The Act of Remembering

I wonder if the act of remembering, or attempting to remember, one’s life — actively — is a form of meditation. It seems to me that remembrance is a way to slow down, think on the wonder of life and the gift that it is to exist.

One of the things I have learned about prayer over the last year or so is that prayer is (to be cliché) more about myself — changing my internal reality — than it is about asking God to do things for me. The words that I use now are centered around gratefulness, repentance, and intentional reflection on my perception of reality.

In order to continue to practice this act of changing my internal reality (or at least being intentional about reflecting upon the way I perceive it), one of my goals for 2018 is to keep a daily log. Nothing intense, nothing majorly time-consuming. Just a quick look back upon my day, what I did, what I felt. I’m hoping to record something every single day, and be able to look back at a year’s worth of days. And my hope is also that, in remembrance of my days, I am able to grow in gratefulness, graciousness, and slow living.

The Holidays

At their best, the holidays are a reminder that we are loved and known.

At their worst, they contribute to emotional and mental anxiety more extreme than the kind we experience in our day to day lives.

Sometimes, the extreme ends of this emotional spectrum are experienced within the same day, the same hour, the same minute. And yet still we have some inclination that this time spent with family is not only necessary, but good. These emotionally intense times have the potential for providing us with a context of meaning, a web of significance, in which we can embed our regular, daily life. They help us to experience the mundane as meaningful and the normal as extraordinary.

Saying “I Was Wrong” is a Pride-Killer

I’ve been married for over seven years now. Within the next few years, I will have known Elaine for more than half my life (and we basically knew that we were “together” almost the moment we met). We met when I was 15 years old, about to turn 16. As a young teenaged boy, I was often foolish and arrogant. I refused to take the blame for things that were obviously “not my fault.” I was easily angered, and very immature. I’m really lucky that Elaine stayed with me through all of that — she somehow could always see the man that I could become (the man I am still not now, but slowly growing into each day).

Through some of that arrogance and anger, I quickly learned in my relationship with Elaine one key thing that I think has held us together all these years. This thing has made us not only remain connected and close, but has also helped us through difficult personal hardship. It is simply this: I’m willing to tell Elaine “I’m sorry,” and “I was wrong.”

Apologizing is easy enough (though maybe not for some people). I frequently make dumb, selfish mistakes, or simply do not think at all. Saying “I’m sorry,” is one of those practices I attempted to develop long ago, knowing that it was simply important for me to recognize and own up to my own faults.

The second one, I tend to think, is more difficult for most people for a few reasons. First, saying “I was wrong,” is a pride-killer. Apologizing can theoretically happen without the admittance of wrongdoing (or wrong-thinking). Admitting you are wrong is an immediate way to both humble yourself and show your spouse that you are more interested in reconciliation and connection than in maintaining your “rightness.” And even more — I think this is true even when you think you’re right.

Attempting to force your spouse to see that you are “right” in an argument or in some situation where the both of you are on opposing sides will rarely — if ever! — result in reconciliation. There have been many times in my own life with Elaine when I can see that she is visibly upset about something I have said or done, and in the moment, I thought my actions were not only acceptable, but correct. However, I also have learned that my own sense of “rightness” in that situation (i.e., my pride in being objectively correct within the argument or action taken) was far less important than letting her know that emotional connection and reconciliation with her were more important. I value connection with her at the expense of my own pride. I value reconciliation with her at the expense of some false sense of “rightness.” Even if, in that moment, I am completely convinced that I am right and she is not.

Responding to the Latest Twitter Outrage is Not My Job

From Alan Jacobs (way back in January 2016!):

  • I don’t have to say something just because everyone around me is.
  • I don’t have to speak about things I know little or nothing about.
  • I don’t have to speak about issues that will be totally forgotten in a few weeks or months by the people who at this moment are most strenuously demanding a response.
  • I don’t have to spend my time in environments that press me to speak without knowledge.
  • If I can bring to an issue heat, but no light, it is probably best that I remain silent.
  • Private communication can be more valuable than public.
  • Delayed communication, made when people have had time to think and to calm their emotions, is almost always more valuable than immediate reaction.
  • Some conversations are be more meaningful and effective in living rooms, or at dinner tables, than in the middle of Main Street.

Repeat after me: It is not my job to respond to every outrageous news story. It is not my job to respond to every outrageous news story. It is not my job to respond to every outrageous news story.

Jacobs’s last three points, for me, are the most freeing (and perhaps slightly condemning). We need to find more value in in-person, private, delayed, thoughtful conversation over online, immediate communication. Those conversations are not only less likely to be heated and fruitless — they are more likely to be meaningful, beneficial to our smaller communities, and more likely to effect change.

Music and the End of the Year

I always love looking back on my music-listening at the end of the year. I use Spotify frequently, and for the last two years, it has provided me with a list of my most-listened-to songs. They also added a few other features by letting me see my top artists, amount of listening minutes, and so on.

While I wasn’t completely surprised by my list of top artists, there were a few things that caught me off guard. The primary one? Yo-Yo Ma was my top played artist of the year. He beat out Kendrick Lamar, Chris Thile, Lorde, and Mutemath. I couldn’t help but wonder how that could possibly be — I don’t remember listening to Yo-Yo Ma quite as much as I listened to the other artists. And then I realized that a large portion of my listening in the spring and summer revolved around non-lyrical music. I was doing a ton of reading and writing for a couple of my classes, and needed music in the background that wouldn’t distract me. Thus the Bach: Cello Suites album by Yo-Yo Ma took up a bunch of my listening time. This little bit of data analysis helped me to remember a significant part of my year (listening to Bach coupled with research) that was buried in memory.

Another thing I love about the end of the year lists is listening to those top 100 songs on shuffle. It’s a little jarring as it jumps from “DUCKWORTH” by Kendrick Lamar to “Still Feel Like Your Man” by John Mayer. But something about it feels right. I have always loved the eclecticism of my music tastes — on any given day I’ll listen to a bluegrass album, a hip-hop album, and a pop album. The shock of jumps between these genres in the space of a few minutes reminds me of the diversity of music I enjoy.

A Good Dog Died Today

We named him Pedro Sanchez Daugereau because my brother and I loved Napoleon Dynamite.

In the summer before my senior year of high school, my mom surprised my brother and me when she got a tiny puppy Italian Greyhound. He was small enough that he almost fit in my two hands clasped together. On the first day we had him in our home, my brother and I were playing with him in the living room at the top of our stairs. I got him riled up, and he tumbled down them like a rag doll, end over end. I can still remember the yelping and the way my little brother cried and was terrified that something terrible had happened. But Pedro was okay.

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I can also remember Pedro being my responsibility at night. We attempted kennel training, and my patience was thin as a 17-year-old. I can remember getting up in the middle of the night to try and get him to go outside, and him refusing to do so, especially when it was freezing cold. I would toss him out in the snow and not let him in until he went. Not my proudest moment.

I can remember him sunbathing in the Alaskan summer months in our backyard, the way he lazed around during those long summer days when the weather finally got warmer.1930599_29867328831_1385_n

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I remember the time when Pedro stuck his head through the posts in the railing of the stairs leading up to our front porch. The rails were further apart on the bottom than they were on the top, so when he lifted his head up, he got his head stuck and lost his mind. You could hear the yelping throughout the whole neighborhood – it sounded like we were torturing him.

That was how Pedro was. He was quiet and lazy and loved sleeping under blankets. I mentioned we struggled with kennel training – mostly because I ended up just letting him sleep in the bed with me. He wouldn’t want to get up in the mornings, so when I tried to wake him up he would stretch his legs out and push against me as if to say “Not yet, five more minutes!” But then he was kind of a weenie. Any slight pain or scare would make him yelp.

I can remember when he somehow learned how to smile, and he only did it to the people he was really excited to see. Every time I came home from college, he would stretch his whole body out to reach up to me, and then raise his lips and show his teeth in the excitement in a way I had never seen a dog do.

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Pedro was a good dog.

I’ll miss you Pedroboy.

A Thousand Voices

Twitter has a much stronger draw for me than Facebook does. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps it’s the constant flow of information or the thought that I have access to a world of thought completely outside of my own normal circles (my Twitter feed is generally much less conservative than my Facebook feed).

I actually quit Twitter for a little while. I used it for a few years very regularly and then got tired of how much my attention was being grabbed by it right around the end of the 2016 election. I also remember being disappointed in myself for constantly thinking in “tweetable” thoughts. I.e., anytime I attempted to chase down a line of thinking, I couldn’t help myself but find ways to tweet about it, which inevitably stunted my ability to flesh out my thinking on pretty much anything in a meaningful way. So, I archived my entire Twitter account and deleted it completely.

That was fine for a little while until I felt the need to return. My hope was that, having had some time off, I could better manage my attention and my thoughts and who I followed. Some of that has been true. I’m much more careful now about what I say and how much time I spend on it look at that feed daily. Something is still not quite right though. I see a lot on Twitter about how it has changed — that the way we interact with one another is far too insular, that we are especially reactionary on it as opposed to other platforms, and so on. But I’m not convinced that Twitter is changed (besides bumping us up to 280, curse the name of Twitter forever) so much as American culture and thought life has changed. Twitter is reactionary because we are reactionary. Our experience within Twitter is stunted and insular because we are stunted and insular.

My concerns with Twitter abound, and after experimenting with it for a second time, I don’t know that I’m any better off than I was the first time around. I might personally handle it better than I did a year ago. But as I told my wife recently, I can’t help but feel like when I log in to Twitter, I am greeted with a thousand voices that are demanding that I care about the political issue that just occurred, or the new sexual harassment revelation in Hollywood or D.C., or today’s theological controversy. The fact is, for the most part, those things are not my job to care about. There is literally nothing I can do about them, despite the fact that those thousand voices lay an infinite demand on me each day that I can and should. The better, more effective work that I can do is right here in my own tight-knit community.

A Mundane Holy Week

Every year when Lent rolls around, I tell myself that I really want to do something different this year for Lent/Holy Week/Good Friday/Easter Sunday. I internally say that I want to have a little more focus, maybe use the daily lectionary, maybe pray a little more, maybe do something to better understand what the atonement is and what Resurrection means and how it fits in this life of mine.

And then, you know. Work, kids, TV shows, new music, grass mowing, herb gardening, reading, visiting family, coffee roasting, and on and on.

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None of it is bad. I actually AM trying to find ways to enjoy and just be in these daily and weekly rituals. This time with my girls and my wife that I will never get back if I keep checking my phone for Facebook and Twitter updates. Mowing the lawn is a lot more fun now that I’m an adult (Chris from ten years ago would look at me with such disdain).

So I can look back at this past couple of months that I gave up Twitter for (most of) Lent – only to replace it with constant Facebook checking – and be disappointed in myself. I can look back and be frustrated that I didn’t spend time in prayer nearly as much as I wanted to.

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I can be satisfied. Content. Happy that I actually do have a fulfilling life. I can use this next few days to reflect on my failings and faults and successes over the last few months and change something about myself, about how I see the world and parenting and being a husband and a Jesus follower.

Is that the point of all this? To try and fail but try to not be discouraged but see where I can do better and see how the Spirit might be working in me and in the people around me that I love so dearly? I think so.

Maybe this Easter Sunday won’t feel special in any real way. Our family will go to church, hopefully have some time to reflect, both on what the Crucifixion might mean and what the Resurrection pulls us toward. We will do so while one of us bounces a five-month-old so she isn’t fussy and we both worry about how our two-year-old is doing in her little classroom. We’ll leave church and eat ham and play in our new backyard and maybe, even if for only a moment, we will experience a taste of the Kingdom of Heaven in our seemingly mundane lives.

Breaking Bad and Neglected Kids

I’m a pretty big Breaking Bad fan. I know, who isn’t, right?

Anyway, I’m re-watching the series here and there if I have extra time, and I recently came across an episode that I had forgotten about. It’s a part of a two episode series where Jesse goes to the house of a couple of meth addicts that have stolen money from him to get his money back.

Long story short, he ends up breaking into the house while (he thinks) no one is home to wait for the addict/thieves to show up. While he is waiting, he is surprised by a small red-headed child, maybe three years old. Without acknowledging Jesse, he walks into the living room to turn the TV on. The child has obviously not been bathed in a very long time; he has dirt on his face, his hair is untidy, he is wearing a raggedy pajama shirt and what looks like very old underwear. This is not to mention the condition of the house. Random crap is strewn about everywhere, and the house is in an obvious state of disrepair. When Jesse finally gets the child to talk, he only says two words: “I’m hungry.”

It’s probably safe to assume he hasn’t eaten in a long time.

The rest of the episode goes on, but that’s not what I’m here for. The entire scene with the child reminds me of a camp that I have been a part of for the last three years, Royal Family Kids’ Camp. The camp is a week-long camp meant for children in the foster care system that have been abused and neglected. You’d be surprised at the stories I’ve heard – about what these children have had to go through. The Breaking Bad scene puts a picture in my head of how these children have been forced to live. They are a part of families that have made them feel unwanted, they have been left to wallow in filth for days on end, they have been treated with such cruelty that most of us can’t even come close to imagine.

I’m not one to normally do this. Below is a link to the Royal Family Kids’ Camp page in South Dallas. It’s the one I have participated in for the last three years. The camp is intended to give these children a chance to see that there are people who really love them, people who would give up time just to hang out with them for a full week. It’s not much, but as our camp director likes to say, “If you were blind, what do you think a vision would mean to you?”

If you are looking for a place to make a charitable donation, or to give any of your time or resources (there are lots of ways to help), please just check out the page. From my experience, this camp is the kind of thing that can change a child’s life.

Royal Family Kids’ Camp of South Dallas