Posted by: mikeches | June 19, 2017

Whimsical

Summer is upon us!  Which means I can pause, breathe, and read a book for enjoyment rather than for teaching purposes.  There are a few authors whose work I read for entertainment purposes (Steve Berry and Dan Brown are among them) and there are authors whose work I read for perspective, guidance, and life advice (John Eldredge, Francis Chan, Donald Miller, Mark Batterson, and Bob Goff are the top five); I try to do a fair mix of both during my down time.  I just got done reading Love Does by Bob Goff, this is the second time I have read this book and it has inspired me even moreso this time around.

One of the words that Bob uses frequently is “whimsy”, not a fancy term I know, but an interesting one for sure!  I am not sure what to think of or envision when I hear the word “whimsy”.  Perhaps a person who is free-spirited…maybe unstable?  What about the ‘crazy’ teacher at school that stands on desks or wears the most outlandish costumes in order to get the point across?  Or your gypsy family member, the one who cannot maintain a job, or a relationship, or a pet, or…well, you get the idea.  Perhaps not a person at all, but more of the things you see at the car dealerships that just dance in the wind?

While all of these images might communicate a small part of whimsy, I think one of the points Mr. Goff is trying to make in his book is to have a little fun in this thing called life.

It’s a funny thing really, to think that some people grow up and forget about fun.  One could make the argument that as we age what we find fun changes, and to some extent that is true, for example, s a 21-year-old youth pastor I would hold all-nighters, in one night we would go to a Baltimore Blast Game with a concert at the end, followed by laser tag, then bowling, and end with breakfast back at the church.  The thirty-two version of me does not find that nearly as fun.  Think about the 1990’s version of Hook starring Robin Williams as Peter Pan, the film starts with Peter as an adult.  For some reason Peter Pan decided to not return to Neverland and in doing so he grows up, falls in love, and starts a family.  Yet in the midst of doing all of these wonderful things (falling in love and starting a family are truly wonderful things and both should also be fun) he forgets to have fun.  He is a successful business man who does great to provide for his family, but he misses his sons baseball game, he no longer plays with his daughter, and he is a ball of stress when he talks to his wife.  He is so connected to his work, even when he goes away on vacation he insists on taking calls when he is an entire continent away.

He has forgotten about fun.

He has lost his whimsy.

Eventually, (spoiler alert) he does find his fun again and you can see the whimsy on his face as the movie ends.

What about us?

Have we been so caught up in the “rat race” of life that we have forgotten our whimsy?  Do we still enjoy a good laugh, even when we do not know why we are laughing?  When our little ones approach us with nerf ammo do we yell at them or do we retaliate in a playful way?  When is the last time you have teasingly tossed a pillow in the face of your significant other just for fun?

I hear the cautionary tales: “Mike you cannot be whimsy all the time because…” or “I cannot be whimsy because I have [pets, kids, a mortgage…we can use anything as excuse here really]”.  There is wisdom here, for certain, but there should also be time set aside for fun and adventure.  It is also important to note that whimsy does not always have to equal expensive…there are cheap ways to be whimsical!

The truth is we all need a little whimsy in our life, I know I need it in mine, so I bought two tickets to Disney and we are outta here in a few days! No, this was not planned for…in fact, we had less than a month until our departure dates once I actually bought the tickets…but it is a trip of a lifetime with the love of my life and we have never done anything like this with such little planning.  She is excited! So am I!

Now…how about you?

Posted by: mikeches | June 12, 2017

…I cannot stop

One of my favorite stories from ancient history is that of a man named Nehemiah.  The setting of the story takes place in ancient Jerusalem after the walls of the city have been burned down to ruble by the enemies of the Jewish people.  Nehemiah hears of what has happened to the city of Jerusalem and feels like he needs to do something about it, so he gathers people together to head to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall – the primary form of defense for the city.

As I began writing this story down, I did not even think about the present political climate we, Americans, find ourselves.  This is NOT a political post about whether or not we should OR should not build a wall.  There is a lesson in this story…please keep reading. 

Nehemiah and his people were making great progress on the wall when some of the enemies of the Jewish people show up on the scene and try to trap Nehemiah.  He ignores them but they persist, practically begging for a meeting with the leader of this crew that is rebuilding Jerusalem with both good quality and speed. Nehemiah continues to send this response: “We are doing a good work, and we cannot stop to meet with you”.  

Nehemiah knew…

·       the people who wanted to meet did not have good motives

·       the task he was performing was work worth doing

·       he did not have time for those that would try to convince him or his team otherwise

Flash forward a few thousand years to present day…last week as a matter of fact. I am sitting in the SECU arena at Towson University watching approximately 360 graduates walk across the stage and obtain their diploma. This is the first time in my three years of education I had any semblance of emotional connection to the graduates (my first two years were spent teaching freshman only, so next year will be the big impact) but there were seven graduates with whom I connected and the pride I felt as they walked across the stage was amazing! I am extremely hopeful for these individuals. 

A few weeks ago I shared about needing a change of perspective.  I stated that education is tough work (and it is) and while it is easy to judge from the outside in, to walk one day in the life of an educator has the ability to change a perspective!  While I have worked harder as an educator than at any other “thing” in my life, it is the single most rewarding thing I could do with my time outside of investing in my marriage.  Watching those young people receive their diplomas, knowing they are moving on to the next chapter in their lives, thinking that I was even a small part of some of their stories. I could not help but think of Nehemiah: “I am doing a good work and I cannot stop…”

It is easy for public education to become enemy number one.  Classrooms are overcrowded to the point where individualized instruction and attention are nice ideas but far from reality.  Changes being made to curriculum which is dictated by people who have never stepped into a classroom.  Almost everyone believing they are an “expert” because ‘hasn’t everyone gone to school? It can’t be THAT hard”.  It is no wonder people are leaving the profession, as one friend said to me the other day “I have never met someone who has quit teaching and regretted it”.  Yet through it all, I can honestly say – I am doing a good work, and I cannot stop!

Perhaps you are at a place in your life where you have tried something new and it is not going as planned.  Perhaps the voices of the naysayers in your life are starting to get louder than the voices of your supporters.  If that is the case I hope you will remember, as I have had to remind myself, the words of Nehemiah: “I am doing a good work, and I cannot stop”.  

Posted by: mikeches | June 5, 2017

Honor

Growing up, whenever my father and I would fight he was quick to quote the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and mother…”.  I think this may be the only commandment he knew, as he would say it so much.  That is the only time I can recall my father quoting the Bible to me…when we were fighting and when he wanted to make sure I knew that God was on his side, because it was his sperm that makes up half of my DNA.  The second half of that verse goes on to say “…so that you may live a long life”.  Ches men die pretty young, my Grandfather died before he was seventy and my uncle died before he saw sixty…so as a teenager, and even now, I try to honor them; even if a large part of that motivation is the selfish desire to live a long life.  All kidding aside, after these run-ins with my father, I would often wonder and ask my youth leaders:

“What does it mean to honor someone?”

We honor military members during the Fourth of July by standing for them and clapping.  Some honor the flag and our country by standing and saying the Pledge of Allegiance or putting their hand over their heart when singing the National Anthem.  Others allow the elders of the family to get their food first at family gatherings or change their seat to make sure the elders are comfortable.  Companies in the private sector purchase plaques or gold watches to honor a dedicated employee while some schools have a “Wall of Fame”.  All of these are good things and each of them, in their own way, show honor in some way – but if I am being honest, there are times and there are people for whom this does not feel adequate. 

This past week I had the opportunity to attend a retirement party for an amazing woman and mentor in my life, the party was as much a sendoff as it was an opportunity to honor her for a lifetime of service and commitment both to education and to young people in Baltimore County.  I had the unique opportunity to serve as her student-aide my senior year of high school, unique because she was an Assistant Principal and normally they did not take on student aides.  I met with her for seventy-five minutes a day, every day of the week.  I would file papers for her, organize files, deliver papers to other teachers in the building, and on the rare occasion that she had a moment to herself we would talk about life, goals, and the many paths there are in learning how to serve a greater good.  She was a place of safety and peace for me and, though she did not sign up for it, she was another mom to me.  Teaching me to navigate relationships, senior year, and life obstacles in general.  After graduation, when it came to light that I did not have money for college nor the skill to navigate the world of financial aid, she was quick to step back into my life, advocate for me again, and make sure I began my college experience after no more than one semester off. 

As a result of this person’s influence in my life, I discovered a passion for public education – a path I would have otherwise never taken.  She remained a presence in my life all throughout my college experience, embracing me on my return visits to my Alma Mater, and always asking the follow-up questions of how much more I needed to complete yet in the reassuring tone that only moms can have to make sure I knew that she in my corner.  Her support extended outside of the realm of education as she and her colleagues (to whom I also owe a great deal) were also in attendance for my wedding day celebration!  When I completed my eleven-year journey in getting my B.A. I was unsure if I was going to make the switch (and the pay cut) from the private sector to public education.  I found myself back in her office and talking about life, purpose, and vocation.  She even arranged for me to have an interview with her Principal for another position in the building (I was offered the job, but could not take the drastic pay cut that would have come with it).  At the end of this month she will leave her office and her school one final time.  BCPS will have been made worlds better as a result of her contribution and her sacrifice. 

I write this, to honor you, Ms. Laurie Fogleman, even though you have no social media and therefore may never even read this.  May my interaction with students, my counsel to future generations, and the instruction in my classroom honor your legacy and make you proud.  Thank you for being so self-less.    

Posted by: mikeches | May 22, 2017

Strength

Graduation season is upon us!  Seniors have taken final exams, yearbooks signed, caps and gowns picked up, all that remains is the ceremony itself.  This is an exciting time for the students, crunch time for the educators, and time for celebration by all the parents out there. I often joke that the louder the family screams at graduation is directly linked to the amount of prayers that mama sent up for her baby to actually get a diploma. Yet in the midst of the ceremonies and celebrations, one should also make time for reflection. 

What does it mean to be a high school graduate?

What does it mean to be an adult?

My life in education has afforded me a great many opportunities to listen and impact the lives of young people. There is so much to these young adults that sit in our schools on a daily basis, it is a shame most educational institutions in our society do not allow for the time for us to get to know these young people on a more meaningful level…but I digress.

Recently I was involved in conversation with one young man about life choices that he was making.  We talked about the impact of those decisions in his life and his reasoning behind his choices.  The more I listened the more I learned – it is amazing how that happens.  He shared his struggles at home, the struggles within himself, and how these were affecting his day-to-day.  When he was done sharing, I asked “Who else knows about this?” He responded, “No one”.  When I inquired as to the reason why he informed me that he was a “strong, independent person”.  I was quick to challenge his version of independence and his reasoning in keeping all of this to himself…

What does it mean to be strong?

A question I posed more to the both of us than just to him.

Is it connected to how much weight one can move around a gym? Or how much one can handle going on in their lives before they break?  My view of strength goes beyond this…

What about independence?

I think it is overrated in all honesty.  Yes, I want people to be able to do for themselves in certain areas (such as wiping their own butts and paying for their own things) but as the saying goes, “no man is an island”.  In fact, some of the strongest people I know (the people I would call at 3 am when there is a crisis taking place) understand that life is not meant to be lived in a silo.  We, as a people, are not meant to do this life alone:

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help.  But someone who falls alone is in real trouble”

The young man who spoke to me the other day did not really need advice, he needed someone to listen and I just happened to have the time.  Now the young man does not have to carry his worries alone.  I will not have all the answers and I cannot fix his current situation, but at least now he knows there is someone who has his back and to whom he can vent as we navigate this chapter of his life. 

What about the rest of us?

We must absolutely be wise about with whom we are sharing our truest and deepest selves, but there is power in numbers.  Even if that number is 2.

Posted by: mikeches | May 8, 2017

A Change in Place…

Summer is quickly approaching, though one may not know it if you live in the Mid-Atlantic due to the unfamiliar cool temperatures we have been experiencing of late.  Nevertheless, 4th quarter is halfway over, Senior Prom was this past weekend and Junior Prom is but five days away.  The school bell will ring for the last time in just a few short weeks and another school year will be in the books!  Soon it will be time for the pool, sleeping in, and the whir of air conditioning units across the neighborhood.  Theme parks are opening up for the year between this week and next, baseball season is in full swing, and hotel prices at the beach are starting to creep up in anticipation of the many guests they will service June through August…and yes, there is a countdown to the last day of school on the front board in my classroom. 

I hear the naysayers now, spewing snarky comments about teachers having off during the summer while the “real world” works and quoting quips such as “those who can, do; those who can’t teach”.  I have heard it all, and admittedly prior to join the profession myself I used to question my wife about the countdowns towards any break, I mean, the longest period of time this year we went between one three-day weekend to the next was six weeks…a far cry from what I experienced in the private sector.  Alas, I did not know what I did not know; having been in the profession for just three school years now (compared to eleven in the private sector) I can honestly say I have worked harder as an educator in the past three years than I ever did in the previous jobs. 

Teaching is tough business.

I love my job though.  There are days that it gets to be overwhelming (I interact with at least 147 students on a daily basis and these are just the ones on my class roster) with each student experiencing something different in their personal lives and bringing that into the classroom with them can be a bit much, but it is work worth doing.  

All this talk of summer but at the same time feeling slightly overwhelmed at work reminds me of a meme I saw for the first time about a year or two ago, it read something to effect of “I want a life that I do not need a vacation from”.  I was starting to agree with that statement more with the passing days, and yes, I am well aware that Spring Break ended just 14 working days ago.  I had the time and the way it works in my school district is, if you do not use the time you lose it, so I put in for a day and a half of personal time and got out of town for a few days.

I found myself sitting in reflection on Friday, thinking about the meme I mentioned above. A life that I do not need a vacation from…who lives this??

I know small business owners who work for no boss, yet work longer hours than the average person who enjoy what they do, but they too need a break.  I know stay-at-home moms who love their children more than their own lives, but ravish in times alone when they do not have someone calling their name and can do what they want to do.  I know professionals who thrive in their career fields finding a sense of purpose in what they do in their 9 – 5 but look forward to the time away from the office to rest and recharge.  I also know retirees who enjoy no longer being under the need for employment but escape on cruise ships a few times a year to simply get away from the day to day routine of life. 

We all need to get away from time to time.

Social media has made memes foundational to life which causes us the follow every whim until we discover a life that “we do not need a vacation from”.  Only to find that we still need a break from that life too!  We look around at our lives and we think, surely something is wrong here because we desperately need a …(hour/day/week) away “from it all”.

The truth is, in many of these experiences we do not need a new job, new spouse, new house, or new kids…we simply need to jump off the insanity that is the hamster wheel of life and catch our breath.

Even the best of us out there could do with a change of pace from now and again.  Mark Batterson, write this:

A Change of Place + A Change of Pace = A Change of Perspective

…and a perspective change is sometimes all we need. 

So plan those vacations! Let the count downs begin!

Enjoy the life you have created, it is the only one you will get!

Posted by: mikeches | May 1, 2017

I Like Her Laugh

A group of friends and I are currently reading a book entitled Love Does, written by Bob Goff.  It is not a hard read as far as reading levels go but it is a challenging read when thinking about applying the principles from Bob’s stories to my own life; being challenged isn’t necessarily a bad thing though.  I have never met Bob Goff but if his stories are true, and I have no reason to doubt they are, he is an inspiration to me and I would hope to live my life as fully and openly as he does.  Imagine my excitement, then, when in the middle of reading one of the chapters my bride puts down her book and says to me, “You’re Bob Goff” and then continues with her reading.  I was elated!

Bob writes about his life, his bride, his job as an attorney, his crazy adventures, and his faith.  As each of the chapters begins Bob starts off with the following statements: “I used to think…but now I know…” He reflects on his journey and as he does this he invites us to be a part of it and even change some things about us as well. 

How many times have I changed what I thought I knew? I have lost count. 

There are few authors I subscribe to for life advice – but Bob Goff is definitely one of them. 

As many of you know, my Aunt was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer just before Christmas.  The prognosis was not good and she made the decision to not submit her body through chemotherapy.  One week ago today, she passed away.

I have reflected a lot on death throughout the course of my lifetime.  It is quite the concept if you think about it, and sometimes I get overwhelmed when I think about it too much, so much so it gives me a panic attack. However, I have never had a conversation with someone knowing it was going to be my last conversation with them…until Aunt Marie. The emotions in that moment are intense and powerful beyond words – but sometimes words are overrated and much more is communicated in a look or through a hug.  When I last spoke with Aunt Marie as I went to say good-bye, all I could choke out was “Thank you for everything.  I love you very much”. 

I was so mad at myself for not being able to say more, when there was truly so much more to be said.

 So, I decided to write a letter and asked my cousin, her daughter-in-law, to read it to her. 

The question ringing in my head was still “What do you say to a person you love when you know you will not talk to them again this side of heaven?” I simply reiterated my thanks for all she had done for me only this time I got more specific. I mentioned a few other things and as I brought the letter to a close, I said this: “I cannot wait to see you when you are cancer free, and you, Uncle Al, Jesus and I can all sit down and we can laugh together again.  Because I think Jesus really likes your laugh too.”

See, I used to think you had to say all the right things, repeat all the right prayers, and treat faith like it was an algebra equation to solve but now I know that Jesus meant what He said in making it this life about loving God with all we have and loving each other just as much as we love ourselves.

Let’s treat each other better folks, we are all on a learning curve on this journey of life. 

Posted by: mikeches | April 24, 2017

Who Are You?

I was standing in the hallway during class change not long ago, talking with one of my students when he said “You don’t know me Mr. Ches”.  He went on to say, despite our talking every day, I did not really know him.  Being one who takes pride in my relationships with students I found myself getting defensive, “Of course I know you!”  I retorted back.  He shook his head, shook my hand, and went on to his next class. 

That statement has not left me.

I have known this young man now for three years. I know his college aspirations, his goals for next year, and when things go awry at home, I am on one of the first adults to whom he reaches out. 

How is it possible that I do not know him?

Then it dawned on me. 

There is so much more to knowing a person than knowing what college they want to attend or what is going poorly in their lives.  That information one could easily obtain from someone’s social media account.  

To truly know someone takes a certain amount of vulnerability.  What makes one tick? What are their fears? What brings them joy? What have their life experiences been like up to this moment? The answers to these questions are but a glimpse into the soul of another.

This past Sunday we celebrated my sister-in-law’s birthday. As we sat around the table there was joking about whether or not we knew the real her. I said I have been part of the family for eleven years, I would hope that I am starting to understand the real her.  This statement was followed up by another joke of how scary it would be if I actually didn’t know the real her.

A fellow BCPS Teacher made the news this week.  He, unfortunately, made really poor decisions and violated a 13 year-old student sexually.  I personally do not know this man (he teaches at a middle school in another part of the county), but another colleague of mine does know him.  When the story broke on the news my friend was in complete shock. 

Just when you think you know someone…

This desire of getting to know someone is part of the reason why my wife and I have a weekly date night.  While we do not have children, a weekly date night makes sense but even when we have children I hope for at least two per month.  My wife and I met in seventh grade, but we did not start dating until we were twenty. There is a lot of life that is lived in twenty years and I want to know about it all.  I still pursue my wife because there is still so much that I want to know about her. 

There is not one story that should go untold.

Not every relationship can be an close as that shared by spouses, nor should they be.  Yet there is joy in being known on a deeper more intimate level by those with whom we share life.  There is also great risk in being so vulnerable. 

The question we must answer is with whom will we trust our truest selves?

Posted by: mikeches | April 16, 2017

Easter Reflections

It has been twenty years since my first time walking through church doors of my own accord.  As a child my Nana (grandmother) would come pick me up for Sunday School, but when I noticed that my mom and dad were not going, I decided I didn’t want to wake up early either.  If I remember correctly, I was five when I made this decision. 

A lot happens in one day, so imagine how much happens in seven years.  That is how long it had been since I went to a Sunday School class or attended a service.  There is a LOT of history there, more than I have time to share now.  Thankfully this day twenty years ago was not as hot, it was about a mile long walk from my house to the church and I had ‘borrowed’ my father’s poop-brown cowboy boots for the service, which made for an interesting walk. 

If I am being honest, in the moment I was not sure why I was going back to the church.  They were putting on an Easter play, one that I had already seen the night before.  I had been attending the church on Wednesday nights for Youth Group for about two months and the two men who taught my middle school boys class were in the play – one of them was portraying Jesus, so I felt obligated to go at least once. 

The cast did an amazing job!!

This was the first time (that I can recall) hearing about the life of this man Jesus, his death, and then his resurrection.  

As a child, my Nana would buy Jesus a birthday cake at Christmas and we would sing to him, but that was all I could recall.  My great-grandmother had given me a Bible, but it was written in a way I could not understand.  However, it did have about twelve pictures of various Bible scenes (Moses and the ten commandments, Noah’s Ark, some guy names Samson, Jesus with a huge crowd) but I could not understand the words to actually read the stories.  Lastly, I always said my nighttime prayers which essentially was the nursery rhyme “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; guard me, Jesus, through the night and wake me with the morning light.  If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take” followed by a list of all of my family members – including the pets. 

The concept of Jesus was around me but never really explained to me.  Then I see this play, with people I knew as the actors… it was not a fancy stage, the church itself was not fancy either, and there was no special effect lighting, save one strobe light.  At the end of the production, one of my teachers (the one who didn’t play Jesus) came back out and began to cry.  He talked about how this Jesus guy really died, really rose again…and did it all for ME.  My teacher, through tears, told me about this Jesus who died thinking, believing, even knowing, that his death would bring me life.  This life he offered me, though, was not just life on earth – but eternal life…with Him…in HEAVEN!

What?!?!

All of this was so contradictory to what I had been taught. 

Well, not the heaven part, I remembered that from that Sunday School class I didn’t want to attend anymore from when I was five.

My father sat me down when I was eleven years old (right after giving me my first house key) and explained to me that I was a man now.  I think it had something to do with the house key thing, but I am not sure.  Regardless, he explained to me that men do not love, men do not show any emotion (especially cry) and that I was now a man.  Since I was a man, he could no longer tell me he loved me or give me a hug – apparently this man thing was serious (as an aside, that is the last time my father hugged me until I moved out of his house).  So to see my Wednesday night teacher tell me that this Jesus guy loved me…what?!? Then to be crying as he was talking about this love?!? Are you kidding me?!?!

This dude (both Jesus and my teacher) must be on something – don’t they know what it means to be a man??

Despite the fact that I knew they would be performing the exact same play all over again the next morning, I went back to church.  I got there early enough to go to Sunday School, my attendance surprised even me, and then sat through the same exact play.  This time at the end of the performance and my teacher’s speech (a little different and this time without tears, but the same general message) I prayed my first non-scripted prayer. 

If this Jesus guy was real and he meant what he said…all that stuff about love, serving one another, looking out for the underdog, all of that…I wanted in!

That was Easter Sunday twenty years ago.

It has been quite a journey since then!

I have questioned. I have doubted. I have walked away from my faith entirely…only to be brought right back.  I have struggled with death.  I have lost loved ones to drug addiction, cancer, suicide, and the like.  I have wrestled with the struggle of my bride and I having a baby of our own and still cannot understand why we remain childless. 

Nevertheless, as I went to church on this Easter Sunday morning, I celebrated because I know my life is different because of the message of Jesus, in what he did dying on the cross and in his resurrection.

Yes, I still have more questions than I do answers, but down all the paths I have traveled in my short thirty-two years, this I know:

My life has more purpose, more joy, and more peace with Jesus (even if I am screaming at him because I am so angry) than when I try to go it alone. 

That is how my journey started, how about yours?

Posted by: mikeches | April 10, 2017

Thoughts on Purpose

This past Saturday morning I got a phone call from my grandmother, she was calling to let me know that her sister, my great-aunt, was not doing well and had asked me to pray.  Two weeks before Christmas my great-aunt went in to have some cancer removed but when they opened her up, the cancer had spread so far they sewed her up and gave her only a few months to live.  This is not the kind of news anyone wants to hear, but it is especially hard during the holidays.  She has done well, up until now, with certain days better than others, but the cancer is wearing on her body and now we hope that she goes peacefully in her sleep without much more suffering. 

Death has a way of focusing us. 

Whether it is the young, fearless (and potentially stupid) mindset of “You Only Live Once” (YOLO) so let’s go out and do the most dangerous thing because why not? Or it is the more cautionary tale of never taking a risk because what if that risk is my demise?

I have heard it said that it is the brevity of life that gives life full meaning.  It is in knowing that it will end that we cherish the day at hand.  As a minister, I have had the honor of walking people through those dark days of loss and often quote King Solomon when giving the last words during the service: “Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies— so the living should take this to heart”. 

Regardless of your views on faith or the afterlife one thing is universal: we all die. 

The question is: what are we going to do with the in-between?

The time that exists between right now and our moment with eternity.

As I reflect on this, I ponder questions of purpose: What have I made my life about? How would I answer that question? What would those closest to me say? Am I communicating what I hope? Or is my life lived out communicating something different than my intentions? Are those principles and the people that I value most recognizable from the outside? Or have I held them all inward?

One of my core beliefs is that everyone has a purpose. Literally all 7.1 billion people currently inhabiting the earth have a reason for being and potential to do great things in their world.  While most of the people on the planet will never make it to a pro-sport or some sort of stardom that does not mean they cannot make a positive impact in the world where they live.  For my conservative friends – yes, this includes Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders; for my liberal friends – yes, this includes President Trump. 

I find it no coincidence that as I ponder the loss of life and the purpose of our time here we enter into the most meaningful week of the calendar for those of the Christian faith.  The time from Palm Sunday when Jesus enters into the city of Jerusalem to his final meal and teachings with his followers then to his betrayal and crucifixion until his resurrection this week is teeming with meaning, purpose and opportunities for refection. 

Even for those who do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, or that he is who he claimed to be, what cannot be denied is the historical Jesus who lived and was really crucified.  Some may deny him all other things, but not that he was actually here. 

When I think about living life on purpose, it brings me to Jesus.  It brings me to a man who made his life about serving others, breaking down barriers between people groups, whose teachings were more about offering forgiveness rather than anger, hope instead of despair, and grace in place of judgement.  A man who died, when he could have avoided it, thinking, believing, and knowing that he was doing it so that others might live.

For most of us our purpose will not end in our demise, but if we could gain an appreciation for such dedication, I believe we would live in a better world. 

Posted by: mikeches | April 3, 2017

The House with Heart Shutters

Four years ago, my bride and I decided it was time for us to purchase our first home.  We had been renting for the first six years of our marriage, which was not bad, but the neighbors on one side were vile people (the man threatened to “zap” my wife, we are still unclear of what that meant) and the HVAC system made sounds comparable to a rocket ship blasting into outer space anytime it turned on…so we thought it was time.  I will never forget looking at the various houses and trying to imagine our life coming together in a space currently occupied by someone else.  We looked at homes we could afford as well as homes we could not afford (what is it about human nature that we consistently yearn for something just out of our reach?) and had narrowed the list down to two houses. 

Prior to making our final decision we would often drive through the neighborhood to talk about what it would be like to raise a family there, envision ourselves taking walks with our not-yet-purchased puppy, as well as evaluate how close – or far – we would be from family, work, and entertainment.   It was during one of those drives that we noticed another beautiful house with cream siding and deep brown shutters which had hearts cut into them as if they were from a Tomie dePaola book.  The trees were neatly trimmed and the property line neatly edged.  I am convinced that if this house were for sale, we would have been putting in a bid on that one! We finally settled on a townhouse in Perry Hall, one that Melissa fell in love with as soon as she crossed the threshold, and just happened to be right around the corner of the house we admired so much. 

Once we were all settled, we began taking those walks we envisioned a few months earlier, no puppy yet, but all things have their time.  We walked passed the heart-shutter house multiple times but never did see any sign of movement or life.  Not until we got our puppy.  Once Ellie became a part of our walks we met the man of the heart-shutter house, not for him to say hello or allow us the chance to introduce ourselves but to stand at the edge of “his” sidewalk and make sure we did not cross his property line with our new family member. 

Since that day, almost three years ago, I have noticed that he has security cameras on both sides of his house, each facing the opposite side so that he can see who might be approaching from down the street.  Every time we turn the corner and approach his house he walks out and takes his position on “his sidewalk” to make sure we do not cross and then stares us down until we are out of sight.  When it is above fifty degrees he turns his sprinkler on to so that we are even more deterred – I am not kidding.  However, his sprinkler was not enough to deter me, after all it was on the side of the walk that was closer to his house which prevented him from standing his post, lest he get wet on his walk down, so I would run with Ellie past the extreme reaches of the water.  Noticing that a little sprinkle was not enough to deter me, he then moved his sprinkler to the side of the walk that was closest to the curb.  That is right folks, now anyone walking on “his sidewalk” was bound to get soaked but the sprinkler simply based on its position.  To say I was annoyed would be a huge understatement, but as the summer days got hotter, I found that both Ellie and I enjoyed a refreshing shower, so we would run through his water and thank him as we passed.  The look on his face was less than pleasant as I found joy in what was intended to cause me frustration. 

There are so many things in life look good on the outside but are really not that great up close and personal.  How could a man who lives in a house with heart-shutters be so cross? This is not possible…right?

So often we look at things from the outside and we compare. 

Sue and Keith just got two brand new cars and paid cash for them but Keith works so much he doesn’t have time to invest in his relationship with Sue so he buys things to make her feel special but all she wants is his attention.  Jack’s son, Tyler, just got straight A’s, but Tyler strives for perfection because he doesn’t feel that he will ever live up to his father’s expectations.  Lucy and Schroder just posted the most adorable picture on Instagram – they got back together…for the third time.

Admittedly the man with the heart-shutters has a much nicer yard than we do, but his grass is fake and full of pesticides.  I will take mine…it may not look as amazing as his, but at least its real.   

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