Posted by: mikeches | September 16, 2019

Full of Personality

Perhaps my favorite course to teach is an elective course that helps prepare students for college.  When working with these students, you are assigned an incoming group of Freshman and work with them as a cohort through all four years of their high school experience – it is a delight to watch these young people grow and mature over the years and, for me, serves as a great reminder of why I got into education in the first place. This year my students are juniors and to kick start the year we started off with some personality inventories: True Colors and the Meyers-Briggs.

As a former business person whose organization spent a significant amount of money on professional development around the Meyers-Briggs specifically, I know the value that understanding our own approach to looking at the world can have.  Some companies use these assessments in the hiring and/or promoting process as most recent studies show 2.5 million people use these annually.  It was fun spending two days with my students looking at how different people view the world and how that impacts the way they can be perceived by others.

It was fun, that is, until some things began to “hit home” with my students based off of their results.  One student was so upset with her results because she felt like she was “boxed in” after a little further dialogue, what she was really upset about was that she felt “found out”. She wanted to be an original and to think that there were other people in the world who thought, acted, and perceive the world the way she does was just unacceptable.

Never mind the fact that just a few moments ago she was laughing with (or at) her close friend who fit their personality profile to the letter.

She felt exposed and that was a little too personal for her.

Now, some may wonder why a high school teacher would be spending two days on personality assessments.  The answer is quite simple really, if we expect these young people to make major financial decisions about their lives in the next 12 months (and make no mistake about it, college is a HUGE financial decision), they need to understand who they are! It impacts the type of college they should go to, how they will best connect with their roommates, professors, employers, and the list goes on!

How can we, as Shakespeare encouraged, be true to ourselves if we do not first understand who we are?

I cannot properly articulate how many times I have sat down with people over the years, as their friend, their educator, or their pastor, and encouraged them to get to know the person they spend so much of their time with – themselves!

We are worth getting to know, and somewhere deep down we believe this, at least millennials and those younger do because we praise high follower counts on our social media pages and we download apps to keep track of people who no longer follow us (I could not believe this was a thing – but it sure is!).

We want to be known…

But only for certain things…

And we are terrified of getting to know who we truly are.

As Dick Foth writes: “Most of us have spent more time studying a map to avoid getting lost on a trip than we have studying our own life so we’ll know how to proceed in the future”…and we are not a culture that looks much at maps anymore yet this still rings true!

The truth is, being true to ourselves and knowing who we are is not a ‘once and done’ work. It is the work of a lifetime. As we grow, suffer loss, experience new things, who we are changes.  I am not the same man that my bride married on Saturday, June 7th, 2008 – nor is she the same woman.  Together as a couple and individually we are not the same people we were on Wednesday, July 17th, 2019 as opposed to the news we were given on Thursday, July 18th, 2019. The loss of our baby has changed us and the way we see things in ways we are still discovering.

We must allow ourselves the time to discover who we are now as to who we were then – but this is not only a matter of time, it is a matter of heart…and heartache.

Are we willing to dive into the pain, experience all that it has for us, and learn from it?

Are we willing to ask the questions, wait for the answers (that may not come in that moment), and sit in the tension that exists between the asking and the answer?

As we grow, and we are all growing chronologically if nothing else, the experiences in our lives help shape us into who we become, as the current of the river does to the rough stone along the riverbank.

The question remains as to whether or not we take the time to get to know that person we are growing into – AND – if that person will take the time to get to know those on the journey with him.

From one sojourner to another, I want to get to know you and I ask for patience as together, we get to learn the me I am becoming.

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Posted by: mikeches | September 9, 2019

“Self-Made”

This morning in one of my classes I asked one of our School Counselors to speak with my eleventh grade College Prep Class about things they should paying particular attention to this year.  I left the scope wide open because of his vast experience in the world of education and helping young people get into college and be able to afford it without crazy loans.

Students were asking about doing well on the SAT, what colleges would be good for what major, writing a good college essay, and a few other things.  When it came to the topic of the college essay my friend responded to our students with the following question: What do you want to be known for?

What a great question!

I think about this a lot – often wondering if what I want to be/think I am known for is actually the case in reality, outside of my mind.

When I was younger, the answer to this question would have probably been something along the lines of being a “self-made” man. Not wanting anyone but me to be able to take the credit for any of my accomplishments or who I had become.

Now, at thirty-five, I recognize this as a boys answer.

The reality is that hardly any of us get to where we are because we alone did anything. How does the saying go? “No man is an island” – but we sure do like to act like one sometimes.

Truth be known I would not be in the world of education had it not been for some of my own high school administrators seeing something in me and encouraging me to think of other ways I could impact my world outside of what I thought was the only “right” way.  Then it took the constant push from my former Youth Pastor to get me to go back to college after getting married.  My incredible bride’s dedication to this goal is unmatched – her willingness to help me look for a program that would work with my full time job, sacrificing quality time with me so that I could work on that paper or study for that exam, and her unwavering faith in allowing me to take an unpaid leave of absence from my job so that I could complete my student-teaching…all of which is just the tip of the iceberg in how she helped me achieve such a feat!

But I would be remiss if I did not include one other individual who went toe-to-toe with some great adversity in order for me to achieve this career dream of mine. Her name is Tina and she fought for me as my supervisor, always knowing in the back of her mind that the possibility existed that she would lose me as an employee from the financial world.  Nevertheless she fought, pushing back on a Senior Vice President within our company to try to make my dreams come true. I’ll never forget that meeting when she told me, on a Friday afternoon in HR (I totally thought I was getting fired) that my leave had been approved! I was, and to my knowledge still am, the only employee from that organization who has been granted a leave of absence to complete their education and return to the same job at the same place with the same rate of pay!

There is no way I can look back at my story and see myself as self-made…too many hands have helped to clear the path for me.

I can hear some people arguing this point now: yes, but it was YOU who did the work, wrote the papers, passed the tests, etc.

Yes. All of this is true. I did have to do the work.

But the path to get me to where I am has had many hands to help clear the way.

As an adult I have developed a mantra to how I live: Life is best lived when shared with other.

My friend Bryan made a beautiful sign with those exact words which we have displayed in our home.  Life is best lived when shared with others…and not just the good stuff!

…not just the good stuff…

This summer when my wife and I lost our baby at just seven weeks, we were devastated! So many questions, so much hurt, so much fear…way too many things that our hearts could handle on their own. I am so thankful that in those moments we had people that we could turn to who helped carry us through some of those tougher days early on. There are still days that suck, and moments when emotions catch us by surprise, but it has been easier to navigate knowing that we have people in our lives that will help carry us on those tougher days.

I suppose it is easier to pretend like everything is okay…perhaps even more “American” to say “It’s okay, I’ve got this”…to which I would reply: do you?

Do you really?

At my age I am over the bravado – that’s not where true strength resides anyhow. Instead, I long for deep, soulful connection that is only allowed to exist in vulnerability. As Frederick Buechner says,

The Mike and Ches FAmily

Mrs. Tina and her husband Mr. Charlie with my bride and I. They continue to invest in our lives, even 6 years after our working relationship has ended. 

To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do—to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst—is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed. (The Sacred Journey)

Here is to those that have helped steal me out of my own cage, who have shared life with me in meaningful ways, and who have helped clear the path for me. May my life be lived in such a way that it proves worthy of their investment and my heart be open in such a way that is does for others as it has been done for.

Posted by: mikeches | September 2, 2019

The Hammer and the Ear

A few years ago my bride and I were vacationing with some friends in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We had gone to Jockey’s Ridge State Park which is a fantastic place to watch the sunset over the bay. However, we got there in enough time to organize ourselves for a group photo before taking in the orange, pink, and purple hues of the sunset over the water. As we handed a friendly stranger our camera asking her to take our picture, her compatriot said “I just got a weather notification on my phone. A hurricane is headed this way!”

Now, I should mention that my bride is really good at a lot of things, I often tell her that she should have been a private investigator rather than a teacher – I am amazed at the things she finds out – but she also has a fascination for the weather. So before I could even turn to look at her, she says “Hurricane’s don’t just pop up like that, she must mean something else”.

Well sure enough, she meant a tornado warning! We turned around and where there was once a beautiful sun starting to sink into the horizon over the Pamlico Sound was now dark, ominous skies with swirling clouds. It was a mad dash through the park and across the highway to safety! I should mention I saw a hang glider on one of the dunes and tried to fly into the storm, but that is a story for another time…

It is amazing how some storms can just pop up like that. One minute everything is fine and the next – BAM! Trouble is not only on the horizon, it is where you are.  Other storms however, like hurricane Dorian impacting the Bahamas right now, give you a little bit of notice, but never enough to feel truly prepared for what is about to come.

Life can be like that too.  Some storms give you warning: you can prepare for the loss of your ninety-seven year old grandpa a little easier than your twenty-three year old brother – though goodbyes are never easy regardless of age. But for most of us, the storms we face feel like they just appear: that sudden layoff, the cancer diagnosis, the car accident, the miscarriage…and they leave us scrambling for refuge while confused in the chaos.

My bride and I know this all too well. Not just from our vacation a few years ago, but in suffering the loss of our baby, our first pregnancy, at just seven weeks. What should have been a seven week sonogram to make sure Baby Ches was making progress quickly turned into a storm for which we never could have prepared and from which we are still trying to get our bearings. Joy turned to fear to tears to devastation in the matter of minutes.  It has taken us eleven years to get pregnant, surely now that we are, we would be able to keep our baby…right?!? Wrong.

It is interesting to see how people respond to the storm. Be it weather related (like those few who decided to stay put this weekend in the Bahamas to wait out the storm) or personal (like our own loss of our baby). However, it is not just those going through the storm, but the helpers…those who watch, as we all are with Hurricane Dorian, how the storm is impacting others. I have learned that it is much easier to pick up a hammer and try to rebuild a physical structure than it is to offer a compassionate ear and rebuild a crushed spirit – however, both the hammer and the ear are essential to the healing process.

More times than not when people are in a personal storm of some kind, those who are on the outside offer some sort of platitude such as “let me know what you need” or “let me know how I can help”.  While these statements might be said with the very best of intention, most people who are in turmoil (and believe me, storms bring turmoil) don’t actually know how to articulate what they need or how you can help.  Rather than waiting for the person in crisis to come to you asking for something (time, a listening ear, your ability to pick up a hammer) it would actually be more helpful to say “I was in the neighborhood and just wanted to drop in to say hi”, “Do you have dinner plans? I was wanting to try this new recipe and thought we could cook together this evening. I’ll bring the ingredients, you provide the stove”, or “I asked my mom to watch the kids, let’s go have a night out”.

It is amazing what simply being with the person who has (and maybe still is) endured a loss can do for them!

This is part of the appeal of Christianity for me.

See, Jesus told those who followed him: Life is going to suck, it is not going to be fair, things are going to break, you are going to get hurt, and there is going to be things you never understand; BUT you will never have to endure this stuff alone. I will be with you. (Mike Ches paraphrase, but you can see for yourself in the Gospel of John 16:33 and Romans 8:38-39)

It is amazing what having others to walk with you through your loss can do for you and how it can help be an anchor to you in the midst of a crazy storm.  When we found out about our baby, I reached out to my best friend and in his response was: “I am with you”. He has made time for drinks, lunches, random phone calls and texts (about half of which he has not waited for me to initiate) to make sure that I know he truly is with me and my bride as we navigate this storm.

Sometimes people say “Jesus will be with them” but the way He does that is by sending us to be with them as well. God is cool and all, but sometimes we need a physical person to hug, cry with, and keep us grounded.

The next time we know someone going through a storm, rather than dismiss them with an “I’m so sorry” may we invest in them with a “What are you doing for dinner? Let’s go out.” It is inconvenient for sure, but it is the way I want to be with those in the storm.

Posted by: mikeches | July 8, 2019

From – With – For

In exactly one week I will be completing my thirty-fifth rotation around the sun; let’s the celebrations commence!

While I love celebrating my birthday (ask anyone close to me) this is also a time of more-than-normal reflection for me. I use this as a time to pause and reflect: Where am I going? What have I accomplished this year? Who have I allowed to get close? Am I remaining true to who I am and what I believe? Where can I kick things into high gear?  What needs to change? Why am I doing any of this?

That last one is the crux of it all for me: why do I do the things that I do?

There are a couple of answers to this question for me, but almost all of them revolve around people. My bride, my students, friends, family, neighbors…people matter to me in ways that I have not yet been able to properly articulate.

…and I have to say I have some pretty incredible people in my life!

As I step into thirty-five I plan to focus on three types of relationships: those willing to teach me, those learning with me, and those I am teaching.

I spent the afternoon with my father-in-law helping him and my brother-in-law install gutter covers on my brother-in-law’s house. Mostly this meant I was holding the ladder while he did a large chunk of the work as I watched. However there were a few times he walked me through the steps of what to do as I installed a few covers of my own…disturbing a few bees and getting stung while standing on the ladder only added to the adventure.  Admittedly I am not very handy. There is a lot about fixing things around the house that I have to learn. Thankfully he is willing to teach me, even at the expense of one of his drill bits.

However, learning to fix things around the house is not the only thing I can afford to learn. There is an older man at work whom I have asked to mentor me. He has been in the game for some time now, faced many challenges and yet greets each day with a smile.  When I ask him how he does it, he talks to me about living in and appreciating each moment – being grateful for what I have in this day, and not worrying about things that we truly cannot control.  I was able to connect with another two other teachers of mine over this past weekend, this couple has helped teach me what it means to be a person of faith and how to have a marriage of almost fifty years where not only are they still married, but they still like each other too! As we parted ways, the wife hugged me and said “I pray one day he will get to teach you how to be a dad!”.  I hope the same!

I pray that even as I age, I appreciate the wisdom that I gain, but always understand that I can still learn more. If I am being honest, I don’t trust people who are not intentionally learning from at least one other person…and would advise anyone to stay away from those self-proclaimed know-it-alls at all costs.

Part of the joy of life is having someone to learn alongside of you, in this regard I am truly blessed. My bride has been an incredible student of life and of marriage with me the past eleven years. We have navigated purchasing a home, doctors visits for intimidating things, learning how to be puppy parents, supporting each other to achieve our individual dreams, and adventuring together to the far corners of this country and beyond! I have had many people walk alongside of me in different seasons of life, but my bride has been the most constant through them all and I could not be more grateful!

I have been home just over a week from one of the best road trips of my life. Four theme parks in four different states over four days. It was non-stop coaster action with one of the best friends I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Life stories were shared, memories were made, songs sung (and butchered – I am terrible at remembering lyrics), and connection affirmed on a soul level. Together, Dustin and I are students of the system for which we work, but more than that we are students of life. Being only one year apart in age but having different views on things we learn from each other and cause the other to see things from a perspective we might not normally. I am a better man because of his presence in my life and I am so grateful for this season that we get to share together.

There have been a few others who have been students with me: Jimmy, Brad, John, Chris, David, and Matt are among a short list of men who have shared some incredible adventures with me and who remain close despite the busyness of life and the miles that separate us. I am thankful for each season with these men when they lived closer and life was a little slower for us to enjoy, I am even more thankful for the depth of relationship that we continue to enjoy – as my mantra goes, life is truly best lived when shared with others – and I could not imagine who I would be without each of these fellow students!

Yet as the years continue to accumulate under me, I realize that this life is not just about me. I can learn all I want, but it will profit me nothing if I do not pass it on. Which leaves me with, those I am teaching. While my profession is in education, this sort of teaching is not something that can be written in a curriculum, as that number of students is now in the thousands.

The type of teaching I am talking about is from the deeper things of life and transcends the classroom. I have been blessed to have some amazing “students” in my life: Brody, Cydney, Malik, Cassidy, Sumer, Sebastian, Hunter, Brad, Joe, Tyler, Ryan, Mitchell, Anthony, Jessie, AJ, Mikel, and others. Some have lived with us, others have a standing date on the calendar, while some are Marvel movie release buddies and the rest we catch up with as our calendars allow. One thing remains true in all of these “students” lives, they first learned that I cared about them before I dared to try to teach them a single thing.  Perhaps the coolest thing for me to see is that as people are added to the “roster” (we call it family) the “originals” continue to make room for others at the table – because to find a place where you truly feel loved and know you are accepted is to find a place you want others to experience with you!

So as the calendar turns another year for me, my hope for myself (and for all of us) is that we all remain teachable, keep our hearts open to those learning alongside of us, and that we make room at the table for those wanting a place to learn from us.

Posted by: mikeches | July 1, 2019

The Real Brave Work

It is the evening of liberty. 243 years ago to the date, a group of men were preparing to meet in a hot, humid Philadelphia where, by the end of day, a vote would be called and independence would be decided with 12 states agreeing and with only one abstention.

If July were not already my favorite month (because of my birthday) then it would be due to the historical significance of this week for our country and democracy around the world! Cue the parades, the National Treasure movies (yes, I know they are not historically accurate), the fireworks, and a good biography about one of the Founding Fathers!

Perhaps this sounds a bit too much, but I assure you the hype is real in my world.

This year, as I ponder the events that took place 12 score and three years ago, I keep coming back to this key point: independence was not declared nor won alone.

It took almost all of the 13 states (New York was the abstention) to come together and say enough is enough, we need change! Then, once changed had been declared, it took the help of the French to secure victory for our independence and freedom!

We could not do it alone.

Even George Washington, viewed as a demigod, could not single handedly beat the British.

Which makes me wonder: how did we go from rallying around one another, fighting for a common purpose together, to the lone ranger, I-can-do-this-all-on-my-own mentality in our culture?

I cannot tell you how many people I see (young and old alike) sharing some sort of meme or quote on social media about how they “don’t need anyone” or “refuse to burden other people with their struggles”.  I wish we would stop hiding our hurt and our pain behind the masks of “independence” or “strength” because we cannot do it alone. Rather, let us deal with the pain of broken trust in our lives and release those currently in our world of the pressures we have been holding them to as a result of our people in our past.

John Eldredge, one of my favorite authors, puts it this way: “Young men are renowned for wanting to make decisions on their own, but that is the first sign of a lack of wisdom”. Male or female, young or old, when making decisions in isolation, more times then not, the correct decision is not being made. It is our pride that tells us we know better than so-and-so or that it is “our life to live” BUT there is safety in counsel and we need someone who can check our blind spots…for we ALL do have blind spots.

I understand how counter-cultural this sounds. Despite my extroverted personality, I was one (and still can be at times) who struggled with things on his own while trying to help everyone else.  Then I got married and my bride began to call me out on those battles that I fought (or tried to) without letting her in. She didn’t do this out of malice. Her exact words to me were and continue to be “you have me now, you don’t have to fight alone”. She is absolutely right!

Since letting her into the inner workings of my world all those years ago, our relationship has a depth that is rich in love, compassion, understanding, and endurance. I could have continued to shut her out and try to do it on my own, which only would have isolated her, made her feel less than, and undermined our marriage.

Instead, I chose to be brave, because to be vulnerable is to be brave, and let her into my world.

There are no words for the difference that has made.

So let us all, each of us, chose to daily set down the false bravado of “I don’t need anyone” and do the truly brave work of letting people see who we are and fight our battles alongside of us.

There are people who can be trusted in our lives.

May we be them.

May we find them.

May we stand with them.

Posted by: mikeches | June 24, 2019

Movie Night and a Reese’s Cake

Just over ten days ago I had the opportunity to attend a luncheon that honored a few people who were stepping into their next great adventure. This was a celebration for the end of the school year and a send-off for those moving on, be it into retirement, a different school, or as is the case for some, out of education all together.  Laughter was in abundance as we reflected on memories made, tears were shed at the realization that these people would no longer be a part of our day-to-day routine, and parting words of wisdom were shared in hopes that our lives will be enriched by their wisdom.

I took something away from almost every speech – as I believe everyone has something to teach us – but my heart has continued to ponder the thoughts that had been shared regarding legacy.

The speaker mentioned how he had been challenged by his superiors on what his professional legacy might be once he was gone.  At his admission they were hoping for some big project or over-the-top initiative upon which this man could hang his hat; he admitted he did not have that. It was not that he was bitter, angry, or regretful that he did not have such a thing, instead he paused and mentioned how he hoped his legacy would be that he was a kind man, open to hearing new ideas, and fair in his judgements.

I found this to be admirable.

Personally, I think about legacy a lot.

I document my life through journals and have done so for years.

However, as a man at thirty-four years of age with no biological children of my own, one might wonder why (I certainly know I have thought – who is going to read these when I am gone?).

Nevertheless I do think about what I am leaving behind – for my bride especially, and then for my students as well as my friends. I think this is healthy practice, to keep us in check, to think about what we are doing for others that is outside of ourselves and our own selfishness.

Last week, I was given an incredible look at part of what my legacy might be as students from years gone by called, sent a text, or spent time with me on Father’s Day. One students mom sent me an incredibly heart felt message thanking me for being the “best other dad” she could have ever dreamed her daughter would get, one young man took me out for breakfast, two others sent me very specific text messages thanking me for various life lessons I instilled, while another came over that night to watch a Marvel movie with me and eat a delicious Reese’s cake, which turned into a movie night for a few more by the time the night was over.

If these young people are my legacy, either entirely or in part, I am at peace with what I am leaving behind.

As a follower of Christ, I have heard this scripture quoted to me more times than I can count:

“Give and you will receive.  Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” – Luke 6:38

Preachers are great at making those sentences about money.

That’s not what it is about at all.

It is about giving your gift – be it time, a listening ear, a tender heart, words of wisdom, a helping hand, money (yes, it can apply here but it isn’t solely about that) – to the world and seeing it come back to you.

These young people have given back to me in ways I can never repay.

How?

They have encouraged and affirmed that I am doing exactly what I am meant to do at the precise location of where it was meant to be done.

In so doing, they have fueled my fire and inspired me to keep on going – because there is more work to be done!

I may not get it right, in fact, most days I don’t, but these young people have reminded me that at least in some small way I am making a difference.

These are my thoughts on legacy; what are yours?

Posted by: mikeches | June 17, 2019

The Money will Follow

Today was the last official day of school for the district where I work – let the teachers and students rejoice! This means that in a few short weeks I will be riding roller coaster upon roller coaster, traveling to visit with friends whom I do not get to see nearly enough during the school year, and will be soaking in the salty air of my favorite beach in the Outer Banks.

Life is good.

Indeed it is, not to mention that one of my preferred brand of clothing is also entitled the same: Life is Good. I have so much of their clothing that during an adventure with a friend this weekend he remarked how he anticipated me wearing “one of those life is good shirts” during our visit. I am happy to say I did not disappoint!

Aside from liking the name of the company, Life is Good, their clothes are incredibly comfortable, and their slogan has become a mantra of mine: Do what you like, like what you do. Forgive me as I insert a hearty “amen”!

While I am ecstatic about the next ten weeks off, I must admit I love my job. Ask those who have been in my classroom (student or staff alike), ask the parents with whom I interact, or my closest friends. I love my job. I hate the politics and what goes on at levels above me, make no mistake about that either, but when I am in my classroom teaching my students a part of me comes alive.

I think it should be like this for everyone.

We spend one-third of our lives at work: 261 days (2,088 hours) a year for a total of 10,440 days (83,520 hours) in a working lifetime (forty years – from age twenty to age sixty).

This is A LOT of time – and can make one miserable if we are not finding passion or purpose in what we do.

Just today I said a final goodbye to a colleague who has not been in the teaching game long, only one school year to be exact. However, after one year they decided this was not for them. When I chatted with them briefly this morning they told me they had something else lined up, something they loved doing before except now they had better hours. They are excited about their new adventure – and I am excited for them!

…because I believe everyone should love what they do.

It is the chief piece of advice I have given to one young person struggling with next steps now that they have graduated high school. They thought they had it all figured out, however something went awry (as things can do from time to time) and that plan is no longer an option for them – and at no fault of their own. My biggest encouragement to them has been: follow your passion. You are at a great spot in your life where you can literally do anything, you are not in debt to anyone for anything, do what makes you come alive, the money will follow.

Perhaps we have grown cynical to this option. Coming up with excuses as to why we can’t do this or that. I can hear the naysayers now:

“Money will follow, sure Mike. Not for me, I owe $50,000 in student loans for my Basket Weaving degree”

True – that is a lot of debt, that you now have to pay off, but maybe basket weaving was a poor choice as a major? But I digress.

Perhaps this sounds to “fluffy” for others. I get it, as a career changer on a path to make realllllllly good money with my previous employer, it was scary as crap to make the jump to a first year teacher salary at the age of thirty, with a wife, student loan debt, and a mortgage. It was tight for the first few years, but we never had to work a summer, all our bills were paid, and we never had to ask anyone for money.

However, my bride will tell you that my worst day in teaching does not come close to my best day in finance. The journey was long (eleven years long). The decision was intimidating.

But I wouldn’t change it for the world!

I know there are those memes in our society today that say “create a life you don’t need a vacation from” – well, I hate to break it to you Pollyanna, but everyone needs a vacation from time-to-time, no matter how much they love their jobs. To quote author Mark Batterson:

“Change in pace plus a change of place equals a change in perspective”

So in this season of summer vacations and family fun, may we take some time to slow down as we reflect on the life we live professionally and how it impacts us personally.

Perhaps we will get a change of perspective.

Perhaps we will make the jump and begin to do the work we love.

Happy start of summer 2019 friends!

Posted by: mikeches | June 10, 2019

Time

Our lives are busy.

Ours is a culture that applauds the schedule that is jammed with multiple commitments every day and the more full the schedule the more ______ we must be.  We can fit any word in the blank: important, popular, needed, loved, appreciated…any one works, while some of us try to fit all of these words and more!

Some of us do this without even understanding why, others of us know and it is what drives us.

About two months ago one of our friends approached us about having one of our big get togethers in the near future. She had missed seeing everyone and was hopeful that we could all get some face time together (not the app, actual time in person with each other) so we looked at the calendar and threw out a date.

Yesterday was the day and the start time came…and went…with only two guests and one of our “adopted” sons at the house. By the time our friend who proposed the gathering arrived, she made the guest number four. A few hours went by and by the time she left we had over twelve people sitting around our dining room table.  As our friend left she said “I guess people only come for the holidays”.

Please understand this was NOT our friend “throwing shade” or speaking negatively about our friends. That might be what her words sounded like, but the message in the tone was that of sadness.

Our friend was looking for community and connection.

She had hoped she could find that at our home with our friends, and while it was a full table (we had no more chairs and I was sitting on a cooler by the time the night was over) there were still people who are normally there that weren’t this time and they were missed.  She was hoping to see a great deal of people she cared about, and for whatever reason not everyone that said they were going to be there made it.

This friend is a young twenty-something just two years out of college where she was able to live on campus with friends her age and almost always had something to do. She was surrounded by community.

Jon Acuff, writer and entertainer, speaks to this when he says:

“Your twenties are lonelier than you expect. They’re glamorized in culture as the time of your life. The truth is, when you leave college, you leave the tightest, largest concentration of people your age. You must fight for community. Seek it out. Be brave. Be deliberate.”

He’s not wrong.

Our lives are pulled in millions of directions and our attentions span pulled in a million more. But with whom are we sharing our lives? If it is solely the people living under your roof, I dare say you are doing it wrong. That sounds almost arrogant, I know, and who am I to suggest that I know how to live a more fulfilling life? Truthfully I am no one, just a mid-thirty something living his life the best he can but in all my years of working with people in finance, in ministry, in education we are ALL, young and old, extrovert AND introvert (yes even you) are looking for a people to whom we belong.

Because:

…a joke is funnier when you have someone to laugh with you

…a memory means more when there is someone with whom you can reminisce

…a movie is better when it can be discussed and debated

…a meal feels better when there are friends around the table to share in it

Once a month my bride and I host a group of alumni over for dinner and board games. We had one large group that we split into two groups so that we could get more time with each individual. One group flourished the other group only had one person show up. Two weeks ago I was asked by one of the young men if we could meet more frequently than once a month. I told him I would talk with my bride and then offer it up to the group to see if they would be willing to make the time for it. This is just another example of someone looking for community, trying to find time to spend with the people that he believes make his life more _________ (full, joyful, content, etc).

Author and Pastor Dick Foth sums it up nicely:

“We simply give time to the things we think are important. If it is not on your calendar, written down, or stamped in your brain, it doesn’t exist. Words are cheap. The calendar costs you.”

If the average lifespan is 70 years, that is 25,568 days or 613,000 hours….time is a commodity and one of the only ones we do not get back; how are we spending it?

Will you fight for community?

I hope so, people need your presence and (whether you like it or not) you need theirs.

Posted by: mikeches | June 3, 2019

A Part to Play

What’s your favorite song?

What about that particular song makes it your favorite? Perhaps it is the lyrics? The memories made while that song was playing? Or perhaps it is a particular riff that you enjoy?

During my time at Kenwood High School one of the highlights of my experiences was being a member of the school band.  Some of the greatest friendships were forged in the band room and some of the most memorable experiences (getting to perform in Disney) resulted from being a part of this group of young people.  I was a member of the drum line/percussion section and one of my favorite songs to play during the school Christmas concert was Sleigh Ride – now I know it is June 3rd and most people do not want to think about Christmas or Christmas songs, but bear with me for a moment. I would specifically ask to play the Clapper which is the instrument we would use to make the whip sound (my favorite part); by the way, the trick to making the best sound is in the flick of the wrist. This sound makes the song for me and I loved having that part.

If you have ever performed before, whether as part of a band, chorus, or theater troupe you understand the power of the experience when every individual part comes together to create something beautiful and larger-than-life.

Fast forward to my time working as a Youth Pastor for a local church. My fiancée (now wife) and I running a youth group of over fifty students pretty much on our own while also going to college and working full-time. As an ambitious twenty-something I felt unstoppable and was convinced that I could save the world. Looking back, I appreciate the genuine and full-heartedness of that young man…little did I know I was headed for a big burn out!

I can remember the day when one of the Mama’s of the church pulled me to the side and told me that I only had to “do my part and leave the rest”.  I didn’t know what she meant. Leave the rest to who? Others? God? The Pastor? She told me not to worry about who I was leaving the rest to, so long as I knew that I was doing my part.

Her challenge to me was this: Ask God to make sure I knew what part I was supposed to play.

Then do THAT.

Don’t worry about the rest.

I didn’t appreciate the wisdom in her advice at the time. Truthfully, I didn’t really understand it…but I sure do now!

This past Friday I was able to participate in a ceremony for 280 students as they graduated high school. It was a wonderful celebration and as they walked off the stage I was able to direct them back to their seats.  There were some whom I did not know, others who greeted me with a smile, a nod, a handshake or a thumbs up because we had worked together towards that goal, while others came up to me, hugging and thanking me for the role that I filled in their life during their high school experience. A select few got letters from me stating how proud I am of all they accomplished and how grateful I am for the opportunity they had given me to be more than a teacher, but a mentor, a father figure, and at times even a friend.

There was no way that I could fulfill all of those roles to all of those children. Time alone prohibits such connections to so many yet this truth remains:

While there are limits to what each of us can do, just because we cannot be something or someone of importance to all does not mean we should not look for the opportunity make a difference with one.

It reminds me of a story…a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

Just like in my high school band, Sleigh Ride would not feel complete without the sound of the whip, so, too, is the symphony of the universe missing something if we do not show up and play our part.

While my chapter in the lives of many of those young people has come to a close, I was reminded yesterday by one of ‘my kids’ that the “chapter may be done, but our book is not yet finished, the book goes on”.

Indeed it does.

So my conversations with him shall continue and yes, my role will change, but I still have a part to play and may I play it well.

In fact, may we all play our parts well!

Posted by: mikeches | May 27, 2019

Graduation Season

College campuses have all but shut down as young adults make their way home or to their next adventure. High Schools have officially said “goodbye” to the Class of 2019, leaving the ceremony of graduation to nothing but a mere formality as final grades have been entered and report cards printed.

Facebook timelines and other social media feeds are quickly populating with pictures of our friends and family in their graduation robes and adornments in various colors acknowledging the many accomplishments achieved in just four short years.

In my lifetime, I have been to more graduations than I have total number of years on the earth. Whether it be performing in graduations as a member of the high school band, attending my own, attending those of students in my youth group, and now as a supportive teacher within the high school.  I know my way around a commencement ceremony.

Each role in which I have attended has a different feel to it.

As a performer, you have a job to do.

As a graduate, you have a job to get – but first, celebrations to hold!

As a youth pastor, you have support to give as well as on-going conversation about what life will look like moving forward.

As a teacher, you silently pray that you have given what they need to be successful as this chapter of their life comes to a close.

What is interesting about the teacher role is that some students worry about being “replaced”. I can remember having more than a few conversations with some members of the graduating class of 2018 about their worries on being replaced or forgotten. Some would look at existing relationships I have with students and say to me something along the lines of “Oh, replacing me already” to which I would first roll my eyes while quickly assuring them that no one could ever take their place.

It sounds a little too corny, doesn’t it?

“No one could ever take your place”

I think on some level we long to believe this to be true, but our culture does an amazing job of pushing us down with the message of “you can be replaced in an instant”.

On some level, this is true.  If I was to quit my job today, there are quite a few people that would be vying for my job. Sure, the position would be filled, but what I bring to the position would be missing.

Imagine, if you would, a house being built. Imagine it to be one strong enough to withstand the huffs and puffs of the big bad wolf, in other words, this house is made of brick. Layer upon layer we build a strong, beautiful home that can withstand the storms of life.

Now imagine we remove one of the bricks along the foundation.

There is going to be a problem here…the foundation is no longer secure and we are going to have some major structural damage if we do not put that brick back!

Every brick matters.

It is my contention that if bricks matter in building a secure home, our lives matter to each other in building a meaningful life.

The Class of 2018 taught me what it mean to be a “father” to students who did not have one, that you can love a person with the same affection a father has for his children without ever being one. They also taught me how to manage a classroom and made me prove to myself that teaching is really what I wanted to do – because they are also the class, during their freshman year, that made me want to quit. However, now we get together at Christmas and celebrate with games, food, and the sharing of stories.  There are monthly game nights with a few, and personal Monday morning texts to many. One cannot replace these people.

In the week ahead I will say “goodbye” to the Class of 2019 and some of the most dynamic young men I have had the pleasure of working with: Joe who aspires to be a police officer, Zach who will pursue his passion for the arts and whose art work I will see in a museum one day, Tyler who wants to go into corrections, Jacob giving his all to our country by serving as a United States Marine. These lives can never be replaced by another. Their mark has been made and their place in my heart secure.

I am thankful for the time that still remains with the Class of 2020. The class which I sponsor, and with whom some great relationships have been made. Whether it is with kids I have known since Freshman year, like Mitchell who learned a lot about public school in 9th grade when he left the private school world or Ryan who has helped with almost every class event even when he wasn’t attending the actual event or dance.  There are also those students I have just met this year, like Tyler who made fun of me the first day of school for having a college degree yet I spelled a word wrong on the board…but in whom I see more of myself as a young man than any other student in my experience (a few weeks ago I mentioned the dynamic of Tony Stark and Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tyler is a great example of that dynamic lived out in my life) or Jessie who is an incredibly intelligent and strong young woman that has faced much in her sixteen years of life and who has chosen to let me in and calls me her “school dad”.

It is true that some people worry about being replaced.

Our culture lends itself to that line of thinking.

These young people need not fear that. Their impact has been etched into my heart forever. It is an honor to be a part of their story and to have them as a part of my own.

May we never forget the privilege we get when someone opens their lives to us and when they do, whatever part we are to play, may we play it well and full heartedly!

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