Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Moving Forward in Ways Not Obvious

I've been working in New York City for the past nine years and one of the things that I can always look forward to around this time of year is the construction of The Pond at Bryant Park. It starts with the green being covered with platforms which will eventually form the walking area and the ice rink and before soon, small stores are constructed around the periphery of the park selling a variety of unique gifts, handicrafts and finger food. Every year in November and December I've enjoyed walking through the park which magically transforms into a postcard-esque winter wonderland. Ice skaters and hot cocoa and holiday shoppes - Norman Rockwell would be proud.

But just like clockwork in March, everything gets taken and broken down. The rink is drained, the stores are disassembled and the walking platform and ice surface is removed to reveal a dead lawn. For nine years I've seen the Pond come and go, and when I saw the beginnings of the construction this past week, it made me think about how one's life might resemble the annual assembly and dis-assembly of the Pond at Bryant Park. Let me explain.

In times of discouragement, my life sometimes feels like the park. There are occasions when I experience great times of richness and progression in different aspects of my life from a spiritual, relational and vocational perspective. But often due to my own hardened heart, I lament and grumble when the my "high" of great news and great blessings have faded. I'm a venue once full of light and life which has yet again been converted back to a park with patches of brown grass. I feel discouraged and discontent and the reality is that I've failed to acknowledge that there's much to be grateful about and my life has been full of simply joys for which I should be thankful.

Here's the thing. One way that you can look at the transformation of Bryant Park is that nothing changes at the end. On October 1st, it's a boring old park and on March 4th, it's still an old park. What that perspective lacks is the lives which tell a story beyond what a time-release video can depict in the span of those five months. The eye can only see the construction and destruction of podiums and storefronts and platforms. The countless stories of kids who had their first ice skate, the mother-daughter heart-to-heart conversations over a cup of hot cocoa, the African handicraft lovingly picked out by a spouse for a Christmas gift and the family stroll through the park admiring the lights in the trees - all of these things go uncaptured by the eye. This is the richness of the Park which transforms into the Pond - and like life, we learn that there is richness, growth and transformation which isn't always obvious at first glance.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Simple Answers for Simple Questions

When I talk to my children, I find that their problem solving approach is so much more straightforward than mine. I ask a question and they fire back an answer. There's no intense deliberation or internal cost vs. benefit evaluation running through their brain. They're not seeking additional data or analytics from internal or external sources to benchmark or get best practices. They're not throwing out questions to social media to try to crowdsource their solution. There's something incredible binary about their decision-making. They take it in, and give an answer based on what they feel.

So for example I mentioned to my seven-year old son that I had been reached out by a recruiter for an opportunity in Houston, Texas. I (tongue-in-cheek) asked him for advice and he looked at me and advised me seriously not to take it. "Why?" I inquired. He paused and said, "Houston is in Texas and it's very hot down there." Apparently what the position entailed, the salary and the career opportunities beyond it were irrelevant. To him it was a simple matter of whether he thought our family should live there or not. And the answer was 'no' because he didn't like hot weather.

Now one could counter that (1) his decision-making is pretty lousy and (2) his life is conveniently filled with choices and decisions which are simple and straightforward, such as "Would you like to have an apple or banana with your lunch?" or "Do you want to do a fun activity before or after you finish your homework?" He's not exactly dealing with the decision of paying down his mortgage balance versus putting excess cash in an index fund or agonizing about how one should confront a friend who is cheating on their spouse. Also, the stakes are often higher; Daniel chooses the wrong dessert, he laments about it for thirty minutes; my mistakes might alter my family's financial security and change the trajectory of people's lives and happiness. Those are all valid points.

That being said, I wonder if I, as an adult tend to over complicate things. Do I unnecessarily over-analyze things and agonize over decisions which lead to results which are ultimately outside of my control?  Can I more easily react to questions with a simple assessment of "Do I think this going to be good for me and my family or not?" Is there a spiritual discipline component to this where I'm failing to live underneath the truth of God's sovereignty and good plans and purpose for my life and my family?

Daniel's right about Houston, anyway. The downside of the hot weather clearly outweighs the upside of being able to see Jeremy Lin play for the hometown team.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Suburban Family Guy’s 2012 MLB Playoff Preview

The good news is that my beloved Yankees are back in the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. The bad news is that this means that I’ll be bleary-eyed at work the next morning games creep later and later into the night thanks to manager Joe Girardi’s obsessive use of “the binder” to seek out positive relief pitching and pinch hitting matchups. So while Girardi makes his double-switch and third pitching change of the inning, I’ll look up at the clock reading midnight as I grumble about an early morning meeting the next day. And this is going to be brutal if the Yankees end up playing games away at the Oakland A’s, where those games will end at 2am or so.

In any case, here are my picks:

AL Play-In Game: Rangers over Orioles. The call here is that the Rangers shake off their shock of choking away a seemingly insurmountable AL West lead. What helps them is getting to play the “win or go home game” at home, and that they have Yu Darvish on the mound while the Orioles counters with Joe Saunders, who has horrible numbers against the Rangers in Arlington. The Orioles surprised everyone this season, but coming home and having their ace on the mound shakes the Rangers out of their doldrums.

ALDS: Yankees over Rangers. The fact of the matter is that the Rangers pitching isn’t as good as it was last year, and their best pitcher will have been burned in the play-in game. The Yankees bats are clicking at the right time, and having home field advantage plus the opportunity to set their preferred starting rotation in order gives that Yankees the edge.

ALDS: Tigers over A’s. I think Justin Verlander wins both of his starts against the Rangers, leaving only one win required between Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. Getting one win from three pretty good pitchers and a team with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder seems pretty likely. The A’s have been a terrific story and Billy Beane can again boast that he is indeed worthy of being portrayed by Brad Pitt in a major motion picture, but unfortunately, they’ve run into a team which has strikes out a lot of opponents – a bad omen when your own team is leading the league in strikeouts.

ALCS: Yankees over Tigers. On one hand, this seems like a fan-bias pick, given what I wrote about the Tigers vs. A’s matchup. The difference is that in a seven games, the other non-Justin Verlander starting pitchers” need to win two games. Also, the Yankees have a bona fide ace in C.C. Sabathia to counter Verlander. In a five game series, I’d probably pick the Tigers, but over seven I like the Yankees to prevail.

NL Play-In Game. Braves over Cardinals. Braves pitcher Kris Medlen is in the midst of an incredible streak where the Braves have won each of the 22 past games that he’s started. It’s bound to end at some point, but I don’t see it happening in a “win or go home” game at home. As for the Cardinals, they can still bask in that ridiculous run last year.

NLDS: Braves over Nationals. Imagine a scenario where the equally matched Braves and Nationals get to a deciding seventh game and the game runs into extra innings. It comes down to a battle of pitching staffs. As the game extends into the early morning, he Nationals fantasize about being able to pull out Stephen Strasburg to throw zeros on the scoreboard but instead have to trot out John Lannan. The Braves take the series, and the decision to sit Strasburg gets second-guessed (again) ad nausea.

NLDS: Reds over Giants. Yes, the Giants have great starting pitching. But the Reds starting pitching isn’t anything to sneeze at either, plus they actually can bash the ball with a tremendous lineup and play great defense. Reds win.

NLCS: Braves over Reds. The Reds should win this series. They’re a complete balanced team with good starting pitching, a shutdown closer, great defense and a mammoth offense. Oh, they’ll have home field advantage in this matchup as well. My gut just says that in the playoffs the best team doesn’t always win. This is one of those times.

World Series: Braves over Yankees. Remember when the Braves beat the Yankees in the World Series? Oh yeah, it never happened. The Yankees beat the Braves in ’96 and ’99 and the Yankee fan in me would like for that trend to continue. But the call here says that Chipper Jones gets his revenge in his farewell year. The Braves’ excellent starting pitching and bullpen stymie the Yankees offense as the Braves take the World Series in six games.