Posts Tagged ‘Sheep’

“I’m so humble, it’s crazy. I’m like the Kanye West of humility.” – @AnnaKendrick47 tweet 4 Nov 2014

My wallet is more Hoarders than Mise-en-place, full of just as many memories as items of practical use. Among the bank and insurance cards, there is a note from my son scrawled in blue marker that reads (with an inverse P) “Sheq I ♥ You” and a mini-letter that my Mom snuck into my belongings when I first went off to college, always good for getting choked up, “I love you more than words can tell. My oldest son who was once so shy that he wouldn’t leave my side. You have grown up and become a fine young man. Thank you for being you! I’m proud to call you my son”. Others can have their streamlined wallets and flat pockets, but I prefer the Oompa Loompa look if it allows me to carry precious people with me wherever I go.

But also buried in my wallet is a token of a different type. A grayed parking garage ticket from the Woodland Hills Cheesecake Factory stamped 9/27/03 PAID: $5.00, overlaid in bold faced red crayon print, a loud reminder from my past self that “I AM AN IDIOT!!” I AM AN IDIOT!!

We were in the valley that evening to celebrate our good friend Wednesday’s birthday. Jaime and I were just six months away from being engaged, but you never would have known it judging from my behavior and her justified disgust. I am not the most self-aware guy even now, but over a decade ago I was certainly blind to the sheer intensity of my own faults. We had gotten into an argument of some sort walking back to the car, flustering me greatly. As a result upon getting into the car I was unable to locate the parking ticket provided to pay the attendant. There was a sign up that noted loss of a ticket would result in paying the maximum garage price, and as we were in L.A., this was an unreasonable sum for borrowing some concrete real estate for a couple hours.

So I did what any hot-headed, arrogant, complete jerk would do. I quite naturally assumed, genuinely believed and was outrageously adamant that this was NOT my fault. Clearly, the parking garage attendant had neglected to give me a ticket. I stormed over to the poor fellow who appeared to be a immigrant from either the Indian subcontinent or Asia-Pacific, but I couldn’t tell you definitively because I was clearly not preoccupied in any way with this gentleman’s humanity. I absurdly bullied this man with a lie I believed and did not relent until my parking had been validated, though my version of events had not. I found the actual ticket in my car later that evening much to my dismay.

What had I done? What kind of man treats another human being that way? How could I expect to be in a relationship with this woman I loved when I could not look past myself to listen to her advice? Advice which had been loud and clear in both speech and body language in that garage.

I could not. So I wrote myself a note on the fabricated ticket I paid $5 and took someone’s dignity for and decided to carry it around for the many times I need to be reminded of my great tendency to get in my own way, despite the best intentions of those around me willing to help. This week was one of those times.

You would think, especially seeing as I officially lost the first 17 disputes of our marriage as confirmed by Google and phone-a-friend tactics, that I would have wised up to the reality that not only is my beautiful wife a good-willed person, but she is most often right. Both first-born siblings, she was the first to regularly call me out on the use of what she deemed “big brother facts”, the times when elder siblings use their aged status as pretext for fabricating all manner of knowledge in order to increase or maintain status over younger siblings. She would have none of my confidently asserted falsehoods, for she too had played that hand.

But approaching 10 ½ years of marriage, I still can act quite the fool, as evidenced at least three times just this week:

Sunday evening – Against All Odds: Wham! Lamb! Thank You Ma’am

With my brother-in-law Robert in town for a visit, we settled in for some Catan on our well-worn board. Early on I felt confident of my positioning, with settlements on all five resources and a couple of prime probability real estate properties including an “8” Wheat hex. With the first Development Card action of the evening Jaime deployed the robber though not to the Wheat of higher probability, but instead blocked accumulation rights on a less probable “9” Sheep patch.

Jaime chooses to block a less probable hex, and of course makes the right decision relegating me to last place

Jaime chooses to block a less probable hex, and of course makes the right decision relegating me to last place

I literally asked her, “Out of curiosity, why did you place the robber there?” Insinuating the Wheat stoppage would be better game strategy, after all “No Wheat Means Defeat.” Jaime was unfazed and said she felt like blocking the Sheep. I made an offhand comment that it was a move I wouldn’t have made. Insert foot in mouth here.

As fate would have it, that Sheep would remain blocked for the majority of the game along with a plethora of “9” dice rolls. Without an ability to collect Sheep I had little D Card prowess, thus unable to deliver my Sheep from the thief. Meanwhile, my vaunted “8” Wheat produced a grand total of three rolls throughout the entirety of the game, solidly cementing me in last place while Jaime and Robert vied for the title. In retrospect, I should have asked my wife, “Out of curiosity, with your brilliant unorthodox strategy there, should I just retire early to bed? Because you have effectively and preemptively shut me down. Well done.”

Tuesday morning through Wednesday morning – Out in the Cold

Even after a decade of living in cold weather climates, I still have a tendency to act foolishly when it comes to the bitter winter months. My wife of more practice and wisdom often tries to help my ignorance, which I then foolishly ignore.

Monday was my 32nd birthday, Jaime and Robert tag teamed to prepare fish tacos and mint chocolate chip/chocolate/coffee milkshakes affectionately referred to as Dead Frogs. We then went out to see Selma capping a lovely evening. Earlier in the day, Jaime had gifted me a nice shell jacket, which is basically shorthand for something you could wear in the Fall on its own merit, but should practically be used as a layer in winter months. But because it was new and I am an idiot, I thought “Hey, why not wear just this?”

Jaime of course, quickly caught my mistake and warned me it was cold out. I big brother fact-ed that it was indeed warmer out, based not on any meteorological evidence or research, but more on the feeling I had that I wished it was warmer out. While I did not freeze, I certainly was not comfortable at various points in the day, which easily could have been avoided. Rather than immediately admit my mistake, I elected instead to focus on the relatively little time I had to spend outside.

Even better, the temperatures dropped into the single digits overnight. Sometime in the early morning hours, Jaime whispered. “I hope our pipes don’t freeze.” I immediately responded that they would most certainly not, for just last week the temperature hovered at zero for a day or so and the house had handled things just fine. Predictably by now, I ate a large helping of humble pie for breakfast upon waking up to find toilets that would not flush due to frozen pipes. Cue flashback of parking garage ticket.

Friday night – Don’t Bring a Baby to a Gunfight, Please

So even after I thought I had re-learned my lesson, Jaime and I were lounging on the couch last night putting the kids to bed when she stumbled across one of those terrible Buzzfeed car wrecks that you cannot not click on.

This one was a series of pregnancy announcement photos with the tag line, “Some things you can’t unsee.” Aside from one strangely mesmerizing photo of what appeared to be a pregnant mom draped in a white satin curtain flowing in the wind, atop a horse somewhere in the Shire, there was all manner of pictures I wish I could remove from my memory. Not the least of which was a picture of a man pointing a gun at the photographer while reaching around to caress the pregnant belly of his lover. This was so alarmingly bizarre that when a second photo later in the collection showed a similarly dressed bare bellied mom-to-be with her admiring gaze on her man and her hand on a firearm in his waistband, I could not reconcile that this could possibly be two different couples. I said as much. Jaime countered and of course was correct upon review.

So what have I learned?

Being wrong is a part of life. But the manner in which I am frequently, confidently and immediately wrong, especially in interactions with my loving and patient wife is something I am dedicated to improving on. As much as some of the above may seem trivial or laughable, the fact that my behavior has been consistently poor in this regard over the span of a decade is not funny. It does not amuse me when upon finally apologizing to my wife for not listening to her, she is able to matter-of-factly state that she is used to my foolish attitude and actions.

Jaime deserves better. My children deserve better. Our son Shepard who wrote me that little note in my wallet is now 5 years old. He crawled up on my lap at one point while writing this. He is watching how I treat my wife and taking notes about how to value the thoughts and input of women, of his mother. Much the way his younger brother Miles will as well. My daughters Clara and Lucy are also watching, looking to see how it is they should expect to be treated by men in their lives. If I hope for better behavior and action for my sons, in their interactions with women and significant others someday, I must model it for them. I cannot simply hope to change. More so, I cannot only hope my kids will see my foolishness for what it is, folly and not a blueprint. They will repeat and replay whatever it is I show them.

Often before the kids leave for school we review our family rules. Rules I unapologetically lifted and revised from friend Bret Wells of the Missional Wisdom Foundation. “Pay attention. See Jesus. Be Jesus. Do not be afraid to mess up. When we mess up, we help clean up.” The monastic wisdom gleaned from the Rule of St. Benedict teaches the need to listen to the people we live with, that life together is an opportunity for the presence of God to be made manifest. As Joan Chittister continues in her book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, “Not to listen then, is not to grow. But more than that, to be unable to listen is to be unable to give as well.”

I pray that I can pay attention to my wife, see Jesus in her, be Jesus to her. To model this for my children.

But prayer without action is empty, so In an attempt to clean up my own mess, I am trying on a new philosophy of saying yes. Much to my initial chagrin, Jaime proposed completing a video workout together. Whereas my Seasonal Affected self would much prefer to only bundle up and eat chocolate, I agreed. In so doing, I discovered that apparently jogging a 5K once a quarter does not translate into physical fitness. After 20 minutes of a rather basic cardio workout, plus a push-up challenge I was so physically spent that I had to lie down for the next 20 minutes in order to avoid vomiting. I’d say it was embarrassing, but the glowing look in my lover’s eyes communicated, “I am being heard.”

Maybe there is hope for this idiot after all. I certainly have more to give.


Posted: January 1, 2015 in Faith
Tags: , ,

On a recent trip into the city, I came across a postcard advertising a New Year’s Eve celebration in Harlem. Written on the black card in bold white caps was the word “BECOMING.” A subtitle was followed by the question “what are you becoming?”

what are you becoming?

What am I becoming?

As a family in recent years we have been failing forward in attempts to observe the liturgical season of Advent. Hoping for a period of hopeful anticipation wrapped in peaceful reflection. Instead what still seems to occur to a large extent is a month-long stress fest of Holiday gatherings, gift buying, vacation planning and playing the role of community Social Worker to family, friends and the church. A side note for anyone interested in going into the field of social work – what the books do not tell you is that social workers aren’t just on the clock for an 8-5 (and normally more) gig, but you become the default social worker for everyone in your extended network. It is an honorable yet incessant profession.

A fringe benefit is the ability to turn your own social work assessment skills onto yourself. Over the past month or so, amidst the stress, I have noticed I have been more prone to flashes of daydreaming. This is a recognizable coping mechanism, a subconscious effort to flee stressful moments. One of these mental escape visions occurs most frequently and I wondered what it might say about who I am currently.

It’s Game 1 of the World Series. Top of the first. I am leading off, batting left handed. First pitch fastball low and away. I gracefully, confidently, prepare to drop the barrel of the bat into the strike zone while beginning to lean my body toward first. I absorb the velocity into the wood, transferred into my left hand before returning just enough force to lay the ball down. A bunt. The ball slowly advances up the third base line. Centered between the grass and the chalk. The third baseman double clutches before deciding to let it roll. Hoping for a foul bounce that does not come. Indefensible. I run through the bag and return with a half drawn grin, ripping the Velcro of my batting gloves before lightly fist bumping the first base coach. I can’t hear them, but I am sure the media in the press box is marveling at my brazen execution. In a game of momentum, we suddenly have the lead.

My wife laughed out loud when I shared this with her. Specifically that in the vision I am batting left handed. Outside of front yard wiffle ball games and a few select rec league softball games I did not bat left handed. Nor for that matter did I bunt. I had good speed playing ball as a kid but I also had good power. So despite often batting leadoff, I always preferred to hit a first pitch fastball out of the park rather than lay down a bunt single. Certainly, I quit playing long before ever having a reasonable shot at playing professionally and nowhere in the 2015 forecast is there a chance of signing with a big league ball club, especially one World Series bound. A fantasy for sure.

But why this one?

Playing baseball at all harkens to a simpler time with less real responsibility and more overt praise of my skill set and potential. Batting left handed tells me I am feeling vulnerable approaching life’s important moments from a position that is learned, not natural. By the book, batting leadoff means you take the first pitch. Breaking this rule in a situation of great importance says I long to take more risks. But the unorthodox success that follows in the dream shows I am less interested in actual risk taking and more occupied with succeeding in risk taking. Being seen as a brilliant strategist capable of flawless execution. Not so deep down, I desperately want to be viewed as an elite and valuable player with an attitude certified as confident rather than arrogant.

But I am not confident in this moment. I am afraid. I do not have all the answers, I may not have any. The bunt itself actually belies any good intentions, manipulating a maneuver largely associated with sacrifice into an occasion for self aggrandizement. Perhaps the truth is I want to be on a winning team, but only if I have a starring role. Worse, the vision entails no such reference to team or to victory. It seems I may be satisfied to be viewed as a competent and talented martyr, playing as an individual on a team headed for defeat.

What I am becoming?

In sharp contrast to my daydream is a memory I have of a co-worker eight years ago. We had just moved from Montana to Connecticut and I was in training to work at a school for adolescents with mental health and behavioral issues. We were asked to participate in an ice-breaker activity in which a deck of cards with pictures on them was passed around the room. We were then asked to identify the image we most associated ourselves with. I remember choosing a picture of a palm tree on a white sandy beach set against a bright blue sky. It reminded me of my San Diego home in a time that a new arrival to New England and a new job afforded great unfamiliarity.

Shola was a fascinating middle-aged woman from Nigeria. Her thick accent a tell of her non-Western upbringing and values. When it came time for Shola to share her chosen card, she spoke slowly and pointedly. She had selected a picture of a lamb. The lamb had been forewarned by one of the trainers as looking crazy, so when I saw it with its big strained eyes and open mouth I had dismissed it rather quickly, not finding myself in the strange looking sheep. But Shola did.

She noted with all sincerity, without an ounce of presumption, that she had selected the lamb because of its gentle nature and its willingness to be obedient. I wrote in my journal at the time that it wasn’t hard to see her servant-nature and noted my prayer was to be able to grow into that kind of maturity.

This is what I hope to become.

I will remain committed to failing forward. Aiming to become a better listener. A more humble servant with a better sense of boundaries. A more vulnerable person.

I believe Social Work Researcher and TED Talker Brené Brown when she says, “Faith minus vulnerability and mystery equals extremism. If you’ve got all the answers, then don’t call what you do faith.” (Thanks to Debby McCrary for sharing this quote).

I am listening to the recently penned words of Don Miller that “I can only do three big things in a year. That’s it. Just three.” Accordingly, I am trying to remember that to excel in one “Yes” may demand a thousand “No”s.

I am wishing to quiet my inner turmoil and be liberated from self-importance through simple obedience. I am hoping to be able to hear the still small voice of the Spirit via communal discernment. I crave to know the meaning and value of Sabbath as a Spiritual Discipline.

Help me out. Let’s fail forward together. Let me learn from you.

What are you becoming?