Monday, November 19, 2007

Golf has been very very good to me.

Mary Bea Porter-King may not realize it, but she is playing a role in my simplification process. If you don't know who she is, check out these pages:
Mary Bea Porter-King

Mary Bea Porter-King

I met Mary Bea this last fall in Bandon, Oregon while working at the USGA Mid-Amateur Championship. This was my second year on the Mid-Am Committee and the first championship I've attended. From the first moment I arrived at the resort, an interesting mix of feelings and emotions began creeping into my consciousness.
I was, all at once
excited to be part of the championship
honored that I had been chosen as a committee member (Thank you Ron Read.)
guilty for missing so much school (I hate being away from the kids, especially for that long, which will definitely influence my attendance at next year's championship.)
dismayed at the excess, extravagance and luxury of golf
anxious about the prospect of being a rules official/referee at a major amateur championship
exhausted, mostly because my arthritis was more pronounced than normal
sorry that I was not going to be able to play (because of said arthritis)
grateful that God has brought so many blessings - travel, people, friends, experiences, and yes stuff - into my life through golf.

The first night of formal activities included a buffet reception for the committee members and players. At the end of September I had only been seriously pursuing my simplification process for a few weeks. I think I mentioned it in another blog post, but part of the process is simplifying the activities in my life.

I stood in the reception hall so confused, arguing with myself, having a philosophical debate in the middle of several hundred men in jackets and ties.

"How can I be part of this? Here I am trying to live more simply, eliminate excess from my life so that I can focus on the important things: faith in God, my relationship with Jesus Christ, my relationships with my family and friends, my job. And now I'm part of a reception that costs who-knows-how-much. I feel like a glutton just being here. All the food and drink - it's all just too much. I don't belong here. How many of my kids would all this food feed? We all want to think this tournament is so important, but there are so many things more important. What about world hunger, world peace ...

"Of course I realize there is a place for recreation. Of course the players here take this seriously, as well they should. But what would happen if all the energy and money and time and resources were focused against some humanitarian injustice like homelessness?

"Are you forgetting that the USGA does a lot of charitable giving? Through golf, thousands of kids receive life-skills.

"I know, I know. Leave me alone so I can enjoy some appetizers."

During the meeting for committee members, the feeling only got worse.

"Most of the men on this committee are rich, affluent, influential business men. They own homes in more than one state, belong to more than one club, mostly high-end private clubs. These are men who drive cars that cost more than my house, and own several of them. They golf often and play well (neither of which describes my golf game of the last few years). These are men of power and here I am: a poor school counselor whose net worth is negative (due mostly to student loans). I don't fit in with this group. I can't believe they would even invite me to be part of this committee. They have obviously made a mistake; I have made a mistake. I shouldn't be here."

I seriously considered writing/calling/e-mailing Ron Read (He's the USGA Manager of Western Regional Affairs and the person responsible for my committee appointment. I owe him many thanks.). I was going to tell him that he made a horrible mistake and I was going to resign from the committee. Although I hadn't written anything down, by the next morning I had a letter drafted in my head, ready to be recorded.

I'm glad I didn't.

My first day on the course as an official was ... surprising. I felt so comfortable. As uncomfortable and out of place as I was the night before, on the course, as an official, I felt so comfortable. I knew that I belonged. This had not been a mistake.
The fact that I was on the Oregon coast didn't hurt. It was gorgeous, even in the midst of a sideways rainstorm that soaked me to the bone, the Oregon coast is a place of unmatched beauty. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is a unique place that every golfer should experience. But I digress ...

One afternoon, as I exited the USGA office, I ran into Mary Bea. I told her about my feelings of discomfort, that I didn't fit in with the other committee members. I don't know why I told her. Probably because she's a nice person and has the demeanor of a very wise person, especially when it comes to matters of golf.

She told me (and of course this is a paraphrase since I don't record or take notes on all my conversations, although maybe I should start), "Chris, you're preaching to the choir. I don't fit in either, mostly because I'm a woman. 'Girls aren't allowed.' I play my golf at a public golf course."

I would guess that Mary Bea is comfortably wealthy, but she does not wear her wealthy like a shield, or a weapon. She is approachable and warm. Don't get me wrong. The men on the committee did not look down on me because of my status, or lack thereof. My feelings were internally generated, not a result of anything they did or didn't do. I met several very nice committee members who welcomed me and told me how pleased they were I was part of the committee.

Mary Bea let me know that even if I don't fit in, I still belong.

That phrase sank in over the next few days, and continues to occupy my thoughts.
I fit in. I belong.
I don't fit in, but I do belong.
I fit in, but I don't belong.
I don't fit in. I don't belong.

I guess that I thought those two were at least similar, at most synonymous. They're not. How many of my students fit in with their adolescent peers, but don't feel like they belong. Is it more important for kids to fit in or belong? Is it more important for adults to fit in or belong? I digress again ...

Fast forward to this last week. I received a package in the mail from the USGA. It was a very nice note from Ellie Marino (of the USGA) and gift from Mary Bea. When I opened it and saw the stuff my first reaction was, "I don't need more stuff. I'm trying to get rid of things, not get new things." When I read the note, my whole outlook changed.

One of my criteria, possible the most important criteria for keeping things is: the item must have current meaning or utility.

This gift from Mary Bea has very current meaning. It is not just an item to add to my list; it is a reminder that I can belong without fitting in. It is a protector of my self-esteem. It helps me remember that I have influence in my school - students, teachers, parents - but that I can also be a man of influence in other realms. I can be influential in the world. Maybe not like most of the committee members, but in my own unique way I have influence.

Mary Bea reminded me that being a school counselor is noble. I'm not "just" a school counselor. I am a school counselor. I am important to so many people and sometimes I forget that. I know that probably sounds stupid or boastful. Sometimes I forget that God has placed me here for a reason. I am school counselor because God "enlarged my territory." I am a USGA Mid-Amateur Championship Committee Member because God "enlarged my territory."

What can be more simple than trusting God and accepting his will?

Thank you Mary Bea.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

16 Minutes of Fame?

It seems my 15 minutes of fame has been extended. Last Friday I recorded an interview with the NPR show "Weekend America." It played today. Short, but to the point.

Here's a link to the Real Player file:
Real Player File

And here's a link to the page:
Weekend America Story

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Simplified Emotions

When I walked in the room I was greeted by ten sets of pre-school eyes – bright, eager eyes. Mrs. Hall introduced me.

“Boys and girls, this is Mr. M. He’ll be spending some time with us today. He’s the school counselor and he’s a safe person.”

“Good morning Mr. M,” they chimed.

I was there to observe two students, at the request of the teacher and the parents. I sat in one of their chairs, the small ones that are only a foot off the ground. When I sit with children, I don’t want to be the big, tall, authoritative adult. I want to be one of them: non-threatening, inviting, simple. The students were just finishing a group activity, getting ready to move to their centers for small group activities. As I watched my two students, I was unaware of Timmy until he was standing right in front of me. I had never before met Timmy, but he walked right up to me, put his arms around my neck, gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, “Lub you.”

Oh for the simplicity of childhood.

Timmy is not encumbered with the inhibitions of adults. He is not confined by the complications of society. He saw me, felt love (I have no idea whether the two are really connected or not), and expressed that love in the best way he knew how. There was no internal dialogue holding him back.

“What if I say that I love him and he doesn’t respond? What if I start to give him a hug, and he pulls away? Maybe what I’m feeling is just a deep appreciation. He is a school counselor, a male one at that, working in an elementary school. He has chosen a noble profession. Maybe I don’t love him, I just appreciate his efforts and his obvious passion for us children. Maybe I’m just feeling something because I don’t have a dad at home and I crave male attention. I might just be looking for male approval and acceptance.”

Timmy didn’t think. He felt, he responded. He reached out in the simplest of ways. He gave of himself without considering whether or not the sentiment would be returned.

How did I respond?

I may not be the smartest person, but I’m smart enough to recognize good teachers when I see them. And I’m smart enough to gather all I can from those teachers. Over the last few years as a school counselor, I’ve learned from the greatest group of teachers one could ever have. All my teachers are under the age of 15. I have learned to watch them, listen to them, learn from them. They have taught me how to be genuine, simple, honest, open. I have learned that everyone needs a hug sometimes, even middle school boys, who would never admit they want a hug.

How did I respond?

“Lub you too.”

Monday, November 5, 2007

Torn in Twin

I have to admit: I'm confused.

I told you that I have all these gift cards that have been given to me, and that I don't really have anything I want/need to buy.

Today I mentioned my dilemma to Sue (at the middle school). Her suggestion: buy some books and donate them to the library. That's actually a great idea.

Here's the problem: my first reaction was, "I'm not going to do that. They're my gift certificates, my money. I'm not going to just buy some books and donate them. How stupid is that." Of course I didn't say any of this out loud. I just thought it. As soon as I realized what I was thinking, I was so embarrassed. Here I am getting rid of stuff, committed to simplifying and eliminating. And yet, the thought of buying something just to give it away was ... hard to think about.

Over the last few years I've given away thousands (literally) of objects, most of which I had bought with my own money. I had no problem giving them away or donating them. Why would I have trouble using my gift cards (I should probably start calling them "the gift cards" instead of "my gift cards") to buy things for a worthy cause?

I don't know. It's an interesting feeling and I'm going to dwell on it for a while to see if I can discover the origin or basis of this obviously selfish attitude.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

"Thanks for the gift" (Now what do I do?)

I have an interesting dilemma on my hands. I have money to spend, but nothing I want to buy.

I received a gift card to Borders books for presenting at the ISCA conference.
I received a gift card to Big 5 sporting goods from a good friend, for helping coach football this year.
I have two gift certificates on file with

What am I supposed to do with all this?
Here I am trying to eliminate things from my life. I haven't been buying anything (well that's not completely true because I bought a neti pot in the hopes I could clear up my sinuses) new other than consumables like food and toilet paper. In order to spend these certificates, I'll have to buy something.

I know that I could give them to someone else, but since Robert gave me the gift - shouldn't I use it? Just giving it away seems disrespectful somehow.

The others - amazon and borders - have less personal meaning. Therefore easier to re-gift.

I briefly considered purchasing song downloads through amazon, but discovered that gift certificates can't be used to purchase song downloads.

Great! (read that last word with a lot of sarcasm)

When I began this process, this was not a result I had anticipated. During my radio interview, Dick Gordon (host of "The Story") asked me what people should get me for my birthday or Christmas. It was a good question, but I didn't really think about the answer; I didn't fully consider the implications.

What do people get me? Gift cards seem like a great idea. Instead of getting me some thing, they give me money with which I can buy what I want. Problem is, I don't want anything. I have wonderful people in my life, who want to express their appreciation for me.

How do they do that now that I don't want things?

Maybe this is becoming a larger philosophical issue.

How do I express appreciation and love?
What does it mean to give some "thing" to somebody?
What is the best way to express thanks?
Are material goods the best expression of appreciation?
If they're not, what else is there?