Expectations

So tonight, I’m at Universal Studios / Islands of Adventure chaperoning several thousand 8th graders as they enjoy themselves in their 8th grade Gradventure. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really sure what I was in for. I imagined an absolute mad house of teenagers with a few hundred chaperones pulling their hair out. And then when Alexys informed me that the group I was charged with was made up of four teenagers that didn’t want to be grouped together……..well, yeah. You can probably imagine the nightmare that was playing out in my head. To my surprise (and relief), it’s been nothing like that.

We arrived at Universal Studios around 4:30. Half an hour later than expected (not a bad thing, just different). After going through security, we started discussing which rides the kids wanted to go on first. At this point, it’s an open park and the kids are required to stay with their chaperone (and they hated that). I did my best to remain as invisible as possible. Allowing them to make their own decisions as to what we did next. To their credit, they all got along quite well (for not wanting to be grouped together). We rode a few rides, got some ice cream, and then headed over to the stage area to wait for the coveted hour (7pm) to arrive when they could bid farewell to their awesome chaperone, and spend the rest of the evening wandering around the two parks by themselves. And sure enough, when the clock struck 7, it was like cock roaches when someone turns the lights on. I gave them their final instructions (next meeting time and place…..don’t be late…….be early instead), and they were off. And I was left alone. And all of a sudden, a song started playing through my head………..”🎼 All, buuuy myyyy seeelf, 🎶 Sigh. Time to hit the Chaperone lounge. Get a water, a snack, and chill out in the air conditioning before venturing back out to keep an eye on things and be visible in case one of the kids needed something. As I wander throughout the parks, I’m thinking about how different the night could have turned out, had I let my original expectations dictate my attitude. And being glad I didn’t.
So the time has come for the first check in. So, at 9 o’clock I sent a group text reminding everyone of the 9:30 time hack. And by 9:15, all four of my charges have checked in, and probably didn’t need the reminder text. They’ve been having a great time, and are off to continue their evening of fun and freedom, leaving me once again with my thoughts. Which is why I’m currently typing.
So I’m thinking about my original expectations about the evening. And as I sit here trying to put my thoughts together, I look up and see that I’m sitting in front of a huge green ham. I’m sure there’s a green egg somewhere, but at the moment I don’t see it. And I’m thinking about how that story relates (in part) to where my thoughts are wandering. I’m thinking about how neat this adventure has been. The first two hours went NOTHING like I had expected. Rather than attitudes and grumbling, we had a great time! I had no clue what to think as I waited for them to check in at 9:30. But I promise that I was NOT expecting them all to check in by 9:15. After check in, Alexys spent a little time hanging out with me…..even though she still had a friend with her. And she didn’t appear to be embarrassed that she was sitting with her Dad. In fact, it was almost as if she enjoyed it (I know, enjoy it while it lasts. It won’t be long til she wants nothing to do with me). And then I smiled as she asked if I could hold their bags while they went on a couple of rides (aaaaahhhhh, the alterior motive presents itself). I said okay and watched as they skipped away to find a ride.
So, expectations is the thought of the night. And how they impact the way we think and act on a regular basis. I wonder how often we allow an expectation to ruin what would otherwise have been a fun evening/event/opportunity? Or maybe in a relationship? Do we allow an expectation to start or prolong an argument? Naturally, I think this has happened to all of us. And if we take a minute to think about it, identify a situation where we allowed an expectation to negatively impact what we are doing. And I’m sure we could also justify our own actions or reactions based on those expectations. But what if we took a moment to step outside of ourselves, and think about whether or not the failure to meet the afformentioned expectation was really a bad or wrong thing. Or was it just different from our expectation? Maybe it didn’t meet the expectation, but was that really a bad thing? Worth causing a problem or argument? Let’s take tonight as an example……..
I’m a pretty positive person. I like to try to make the best of things. But I’m also human. I’ve also been accused of being a bit of a Drill Sgt with my kids, and those that I’m put in charge of (for field trips or outings). So when Alexys talked me into chaperoning for this particular adventure, my initial thought went to having a list of rules and instructions that the kids would have to memorize and recite back to me before leaving for the park. Buddy system for bathroom breaks. No more than 5 feet away from me at all times. Don’t listen? “Front leaning rest buddy! And give me 20!”. Yup. Totally prepared for this. Then Alexys says “Dad, you know we aren’t going to stay with you the whole time, right?”. Really?! No problem. We’re not going. Problem solved (sort of). After calming her down, I settled on a compromise and began ordering GPS tags off of Amazon so that I could know their location in the park at all times. Get too close to an exit? I’m on your heals dragging you back in. Then I go to the chaperone meeting and find out that the groups are anywhere from 2 – 8 kids per chaperone. WHAT?! How stupid is that? Why would you give one chaperon 2 kids and another 8? That makes no sense at all!! Even it out!! So now I’m wondering how many I’m going to have. And why didn’t they have that information for the meeting? Yes, I know it was a strategic move. Because all the parents assigned 8 would quit. So I go home and ask Alexys how many are in our group. “I don’t know Dad. I should find out tomorrow”. So naturally, when “tomorrow” comes, I ask. And find out that I have four total (including Alexys). But theres a kicker. None of the kids “like each other” and don’t want to be in the same group together. Yeah. This just keeps getting better and better (how long do I have to do this?). Okay, so I’m back in Drill Sgt mode. Preparing my “suck it up and drive on speach”, ready to present prior to boarding the buss. “Okay, I know you all don’t like each other. And none of you want to be together. And I certainly don’t want to be with a bunch of whiners either. But this is the hand we were dealt. So we all need to deal with it”. Yeah, you can imagine how that would have gone over. And the tone it would have set for the rest of the evening. Instead, I just let the evening play out, and see where it goes. And as I mentioned before, I’ve been pleasently surprised. But it could have been a lot different.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that expectations are a bad thing. I think they are really good things actually. They can also motivate someone to action. And that can be a GREAT thing. For example…….prior to allowing the kids to run free, I let them know what my expectations for check in at 9:30 was. I expected to have them all check in as close to 9:30 as possible. The head chaperone expected me to have a report back to her by 9:50. But they also knew the consequences for their decisions. Check in early, and your off to spend the rest of the night with their friends. Check in late, and they’ll be spending some time with me until they can convince me that I can trust them to make the next check in. Don’t check in at all? I have your picture. The entire security staff will be looking for you. And we will find you. And then you get to be my special friend for the rest of the night. Of course, I’m confident that knowing my expectations is why they all had checked in by 9:15. 😉
Okay, so what’s my point? I guess my point is that if we can take a step back and evaluate our situation, and our expectations, before we initiate action, then maybe (just maybe) things turn out better than we expected. Maybe we don’t get upset so easy. Maybe we get a pleasent surprise. Or maybe you sit here and think “hmmmm, I expected something more and just waisted how many minutes of my life reading the ramblings of some guy that thinks too much”. And if that’s what you’re thinking, no worries. Just remember that while you waisted a couple minutes of you life to read it, it took me about 2 hours to write. And with that, I’m expecting my kids to check in soon. So I’m going to head to the next meeting location.

The Ripple Effect – Part 1

So this week has been pretty taxing on me. Andrew has been in rare form, and really testing the boundaries of my sanity. It all started this past Sunday night when he announced that he didn’t want to go to school because he didn’t like it. Okay, nothing new or surprising there. However, he then proceeded to demonstrate how much he doesn’t like it over the course of the week. Trust me when I say that it hasn’t gone well. And it all blew up tonight and resulted in restrictions being implemented. A strong lecture. And the proverbial “shortening of the leash”. And no, he wasn’t happy about any of it.

After everything was said and done, I got the kids situated at their grandparents house and then went back home to prep for my Mens Bible Study. I love these times with my brothers in Christ. And I always feel great after our meetings. And tonight was no different. Except I did have some pretty incredible “ah ha moments” tonight. Let me explain………..

We were discussing our Bible Study topic “Stepping Up”. Tonights lesson was focused on determining at what point a boy becomes a man. I know, deep topic. Anyway, one of the men referenced a stone being dropped into a lake, and the ripple it caused that kept expanding outwards (can’t say what this had to do with the topic, but it hit me pretty good). The course of the conversation ultimately went down the road of “actions & consequences” (see “The Ripple Effect – Part 2). But I immediately thought about Andrew and how he has been pushing his limits and really testing my patience. And as I visualized that ripple moving outwards, I found myself stepping back a dimension or two and wondering if this frustration I felt towards Andrew, is how God feels towards me sometimes.

See, I keep telling Andrew the same thing over and over again. Wondering when he’s going to get it!! It’s so frustrating to watch him struggle with his decisions, and know that if he would just do what I tell him to do, everything would work out alright. And as our conversation continued I found myself wondering, “am I that different from Andrew in Gods eyes?”. How often does God sit there, look at me and say “if you would just do it the way I told you to, we wouldn’t be having this conversation”. This, of course, made me start thinking about my own spiritual age. Am I still a child when it comes to my faith? Drinking from a bottle? Or have I matured in my faith? Worked my way to a better understanding of who God is and what he want’s for me? I regret to say that I am not quite sure. I’d like to say that I am mature in my faith. But the cold reality is, I don’t always feel that way. And if I’m “still a boy” in my faith, when do I “become a man”?

Food for thought. I got no answers on this one. Except to say “thank you God, for your grace, and your forgiveness”.

Social Media……..A Love / Hate Relationship

Okay. So before I go too deep into this one…..let me just say, I HATE Social Media. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “But Steve, I always see you on Facebook”!? So, first off….no you don’t. Because I don’t really post a whole lot anymore. Second, you see me on Facebook, because I LOVE Social Media. I know. I’m crazy. So let me explain.

I think Facebook is great. It allows me to keep in touch with family members that live far away. It’s allowed me to reconnect with some REALLY awesome people (you know who you are ;-). It’s allowed me a glimpse into the lives of friends from LOOOOOONG ago. And to continue to build relationships with new friends. So yeah! I think Facebook is great. But it’s only one piece of this phenomenon we have come to know as “Social Media”.
So first, lets answer the question……”What is Social Media”. So, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Social Media as “forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content”. So let me sum this up for you. If you communicating with someone and they’re not standing in front of you (or reading a letter you snail mailed), then you’re probably communicating using some form of Social Media. Facebook. Twitter. eMail. Text. Phone. eHarmony. Match. Heck, even my FitBit has me logged into a virtual community. And that’s just to name some of the more common methods. So now you ask “Steve! What are you fussing about?”. Well, I guess this is where I get to the point. I’ve had an epiphany.
It all started when I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about how much I text. But before you judge! I’m on the phone ALL DAY LONG!!!! I hate the phone. I don’t want to be on it when I’m on it. Let alone pick it up voluntarily for……………pleasure. I mean really? Can I not convey the same thought through a quick text message? It’s really not that hard. Why do I have to pick up the phone? I mean, if you really want to talk to me, lets go get coffee and talk. Face to Face!! Why do I have to pick up the phone?!?!?!?!?!?! Okay. I’m done my tantrum. So, I’ve had this conversation, and then I get slapped in the back of the head with the sermon on Sunday. It’s all about relationships and how we build and develop them………..and how Social Media may (or may not) be helping.Ugh. Alright already!!! I get it!! It’s not always the best form of communication!! But NO!!! That wasn’t enough. You see, because Monday (as I was helping cook wings for dinner on the grill) when I snapped a pic of the wings grilling on the Weber and promptly shot it to my friend with the caption “Oh Yeah.”, the thought came to my mind……”wouldn’t it be nice to hear her reaction when I describe to them the smell of the grill, the sound of the chicken wings sizzling, the popping of the charcoal, and the mouth watering taste as I chowed down on the home cooked deliciousness”? Oh yeah!! And it would be one more thing to talk about on the phone or in person!! Yeah!! So when the conversation starts to fade, but you still want to talk, you could bring it up! But NOOOOO. You had to snap that picture and send it right away!! Okay, so I recognize that last one was a bit silly. But!! That’s what we would have done years ago before we could text, right? And then there was this morning. I had a parent/teacher conference with Andrews teacher. It was the first one since I met her at the beginning of the school year. Now don’t get me wrong. We communicate. Through email and something called “Class Dojo”. But this was the first face to face meeting…….and it was at MY request. Now at this time I’m thinking…..’you know, his teacher last year cared so much more about Andrew. She was ALWAYS asking for input on how she could help Andrew. I was ALWAYS meeting with her…..at HER request”. And it wasn’t until I sat in front of Andrews teacher this morning that I realized, “wait, she does care”. The difference was, we communicate via a different method. And that’s when it really hit me. The epiphany. Social Media is evil!!!!! Okay, not quite. But I get it now.
There’s one thing that Social Media just can’t do. No matter how many emoticons you put in a message. How many words you spell in ALL CAPS. Or how many exclamation points you put after a sentence. It doesn’t matter. You still can’t get the true feeling of what someone else is feeling unless you are standing Face to Face with them, seeing the look on their face or able to hear the tone of their voice. It’s just not possible. And it’s been proven in studies that I quote all the time at work, and yet I only just now get it. That 93% of our daily communication is NON-VERBAL!!!!! NINETY THREE PERCENT!!!!!!! 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc). It’s no wonder everyone feels so misunderstood. We’re only communicating 7% of what we want to say to each other!! Maybe, just maybe, if we all put down our cell phones, tablets, computers, iPods, nose pods, your pods, my pods, whatever pods, we could get down to communicating properly, and make some progress fixing some of the messes we’ve gotten ourselves into. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m just a crazy man with a REALLY thick skull who just rambled for an hour about an idea that only just now makes sense, that’s been preached around the world for how long now? Just sayin. I can be pretty thick sometimes.
In conclusion, I will answer my previous question. NO!!!!! I can NOT convey the same thought through a simple text message. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been misunderstood because of a text message that wasn’t worded properly. A message that would have had at least an additional 38% chance of being interpreted correctly had it been given verbally. My point? Okay, so you can’t always talk face to face. I get it. But let’s face it. Long distance rates are at an all time low………FREE!!!!! Pick up the darn phone and call someone. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone and let them hear your voice. Let them know you care enough to take a little time to make sure they hear you correctly. You never know. You might just learn to like it. I know I did. 🙂

Scars

It’s been said that “time heals all wounds”. And to some extent, I guess this is true. But what about the scars that are left behind?

If you did a close examination of me….you will see a number of physical scars. When I was little, I had a bad habit of falling down the stairs, and smacking my head into the cast iron radiator that some genius had installed at the bottom. This resulted in many trips to the hospital for stitches. While the injuries are long healed, if you look closely at my forehead, you will see a scar in the shape of a cross. If you look at the left side of my head (after a good close haircut) you will see yet another scar. This one the result of a young child not listening to his father when he said “DON’T RUN UP THE STAIRS!!!”. So what did I do? Yup. You guessed it. I ran up the stairs. And found the nail that was sticking out of the wall. I remember another time when my brother was “teaching me how to use a chisel”. Lesson #1….when teaching someone how to do something, make sure you know how to do it yourself. As the chisel skipped across my left pinky and ring finger, I remember thinking “OUCH!!! That’s gonna leave a mark”. I went to my Mom and asked for a bandaid (holding my hand behind my back the whole time). She asked me “what for?”. So I showed her my hand. Of course, by this time, the blood from the cuts had just about covered my hand, and I’m sure my Mom thought that I had cut my fingers off. There were many other incidents. Some involved bikes. Trampolines. And most from my own stupidity. Most of these scars, I look back on and get a pretty good laugh. Others, I don’t even remember how they happened.

Today marked the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9-11. I have written several times about my memories of this day. Where I was. What was happening. The events that transpired afterwards. And like many, I still get a little choked up when I see footage of this event. I remember a trip I took to New York City back in 2007. I went to “Ground 0”. And even 6 years later, you could still see the physical scars on some of the surrounding buildings. A constant reminder of an event that occurred years before. These scars though, didn’t bring with them a chuckle like the scars I have. Instead, it brought tears to my eyes, and a lump to my throat. I thought of all the people that lost there lives that day. As I was recalling my trip, and thinking about the different scars that we carry, it occurred to me that every one of us that remembers this horrific day, carries with us a scar from it. Ask anyone where they were on that day. What they were doing. And they will be able to recall (likely in vivid detail) everything. They can recall what they were thinking. What they were feeling. These are the scars that we carry from 9-11. As time goes on, you can begin to see the wounds of that day healing. It’s evident in the way we press forward and refuse to let this get us down. The way we insist on rebuilding. We as a nation are healing from the attacks. But we will always carry with us the scar.

Scars come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, meanings. Some are visible, others aren’t. Some make us laugh as we recall what caused them. While others make us cry. The scar that got me thinking today, wasn’t a physical scar. It wasn’t even anything that happened to me. It was the scar that was left on the families of those who lost a loved one that day. The wife who lost her husband. The husband that lost his wife. The parent’s who lost a child. These scars, in particular, are the ones I’m thinking about today. And it all started with a song I heard on the radio, about a young girl who lost her father in the attacks on 9-11. I don’t usually cry easy. But it took all of about 10 seconds for this song to reduce me to an emotional wreck. And I’ll leave you with this. Hug your kids. Call your parents and tell them you love them. Don’t miss an opportunity to make someone smile, or express to a loved one just how much they mean to you. Because you never know when it will be the last time. And another scar is added to your story.

P.S. Get some tissues ready

I Will Never Forget

September 11th, 2001. I was still high from the events of the last week. On September 7th, my daughter Alexys was born. Christina and I were so excited. We had plans to begin looking for a house of our own and to officially begin our life as a family, no longer just a “couple”. But the world would have other plans for us. I remember waking up (not really, I had been up with the baby all night) on that fateful morning excited to get a good report from our pediatrician. This would be Alexys 1st visit with the pediatrician. We got everyone into the car and started working our way to Dr’s office. I remember being annoyed that the only thing on my normal radio station was news, so I started surfing the airways to find some music. Christina and I both remarked to each other about how odd it was that none of the usual stations were playing the usual music. Then we started listening to reports. At this time it was just continuing information and we were still in the dark about what had actually happened. It wasn’t till we got to the Dr’s office that we found out what had happened from the receptionist. By that time, the first tower had already fallen.

We continued with our appointment as planned. Our baby girl was healthy, and we felt blessed to have her. On our way home, we discussed the ramifications that the terrorist attacks would have on our family. See, on August 4th of that same year, I had graduated from Army Infantry Training at Ft. Benning, GA. I had joined the Maryland Army National Guard in February because it was something that I had always wanted to do, but had not yet done. Christina and I discussed it over several months and finally decided to make it happen. I think at this point we were both questioning my timing for this particular adventure. We listened to the news and wondered what this would mean for all of our plans. When I got home, I had two messages from my Platoon Sgt. (who, by the way, I had still not met since I had not yet attended a drill weekend since my graduation from basic). I remember he sounded pretty excited and was saying/yelling something to the effect of “pack your bags, we’re going to war!!!”. This of course sent several people into a panic. The rest of the day was spent making plans for the unknown. I packed my gear as instructed. And the wait for the unknown began. We put our house hunting ventures on hold. Stopped our planning for anything that would require me being present.

In the weeks and months that followed, like many Americans, we began to get back into the routine of daily life. Media of course continued to update us with what was happening at Ground Zero. And while we continued to wonder about what would happen, the prospects of my unit being activated for service started to creep further and further into the back of our minds. Shortly after the one year anniversary of that day, we started looking for a house again with the hopes that we could start our life together as a family in our own home. (Up until this time, we were still living with Christina’s parents. Not a bad thing, but we did want our OWN place). Then life threw us another curve ball. In December of 2002, my unit was called to active duty and in January of 2003 we left for Ft. Dix, NJ for “train up”. We were fortunate in that we were staying stateside, but it was still a pretty stressful year for the family. We once again put life on hold and waited till my orders were complete in January of 2004.

A lot has happened since that day. In July of 2004 we finally purchased our house. December of that year brought us a new addition to our family when our son Andrew was born. I continued to serve in the Army National Guard. Spring of 2006 would see a career change for me when I left Law Enforcement to build a new financial services practice with New York Life Insurance Company. 2007 saw the end of my military career as I was Honorably Discharged from the Maryland Army National Guard. 2008 saw another career change as I gave up my financial services practice for a management position with New York Life Insurance Company and moved the family to Florida. So much has happened in the last 9 years.

In the Spring of 2007 I was fortunate to be able to visit Ground Zero. I can’t tell you the span of emotions that swept over me that day. Standing there and seeing the results of the terrorist attacks still visible on some of the surrounding buildings. And then also seeing that the area was in the middle of being re-built. I was saddened as I walked through the museums and saw some the items recovered from the debris on that day, that represented so many lives lost. But I was also proud to see that we as Americans have not let it keep us down. We are re-building. And we are moving forward. We all lost so much that day. But it has not stopped us. Yes, we were knocked down for a moment. But we have gotten back up, dusted ourselves off, and honored those who lost their lives………by living ours.

To all of those who lost there lives on that day. To all of those who have given their lives in the fight for freedom. And to all of those serving in our military, past, present, and future. To America. I salute you, and thank you. I Will Never Forget.

THE BRICK

THE BRICK

A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something. As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and backed the Jag back to the spot where the brick had been thrown. The angry driver then jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, ‘What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?’

The young boy was apologetic. ‘Please, mister…please, I’m sorry but I didn’t know what else to do,’ He pleaded. ‘I threw the brick because no one else would stop…’ With tears dripping down his face and off his chin, the youth pointed to a spot just around a parked car.. ‘It’s my brother, ‘he said ‘He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.’Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, ‘Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.’

Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat.. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay. ‘Thank you and may God bless you,’ the grateful child told the stranger. Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair-bound brother down the sidewalk toward their home.. It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar.

The damage was very noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent there to remind him of this message: ‘Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!’

God whispers in our souls and speaks to our hearts. Sometimes when we don’t have time to listen, He has to throw a brick at us. It’s our choice to listen or not. Thought for the Day: If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring. He sends you a sunrise every morning Face it, friend – He is crazy about you!Send this to every ‘beautiful person’ you wish to bless. God didn’t promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, Sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way. Read this line very slowly and let it sink in… If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.