Out of control

I.

The cooler temperatures have stuck around well into the fifth month of this year. Winter stretched on for what seemed much too long, and the cooler temperatures of early spring seem to be overstaying their welcome.

II.

Most mornings this season I have woken up to gray and dreary days. And for whatever reason that dramatically impacts my mood. Even though I am aware of this, I am unable to change it. And that seems makes it worse.

On the flip side, days where I wake up to ribbons of sunlight dancing on my bedroom wall I am simply a better person. My patience is much higher. My energy levels are high. And I’m motivated to make healthy decisions.

How can something like sunlight or the lack of sunlight impact me so much?

III.

It’s frustrating that elements like weather can affect me so much. My mental health is very important to me. And so I need exercises to help me remain healthy on the gray days as well.

Interestingly enough, physically exercising does help my mental health quite significantly. The catch 22 there is that I have to have the mental fortitude to see past my current mood and remember how I feel after working out. When I choose to do that in the morning, it impacts the rest of my day positively. I just have to convince myself to do it.

IV.

Reading. Journaling. Writing. Listening to podcasts. Keeping my apartment clean. These things definitely help me, too.

V.

I do very much love sunny days with dramatic light and shadows all around. A cool breeze. But I can’t put so much weight in letting those days impact my mood, either. I set myself up for failure when I do that.

I live in the midwest after all.

VI.

Recently my wife was on a walk and talking with one of the newest girls in our home. (We have nine teenagers that now live with us.) The sun was shining, there was a nice light breeze, and there are flowers all around.

My wife made a comment like, “Doesn’t this weather just make you so happy! It’s so beautiful! The smell of the flowers, the warmth of the sunlight, the cool breeze.”

The girl replied, “Not really.”

Kind of shocked, my wife asked, “What weather do you like?”

“I don’t like weather.”

VII.

Depression is a daily struggle for many people. When the world seems to lose its colors, people tend to stay in the shadows. We all want to experience the highs of life. Many of us attempt to escape the lows of life through drugs or alcohol.

And yes, you will experience a high that way. It just doesn’t last very long, and the crash back down to the bottom is a hard one.

We want to think that life is made up of mostly highs, but it’s not. But the thing is, life isn’t made up of mostly lows either. Life is mostly in the middle. It’s often…blah. Monotonous. The same stuff every day.

Some of us struggle to live in that middle area. The in-between. We’d rather experience lows or highs than have to live in that middle area every day. But for those of us who find ourselves in that category, much of life is learning how to find rituals and routines that we actually like. Structure that creates environments that we are more likely to notice the little details of life that have meaning if we simply pay attention.

There is a bigger narrative going on behind the everyday routines of our lives. When we start to notice that bigger narrative, I find that our brain starts to be ok with the in-between. Because at first we think the devil is in the details, but with closer inspection we realize that’s where God resides and carries out his daily business.

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thoughts after // after thoughts

I.

Last Thursday my Grandma died at 99.
Then one of my heroes, Rachel Held Evans, died on Saturday at 37.

These two occurrences have kept me in a reflective mood.

II.

When I’m in a reflective mood like this I feel a deep itch inside me that seems to only be reached through writing. I’m not really sure why that is, but I’m glad to be able to do it.

The thing is, I just have lots of random thoughts, impressions, that kind of bounce around in my head. I’m not really sure if any of them are connected or even coherent when put to words.

III.

I am constantly thinking about the layers of history we are a part of at all times. The physical places I inhabit on a daily basis have been inhabited by generations before me in all sorts of ways.

We had the funeral for my grandma at the church she was a lifelong member at. It’s where my dad’s family grew up going to church. We had a little lunch reception after the funeral in the basement kitchen and cafeteria area. The same one that my dad and his siblings hung out in as kids. Same walls. Same floor. Probably the same photos hanging on the wall. And here we all were, almost the entire family sitting together. New generations coming to celebrate the life of and mourn the death of my grandma.

That’s not really deep or inspirational or thoughtful even, but I’m always intrigued by how time folds in on itself in various physical places. How timelines of various people and family scatter for years upon years. Sometimes decades. And then those timelines intersect again. Blips on the timelines of our lives, but significant blips that are all shared. Blips that ultimately help define what a family truly is in this world of ours.

IV.

Childhood memory is interesting and complicated. After the funeral we went over to my aunt and uncle’s house and stayed there for some time talking and looking through photos. Swapping stories. And my mind transports me back to the times when I was just a kid around these very same people. Running around carefree. Now I’m the adult, and my two boys run around with their cousins.

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. But at times like this, the nostalgia kind of has a very dull pain to it for me. The good ol’ days are no more. The days when I was young and these adults were all young, and through my young eyes everybody seemed happy. But we are all now looking so much older. And time has spared no one, some it has stolen away.

V.

Rachel’s death is still so freshly affecting my heart to a point that I’m not sure I’m able to write about it quite yet.

But as I ask the questions of why I am reminded of how she wrote about why children ask so many questions. It’s not really for a clear definitive answer. They want attention, they crave a conversation. And so it perhaps is most beneficial to tell them a long story about why the sky is blue or what the moon is or why elephants have long noses rather than to give them some scientific answer.

Her point in all that was that God rarely seems to give definitive answers to our why questions. Instead, he chooses to tell us stories. And his stories are long and filled with all sorts of depth of meaning and attention. Oh how he must love us.

So I say all that to wonder how Rachel’s death fits into the story God is telling us today. What is going on in this crazy world of ours?

Words aren’t meant for grief

It seems fairly cruel that grief isn’t bad enough on its own. But it’s so individualized that it’s hard to communicate how you feel grief to others.

It’s a very deep-seated emotion.
It’s low. Rumbly. Persistent, yet fluctuating in its intensity.

And perhaps the most frustrating element of grief, or at least the most universal aspect of it, is that even though it feels like grief causes time to slow down, or even stop for you, that’s not really what happens. The world continues on in its indifference. And the starkness of that, that’s hard to deal with.

Words. They don’t do grief justice. What am I supposed to say? I feel sad? I’m upset? I’m mad? I’m disappointed?

eh.

No one in my family has died.
No one found out they are sick with a terminal illness.
No one was physically injured.

One of the teenage girls that lives in my house has been struggling with her behaviors recently. Since right before going to Christmas break. Who knows what really is going on. Perhaps it’s the stress of being a senior. Perhaps it’s the unknowns of what she is going to do once she leaves our home. Perhaps it’s the pressure of being the first person in your entire family expected to graduate from high school.

Whatever the case, she’s been struggling with her behaviors. She’s tried to game the system to get away with things even though her behaviors haven’t truly warranted the privileges she’s been given.

She overreacted to being given a consequence last night. She flipped chairs. She threw all the stuff out of her closet in anger. She yelled. She cried. She screamed into her hands. She flopped onto her bed and sobbed.

Her reaction, her temper tantrum, even though I sympathize with her situation, at this point is simply unacceptable as an eighteen year old young woman. She comes off as threatening. Aggressive. It disrupts the home. Her unpredictability creates too many question marks related to safety. And at that point, the good of the whole home, including my two young boys, has to take priority. These are her behaviors that she’s choosing to do, and so the consequences are inevitably on her.

So last night after talking to my supervisor, she was removed from our home to be in a temporary intervention home. It was a very hard decision. One that I pushed back on because I knew that if she left, there was a very slim chance she’d be returning to our home.

I’m not sure why exactly I was holding on so hard to a girl who has been threatening and violent at times. I rationalize her behaviors too much perhaps. Perhaps her personality, which is one full of humor and interesting introspection, caused me to look past some of the behaviors she’s exhibited in our home.

Maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe I’m just loyal to a fault. Or I work from the fallacy that since I’ve put in all this work, especially relationally, that we can’t give up now.

But “give up” is the wrong framing of this situation, perhaps. I most definitely am not giving up. None of us are. It’s more of a letting go.

But that’s so damn hard for me.

The frustrating thing about people making bad decisions is that we can’t make better decisions for them. We can give them opportunities. We can set up empowering environments which recognize their dignity as human beings. But we can’t make decisions for them.

And for whatever reason, some people are hellbent on having to learn things the hard way. They take what seems to be the easy route, but in reality the easy route is the rockiest terrain.

And so why do I say I am grieving?

A relationship has been severed, or at least dramatically changed. She no longer will be in my home.

That’s really hard for me.

I’ve given her so much of myself. She’s grown a lot in the time she’s lived with us. And I just struggle to let go since we’ve gotten her this far. I wanted to be celebrating her graduation at the end of the year, taking photos of her and her family celebrating. But that won’t be happening now. And that is a loss. That is a cause for grief for me.

I really liked having this girl in our home. I have some really great memories from the past year with her. It’s hard to let go.

After she calmed down a bit yesterday evening, before she left our home, she set the table for dinner. Micah came running out into the dining room and saw her and told her “Hey! I missed you today!” and gave her a big hug.

These girls become a part of our family. Our boys see them as their sisters. And I hate that our kids get normalized to their sisters having to leave when they exhibit bad enough behaviors consistently.

I’ve tried to use some words to describe the situation. The details which lead to the grief that I’m feeling. But I haven’t truly attempted to expose what I actually feel like. How grief impacts the interactions with have with other human beings. Because those other human beings are not experiencing grief. No matter how badly I feel, their lives aren’t dramatically changed. So you have to navigate the world where you can adapt like a chameleon to the moods and emotions and needs of those around you.

And that can be exhausting.

But because grief is a deep-seated emotion, it does give opportunity to connect with others deeply if you so choose. And if other people are willing to connect in that way, too. My wife and I see this situation differently. We process the world differently. That’s normal and ok. But it makes it hard to process it together. I have to learn how to express myself in ways which are able to be understood. I think grief affects our rational thinking. It’s almost like it pushes us into a desire to blame anyone, anything. And when that happens, it seems to impact those closest to you.

And so I strive to be patient. To avoid blaming. And sit with my feelings before I blurt out emotionally charged thoughts which are highly subjective and often incorrect, and therefore harmful.

This is where I am at right now.

Loss and Abundance

I’ve recently been listening to stories of loss and grief and horrible pain via the podcast, “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”

I’ve probably listened to 15-20 of the episodes now. The host, Nora McInerny, has an incredibly sad story of loss and grief in her own life. But she is able to use her experiences of grief and tragedy to really create an incredible space for others to share their stories. She’s deeply perceptive and non-judgmental, and is an amazing interviewer and storyteller. 

It’s felt oddly helpful to listen to other people’s stories of grief. The vulnerability. The way that their lives seem to match the weird balance in this life of being surrounded by the beauty of the way of grace, while living in a world where we must all still experience the cold reality of the way of nature. 

And as I enter this advent season, I want to be laid bare and be open and honest with myself about my own story and my own realities. The gifts and blessings I have, and the baggage that I carry around with me everyday that hinders my own growth as well as impacts my relationships with those whom I care about most. 

My soul is begging for me to push forward into the harder aspects of what it means to be intentional in addressing the aspects of myself that I have wanted to avoid. And I think that is what this last month of the year has in store for me. 

I am still slowly purging and cleaning my stuff. Getting rid of things I don’t need or use. Figuring out more ways of being intentional in my life, structured. Meanwhile, we went to storage to get out all the Christmas decorations. There’s an irony about that somewhere for me. 

In just a week and a half my wife, and my two sons, and I will get on a plane and travel to Phoenix, Arizona. There, my friend will pick us up in his car and we’ll drive back to Tucson for the week of Christmas. A couple days later, another one of my best friends and his wife will come to accompany us as well. 

I am extremely excited about this trip. There are some elements I’m nervous about regarding the actual travel, but overall I anticipate this vacation to be a life highlight for me. I know that’s putting a lot of expectation and pressure on one week, but last year we took our Christmas vacation with this same friend in Colorado Springs, Colorado and it was one of the most fulfilling weeks of my life. 

The key for me is to allow it to just happen as it happens. I have no expectations being put upon me by anyone. I don’t have eight girls to account for or teach to. I only have my own two boys, whom my goal is to focus on a spirit of adventure and exploration, of fun and family. 

It is right during the peak of the Christmas season. A season pregnant with all sorts of amazing moments of depth and meaning. To experience that with some of the most important people in my life is experiencing the overlap of heaven and earth. It is my happy place. 

New Camera

I recently mentioned that I gathered all my old Pentax photography gear, the camera gear with which I practically learned everything I know about photography, and took it to my local camera shop and sold it all to them. 

Even though those cameras have lots of sentimental value, and lots of personal history with me, I would never use them again. Last year I moved forward to a different camera system, leaving behind my days of using Pentax. I purchased a small but very capable Fujifilm X-T20 last November during black Friday sales, and it quickly became my favorite piece of technology I’ve ever used. 

With my old Pentax cameras I didn’t really invest super heavily in the newest and nicest lenses. At the time I didn’t understand why some lenses were more than the camera’s themselves and I just didn’t have the money to invest as someone who wasn’t regularly getting paid to take photos. 

But with my X-T20 I actually got some very nice lenses, although it seems that Fuji doesn’t really make many duds. They’re all quality. And throughout the past year I’ve had an extremely good experience with my camera and my lenses. It’s been fun to take photos of our big family. I’ve been on a few vacations with my camera as well, and I’m so thankful for the images I’ve been able to capture. Truly priceless memories and moments captured. 

I’ve enjoyed Fujifilm so much in the past year that when they announced their newest camera, the X-T3, my heart started fluttering around. I considered trading in my X-T20 and figuring out a way to earn some money to make up for the rest I would need to get the X-T3. 

Then my local camera shop said they were doing a buy-back event at the same time they were doing their annual pre-black Friday sale. And so I loaded up all my equipment, and lugged it all over to the camera store. It took a long time for one of their employees to look through everything. But he offered me what I was hoping I could get for all of my old gear: the amount to cover the cost of a new X-T3 body. 

They didn’t have it in stock at the store, but they still were willing to order it for me and sell it to me at the price that was listed on their black Friday sale. I don’t know anywhere else selling the new X-T3 for a discount. 

It came in on Tuesday and I have been playing around with it ever since. I’ve been loving it. Of course all the lenses I already have for my X-T20 all fit  it, so I already know what to expect with the lenses. 

It’s ease of use is super nice. It connects to my phone via Bluetooth and it makes it super easy to transfer Fuji’s great JPEG files onto my phone for quick uploading to Instagram for Insta Stories or for my feed. Super nice. 

I’m excited to see what moments and memories I can capture with this camera. It has amazing video capabilities, and so I might even venture into learning more about videography with this camera.


The Whirlwind of the Season

Even though life has been very busy recently, this season has been very full for me. In a good way. 

Last Friday we drove from Nebraska to Indiana for my annual Friendsgiving. Every year we alternate between the Indianapolis area and the Chicago area. This was the 14th annual Turducken. And it was the 10th one in a row that I’ve attended. (I wasn’t able to travel in college to go visit those first four years). 

The trip was nice. The boys handled themselves fairly well in the car, a sign that they are indeed getting older and able to manage their emotions a little bit better. Micah was especially well behaved, and the stress that that relieves on a trip is unmeasurable. 

We drove to Sarah’s mom’s place. They live out in Eastern Indiana. There are parts that are stressful being out there. And obviously anytime you’re around your parents or in-laws, well, there are differences in life choices and opinions. But overall, I find it fairly relaxing to be out there. The boys love being with their Grammaw and Pappaw, as they call them. And that just makes everything else melt away. 

Turducken each year feels a bit different because we have it at a different location nearly every year. This year it was at one of my oldest childhood friend’s parent’s house. My sister came for the first time this year, my brother came with my dad, and my dad stayed until right before we ate. It was good seeing him. I see him maybe once of year these days. 

I would talk more about Turducken/friendsgiving this year, but I think it’s mostly boring for anyone else to read. I will say we had about 45 people this year and it was good to see my childhood friends. Worth the drive, for sure. 


We drove back on Monday, after stopping quickly for breakfast with Sarah’s dad and step-mom and grandparents at IHOP. 

There wasn’t too much time to relax because just three days later we would be hosting our Boys Town thanksgiving, expecting over 50 people. We still had to get most of the food from the store and plan out our schedule to get everything made before people arrived at 2:00pm. 

With two turkeys, a ham, and practically limitless sides we were successful. We had rearranged the entire living room to accommodate 50+ people. And that’s about how many we had. 


Sarah and our assistant went Christmas shopping on the evening of Thanksgiving at our local outlet mall to hit up all the black Friday deals. They were gone from 6:30pm to 2:00am shopping for our eight girls. They got great deals, and nearly all of our Christmas shopping is now done. 

This Christmas season I had decided that I wanted to get a DNA test kit from either Ancestry or 23 and Me. I knew that they had Black Friday deals and I ended up getting the 23 and Me ancestry and health test for half off. I look forward to learning more about myself and my heritage. 

Expectations

Sometimes I think my greatest frustrations come from me not living into my own ideal expectations. As I have grown older I think it has only gotten worse over time.

I am someone who loves routines and rituals. Or at least I say I do. I think I do.

Some of my routines are easier to follow than others. If others participate in my rituals and routines, it makes it ten times more likely for me to follow through consistently. If it’s up to just me however, or up to me to initiate, I am good for a little while, or here and there, but I’m just not consistent. And that really bothers me. Like, a lot.

For example, I have the extreme desire to write nearly every day. But I’m the only one motivating myself to do it, so it just doesn’t happen. I love to make coffee every morning using my aeropress or chemex, and if my girls make themselves a pot of coffee, I almost always make myself a nice cup of coffee for myself as well. If they don’t, I often don’t (unless I really need one).

I’m not sure exactly why that is.

A few years back when I shot photography using Pentax cameras, there was a great online community of Pentax users who shared a daily photo with each other. We all commented on each other’s photos every day from all around the world. I loved being a part of that group and it really helped me to understand the craft and art of photography. It forced me to be creative, to notice things every single day that were around me. I felt the pressure, but it was a good pressure. I loved the ritual.

want to do that now that I’ve switched to Fujifilm, but that sort of community doesn’t exist as far as I’ve seen. So here I am wanting to take photos like I used to, at least one each day, challenging myself to notice things around me and capture them in interesting ways, but I just don’t do it without the support of others. And then I get frustrated.

But it’s not just those sorts of unnecessary routines that I don’t follow through with, it’s also the ones that I definitely should be doing. Laundry. Cleaning up after the boys. Taking out the trash when it first needs to go out. Organizing the bills and mail and emails and tasks. I’m not as good with that stuff. I also don’t have people encouraging me to do it. My wife is good at almost never nagging me about it, but there are times I wish we were more supportive with each other to get these things done.

I don’t do the necessary routines, I then I get frustrated with myself that there’s laundry all over the floor, or that the boys have their toys scattered all over the room, or that there’s now two bags of trash sitting next to the trash can that I need to go take out to the dumpster.

The other day I was super frustrated about it and I just said in desperation to Sarah, “I’m so sick and tired of living this way!” And I am. But I don’t really know how to overcome it. I could make myself artificial motivators. I could create checklists and chore lists or something like that. But I’m not sure that would even work.

I have no real solutions to my problems right now. But my frustration has opened a window into an insight about myself that I’ve been recognizing recently. I plan to write about it soon (but probably won’t because…well…yeah, no other people encouraging me to do so). But I think I’m actually an anxious person and just haven’t seen it until recently. Maybe it’s that I’ve always told myself that I’m not an anxious or stressed out person in comparison to those in my family. But perhaps if I can address this element in myself, then perhaps these other daily tasks and rituals have a better chance at coming more naturally to me and actually happening more consistently.

Who knows? But it’s the path I’m planning on taking for now.

A Root Cause for Fickle Emotions

I.

I woke up this morning feeling emotional.

II.

I usually sleep very well. Extremely well. But last night I woke up around three times that I can remember. I have a faint feeling like I was having bad dreams. But I cannot remember any of them.

III.

Which made me wonder what is really going on in my brain right now. I know I was fairly feisty and moody yesterday. I chalked it up to being tired from the night before. (I was out late on my weekly Taco Ride bike ride.)

But it’s clearly more than that.

IV.

I brought my mood up with a couple friends and they suggested that it might be that a lot of the emotions from the past couple weeks’ drama in my house is catching up to me. I’ve been on autopilot up until now.

I do think there’s truth in that. But it’s not the root. But I think I can identify the root.

V.

Micah.

VI.

Micah has been on an extremely low carb diet. This in and of itself has added stress to my life. Always having to think ahead about what he will be eating. What he is willing to eat. Limiting his carbs. And his constant nagging of saying that he is hungry.

Micah’s behaviors are a constant drain of energy. I cannot leave him alone for any amount of time. He has to be constantly observed and entertained, or else things get crazy. So just that in and of itself is a constant source of stress for me. But things between him and his brother have seemed to get worse. They are always fighting and bickering. Punching, kicking, throwing things, biting. It’s a battle everyday.

Micah has had lots of ear infections recently. Ones that seemingly never go away. And so, long story short, he is going to get tubes in his ears soon. They will also take out his adenoids. And while they are at it, they are going to clip his tongue tie. All in one surgery. He’ll be under general anesthesia, which is definitely a source of stress. And for me it’s bigger than I anticipated.

I imagine him lying motionless on a surgery table. His little self. And it really bothers me. I don’t really know why it bothers me so much, but that image is deeply disturbing to me.

Micah starts school on August 13th. He’ll be in a regular kindergarten. Riding a regular bus. All day. Every day. I just can’t imagine things going smoothly. I don’t anticipate it at all. Even within the first day he’ll be up and walking around on the bus. No doubt. And he’ll probably get made fun of by the older students. And I, I’m not doing well with that in my mind.

An entire day of school? Seriously? It sounds really great if it works out. I’m so excited for him. But I just can’t imagine it. He can’t stay seated in a chair for more than three seconds. I have no idea how this is going to work.

That’s probably the tip of the iceberg. But I know that.

VII.

Someone in one of the Kabuki Syndrome groups I am in posted that her daughter died. Out of respect I won’t say who or what group, but there’s a part of her post that really was just…I don’t know…so real to me. I can’t help but tear up when I imagine her life at this point.

Last night we lost our sweet ——–. She put up such an amazing fight until the very end. I really don’t know how I will adjust to life without her but my heart is shattered in every way possible. I cannot believe she’s gone, our little girl is gone…. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. What a fucked up life this is… The only thing keeping me sane is knowing that she is no longer suffering. No more pokes, no more pain, no more wires, nor surgery, just rest.

What a post.

Because I do sometimes think, “What a fucked up life this is…”

I don’t mean to be crass. If there is ever a time for using the f-word it is in this context. But man, this world sometimes. The stories. The suffering. The struggle.

VIII.

Life is just too short to be angry. To buy lots of shit. We have to invest in each other. What else is there?

IX.

There are days where I just want to go through all my things and get rid of almost all of it. Cut down my belongings to my computer. camera and lenses. A few sets of clothes and shoes. My watch. My bike.

I sometimes have these nagging feelings to just do that. We have so many toys with so many small parts. The house gets messy every single day because of the kids. It drives me bonkers.

Laundry. Toys. Trash. Mail.

It never ends.

X.

The end.

Sifting and shifting

I.

My home right now is down to five girls. It feels a bit strange after having eight for most of this year. Two girls have left our home in the last week. And their departures were, well, not truly “successful.”

II.

It makes things complicated.

For one of our girls, she was in our home for maybe 10 months. And it wasn’t truly until the last couple months that things started to go downhill. And that’s really sad to me. There’s such an opportunity to leave well and with a good relationship, a lasting one in which we can stay in contact for years to come. But she did not leave in that way. She left by giving girls marijuana as a goodbye present. And manipulating things behind our backs (even though we knew she wasn’t being honest).

And to me, that’s just taking all the progress and social capital you’ve built and throwing it down the drain.

III.

The other girl who left our house this week left after only being in our home for about three weeks. And she had moved to our home from another because of her behaviors. She had some pretty nasty sneaky behaviors. She only needed a couple credits to graduate, however, and so we worked with her on a plan to be able to take two classes online intensively over the course of two weeks, while she finished up her summer classes, to be able to “graduate.”

Her situation is complex, but we do sincerely hope for the best for her and her family. Her parents are super kind and wonderful people, and I hope that things are able to settle down for them and her.

IV.

That’s one of the hardest aspects of this job. You can pour your life into these girls, and they can accept the help for a while, but they can still crash and burn out of here. Or reject your help at the end just because they are determined about getting out.

V.

It feels like sometimes they just think that we see our role in their lives as a job. But we don’t see it really as a job. We can’t. We see it as a lifestyle. A calling, almost. It’s something we choose to live and be, not just do.

VI.

So right now we are left with our five. And they’re all in trouble because of the weed that our former girl gave them. But this is our crew. I love the five of them dearly. I told them yesterday that I’d fight anyone for them to stay with us and be successful. And it’s true.

I hope they understand this isn’t a job to me. We’ve chosen to live this life because we care about them deeply.

Mo Cheeks in my ideal self

I heard a story recently that I want to share:

It’s 2003. The Portland Trailblazers are losing in playoffs 0-2.

(This story isn’t about sports, but hang with me…)

Before the game, a 13 year old girl name Natalie Gilbert, who had recently won the “Get the Feeling of a Star” promotion, stepped up to sing the national anthem. She’s wearing a nice dress. And she looks pretty nervous. She gives a small smile, gathers her composure, and once the applause quiets down she begins singing.

It starts off pretty well. It sounds like what you might imagine a good 13 year old singer would sound like.

“Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed…”

But then she messed up a few of the words. And she stops.

She gives a short and nervous chuckle as the place grows completely silent for a short moment. Then there’s a few encouraging cheers and yelps. And then cheers of 20,000 fans trying to reassure her.

The girl, still struggling, puts the mic up to her forehead in complete embarrassment. She then looks for her dad in the stands. She looks for some help. Some rescue.

And rescue comes.

A man in a grey suit approaches her and says, “It’s all right, it’s all right. Let’s go, let’s go.”

He walks up to her puts a hand on her back, and another hand on her hands in support, and attempts to jumpstart her singing. He tries to throw out the next words while singing himself. He doesn’t sing well, and he doesn’t even get the words right himself. But it doesn’t matter.

She starts singing again.

And he doesn’t stop. He keeps on standing there with her, singing along in the background, hand on her shoulder. His voice is actually pretty terrible, and she has just a couple hiccups herself as she continues. But by this point, it doesn’t matter at all. The whole stadium is now standing, and 20,000 people join in with Natalie as she sings the rest of the national anthem.

It’s a powerful moment.

The man who rescued her was Mo Cheeks, head coach of the Portland Trailblazers.

That man probably had a million things on his mind about that game before it started. Things he wanted to say and to do to make sure his team didn’t go down 0-3 in the playoffs.

But when he noticed Natalie struggling he instantly walked up to help. He saw the need, made himself vulnerable before a huge room of people, and did an amazing thing for a 13 year old girl.

That room was changed. People were inspired.

The story could have been one of pity and perhaps, sadly these days, one of ridicule – when a 13 year old girl messed up singing the national anthem. But Mo Cheecks stepped in along side of her and saw a much bigger picture at hand. He not only was rooting for this girl’s success, but he did something himself to actually help her to be successful.

Was it the most beautifully that she’s probably ever sang the national anthem? No way. But it was the best that she’s ever sang it because she stuck it through, accepted the help, and kept going. The entire stadium soon was singing too.

Two thoughts:
1. Mo Cheeks is my ideal self in this situation. I try to notice the bigger picture around me and ways to not simply root for people, and especially teenagers, to do well, but to do something about it myself. To metaphorically walk up to the 13 year old girl, show my support by leading by example and by being authentic, shaky voice and all. Because it doesn’t just help one person, it can inspire many others at the same time who happen to be witnessing it. We are always teaching and influencing those around us.

2. A challenge: Who can you notice today that you can step in and help by putting your needs on the back burner for a moment, humbling yourself, and supporting someone in need in a real way. How can you make your ideal self align with your lived out self today?

Here’s a video of it in case you wanted to see it.