Please Keep Going

I can’t tell how you interpret most of what I say.  We talk enough for me to have some understanding.  Perhaps, I’m simply slow.  Still, you remind me that conversations are full of so many more things than words.  I suppose, in that way, you push me into contemplation, into the long corridor where words are far behind us.  As for what you said, about the writing project in front of you, I hope you know that I’m in the circle of your biggest supporters.  Get it done, and savor as much of the getting as you can.  I’ll be the one wearing glasses at the end of the finish line, reminding you of your greatness and of the next race that’s set before you.  Please keep going.

Choosing To Be A Dad

I think a lot about work/life balance these days.  How to balance career and family and how much my level of effort at work balances my level of effort at home.

We just finished a release at work and while the high fives were going around, I left. I walked out of the building at a few minutes after five. I had worked hard these past few months to get the release out the door, I was proud of my effort, but I only wanted to see my daughter.  Walking out of that building, I felt an immense sense of accomplishment and pride in what I had done there.  Walking into my apartment at 5:45 on a Friday and being greeted with “Daddy’s home” I forgot it all.

Why is it so hard to leave work at work?  I know that my family needs me more than my job does.  I know that a few extra minutes at home could mean the difference between being there for and missing a First. And yet there is a struggle.  Is it the immediacy of the problems at work?  Is it the sense of accomplishment or a swelling ego that causes me to work beyond what is required? Is it because my parents taught me how to work hard and I’m just applying life lessons?

I think it’s actually a lot simpler than that, for me at least.  The reality of the situation is that I’m good at my job and doing well makes me happy.  When I’m at home, I’m not as good.  I’m more necessary but less effective. I’m more likely to get pooped on than to save the day with a solution.  I’m more likely to miss a cue for hunger than see through the noise for that one necessary thing.  Being home is harder than being at work and I think that I, as a dad, need to admit that to myself and to my wife.

The hallmark of my next step of maturation will be to be present in situations that are difficult and to go there, even when more comfort lies elsewhere.  It’s not about work/life balance.  It’s about choosing to be a dad with a job instead of an employee with two roommates.

“…many teachers do have children…”

I’m pasting part of a fine reflection from The Crunk Feminist Collective, the rest of which you can read here.  She was writing Monday in response to the strike that just ended today in my city:

What I do not hear is any recognition that my friend may want to have children or that many teachers do have children which should not decrease their ability to be teachers.

My experience working in labor taught me that I had to look at the whole person.  A teacher is not just a worker, then a parent, then a spouse, then a daughter, then a grad student, then an active church member, then an involved member of the polity, then a block captain for her street.  She is all of those things at once.  A ten hour work day, with impromptu mandatory meetings at 5:30pm, or an Open House at 6pm after the ten hour day is exactly what unions should be fighting against.  The lions share of the burden for improving our children’s education can not rest on the shoulders of women.  Teachers need protections and they must have the ability to exercise their voice to fight for the rights of children in the classroom, and to protect the best interests of their households as members of Chicago communities.

Faith Like Hers

Everybody needs a reason (or a couple dozen) to keep at the work that they do.  Spiritual leaders included.  Those reasons come in the form of conversations where people explain how their faith is developing, periodic check ins when a guy says something about God that sticks in you, an email where a woman says how she’s praying for you, and a host of other reminders that the work you do matters.

And then there are those moments when you get a reason for the work you do while, at the same time, being reminded of the overall point of your work.  The point, for instance, of a pastor’s work is not for that pastor to feel any particular way about his or her work.  That pastor’s work is entirely about the explicit and continued lifting up of Someone else while he himself (in my case) is changed by that Someone.

I read Ashley Moy-Wooten’s testimony a few weeks ago.  Then, she passed it to me and a few folks in our church after she posted it on Undocumented.tv, a blog focusing on how immigration is a missional opportunity for churches.  I hope Ashley’s words can remind you that God can use people that you’re around, people you’re working with and for, to reach you.  She has echoed parts of my heart in her testimony.  The faith community of God’s church has been for me how she’s describing people in her work.  God can remind you, perhaps, through her words, that there is an overall point to what you do.

When identifying that her relationships with immigrants were ways that God reached her, Ashley says,

I would have never guessed that the people I felt I was fighting for would actually end up being the biggest blessing to me that I would ever receive in my lifetime—the gift of faith and encounter with God.

She goes on to say,

What continues to astound me every day, though, is how powerful our God is, and how easily He can turn a top on the other side as it continues to spin. What many of the people I’ve worked with will never know is just how indebted I am to them.

If you’d like to read the entire post, please click here.

Why You Shouldn’t Work From Home

I tried to work from home on a Tuesday one week after my wife returned to work from maternity.  I set myself up to work on a sermon, to connect regarding a building project, to reply to multiple emails, and to have a conference call.  I was only to be home until early afternoon.  One of the grandmothers was to come. 

It was my personal disaster.  I got little finished.  I felt frustrated by unmet expectations and a growing ignorance for what life would really be like with a newborn.

By the time maternal grandmother knocked on the door, I really only accomplished the call and replying to emails–all between screaming sessions provided by my strong-lunged son.  I left home, rushed in head to get to the office or to the LBP or to any other place where I could do non-domestic things.  I was at work for the next six hours, partly getting things done and partly regaining something left in the open-mouthed screams of my kid.

Equilibrium.  I learned about that word in seminary.  Every person, every family, every couple develops an equilibrium and tries to stick at it.  Equilibrium has to do with being consistent despite change.  We maintain ourselves and our relationships even though things change around us and in us.  We maintain equilibrium, the result of something inside us.

Balance is the vehicle that maintains equilibrium.  If you are centered, you got there through balance.  If you’re off, well, you get it.

Upon first thought, I’d say that balance is a dance I’m good at.  But I often confuse balance with the ability to do multiple things at once.  That’s not balance.  Balance sits in the background, or it rests underneath our busy legs and hands.  Balance is at the center, sticking around with its cousin equilibrium.  Balance is the unmoving anchor inside us.  It enables you to keep your wits.  Being balanced keeps your emotions from overtaking you or your intellect from ushering your heart out of the house. 

I think one of the essential tools to using balance to maintain equilibrium is concentration.  The ability to keep paying attention to the same thing.  The skill of giving yourself to something despite the other somethings around you.  When you can concentrate or focus on something, you can acheive equilibrium.  Balance is easier.  But the opposite is true when you can’t concentrate.  You grasp at things you can’t catch.  You feel split.  You see things as disconnected rather than connected. 

This is why I can’t work from home.  And if you can’t maintain focus, if you can’t concentrate while being at home, you shouldn’t work from home either.  You should work where you can thrive.  You should work in a space where what you need for the work you do is present.  If you need silence, working on a busy city street corner leads to unproductivity.  If you require people, don’t go to the unpopulated trees of the Dan Ryan woods.  If you need visual stimuli, why go to a dark room?  If you need less activity on the eyes, why toil in an art gallery?

Questions for you: Describe your work space, what is it like?  What keeps you balanced?