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Lessons from my watch.

This is the part where I apologize for not posting in for-frikkin-ever and come up with some great excuses, but in the words of Sweet Brown… “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

So, let’s get to it.

I got this sweet new “smart” watch for Christmas from my parents this year. I love it. I understand that I can pull my phone out of my pocket and see all the notifications there, but I love new technology and I didn’t have to pay for it so stop yelling at me ūüôā

Anyway…unlike a normal watch this one has to be charged on occasion. Not a big deal since I am in the habit of charging almost half a dozen other tech items I own on a regular basis. Today, my new smart watch notified me that it’s juice was getting low and it was due for a charge. So, I started searching for the specific cable to charge this specific device. I looked upstairs by our bed. I looked by the computer. I looked downstairs. I looked in our box of random cables. Nothing. We just got back from our holiday trip to Florida, so I started searching in bags and luggage and the car and in everything that made the trip down with us. No luck.

Panic began to set in. Now, I know we live in a beautiful, tech savvy culture where I can order a replacement and have it delivered to my house within a week, but my device would be dead by then and life would end as I know it. (ok…a little dramatic, but you get the point)

Then it hit me…this is exactly what happens to us. Whether it’s physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, we find ourselves in time of emptiness, or close to it. We start to dry up and realize that we are about to hit the wall and metaphorically die.

We need to recharge. We need to plug in and let ourselves be refilled with what gives us energy and the ability to continue doing life.

I’ve been sick for the past month or so and just recently I’ve started to get better. My congestion has subsided, my cough has almost stopped and I’ve been able to get almost a full night’s sleep. Now, I’m the type of person who stops taking my medicine as soon as I start to feel better. Right after I got off work today I began to feel my body telling me it wasn’t fully healed yet. That I had cut the recovery time short. So, after searching for almost an hour for this stupid cable to charge my super cool new techie watch and after taking a nap from mental and physical exhaustion ¬†I began looking for my medicine, which also made the trip with us from Florida.

Lo and behold…in the paper bag that held my prescription medicine was the cable to charge my watch. How? I have no idea. Coincidence…I think not.

Don’t forget to recharge.

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Living The Dream

Sarcasm.

Say what you will about it, it is incredibly prevalent in almost all of our day to day conversations. So much so that sometimes it’s hard to even distinguish whether or not someone is being sarcastic or truthful.

This happens to me a lot. I speak sarcasm like a 2nd language. It tends to roll off my tongue without me even trying to. Sometimes to the point where people don’t know if I’m being serious or not. And while I like to keep people on their toes, it’s not always a good thing.

Usually, I am being sarcastic, but when I’m not and people think I am it tends to be unfortunate. Let me give you an example.

So, I’m at the coffee shop I work at and someone comes to the counter. I greet them and ask how their day is going. “Fine,” or something to that affect is said and, if their chatty, they will usually ask me in return how my day is going. To which I usually respond with, “Living the dream.”

Now, right off the bat that might sound sarcastic. After all, most people aren’t living the kind of life they dreamed about. Most of us aren’t in the work environment we dreamed we would be in. So, when someone responds with “living the dream,” what they’re usually saying is sarcastic and means something to the affect of, “I wish I was doing something else with my life.” Maybe not that dramatic, but you get the idea.

Here’s the problem‚ĶI’m not being sarcastic when I say that!

I really am living the dream. It’s a dream I’ve had for a little while now. A dream to become a greater part of the coffee community here in Raleigh. A dream to help create a place where people can experience the sense of community I’ve experienced through coffee. To learn and grow in my knowledge of coffee and the coffee industry.

I know not many people get to say that. Not many people get to say that what they are doing or where they’re working is what they dreamed about.

Herein lies the problem. Such a big problem, might I add, that it is automatically thought of as sarcasm when you tell someone that you’re living the dream.

So, it catches people off guard when I tell them, “No, really. This is the dream. This is exactly what I what to be doing with my life right now.”

It’s unfortunate that it does.

If that’s you, if you immediately hear “Living the dream,” and think sarcasm, then I want you to hear me now‚Ķfigure out what your dream is and go do it. Forget about the obstacles. Forget about the ‘what if’s’, forget about what other people say and pursue that dream.

You only get one life. One chance to live out your dreams. Why waste anymore time not doing what you dreamed about?

And, by the way, you may fail. As a matter of fact, there’s probably a good chance you will. But, that’s no excuse for not trying.

Surprised

Maybe it’s because deep down I’m still somewhat of a cynical person. Maybe I have trust issues. Maybe my first girlfriend cheating on me in the 6th grade made me lose faith in humanity…either way…I’m still surprised when we’re surprised that people fail.

With all the news about Lance Armstrong doping and Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend I can’t help but see others so disappointed in these guys. We looked at them like hero’s and they’ve let us down.

My first reaction can’t help but be something to the effect of, “We’ve seen this before.” Maybe not in this exact situation, but we lift people up and they fail us. This isn’t new.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I get the whole “with great power comes great responsibility thing.” I understand that with fame and popularity and success should come some sort of understanding that people look up to you and you should be smart about the things you say and do.

But, at the end of the day…people are people. And people aren’t perfect.

So, what’s the solution? To never trust anyone and live life as if everyone you meet and hear about is going to fail you? That’s the easy way out. The way that leads to no true relationships. The way that says no one can live up to your expectations.

To trust someone means being vulnerable. It means having faith in people. And that’s hard to do, but it’s necessary.

We have to love. We have to engage in real, authentic relationships. We have to have faith. But, we have to remember…human beings are just that…human. It doesn’t matter the level of responsibility they have, they will make mistakes and they will not always meet your expectations. And guess what? So will you.

You will fail. You will make mistakes. You will not meet others’ and your own expectations.

But that’s the beauty of grace. Grace is getting something you don’t deserve. Like forgiveness. Like a 2nd chance.

Grace is something that we find hard to give, until we need it.

So, trust people. Have faith. Be vulnerable. Even if they’re going to fail you and not meet your expectations. Because you will do the same.

Be grace-filled.

Follow Up to “You Never Know” (aka: Second Chances)

Talk about a roller coaster of emotion!

Last week I found out the kid I mentor with at Neighbor 2 Neighbor and who I have been mentoring for almost 2 years had moved away and would no longer be in the program. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed.

Here’s the blog post I wrote about it: You Never Know

But, oh how things change.

Yesterday I got an email from one of the directors of N2N that said, while his living situation is not stable, he is still in Raleigh and WILL be at mentoring tonight. So, that’s pretty cool, to say the least.

2nd chances. Not everyone gets them, but when we do we should be grateful and take advantage of them.

While we can’t plan for or expect 2nd chances in this life, we can hope for them…but more importantly, we can use the 1st chance we have to work our hardest, to love¬†fiercely, to give generously and to make the most of the opportunities we have now.

Live as if this is the only chance you’ll get to do whatever it is you’re doing.

I, for one, plan to take advantage of it. To let Andrew know that he’s cared for and how much I appreciate our time together.

S.T.O.P.

When Cynthia and I were in youth ministry we started this Wednesday night program called S.T.O.P. (Simple Time Of Peace). It was simply an opportunity for our kids to come in for an hour on a Wednesday night and just stop. To just rest. We told them that if they needed to sleep then do that. If they wanted to read, then read. If they wanted to write or get creative, there was tools available for them to do that.

This kind of flew in the face of youth ministry programming then. While everyone else was adding more and more events and attracting kids by all these high energy programs we said let’s stop.

At first it didn’t go so well. Kids (and parents) wanted programs. They wanted fun. They wanted more. But, eventually kids started coming. Their parents started to see the change in their kids who had now had an opportunity to stop, to slow down, to rest, to calm down and refocus. It was pretty cool to see that shift.

As I sit here on a Monday, my day of rest, my day for S.T.O.P. I’m reminded of how important it is to slow down. We live in a culture that says, “Get as much done as you can, as soon as you can, so you can do more.” I’m not against multi-tasking and working hard and getting things done. That’s important.

But, if we never stop, never slow down, our lives will quickly spiral out of control. If we don’t control our calendar, then someone or something else will. Don’t let that happen. I’ve been there. Burnt out. No light at the end of the tunnel and not really sure how to fix it.

Create some S.T.O.P. space in your life. Some space and time where you can simply refuel and recharge. If you don’t see how you could possibly fit any kind of space like that into your schedule then quit something. Chances are you’re not doing it well enough anyway because you’re overworked.

I really believe that a regular time to slow down and stop will not only give you a chance to refuel, but it will also increase your productivity.

Do you have S.T.O.P. regularly? What are some of the most rest-filled activities you have found?

You Never Know

Cynthia and I have been mentoring kids with Neighbor 2 Neighbor for almost 2 years now. It is an incredible organization. They work with kids who are at least 1 grade level behind, most of which are 2 or 3 behind, and they have a 100% success rate with kids who stick with the program of getting them back up to or above grade level.

But it’s really more than just the mentoring they¬†facilitate. They truly are building a community of hope, justice and compassion. There are very few chances where you get to see your efforts change a life right in front of your eyes, but at N2N that happens each and every night as mentors love on their kids and help them with their reading or writing.

I’ve been mentoring the same kid, Andrew, since we started helping out at N2N. I’ve got to be honest, when I first started I was nervous. You see, I’m not the sharpest bowling ball in the drawer and having to teach a kid things he’s going to be tested on scared me. I was worried that I would not know the material and just mess Andrew’s schooling up entirely.

It went better than I could have imagined. N2N makes it so easy to be a mentor as far as the curriculum goes and beyond that Andrew and I just clicked. All the way down to having the same first name (what the A in A.J. stands for, by the way) and having the same favorite color (red).

I loved this kid. Over time his shyness went away, his confidence grew, we read over 60 books together and had a bunch of fun at movie nights, the state fair and schooling him in basketball (ok, honestly, I only won because I’m taller than him).

I looked forward to every Wednesday night getting to hang out with Andrew.

Yesterday, as I was getting ready to head to N2N for our first night of mentoring since Christmas break I got a call to say that Andrew’s family moved¬†unexpectedly¬† and he would no longer be in the N2N program.

I was crushed.

Didn’t even get to say “goodbye.”

All I could think of was, “Man…wish I had one more chance to hang out.” You usually read posts like this after someone passes away. Gratefully, that’s not the case here and there’s still a chance I may see him again sometime in the future, but the weekly opportunity I’ve had with him is gone for now.

You never know. You never know when someone you care about, someone you spend time with, someone whose life you have a chance to impact is gone.

So, what’s the point? Seize every moment with people you care about. If you ever hope to change someone’s life, to tell them something, to make an impact…don’t wait. Do it now. Call them, hang out, grab coffee, whatever it is don’t wait.

While I am disappointed that I won’t be able to impact Andrew’s life for as long as I had hoped, I do trust that the time I did spend with him will have an impact on his life now and in the future.

I’m also excited about the opportunity to impact another kids life. There’s nothing like building the relationship Andrew and I built and starting over with another kid can be daunting, but to have another chance to be a positive influence in another kids life and help change their life for the better is an opportunity I won’t pass up.

The Last Don (aka: Why I like books about the Mafia)

One of my goals this year, as it was last year, is to read more. I already love to read, so it’s not really a hard one to accomplish and I live with this understanding that if you’re not learning, you’re dying. So, I read a lot of books that apply to my life, i.e. community, church, mission, leadership, Jesus, service, etc… I try to read things from different authors with different perspectives so things change up a bit and I get to see both sides of an argument. After all, if you just read everything you agree with that’ll eventually get pretty boring.

However…every once in a while I will read stuff that has nothing to do with what I do. Last year I read¬†The Godfather by Mario Puzo. I’ve always loved the movies and the book was even better (except for some very distinct differences that made me very angry…but we’ll not go into that right now). So, for Christmas Cynthia got me another book by Mario Puzo, called¬†The Last Don.

The Last Don is a semi-sequel to The Godfather, in that is just shows the mafia’s continued role in American life, specifically in the worlds of Hollywood and Las Vegas. Without getting into the details…it’s a good book and I devoured all 500 pages of it in less than a week.

After I finished the book it got me thinking…”Why do I enjoy books like this so much?” Your first answer may be something like, “Well, A.J. you’re Italian, so obviously you read it as some sort of biography about your family.” While I cannot confirm or deny any of my family’s relationship to the “mafia” I can say that you would be wrong…sort of ūüėČ

What I do enjoy mostly about these books is the emphasis on family. Not The Family, but family dynamics. Besides the criminal activities of the families portrayed in his books, the close knit relationships these families have is something I think we all long for.

I feel really blessed to have had a great family life growing up and yes, being Italian has played into the fact that family is really important to me.

I think there’s a desire deep within all of us to belong to some sort of family. Maybe your family life wasn’t great, so you’ve created a new family. One made up of friends, co-workers and people you love. Either way, family is important, but it may not always look the same to everyone.

To belong, whether to a family (not The Family) in the traditional sense or to a new definition of family satisfies one of life’s deepest longings.

“Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family. Ever.”¬† ~ Michael¬†Corleone

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