Unless the Lord Builds the House

Seven years ago we said goodbye to the Smoke Monster, the two bedroom cave of a condo with the 70’s carpet and omnipresent burnt odor wafting down from the shared attic. Jackson played in a sandbox on the porch, I walked Allison to the Mazda while she labored with Ella, and Jackson went trick or treating for the first time.

We traded the two bedroom/two bath for a smaller place off Milliken and Baseline. A two car garage with an open kitchen and two patios. I doesn’t seem like long, but we’ve lived in #199 Ellena West longer than all our other residences combined: San Bernardino where we were newlyweds, our first condo at La Serena, the 8 month stint in Grand Terrace, and then the three short years in the Smoke Monster. They all seem like equal bouts of time, and I treasure the memories we built at each residence.

I’m sitting in the garage in a beach chair, typing on a laptop resting on a homemade plyo box. I just finished my last garage smashwod, and I’m going to miss these cobble stone pavers in the garage bay that’s served as my late night gym floor, the kids’ play ground, and a community hub where we’ve befriended multiple sets of neighbors. We spent so little time truly getting to know and spend time with our neighbor friends, and yet those casual Sunday afternoons standing around while the kids played and grew taller, older, and more articulate—those interactions came so easy, almost like a loosely-knit family taking for granted how easy it was to fall in and out of conversation.

My friend at the last garage on the right, the one who rolls down his window to chat me up every time he drives by asked me again when we were moving, shaking his head at how quick this all happened. We’ve been talking about barbequeing for the last two years. We never quite made it, and I think both of us are sort of sad that it won’t happen.

This is the house where Ella learned to swim, where she learned to walk, where Jackson and Ella both learned to ride a bicycle without training wheels.

This is where Jackson ate a piece of poop because he thought it was a raisin, where he smothered Ella and his entire room with baby powder and lotion while I watched a movie less than 20 feet away. Ella and Jackson gave me a long board for Father’s Day. We hosted bible studies, watched friends get married and divorced, earned master’s degrees, homeschooled and watched Jackson as he walked to school on his own with friends.

This is where I left teaching and became an administrator and principal, where I learned to live with one car and ride my bike and the bus to work.

We are no longer newlyweds at the fledgling stages of building a family, and 199 has seen us confront the challenges of married life with children.

Almost 10 years ago I wrote about moving from Grand Terrace, and the possibility of meeting new people, finding new places to visit, new hikes, new coffee shops, and new adventures with my family. We have another opportunity to experience this world, and I am gratefully anticipating what the Lord will do for Ella, Jackson, Allison and I in this next phase of our life as a family.

As I prayed with Jackson and Ella tonight for the last time in their shared bedroom, the Lord reminded me and them that unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain. I don’t know what God has in store for us, but I know wherever we go, he is our sure foundation, and he leads us.

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Crossfit Open 2017 and First Spring Break as Principal.

First Spring Break as a principal began, and my third Crossfit Open ended Friday. My shoulders are twinging and my chest feels a little achy from a repeat attempt yesterday, but I am still in one piece. With a few weeks rest, I should ready to ease back into tough training.

In 2015 I finished in the 700s, and for 2016 I set an ambitious goal to go sub 300. I stumbled a bit on the last two workouts, but still met my goal with a 247 finish in Southern California.

This year, I have made improvements in pacing, endurance, and gymnastics. But my strength suffered, partly because of too much competition stimulus in the fall, and partly because of the time and stress demands of my new job. I knew it would be tough, but I aimed for sub 200 in Southern California, and hoped for a top 200 worldwide finish in the new 35-39 master’s division (which would have been equivalent to a master’s regional).

I made top 200 in SoCal, and just missed top 200 in my age group worldwide. 206.

Six flipping spots. Ugh. Any other workout for 17.5, and I would have made it. 10 rounds of 9 thrusters and 35 double unders was agony the first time, and it hurt even worse on my second attempt–especially because I was 4 seconds slower.

I knew I would have to open up a faster pace early and try to hold on. This exposed my lack of muscular endurance even more, as I broke the thrusters in rounds 8, 9, and 10 (first attempt I only broke at round 10). In a desperate attempt to hold on to the bar in round 10, I somehow dropped the bar on the back of my neck, letting that iron cylinder barrel its way down my cervical spine, then up and over my head as it bowed me face down to the ground. It was a pretty ugly defeat, but I take encouragement in that I did not run from this workout.

This year’s effort was good for 9th in my age group and 163 overall in Southern California, and I am proud of my progress. Every day I will keep striving toward progress, learning through failure, and living as salt and light to glorify my God.

My experience in this competitive physical suffering has been helpful for me professionally, both as an outlet and as a metaphor for the relentless challenges that line up to meet me throughout the day. There is always a new one waiting, they will not stop, so I need to find a way to respond. Stand firm, dodge, absorb, transform, deflect, create–options for adaptation are overwhelming, and I need daily wisdom for crafting the best response.

When I glimpse the vague outline of hill after hill of difficulty, I am reminded that there is beauty in this struggle, and grace to be found in Christ. He has given me purpose.

I lift up my eyes to the hills–from where does my help come?

My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness.

I hear these words of encouragement, these reassurances from my sure and steadfast soul-anchor.

Goals. 2017.

For the last 5 years or so, I’ve written goals at the beginning of the year. In 2016, I probably met fewer than I have since keeping track. Part of that may be due to the new job (which was the meeting of one of my professional goals). It’s time consuming; overwhelming. I have depressingly little motivation left over, but I am maintaining activity in each of the goal domains (fitness, faith, family).

Even though I struggled in several ways, I am going to articulate my goals again, and by God’s grace I will be a better, more sanctified version of myself this year.

Last year’s goals:

Faith:

  • Pray with Allison three times a week.
    • (Failed. Will improve this year)
  • Pray for Allison and Kids Everyday.
    • (Failed, but improving)
  • Read the Old Testament
    • (Failed; made it to 2 Chronicles and all the wisdom literature)
  • Devotions once a week with Allison
    • (failed; went through periods of success. Read two books together).

Family/Personal:

  • Pray for kids. Every day. (mostly met)
  • Read with kids three times a week (met some weeks, missed others)

Spread Joy

  • Keep gratitude journal with scriptures (met–just not as many entries as I planned)
  • Notes/gratitude/compliments (met most of last year; falling off this year as principal)

Professional

  • Apply for principal position (got it!)
  • Sit through creation of master schedule (mostly)

Fitness

  • Beat last year’s performance in the Crossfit Open (Done at 247!)
  • Compete in advanced (done, took 2nd at Myriad team comp)
  • Run Spartan. Improve (ran Castaic again; got smoked by Jake. Did not improve)
  • Lifting
    • 300lb clean and jerk (got it)
    • 245lb snatch (got it! This was tough).
    • 500lb deadlift (nope)
    • 315lb clean (got 320!)
    • 425lb squat (nope)

Reading

  • 3 pulp (got 2)
  • 3 faith (yes. Pink, God Without Passions, one marriage book)
  • 3 professional (Drive, Mindset, AVID book, Happiness Advantage again, Making the Mark)
  • 3 nutrition/strength and conditioning (nope)

This Year, 2017:

Faith

  • pray for Al and kids daily
  • devotions three times per month
  • finish Old Testament and read New Testament
  • Read with the kids twice per week

Spread Joy

  • Gratitude each day
  • props 3x a week (email, card, in person)
  • Gratitude journal 3X per week

Professional:

  • Build MTSS team. Implement plan for next year.
  • Put Tier 1 PBIS structures in place.
  • Put us on path for AVID site of distinction by 2018.
  • Tweet twice per week.
  • Two school videos a month.

Fitness

  • New masters division in Crossfit Open. Go top 40 in 35-40 division, and top 250 (both in SoCal).
  • Compete advanced as an individual
  • Mobility twice a week
  • Run Spartan. Improve.

Lifting

  • 315 clean and jerk
  • 250 snatch
  • 475 deadlift
  • 425 squat
  • 350 front squat

Reading

  • 3 professional
  • 2 strength and conditioning
  • 3 pulp
  • 3 faith

Work Hard. Stay Humble. Give Thanks.

How does one work hard and stay humble? I am plagued by a predisposition toward pride, even in my humility. You would think doing a simple job without much fanfare, and doing it well would be the hallmarks of humility. Yet it’s so easy to start glorying in our successes, and even in the simple fulfilling of our daily duties.
Raising kids, waking up in the morning for work, putting food on the table, getting to the gym before the sun is up–humble, simple life. Nothing special, no recognition. And at some point, even this becomes a source of pride, a pedestal from which to look down on our peers and feel superior.
It is hard to work hard and stay humble, and I more than anyone need this reminder. I don’t advertise myself with boasts, and I generally deflect credit to others instead of myself. But inside, I am fiercely proud. I set out to be the best at everything I attempt, and I despise the pride I see in other people, especially if I feel their competence is inferior to my own.
People leave their junk scattered all over the gym, and I pick it up before I leave. Pride.
I ride my bike and take the bus to work. I’m not above using public transit even though most people would just get a second car. My “humble” action is laced throughout with pride. I am a proud bastard.
This is a difficult matter, because in one sense pride is a good thing. We take pride in our country, our work ethic, or family, and our appearance. I liken this to stewardship, or doing the best we can with what we are given.
And here is the daily reminder that I need. My intellect, my body, my family, my health, my spiritual state: these are all gifts. I did nothing to merit them. I did not determine my place of birth, my parents who informed my current values, or my Savior’s plan of salvation. These were all given to me, and therefore I have no business boasting.

My drive to be the fastest, strongest, most compassionate, and loving father and husband should be a given, and as such I have no room to glory in my own efforts. These efforts are to be expected in reponse to the gifts I’ve receieved.
That said, I will probably continue to struggle with pride until the day I die. I will work hard, I’ll battle my pride, and I will give thanks everyday. When I’m thankful I’m driven outside my self-centered shell, and it’s a lot easier to see that everytime I feel a pulse of pride, I really owe a debt of gratitude.
Work hard, stay humble.
Give thanks.

Notes on a Setting Summer

I believe in God, now more than ever. Now, even though I wrestle with doubts as to His existence, doubts as to the authenticity of scripture, doubts regarding my sufficiency as a husband and father–God has somehow found a way to use my fragile faith as a tool to strengthen it where it lacks. Where else in the world to you find an object whose weakness is used a means of sustenance and reinvigoration? And if you can think of anywhere else, isn’t it incredible?

This summer opened with my school district in a horrendous financial position, and my own career in limbo. I interviewed for the ap position at UJH, was first among the three not because of any particular prowess, but rather my participation and follow-through in the opportunity presented to me back in February.  I had my appointment sent to the board, then pulled at the last minute. It went back up, and I was approved. Everyone took a salary cut this year, but because of this promotion I’ll be making enough to support a few extra endeavors.
We thought we’d be getting a bigger place with a yard, but instead yesterday I signed a one year lease for the same place we’ve been the last three years.

30-Something

Yesterday I turned thirty two. When my dad was thirty two I was playing twelve year old all stars, pitching in the sectionals championship game. I remember everything about that day.

Yesterday, on my birthday, we celebrated Jackson’s 6th birthday with an Angry Birds themed party at Miliken Park. I woke up early, went to pick up the eagle suit from work (it wasn’t there), then went to the gym. I tweaked my back on my third set of “heavy” squats. I was back up to 315, but it was a stupid move: I’m competing for the first time at Battlefit West next Saturday. There is no reason for me to be pushing the weight on the bar, and now here I am trying to rest a tweaked back muscle in time to compete next Saturday. I am thirty two years old, sort of in the best shape of my life, with a body that tweaks out under strain I used to adapt to without issue.

I need to take this moment to document the gifts I received on my birthday, other than the reminder not to be an idiot in the weight room.

First, I was able to celebrate my son’s six birthday. He is a blessing who God has used to impress upon me my weakness and my responsibility. He is helping me to become a better man.

Second, I spent the day with friends and family, celebrating the day on behalf of my son.

Third, I have a wife who takes joy in performing acts of kindness and selflessness for her children. She planned the entire thing, orchestrated the activities, and because of her, the day was possible.

Lastly, it is now 3 months past my birthday, and I STILL have not finished this post! Insanely busy once again, but I am a blessed 32 year old man. And I am learning how to walk on my hands! Handstand pushups, handstand walks, snatches, overhead squats, multiple rep muscle ups, clean and jerks—all new tricks I picked up over the last year. I’ve got the Spartan Race coming up, and I’m feeling ready to dominate!

32 isn’t so bad.

 

Goodbye Life-as-I-know-It?

Two years ago this month I had just finished my master’s degree at UCR, and I figured it would be quite a few years before I was ever that busy again. Maybe that’s true, but I feel like I’ve recently approached that critical mass once again. I have a hard time even listing all the activities and responsibilities I’ve taken on recently, and it’s a wonder I haven’t totally skipped out on one or more of my current obligations.

At the beginning of the year, I told myself I would seize every opportunity to make extra money, starting with accepting every period sub request. Ironically, I’ve only period subbed once or twice, but I’ve landed a slew of other tasks. I’m going to list them now, because in a year I’ll have forgotten almost half.

Mentor Teacher for a Struggling Colleague

I applied for this one at the beginning, interviewed before a panel of 5 educators, and landed the gig. I’ve been meeting with the teacher, observing her teaching, and she’s even come in to observe me a few times. There has been a modicum of improvement, but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be. It’s discouraging that I wasn’t able to make more of a difference, but at the same time, I don’t believe the teacher grasped the urgency of the situation. I don’t feel she did everything she could to improve.

Teaching an After-school EL Writing Class

I taught this one from early February, and we’ll wrap up the class next week. We worked three days a week for an hour each day, focusing on critical reading and writing. It went well, but teaching writing for a seventh period is exhausting.

Homework Central

I began the year logging one or two days a week in the after school mandatory study hall, until it was time to tackle the afterschool writing class. It was a bit less stressful than last year, but I was glad when the writing class demanded that I retreat into the relative solitude of my classroom.

Saturday School

Worked every one of these I possibly could.

Academic Pentathlon?

I was asked to help coach the English section. The kids competed today at a local junior high, and I did a crappy job of preparing them. The craziness peaked one day when I was doing a book discussion with the pentathlon kids, supervising students who had not finished their work, and monitoring the writing of the students in my after school writing class. Three activities occurring simultaneously.

Student Teacher

Why not? I jumped at the opportunity, because one of my career goals is to get involved with the training of new teachers. She turned out to be an excellent student teacher, but there is still a ton of extra planning, management, and retraining of each class. There is a lot to be said for maintaining personal control over your own class for the duration of the year. I’m fighting hard almost every day to remind the students of what is acceptable and what is not. They are pushing the limits, and I feel like I’m having more major discipline difficulties than ever before. I don’t know if I’m slipping, if it’s the multiple sources of authority in one classroom, or if this years crop is just more wild than usual. I’m not the only one having issues, so maybe it’s the latter.

New Job Applications

I applied for an instructional coach position, which was awkward because I needed to ask both administrators for a letter of recommendation. This was the first time I let fly that I have been thinking about moving on for the last three years. I set my salary requirement at 80-85k, and I didn’t hear back. Too bad, because I felt like I was well-qualified.

Applying for the Administrative Credential

For the last year I’ve been considering applying to take the test.  A new friend, acquaintances, and even my own principal have recommended that I pursue administration. I don’t want to be a VP, but the administrative credential will open up a lot of doors. Now I have to pass a video component (me conducting a meeting showing my “skills and abilities”) and a written exam. I’m signed up for a couple hundred bucks, and I have to pass this sucker or I’m going to be pissed for wasting the money.

Scholars of American History

For the third year, I’m taking part of a cohort of history teachers who attend scholar presentations, technology education seminars, and field studies related to American history. I completed an in-depth lesson plan and a technological project which I will present at a showcase in a few weeks. This is essentially a college course in various topics of US history. We read books, create projects, post to blogs, and attend lectures and field trips. It’s a chance to hang out with some peers, but it’s still a lot of extra work on nights and weekends.

Applying for More Jobs

I’ve been thinking of applying to a few charter schools in the LA area, but the commute, even by train, is worrisome. I would need a stop right next to the school, or I’d have to pack a bike every day. I haven’t applied to any of these yet. I applied to the local high school, which just so happened to have an opening. I have an interview next week.

Add to this list the normal teaching duties, keeping kids after school for required make-up work on a regular basis, and participating in various committees and subcommittees (site based, PLC leadership, HWC leadership).

Summer is around the corner, and I just had a skype interview for a position teaching/chaperoning 5th grade students from Korea, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 5 weeks. I don’t know what the pay will be, and I’m not sure if I’m up for leaving wife and kids for that long. Local summer school is seniority based, and even though I applied, I think I missed the last teaching opening by one spot. Maybe another class will open up and they’ll need me, but for now, I’m considering anything. I just got done talking to my cousin, who manages trainers at a gym, and he sold me on attending a one day class to get a starter personal training certification. At least this would be flexible, and I’d have some variety in my day to day.

The weirdest part of all of this is walking around my campus during work and considering that this may be the last month I spend at this place. It’s been the longest chunk of time I’ve spent doing ANYTHING in my life, and I’ve made some good friends. I’ve developed as a person and as an educator. I have no idea what is going to happen, but I know I need to keep pushing myself out of the comfort zone.

And we bought a new car. Goodbye Mazda. Is this step one to “goodbye life as a know it”?