Posted by: mikeches | September 25, 2017

Instruction Manuals, etc.

There have been three instances in my life when I bought a new car, only one of them was planned, nevertheless there is little that smells better, in my opinion, than a new car.  I try to keep my car crystal clean and food free for as long as possible to preserve that smell, yet within a year or so, it fades.  There is something about the new car smell, the quiet of the new car on the road, and finding out what all of the buttons do that beckons us to want a new one not long after we pay the old one off.  Another item that comes with a new car (aside from a new monthly payment – if you did not save for the purchase) is the owner’s manual.  This is a book that is almost as thick as some dictionaries I have owned and covers almost every incident that could happen with the vehicle – yet I have never read it.  Skimmed through it? Sure! But read it? Nope. Though I probably should, maybe I would know more about what that one button does on the left-hand-side of the steering wheel…but I digress. Traveling in Christian circles for a large portion of my life, there are some who have come up with a quick acronym for the Bible – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.  As clever as that may sound, people don’t actually live by this, if they did, their lives would look a whole lot different.  Most just treat the book the same way I treat my car owner’s manual – skim it and try to figure things out on our own.

Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.  I wish it did, there a few chapters I would have liked to read about before living them, the chapters on how to navigate marriage, the dangers of credit cards, and the chapter on how to cook are three that would have been of particular interest and value to me.  The chapter on cooking is one I have yet to even skim. 

Being an only child and the eldest grandchild by eight years within my immediate family, I am not close with many that I see on the holidays.  My strongest familial relationships are with my maternal grandparents followed closely by my mom.  I care about the others, but due to age and where life had everyone else as I was growing up, I am not particularly close to anyone else within my immediate family.  As such, my friends have become my family.  Growing up, my mom questioned my love for her because I was more often with my friends than at home, I did (and still do) love her, but it was nice to be around people my age.  As I have grown, those friendships have been tested through time, zip codes, state lines, and even time zones.  We have all grown into our careers, some have truly discovered a life purpose, most have found significant others, and about half have grown their families with the addition of beautiful children. 

I am now at a place in my life where most of my closest friends live far away.  It is a weird feeling, but I know that at least one of them is doing exactly what they were placed on this earth to accomplish and that is exciting to see!  With them living so far away, this means there are no random drop-ins or spontaneous game nights…and, if I am being honest, at times I am sad about this.  I cannot be there for them, living life with them, they way my heart desires.  As such, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on this: What does it mean to be a friend? Really, I would like to add the word “good” before the friend, but for now, we will settle for friend.  Does it mean being brutally honest? Or available at the drop of a hat if needed? Does it mean you simply have more stuff in common than others? What does being a friend look like? One of the proverbs I try to live by says “the slap of a friend is better than the kiss of an enemy” – and I try to apply this whether I am the one getting slapped or the one doing the slapping.  Not everyone who agrees with what we are doing has our best interest at heart and some of those who are questioning us are not “haters” but want to make sure we have thought through our next steps thoroughly.

While each relationship is different and each needs different things, I wonder if there are common things that all friendships share – aside from a common workplace/school.  It is not easy to make meaningful connection with others as an adult – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  I firmly believe that life is best lived when shared with others…and while I am not a perfect friend, I am going to work on being a better one…to the best of my ability.

I am reminded of the latest mentos commercials where the children are helping adults connect with each other, because apparently as we age, we lose that ability.  You can watch a clip of one such commercial here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=75&v=RxYgVI2bgnU

Advertisements
Posted by: mikeches | September 18, 2017

Happiness

Though we are just three weeks into the school year, I am almost to the point in my American Government lessons where we discuss primary documents such as the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.  Yesterday (9/17) happened to be Constitution Day, celebrating the date in History when the 13 states ratified the new document moving us from a Confederacy to the Federal system we have today, and in making copies for my upcoming classes it had me reflecting on the principles outlined by some of our foundational documents. While I am not sure of specific ranking, the Declaration of Independence is in the top five documents of our nations brief history.  Within the document only three unalienable rights are specifically named: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.  The first two rights have been fought and argued ever since the day the document was signed…but what about happiness?

Perhaps I am asking, what is happiness?

From where I stand, not many people would agree to the same definition nor would all say happiness is the goal, and if it is the goal I am confident that many would take a different path to get there.  Yet it is something we are all (if we are honest with ourselves) in pursuit of, and when we are in want, we cry out to those who will listen and ask: I just want to be happy, is that so bad?

My answer…perhaps it is, in the short term.

Here are two scenarios which I would like to pose for consideration:

This afternoon one of my students, a senior, got upset with me for calling him out on his crap…pretty much since day 2 of the school year.  He is late to school, will not put his cell phone away while in class, and is known to sleep during class.  I was informed that this “stresses him out” and that I need to give him a break because he just wants to be happy.  I am confident that staying up all hours of the night, playing video games or watching youtube makes a teenage boy happy.  I know a lot of grown men who would be happy with that life style as well.  I also know how happy I would be, personally, if I did not have to wake up early in the morning so that I could get to work on time. Who wouldn’t love a nap in the middle of the day? I used to hate nap time, my Nana would pick me up from pre-school right at naptime and I loved that because I got out of it while the other kids slept on the floor. It was great! I long for those days back…but with the nap! Video games, sleeping in, naps…they are the keys to the happiness of many people. 

But for how long?

Perhaps this next scenario is closer to home and I can summarize it in one word: relationship.  How many times have we (or someone we know) broken down in tears because we just want to be in a relationship and be happy.  I wish this was limited to the drama filled days of high school but there are many adults in this same situation.  We long for affection and acceptance and when we feel as though all hope is lost we settle for less than the best.  We enter the relationship thinking things will change when we: live together, get married, have a baby.  Oh things will change…but if the relationship is rocky to begin with none of those things are going to make it stronger.  We strive for happiness, so we tell ourselves how different it will be when…fill in the blank. Yet the whole time the relationship is toxic and should be ended before it becomes permanent with a legally binding contract, as those are pretty expensive to get out of. 

Nevertheless, when a friend or mentor steps in to provide guidance and direction, we are immediately offended, cry “bully”, and demand our short term happiness.

How long will sleeping in and video games be enough? It isn’t forever.  Our friends will grow up, move on, and we will be all alone with nothing to show for our days. In this case, happiness is really laziness and that leads to terrible things.

How long will we beg, threaten, or put conditions on our significant other until we realize what we are experiencing is not really happiness? Anyone we have to convince to stay with us is not worth our time and really doesn’t make us “happy”, they simply fill a temporary void.

In America, we are guaranteed the right to pursue happiness…sometimes (when we think short term instead of the long game) it is to our own detriment.  May we have more success than those in the scenarios described above.

Posted by: mikeches | August 28, 2017

A Good Name or Great Riches?

You are at the local coffee shop enjoying an afternoon pick-me-up with a friend when a person, unfamiliar to you, walks up to the table and begins engaging your friend in conversation.  After the two exchange pleasantries you are introduced with a line something like: “This is my friend [insert your name here]”.  As the stranger reaches across the table to shake your hand they reply with “Oh, I have heard so much about you! Pleasure to meet you!” before finishing their brief conversation with your coffee compadre and going about their day.  This scenario, or something similar, is probably a common American experience.

Have you ever wondered, upon hearing “I have heard so much about you” exactly what it is they have heard? Some may take this to the extreme where they are biting their nails, full of anxiety, losing sleep at night…I do not mean this extreme self-torture.  I am thinking more of the glance across the table at your friend thinking: what (or how much) do they actually know?  Then being able to leave it at that.  I know that I have.

This week includes Back-to-School Night and if it follows suit with years in the past, at least one parent will say to me: “Mr. Ches. I have heard all about you” and I will think to myself, “well…care to share what you have heard”.  A core statement in my life reads: “A good name is more desirable than great riches…”, which is good because being a public-school teacher is not going to give me great monetary riches this side of heaven. Yet at the same time I can hear sage advice from my uncle: what others think about you is none of your business.  So I will put my best foot forward, strive to be a better teacher than I have been, and do it all in Mike Ches style (which admittedly is a style unto itself).

This past year, this concept of a “good name” has been reinforced in my life by one person in particular, and without his knowledge.  One of the amazing opportunities afforded me at my school is leading the Criminal Justice program.  I have the opportunity to expose our students to an amazing field of service, engage in tough dialogue about police brutality, equity, the need for law, the mission of policing, and a career that could not saddle our young people with a significant amount of student loan debt.  However, having never been in uniform myself, I rely heavy on our School Resources Officers and other law enforcement professionals who have the field experience I lack.  I learn every time one of these field experts walks into my classroom.  More times than not, I have more questions for them then the students do!

Many of my mentors have been police officers: my “second” dad made a career working with the Baltimore City Police Department, another worked for the railroad police, and my father-in-law recently retired from the Baltimore County Police Department after putting in almost (or just over) thirty-five years.  My father-in-law being the youngest of these three men, and therefore the most recently retired, whenever a County Officer leaves my classroom I always inquire as to whether or not they know him.  Every single one of them has AND every single one of them has had something amazing to say about him, be it his knowledge, his work ethic, or his ability to get the individual they are pursuing.  I have actually learned more about his career (and it is quite impressive) from these police officers than I have from himself.  This does not surprise me though, he is a humble guy who tries to do the right thing and bragging about himself is just not who he is.

During the summer my bride and I were given the opportunity to vacation with my in-laws.  They love to cruise so it was decided that the entire family would cruise together.  As we were walking toward the Port of Baltimore building to process our paperwork, I hear a jovial voice shout out my father-in-law’s name.  This man, who works at the Port, comes over, shakes his hand and exchanges small talk as if they were lifelong friends.  Then, as we walk through the terminal past one of the cruise ship employees, another shouts “Mr. John!” and they begin to exchange pleasantries as if they, too, were old friends.  This conversation involved dinner chatter which everyone was the beneficiary of, and for which I am extremely thankful.  Lastly, there was another cruise member whom my in-laws had been so friendly with they made him a gift, a hand-painted crab shell with the flag of his home country.  As a result of my in-laws friendliness and being good people, they have developed quite the reputation wherever they go and being connected to them, my bride and I, too, get to enjoy the benefits of their good name.

If my father-in-law were to write a response, the first thing he would tell me is to stop sucking up to him…or he would ask me what I wanted.  The reality is, all of these things are true – and I want nothing from him.  My father-in-law has a good name and I have seen it in his personal world, his professional world, and in his sabbatical world.  Sure, there are things he and I disagree on (I would say we average 70% agreement, 30% disagreement) but for a father-in-law/Son-in-law relationship, I think that’s pretty amazing.  My father-in-law may also tell you that the people on the cruise ship make money for being nice to you, I would have to agree…but for 10 days I was able to observe how the cruise members were with him and how they were with others.  There was a substantial difference.

I am still young in my teaching career, but I would hope that my students are able to say some solid things about me the way I hear people speak about my father-in-law.  The tragedy would be if what the good that people said, was not truly who I am.  So my goal, then, is not to put on a show, but to be a good man and there only way I know how to do that is to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.

 

Posted by: mikeches | August 22, 2017

A Question Worthy of an Answer

Slowly yet surely my social media outlets are filling with posts from teachers gearing up for another year and pictures of my friends children with smiles as they show off new school clothes ready to be back with their friends again.  The sun is setting on the summer season while simultaneously peeking on the horizon of a new school year.  Part of the reason why my bride and I love the summer so much is due to the fact that we feel as though we get our lives back.  We have time to take random trips, enjoy the weekends without grading or planning for the next week, and catch up with friends that we may not be able to see amidst the demands of the school year.  There is little I love more than being able to reconnect with a friend in person and hear about their life and the summer affords me that opportunity. 

During one conversation in particular Melissa and I were enjoying coffee with a friend, inquiring about how she was doing.  She told us about a few things she was involved with, went on to talk about her family a little, but mostly this was surface stuff.  When she was finished, I commented on how some of the stuff going on seemed good while there were other areas that seemed a little less than good and a few things Melissa and I would be praying for her about, but then I asked the question again: “How are you?” She nervously laughed and quickly tried to change the subject.  This is a friend we have had in our life for a considerable amount of time, so I stayed with the question. 

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to talk about the busyness of our lives rather than the state of our hearts? 

Why is this?

Take note of your response and the response of others when asked about how you are doing.  I suppose it has become a social norm in our culture to ask how people are and then wait (or not) for the answer.  Most often times people respond with one word statements “good”, “busy”, or “tired” come to mind and to those responses we typically nod our heads and affirm the sentiment given.  It is so much easier for us to talk about our activity then the state of our hearts amidst all of the activity.  Sure the kids have school, just joined the soccer team, and are trying to maintain a 4.0 in order to get a good scholarship for college, while you are working out at the gym every other day, trying to get that promotion, and maintain some sort of connection with at least one friend as your significant other pulls in 60 hour work weeks in order to make ends meet so that you can pay the bills and still take that one week vacation next summer before you are empty nesters…but among the craziness of that schedule: how are you?

Really: How are you?

There is a proverb, one I try to live by, which states: “guard your heart for from it flows the very essence of life” Admittedly we cannot trust just anyone with the deeper thoughts of our hearts, but when one is looking to enjoy the deeper, more meaningful things of this life then there is a need to let people in behind the curtain and see how we truly are.  To get beyond the layer of “busy” and schedules and to the deeper things in life. 

It is a question worth asking and it is worthy of an answer. 

Posted by: mikeches | August 14, 2017

Anger is In

Above the desk where I am sitting are five matted Thomas Kinkade postcards, two of the five which have a winter scene including snow-covered cottages glistening under the light of the moon.  These images are beautiful and they serve as a yearlong reminder of my favorite season, which will be upon us before we know it.  There are many reasons why I love the winter: snow being the first on my list, Christmastime, better for cuddling, hooded sweatshirts, it is easier to warm up in the winter than it is to cool down in the summer, and (in the heart of full disclosure) my pasty ginger body looks better in winter clothes than in the glaring sunlight.  The only thing winter is lacking, as far as I am concerned, is the break from working which summer provides me.

This summer has been perhaps the best summer of my entire life thus far.  My bride and I have been able to travel to Disney World, Universal Studios, cruise to the island countries of Bermuda and the Bahamas, as well as take day trips to the local sites such as the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the boardwalk of Ocean City.  When not traveling I was able to enjoy a few books for personal pleasure, as I love to read and find the summer to be the best time for me to do so! One of the books I read was 12 Ways Your Smart Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke.  I stumbled upon it in a bookstore and was so taken with the title I read the Foreward and Introduction while in the store, needless to say I was elated when my Bride gave it to me as a birthday present!

Smartphones are new-ish to me, while the first iPhone came out in 2007 I did not purchase my first one (though I am an Android person) until the Spring of 2014 and did so under the pressure of “group chats” since my device was collecting each individual person’s text separately and I could not keep up with the group conversation appropriately.  Since the Spring of 2014 I know my phone habits have changed, I did not need a book to tell me that, but it was interesting to read a commentary with some scientific studies on the impact of these devices in our culture.  As an educator in the public school system some of the information was affirming to what I already knew while other insights were new and provided a great deal of fodder for contemplation and conversation.

Did you know, for example, that “we check our smartphones every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives” (16)? Allow me to share with you what this means to me as an educator: my school operates on a four-period day, each class running for approximately 85 minutes.  Assuming the 4.3 minute statistic is correct and that each student has a smartphone, this means that one student is checking their phone 19.8 times in my classroom alone. This is JUST CHECKING their phone, not actually responding to the notification they have received.  Another thought to consider: have you ever been on Facebook only to look up at the clock and realize you have spent a solid chunk of time scrolling through the highlights of your friends lives? According to James Stewart of The New York Times “the average user now spends fifty minutes – every day – in the Facebook product line” and the Facebook gods intend to make sure that number increases!

Please know my intent here is not to make technology or media “evil”.  Technology and media are amoral, neither good nor evil, but how we choose to use them is another story.  The events of this past weekend in Virginia have been heavy on my mind since first learning about them.  On my Facebook wall alone I have seen people decry (as do I) the actions of the White Supremacists and Neo-Nazi’s, others have asked where the police presence was, a few applauding the ‘conservative’ right for standing up for themselves while blaming the media for a terrible spin of the events, many blasting the current Presidential Administration, some applauding the same Administration for denouncing hate on both sides of the isle, a handful who have remained silent while others have logged off of Facebook as a result of the bombardment of posts and opinions (my bride and I are in the latter group).  One thing is certain, we are a nation divided.

I cannot help but wonder how we got here? The temptation to immediately make known our feelings cannot escape even the leader of the free world and in some cases when ones’ response is not immediate enough people are even angry at that! It is almost as though we choose to be angry.  Please know that in no way am I communicating that there are not things to be angry about or that the events of this weekend should not stir your heart to love better! There is such a thing as righteous anger and anytime a life is taken, as it was by the fool who drove into the crowd of protestors on Saturday, or a people group is put down simply because they look different are two solid reasons for such a stirring. But as a society we get angry over a lot!  In fact, a 2014 study from the Smithsonian entitled What Emotions go Viral the Fastest? showed that “a joyful comment likely to [encourage] your following [will not] go much further, whereas a furious comment is far likelier to spread outside of your following to enrage many people. Anger…makes you more likely to pass things on”.  While we smile at the good news, perhaps even ignore it, the more angered we are the more likely we are to share.

This is craziness!

In other words, if I want you to click “share” on the link to this blog I would have to say something to enrage you rather than try to encourage you.  Depending on the audience I wanted, I could say “Trump is the greatest President to have ever served this country” or “Obamacare is the greatest piece of legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1964”and not only would I gain more readers (as well as haters) but I would also get more traction on social media platforms.  By sharing something that makes you mad, you are communicating “I want you to be mad too!”  Why do we choose to spread anger over encouragement? Why are we more inclined to read something that will “piss us off” before we take the same amount of time to read something that will encourage us?

The argument could be made that anger stirs us to action.  Indeed, it could.  In the age of social media, however, I am concerned that the “action” we feel stirred-to is simply clicking “share” on a post, typing a nasty comment on some thread, or even physical violence against someone with a different view than us.  When what we actually need is compassionate arms reaching out to make peace, righteous indignation finding solutions within legal means, and a civilization willing to listen to those who disagree with them in order to find common ground for moving forward.

I do not expect this post to solve any of the issues mentioned within it, however, I am hoping it will encourage all of us to think and act differently.  Perhaps rather than blasting a different race/political ideology/religion/person on social media we can do something more meaningful. One can hope…right?!

Posted by: mikeches | July 10, 2017

Hot Dogs, flies, and U-turns

When I was five years old my maternal grandparents (Nana and Papa) took to on my first trip to Disney World.  I remember a lot from that trip, even though it was such a young age. I remember the limo that came to take us to the airport really early in the morning,  I remember fearing one of the Robin Hood characters in the parade, and I remember desperately wanting a hot dog while we were visiting Epcot. 

This was in October of 1989 and I was in kindergarten, in 1989 they did not teachHot Dog Sign kindergarteners how to read.  Most of my time in school was learning colors, the alphabet and how to spell my name…reading did not come until 1st grade with Ms. Green.  I share that with you because, despite my ability to read, I swore that I saw a sign promoting hot dogs during our Epcot visit.  I was hungry, tired, and five years old – so of course I threw a temper tantrum demanding my hot dog that honestly did not exist.  Nana, Papa, and I laugh at the story now.  The joke between us is that I made my grandfather so mad I sent him around the world – which is true.  Nana told him to explore the world exhibits in Epcot while she and I slept on a bench in America, I fell asleep on her lap, Papa got to do what he wanted, and Nana got me to shut up.  I think it worked out for all of us in the long run…except I never did get my hot dog. 

Though funny now, no one enjoys a screaming, crying, tired five-year-old.  No one. However, now we have a memory and something to reflect on and chuckle about as we do.  It is amazing how something so common place as a hot dog can solidify a memory and a connection with someone – all because of the relationship you share with them.   Relationships have the ability to turn the most ordinary of things into the most extraordinary. 

I remember being little and at a restaurant with a majority of Nana’s side of the family.  Somehow a fly had gotten inside the restaurant and my Uncle’s joked that it was my fault – that I had somehow brought the fly into the restaurant.  This little event would lead to three decades of sending flies back and forth between me, my Uncly Tony, and Aunt Millie.  We would mail paper flies to each other with no return address, purchase large plastic flies and hide them in birthday presents, or sneak them into the others car when we were visiting.  I have a large plastic fly in our office upstairs – Aunt Millie and Uncle Tony have since stepped into eternity but that fly will always be with me, because of my memory with them. 

When Melissa and I went on our first date, I took her to Sight and Sound theaters in Lancaster, PA.  I had been there before but not enough to know how to get there.  Needless to say we got lost quite a few times and had to make more than our fair share of U-turns in order to get to the show on time.  Rather than get mad, we both laughed and decided that we would get to the show at some point (I am glad to say we made it on time).   Now, however, on the rare occasion that we have to make a U-turn (which we did last week at Disney) we laugh even harder and reflect to November 19, 2005 when we had our first date. 

Who makes memories about hot dogs? Or flies? Or U-turns?  Individually they are ordinary, annoying, and frustrating respectively.  However, the people connected with each of them is what provides the meaning. 

Think of the times in life when you have relived a moment with one particular person while in a group of friends.  You and your buddy are cracking up and everyone else is looking at you like a dog listening to a high-pitched whistle.  Once we realize no one else is laughing as hard as us, often we say “You had to be there”.  They do not share that same memory, to them the object or thing has no meaning it is simply ordinary.

By the way, when my bride and I went to Disney last week, I was determined to find a hot dog stand in Epcot.  I am pleased to say I found two – one as soon as you cross the bridge into Epcot and the other in the American section.  Upon finding these stands, I took a picture and sent it to Nana and Papa.  They called me immediately, both belly laughing. 

Who knew a hot dog could bring so much joy?

We did. 

Posted by: mikeches | July 3, 2017

The screaming girl at Disney

My bride and I just experienced what we are both calling our second honeymoon.  To celebrate our anniversary this year we booked a week at Disney on a whim, we not saved up specifically for this trip, there was no count down, and not a lot of pre-planning as far as ‘what to do’.  We are hoping this will be the year our family of two becomes a family of three (not including our puppy) and as such we thought there was no better time for us to sneak away for a romantic Disney experience! 

It was an incredible week full of nostalgia (we have both been to Disney previously but never with each other), new experiences, and truly magical moments.  There is something about watching the fireworks in the Magic Kingdom with the love of your life while listening to songs that stir the soul into dreaming the impossible that brings a tear to the eye and makes you feel like there is nothing you and your love cannot accomplish.  My bride had a smile on her face all week and I feel closer to her now than ever before.

It is amazing what time away with a person can do to strengthen and reinforce your relationship.  Time for just the two of you to invest in each other and not worry about anyone else.  My bride has sacrificed that for a long time when it comes to vacations.  Every year we book a vacation house in Outer Banks, North Carolina and invite different friends to join us – no group has ever been the same for any year we have gone.  Melissa loves the beach and I love people, so we combine the two and have a pretty amazing time with great friends at our favorite beach on the east coast of the continental United States.  We have made wonderful memories every year with some incredible people and this week away is one of the highlights of our summer! The only downfall is this has, in many years, been our only vacation away.

Over the years I have learned that my bride’s primary love language (the way in which she feels the most loved) is quality time.  While we have been great at going away with others, I have been neglectful in spending some time with just the two of us during the summer.

I want to pause for a minute and talk about the term “quality time”.  I used to think this was time with the person – watching a tv in the same room, for example – but I have found that more times than not when “watching tv” one or both of us are on our phones – this is NOT quality time.  Quality time is time of quality.  That sounds redundant, right? Think about it though, how many meals do you share with the one you love or even a close friend and your phone is on the table? How many times do you sit down with your family to watch a movie or a show together but one of you is not actually watching – but is on the phone? This is not about the “evils” of cell phones but about self-reflection regarding the quality of time we spend with those in our lives.  I am not anti-phone either, there is a balance and I am working towards finding that in my life.

Quality time is not just about cell phones either.  My bride and I have historically thrown a relatively large Christmas Party.  It started in our first house and I can remember one year where there were so many people, our steps were full of people sitting on them because their was simply no place else for them to go.  We still throw a Christmas party and I would say the invite list is still just as large, however over the years we have gotten responses such as “We are not going to come to the Christmas party this year, instead we would like to go to dinner with you and Melissa instead.”  Do you see the message? It is almost as if these people are saying “We would love to be with you, but our time there is not best spent.  Can we have one-on-one time with you instead?” The message here is quality time. More than these folks wants the chick-fil-a that we provide, they want quality time with us. 

We are not the only ones though.  There are people in all of our lives who are longing for quality time with us.  In fact, while we were in Disney waiting for one of the parades to start, there was a little girl crying next to us.  I do not have much tolerance for crying children (yes, I know all babies cry and I will have to adapt when I become a father – patience is not my strong suit) but what this little girl said as she was crying struck me.  Through tears streaming down her face and screaming that could possibly wake the dead, this little girl literally said to her parents: “put your phones away!” Let that sink in for a moment.  They were with her, but not truly present. 

After seeing the smile on my bride’s face this past week while learning about how much this trip away with just the two of us has meant to her and experiencing first hand the closeness it has brought it our relationship I now know that we must budget for two vacations per summer.  One with our friends and one with just us.  This may be a challenge as our family grows, but we make things work when they are worth doing and this is an investment worth making. 

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.    

Older Posts »

Categories