My little workbench!

Thanks to my dad for helping me get started, to my father in law for providing some power tools, and to Elana and my mom for providing some childcare for me to do it- I made my own workbench!

A full day’s work over two weekends (because of power tool needs, otherwise a four hour project), three levels (two for storage) and very sturdy.  I must say I am proud and very satisfied with being able to work on and complete this project.  The happiness project calls for tackling one project a week, and this is one hell of a project for me, the non mechanical type. And I got to do it with my dad, who I idolize about his handyman capabilities.  I learned a great deal in this small project about the importance of quality, even in my simple weekend DIY projects.  (I know, this is all very silly for some of you that are quite handy and small potatoes for the hands on folks out there.  Oh well!) Some quick pics! Thanks family! 


There Is Only Love

Often, loving others is hard.  Loving others can require candor, honesty, vulnerability, apology, acceptance, self awareness, compromise, and the emptying of self.

Loving others is hard sometimes.  Whether it is marriage, or my kids when they act up or won’t stop crying (don’t we all know this one!), a separated parent, a distanced sibling, my close church friends, and not so close strangers.  Loving those people can be easy and amazingly rewarding.  But some days it is hard.

Love may require what I don’t want to give, as in an apology to someone who we feel often tries to hurt me.  Or it may require what I feel unprepared to give, as in giving money to a hurting fellow church goer.  Or it might require me doing what I know is necessary and helpful but I really hate to do, as in being really hopeful and trusting when you get the short end of the stick in support (often times it is unintentional and in good attitude!).  Love may even require that which we fear: bearing the cross and suffering for others, as in standing up for poor, black or other who are marginalized or looking like public fools because we have compassion for the least of these.

But love is rewarding, a blessing, and amazingly worth it.  A marriage grows roots through love, a parent becomes the presence of God through love, a friendship finds new life in love, a community unifies in love, and the body of Christ finds its shape in love.  But those effects are borne out in the future, some long long into that future.  Some of those blessings aren’t even ours, but they bear blessing for somebody.

For me, the sheer difficulty at times and then great worth of it become small in the grand scheme of life.  Because love is the only meaningfully significant shape life can  have.  For me it goes further in that that love is Christ shaped, Christ driven, Christ breathed.  

Nonetheless, love is both extremely difficult but singularly profound in our lives.  In life, there is only love. What would bring this up you might ask? 

Well, I write tonight thinking about the importance of three relationships in my life and the call to love in all of them- my relationship with my wife, my relationship to my brother, and my relationship with parents who have lost their child in a traumatic and tragic way.

First, marriage is very hard. Everyone knows this.  But marriage requires an incredible amount of compromise and working together, all for the good of the other, myself, and our family.  And for a single guy who was well into independence, compromise is tough.  And for a guy who normally internalizes and keeps an even keel rather than expressing frustration or my desires, compromise and working together feel nearly impossible.  Little things are really big things.  Those small things can be time away from kids, project or class time, where to go to dinner, or even why the toilet paper roll never makes it onto the knob rather than laying on the counter!  But there are big things that challenge is- a third parent (though technically I am actually the third for my stepson) who often functions as real enemy, character concerns (who is self obsessed or who is a continual pouter- both probably me!), and communication.  That last one didn’t really get any filler because it’s obvious for every couple.  But there is only love right? Actually, sometimes I really struggle with that.  But it’s what I have to offer, and more importantly, it’s what I get to receive if I open myself to it. It’s the vulnerability of love in this case that’s hard! But there is only love and it is profound.  It has to be in this fundamental relationship!

Second, my brother has always vexed me and yet his presence is just as important as any other friend I have.  I didn’t realize how important Joe is to me until into college years and then especially as I have lived in Houston.  We both looked forward to hangin out all the time over the holidays.  Of course, no bigger smile came than when he was moving here to live with me last year.  It was a time full of potential, full of hangin out, watching him grow into a professional in my presence than in distance, and realizing the full potential of hangin out.  And it was good- he was a true bouy to me as my wife grew pregnant and Joe gave balance to the usually chaotic life of pregnancy.  But for reasons his own and following his passion, he moved to the northeast last summer and I have missed him since.  And it’s been hard.  Though he is following his own passion and being independent, I am missing him and finding it hard not to be torn about his leaving, if not bitter.  He didn’t leave because of me, but it feels like it. And so love is difficult and challenging, because it would be easy to just forget and just let the relationship go to the wayside (he’s not an avid communicator so I could sit for a long time without hearing anything).  Love is hard but the effort is worth it because it is all I have for him- a deep desire for his place in my life as my best friend, a confidante, and perhaps most importantly, my playing partner.

Third, and I can’t say much because of HIPPA and desires for privacy, a relationship with heroic and faithful parents in tragedy.  Love is hard because I can’t walk away and pretend that this child didn’t die, that children don’t die, or that God is doing something good and so I can just trust it’s all working out for the good.  These parents lost a child days after the amazing new beginning of a transplant, and days later, sudden tragedy that no one could protect their child from.  Love caps for unending perseverance, for us to walk with suffering and wipe away tears and for being a receiver of the unspeakable pains of others.  Love calls for candor: I am so sorry; she doesn’t deserve this; she will always be your baby; I don’t know why.  Love is profoundly difficult and profoundly meaningful in that it sees purpose in the compassion itself, not in whether it fixed, or whether it changed others, or whether you said the right thing.  It’s the compassionate candor that suggests that I am human too, that I am a believer in a loving God too, and that I too sometimes struggle mightily in both of those aspects.  I want to fix, to solve, to make their pain go away, to bring smiles….but I can’t.  But there is only love and it is all I have to offer them in their suffering and grief, and truth be told, love is their brightest light in their darkening grief. 

 There is only love, given by God, called into existence and nurtured by God. But it’s rarly easy from there, and God knows it.

A Simple Moment

In my attempt to focus a little more on finding energy, my second method is to slow down and enjoy the moment, even though that sounds a little too pie in the sky for me.

Last night, while my 1 year old was quite feverish and finding no comfort in a bed, laying on his stomach or belly, walking, playing, or being held, I found my first method being tested- no sleep of course and a reminder of the exhaustion of parenthood. Remember my secret of adulthood- having kids is exhausting but joyful?

But that moment came when I was holding him and he adjusted to be laying belly up on me while we were laying on the couch.  As I held him with one arm holding one side up and my other hand laying on his warm and exposed belly (his shirt had pulled up from moving), I saw him relax for only a couple moments.  But he was there, in my arms, relaxing on me.  That was special.  And in that moment I slowed my mind from all the concerns of sleep, work the next day (and whether I’d make it), and what sickness he had…instead I was moved by the sheer love and connection of a father and a son, and that I got to be the father in this special little moment. I loved being a father, loved being someone with whom my son could relax and know that he is loved.  It was a fleeting moment, as the hours that followed still had lots of tears and discomfort.  But for that moment that I was able to slow down and see the bigger picture, I could feel tangibly my love for Ryan, and that is what I needed for my extra energy to get through the night.

Sometimes, slowing down is more about not complaining or being negative.  The more negative I am about whatever it is, the more I pass by the good things that are available to me.  For instance, I was driving home a couple weeks ago and I was not thrilled about the traffic.  I was a little bit bitter and unhappy (also possibly from my long day at work!).  Okay, maybe a lot, but I certainly wasn’t grooving.  But I remembered to slow down and to take what I was given, and I decided to turn on some music and just listen mindlessly.  Even though it was seemingly nothing, I was able to be in the moment and use it positively rather than being overly negative.  Plus, it allowed me to start de-stressing about my day at work with a death, and that was probably the most important upshot of the experience.

Complaining in my life becomes the enemy of appreciation.  It blocks me from any ability to receive from others or that thing, and unfortunately, what I complain about one time tends to stick in my mind for a long time.  Complaining about my wife in one small way leads to not appreciating the  time together on the couch.  Being negative about eating at the same place for the third day in a row keeps me from actually making dinner enjoyable.  Complaining about a struggle at my church blocks my ability to be there fully and hear Gods word that day for me. Anyway, I am by nature an optimist and positive but I am also an internalizer, and complaining becomes the framework for my attitude and what life is bringing at that moment!

So, I have those times where I need to stop and reflect in the moment and see the beauty (with Ryan) and I have those times where I need to stop with the complaining and negativity and appreciate the moments, and then there are those opportunities where enjoying the moment is all about being adventurous.  This is not rule for everyone, just what I know allows me to be in the moment.  A small example of this is last night we went out to eat with an old and good friend.  It had been a while since we are somewhere new, and his encouragement to go to the new place was perfect.  Further, it was a Mongolian grill that has the option of creating your own bowl with the tons of different veggies, sauces, seasonings, and meats.  I had thought of getting some recipe they already provided, but doing it myself and trying this simple but new experience made for a ton of fun! My friend and I both really enjoyed this simplest of treats- creating our own fun meal. Ah, what the hell, let’s just go for it.  That’s a pretty good mantra most of the time in my life.  Life gets fun and the moment becomes sweeter when the path, even a simple one like the Mongolian grill dinner option, is new and full of surprise.  Anyway, slowing down in the moment can be about reflection, about positivity, and about adventure, but it does help when I let small moments be significant and speak up!

Sleep well? Can I sleep at all!?!

I have been reading a book called The Happiness Project from Gretchen Rubin, and in it she presents 12 themes for 12 months to improve happiness.  I love the book and wanted to sort of do my own but without the progress chart and month organization she has.  So I wanted to write through some of my own experience as I do some of these things.

The first month she plans to work on improving her energy, and she has some specific and different pieces of improving energy: sleeping earlier, tackling a nagging task, exercising better, and act with more energy.  (I can’t remember her 2nd of the 5 right now)

So if you see, I created a page on my blog that has my versions of improving “energy” and in my blog I can write through the challenges and fun and thoughts of each.  I thought about my possibilities and what would be truly practical for me, and I thought about sleeping better, spending time in prayer daily, tackling a project every week, exercising regularly, and acting more energetic (this one is truly intriguing to me and maybe the most important of all of the ideas for me).

The first up: sleeping better. Well, I’m a parent of 1 year old baby and stepfather to an almost 7 year old.  So, yeah, I find myself all the time wondering what sleep is, rolling different definitions around my head at 2am while Ryan cries or at 6am on a day off when the home fire alarm blares at stadium level decibels there are flames somewhere in the world at the moment right?  I was reading this book and intrigued at her attempts at going to bed earlier, and then Ryan got terribly sick with his first illness, a blistering fever with loss of appetite, irritability, and of course no sleep though extremely overtired.  Yes, sleep seems elusive.

In addition to this, our family moved to a suburb and so a commute adjustment made sense.  So instead of work at 8-4:30, I do 7-4.  It’s a better commute, helps the hospital, allows me to be home for more than an hour of Ryan and Aidens days, and I get morning time to myself.  But there is a slight problem: I’m not a morning person!!!!!  I hate waking up at 5:15am.  I don’t want to jog, walk, eat breakfast or just plain exist at 5am, let alone prepare for work 5 days a week.  Often, I find that on the weekends I am waking up voluntarily at 6am ish.  Sheesh. And as a true blooded night owl, it’s almost impossible to go to sleep earlier.

So the task is clearly daunting, but one that everybody deals with and is one of the most common for the lack of energy.  So how do I sleep better?

First thought, I have worked on removing technology from right before bedtime.  No iPhone to put me to sleep.  I will say this has been effective in one sense, and has helped me make a good transition.  However, I have been a little poor at doing it consistently.  Some nights is good, others I am studying baseball box scores or reading thoughts about the architecture of segregation.  I thought about an alarm on my phone, which I tried for a week or so but all that did was point out the phone and made me wonder if there were any new emails so I could go to bed with nothing still hanging. However I will still give this credit- it has pushed me towards actually reading a book or sometimes wanting to go to bed earlier because I just have that realization- my wonderful iPhone can suck the life out of me (and my wife and step son too who use their iphone all the time!). Spending a bunch of time on my phone feels similar to eating a wonderfully blah leftover lunch at work. It’s numbing.  The worst part about the phone before bed is that as a newlywed couple (2 years…but still!) communication is the most important and yet challenging piece of our marriage.  That is good time for talking, listening, playing a game, or other things couples do at night 🙂 But it is otherwise a missed opportunity and leads to the struggle to fall asleep because of a less than satisfactory mood.

So how do I continue to work on this piece of sleeping better?  I think I need to set my alarm not to go to bed, but to have a plain cutoff time for the phone, and leave only needed texts for those after 9pm times.  It leaves space to realize how tired I am or to initiate something worth spending time on.

A second piece I have changed to sleep better is to not pretend that I am an early riser or that I can just adjust because I am so flexible.  I can’t wake up well at 5am.  Not gonna happen. Tried a run. Tried a walk with my dog.  Tried gym.  Tried making nice breakfast, reading bible, praying watching news….you get the point. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not gonna happen.  So I have gone to settin my alarm for the latest possible time to take a shower and eat breakfast without getting to work late.  So 5am became 5:15 became 5:30 becomes 5:40.  It’s only 40 min and still an hour before my preferred wake up time.  But it has helped a little. And I notice it when I am unable to fall asleep sooner than later. In fact, one morning I woke up at 5:30 but felt exhausted as I left home, but not long into the morning felt more energetic at work than usual.  Perhaps I need to keep in mind that the effects may not be so immediate but yet be better later in the day! As I continue to adjust my schedule, this is going to have good potential I think.  

Some things will certainly begin to change soon and the sleep will be better.  Ryan will sleep more through the night.  Aiden will start school and have an earlier bedtime.  My wife’s phone might die earlier in the day (lol) so she might not be able to stay on the phone all the time.  My work schedule may or may not change.  Nonetheless, sleep will get better, and so some of this is waiting.  But in the meantime, there are some small practical things to do to work on my sleep habits:

  1. No email or reading on my phone after 9pm.  (Checking a score or texting my mom seems okay!)
  2. Wake up later- it’s okay to rush in the morning if I am slowing down for the same time at night.
  3. Get comfortable. Use more pillows.  Go back to my preferred blanket. Spend on a nice pillow! Cuddle with my wife and use that touch for a calming comfort.
  4. Let it go.  Don’t go to bed angry, frustrated, and clutter less.  I tend to try to declutter and clean everything before bed, but perhaps as a family man now that is not practical and I have to practice clutter or mess to relax.  I can’t get perfection! 

On that last note, some questions for you all:

  • What rituals, if any, do you use to clear the mind before bed?
  • What helps you sleep better?
  • What is your favorite way to get comfortable?

 Yep, that’s Ryan waking up in the background. Good luck sleeping well. I know I need it.