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Life Through the Lens of a Decade

As it has been my habit for the past few years, the time has come for my year end/birthday reflection post. And since this year happens to be the beginning of a new decade of my life (I’m turning 30, if you weren’t aware), I thought I should look back at each of the previous decades of my life and highlight the primary lesson or focus from each. Let me preface that I have no idea how rambling or full of rabbit trails this might get, so continue at your own risk ūüėČ

 

First Decade: Learning

One of my first lasting memories was of desiring to know. Tasting this, grabbing that, smelling this; I had to find out more. It’s not uncommon for parents to claim their child was inquisitive but I didn’t just want to know “why” but I needed to know “how”. And it didn’t take me long to figure out that I could learn much faster on my own than asking someone else. So I read and read and read. And learned. But it wasn’t just reading. I built and played and created. Legos were also a key part of my growth. My brothers and I would create elaborate castles and towns and ships, each with its own narrative. Creating stories was just as important to me as reading them. I think that’s part of why I write today, it’s how I learned to create. But back to reading. I gobbled up everything I could get my hands on, and then some. I started reading harder and harder books, with bigger words and higher difficulty. By the time I passed into the second decade of my life, I was reading at least four grade levels above my age. I’m not trying to brag too much, but I was reading at a college level by junior high. Needless to say, reading was how I learned to feed my appetite for information. And I had to use this knowledge to create an identity that allowed me to make sense of a world that didn’t really understand me.

 

Second Decade: Soccer

If anyone close to me was asked what my favorite sport was, I’d imagine they’d answer soccer with little hesitation. And my love for this sport was found almost comically, because I grew up in a traditional Hoosier farm town where football and basketball were king. But football, being a fall sport like soccer, was an expensive venture, so my parents decided I should try the cheaper alternative instead. Turns out, I was really good at it. A natural almost. In fact, one of my earliest memories of playing soccer was having a coach tell me to only use my right foot like everyone else in swarm league because dribbling the ball with my left let me separate from the crowd of players and score many times. And some of my fondest memories from my middle school years revolve around playing soccer. It was something I could be recognized for and made me more than just “that smart kid”. Because honestly, I sometimes hated the fact that I was so much smarter than kids my age. They gave me weird looks because I knew all the answers and probably showed them up in class on numerous occasions. But soccer, soccer allowed me to be “one of the guys”. Let me belong. Let me put my knowledge of the game to use for the benefit of my teammates. And as my skill developed on the field, so did my involvement off it. In high school I started watching professional soccer in earnest and even began refereeing on occasion. My biggest regret when it comes to pursuing my love of soccer is that I never made an effort to play competitively in college, a decision that still haunts me today. In some ways, I wonder how different I would have been as a person had I made that leap of faith and invested in that opportunity. But my passion has persisted and grown as the years went on, giving me a place within a world I didn’t always understand.

 

Third Decade: Community

When it comes to the scale of introversion, you’d find me somewhere on the anti-social hermit end. Well, at least that’s where I’d be if I choose my spot, but mostly out of personal jest. Because if my readers might remember, being social is something that is not a natural skill for me. People both fascinate and frustrate me to no end. In an average social situation, I’m prone to observe rather than interact, even more so if it’s unfamiliar territory or with a large number of strangers. That said, it takes me awhile to “warm up” to people. So while finding a place in society through soccer as the foundation of my social interaction (outside of church and school) during my second decade of life, I struggled greatly to find a foundation during the earlier years of my third decade. College was turbulent, but I managed to find a small group of people who accepted me. But after college, I lost a lot of social motivation and entered my “hermit stage”. It took me a couple years to overcome these tendencies, largely through personal discovery and healing of old wounds. So I tried to put myself into situations that would force me to get to know people and expose myself to social environments. I also struggled to find an identity as a member of society, as a steady job wasn’t forthcoming. After school, I wasn’t sure what I would do and what I thought I wanted to do wasn’t working out at the time. My breakthrough, oddly enough, didn’t come through a social opportunity, but through a personal understanding. Before I could find my place in society, I had to find myself. It might sound cheesy, but I studied mental patterns, cognitive functions, personality theories, and sociology to better understand why I operated the way I did within society. Why I chose to stand in the corner rather than join the circle. Why I would rather be the guy in the background making sure things ran smoothly than the one leading from the front. Perhaps the biggest piece of realization that helped me move forward was to understand that my mind how processes information prioritizes facts and rational data over emotions and personal connections. There was a brief period that I honestly thought I was broken. But once I started to understand myself and my natural patterns of thought and social cognition, I was able to approach people in a way that wasn’t nearly as awkward and blunt as I was before. And I learned to be a friend to people. To put my knowledge and talents to work for others. I became a coach for my old junior high and started reffing again for local recreational and travel leagues. I started serving in my church, putting my natural desire to work in the background towards a noble purpose. And I took steps to realize my dream of becoming a teacher and got back into the classroom as a sub. And last and perhaps the most important, I joined a couple different groups of young adults who desired community just as much as I did. It’s amazing how friendships can start when perfect strangers all wish to have others to do life together with. And while I’m not someone who compulsively feels the need to have many close personal connections with others, I found that deep within these relationships were greatly important to my development and purpose in life. So despite myself and certain sociopath tendencies, I not only wanted to create these relationships but I wanted to make sure others didn’t have to struggle as hard as I did to find them or arrive at a place where they realized how lonely life would be without them. And going forward, I hope that the communities I’ve found will continue to grow and mature and become something truly impactful on the lives of everyone involved.

 

Three decades, three core components. And looking back, I can see how one decade has helped support those that followed. I can only hope that this trend continues rather than a collapse after an imbalance arises from mismatching interests or pursuits. For now, I’m content to look ahead with anticipation of what the future holds and acceptance of the lessons my past has taught me. And since this new decade might be the best one yet, I invite you, dear readers, to join me as I continue to discover what this journey known as life might entail.

 

 

S.D.G.

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First Reflections of a Bewildered Temp

So it’s that time folks, venting time. Okay, I kid (somewhat), my first week as a temporary sub wasn’t THAT bad. The teacher I’m covering for is VERY organized and has numerous lesson plans for every lesson of every unit. So the content worries I had (being a history teacher trying to teach science) were slightly lessened. On the other hand, some of the students I have are considerably difficult but I’ll get to some of those stories soon. I actually chronicled my thoughts on each day so below is a relatively unabridged version of those reflections.

Day 1-

Honestly, today went better than I thought it would. The first day with a new teacher always seems to bring out the worst in some students, but I only ended up sending just one student to the office. I later learned said student has ADHD, which would explain the randomness of his actions, but I still wanted to set a precedent that goofing off would not be tolerated. I decided to have all of the 7th grade Science classes write down a question they’d like me to ask, so that they could get to know me a little better. After all, they’re stuck with me for the next four weeks. The Math Labs (remedial classes) are pretty easy, since I’m basically just a glorified babysit and don’t really teach much of anything. However, because this is a remedial class, it means many of the students have learning disabilities and/or attitude problems. The Project Lead The Way (PLTW) class is basically an intro to engineering and 3D modeling class and, since they’ve been at it for 7 weeks, they are pretty much teaching themselves at this point. The Science classes do prove a bit unruly and science isn’t my favorite subject nor my best, it’ll take some time to build confidence and for the students to get used to my personal teaching style. But once that happens, I’m pretty excited to “science the shit” out of the next couple weeks haha.

Day 2-

Today was pretty chaotic still as I’m learning about the students and their personalities. I managed to avoid sending any students to the office, but I probably have ISTEP testing to take for that more than an improvement in student behavior. I’m slowly developing a rhythm for my day as I’m figuring out my lessons and planning out instruction to occupy them. However I must admit my mind is drifting elsewhere throughout the day as I’m meeting a friend tonight for an important conversation. Thankful ISTEP allowed the day to go pretty smoothly as the number of students in each class was significantly smaller, so being slightly distracted by the evening’s anticipation did not detract much from my instruction. Probably the most exciting thing that happened today at school was learning how to write up discipline reports. Which actually came in handy, since I found out the student I told to go to the office didn’t actually go to the office but instead hid in the bathroom for the entire period. The experience of writing him up for this was kinda important if I want to establish the fact that I desire to be stern in my disciplinary style and maintain consistency across all my classes. But at the same time, I want the students to know I do this, not because I want to make their lives miserable and ruin all their fun, but because I value their education very highly (and probably higher than they do themselves).

Day 3-

Man, today was long! It most certainly didn’t help that due to a raging storm and a ill-timed train I didn’t get much sleep last night. ISTEP is still in full-swing so students are having to adjust to shifted schedules. I had a talk with my 5th period Science class explaining that due to ISTEP I’m actually being rather lenient with them when it comes to discipline. This may prove important because there is a specific group of boys in this class who tend to lack any form of impulse control and randomly disrupt class. I don’t doubt I’ll end up sending a couple of them to the office before the end of my time here. The Jr High counselor actually stopped by the classroom, which was very encouraging for me to know I had the support of the authority figures in the main office. My first assignments are being turned in, so I now have a daily stack of grading to get through before I can leave each day. Which I don’t really mind, but it’s very odd for me to leave the school at 4:30 and it’s basically deserted. This is completely different than my experience as a student teaching. Maybe it’s just because it’s ISTEP week, but something sends up a flag in the back of my mind when most of the teachers are out of the building less than 30 minutes after the last class ends. I mean I get having social and family obligations, but leaving so soon almost feels like you’re fleeing the premises, and that brings up questions about the overall environment. These thoughts just add to all of the things I’ve been reflecting on lately, especially with everything God has been doing in my life and the people He’s using to teach me, family, friends, and now students.

Day 4-

Today did not get off to a good start, but mostly because I was almost late! I hit the snooze button on my alarm WAY too many times haha. So not only was I almost late, but my usual levels of being “slunk” (because I am not a morning person naturally) were being exceeded. This level of lethargy is usually paired with an oncoming illness but I really just think my body is trying to get caught up on the new schedule and routine. Still in ISTEP, so the students did an in-class project with a partner. Unfortunately with any group work, there’s always at least one student who just doesn’t try to help or needs to just do the project on their own. Sadly, this attitude of lack of effort isn’t just found in my science classes. I have one female student in particular that I have in three separate classes who rarely tries and has a very defeatist attitude. I ended up sending an email to the principal and Jr High counselor expressing my concerns about the apparent attitude problems in the 7th grade math lab in particular, and mentioned this female student by name as one of the worst offenders. The hardest part about doing the math labs is that I don’t actually have any say in the students’ final grade, so my ability to enforce discipline is greatly diminished. For example, I had one student spend the entire period on Google Earth and despite my frequent intervention through remotely closing his window, he’d just reopen it and continue. This is the sort of behavior in my time as a student that would have gotten students a trip to the office to meet the thick end of a paddle, but schools can’t do that anymore…

Day 5-

So I managed to nearly repeat my tardiness from yesterday, but this time it was due to a nice and long hot shower. I’m hoping I manage to arrive at school on Monday at an earlier time, because tardiness is not a habit I wish to develop, in any area of my life. I’m usually that guy who shows up five minutes before the established time. Maybe it’s just been a long week with ISTEP testing and being in a new and unfamiliar environment that’s sapping my energy levels. If I had to pick something, the only real highlight of my week is the time I spent with friends and the excellent conversations I had. Hopefully Monday is more “normal” and that this weekend proves helpful in resting my mind, body, and spirit. Which considering Major League Soccer starts this weekend, I might not do much more than watch soccer all weekend haha.

 

Well one week of being a temp in the bag, and three more to go (at least). With the end of a quarter looming ahead (next Friday), I might find myself in desperate need of carefree fun and fellowship. Considering my sister-in-law is having a birthday party next Friday, I might just get exactly that! Thanks for reading this reflection piece and have a great weekend y’all!

 

 

S.D.G.

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A Touch of the Divine, A Taste of the Dastardly

There is a choice we all must make, one not easy nor simple. It often forces us to pit ourselves against that which defines us the most. Yet without a decision, we wander aimless through this forsaken plane…

Well then, now that I have your attention, I’m actually going to revert to a reflection on why I chose the title I did. It is, in fact, a summary of my past year. For I have been blessed in ways only God could have managed and faced off with situations that left a horrid after-taste. In fact, I’d go so far as to say my 2014 experience began and ended on sore notes, not really the way a year is supposed to. But who am I to judge what I deserve in this life?

So how do I chose to divide this year’s summation? Perhaps by simpler categories, such as physically, emotionally, and spiritually. So here goes:

Physically:

I made a conscious effort to get out more and take opportunities to be more active this past year. This involved not only getting back into playing Ultimate Frisbee on a weekly basis but also joining a couple different teams to play soccer in the local recreation league during the warmer months. I also continued my role as a Jr. High school coach for my high school alma mater in the fall and desire to do it again this year. However the common tendency of mine to avoid gyms (for introverted reasons and lack of motivation) during the colder months means my activity levels are slipping to near hibernation levels. Hopefully I will find my way to some pickup indoor soccer before warmer weather begins so I am in better shape for the summer season than in years past.

Emotionally:

Now this category is hard for me to discuss, largely because I am not an emotional person to begin with. However I can try to divide this into slightly simpler sections and divulge how each has unraveled over the past year. First I would like to start with the mental aspect of my emotions. My mental state has, as a whole, been significantly more stable over the past year than years prior, something I attribute to consistent full-time employment, a simple and efficient living arrangement and the inclusion into new and beneficial social circles. While I was not without my lapses into the irate or insane, these were mostly responses to a difficult situation and not a permanent funk. Second I would like to examine the inter-personal aspect of my emotions, or how I responded to events involving others around me. There were several couples within my circle of friends that had their first child this past year and while I was happy they are establishing families, I often had a twinge of solitude because I knew ¬†this also meant my already small social circle would become significantly less involved. However I was blessed with new friends and rediscovered a couple old ones throughout¬†the year. Yet the year ended on a sore note as shortly after the annual Christmas celebrations had ended, my father was rushed to the hospital with extreme pain in his right leg. I was able to visit him a couple days later before he was released to go home but it was still hard for me to witness him in that state, lying on a hospital bed. Here lay the man I often thought unbreakable growing up, yet at 55 he was bedridden by a pain that wrecked his body to the point of exhaustion. This mental image still haunts me days later…

Finally I must rant about the relational (romantic) aspect of my emotions. Now I readily admit this section may be heavily influenced by my present singleness and the lack of any measure of success on my part in the romantic sector over the past year. Just to name a few events (in no particular order): had a second chance with a girl I wronged and probably fucked it up again as she just shut me out after a couple months of tentative friendship, got friend-zoned at least once, had the girl who broke my heart a few years back message me with an apology I never thought I wanted to hear, finally apologized to my high school sweetheart with whom I unceremoniously ended things because I wasn’t ready for the responsibilities a serious relationship led to, and got stood up by a date I met online (yeah, probably not the best place to be looking but, you know, single-guy problems). So yeah, despite almost everyone around my age in my immediate and extended family having been married or gotten engaged by now, I’m still (and perhaps hopelessly) single. Which leads me to wonder, am I really that bad at relationships or am not worthy of one? I know I can be a hard person to get to know, given that I tend to avoid emotional responses and cannot for the life of me put my emotions into speech and therefore act based on a logical progression of idealistic thoughts. Or maybe it is my rather unconventional ideal of romantic relationships and their progression, something I may¬†detail¬†in the future. But here is what I have going for me: I can cook, clean, perform basic auto-maintenance, have a fair understanding of financial responsibility, know how to¬†care for a family (you learn things as an elder child in a large family), have a clean criminal and driving record, am athletic, smart, usually funny, and my worst addiction [sic] is Mountain Dew. I don’t know about everyone, but that pedigree seems pretty well-rounded and even desirable. Yet it would seem that my obstinate view¬†of social conventions combined with my introverted tendencies make me unsuitable¬†for¬†any sort of romantic relationship. So I guess we shall see if the Sun only sets to rise later on or if I must continue to watch the Moon as a reminder of my solitary status.

Spiritually:

This category is perhaps the most improved as well as the bleakest, as I have hit tremendous highs in my spiritual walk as well as dug myself to terrible lows. Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments (or gains, depending on who’s keeping score) is my involvement in a study on the meaning of Biblical Manhood. While I happened to be the only single (and I believe the youngest) man of the group, I learned significant things about myself, my heritage, and my role as a man. I overcame wounds of my upbringing, established my desired path as a masculine leader, and rekindled the connection with my Eternal Father I had let slide in months before. However the Enemy strikes when we are at our brightest and I fell victim to my passions of game and sport, sacrificing fellowship with believers for the dim glow of a TV screen as I reveled in the competitive football of Barclay’s Premier League and EUFA Championship. Slowly in recent months I have drawn the line between necessity and privilege and am endeavoring to maintain a balance I can be without guilt. I have also grown as I have volunteered my knowledge with the men at my place of employment during our weekly devotions. When I am in “educator” mode, I tend to out-perform my intentions and overcome the limitations of my usual introversion. It is almost as if having a message to deliver gives me an unusual sense of purpose and social presence. It is because of times like these I wonder if I would be better suited for a profession involving instruction or education, despite my usual aversion towards public speaking.

In conclusion, if I had to put a value on the quality of my past year, it would be better than the year before but still a part of an ongoing process of improvement. As I told my dad during my hospital visit, these past couple years have been good but there are moments within them I would be glad to forget, usually memories marred by my own stupidity or social awkwardness. But if I look back on my previous reflections from the beginning of last year (see A Retrospective Inflection and An Introspective Reflection) I would say I did accomplish what I said I wanted to. Perhaps not to a point of lasting results but definitely in ways I can reflect on and appreciate. So if I had to choose a resolution for this year, it would be to continue moving forward and not take anything for granted, for only God knows what the future may hold. Yet I will maintain my belief that things can, and will, be better if I set my eyes on Him, and place my feet where He leads.

S.D.G.

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