What happened to all the wheelbarrows?

“Once a upon a time, there was a Russian factory worker who was, it is told, responsible for pushing the factory wheelbarrow through the factory gates at quitting time. Every evening the guards would inspect the wheelbarrow and, in finding it empty, let the worker pass. This went on for some months, until one day it was discovered that the worker had been stealing wheelbarrows.”

From “The Anthropological Lens: Harsh Light, Soft Focus” by James L. Peacock

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The guards’ mistake was that they were so busy inspecting the contents that they ignored the container. Their focus was, too narrowly and unfortunately, on the parts and not the whole. It’s easy for me to empathize with the guards because they remind me that all too often, I too fail to see the things happening all around me from a holistic perspective. I know I’m not the only one either. All of us are blinded by our own perspective from time to time. It’s not until after we’re all out of wheelbarrows that we realize what we’ve been missing all along.

We live in a busy world. Every day, most of us (if not all) exist in a swirl of family, professional, civic, religious, personal and other types of responsibility and activity. If we’re not careful, it’s all too easy to not pay attention to and miss the myriad of significant events and important moments being wheeled past us each day. As a busy new dad, I’m trying to be intentionally conscious of and fight against this phenomenon as it plays out in my life.

What are the wheelbarrows in your life that are being stolen right out from underneath your nose… and, more importantly, who or what is steeling them?

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You’ve Gotta Swim

So apparently being the dad of a newborn baby and taking a full academic load as a doctoral student are eating my lunch. I’m managing to stay afloat in those things in my life that matter the most these days but not much else. I know this is just a season of life and it will get better as I adjust to my new routine and things eventually start to level off.

However, in the meantime, I do find myself doubting whether or not I can manage this load for the next five years. And really, it’s actually not a matter of whether or not I think I have the ability to finish. What I really find myself thinking these day is this, “I know I CAN do this, but I’m not sure if I WANT to do this.”

Suffice it to say, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and was starting to wonder if I was the only one.

Apparently I’m not.

Last night in class, our professor had what she called a, “coming to the Lord” talk with us about our adjustment to doctoral studies. She had a list of about 15 difficult adjustments that new grad students in doctoral programs typically experience in their first few months, and as she read each one, I watched as the rest of my classmates (every last one of them) began letting their guard down and nodding their heads in agreement. The guy across from me let out an audible sigh at one point and several of the ladies in class had tears in their eyes within a few minutes. After talking about each adjustment, my professor repeatedly stopped and assured us that all the feelings and struggles that we’re all having are COMPLETELY normal. She then began sharing some stories about her grad school experience and several things going on in her life right now that are causing her to feel the same way. It was one of the most real, vulnerable, and poignant academic experiences I’ve ever had.

An hour and several puddles of tears later (thanks to our more sensitive and emotionally attuned classmates), class was over and it was time to go home to our families.

When I got out to my car, I plugged in my iPod and hit shuffle. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, the song that serendipitously came on was “Swim” by Jack’s Mannequin. It’s a song written and performed by Andrew McMahon who wrote it after being diagnosed with cancer in 2005.

I’ve always really really liked this song because of how honest, real, and full of emotion it is, but last night it was exactly what I needed just when I needed it.

When you’re feeling ho hum down and overwhelmed by the world, there’s nothing quite like hearing a song about staying afloat while facing trials written by a dude who survived cancer to make you realize how insignificant your problems are. What’s that you say? You’re having a hard time staying afloat balancing work, family, school, church, and volunteer commitments? Oh… OK… well, I survived cancer.

Needless to say, by the time the song was over, I felt a lot better about everything.

I’ve included the lyrics below for anyone else who might feel like they’re expending every last ounce of energy they have just to keep their head above water. Maybe your problems aren’t as bad as trying to win a battle against cancer, but maybe they’re worse than what I’m going through right now. If so, I hope this song will be just as encouraging to you as it was to me last night. The bolded words are my doing because they’re the ones that really spoke to me last night.

You’ve gotta swim
Swim for your life
Swim for the music
That saves you
When you’re not so sure you’ll survive
You gotta swim
And swim when it hurts
The whole world is watching
You haven’t come this far
To fall off the earth
The currents will pull you
Away from your love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
A crack in the armor
I swim to brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I’m not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Through nights that won’t end
Swim for your families
Your lovers your sisters
And brothers and friends
Yeah you’ve gotta swim

Through wars without cause
Swim for the lost politicians
Who don’t see their greed as a flaw

The currents will pull us
Away from our love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
Cracking me open now
I swim for brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I’m not giving in
Well I’m not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Swim in the dark
There’s no shame in drifting
Feel the tide shifting and wait for the spark
Yeah you’ve gotta swim
Don’t let yourself sink
Just find the horizon
I promise you it’s not as far as you think
The currents will drag us away from our love
Just keep your head above

Just keep your head above
Swim
Just keep your head above
Swim, swim
Just keep your head above
Swim

These days, I’m doing a lot of drifting. Despite my best efforts, some days it’s taking all I’ve got to simply try to find the horizon. On days like that, I have to learn to settle for just letting the current pull me along… because it will. Eventually, no matter what trials we’re going through, we’ll all get to where we’re trying to go. We just have to keep our heads above water and swim.