Posted by: mikeches | September 24, 2018

What Makes You Come Alive?

A few years ago I was given a Dilbert Calendar for my desk at work as a Christmas present. At the time, I was working in an office building that had a few cubical farms so the jokes and dry humor of Dilbert were not wasted on me.  However, many of the jokes were about how much people hated their jobs but kept working them because they, as people, were broken by the system and had lost any hope of things getting better.  There was one cartoon in particular that had one character running away from his “cube” office while Dilbert was preparing a lasso to bring him back in.  The caption, from another colleague went on to say “It won’t take too much longer until we have broken him completely and he stops trying to run”.

What a terrible fate!

While I am significantly more fulfilled in my job as an educator, I did not hate my time in the business sector – it afforded me many opportunities, provided me with a plethora of skills, and I firmly believe my time there has made me a better educator in the long run.  I learned that it was not something for me long term, so I made plans to change course, but it was an incredible experience!

I share this with you on this first Monday of Autumn because just as the seasons change sometimes so, too, must we.

There is a tropical image that has gone viral in the most recent years. Clear water waves gently crashing against the white sand juxtaposed against bright blue sky with a vibrant sun and somewhere in the middle is the following: “Create a life you don’t need to take a vacation from”.  While that sounds amazing, it sets us up for something I fear is unattainable.  Some of the most fulfilled people I have the pleasure knowing are small business owners who work harder and longer hours for their own business than they ever did for someone else, are people in a craft they love and therefore give more than they ever have to any other profession, or they are stay-at-home parents who now invest most of their waking hours into shaping this precious life that God has given to them.  All three of those scenarios are impressive on their own merit, but I have not met a single person in any of those categories who would ever turn down a vacation.

None of us is self-fulfilling and we all need to pause to fill-up the tank.

What makes you come alive?

My bride and I have been together for almost 13 years, married for 10, and the way we recharge could not be more opposite.  One of the ways she is most energized is a relaxing day at home with me and our puppy – we call these Do-Nothing-Days – and at times put them on the calendar to ensure she is getting exactly what she needs to be recharged.  We both get refilled by our weekly Date Nights when we turn off the technology and focus solely on each other.  While I am energized best by being on the open road to a fun destination, sometimes even destination nowhere.

When my bride and I were dating one of our favorite things to do was drive around and talk.  My house was not conducive for hanging out and if we wanted to be alone her house was not the best because it was always full of people.  So we started taking road trips with the idea that one can never truly be lost (I had an updated map, yes a map, in the glove box at all times).  We had the best conversations in the car, listening to music, and talking about life.  In fact, there are times on our Friday night Date Nights that one of us will ask to take a drive “like we used to”.  We always feel reconnected after our drives – it truly fills us up.

I also enjoy the road trips to a rural countryside or areas of the world I have never been to before.  The views are breathtaking and there is nothing like setting up camp in the middle of the wilderness to recharge some batteries and get back to the basics of life. Some of the best stories are told around a campfire.  Some of the best sleep I have ever gotten has been out under the stars.  That separation from the “busyness” of life can certainly refill my cup.  A friend of mine reached out to me today about planning a camping trip this fall – I am looking forward to sleeping outside surrounded by the smell of leaves and the feel of the crisp air against my face.

I share this on the heels of an incredible weekend away.  This was a belated birthday celebration and we conquered two theme parks in three different states (ask me how) all in less than 48 hours – and we made it back in time for Sunday dinner AND both showed up on time to work today! I rode my 100 roller coaster – Night Hawk at Carowinds – and enjoyed the company of one of my favorite people.  We spent more hours on the road than we did at any one amusement park, but I am not complaining.  Part of my favorite experience is that of actually being on the road – doing our own version of karaoke – talking about life, asking questions about the others experiences, learning more about the other, and soaking in the amazing views (for this trip that means those that exist from Maryland to South Carolina). I am already looking forward to the next one!

While all of those things were true about this trip, they can be true of almost any road trip experience.  It is either going to be full of social engagement or social awkwardness.  My hope is always the former.

I love the open road.

I also love my craft – education – and there is nothing else that I could see myself doing during this season of my life.

But we all need a vacation, a little time off the carousel of crazy, from time to time.

What makes you come alive?

Go do THAT!

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Posted by: mikeches | September 17, 2018

Oxymoronic at Best

Growing up in the 1990’s my generation were the pioneers of great – and by great, I mean ridiculous – email accounts and screennames.  We were those that could be contacted via ILikeBigButts@server.com or TomAndJane4Eva@anotherserver.net the more obscure the contact name the more pride we took in our online identity.  As for me, I was the proud owner of Randomguy715@yahoo.com and pride is the exact term I would use, for it brought me great joy when my friends would call me and I would tell them where I was or what I was doing and they would retort “We can never keep track of you”.  Darn right, my name is Mike Ches and I am the male version of Carmen San Diego, see if you can catch me!

As the years moved on, some of the adults in my life encouraged me to get something a bit more professional, especially since I would be applying to colleges and places of employment.  The first impression of being a “random guy” may not be the best if I wanted to see all of my ambitions come to fruition. I took their advice and created my current email address, which is nothing but my name.  No glitz, no glamour, just my name.  At first, as silly as this may sound, the change bothered me.  I enjoyed being “random” and thought that it meant I was fun!  Was I now a boring person? What happened to being the carefree guy?

A few years ago I received an email from one of my mentors during my teen years, the subject line was “To a former Random Guy”.  In his email he spoke of how I had grown from a random young man into a man of purpose.  Seeing as words of affirmation are my highest ranking love language (with quality time coming in at a very close second), the words of this man, for whom I possess such great respect, meant a lot to me.

If you grew up in the 90’s you heard about the show Full House – I vividly remember one episode in which Uncle Jesse’s character was bothered by the fact that his fiancée/wife knew how he would respond in a certain situation. He saw this as being predictable and he hated it! I remember feeling the same way.  When my wife or close friends say “I know you…” or “I know your tells” it bothers me, because there is a part of me that enjoys being a mystery.  Even at 34, I enjoy keeping people on their toes.

Yet, those words that held such weight a few years ago mean even more to me now that I see the impact of random actions in the lives of those around me.  If you look up the word random, it means “without definite aim, direction, rule, or method”, the implications of this word are huge! While my students may enjoy a random teacher – in hopes of a day off – I have learned the value of being a constant presence in their lives.  More students appreciate the consistency than they do the random acts of the unprepared adult.  My life is not random – it has a direction, an aim, and a purpose.  This purpose allows me to be more constant than not.  My wife appreciates that, as does my dog.  My friends are also grateful to know that once I commit to something, I am in 100% and those who lend me money are kept at bay knowing they are getting their check every month.

I have learned that one may be consistent and not necessarily be boring.  While I have put away the aimless, I still possess the spontaneous.  While there are some cautions to being spontaneous, for to follow every inner impulse would be dangerous, there is much joy in exploring the things in life that are presented to us without preplanning every little detail.  Just this past weekend I found myself at Knoebles Amusement Park in PA, it was my first time there and this trip was not something that had been on my calendar at all.  Friday evening I got a text message with an offer and Saturday morning when I turned on my phone I responded that I was in! It ended up being a great day in a new place with some of the best company I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying!

A spontaneous person is also described as a person with an open, natural, and uninhibited manner.  We all know people like this, so welcoming you wonder if it is real while at the same time so comfortable you feel as though you have known them for years.  If I ditched the “random guy” in order to get the spontaneous one – I will not complain! Granted, we cannot be spontaneous in all things. The journey is to find the moments when we can and them live them out to their greatest potential!

The spontaneously consistent guy…it is oxymoronic at best – but it is the way I strive to live and I am going to give it all that I have!

So be the constant in the lives of those who need you, and trust me – we do need you, while simultaneously embracing the spontaneity of life. The tension in between is a beautiful place to live.

Posted by: mikeches | September 10, 2018

Our Most Precious Resource

During my time as a Youth Pastor I could often be heard saying the following to one of my teens: “People make time for what is important”.  That statement is a mantra by which I try to live and, as with most things, sometimes I do this really well while other times I fail miserably.

Last year I taught a communications class and while we spoke of interpersonal communication, public speaking, as well as all types written and oral communications I also challenged them to think about other things in their lives that communicate.  I asked them to consider their checkbook or online banking statement, what we spend our money on speaks volumes about who we are and what we value.  I challenged them with how they spend their time.  If I could look at the calendar of your life, be it in a traditional day-planner or on your iPhone how we spend our time is directly connected to who and what we value.  My bride, for example, values quality time. In the early years of our marriage I thought spending time with her meant that I was bringing her with me to do all of these things be it with friends or at church or with the teens in our youth group and while she enjoyed that, what she was missing was deep connection with me and me alone.  Since then we have tried to have a weekly Date Night where we turn off all smart-devices and focus on each other.  This is almost a non-negotiable in our relationship (we have been known to make a few exceptions, but not many) because our relationship is important enough to say no to almost anything that happens on a Friday night. To us, it is worth that weekly investment.

This past year there has been some turmoil within my family, I have not tried to hide this but I have also not blasted the details.  Some of that turmoil has been a result of time.  People in my family not feeling important because I, as well as others, have not made time for each other.  Assumptions were made, feelings were hurt, and things got ugly.  Now on a path of healing, restoration, and healthy boundaries, time is being made to invest in those relationships be it a weekly phone call or an occasional get together to check-in face to face.

As it is with people, we all value different things.  Some place such value on their weekly faith meetings that they will schedule their vacations around their worship services so as not to miss. Others value their tv program and work their schedules and obligations around certain days of the week to ensure they are able to watch that program live (even in the days of the DVR). I know of others who value getting out of debt so they pull in as many jobs as they can to get rid of it as quickly as possible.  While others value their alone time and make it a priority to ensure they have plenty of that on their schedule for the week.

I value people.  The relationships with those whom I chose to have in my life are of utmost importance to me and the deeper the connection I feel, the more time I want to spend with you – if possible.  I have a friend who lives just outside of Philly, one whom I know would drop anything and run to my aide if I needed him, but we only get to see each other once a year.  He is a single Dad of two girls, his mom’s health is declining, and he is trying to do the best he can for all of those who depend on him.  Though it may not be often that we get to connect in person, when we do it is as if not a day has been lost.  The man I call my brother lives in Florida now, he is a support person to people literally all over the world and as such he gets to visit some really amazing places!  Whenever he comes back to Baltimore, we make it a priority to see each other and in two months I get fly to his new home so that I can stand by his side as his best man while he marries an incredible woman!  Then there is my buddy who has redefined friendship for me, the friend I always needed but never thought I would have, no matter how often I see him I always leave looking forward to the next time…because it is always rich, meaningful, and full of laughter!  From my bride to these few men I have mentioned here and others like them, relationships, people, are critically important to me.

So if you look at my calendar you will see a lot of names.

I wonder, what would people think is important to you if they got a peek at how you spend your time?

Our time is, after all, our most precious resource – one thing we shall never get back.

Are you pleased with how you are spending it?

Posted by: mikeches | September 3, 2018

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!!!

Since 45 B.C. people have been celebrating the New Year on January 1 as the beginning of a new solar year (Thanks to Egyptians who started this practice and Caesar for making it popular). Though I am not trying to change the solar calendar, I do believe that a ‘year’ or ‘season’ in our life can be marked by many things. Some look at birthdays as a new beginning, others might be looking to complete a year of “firsts” after the passing of a loved one, and then there are those of us that live by another calendar all together – the school calendar.

This is the Eve of the 2018-2019 School Year – and for most people in my school district they are gearing up to greet their friends, meet new teachers, and explore new information! It is an exciting time without question.

In preparation I got balloons honoring the graduation years of most of the students in my classroom.  It may sound cheesy and some people may be mad that I am ruining the environment by using balloons – but I thought the purchase worthwhile anyway.  When my students walk into the classroom, I want them to see something that they CAN attain, I want them to begin to feel the celebration for this milestone that is critically important to their lives.  I want them to feel believed in and supported – because they are!!

In the coming weeks we will talk about hopes, dreams, and goals.  We will also talk about content that may try to divide us – we will look at politics, legislation, and Supreme Court cases from various perspectives that have an impact on us and we need to understand. While all of this good and necessary, it is also important to have fun! So yes, we will have balloons and I will be wearing a graduation robe all year long and we are even going to throw in a few games – because no one wants to be serious all the time…at least I don’t.  Thankfully I work with a great group of people that will allow me to have fun and get work done all at the same time.

The school year marks the start of a new year in my household – January 1 is just an added bonus day off – and I am ready for the new year to begin! My bride and I have some great things planned – but I have also learned that some of the best things in life aren’t planned at all, they just seem to happen…like Monday after work adventures to a nearby theme park or a random drop in from a friend you didn’t know was in town!  Life truly is good and as I told my friend this afternoon, I am ready to embrace it all and fully embrace those sharing it with me!

Let’s go!

Posted by: mikeches | August 27, 2018

Refreshment

Monday’s are interesting things – for a large number of people it is the day that starts the work week – thus the term “Sunday blues” as we look to Monday and all that is to come.  I have not had any case of blues…nor have I had the need to know the day of the week…for months.  Now, I am not about to regale you with a sob-story of Sunday-into-Monday blues, but today was a Monday – one of those where you did a ton of work but still felt like you spent the day chasing your tail.

At the end of the day I heard from a friend who asked me if I wanted to jump down to Six Flags for the afternoon.  Since my work day ends at 2:30, I ran out of the building and set my sights towards roller coasters.  Due to the temperatures the park was not crowded and there were no lines to speak of – we were able to jump onto as many rides as we wanted and the breeze while on the rides was greatly appreciated! It’s been some time since I have been able to get some quality time in with my friend and on the drive home I thought about how a draining Monday ended up being a great day after the addition of coasters and excellent company.

This reminded me of what this guy Paul wrote to a bunch of his friends whom he had not seen in a while, he writes “Pray…[that] I will be able to come see you so that we will be an encouragement to one another, and refresh one another” This dude must have some amazing friends! So much so that to be around them is refreshing – like the cup of water I got from the concession stand today in the crazy heat and humidity.

I can relate to this type of refreshment.  I feel it when my friend from Florida and his fiancée get to spend some time with us, or when I fly to Texas to spend time with a guy I have been friends with since I was 12. It is undeniable when my bride and I unplug every Friday night and connect during our Date Nights, or when friends gather around our table for a night of food, games, and laughs.  It is tangible when my friend and I get in the car to go on our next great escapade – be it a baseball game, a roller coaster destination, or some yet undetermined adventure.

In life, there can be so much that takes from us – it is my hope that we all have at least two people in our lives who can refresh our souls the way Paul writes about, and the way my friend refreshed me today!

Posted by: mikeches | August 20, 2018

Navigating the Fog

It is amazing to me how quickly time passes, for example, four weeks from today my bride and I were in Juneau, Alaska exploring Mendenhall Glacier and then going out into the Pacific Ocean for a whale watching adventure! The entire cruise was amazing, but by far the most breathtaking part was watching a pod of orcas in their natural environment explore the ocean with two baby calves.  The beauty of this moment brought my bride to tears.  It was, if you will allow me to use the term, a holy moment.

The entire vacation was beyond any expectation I could have ever set for numerous reasons.  When we came home and began to share our experience with others the only word I have been able to find appropriate is: beautiful.  The trip was beautiful.  Landscapes unlike any I have ever scene or could imagine, wildlife unlike any other, adventurous excursions that allowed me to go off-roading in a jeep along the side of a mountain, canoe in a lake, explore nature like never before, and tour old cities while learning the history of the land.  While most people think of Alaska in  the summer as cool and rainy, we had 70 degree weather at every port and not a drop of rain.  It was truly more than I could have ever hoped.

The only “bad” weather we experienced was during our last day and a half at sea.  We went to sleep on a clear night as we were headed to Victoria, British Columbia from Skagway, Alaska only to wake up surrounded by fog so thick we could not see more than a foot out from the ship.  The Captain and the Cruise Director had been updating us on what the weather would be like at every port, no one mentioned this to us – it was almost as if it caught everyone by surprise.  Around 10 am on the first sea day, I suppose when everyone “should” have been awake, the Captain came over the intercom system to inform us that the ships horn – which he had blown every time he saw wildlife – would now be blown every 2 minutes incase anyone was around us and needed to be made aware of our presence.  Like clockwork that horn blew every 2 minutes for the next thirty-six hours.

No one on the ship was particularly alarmed, the fog just killed the view for the last day or so at sea, but we trusted the Captain and his team – it also helped that this particular cruise the Captain was celebrating his twentieth year navigating the seas with this particular cruise line.  To keep spirits light, the Captain, a jokester at heart, came over the intercom the next morning – while we were still in dense fog – and said “Assuming I can see the port, we will be in Victoria by 6 pm this evening.  Hopefully we are not lost.” Thankfully this was our last full day on the cruise and we knew the Captain’s sense of humor.  Using his experience, navigation tools such as satellite GPS, and the expertise of his crew, we made it to Victoria right on time with any trace of fog being completely lifted.  It was a beautiful evening in a new city!

It’s funny how weather – fog is weather, right?! – can change things on us.  Being from Maryland, it is often said that if you do not like the weather here, just wait a day, it will change.  Storms, or in our case fog, can pop up almost as if out of nowhere and potentially ruin plans.  The only thing the fog ruined was my view, but it made for a great day of rest – which I needed after three days of nonstop excursions!

Though it did not ruin anything for me, it did get me thinking about life, the unexpected events that come along with it – whether we want them or not – and how we navigate them.

I consider myself to be a solid navigator in this journey of life.  I have dedicated my life, both personally and professionally, to helping people navigate their own lives be it through high school, in selecting a path after school, in setting up a successful marriage, or in their journey of faith.  I have had phenomenal mentors in my life who have given me constant examples to look-up to and replicate within myself.  Life is not easy and no one should have to navigate it alone.  I am thankful for those who have lead me and I am grateful for the opportunity to pay it forward in my day-to-day.  Yet I have come to realize that though I may be thirty-four and have quite the life experience to date, just like the Captain of the Solstice (our cruise ship), I, too, need the help of some navigation tools to get me through some of the fog that happens to descend every once in a while.

I have shared with many that this past year was tough, and it was, I shall spare the details here for fear of being redundant, but all I will say it is got worse before it started to get better.  The fog got thicker before I could begin to see again.  This fog followed me onto our vacation – let me be abundantly clear at this point, none of this involves my marriage, my bride and I are solid, something for which I am very grateful – but it followed me on our cruise, so much so that during the second night of the cruise I woke up with chest pains so severe I thought I was having a heart attack.  After talking with some friends and medical professionals we concluded it was a panic attack – which apparently can mimic a heart attack.  I was really in my head and needed to get out.  Thankfully our cruise was not ruined by this and we still did every excursion that we had planned, made wonderful memories, and even laughed a time or five.

Another thing that came out of this trip was a major personal decision: I was going to see a counselor.

I have experienced trauma in my life and I have always thought that I had overcome those things.  I had to some degree, but more than anything rather than deal with it, I simply tried to ignore it and/or pretend that it was something different than what it was.  Now, as a thirty-four year old man I see that this trauma I experienced is still impacting me – so much so I experienced my first ever panic attack on what I would consider my best vacation to date.

I decided no more.

I will not be a victim of other peoples crazy behavior any longer.

It is time to heal and get whole.

I had my first meeting with my counselor last week and I am looking forward to my session this week.  Afterwards I told my bride about the session, she is fully on board with this process, though not her idea and we are hopeful for how this will affect change in our lives moving forward.  I messaged three friends of mine, all of whom were or are in counseling themselves, and told them I should have done this years ago.

You may be asking why I am sharing this with you, or thinking this might be a bit too personal, or that someone could try to hurt me with this information.  I’m not worried about people using this against me, here is why: a few months ago I commented on a political facebook post, my father-in-law saw it and talked with me about being cautious in doing so – because there are people who look up to me that could be influenced by what I think, post, etc.  He is right…I have eyes on me.  It is for that very reason that I share this with the world.  Seeing a counselor to better yourself is not something to be ashamed of – and so if one of my youth group kids or former students reads this and is struggling, I want you to know something:

  1. You are not alone
  2. It is okay to not be okay
  3. You are loved
  4. You are valued
  5. God has a great destiny for your life beyond where you are right now
  6. IF you need help navigating a tough or foggy season in your life, get it – even the Captain of my ship couldn’t navigate the Pacific Ocean on his own, he needed some tools in order to do it! Don’t be ashamed if counseling is one of your tools.

I am working on being the best version of me that I could ever possibly be – as a husband, friend, teacher, mentor, and family member.  For now, that involves sharpening my mental health.

I will feel no shame in that – neither should you.

Posted by: mikeches | August 13, 2018

I see you

One week from this moment I was in my favorite man-made place riding some of the best roller coasters in the world.  Cedar Point has been an escape for me ever since I was nineteen, I had just bought my first car -a 2002 Chevy Cavalier – and one of my best friends from middle school and I decided to hit the road.  We had only planned on making two stops: Gettysburg, PA and Cedar Point.  I still have the video recording of my buddy when he saw all the coasters, on it he says “I think I just peed myself” he was terrified, so of course being the good friend that I am, I laughed at him.  We conquered every ride within one day at the park, much to our surprise, and ended up in Canada at Niagara Falls. It was truly an amazing experience!

Ever since, Cedar Point has been one of my favorite places.

During this trip, as my friends, my bride and I were entering one of the queues for Gate Keeper we walked past the attendant for Gate Keeper – who looked overtly sad. I said hello and looked down to notice scars that were on their legs, scars that would be hidden by a pair of pants, and my heart broke for this young person sitting in front of me, watching all of these people, most of whom had smiles upon their faces, run by them without ever saying a word.  I have seen similar scars on my students in my youth group, I have seen them on students in my classroom, and I have seen them on customers during my time in the financial world. This young persons scars made me think of all of these people in my world – and it inspired this letter, which I am sharing with you now, in hopes that if you are hurting, you might feel slightly encouraged.

To the Gatekeeper Attendant-

As I approached you, I could tell you were not really feeling the day.  Whether you were tired, hungry, hot, or processing something going on in your personal world, I knew that today was not your day.  This is not a judgement statement, none of us can be all smiles all of the time, but simply me saying, I see you. To be honest, it is why I said hello.  I know I am an early entrant to the park and you probably have an incredibly long shift ahead of you, but I hope, in some small way, that my hello brightens your day even just a little. 

As my group and I passed by you, I saw the scars.  I know you didn’t want me to – they are high enough that I know you would normally try to hide them so I won’t mention them to you because I do not want to embarrass or make you feel uncomfortable.  In reality, I am just a stranger from out of town anyway and to bring them up would be inappropriate.  Nevertheless, I see them.  But before I saw them, and they were many, I saw you.  I saw you as a person just not having a great day and needing a break from it all – because I did too, that is actually what brought me to your park, and what brings me to your park every year…just needing a break.  I wonder how many people in your world have told you that? Not that they use your place of employment as an escape, but that they see you.  I wonder if your family sees you, or your friends, or your partner in life – if you have decided to have one.  That they see you for who you are, a person of great worth, of incredible potential, and worthy of love. 

As I see your scars they remind me of very dear friends of mine.  Friends who have not felt seen, unworthy of love, and so much more.  There is a lot I do not understand about your scars, or theirs.  I am not a counselor or an expert on the reasons behind people making those scars, but I do know that the scars have at one point been a source of pain – be it physical, emotional, mental, or otherwise.  More than I wish to know the clinical reason(s) behind them, I want to know the story behind yours.  Every one of us has a story, some chapters are better than others, and some themes last longer than we feel they should, but we all have a story, and even though I do not know your name and will probably never see you again, I want to know yours.

I want to know your story because you are worthy of knowing.

You are worthy of knowing. 

I can share my story with you, too, if you would like. Not to compare, but in the sharing of stories a connection, a friendship can be made and that is where the richness of life can be found.  I am not trying to fix or analyze you, nothing of the like.  I am simply trying to know you, because you are worthy of knowing. 

My friends, the ones who have the same scars as you, none of them share the same reasons.  Each person has the same scars but the stories behind them are different.  I confess that sharing stories at times does not feel like enough, but I hope that the connection formed in the sharing is enough to see us through to another day.  There is little in life more beautiful than the sunrise of tomorrow – and I hope you will see it with me!

While I do not have all of the answers, and some days I feel as though I have more questions than answers myself, I offer you an invitation to sit with me a while, share stories, and watch the sunrise. The hope of a new day can bring wonderful things!

Very Truly Yours,

Mike – the early entry guy that said hello as he walked past you

Posted by: mikeches | June 25, 2018

Find Your Tribe

Summer break is finally here!! While the last day of school may have been over a week ago, I spent most of last week in trainings and professional development sessions, so today was my first “real” day off.  It felt amazing to sleep-in and then cut the grass, because cutting the grass on a Monday morning feels like I am cheating the system by saving time on the weekend.  However, summer is not just about cutting the grass on Mondays.  This time of year, this glorious break from routine, is a wonderful time to pause, catch my breath, and refocus my life around what really matters to me.

This school year was, in the words of my bride, the worst school year ever.  What started as just a crazy workload for me and a lot of drama in the workplace for her by the time the year ended we discovered I only have one kidney and and survived being septic to the death of her Nanny and discovering my mom has cancer – which is being removed a week from tomorrow. So much has happened in the past ten months that the need to catch my breath could not be overstated.

During this time of catching my breath, I often think about my community: the group of people with whom I surround myself.  If I am being honest though, the concept of community is almost always on my mind; whether it be thinking about the communities of which I am a part, those within my communities, or how to expand my communities personally or professionally.

I am extremely mindful of how I spend my time and with whom.

I understand that time is our most precious commodity and is one of the only things which we do not get back.  Every minute is precious.

It is funny how God speaks to us – I know some of you are uncomfortable reading that statement, so for you, call it the universe, great grandma, or coincidence, but I am calling it God. As I have been thinking about community these past few days specifically I log on to Facebook this morning with a notification that says “they” (the FB world) put together a video for me (I now realize they did this for A LOT of people and it is more than likely a ploy to get people to stay connected with the social media giant, but I digress).

What was the video about? Community.

There were two lines that stuck out to me specifically:

“Community means a lot”

“What we do together matters”

Both of these statements could not be more true – is Facebook using their marketing strategy on me to know I would agree or do they really mean this too?

I hope they really mean it.

In our technological age where we can invite someone to an event on social media and RSVP’s are no longer deemed relevant or we view the event and refrain from committing because we never know what else might pop up – living in community can be tough.   As a thirty-something, married for ten years but having no children – finding community can be tough (why is it that people with children flee from those of us without?).  Living in a time where we can order our dinner, groceries, clothes, and life necessities online and get them delivered to our front door, the need to leave the house decreases – opportunities to experience community can be tough.

Still, community matters.

Even for those introverts, of which my bride is one, community is important.  Her community is substantially smaller than mine and her “need” for it is not as great, but it is there nonetheless.

As a lover of history and the Bible, it is not lost on me that the church grew the most when the people  “met in homes and shared their meals with great joy and generosity DAILY” (emphasis mine).  People thrive when they feel included, when they feel as though they are a part of something larger than they are, when there is a sense of belonging.

One of my best friends, the closest person I may ever have to an actual brother, is getting married in November.  His fiancée posted to Facebook just yesterday “Find your tribe; love them hard”.  I LOVE that!

To whom do you belong? Hopefully this extends outside the walls of your home, though it is vastly important to find belonging there too, but hopefully, sincerely, I pray your tribe extends to people outside of your house.

In a world where there is so much division based on utter nonsense we need more inclusivity. So if you cannot find a place to belong, there is room for another chair at our table and we would be glad to have you!

Posted by: mikeches | June 18, 2018

Who is impacting whom?

Two days ago I closed the chapter on my fourth year of teaching as an official teacher of record within my  local public school system.  I could have graduated from high school all over again in that amount of time, but have found my place in this universe and will probably be in high school for quite some time.  As a career changer, moving into pubic education was a little intimidating at thirty, despite having worked with young people as a Youth Pastor since I was twenty-one. Over the course of my time in public education I have had the honor of working with approximately 720 students…each one still rememberable, each one for vastly different reasons and each one, I hope, leaving my classroom believing they have a champion behind them regardless of the grade they earned in my course.  Some have even taught me that they will champion me too, if needed. 

This past week my bride’s family did a really tough thing.  We said our “see ya laters” to Nanny – I wrote about Nanny in last week’s post if you would like to give it a read.  As is our cultural custom in 21st century America, the family posted details about the viewings and funeral on our social media outlets. Now that some of my students are graduates we are ‘connected’ on these same outlets where information was being shared about the celebration of Nanny’s life.  I gave no thought to who might see it and who, in turn, might show up to support me, my bride, and her entire family. 

I have never realized how tiring viewings can be for the grieving family – they are EXHAUSTING – but to see all of the support, to feel the love from those that are still here, and to hear the stories of how our lives were made better because of the person who has moved on…allows for them to also be very uplifting.  We were just over half way done the first viewing when I had gone downstairs to get a drink from the soda machine, when I came back into the room I turn the corner and see one of my students standing there.  He had seen the information and wanted to come support me and my bride.  Never in one million years would I have EVER expected such generosity and compassion from an eighteen year old young man who, just a few weeks ago, was sitting in my classroom!! We chatted for a bit and I introduced him to the family, explaining to them that he had been my student but was there to support us during this time.  After he left, his visit was talked about with almost everyone else I knew that attended the second session. 

It is my opinion that in order to be an effective teacher, you HAVE to be good at relationship building.  There has to be something inside of you that genuinely enjoys helping teenagers navigate some tough emotional, hormonal years in order to help them come out on the other side successfully.  Otherwise, you are going to hate your job and your job, quite honestly, may hate you too.  Our job is kids.  It cannot be defined as strictly one thing or another – our job is helping young people. Period.

When thinking of the number of students with whom I have worked there is one thing I can say: not ONE is the same.  There is no tactic, technique, or tool that works with each and every child.  Each one is different, thus each relationship I have with my students is different.  No one looks like the other.  Some people like to compare “Why do you talk to him/her more than me?” or “Why don’t you do this for me like you do for them?”.  Adults can be like this too, comparing relationships one to another:  “Why don’t I see you more?” or “How come [fill in the comparison blank here]…”.  My answer remains the same: each relationship is different and thus each gets different things. 

This young man who visited with us last Tuesday afternoon really touched our hearts.  We made sure to tell him that as he was leaving.  He might use the word mentor when he speaks of me, but my favorite part about mentoring relationships is when the mentee is able to give back in some way – as I hope I have to those who have mentored me.  The way this young man absolutely did for me. 

Young people like him give me immense hope for our future!

Posted by: mikeches | June 11, 2018

Eulogies, revision, and a life well lived

I came across a picture the other day, it was a father and a son appearing to be in the middle of a conversation.  Below the picture was a headline that read “Rules for Sons” with a list of just good life advice regardless of your gender – one of them was this:

“Trying writing your own eulogy.  Never stop revising.”

Over the next two days my family and I are going to pay respects and celebrate the life of the matriarch in my bride’s family. She passed away last Friday morning and has moved on to her new home on the other side of eternity.  Now we will try to honor and celebrate her life as we navigate our grief though we know she is with Jesus and is living a life more abundant than we could ever dream.  As we prepare for the days ahead, there have been many tears, a few laughs, and social media postings about the woman who we all called Nanny, Mama, and Virginia. 

I’m don’t think Nanny cared about writing her own eulogy.  She was too busy loving her family – and she loved them fiercely.  If my bride would go over to visit without me because I was working or was on one of my crazy adventures, Nanny would ask “Doesn’t Michael know what the “F” in family stands for?” Unsure of what the answer would be, my wife timidly asked what it meant to which Nanny quickly retorted “Family” – it made us all chuckle.  Whenever Nanny saw any one of us she was quick to ask us how we were and always greeted us with a kiss.  Nanny would sit at the table during the holidays and play games with the family once the table was cleared from dinner, it was fun to play games with her and get her to laugh.  We are a family of teachers, out of eight of us four are public educators, so work would naturally come up around the table, but Nanny didn’t like that – work was to be left at work, this was family time – so we either quickly changed the conversation or talked lower so that her hearing aides could not pick up what we were saying.  If you asked Nanny what the secret was to a long life, she would tell you eating butter and drinking creamer – you know the little flavored creamers for your coffee? Yup, Nanny used to drink them like a shot!

Nanny didn’t care about her eulogy because she knew she was doing things right.  Honoring God, loving her family, and soaking the most out of every moment.  I read this weekend where she had told a friend “Don’t hold onto things for a special occasion. Every day is a special occasion, so live it up while you can, no one is getting out of life alive”.  Nanny lived what she preached too: learning new dance moves from her grandchildren, bowling until she was almost 90, and full of stories from different adventures she had experienced in her life.

Nanny didn’t need to revise her eulogy, her life was amazing on it’s own.  May we all be able to say the same thing at 94!

My bride and I celebrated our ten year anniversary the day before Nanny passed away – as such we were the last to get a card from her, a card which we did not know was coming.  When my sister-in-law told my bride that we had a card, such big tears began to stream down her face.  Such a comfort for my bride to have one final note from Nanny.  The card was signed as they all have been “love and God Bless you always – Nanny”.  We love you too Nanny, we know that you are with God now, and we look forward to when we get to see you again! Oh, and thanks for living a life greater than an eulogy could ever do justice!

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