out how dirty my shorts are and asks again if I'm OK. I assure them I'm fine, and tell them I'm just glad that the hip didn't give out on me. More laughter.

We went to school with "kids" from a variety of backgrounds. Some kids went from Christian high schools straight to Wilmore. Others had gone to public schools but found their way to Asbury through their local churches. Some went because long lines of relatives always went to Asbury and that was the only place their parents would pay for them to go.

Being a Christian school, there were certain things that were required of students and certain things that were off limits. We had curfew. We had chapel three times a week. The men had to wear collared shirts to class. The women had to wear skirts unless it was freezing outside and then, pants were permitted. It sounds sort of puritanical. I guess it was (actually mid-way through our time there, the skirt rule got dropped -- so progressive!). But it's not like we had no idea what we were getting into. The college made us read the student handbook and sign a pledge to abide by its terms.

Our reunion got me to thinking about how we all reacted to life in Wilmore when we were in school and after we graduated. Some felt the pressure to do all that was expected and avoid all that was off limits. Others approached it as a challenge to get away with as much as possible. The ones that stand out most to me are those who went to great lengths to look like they were only doing what they were supposed to and avoiding what was off limits. But several stories surfaced during school and after graduation about people who succumbed to the weight of the burden of false appearances. It can be overwhelming to constantly worry about hiding one's flaws.

I don't think that lesson applies only to those with whom we went to college. I think at some point, we've all had those times where we put up a front to protect our reputation or our position. We need to be more authentic about who we are. We aspire to be better. To live a Christ-centered life. But we're not perfect. None of us. Even that person you've always held on a pedestal. You know the one.

The revelation here (for me and maybe for you) is that no one thinks we're perfect. If you have friends who expect you to be perfect or whose friendship is conditioned on you being perfect (or appearing to be perfect), it begs the question whether they're truly your friends. Friends don't care that you screw up or that you get depressed or that you regularly double dip your chip or that you chew with your mouth open (OK they might care about that -- and a friend should tell you to close your freakin' mouth when you're eating!). I would venture to guess that they love hanging with you even more when you let your guard down and reveal your flaws. A lot of people will love hanging out with you more if you're not afraid to show that you have struggles like the rest of humanity. It's hard to ask someone for help when you think they're perfect and don't struggle with life.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Retired friends and the latest from Keegan

So I was talking to my retired college classmate yesterday, and he asked me to tell him a funny K-Man story. This friend prefers to talk only so long as I have something entertaining to convey. He checks this site regularly and gives me grief when nothing new is posted. (If you click on the Visitors map below, this friend is the red dot in the middle of the U.S. He will tell you that location is representative of the fact that Omaha is the heart of this great country -- but I think he secretly thinks that location is representative of the fact that he thinks the world revolves around him. Only kidding DA.) That said, I also think he thinks it is my responsibility to ensure that he has something to do during his retirement.

He's "retired" from two prestigious careers. First, he audited public companies for a Big 4 accounting firm (not sure there are still 4 "big" accounting firms anymore, but you get the picture). I think the highlights of that first career were the week-long stays in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where he resided at the Red Roof Inn, went to work each day auditing a large utility company, hoarded the per diem, watched the City's snow plows pile up snow in the RRI parking lot, and waited for the mounds to melt sometime in late May.

After leaving the glamorous life of public accounting, my friend went to work with a law school classmate of his at his family's small general practice firm in downtown Omaha. I think the highlights of that career were almost getting run over by a judge while walking to the courthouse -- the same judge before whom he would be appearing some 20 minutes after the near miss; and of course his representation of apartment owners who were evicting their delinquent renters. Let's see, there was the elderly woman, the disabled veteran and the single mother with 2 or 3 kids. All of whom he helped kick to the curb. That can wear on you (especially when your friend makes you feel bad about it every time he gets a chance -- Edify Stupid!). I completely understand why one might retire from such work.

So in my efforts to bring some joy into my retired friend's life, I shared with him a funny story about Keegan -- which I now share with the other handful of bored folks who read this blog. Throughout the summer, the City of Smyrna -- where we live -- holds monthly concerts in front of the library near the Market Village. We usually bring a cooler of drinks, snacks and desserts. We buy dinner at Moe's ("Welcome to Moe's!"). And then we just hang out with whoever comes with us. On Saturday night, Jen walked up to the concert with some friends and with Keegan in the jogging stroller. I drove up with the cooler and the chairs. You all know about K-Man's obsession with wheels. At the concert, Keegan wanted to play with the wheels on the jogging stroller. That was fine. But he wanted to roll the stroller. We had locked the rear wheels so Keegan wouldn't roll the stroller onto the adjacent blankets and decimate the nice plates of cheese and hummus and glasses of chardonnay. He did not approve of our precautions. So we did what most parents do -- we distracted him with something else. The kid is 17 months old. It's not like we can reason with him about the down side of alienating a lawn full of people we don't know just because he wants to act out his wheel obsession for the whole world to see. I guess we could. But then we'd look like those parents who try to reason with their 17-month-old kids while they continue to scream about the injustices of being 17 months old. You know the ones. The ones you glare at at Publix like -- "Will you shut that screaming brat up?! How am I supposed to decide between pulp or no-pulp OJ or OJ with calcium or OJ with extra caffeine with that howling banshee splitting my eardrums?!?!" So anyway, we gave him a cookie instead and all was well.

Eventually, the crowd thinned, and K-Man remembered that the stroller was there with wheels to fondle. Having held our ground early on, we decided he'd learned his lesson so we could unlock the wheels and let him loose on humanity. This is where kids surprise you. In a twist on the wheel obsession, Keegan didn't sit down and roll the wheels back and forth. This time, he stood up beside it and started pushing it around. We directed him towards open lawn and away from the innocent concert-goers. Then he got behind the stroller putting both hands on the side bars and pushed the stroller. Once he got the handle of it, he put his head down and started driving the stroller. Our task was to gently guide the stroller when he ran out of grass or ran into the low brick wall on one end of lawn and it was time to turn around. I say "gently guide" because like many 17-month-olds (and I imagine 17-YEAR-olds), he didn't want my help -- even though he was incapable of turning the stroller around. I had to help him without him realizing that I was helping him. God forbid he should need a hand. If he saw that I was helping him, I got that howling banshee scream like "I don't need your $%#@& help Dad! GO AWAY! I CAN DO IT!! So for a solid 20 minutes or more, in complete darkness, K-Man pushed that stroller like it was a blocking sled at two-a-days. Back and forth across the lawn. Leaning into the stroller as he drove it from one end to the other and back again.

This is not the first time that Keegan has shown a drive like that. He does it with most things. He tries to master things. He did it with curbs. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Again and again. He did it with stairs. A few times. First with crawling up the stairs. Then with coming down the stairs backwards on his belly. Then with walking up the stairs. Finally walking down the stairs. His goal is mastery. With goals like that come frustration. But frustration about failing to master comes from a warped notion that we can master anything or be the master of anything. Aside from Jen, I am the master of nothing. HA! We are working on finding that balance between encouraging excellence while teaching Keegan to keep his frustration in perspective. And of course, at 17-months-old, he grasps those heady lessons extremely well! He usually conveys that understanding with a high-pitched, wild banshee screech!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Doors and green lights

There are countless Christian clichés that get thrown around when people are dealing with both good and bad situations. I'm not a big fan of any of them. I much prefer to just call things as they are. I don't necessarily think that God is involved in every little thing that happens to us. Sometimes, we catch every red light just because we got in traffic at the same time the light sequencing program is changing all the lights to red as we approach. God's not up there flicking the switch to red because we forgot -- or didn't bother -- to do our devotions that morning.

That said, I am dealing with a situation that I need resolved. Something bigger than just catching every red light or cutting myself shaving on the same break of my cheek bone morning after morning. This is something bigger than that. Something that I know God is involved in. I am just tired of the answers I keep getting like "no" and "wait." I am looking for an open door (cliché). I keep thinking doors are opening but they slam shut like a screen door when I think it's time to walk through the doorway.

Frankly, I'm tired of these slamming screen doors. I think the next time one of these doors slams, I might just rip it off its freakin' hinges. It would be nice to get a green light every now and then.

I know there are reasons why doors slam shut and lights turn red, and I need to trust that there is a door that will open and a light that will turn green just as I approach the intersection.