When I left off I had promised to tell you about what I achieved in 2018. I think it’s important to take stock of one’s life from time to time. It is important not simply that we look at our accomplishments but also at our failures. Since I do the latter every time I prepare to step into a confessional and I am therefore well aware of my failures (as a man, a husband, a father) I want to share with you some of my accomplishments from the past year.
Starting with Uncertainty and Fear
The year started off with great uncertainty and trepidation. I had just walked away (for the first time in my life) from a job. And this wasn’t just any job. It was the job I had been hoping for for a long time. In 2017 I had achieved one of my goals and been hired as a Catholic school administrator. I was a vice principal before I turned 40. I know that doesn’t seem like much to many people but to me it was the closest thing to recognition that I was actually good at what I do as I will come. This is how I saw it. I was a teacher for over a decade. In that time I started at one obscenely low salary and never really saw a measurable pay raise. I didn’t get a yearly bonus. I didn’t get ownership in a company. No stock options, nothing. In fact, I rarely even heard a word about my job performance. The usual plaudits of “Wow, we couldn’t function without your skill” or “Your leadership is vital to our organization” were things I never heard. At first this did not bother me but as I got older and noticed that I was more or less alone among my friends in this regard I came to regret my career choice. In fact, the only people who ever commented to me on my job performance were, ironically, the only one’s who really counted – the kids. And to those of you who do not know what it’s like to hear a 16 year-old tell you how much you mean to him or to have another tell you that her life is better because of her favorite teacher; I am sorry for your loss. Finer, more humbling words have never been spoken to a man like me.
But I still wanted the bonus. There was one “award” that came with a plaque and a check that a local Catholic philanthropy organization would hand out four or five times a year. It seems that every other teacher at the school got it except me – even newbies. And so I was almost eager to move on to a pasture where I thought the grass would be greener. “Surely, they will appreciate me,” I thought. And yet that job was not at all what I expected. And after six months I had to move on. Taking a total leap of faith I walked away.
I prayed to God that I wouldn’t have a significant gap in my employment. He came to the rescue with the most unexpected answer. A friend had a neighbor who ran a medical courier business. I knew nothing about the world of shipments and logistics and, although I’ve always played a doctor on TV, I didn’t even know what I’d be handling on a daily basis. I started January 2nd. God is incredibly gracious (and very funny).
I quickly learned the ropes. I also kept returning to a sense that I did not know where the future would take me. And I was scared. I was scared that I’d made the wrong choice. I kept thinking that I had been “brought low”. I never see shame in honest work but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a job for a college kid waiting for his big break. As a teacher I never made much money and that bothered me (especially considering that everyone around me did quite well in that department) but at least I had respectability. Who doesn’t admire teachers? We take your kids off your hands for 8 hours a day and turn them back to you as adults.
What Does Your Rock Say?
In 2018 as I began driving blood samples and cancer treatments all over hell and creation something amazing happened to me. God gifted me with time. I’ll never forget about two months in when I got called to drive a shipment of life-saving medicine from Dallas to San Antonio at midnight on a Friday. It’s a five hour trip each way. What else can you do in a car for five hours but pray? OK, I listened to an audiobook and broke my earlier resolution not to smoke and I drank a lifetime supply of black coffee. But about two hours into the trip I started a rosary. And then another one. And another. Each go-round I began to refine my focus and to ask God to keep showing me where He wanted me to be, what He wanted me to do. I had time to give thanks for my amazing wife and to ask courage and strength to be a better father to our kids. I had time to beg Him to give us just one more of those kids. I had time to contemplate that maybe this wasn’t His plan for us. And I had time to remember a tiny little rock I got on New Years Eve.
One of the things I brought with me from the job I had quit was a bag of rocks. I’m not kidding. I had been tasked with implementing a virtues training program for our students. I had a good one in mind and went all in to bring this to fruition. The principal, however, thought it would be “neat” to have the kids take small landscaping rocks and paint the names of virtues on them in order to decorate a “virtue garden” or something like that. This was the first clue that we weren’t on the same page. I expect a little more rigor. I never condescend to young people because I believe in their potential to come to the level where I am and exceed that. On my last day the environmental science teacher handed me a bag with about ten rocks containing the names of different virtues. I briefly contemplated finding a heretic or two and chucking the pebbles at them. You know, here’s someone who denied the faith! Let me hit them with a rock that says “faith” on it.
My wife had other plans. On New Years Eve we hosted a small get-together with a family we are very close to. Toward midnight my wife brought out a bag and asked each of us to reach in and pull out one rock. Those rocks, she explained, would represent a virtue we should each strive to work on throughout 2018.
I pulled “gratitude”. At first I was disappointed. In fact I was downright ungrateful that I hadn’t pulled something “better”. And I instantly realized that I really needed to work on a lot of things in my life – particularly giving thanks to God for every little thing I have. This started with being grateful for my job. I went forward into January with the attitude that this job might not be what I wanted and probably wouldn’t pay a lot (it wasn’t bad) but it was work and I was grateful. My boss proved a wonderful woman who looked out for me and took good care of me. I became friendly with the people I would encounter regularly.
I also decided to renew the goal of always trying to get in better shape. Regular readers will know that I’ve been
bitching mildly complaining for a few years about my inability, no matter how much work I put into it, to get in top condition. I re-assessed my outlook. What did I want? I had a friend once who had tried training me. I commend him for his efforts and I learned a lot from him. But I had been looking to him to make me what he was. He had long ago achieved the level of “shred” as they call it that I always wanted. And the only person who can get me to that point is me. I would henceforth be grateful that he helped start me off. I have another friend put it in perspective. “At our age, I want to be strong, fit, have energy, basically to be in phenomenal shape. I want that so I can come in the door and do the things my kids expect of me like a bike ride after work.” What did I want? All of the above. I would begin by being grateful that I could get out of bed in the morning unassisted at my age. I came to see myself as being in “not actually that bad shape”. I’ll ALWAYS strive to get better and that would continue to be a goal throughout the year. But I’m not gonna’ lie. It was nice to hear a few friends compliment me as 2018 ticked by that I was looking great.
I decided to make the most of every minute with my family. The job provided lots of alone time as I would drive into the lonely abyss of the Texas panhandle in the middle of the night. So when I could catch a few hours and my daughter would ask me to read to her or my son wanted me to watch a documentary about abandoned amusement parks I would be happy that I had a son and a daughter who share my interests and craved my time. And I also came to appreciate more deeply that THIS was my true calling (and that I was sort of good at it).
Finally I decided truly to ask God every day to show me where He would lead me. And in that prayer I came to receive the gift of a new opportunity to return to the classroom and to school administration. For this I am truly grateful.
I finished 2018 truly happy (and grateful) that I had been given so much time to reflect. I had prayed more deeply than I ever had before. I had appreciated my family in a new way. I like to think I became a better husband and father. I got to remember how much I love little things like the incredibly humbling task of teaching my little boy how to become a man or the miraculous gift of having a daughter share my birthday to the minute when I lost my twin sister so many years ago. I plowed through a few different workout routines and came to understand the inside of the gym a lot better. I packed on some mass, stripped off
some a lot of bodyfat, got noticably stronger and feel positioned to keep going AND I’m not discouraged but grateful for the breakthroughs and for my overall health. I learned a new set of skills and an entirely new industry. I made some new friends. I even heard my boss tell me on New Years Eve that she was grateful for my professionalism and that she couldn’t have run her business as smoothly without me. I got a chance to embrace what it means to not care what others think of me and to willingly sacrifice a bigger paycheck in order to do important work (and work that I love doing).
I quit smoking! But I went back to it after two months. Some things never change.
Yet through it all I am grateful.
We did the whole rock thing again a few nights ago. We used new rocks this time that my daughter lovingly painted with my wife. For 2019 I am to work on “generosity”. I think I might just have this one under my belt but there will always be new ways to improve. I will start by striving to be a better friend, a better son, a better brother, a better husband, and a better father.
And as always, I will start this year with a flurry of posts. Whether or not I get that book(s) published, a YouTube channel up and running, or my stats go through the roof I am grateful I have a few of you to read what I say right here. I will keep hitting the gym every day – lifting harder and heavier each time, getting shredded because it’s always been my goal and I WILL achieve my goal, and adding new stuff to get all-around fit. There was a time I couldn’t do a single pull-up. Now I knock out dozens at a time. In the new year I’m going to master one-armed push-ups. And I will probably write all about it. And I thank you for still coming back to read about it.
God bless each of you in 2019 but especially the three most important people in my world. For you, I am eternally grateful.