August 5, 2012

Getting Ready

I have a list of faceless names. Twenty one students whose stories remain untold, behavior unseen, and learning potential untapped. The many unknowns and mysteries that surround each of them exist now, but beginning at around 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning, they will all disappear. Start to disappear. Maybe they will actually start to disappear at the beginning of week 3. That's what I hear anyway... when the novelty of newness to school and a classroom is gone. The reality sets in.

In anticipation of this new school year, I spent the past week getting ready in the classroom. The room was painted over the summer which required the removal of everything hanging on the walls, so we had to put up everything fresh. There will be some modifications even after the first day, and I hope to have a proper photo shoot probably in about a week. But in the meantime, here are a few Instagram pics.

Here are their "work crates." Each students has a set of books assigned to them and they are kept in their own crate during the school year. Here is a picture of them as they were coming together.

Here's a picture of the classroom and how the desks are arranged. The four corners of the rooms (which aren't really easily discernable in this) are various subject-based learning centers. The room only has a single window which you can see. I guess it's a pair of windows. Maybe?

On Thursday, Ruth came by to help prepare. She was able to help get a few bulletin boards set up. Here's a picture of us in front of a brand new Word Wall that is making it's classroom debut this year.

I'm pretty excited to get on with the show, as it were. Or to start the show. Opening day, tomorrow! Can't wait.

July 27, 2012


It's pretty amazing how fast the summer has gone by. And yes, I do know that it is still July.

On Monday, I will actually be working in my classroom. My mentor and I will be cleaning it out and getting things ready for the school year which actually starts the following Monday. It's crazy to think that the day is almost here. For the past two months, tours have been taken, lectures have been sat through, papers written, and tests passed. All of them preparing us for the first day (and beyond) of teaching.

Over the two weeks since my last post, much has happened and I will strain my memory to try and recall them for you. First, as of the end of last week, 3 different classes have now been completed towards my M.U.Ed: Cultural Foundations, Learning/Behavior Characteristics of Children with Exceptionalities and Teaching ESL Students (I looked up the title just now... you're welcome), and Summer School Clinicals.   I have received an A in the first, I am cautiously optimistic about an A in the second, and received a P in the third (it was only a Pass/Fail course). I hope to keep the A train rolling.

Last Saturday night, we all went to a Memphis Redbirds game. They are a minor league baseball team, and have a stadium that has a "bluff" where folks can watch. MTR provided us a great buffet before the game and tickets to sit on the grass just beyond left field. There was so much happening during the game that I don't think most people ended up watching it. Here are a few pics:

On Monday of this week, MTR got to take a tour of the Division of Nutrition Services for Memphis City Schools. It was led by Tony Geraci, the director and subject of a recent documentary about food in public schools. He was very inspirational because of his passion for providing fresh, quality and healthy food (i.e. not "carnival food"... though I think I am actually a carnival food sort of guy) to kids. We got to see where most of the food for the kids in our schools come from, and actually invited us to utilize the resources that he can personally provide in each of our classrooms. I intend on taking him up on the offer.

Yesterday, we took a tour of FedEx shipping world headquarters. We got to see where their planes land and where all your 1 million packages per day get sorted. It is a very intense operation, where everything is tracked. Attention to detail isn't only recommended, but mandatory for their operation. Every. Single. Thing. that they do is constantly evaluated for efficiency. Where can we save fuel/energy? How can we save even more time in getting packages from point A to B to ZZ? There is nothing left up to chance or question. If you love logistics, this would be your Disney World.

This weekend MTR has given us time off to enjoy the opportunity to do nothing (if we choose). There is ALWAYS something to do if you really want to. I choose to relax. After the tour yesterday, I have nothing significant to accomplish until I set foot in my classroom on Monday.

The Memphis journey is about to kick into high(er) gear.

July 12, 2012

Run, Ryan, Run

On December 1, I will be running in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. If you know me at all, you are probably wondering if this blog is, in fact, mine because the Ryan that you know probably wouldn't do such a thing. Oh, but it is.

Everyone in MTR is participating in the event - some doing the 5k, others the half marathon, while others are running the whole enchilada. I was going to try the half marathon, but due to that race selling out, I am currently set to run all 26.2 miles of it. There were several others in the same boat that I am and we were told that we could still run the half marathon since the entire course is 2 laps and we could just get our time for running one.

Since I am definitely not a runner, I had to buy some new shoes which my parents kindly purchased for me when they visited Memphis last week (see picture). I went to a great local running store where I learned that I had flat feet. I never realized that flat feet weren't "normal," and I thought my feet were your basic standard issue. Apparently not.

Anyway, I've run twice this week - Tuesday and today - under the coaching support of a new MTR friend. I ran 2 miles today pretty comfortably. A feat, for me, which is quite notable (yes, thanks). I still have many miles to go before I'm where I need to be (you're welcome), but a journey of a thousand footsteps starts with a single step (I think it's the lemonade). 

Here's to an exciting regimen of race training! Only 141 days to go. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

July 11, 2012

Meeting the Mentor

MTR is a program that helps create excellent urban educators. I was fortunate enough to have them believe that there was enough raw material in me to be worth their investment of thousands upon thousands of dollars. Part of these funds goes toward paying for the M.U.Ed I mentioned yesterday. Other parts go towards live, personal training in an actual elementary (or secondary) school classroom.

There are two primary relationships that are forged as a part of this process. One, a coach who will come visit the classroom I'll be teaching in on a very regular basis and offering constructive feedback as to my performance. My coach will be also working with the two other residents at the school I'll be at.

The second is that of my mentor, who I will be the only person she works with. Because of the public nature of blogs and my vast readership (both free and subscription-based), I will refer to mine as Ms. P (for now). She is the one whose classroom I'll be in 4 days a week, serving as her "co-teacher" as she calls me. Today MTR provided a "getting to know your mentor" session where I got to meet Ms. P for the first time. We are definitely not identical in personality or temperament. According to a assessment we did, she is "analytical" and I'm a "driver." However, I think we both have a similar approach to life.

There is only so much you can learn about a person in a conversation involving personality tests. Many times we say what we think/hope/want to believe about ourselves in the theoretical sense, but in the practical sense, we are different. At this juncture, without any work having been done, I can truly say I am quite optimistic that this will be a great relationship and partnership. Laughing, especially at the very same things, is important. So is how you approach what you need to do for the day. We are alike in these key areas. I say it's a win.

July 10, 2012

The Journey So Far

It has been 44 days since our moving truck rolled into the 901 and we began referring to Memphis as home. Still not fully legal, as it were, because driver's licences and tags on the car still proclaim our Maryland-ness, but I think the time has come to change that. I will be a Tennesseean. Or whatever it is that we are called. Memphians, at least. I do know that much.

I couldn't have asked for a better hometown replacement than Memphis. It fits. The work that's going on here is unbelievable. The Memphis Teacher Residency, the program that I am a part of, has done an incredible job of getting us acclimated to the city. We've learned the history of civil rights, of music, of business... areas in which this little town has shaped the trajectory of an entire nation. We've explored neighborhoods, met with and interviewed community leaders, residents, and young people. Many people have come and spoken to us, sharing with us their dreams for the city and what they're doing to help reach them.

I have worked for many years with fellow members of the 20's (and 30's) club as we've struggled to find real world examples of Christians living out their faith. Those not simply in the bubble of church and Christendom, but those who live and interact with regular people. Those who live a life that is focused on them, not us. In Memphis, I have found it many times over.

There are groups like the Binghampton Development Corporation, an organization that does things like purchase run down houses and apartment buildings (many of which were used by drug dealers) to fix them up or tear them down and leave something safe and livable behind. They have created an urban farm in the city to provide produce for poor residents who might not otherwise have healthy food. Infant mortality is the worst in the nation here in Memphis and they are seeking to turn that around. Christ Community Health Services provides healthcare to Americans who live in poverty. They only work in the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Doctors and other medical professionals who work with them actually choose to live in the impoverished neighborhoods that their patients do.  Service Over Self (SOS) serves as a catalyst connecting dilapidated housing with an army of young people from around the nation who come into town to fix it up. All these people are unabashed in stating that their fuel and motivation comes from Christ and seek to tell all those they serve about him. And this is only the tip of the Memphian iceberg (though I don't think an actual iceberg could ever survive in Memphis, even in winter.)

For the past month, I've started the coursework that will give me a Master's degree in Urban Education in May. One class has been completed, with others continuing, while others have yet to begin. This week and next, we (there are 31 of us) are observing the opening 2 weeks at KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle School. It's crazy to think that kids are already starting up their school years but some are! The school I'll be working in doesn't itself start up for about 3 weeks, and the majority of students in Memphis City Schools don't start until then, either.

There are so many great things that have been happening in Memphis and I'm excited to be here and join the work that has been started. I can't wait to see what God has in store.

June 20, 2012

The Memphian Chronicles begin

Well, it's been three and a half weeks since we moved to Memphis. I'm rolling with the classes and preparation required to be an excellent urban educator next fall. Time will certainly tell.

As far as the journey here goes, Ruth wrote a post about it so I'm going to be lazy and direct you to read hers. There are pictures! My post wouldn't have any pictures.

The picture from this post was the result of an image search. Yes, quality blogging here.

Anyway, here's the long and short of it.

Saved moving for the last 4 days before we left.
Because we could.
Rented a moving truck.
Yay, Penske!
Packed all our stuff into it.
Thanks, to an army of friends.
Attached the Jetta behind it.
Drove all day Friday, May 25.
Had lunch at a wonderful little Mexican joint called Taco Bell.
Drank SO MUCH Dr. Pepper.
Arrived in Newcomb, Tennessee.
Spent Friday and Saturday night there with Ruth's family.
Had dinner at Cracker Barrel - I got chicken fried chicken.
Drove Sunday from Newcomb to Memphis.
Did not stop in Nashville.
Arrived in Memphis earlier than expected.
Said hello to Ruth's grandmother.
Checked out new apartment.
Had roast beef at Cracker Barrel.
Unpacked the moving truck on Monday with the assistance of wonderful MTR-ers.
Spent the next couple days getting unpacked and meeting MTR residents.
Began internet connection process with Comcast.
Leilani made a frenemy.
Welcome dinner on that Thursday.
Orientation started that Friday.
Week of orientation.
Stepped on a cockroach.
Met some awesome people.
Went to Stax.
Toured St. Jude.
Classes followed.
Met more awesome people.
Ruth went swimming.
Found a church.
Read a book.
Got connected to the internet two and a half weeks later.


There are some parts that I glossed over that I plan on posting about but probably won't.

If you turn my blog post sideways, though, you can see the skyline of Memphis.

Here's to more exciting dispatches!

May 6, 2012

Memphis Series

So yeah, I'm moving to Memphis later this month. I was thinking my posting my blog posts on Facebook would be enough to get the news out, but then I learned that people aren't on that site on the once a day, couple times a day, every hour, every minute as often as I am.

Since they were spread over several days, I figured having a single post with links to each of them would be helpful for folks to get the story from the hastily written, attempts at clear blog posts that I produced a few weeks ago.

Here are the posts. Clicking on one will open a new window. You're welcome.
Part 1: Six Months Ago
Part 2: To Teach, or Not to Teach
Part 3: Memphis
Part 4: Under Review
Part 5: Chosen

My transitionary period has been filled with all sorts of things that I may or may not post about. I hope to, but I am a sketchy blogger. It will be fun to look back and remember what I was thinking and doing during now. We'll see what happens.

April 22, 2012

I Refuse

After all the events of the Spring 2012 MTR Selection Weekend were through, I was driving to the optional dinner that all applicants were invited to. On the way, I heard for the very time a song called "I Refuse" sung by Josh Wilson.

 Here's the video:


It apparently is a well-known song, but I'm fairly certain it's not on rotation on either of the Maryland Christian radio stations. It might be played, but definitely it's not one of those, "Hey, they just played that song when I was driving to the grocery store, and now I'm on my way home and they're playing it again," sort of songs.

Anyway, as I listened to the words, it really felt that the song was written for me (I along with thousands of others who make that very claim.) Specifically, the lyrics, "I could choose not to move, but I refuse." The "moving" that he is referring to isn't necessarily referring to relocating from Washington, DC to Memphis, Tennessee, but I have decided that it does. It is MY song, after all.

Here are the lyrics in their entirety. I love it. I call it my Memphis theme song.

Sometimes I, I just want to close my eyes
And act like everyone's alright
When I know they're not
This world needs God, but it's easier to stand and watch
I could pray a prayer and just move on
Like nothing's wrong

But I Refuse

I don't want to live like I don't care
I don't want to say another empty prayer
Oh, I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else
To do what God has called me to do myself
I could choose not to move
But I refuse

I can hear the least of these, crying out so desperately
And I know we are the hands and feet of You, oh God
So if You say move, it's time for me to follow through
And do what I was made to do
And show them who You are

I don't want to live like I don't care
I don't want to say another empty prayer
Oh, I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else
To do what God has called me to do myself
I could choose not to move
But I refuse

I refuse to stand and watch the weary and lost cry out for help
I refuse to turn my back and try and act like all is well
I refuse to stay unchanged, to wait another day to die to myself
I refuse to make one more excuse

I don't want to live like I don't care
I don't want to say another empty prayer
Oh, I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else
To do what God has called me to do myself
I could choose not to move
But I refuse

April 2, 2012


This is the final part in this series of posts. Want to see how I got here? Here are the first four:
Part 1: Six Months Ago
Part 2: To Teach, or Not to Teach
Part 3: Memphis?
Part 4: Under Review

After about 40 hours after I returned home, I received a phone call from Remi letting me know that I had been chosen to be a part of the MTR program. Being there felt so right, so I was almost expecting the call. If I wasn't picked, it would have been utterly disappointing. I'm so glad I was.

This job, unlike any other position I have ever had, places me in a situation where I am forced to deal with people where their are. I need to build a relationship with a classroom of students, parents, school faculty and staff, and various members of the community. I will suddenly transform into a person sewn into the fabric of a neighborhood that directly has the ability to help influence the direction of a person's entire life. What I make of it is entirely up to me.

Being a Christian in a church setting is the easiest place for one to be. But actually demonstrating a life; living out the gospel by showing love, justice, sacrifice, grace, dignity, and power to people who might not otherwise every see or feel it is big part of what God calls us to do. It's far easier to talk about it, or even talk about doing it, than actually doing it.

I feel I've been all talk and now I've been given the chance to put it all into action.

I went to college and learned about Government & Politics. I went to seminary and got an M.A. in Religion and am on the verge of completing an M.Div. I've spent about 10 years working directly with high school and college students, and the past 2 working with integrating parents, children, and their church. Oh, and yeah, I had day jobs working getting people post-graduate credentials and in a family law office. I got married and became a parent. Each of these things once felt utterly disconnected. With MTR, all of them click together.

This summer I will begin my preparation to become a teacher in an elementary school in a low-income, urban neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee. The teaching goes beyond the subject matter I'll be hoping my kids learn. I will seek to fill a need in their lives in addition to math, science, or reading. By hoping to be a positive male influencer in their lives, I hope to shine a light into kids lives that may currently exist only in darkness. But much larger than simply me alone, I have the opportunity to join forces with other teachers with the same Christian commitment who seek to revolutionize Memphis schools. 

This is not about talking anything religion-related to any of the kids. Backgrounds will be mixed because it is a public school, after all. Rather, it's all about actually displaying a Christ-like character to everyone we meet. And we stand in lockstep with an even larger community actively at work to transform the city's neighborhoods, healthcare, and employment. These people aren't simply doing these things in silos; they are working collaboratively. Not just because it's a nice thing to do, but it's because it is what God commands.

When the society turns their backs on entire groups of people, Christians are supposed to open their arms.

My seemingly random life in ministry suddenly makes sense.

March 30, 2012

Under Review

This post is number 4 in a series. The previous posts are below:
Part 1: Six Months Ago
Part 2: To Teach, or Not to Teach
Part 3: Memphis?

I submitted my application and didn't know what to expect. Well, I knew that I would be getting a phone interview because all applicants got one. I just didn't know if it would be more a token interview or if it would be legit. After reviewing the program, I felt that career changer types would be well embraced, as well as possibly family guys, but I just wasn't sure. This was a relatively new program so I didn't know if they'd prefer the normally less-bagged, fresh college graduate.

When I received my call at the appointed time, I was a little nervous. I was quickly put at ease a few minutes after talking to Remi, the Pre-Residency Director of the Memphis Teacher Residency program. She had some basic questions for me involving my background and my desire to be a part of the MTR. When it was my turn to ask questions, I aired all my "dirty laundry" - the fact I was married, had a two year old daughter, my slightly non-typical academic background. I just wanted to be sure that we were both on the same page moving forward, and that none of it would become ultimately limiting factors in the end.

As I waited to hear what she'd have to say, I was anxious. I was expecting to be told, "You're right. We typically don't go for people with that sort of background, but it's definitely not impossible." What actually happened was a onslaught of encouragement and examples of how people who were similar to me have been previously accepted into the program. I was so excited.

And then she told me that she thought I was a great candidate, and while others had to wait for the results of their phone interviews, I could go ahead and make plans to attend the second step of the process. This would involve going down to Memphis for their spring Selection Weekend. This was not at all how I had imagined it would go.

I prepared to go to Memphis, and one thing I had to have for the weekend was a 5-minute teaching sample that I would have to present to some of the other candidates for the Residency as well as a group of other observers. After a science project/lesson gone awry, I decided to teach my lesson on how to calculate elapsed time. I needed to print out a boarding pass for my flight down to Tennessee so I had that on my mind. I decided to use that concept as the activity for the students they'd have a real life example of how to use the lesson that I taught.

So early on March 22nd, my dad picked me up to take me to the airport. The fact it was exactly six months from the day that I left my old job that I was boarding a plane for what was possibly the new one was rather poetic. It was smooth sailing out there, and I got there a day in advance to allow an ease into the jam packed weekend. My boarding pass idea came to me on this travel day, and travelling sans computer, I came up with how I hoped things would appear, took a picture, emailed it to my wife, and she quickly turned it around.

Friday was the day I'd begin my in-person interactions with the MTR program, and after a quick stop over at FedEx Office to print out my lesson boarding passes, I met the masses of applicants, residents, graduates, and faculty. For the next two days, what I knew about the program was greatly illuminated. Actually seeing things in action truly was amazing.

I heard the heart and saw the vision that launched a bunch of ships all travelling together toward a big goal - to truly transform the city of Memphis. I felt that everything about my past and my life experience had set me up to be a part of this. There was just so many random things that I just I couldn't imagine how they might all ever fit together in anything I was going to do in my life. But suddenly they all clicked together.

I thought I did well when I actually had to teach my lesson. I mean, I didn't bungle anything and I finished what I had hope to cover within my strict time limit. I only had boarding pass activities for the students and not the observers, but shortly after everyone in our group had taught, one of my group leaders asked me if I had any extra copies for review, which I was able to provide.

I had two separate interviews, one with a staff member and one with a program graduate. I thought both went well. During my staff member interview with Lisa, the Post-Residency coach, I had a great conversation. It was unlike any other interview I had ever been on. There was something that was just so real about it. She was one of my observers during my teaching sample, and she indicated that she was so impressed with ease I had in teaching a difficult topic and my choice of a boarding pass to put the lesson into practice that she had wanted to make copies of it to share with teachers she knew who needed ideas on how to teach it.

This was truly amazing to me because it clearly was something that I believed God provided. It was a lesson that I had to come up with after what I had previously spent a full day preparing collapsed. Those who have witnessed children's stories I have done at church can testify how this sort of thing happens repeatedly in my life.

That evening, I went to an optional dinner for applicants, and I was joined at my table by David, the director of the program. We had a great conversation over our food. Over the course of the weekend, he had shared with the group so many cool things about the program and a larger, collectively shared mission for the city of Memphis that our dinner was the perfect exclamation mark that capped it all off for me.

As I drove away from the dinner, I left feeling that I had done all that I could do over the course of the weekend in all the various events to give them a sense of who I am. There was nothing I wish had gone any differently. They told us that we had to wait until Tuesday of that following week to find out if we had been selected to be a part of the program.

Up until then, I felt like I had to be picked. Not because I thought I thought I was superior to the other candidates. Rather, it was because it seemed my life had perfectly set me up for this. This was the next logical step in nearly every possible way. I had never experienced anything remotely as similar ever before. If this wasn't going to be it, then the next thing had to be so much more amazing. How that could even be, I had no idea.

All I could do was wait.

March 29, 2012


Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: Six Months Ago
Part 2: To Teach, or Not to Teach
Because I indicated I'd be willing to be contacted by other teaching organizations, I had signed myself up to an avalanche of spam. Well, good spam. Spam that I wanted, but couldn't really use.

Most of the emails invited students to spend their first summer after college doing something involving education. Some dealt with actual classroom instruction, others provided tools for schools to use. Opportunities were scattered in various cities across the country. The delete key became my best friend for the few weeks when I was getting a boatload of these messages. I'm not old, but I felt clearly that I was beyond that chapter of life, chronologically, emotionally, mentally, and physically that these organizations are geared towards.

I kept looking for different jobs since the teaching option was done. All that was required for me to jump into it wasn't something I felt I could do at this stage of my life. I needed a job, first of all. Adding another academic pursuit on the side seemed to be too much for my plate.

But then in the midst of the emails, I saw one that jumped out at me. It was a program called the Memphis Teaching Residency. Their description was like the many others I saw about teaching in a low-income, urban public school but this one was somehow done in a Christian context. I was confused and intrigued. I had to learn more. I felt that there had to be something else going on but I didn't know what.

I began doing some research into the program and came across this article in Christianity Today. I learned that it was a smaller part of a larger shared vision for Memphis. On multiple fronts, various organizations were seeking to improve the city in housing, healthcare, youth and education. The desire is for all residents of the city, regardless of who they are, to have their lives improved simply because a bunch of Christians live there.

In teaching, the goal is to simply be the greatest teacher a child living in poverty has ever had. There is no bringing of religion into the classroom. Just simply an individual who demonstrates strong character traits to shine a light into the lives of kids and helps turn them into people who go onto great things for the city of Memphis. This, in conjunction with all the other groups in the city, not simply working at the same time but actually working together, seeks to bring about a transformation to the city like it has never seen before in it's history.

Needless to say, I was excited. This was unlike anything I had ever heard of. And I could possibly be part of it. I decided it was worth the gamble. Tweaking resumes and writing cover letters were time consuming enough, and this was a bit more involved. I took the risk.

I went ahead and applied.

March 28, 2012

To Teach, or Not to Teach

(This is Part 2 in a series. If you haven't read the first blog post, click here.)

While searching for jobs, I began thinking about what I would like to be doing if there were no preconditions to me getting it. Becoming a high school history teacher has always been a thing for me. As I happily read through inches thick volumes (for fun) of true stories of people's lives, typically from the American Revolutionary period, I imagine to myself the excitement that most people miss because it is the ever boring subject of "history." I could be the person who changes their lives with what I have to offer.

I have absolutely zero formal training in the art of teaching. What I do have, however, is volunteer experience teaching high school and college students in a church context for more than ten years. I get teaching, I enjoy teaching. But how could I make the transition into a classroom?

I began looking for methods where one could move into a teaching job without having gone to school for it and stumbled upon an organization called, "Teach for America." Simply stated, their goal is to transform schools across the nation by training recent college graduates (from any background but demonstrate certain leadership traits) and placing them into underperforming schools.

I had found it. Leadership, non-traditional, and their big goal of combating poverty in the US. My heart for kids living in poverty suddenly became awakened in a new way with the realization of the need here in America. The significant need. It all seemed to make sense.

I decided to apply. I was already a bit older than their standard demographic. Additionally, being married and having a daughter really put me outside the norm. With their acceptance rate at below 15%, I knew it'd be an uphill battle, but this seemed to be my ticket to Colorado via a teaching job. I was confident this was it.

I had to tone down my teaching experience and my degree in religion since this was not an organization that might necessarily appreciate that sort of thing, but I balanced it quite well with my employment experience. I had to write a letter of intent which I spent several hours on and it turned out to be quite excellent. I submitted the application with great expectations.

A few weeks went by, and I received word. A typical "Thanks for your application, but...." email sat in my inbox and I was quite disappointed. I had thought this job was it. I was excited about it. But no, this was not to be. They had two checkbox opportunities for them to share my contact information with similar type organizations and faith-based ones so they could contact me with information about their opportunities. I figured I had nothing to lose at this point, but I just felt that this path wasn't the one for me. I was just enough outside the standard demographic of these types of programs, being eight years after college with a family, that I just wouldn't fit.

Back to square one. A dream job not to be.

So now what? I wondered.

March 27, 2012

Six Months Ago

Exactly six months to the day since I resigned from my job, I boarded an airplane. The road to the gate was a long one; winding through the valleys of the unknown, mountains of questions, and a seemingly never-ending plain of uncertainty.

Regret for leaving my old job was never a part of the equation because it truly was one of the best decisions of my life.

Confronted with a world that suddenly became my oyster, I had a rare opportunity to re-evaluate my life and truly consider what I wanted to be when I grew up. What did I want to spend the majority of my waking hours doing?

Initially I believed the next chapter of my life was already written and contained, among other things, a job working to improve the lives of children living in poverty around the world while living in Colorado Springs. A job in an office but now fueled by a passion to serve these kids. However, upon turning the page in the book, I did not find these words. Colorado would still be an eventual destination, but just not yet.

When discussing possible jobs with my parents, my mom reminded me of something about myself that I had long forgotten: I never wanted to work an office job. After graduating from college, it was sort of my only real option, and it's lifestyle that a significant portion of the workforce employs, so it just became a part of mine. So when looking for new jobs to apply for, I actively looked for positions that were not your standard 9 to 5.

Because of my work experience, however, working in an office environment seemed to be a necessary possibility so I applied for plenty of those as well. When all was said and done, I ended up applying for a bunch of jobs in a variety of places including an aquarium, an airline, a state park, a for-profit college, an association, and of course, the government. I even thought of becoming an exterminator. My purpose in getting any of these jobs was primarily for the money. I mean, why else do you get a job, right? And you can only survive so long while being jobless.

Like millions of others of unemployed Americans, none of these doors ended up opening all the way for me.

Part of the stress was that my employment experience, my ministry involvement, and my undergraduate and graduate degrees never together proved to be assets in any of the jobs I applied to. I try to lead a well-rounded life and it was disappointing that this didn't matter in the job-shopping department. Additionally, my heart, my mind, and my skills just never connected with any of the jobs I applied for, either. I am seemingly all over the place. That proverbial square peg living in a sea of circle holes.

Countless jobs applied to, but none being the right one. And boy is job searching grueling and draining.

What's a guy to do?

(Come back next time to hear where the story goes.)

March 15, 2012

Run, elephant, run

On Tuesday evening, I was sitting on the patio with my daughter and we were blowing bubbles. It has been unseasonably warm this week and since my wife was in class, it was up to me to come up with something exciting to do to keep her entertained. Daughters can be satisfied simply cuddling with their mothers, but their fathers have to do something to keep them engaged.

My mom happened to call and let me know later that day (at 8:00 p.m.), there would be an Elephant Walk though the streets of D.C. The circus had come to town, and as a preview, they do a traditional walk through the streets. Having lived in the area for all of my life, it was an event I had never before attended. It was about 6:45 p.m. when I received the call, so if I wanted to attend, I needed to leave immediately. Usually, it takes place during the daytime, but this year was special because it was being done under the lights of night.

I figured I had nothing more exciting in mind we could do for the day, so I hysterically gathered what we needed for the evening - a water bottle and her jeans with a sweater if it cooled down.

When I told Leilani that we were going to see some elephants, she was only semi-enthused. She was perfectly happy rifling through her random piles of toys that she had strewn about. Being the all-wise father that I am, I knew this level of happiness would only last for not very much longer. I told her that the elephants would be exciting, but she requested horses. I tried to share the superiority of the elephants but she didn't seem convinced. Regardless, she was eventually willing to get into the car.

After a quick (45 minute) drive into the city, we found our places along Pennsylvania Avenue right near the U.S. Capitol. For those of you who have never done it, you should check out major DC landmarks at night. It is absolutely the best way to see them. No matter how many times you see them, they never fail to take your breath away. Just like my wife, but I digress.

As we waited for the parade of elephants with an assortment of other locals, a gathering of Americans from various ethnic backgrounds and different ages, the glowing dome of the Capitol illuminated us all as we waited together for that one thing that had brought us there that day. ELEPHANTS!

People were following the progress of the parade on Twitter, shouting out updates for us letting us know about their eminent arrival. And then, they arrived. Please forgive my picture quality as all of these were taken on my cellphone.

There was a line of maybe 15 elephants who marched through the streets. Beside their line, on both sides, were a group of people carrying a rope to serve as a barrier between the public and the massive giants. After the elephants had gone by, I assumed the parade was over and got up to take Leilani down the street so we could follow them. However, to my surprise, the parade continued. There were HORSES!

Before, Leilani was excited with the elephants (as I suspected). However, as the much longer line of horses went by, she was over the moon. Then, there was a collection of clowns and acrobats who marched behind them.

As they went by, they threw out circus memorabilia to the crowd - glowing rings, clown noses, and an occasional t-shirt. The shirt fell right in front of us and Leilani was quick to grab it. We also got several clown noses, but I was excited that she had a circus t-shirt to commemorate our evening.

Leilani was thrilled with the entire evening. She couldn't stop talking about all the things that she was, asking me to make phone calls, both to Ruth and to my parents so that she could tell them about all the things that she did. She talked non-stop mainly about the horses, but also about the elephants, the clown noses, and her t-shirt.

When we got home, I was excited to see what was on the shirt because it was tied up. I was hoping it could be something that she could possibly wear over her bathing suit during the summer. I was imagining a circus tent, an elephant picture, or something along those lines. However, when I opened it, I saw this:

A promotional t-shirt for a music festival from last year. To the giveaway pile, you go!

Luckily for Leilani, she was excited she got a shirt but did not care what it was. Her mind was filled with images of the horses and elephants. When she went to bed that night, she cuddled with her toy plastic horse as she drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, she still couldn't stop talking about it.

Oh, the little things.

February 21, 2012

"I Am Second" by Doug Bender and Dave Sterrett (Review)

This book is simply excellent. Contained within it, you will find short stories of a variety of individuals - from names you've read about in the headlines to those you have never heard of before. All share with you diverse tales from their lives but they all have one thing in common - that moment they realize that God is asking them to make him First.

There are twenty stories here and each is presented in a way where you can hear the storyteller's voice. The writers of each story do not  place themselves in a way that you can tell they are there, but they are. They perfectly fill in the spaces that simply a transcript of an interview would leave out.

The strength of this book is that the stories are short and engaging. I believe even a non-reader can thoroughly enjoy this book. At the end of each chapter, there are barcodes you can scan (or links) that take you to the I Am Second website featuring actual interview videos that feature stories in the same vein as the one you just read.

This book is a great one to give. As you are reading it, I'm sure you will have people in mind that might benefit from reading it. It is a perfect evangelistic tool for the modern crowd because it's engaging, techy interactive, and begins with a baseline of names that would be familiar to the reader. I can't think of a single way to improve it.

Five stars (out of five).

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.

January 9, 2012

Good morning



For the passed three and a half months, I've had the rare opportunity to stay at home with my family and not go to work. And miraculously, my roof is still above my head, and there is still food in my fridge.

One (just one) of the best parts of the deal is hearing a voice calling out to me from her room asking me to get her.

In my most recent prior life, I woke up each weekday at 5:30 a.m. and was out the door by 6:17 a.m. (after which point I'd miss my bus). But now, my daughter's day begins and I am actually physically present. It's cool. It's amazing. It's sad that it can't always be "normal."

I'm not sure how the next work/life combination will manifest itself, but I sure am enjoying the meanwhile.