Prone to wait: When we get impatient…

I know I’ve been on radio silence here on the blog for far too long. I clearly haven’t been keeping up with my goals. Quite honestly, I haven’t really felt like I’ve had anything to say.

My mom used to say “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” though I have a feeling she might have gotten that from the movie Bambi. Even still, I think the same sentiment can easily be applied to social media, and maybe even expanded: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything!”

I still question whether I have anything of value to say, but I do have some thoughts I’ve been processing this evening.

Sunset

I seem to have arrived at a season of waiting.

Waiting on my trip with my best friend from college.
Waiting on my birthday.
Waiting to celebrate Easter.
Waiting to see friends who stubbornly moved overseas last year.
Waiting on direction for a BIG thing to think BIG about.

Often, our immediate-gratification seeking culture considerings waiting to be a negative thing. But in this case, I disagree. In fact, I’m rather elated during this season of waiting, because I know the things I’m waiting on are freakin fantastic!

But we don’t always know that, do we? Sometimes, waiting can be hard. Especially when we don’t know the outcome of what we’re waiting on.

I believe our discomfort in waiting is less about impatience and more about uncertainty.

Sometimes we have to wait on hard things: the test results from the doctor’s office; the phone call after the job interview you had; lunch.

In those moments, my hardest struggle isn’t impatience, though it might masquerade as such. In those moments, my hardest struggle is trust: trusting that God knows what He’s doing; trusting that I really believe His words enough to put them into practice; trusting that He knows the outcome I can’t yet see.

The next time you’re feeling impatient in a season of waiting, check your certainty of the outcome. You may find you’re actually great at waiting! But terrible at trusting.

What was I thinking?

“What grade will you be working with?”

This innocent question from my mom was one I had not yet processed through. When my friend, Katie, asked whether I would consider working with one of the guys groups in our youth ministry at church, I had failed to gather all of the pertinent details before committing to the school year.

“Hopefully one of the older groups,” I replied. The “older groups” seemed so much more relate-able to me, talking about high school challenges and college choices. Having been around the church a smidgen, I’ve worked in some capacity with almost every age group below mine: college students, high school, directing VBS for the younguns. I probably even filled in for someone in the nursery at some point. But through all of these activities and serving as a substitute teacher whilst in college (another post for another day), I actively tried to avoid one special group of the human species: middle school students.

So naturally, I was assigned to seventh grade boys. As surely as I write this, the Lord is testing me.

I mean no disrespect to any current or former middle schooler who may be reading this. It’s really nothing personal. But that time in life is one I look back on with less than fond memories. To classify those years as “transitional” does a great disservice to all the other available adjectives. I’ve never met a single person who liked their middle school experience. And if I did, I’m not sure I could trust them.

I’ve always thought that middle school teachers and volunteers would have a special place in heaven for all of their hard work, mainly because, quite frankly, middle school is a special kind of hell.

Now with several weeks behind us, I must admit that I’m enjoying the challenge of leading 7th grade guys. But it is, indeed, a challenge. Not because they’re not good kids–they are. But these guys speak a different language than I do. I don’t even know what a Minecraft is. Is it something on cable television? I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t walk to the student center on Sunday mornings with a hint of fear and trepidation.Thankfully, I don’t have to break my “no-Facebook-friendships-with-minors” rule because these children don’t even have Facebook. Bless them.

The saving grace in all of this is that my co-leader, Michael, has a son in 6th grade and another one in 8th grade. As one of my favorite bloggers would say: “Hands to the heavens!” Here’s to hoping that he can translate where I fall short.

But for all of my efforts, I feel I may be doing more learning than teaching this year when all is said and done. And I’m OK with that.

Prone to quit: The worst kind of busyness

do all the things

If you ever ask me how I’m doing and my reply has anything to do with being “busy,” you have permission to unfriend me. Seriously. No questions asked.

Let’s be honest: we’re all busy. It may look different to you than it does to me. Some of us wear it as a badge of honor, but I’m over that.

I find myself in a very brief season of what I jokingly referred to as “the worst kind of busyness”: spinning your wheels while making no progress. (As opposed to making real progress, like my in-person friend growing her garden and re-doing her office, or my internet friends getting great content out on their blogs. At the moment, y’all are not my favorite people.)

Perhaps you know the feeling. Lots of lists written down and strewn hither and yon. A woefully unrealistic deadline (often self-imposed) to get things done. The promise to yourself that it won’t be like the last time.

And then it becomes like the last time. You resign yourself to the fact that things will be left undone. You substitute a real dinner with a fresh pack of Oreos to mask the disappointment. Just me? OK then, moving on…

In this particular episode, I’m juggling projects at work against a pending international trip in 1.5 weeks that I’m leading and STILL haven’t booked our final hotel with LOADS of unnecessary house chores and cleaning sandwiched in between watching two dogs on two separate weekends with a friend visiting from out of town thrown in for good measure all before welcoming a new roommate this weekend and finalizing my house refinancing. Clearly, I NEED to sweep my garage and organize my Gmail and sort, file, shred, and store YEARS worth of paperwork before I leave the country.

Who knew Oreos could be so soothing?

I should know better by now. You would think my awesome sense of self-awareness would kick in at some point and keep me from such destructive patterns. When I took the StrengthsFinder test a few years ago, it told me one of my strengths was “Achiever” (shocker!) but I’ll “never feel as though [I’ve] reached [my] goal” and I “must learn to live with this whisper of discontent.”

Discontent, thy name is Dustin.

But this is not a pity party. This is not a complaint. For the most part, I rather enjoy the things that keep me busy.

This is a line in the sand. The day I stop talking about being busy and give myself the permission to avoid creating it. And recognize that this is a season.

I’m going to plow ahead and redeem the time that’s left as best as I can. There will be things left undone. But the world will keep spinning and those things will be here when I get back from the other side of it.

Perhaps you’d like to join me. Let’s quit this cult of busyness.

Fun fact: I decided to write this blog post instead of tacking the to-do list, because there aren’t enough Oreos in town to deal with my inbox or the work list I carried home.

Prone to connect: Strength in numbers

Harry Potter quote

I was talking with a friend last week about a new workout routine he was doing. A student in his youth group asked my friend to hold him accountable with his exercise goals now that his high school sports team was out of season.

My friend begrudgingly obliged, realizing they should probably participate together to make the accountability work both ways. This took some measure of effort on the part of my friend, because he’s neither a morning person nor much of a fitness person. I mentioned how inconsistent my own gym time had been lately, and decided to join their group by texting my friend the next morning after we each completed our routines (we live 6 hours and one time zone apart).

I shared this with a few friends at work, and they were on board, as well. These were also some of the same people who had completed almost 30 solid days of planking together earlier this year for “Fab Ab February,” working on our fitness daily right from our office.

I began to notice a pattern.

We’ve all heard that things are easier when there’s someone else involved, but it’s hard to see the benefits until you actually put it into practice. Sticking to an exercise routine seems less daunting when there are other people holding you accountable and expecting you to perform. And that’s only one example.

This got me thinking about a story from the Bible. I’ve been studying the book of Daniel for a blog series I hope to start in a few weeks. In chapter 3, we read about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to bow down to the king while they were living in exile. Consequently, they accepted the king’s punishment: they would all be thrown into the firey furnace.

Was the prospect of death easier to face with friends?

I’m certainly not comparing execution by decree to our meager group calisthenics, and I’m not trying to add to Scripture what isn’t there. But as I studied the story, I was reminded about the power of facing challenges together.

There are countless stories in the Bible of God working through individuals to fulfill his purposes. But there are also plenty of examples of believers “doing life together.” Even Christ took three friends with Him to the garden to pray before He faced the cross. (The failure of His friends to stay awake is another story altogether.)

When you read through Acts and the stories of the early church, you almost get the sense that God planned it this way–to live life in community, “bearing each others burdens,” and walking the sometimes challenging roads together. What a novel idea.

Many of us have a natural tendency to do things on our own. But some things in life call for a shared experience. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to face the challenge–or the blessing–with others beside you.

Who are you including in the journey? What have you faced, good or bad, that was easier when you brought others along?

planking

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Prone to savor: 8 things I learned as a pie judge

This post is a little long, but I hope you like it, because it was written by an actual pie judge. How often can you claim that?!

A few weeks ago, I heard that the Great American Pie Festival was coming back to Celebration, Fla., in late April. As I was looking into dates and details, I noticed that they were accepting applications to judge the pies that would be part of the competition. It took zero convincing to realize this would be both a good story and a fascinating way to spend two days. (As you might have guessed from my bath house series, there’s not much I won’t do if it’s worth a good story.) I submitted the application and heard back a few days later: I was in!

I spent two days meeting pie lovers, tasting pies, and fasting from almost all other forms of food. Here’s what I learned:

the judging room1. Judging pies is serious business.
One of my first realizations was that I was a total rookie. I stepped into a world that many judges had been a part of for years. What I thought would be a fun story to share was actually a yearly ritual for some of these people–and I think that’s awesome. Was I really about to judge a pie and offer constructive criticism beside someone who had done this for five or more years?

Yes. Yes I was. And without any measure of shame or inferiority. I earned this spot, dang it.

2. The squeaky wheel is probably the captain.
I honestly don’t know how this happened: I was voted table captain both days of judging. Perhaps my commanding presence calmed the other judges. I had an old boss tell me once that I had “kind eyes,” so maybe that was it. But more likely, it was probably because I was the first one at the table to introduce myself to the other judges–only to be friendly! If I had known we would be picking a table captain, I may have just stayed quiet. Could I handle the pressure? Five other people were expecting me to.

I was really hoping that this included a special badge or maybe even a hat or sash or ribbon of some kind, but sadly, there resulted no physical marker of my stature. Only the duty of checking my fellow judge’s math when they turned in their score sheets. But I’ve already added this as a skill on my resume.

3. No one likes a pie bully.
There are several rules to follow upon taking your place at the judging table. Principle among them: no one likes a “pie bully” (yes, this is a real thing). When the pie is brought out, the table talk stops, at least regarding the pie at hand. Evidently in previous years, a few judges at the same table would collude on their favorites and influence the team through their verbal and nonverbal communication. I think this is also part of the reason that spouses and friends were split up among different tables. You’ve got to be pretty passionate about pie to be willing to sway the results.

judging formsWe judged the piece on a variety of points, including pre- and post-slice appearance, first impression, complexity of flavors and how well they worked together, mouth feel and consistency, crust quality, and aftertaste. As soon as the pie was done and the judges sheets were handed in and there was no longer the fear of influencing the votes, we all talked about what we liked, what we didn’t, and how it could be improved.

I was amazed at how quickly I convinced myself that I actually knew what I was talking about.

4. There’s more than one way to make a chocolate pie.
On the phone with my mom after day 2 of judging, she asked “how many ways can you make a chocolate pie? Aren’t they all just…chocolate?” Silly amateur.

One might think that the category of “classic chocolate” might get a bit…redundant. But pie makers are a creative bunch, and there are actually several different ways to make a chocolate pie. Out of the 22 chocolate pies we tasted (not an exaggeration), we sampled everything from banana and chocolate, “Coco Chanel” chocolate, mint chocolate, chocolate with cherries, and one unfortunate experience that felt like the pie was full of sand.

But I will admit that the 4th or 5th chocolate pie with some raspberry connection begins to see a bit unoriginal.

5. It’s all fun and games until there is a tie.
Each pie is judged individually, and all of the pies in a given category are ordered by final score. This meant that all of the judges had to stick around after the final slice is judged in case there was a tie. If there was, the two tied pies had to be judged again.

Oh the drama.

On the second day of judging, our table decided to plow through all 22 pies at once, instead of breaking for lunch and coming back afterward. We thought this would speed up the process, since none of us expected to stick around to break a tie.

We were wrong.

After finishing our last pie, a few of us walked to the cafe to pick up our lunch, thinking we would come back and be quickly released to the rest of our day. As we entered the judging hall, we were informed that two of our pies were tied for 2nd and 3rd place. So our volunteers scurried to bring out the two pies for re-judging. We went through the process again, and since I was checking the math and saw the final scores, I knew that we had broken the tie after this round. We all wanted a specific one of the two tied pies to do better than it did, but there were reasons we all scored it lower. And these secrets will stay among our circle of judges.

The "Classic Chocolate" judges on Day 26. Pie people are delightful people.
Over the course of two days, I got the chance to meet and talking with some very kind, genuine folks. It’s easy to make friends when you’re all there to talk about and eat pie. As someone who loves figuring out people’s stories, it was great getting to hear everyone’s background and how they became a part of such an interesting event.

It’s not just the judges that make this happen, but each table is assigned a volunteer or two. Their role is to bring out and present the pies, run back and forth to the refrigerators, turn in our judging sheets, and make sure our table is stocked with water, plates, napkins, forks, and oyster crackers. We had some fantastic volunteers at both of my tables.

7. It’s a family affair.
While the pies were judged at a hotel in Orlando, the public event was in Celebration, Fla. I had heard about the pie festival for a few years, but I had never been. My two days of judging afforded me two complimentary tickets to the festival and The Never Ending Pie Buffet. Just a few perks of the job…

The family sweet toothOf all the people I could have guessed I might run into at the pie festival, I should have known it would be my cousin. Jennifer and her family live in my home town, about 45 minutes away from Orlando, and after I made my way to the event on Sunday, the first people I ran into were my cousin, her daughter, and our friend Pam from my home church. While it was great catching up with them at talking all things pie, I declined to eat any with them because…

8. There is such a thing as too much pie.
Even the most ardent pie lovers among us had reached their limit by the end of a day of judging. Thankfully, we weren’t required to eat a full slice of pie for each one we judged–only a few bites, but enough to try all the flavors and components. After 13 apple pies, 9 peanut butter pies, and 22 chocolate pies, I’m staying away from sweets for as long as I can.

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If you live in the central Florida area, or if you love pies enough to travel here, I highly recommend the experience of the Great American Pie Festival. And if you really want to get in on the action, you can volunteer to be a judge or a table host when the competition comes around next year. I know I’m already planning on it.

Of all the jobs I’ve had, I can’t think of a sweeter gig than this. 😉