Thankful for the big picture

Public praise, private critique.

Perhaps that’s a New Year’s resolution. Oops, wrong holiday.

But maybe not. Thanksgiving is a good time for public praise.

(Private critique will remain that. Social media aficionados, take note. Chill out and be more positive. End of rant.)

In my first full year of retirement from paid work, I jumped into three significant volunteer projects. All three are worth a little public praise.

After-school basketball

First – and no doubt, the toughest – is an after-school basketball ministry organized by the youth director at our church’s new Lorain, Ohio, campus (which hasn’t even opened yet).

boys pray

In the spring, Joe sought volunteers to help him reach neighborhood youth through basketball. I’ve played pickup ball – never in a league – and our three sons all played recreation basketball as children, so I’ve been around the game for a long time. I try to keep myself in somewhat decent shape, so I decided to give it a shot.

The church building is an old YMCA that is still being transformed into a church, but we’ve been using the big gym all along. We enter through a side door now while the rest of the building is under renovation.

Sometimes, I wonder why I’m there. How does a retired white guy from the suburbs connect with inner-city kids of multiple races and ethnicities?

The answer: Slowly.

As the weather turns cold, I’ve been taking one or several of them home after the hoops is done. That might be where “ministry” is beginning to form. I’m seeing a window into their lives outside of the formal basketball program.

Some of them are hungry. Some of them have broken families. Some have values that I’m not comfortable with.

I don’t judge. I’m just listening at this point. Not probing too much – I’m not aggressive that way.

But I’m thankful to connect with these young men (and the occasional woman who comes with them).

This is a long-term ministry. Hearts don’t change overnight. First, we have to connect. That’s not in my comfort zone. But this is the kind of thing that the living God is doing.

I don’t have to do this. Yet here I am. Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity to serve You.

Food pantry

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Also this spring, I began volunteering at a food pantry in South Lorain. I’ve always had a soft heart for hunger issues – I’ve never been hungry in my life, literally. I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal is coming from. Many people can’t say that.

crop walk logo

In Saginaw, Mich., I was treasurer and off-and-on coordinator for the Saginaw CROP Hunger Walk, an annual walk that raises funds and awareness of hunger issues, for more than 20 years. We lived in Rockford, Ill., for a little over a year and I connected with the CROP Walk folks there too. Here in Elyria, the CROP Walk leaders have no passion for the ministry and I wasn’t up to the effort of trying to fire them up, so I looked for other opportunities.

Enter We Care We Share, a 12-year-old food pantry on a shoestring budget that serves thousands of needy residents every year.

The pantry’s volunteer coordinator attends the same church I do. He invited me (and others) to participate, since more volunteers were (and still are) needed.

He didn’t tell me he was going on vacation, so one Tuesday I just showed up. Didn’t know anyone there. Told them who I was and why I was there. They invited me to stay, so I did – for four hours that afternoon. Then, they invited me back.

So I came back. And I’ve been coming back, two afternoons a week, ever since.

We’re family. We laugh, pray together, rib each other, volunteer together, serve together, pitch in wherever needed. We’re on the front lines of fighting hunger. We hand out dozens of food boxes each day – non-perishable goods, meat, bread, fruits and vegetables – whatever Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Ohio delivers to us on Monday afternoons.

Young families just getting started. Senior citizens in poor health who can’t even carry their food box to their vehicle. Many adults with kids and grandkids in their household. Some say, “I wish they’d leave” – not to be mean, but to get out on their own and learn to support themselves, and to give the older adult a little peace. We are there during the transition.

Residents get evicted, and frequently change addresses. A few are homeless.

We serve them all, face to face.

As with the basketball kids, I can’t relate. I don’t have to do this.

I never want to take the material things of life for granted. God has given me a heart to serve folks down on life, struggling to make it.

There’s no quick fixes here, either.

All we can do is serve. And pray.

So that’s what we do.

I’m grateful for this opportunity.

Bible study group leader

Third, I was asked to be a group leader this fall for Bible Study Fellowship, an international in-depth Bible study that this year is studying Acts in the New Testament. I attended the 30-week class for the previous two years, and the leadership there thought enough of me to invite me to step up my involvement.

bsf photo

As with basketball and We Care We Share, BSF is a major time commitment. There is “homework” for each class member to do before we meet on Tuesday evenings.

I’m at a satellite class in Avon, Ohio – one of three satellites around the main program in Parma Heights, just past Cleveland International Airport from where I live.

The leaders of all four areas – about 40 of us total – gather at 6:30 a.m. Saturdays to go over the upcoming week’s lesson, and to receive leadership training. I set my alarm at 5 a.m. to ensure I get there on time.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world. We begin our time literally on our knees in prayer.

I’m shepherding a dozen guys in my class every week. I keep in touch when they miss. Some have health issues of their own or of family members, and some travel for work. We pray for each other.

This week, three guys attended who had missed two to four weeks each for various reasons, and all three said they missed our discussions. They want to come every week. Circumstances sometimes prevent that. Life happens.

Again, relationships take time. As a leader, I have to be pro-active. I’m learning as I go.

The big picture

2019 has been a year of beginnings for me, changes and challenges. The honeymoon periods soon will be over, if they aren’t already.

That’s when ministry will begin.

Time to take the next step. Next steps, actually.

Hope you’re as thankful for the big picture of your life as I am of mine.

Together, we find solutions

“I’m hungry. I need a box.”

Several clients have said this to me as I check them in at We Care We Share, a food pantry and clothing closet on East 31st Street in South Lorain, Ohio.

Residents across the county can pick up a food box every four weeks at our food pantry. There are other pantries around and many of our patrons visit them as well. There’s nothing wrong with that.

People are hungry.

In the United States.

Food insecurity

One in five children in Ohio is “food insecure,” John Corlett, president and executive director of the Cleveland-based Center for Community Solutions, told several hundred of us who attended the inaugural Child Hunger Summit on Thursday at Lorain County Community College in Elyria.

Corlett defined food insecurity as “a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life.”

One in five children lives in such a household. 20 percent of our impressionable young people.

Hunger stretches beyond an empty stomach, Corlett continued. Children in food-insecure households have higher rates of asthma, depression, ADHD (which can lead to discipline and behavior issues in school) and hospital emergency room visits. Food-insecure parents have more stress, anxiety, depression and anger, Corlett said.

A comprehensive approach

That’s why the Lorain-based Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio hosted the Child Hunger Summit. The event brought together business professionals, educators, non-profit leaders, government officials and others to brainstorm ways to overcome food insecurity.

It takes a wide-ranging, comprehensive approach. Stagnant wages, unhealthy lifestyles and government programs that too often exclude those who need them all are issues that hungry people face.

Half of food-insecure families in Ohio don’t qualify for SNAP because they make a little too much money to qualify for the federal food assistance program, Corlett said.

Families seeking public assistance – and those who receive it – often are stigmatized as lazy people who sit around accepting handouts. But most people on assistance programs, including SNAP, hold down one or more jobs and still can’t make ends meet, Corlett said.

He advocated expanding basic programs such as SNAP and WIC – which assists pregnant women and families with infants and children up to age 5 – to reach more people who need them.

Living wages

He also urged employers to provide living wages.

While not a poverty issue, this is a main sticking point in the United Auto Workers’ strike against General Motors Corp., which began earlier this week. Many workers, especially new hires, can’t afford to buy the vehicles they make.

Autoworkers also are seeking job security, noting that GM made a big profit last year – $35 billion, according to some accounts.

At the We Care We Share food pantry, I see families – often with a single mom as head of household – who move frequently. It’s not unusual for the address in our computer to be different than the address on her driver’s license. It’s also not unusual for her to give me yet another address.

Food insecurity has many ramifications.

I don’t probe, but I wonder if at least some of these families were evicted. Or at least have trouble making a rent payment.

Improvements uneven

Statistics show that food insecurity has dropped a little since 2008 as the economy has improved, but Corlett noted that the economic gains have been uneven. Wages have not kept pace, he said. And in 2016, household food insecurity was twice as bad for families led by African-American or Hispanic parents than for families led by whites.

The federal government can help food-insecure families, Corlett said. The Earned Income Tax Credit is the best government program to reduce poverty by providing income through the tax system, he said.

Second best is SNAP, followed by the child care tax credit.

SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – reduces adult obesity by 16 percentage points and increases the likelihood of children completing high school by 18 percentage points, he said. (The median SNAP benefit for households with young children is $12.86 per day – often for a household of two or three people, so that money doesn’t go very far.)

And yet SNAP, WIC and Medicaid participation are dropping, for several potential reasons:

  • Those programs have been automated and not everyone has access to a computer. SNAP benefits are loaded on a card that recipients spend at stores that participate, for example.
  • Some needy residents do not speak fluent English, and there’s isn’t as much guidance from volunteers and government agencies to apply for and navigate these programs. (I’ve seen this at the food pantry as well. Thankfully, we have three Spanish-speaking volunteers who translate for us when a client speaks little or no English.) In the United States, Corlett said, more than 20 percent of families with children younger than 6 speak a language other than English at home.
  • WIC – a federal supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children – reaches about 52 percent of eligible participants in Lorain County, the same as the state average, said Marissa Wayner, WIC director for Lorain County Public Health in Elyria. That has declined in recent years. Fewer people are eligible, she said. Other issues include:
  • Lack of awareness of the program.
  • Not knowing who qualifies.
  • Federal immigration policies.
  • Stigma at the store: Am I buying unqualified items?

SNAP and other federal programs are not intended to provide all of a family’s food, said Sandy Moraco of Elyria-based Lorain County Department of Job & Family Services. The “S,” after all, stands for “Supplemental.”

Starting Oct. 1, Moraco said, eligible families may apply for SNAP benefits by phone: (844) 640-OHIO. That will save time and require fewer in-person visits by clients, she said.

Working together

The bottom line?

Food insecurity has multiple causes and requires multiple solutions. All of us in this country must work together to ensure that our residents have access to the most basic rights of human life.

A full stomach. Knowing where our next meal is coming from. Access to health care. A roof over our heads that we can afford.

I haven’t mentioned transportation, but that’s an issue too. We need a dependable way to get to work, to the doctor’s office, to the grocery store.

Most of us take these things for granted. We shouldn’t.

That’s why I volunteer at a food pantry. Perhaps there are other things I can do as well to help those around me overcome food insecurity.

Will you join me in this effort?

The reason we’re here: To touch a life

I scroll past the vast majority of memes I see online because they are shallow and often untrue. They are easily misunderstood. I speak from experience; I comment on them occasionally, and have been told I missed the point.

But this one caught my attention. For one, I hadn’t seen it before. For two, I like the message it presents.

I actually like it.

… touch the past, touch a rock

My wife and I recently spent a weekend at the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. We touched rocks, and other things.

creation 5

Both attractions were designed and built by Answers in Genesis, an organization that “advocates Young Earth creationism on the basis of its literal, historical-grammatical interpretation of the Book of Genesis,” according to Wikipedia. While there, I bought a book, “A Flood of Evidence; 40 reasons Noah and the Ark still matter” by Ken Ham, who founded Answers in Genesis in 1994, and Bodie Hodge, his son-in-law.

They use the Bible to prove itself.

If you believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, which I do, that’s fine, but I don’t see this book convincing anyone of its truths who doesn’t accept the Bible’s inerrancy. That eliminates most Americans.

The book, the Ark and especially the Creation Museum use rocks to explain how fossils formed quickly when plants (mostly) and animals died. Plants and animals that die naturally don’t fossilize; they decay. It took a quick catastrophic event, such as Noah’s Flood, to bury plants and animals in a hurry, allowing them to fossilize.

Noah’s Flood also formed the Grand Canyon. That masterpiece of God’s creation was not formed over millions of years by a tiny river. The book and museum discuss this too.

And they mention Mount St. Helens which, when it erupted in 1980 and again in 1982, made rock formations in hours and days that scientists previously thought took millions of years.

Rocks, as this meme indicates, are a window to the past. We interpret the rocks differently, depending on what we’re looking for.

But the past is gone. We can’t change it. We interpret it and try to re-interpret it (are some people truly trying to say the Holocaust never existed, or that man never walked on the moon?). We study the past to learn how best to live today. Or, that should be why we study the past.

… touch the present, touch a flower

I’ve been on a weeding kick recently. Our yard and gardens are full of them, unfortunately. It seems like it’s a never-ending battle. Weeds choke off plants and flowers.

flowers

I’m not an expert on flowers, but I see them bloom for a time, then disappear. Annuals bloom for one season, then die. Perennials bloom year after year, going dormant during the winter, then re-emerging in all their beauty in the spring.

I think this is what the meme is trying to say. Flowers are beautiful today. We enjoy them in the present. We’d better, because tomorrow they’re gone.

Even perennials don’t live forever. They have to be replaced with other flowers eventually, if you want to keep your garden colorful.

A sunset. A rainbow. Sparkling ripples on a slow-moving lake or river. A fall color tour. A gentle breeze.

Such beauty. Nature can be so wonderful.

Then, it changes. The beauty is gone.

Night. The storm that precedes the rainbow. Crashing waves. A frigid winter snow. No breeze at all in 90-degree heat.

We endure, hoping for the touch of a flower once again.

… touch the future, touch a life

People matter. We so often forget this.

If you’ve read this far, hopefully I have touched you at some level.

But touching a life involves so much more than words on a printed page.

wcws 2

I volunteer at a food pantry twice a week. I’ve met an 18-year-old girl who is head of household for her family of six. Her mother passed away a year ago, and now she’s in charge at home. At 18.

We at the food pantry can help her for a day or two. What then?

I also volunteer at a once-a-week after-school pick-up basketball ministry that our church youth director organizes. After playing for a couple of hours on a recent Thursday, one of the young men told us how he’s trying to build a life for himself and lead his teenage brother down the right path, even though both of their parents – who are separated – are drug addicts.

Can we make a difference in the lives of either of these families? Are we touching the future when we connect with young people at these events?

I come home to a nice house in a decent neighborhood. No one is forcing me to touch a life.

Actually, that’s not true.

Since I call myself a Christian, and since I try to live by the Bible, God Himself commands in that Bible that I must connect with other people at some level.

You are watching. I know you are. If I call myself a Christian, what do you see?

I must serve.

Far too many “Christians” use the Bible to try to justify sinful lifestyles. Jesus was crucified for saying exactly this. The apostle Paul was stoned, flogged and beaten for saying exactly this.

What does it mean to touch a life?

It’s not about me, trying to justify myself at all. That’s an easy way to identify “fake Christians.” What’s our motive? Is it to serve others? Is it to touch a life?

This will be our legacy. If we want to touch the future, we MUST touch a life. That life will continue on after I’m gone.

Already, I’ve lived in South Euclid, Ohio; Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; New Kensington, Pa.; East Lansing, Mich.; Ridgewood, N.J.; Pickford, St. Ignace and Saginaw, Mich.; Rockford, Ill.; and Elyria, Ohio.

I touch people, and I’m gone. You touch me, and I leave. I take part of you with me wherever I go.

Because you have touched my life.

Thank you.

I hope I am worthy of your time. I hope I have helped you get just a little closer to God because I was there.

Don’t be too hard on me when I let you down. I try not to criticize when I see others fall. We’re in this life together.

The future will change because both of us are here in the present. That’s a given.

How will the future change? For good or evil?

May the rock and the flower guide us as we learn how to touch a life. No matter where our lives take us.

The story continues

Tell me your story.

Such a simple thing, really.

Actually, it’s not.

But instead of me trying to tell you how to live your life, I’ll just listen.

Tell me your story.

Don’t give me your politics. I want to hear your story.

Your real life.

This isn’t about immigration, unless you are one. This isn’t about Washington, unless you live there. This isn’t about race relations, about what other people did or didn’t do to you.

Just tell me your story.

Could you do that?

I’m a private person in many ways. There are some parts of my story I won’t tell you. Thoughts I have, things I’ve said or done (or not said or not done that I should have).

When I was job-searching as an older adult, I had trouble with this. I didn’t come across well, or maybe my story wasn’t what a prospective employer wanted to hear.

There were times I was passed over for a job when I said to myself, “I could have done that job. I’m more qualified than the person they hired – and I’d have stayed longer than that person did.”

I’ve never felt comfortable tooting my own horn. Look at me, how special I am.

That’s not my story.

So, what is my story?

The secular and the divine

I’m a child of the living God.

That underscores everything I am. Employers don’t care about that, but that affects my mindset, the way I think, the way I work, the way I relate to people, the way I live my life.

Some days, like today, I’m home alone for a good chunk of the day. I’m OK with that. In fact, I like that. I don’t mind being alone for long periods of time.

I went for a jog this morning. Finished a Bible study lesson for tomorrow night. Had lunch. Am writing this blog now. May read a book or magazine later this afternoon.

That’s a good day for me.

As a child of the living God, I have time these days to read and meditate on things that matter. I do things that are meaningful. Not always, of course, but that’s the goal.

What else is my story about?

I’m a husband and father. And a son – my parents live about 2.5 hours away from here, and since they aren’t getting any younger, I need to make an effort to see them every so often. We saw them two weekends ago.

I’m a journalist. Even though I’m not working in the profession any more, I still think like one. And I write – just not for a specific publication. I am my own editor. I learned how to do that during my working days.

I try not to judge you. I have opinions, of course, as you do, but I try to respect you, whether I agree with your stances or not.

You won’t catch me using derogatory language in reference to anyone. If I ever do, I hope you’ll let me know.

This is the journalist and the Christian converging in me, the secular and the divine.

“Separation of church and state” is impossible. Oops – I made a political statement, which I said we shouldn’t do. But the divine influences the secular in a multitude of ways.

You know this is true.

I am a journalist and a Christian. I cannot separate them. This is who I am.

I’m not an expert in either role, but I’m learning. Still. I’ve been at it for awhile now. I worked as a journalist for about 30 years, and I asked Christ into my heart as a teenager, more than 40 years ago.

Am I tooting my own horn?

Something new

I’m not afraid to try new things.

When my long-term job at The Saginaw News ended, I took a job at Morley Companies in Saginaw, Mich. Morley, among many other things, contracts with various companies and governments to operate call centers.

I hate the telephone. I have to interrupt whatever I’m doing to answer it. I’m an introvert, so I’m not big on talking anyway.

Therefore, I worked in a call center, wearing a headset for eight hours a day. For two and a half years.

That forced me out of my comfort zone. I had to learn how to talk, at least a little bit.

A couple of months ago, I decided to volunteer with a local food pantry. One day I just showed up. A friend volunteers there but he wasn’t present that day. So I spent four hours with about a dozen people whom I’d never met before.

Introverts don’t do things like that. But I did. And I enjoyed it.

I serve there twice a week now. I guess they like me – they even made me a name tag. And I’m taking an online class to learn new skills that hopefully will help the organization in other ways.

But I’m not interested in padding the resume. It’s not like I do things just to do them.

During my working days, I enjoyed getting up in the morning. I liked my job. A lot. I was part of a team, and we got along very well together. We put out a great product, every day. Subscribers bought the newspaper, and interacted with it.

These days, I also enjoy getting up in the morning, but for different reasons. Many days I schedule activities to keep me busy and interacting with people. Since I’m an introvert and my stamina isn’t always strong (I had pneumonia a long time ago and I tire easily), I don’t mind the occasional day of rest. Sometimes more than occasional.

Attending a funeral of a family member recently, I talked with a cousin who lives in Washington state. I don’t see him very often. He asked me what I’m up to, and I told him I’m retired and enjoying being a volunteer.

“I’m tired of the rat race,” I said.

“I enjoy the rat race,” my cousin told me.

That’s cool, I said. And I meant it. He does enjoy the “rat race,” and he’s good at it. He owns a business that is thriving.

That’s his story.

And that’s mine.

We’re wired differently, even though we are related.

It’s all good.

The story continues.

What’s your story?

A new chapter in the book of life

We recently revisited a chapter in our lives that closed six years ago – at the same time as new chapters are being written.

Our youngest son started graduate school this week at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich. In a whirlwind weekend, we helped him move from Ypsilanti to Mount Pleasant, about a two-hour drive, to help him start a new chapter.

We drove up to Michigan Friday night to stay with our oldest son, who also helped with the move. Saturday morning in a drizzle, we loaded up our son’s belongings, then under overcast skies helped him get settled in his new apartment.

On the way, we drove past Michigan State University, where my wife and I met in the early 1980s. The sun came out during that part of our trip. Of course. The sun always shines in East Lansing, right? (Even though we had to take two detours to get from I-96 to U.S. 127.)

Saturday evening, we left our sons in Mount Pleasant (the oldest graduated from CMU earlier and planned to introduce his brother to a few friends to help him get settled). We drove to Saginaw, where our family wrote the longest chapter in our lives.

Reminiscing

We lived in Saginaw for 27 years, by far the longest I’ve lived anywhere. We raised our three sons there. We connected with a church family, our sons’ friends, people we met at their schools, volunteers we met in the community. I had a wonderful job there.

Sunday morning, we attended the church where we served while we lived there. While some people have moved on and new folks attend now, we saw many friends from that chapter in our lives.

We met several of them as soon as we arrived. “We’re having church in the parking lot,” I told the 11 a.m. worship leader, who arrived shortly after we did.

The worship leader and his wife were married the same day we were, the same year. We each raised three children alongside each other. Those kind of friendships last a lifetime.

We reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen in a couple of years, since the last time we visited. We exchanged many hugs and handshakes and smiles.

We didn’t drive past the old house this time, or visit other places where memories were made. The weekend was already full. We drove 600 miles in 48 hours.

As we reminisced with old friends about good times and how life has changed for us all, we focused on the good memories. We do that, don’t we? The good old days. We overlook the hard times and remember the good times. Or, we try to.

Turning the page quickly

My job there was eliminated in 2009, and we left Saginaw in 2012. The chapters in our lives – especially mine – since then became shorter and more numerous.

A little over a year in Rockford, Illinois. A new job in Elyria, Ohio, which lasted 13 months. We’d had enough of out-of-state moves by then, so we’ve stayed here. After an 11-month search, I landed another job – the first non-office job I’d had since I graduated from college. I worked directly with adults with developmental disabilities.

That chapter in my life lasted 2.5 years, ending just a couple of weeks ago. It ended suddenly, but it was time.

I’ve always had a passion for serving my community. Even when I was working full-time and raising three children, I found time to volunteer with several organizations, mostly dealing with children or hunger issues.

In retirement, I dream of becoming a full-time volunteer, doing various things. Here in Elyria, I’ve continued one or two volunteer activities I’ve been involved with for many years. But as with any chapter in life, some doors have closed, and a few new ones have opened.

A new chapter

Now that I don’t answer to a supervisor anymore, a new chapter has just begun.

Our church is opening its third satellite campus in a nearby city. When the recently-hired pastor shared his vision for the campus with those of us who attended an informational meeting, I got excited. His vision is similar to the vision of the church in Saginaw where we raised our sons.

Is this where God wants us now? We haven’t made that formal decision yet. We’re still praying, still considering.

The pastor has organized a weekly morning prayer group at the new location – which isn’t scheduled to open for worship services until next spring, but which is launching other programs even now – to begin connecting with each other and seeing where we each may fit in. Since I’m not working now and I have the time, I showed up on a recent morning.

About a dozen of us prayed. We were done in a half-hour, so we could get on with our day. It was beautiful.

Our church has been trying to open this campus for several years, but the timing wasn’t right. Plans kept falling through. Until now.

I enjoy being a small part of something big, whether it’s a company, a volunteer agency or a church. What’s my niche?

During this transition time for me, I likely will seek new roles, as well as expand current roles.

In the past I liked structure. My primary job was newspaper copy editor. While the news changed every day, the deadlines I faced did not. I knew my role, and tried to do it well. Reporters love the variety in their job – new experiences, new people to meet, not knowing what they were going to write about that day. My job, in the office, was to take those written experiences and help transform them into a newspaper.

News happens 24/7 but a copy editor’s job occurs on a regular schedule, so the paper reaches your doorstep at roughly the same time every day. Everyone at the paper plays a part in making that happen. Everyone – reporters, editors and many others – is needed.

Until newspaper executives started eliminating copy desks, including the one where I worked, to save money. But that’s a different story.

Bottom line: When that job ended, the structure in my life ended too.

I haven’t always handled it well.

An open book

I do have a creative streak in me. Will it come out now? Can I be flexible? Can I be happy doing different things each day?

These decisions don’t have to be made immediately. We will see how God leads me, and us.

The next chapter of my life begins with a blank page. It’s not entirely blank, of course; I’m not starting over completely.

But I am changing direction.

Has God been preparing me for this moment?

Perhaps I’ll have an answer for that question soon; possibly, it will take some time before I know.

Either way, it’s time to start writing.

Finding passion in the midst of constant change

Nothing lasts on Earth. Nothing at all.

Is that a good thing?

Depends on your outlook.

If you are adventurous, you like doing new things all the time. You create change. Things that last probably bore you.

If you prefer security, commitment and long-term involvement, then change gets in the way. You might even fear it.

What if change comes, and you wish it wouldn’t?

I’m finding it hard to remain committed to much of anything these days. Maybe I have some secret anger, a restlessness, an insecurity, an impatience with something that keeps me from things that last.

Perhaps it’s none of those things. Perhaps this is just the way life is.

Short-term volunteering

For example, I enjoy mentoring elementary-age students through local schools. Many children these days need a good male role model. If I can help, I enjoy doing that.

Our church in Saginaw, Mich., partnered with the elementary school across the street, and that’s where I first got involved. I showed up at lunchtime and played games with the student, ate lunch with him, and gave him encouragement. Sometimes I helped him with homework that he didn’t finish in the morning.

That lasted a couple of years, until we moved to Rockford, Ill. A month or two after we moved there, I found a reading program through Rockford Public Schools. That winter/spring and the following fall, I spent an hour in a classroom, reading with four students whom the teacher sent to me in 15-minute segments. I assisted them with words they had trouble pronouncing, and I helped with their comprehension – do you understand what you are reading?

We moved away after a year to Elyria, Ohio. I found a lunchtime mentoring program at Midview Schools in nearby Grafton. After a year, that program disappeared and I never heard from the school district again.

So I connected with Greater Cleveland Volunteers, which introduced me to My Mentor My Friend, a lunchtime mentoring program at four elementaries in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  I picked the school on the west side of Cleveland (the other three schools all were on the east side), and mentored three students there in a little more than a year.

Trying to make a difference

My first student there moved away in the summer. My second student, probably a loner like me, seemed uncomfortable with the one-on-one attention and dropped out of the program. My third student also moved away this summer.

That’s the lifestyle of the typical low-income inner-city student. Many live with one parent, or in the case of one of my students, with Grandpa. The parent often rents and moves across town frequently. My last student told me his dad got a job in Arizona, and he was planning to move out there to be with him. Dad said Cleveland was too violent. The student had anger management issues and it wasn’t unusual for him to be on suspension when I showed up to mentor.

Did I make a difference? Only God knows. I will never see the long-term results of any student I have mentored thus far, in any district in any state.

That’s just the way it is.

And now, My Mentor My Friend lost its United Way funding and has ended.

The Cleveland school district might keep the mentoring program going on its own. We’ll see. I’m also looking into another mentoring program in Lorain, which is nearer to my home. Either way, it’s another new start.

Elyria City Schools doesn’t have a mentoring program, a teacher there told me recently, because of the work involved to set up and administer such a program. I get that. When a man wants to work with children, red flags go up, don’t they?

At each school district, I had to pass a background check. In Cleveland, I also faced two interviews, fingerprinting and had to provide references – as intensive as any job interview I’ve had.

A year and a half later, is it all for naught?

Where’s the passion?

I’ve had trouble keeping jobs long-term as well. I had one job that lasted eight weeks. The job in Rockford lasted 14 months. My first job here in Elyria lasted 13 months. My next job lasted 2.5 years, but I got burned out. Without going into details, that job is over too.

I enjoy volunteering in the community. Mentoring, yes, but doing other things as well.

It’s me and God now. I no longer answer to a supervisor.

Will I find work again? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Financially, we are doing well.

And, as I said, I’m burned out. Impatient. Perhaps angry.

I have no home on Earth. I’ve felt that way for a long time.

The Rev. Doug Mater, who is the current pastor of a former church where we worshipped and served, wrote the following in a church newsletter earlier this year:

 

How often do we let our God-given strengths go to waste? We spend so much time trying to overcome our limitations by doing things we are not equipped to do. On the contrary, we should consider our special talents for ministry and focus on doing these things better, asking ourselves if we are trying to do something that we are not equipped to do, just for the sake of thinking I need to be different. …

We must continue to be the best we can at these talents so that others will see us as Christians who care about others and want them to share in the joy that we have in Jesus Christ. So, I ask you to look at your talents and keep practicing them. … Let us excel for God with the talents He has given us for his glory.

 

That’s a great message. Often we focus on our weaknesses and try to get better. Or take a job, any job, just to meet the budget.

Instead, we should emphasize our strengths and do them with passion.

What am I “equipped to do?” Do I have any “special talents?” How can I “excel for God?”

As I face yet another transition in my life, this is a good time to ponder such questions.

The journey continues.

A few things I’ve learned over the years

‘If I tell you what I need …’

I spent one summer in northern New Jersey during my college years, when my parents lived there. I volunteered for a week at a summer camp for disabled people, taking care of a man in his 50s with cerebral palsy. I brushed his teeth and shaved him, cut his food into bite-size pieces and helped him get around in his wheelchair. I don’t remember his name.

http://christian-overcomers.com/

During our first evening together, we had a get-to-know-you chat. “If I don’t tell you what I need you to do, my needs won’t be met,” he told me in his slurred speech. “If I tell you what I need and you don’t do it, my needs won’t be met.

“But if I tell you what I need and you do what I say, we’ll get along just fine.”

I’ve never forgotten that. We had a wonderful week together.

(Little did I realize that 35 years later, I’d be getting paid to do very similar things. That advice still applies.)

The right type

typewriter

In 11th grade I took a typing class. I was the second-fastest typist in the class, and the fastest guy. A few years ago I applied for a job that required a typing test. I reached 63 words per minute.

I’ll never be a stenographer, but that skill has served me well over the years.

First love

In fifth grade, I had a friend named Jeff. I don’t remember the context, but one day he blurted out, “I love all people.”

Light bulbs popped inside my heart. He was on to something.

It didn’t work out

One job I had lasted eight weeks, with a business-to-business marketing firm. Early on I was assigned a project for our biggest client. I wanted to know how the client planned to use the piece I would design; I figured I could do a better job with the project if I understood its purpose.

conference-room

My boss called me into the conference room and told me never to ask that question again. What the client did with the piece is none of our business. Since we billed by the hour, if the client wanted us to revise it later, use it as is or throw it away, we would bill accordingly, and that’s all that mattered.

I was done. Two weeks into the job, my creative spirit was crushed. I lasted six more weeks on insignificant projects, then was let go.

A year or two later the company, more than 30 years old, folded.

I did not celebrate when the company closed. Good people lost jobs, people I still occasionally keep in contact with. We all moved on.

That job wasn’t the right fit for me. It happens. Not their fault, not my fault. I learned some things about myself there.

Finding loyalty and affection

Growing up, we had a dog. In married life, we’ve had cats. We have two now, a brother and sister.

Cats on blue chair

Butterscotch and Punkin greet me when I wake up in the morning, and when I come home from work. They like attention. They like being petted, and Butterscotch rolls onto his back and likes me to scratch his belly, like a dog would.

Dogs and cats are loyal, affectionate and loving. Their love is simple and uncomplicated, unlike human love – in every way. Perhaps that’s why so many of us enjoy pets. They don’t judge. They respond to affection with affection (most of the time). If only we humans did that …

Quiet times

Silence is a gift.

My first car after college had only an AM radio that died when the car was less than two years old, and I never got it fixed. I kept that car 18 years, which means I drove in silence for more than 16 years. My prayer life was never better.

Also, my whole adult life I set the alarm early and have been the first one up. I value that “quiet time” before the routine and non-routine of life begins. I focus on what’s most important and start the day with a calm spirit, which (most of the time) I carry until my head hits the pillow at night. This helps me get through the ups and downs that life throws my way. (Including but not limited to crazy drivers.)

The dollar isn’t almighty

paid in full

Living debt-free also is a gift, one we can give ourselves.

We paid off our mortgage early when our sons were middle school-age, so throughout their high school and college years we lived debt free. We still do. The peace of mind that comes with that is priceless.

We’ve always lived within our means and pay off our credit card every month.

Before our boys were born, we both had good-paying full-time jobs. We could have taken trips to Hawaii every year and bought fancy cars and houses, but we chose not to pursue that lifestyle. We chose the “family life” instead and never looked back. To this day we have no regrets about that.

Good call

I worked in a call center for 2.5 years. (I wasn’t one of those pesky telemarketers; I received calls from customers and answered their questions. Or, I offered a survey to customers after they bought a certain brand of car.)

call center

After working as a professional journalist for more than 25 years, a call center may seem like a big letdown, and financially it was. But because we lived within our means (see the previous entry), we could afford this.

I met people there I never otherwise would have met, some who I still keep in contact with today. I learned skills I otherwise would not have learned. Because I was one of the oldest workers there, I was a de-facto leader, so I had to set a good work-ethic example. Which was not hard for me to do.

No job is beneath me. I’m grateful for every experience I’ve had.

And yet … retirement is around the corner. I think I’ll be ready.

When real life gets tough …

Job/career. Family. Church/volunteer activities. The foundation underneath all three of those pillars is my faith in Christ.

Thank you, Stephen R. Covey, for helping me discover that about myself.

A long time ago, I read Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of the seven habits includes writing a personal mission statement. He offers guidelines on how to do that (habit 2: Begin with the end in mind).

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-people/?gclid=CPPh5OWPz9MCFQMcaQodpsAP4g#gsc.tab=0

I discovered that my life has those three pillars, with my faith as the bedrock of each. Over time, I’ve seen cracks in all three pillars, some cracks bigger than others. My faith has kept the pillars from crashing down.

Covey’s first habit is “Be Proactive.” One of the subheads in that chapter is “Act or be acted upon.”

It’s so easy to reject that advice, to say it takes too much effort, or the results may not turn out the way we want them to.

But the alternative is even worse. I know people who choose not to engage life at all, unless absolutely necessary. We spend so much of our energy trying to escape real life, because real life is hard. It often doesn’t go the way we’d like it to.

So, we set up alternative worlds:

  • Pokémon.
  • Movies and TV shows, sometimes.
  • The casino. (Do you really expect something for nothing, a big jackpot for an output of a few dollars? The American Dream has never been about that.)
  • Social media. Many of us interact only with people who have views similar to ours. Hey there: Look up from your device to see the world around you.

Not all “escapes” are bad things. Sometimes we need to refresh ourselves for the real life we find ourselves in.

But even in our own fantasy worlds, we should follow the values we’ve decided are worth keeping.

I can’t say I’ve always done this. I know the theory, but putting it into practice is hard.

My job/career pillar was the first to take a hit. A big hit. I had a great job that allowed my wife to be a stay-at-home mom for our three sons. After 24 years with the same company, my job was eliminated as the company downsized.

Over the past eight years, I’ve had six jobs in three states, and twice was out of work for 11 months. When stuff like that happens, you find out whether your personal mission statement is written well or not. Was I prepared to handle such a major shake-up in my life?

Yes and no. It’s been a major struggle, since as a man I feel the need to provide for my family, and I’m convinced I’ll never have a “secure” job again. Any company, any career, any job can disappear. When Jesus said build your treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), he wasn’t kidding. Treasures on this earth can be taken away very quickly.

That’s real life.

Because I’m married, my wife has taken this roller coaster ride with me. When I get an out-of-state job, she comes to the new town not knowing a soul, and with no connections. It takes time to find a niche, to make a house a home, to begin to feel settled in a new community. We’re still working all that out. It hasn’t been easy, and still isn’t.

In a new place, we have to find new social opportunities as well. These also take time.

Our faith is a huge help in these situations. We can find brothers and sisters in Christ, who read the same Bible and follow it, no matter where we go. Instant connection. It takes time to develop friendships, but having faith in God can ease that transition.

I like to put my faith into practice, to get involved in the community where I live. I was a leader in the Saginaw County (Mich.) CROP Hunger Walk for many years, an annual 10-kilometer event that raises money and awareness for hunger issues locally and around the world. Here in Elyria, Ohio, there is a CROP walk, but the leaders here aren’t passionate about it. In Saginaw, it was a nearly year-round event as we sought new ways to reach people and connect with the community. Here, the committee meets once, the same people show up, the same people walk, they raise some money and they’re done.

They don’t need me.

I’m not one to force myself on people. Perhaps I should have tried to light a fire under them, but I didn’t feel the passion myself to do that. So I let it go.

I also enjoy mentoring elementary school students. I did that for a year here, then the program disappeared. I recently started mentoring a fourth-grader at a school in Cleveland, a half-hour down the highway.

Why do that? Because volunteering is one of the pillars of my life. I need to do things like that to feel fulfilled.

Covey says we should tweak our personal mission statements every so often, even though the main points remain the same. I haven’t tweaked mine in years. My statement has become a part of me, guiding me through uncertain times.

I’d encourage you to write a mission statement of your own, if you haven’t already done so. It will be different than mine is, for sure, possibly very different. That’s a good thing.

What gets you up in the morning? Where do you find meaning in life? You won’t find it in any fantasy world.

Time to get real.