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Begin With the End User in Mind

Don’t throw liquids in the trash.

It’s taken me a while to fully comprehend the depth of this request.

When working at a YMCA in Winter Park, Colorado, my lifeguarding responsibilities were not limited to saving over ambitious swimmers or helping the youth get comfortable putting their heads underwater for the first time. Part of my “other duties as assigned” included cleaning the bathrooms and taking out the trash.

One night, after a long day of swinging my whistle, and guarding lives, I made a trip to the dumpster with a large trash bag filled that was lined with someone’s discarded Big Gulp. Due to a rip in the bag, my leg ended up caked in ketchup and Dr. Pepper.

I remember being so mad.

Disproportionately mad.

Looking back, it was probably just a kid who got bored of his beverage and rather than leaving it at his table, threw it in the trash like they were taught to do.

In all the jobs I’ve held since the YMCA I’ve taken out trash at some point. Some jobs more than others. One common theme that rings true is you don’t throw liquids in the trash. It’s just rude. I think it happens because we often don’t know the end user.


About seven years ago I took a graduate school class on the educational planning tool, Understanding by Design, affectionately referred to as UbD. At least once a class my professor would remind us to begin with the end in mind. It’s simple and brilliant. Where do you want your students to end up – what skills and outcomes should they be able to have and produce? Start with that, work backwards to make sure all areas are covered. It builds a greater sense of buy-in and ensures these outcomes are at the forefront of all planning.

The other day when I had a cup of coffee that had gone cold, I was about to toss it in the trash, but then I remembered that in a few hours, someone would be tying up that bag and carrying it to the dumpster. That person does not deserve to have the result of my selfishness all over their shoes.

Lesson: If I begin with the end user in mind, the people who will be the beneficiaries of my actions, it provides a great check on even the seemingly insignificant decisions like holding on to that cup of cold coffee and pouring it down a drain before tossing it. Like my experience with taking out the trash, cleaning bathrooms at some of my past jobs is part of the reason I take a few extra minutes to ensure the person after me has a cleaner and more pleasant experience than I did.

In the end, who knows, maybe Jesus Christ is on trash and bathroom duty.

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Drop Every Thing

It fits in most pockets, contains 196 pages and has changed my life.

When reading about Mychal Judge, the Irish-American Franciscan Friar who died during the 9/11 attacks, I found out that he carried a couple books on him at all times. He was a man of action who proceeded with his care for others as close to St. Francis as he could, and these books guided him. AA, in many ways, saved his life and sustained him, so he carried a book focused on the program and a second book – The Way of Love by Anthony de Mello, SJ.

Inspired by stories of Mychal Judge, I decided to order The Way of Love to see if it could be something I carry with me. I’ve always struggled with keeping rosary beads or prayer cards on me, but I admire those who do – they are physical reminders of our spiritual nature.

When the book arrived, I dove in and very quickly came up for air.

When it comes to self-improvement, the way of thinking I’ve subscribed to accounts for societal limitations, i.e. the life and hardships one has endured can make it more difficult to find peace. I’ve believed this because it seems utopic to think we can all conquer our demons despite what has occurred. I believe that it is easier for those who have a strong support network of family, friends, and resources that help ensure needs are met.

My problems have always been met by a listening ear or a supportive spirit. However, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, despite all this, I still wrestle with issues that are serious to me.

Thinking I have a handle on this topic, I eagerly opened The Way of Love,and read carefully.

With each passing paragraph, it became clear that I knew nothing.

Look at it this way: You see persons and things not as they are but as you are. If you wish to see them as they are you must attend to your attachments and the fears that your attachments generate. Because when you look at life it is these attachments and fears that will decide what you will notice and what you block out.

I see the world the way I do because it is through my lens, this does not mean I see reality, no matter how much I try. All I see is my reality. My bias, my resentment, my interests, my opinions on how things should be, my values – my attachments and fears.

Struggling to breathe, I found myself putting the book down numerous times. When truths are revealed, often times I am tempted to be like Jonah and flee (as depicted in Jonah 1 below)

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

Anthony de Mello does not ignore the fact that we all have different experiences, however, he focuses on what we often do have the power to control – our minds.

He extols the importance of ridding oneself of attachments for when we do that, then we can truly love, then we can truly live. Much like in The Four Agreements he emphasizes the importance of not giving the approval or disapproval of others too much weight.

How easily we are taken in by the judgement of other people and then form an image of ourselves based on this judgment. In order to be truly liberated you need to listen to the so-called good and bad things that they tell you, but to feel no emotion at the feedback any more than a computer does when data is fed into it. Because what they say about you reveals more about them than about you.

This is revolutionary. My whole life I’ve been a pleaser, constantly worried about letting people down and not being enough so when I have encountered a loved one or co-worker who extols who I am or something I’ve done, I am victim to this – placing way too much value on being accepted. He states,

What you are aware of you are in control of; what you are not aware of is in control of you. 

To be free is to be aware.

Before reading this book I knew there was a great deal I needed to let go of, insecurity, a low sense of self-worth and a distrust for those who express love towards me, however, now I believe I have much more power, much more of a role than I thought in the creation of my own despair and of my own freedom.

I am now aware of the severity of the need to rid myself of my attachments and fears, and life will never be the same.

Home

January 21st was my birthday and more importantly, the day our nation celebrated Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and I have taken this as an invitation to deeper contemplation on his importance to my life.

Often remembered as a proponent of peace and unity, his journey was far from what he desired for others. Like Jesus in the garden, he seemed to know when his life was close to an end and like Moses, despite seeing the Promised Land, he would not get there. His prayerful and tireless work for justice included being insulted and imprisoned. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16th, 1963, he penned a prophetic call, rooted in righteous frustration:

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

*Emphasis added

I’m constantly reminded that just because things might be going well for me and systems seem to be working through the lens of my physical well-being, this does not mean that all is well.

Roxane Gay, in a talk recently at Loyola University, spoke about how she does not endorse the word “Ally” not because it isn’t a well-intentioned attempt but simply because it doesn’t go far enough. She urged those who are white and wish to accompany a person of color, should do so in a way that suffering is shared and felt. There should be less distance.

This spoke to me because right now, by many metrics, my life is good, but since I believe God is in all people and all things, the suffering of one of my brothers or sisters should continually call me to action – compassion, companionship and shared suffering.

Last night I read a short story by Langston Hughes titled “Home” which recounts the homecoming of Roy Williams, a black man who was a musician – a violinist – returning home from Europe, due to illness. On July 28, 1932 – the day he returned – at the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, troops forcibly removed thousands of veterans who were demanding bonus pay for service during WWI.

With the backdrop of the Great Depression which was a communal experience of shared suffering for many, Roy Williams eventually finds himself not welcome in his own hometown due to hatred and racism and ends up being lynched by a mob.

Today I was informed about what happened to Jussie Smollett. The Chicago PD released the following statement,

“Overnight the Chicago Police Department received a report of a possible racially charged assault and battery against a cast member of the television show Empire. Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime.”

We rarely ever know all the facts, and I know it’s rash to jump to conclusions, but there have been enough of these occurrences to prove hate is alive and well. This is clear.

I know there are so many positive and inspirational stories out there too. Stories of people doing amazing work – advocates who are dedicating their lives to this work, to stopping this hate – this is not to discount any of those.

When wrestling with my emotions after some of the details were reported, including the use of a rope around his neck, I am reminded of the words of Martin, Roxane, and Langston.

I am reminded of the words of Jesus – who experienced life with us, without shying away from suffering.

John 14:2-3
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

There is room for ALL in this world, unfortunately, even when some people are “home” they’re still not welcome.

I don’t like giving advice and would rather speak on what I personally need to do about this so all I’ll say is this: I know hatred and racism are not new but that should not diminish, excuse or normalize what is happening and it’s clear – there is no room for moderation.

A shovel, not an ice pick.

Years ago, after months of lurking, I finally posted in a Facebook group.

It was one of those neighborhood groups where people would comment on various events, everything from barbeques to break-ins. Fear and aggravation dominated the page. News of car windows being smashed and lamentations about the decaying of the neighborhood got the most responses and I consumed all of them.

I always felt uneasy when some of the responses to reported violence seemed to dehumanize the accused, and even further, the neighborhood in general. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not endorsing violence nor do I think anyone should have to experience fear and I understand we all want to protect ourselves and our property. The confounding and concerning thing was that most of the comments were by people who had never experienced the crime being described, yet their responses would make one think they had, were and will.

Before eventually leaving the group, one winter when the snow fell freely and often, I decided to create a post offering my snow removal services. I said I’d shovel for free for the elderly or those simply unable to do so and for a fee for anyone else.

This post was met with absolute support and an outpouring of likes.

The next two days consisted of trudging around the city with my shovel, meeting people, clearing blocks and steps of businesses and homes. I was even invited into living rooms and offered hot coffee – a welcomed respite from the cold.

Often times I encountered an icy walkway that remained dangerous, even after the few inches of snow were removed. Even the edges of the shovel weren’t enough to break some of the ice. Sometimes I would have to walk away defeated because after all, I had a shovel, not an ice pick.

I did what I could, and both of those nights I remember feeling really good about my contribution. There was a need, and I was able to be of service and provide a temporary solution.

What I didn’t do was solve any of the bigger issues facing Baltimore city, affordable housing, racial injustices, or the disparity between educational performances in our public schools compared to those in many parts of the county.

I didn’t offer to do that, nor was I expected to do so. These are issues, icebergs that are easier avoided than faced.

Ever since that experience, every time there’s a snow day – I’m out there with my shovel. Today I cleaned off some ramps, steps, and walkways. One house I’ve cleared the past few times belongs to a woman who came to the door to thank me and told me she had the flu. I told her to rest up and went about my work. Before finishing, I encountered an icy patch and found myself again, in need of an ice pick. Roughly ten minutes later, the ice relented and the steps were deemed safe and walkable.

On my way home, all I could think about was what I had done and more importantly, what I hadn’t.

Sure, shoveling is nice, necessary and good. It was a positive way to spend a few hours and it surely helped some people in the community, but what about the ice?

This reflection has reminded me to not diminish the importance of service and acts of kindness, but to make sure that they are done properly and for the right reasons. Intentionality and execution matter. I need to be aware when a shovel is a start and is certainly better than sitting back and lurking, but it simply isn’t enough. There needs to be a conversion of the heart, enough to motivate me to spend some extra time learning and taking action concerning those icebergs and at the very least, to remember to pick up an ice pick before heading out the door.

Screening My Time

Over the past few weeks, I’ve cut down the time I spend staring at my black mirror by 40%. Ever since Apple started sending screen time reports, I’ve been fascinated with the connection between my happiness and the time I spend on my phone. 

To paint the picture a bit let me tell you what my experience was like before cutting out Facebook and Instagram (for now at least, probably will go back to this one once in a while)

This is what a typical day looked like:

Alarms going off, reach for my phone, turn it off, while I’m at it – check Instagram, scroll for a bit then put the phone down and start my morning.

I tried to get to sleep early last night and could use some more sleep and recovery but with my early morning scroll I just lost ten to fifteen minutes that I could of spent sleeping. Damnit. 

After getting back from my run, grab the phone, check e-mail, check social media, scroll a bit before showering. 

My body could use some more time stretching, I’ve had issues with injuries since high school I just talked to a friend the other day about the importance of working on my core – too bad I just gave another ten minutes to my phone.

Eat a quick breakfast, maybe scroll and eat. Now off to work. 

Get into the flow of the day, now time to go to the bathroom – maybe take a few minutes and scroll while walking – repeat this a few times throughout the day, leaving exactly no time for day dreaming or ruminating over an idea. 

Day is done, head home, tired, spend some time on the couch with the T.V. on but not really watching it, open Instagram, close, it, open Facebook, close it, maybe open Instagram again and my phone just won another half hour of my time. 

I’ve been saying for years how I need to go to the gym more and get stronger. I’m always in awe of people who make time to read everyday, it’s so interesting to hear all the things they’ve learned. 

Never did get around to learning the piano. 

My Spanish is still weak, wasn’t I going to get Rosetta Stone?

My good friend called me the other day, maybe I should give a call – too late, it’s 10:00pm now I’ll go to bed and scroll a bit before falling asleep.

Now my mind is racing, I can’t believe some of the things I just saw – they went where?!? Wow, that’s so awesome. I’ve always wanted to go there…alright time for sleep, damnit it’s already 11:00pm I should have been in bed an hour ago…

Recently I listened to an interview with David Goggins who has an unbelievable story of triumph in how he has managed to thrive despite a tumultuous childhood. His mentality and dedication led to him losing over 100 lbs and becoming a Navy SEAL, among other remarkable accomplishments. He spent time discussing various injuries and recovery, specifically touching on the importance of identifying the true source of pain. He said if your knee hurts, it’s most likely because of a tight quad, not the actual knee.

This threw me for a loop and caused me to reflect on the root of some of the major decisions in my life.

It might seem like a small thing for you, but for me, not spending two-three hours a day on Instagram and Facebook has been a life altering change. But why did I do it really?

Was it a call for attention?

Was it just to be different?

Where is the real catalyst?

After a lot of thought over the past month or so, the answers have materialized, crystal clear.

I was fed up. I have a strong desire to belong and despite all the connection, I felt lonely. 

I think it’s why my faith has grown over the past few years because I really do experience a strong sense of belonging in my relationship with God. I feel accepted and can operate without shame or worry about not being enough.

For a long time I would retreat to distractions when longing to belong. Sometimes I still do. I reach for my phone when I’m uncomfortable, in an elevator, walking to the store, anytime I’m bored. 

When I dive deeper into social media and then put my phone away, I’m still left with this void, sometimes it even becomes bigger because all the time I’ve spent paying attention to the lives of others is now gone. Time I really could have used for me.

Time to address my deep-rooted insecurity or the unrelenting sense of not being enough – important issues that deserve attention I’ve been giving elsewhere. 

Over the past few weeks I’ve made the decision to screen my time and not give it away so haphazardly. 

Being deliberate with the time I give to others, even by thinking about them or looking at their pictures, has helped me reclaim some self worth by entertaining the notion that I’m worth my time. I’m worth checking in on, following and paying attention to. 

This time has also reminded me about what it means to really connect with someone. I always considered myself a positive presence online, liking a lot of pictures, making positive comments and celebrating accomplishments of others. Now, the challenge is even greater, I need to go out of my way to check-in with people and see how they’re doing. If I want to celebrate something, then it might look like a card or a phone call. This takes a lot more effort but maybe if that same person is getting virtual support and in person support then the impact could be even greater. 

Regardless of where this journey ends, with me getting a flip phone or just being mindful of my use, I know it’s a worthy endeavor because it’s making me think about what’s really important and what I can do to better live my life for myself and others. Thank you for being a part of it. 

Same Team! Same Team!

When it came to basketball, although I desperately wanted to be good, I was just not.

My parents even made a small court next to the house so I could practice. There was the ever-present challenge to not have the ball bounce into the neighbor’s yard or hit the house too hard, but all in all, it was a dream.

They sent me to basketball camps at LuHi, entered me in leagues and even bought me a pair of Nike Air More Uptempo 96’s which are still one of my favorite sneakers even though that pair is long gone.

My problem was never dedication or effort, I simply lacked the ability to harness my speed, control my dribbling and show poise in times of pressure. I lacked court vision and just didn’t have “it” – everyone knows what “it” is. There is a sense of quiet confidence necessary to play ball, especially at the point guard position. A scenario that depicts my inability to play the game is one familiar to anyone who has played. When going for a loose ball, everyone tries to get their hands around it and claim possession. Every once in a while, two teammates will be fighting for the same ball because, in the chaos, the only focus is only on the ball. Someone usually yells out, “Same team! Same team!”

Let’s just say I found myself in that position more often than not. I was hyper-competitive and a lot of times my misguided energy led to an ill-timed foul or turn over.

It has been a year filled with revelatory experiences.

In many ways, I am still the over spirited and under talented kid just trying to get more time on the court to play the game I love.

This year, a few times I have found myself thinking, “Slow down, just slow down” and “Geez why did you have to get so excited about that?” There have been times where I’ve dribbled with my head down, focusing too much on one area, not giving me the ability to see another area that requires attention. Sometimes there have been wide open shots that I’ve passed on because of lack of confidence.

On the other hand, I’ve grown tremendously.

Selection from “The Living Series” by Jenny Holzer

The greatest thing about basketball is the beauty of a successful team. Often comprised of players that have different strengths and weaknesses, a great team works together in a way that highlights the good and makes the bad almost go unnoticed. Everyone has their role and trusts that if they play it, they will be a complete unit.

This year I have discovered my role. I figured out who I am and where I fit.

My best role on the court has always been a defensively minded, pass first and bring the energy kind of team player. Even when I play basketball now, I always look for help when feeling pressed and am constantly looking for the better pass or a way to help the team. The best games I’ve played are when I focus on these things and when I do have an open shot, take it with confidence.

So instead of blindly diving on the floor and fighting for the ball – sometimes even against someone on my own team. There needs to be finesse and care in my efforts, recognizing the beautiful power in the people around me. This year I’m going to focus on playing my role.

Do my part. Protect and share the ball. Keep my head up. Know when to pass and when to shoot, ask for feedback and pointers on how I’m doing. I will also be there to help others play their role better when needed, knowing when it’s time to back off and remember:

Same team! Same team!

Scratching and Clawing

I’m constantly in awe of TED talks. 

Whenever I listen to them or watch them, I am always inspired by the mastery of content matter, the confidence in the delivery, and the importance of the message. They have a way of making sense of complex topics. 

Yesterday I was walking home from getting dinner and was feeling a bit down, a bit lonely, so I decided to listen to a podcast – on happiness. 

Usually I don’t like to have my headphones in while walking anywhere at night because it makes me more unaware of my surroundings and calls attention to the fact that I have something valuable on me, but I lowered the volume, hid them under my hoodie and tried to learn a little more about what makes us happy or unhappy. 

One of the fascinating insights (the podcast is titled “Simply Happy”) was that our minds are often wandering. This might not seem like a big deal, but part of the research showed that we are most happy when we are most focused

When I used to teach, I would often have a lot of trouble getting the attention of my students when trying to deliver a lecture on topics like checks and balances rather than an engaging activity. This usually culminated with them solemnly leaving class, probably yawning on their way out the door. I’d return to my desk and on my really close minded days probably lament to a co-worker some version of, “kids these days” while letting out a frustrated sigh.  

Upon further reflection, it all makes perfect sense. If I was giving a lecture and it wasn’t engaging, most likely there were a lot of wandering minds which meant a room full of unhappy students.

Not giving them opportunities to be focused meant I was robbing them of happiness. 

In a previous post, I mentioned that before I decided to back off social media that I’d even be on my phone when I watched TV. It’s really interesting to think about the fact that maybe part of the reason that I felt even more empty after an hour of watching TV while also on my phone was that yes both of them can qualify as distractions but the truth was I wasn’t focusing on either of them

I know that sometimes this is going to look like scratching and clawing. Just like my students in History class – some of them really fought to pay attention even when their compatriots had thrown in the towel. Maybe their reward for this was a better grade, but looking back on what I know now, they were also creating more happiness. 

Thinking more on my life and relationships, I already know that giving attention, simply to the primacy of focus will have an impact on my future happiness. The people in my life that work to do this, especially when I am sharing a particularly long-winded story, are not only being kind and patient, they’re choosing to be happier.

More focus = more happiness. I know it’s not infallible, but it makes a lot of sense to me.