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Monday, October 8, 2018

Dear Hannah: LEarning (Family Fantasies)

Dear Hannah,

I have a track record of cutting people off - and then leaving it like that.

I do not let anyone or anything get me warm twice.

Carrying the burden of offense is a hard way to live, though.

This is a little more subtle than unforgiveness - but can be just as burdensome.

When I carry offense, sometimes nothing major has happened ... but I often decide that I will not allow anything at all to happen with the person who offended me.

That may take it too far.

If I am merciless in judgement, then I will be shown no mercy. (James 2:13)

So the need for boundaries is clear, but I am learning to stop short of finishing my stories of teaching people how to treat me with "piercing periods".

I am learning how to finish them with "kind question marks".



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"LEarning (Family Fantasies)"
By Derrick Brown

I have mixed feelings about Fantasy Football.

On one hand, it is low-key gambling that amplifies our obsession with football.

This obsession distracts participants from seeing the NFL as a modern-day plantation (with higher salaries and greater risks).

Cats are distracted by being named "fantasy" plantation owners ...

... as if our blinding allegiance to favorite teams and players was not already distracting enough.

On the other hand, my familiarity with the game and business of football allows me to create simple, elegant roster management solutions using my analytic skills.

This obsession provides me a clear business opportunity.

Opportunities are few and far between - and are always disguised as work.

Sometimes this work includes cleaning out my closet.

Let me explain.

Last week, Fantasy Football provided me an opportunity to connect to the men in my disconnected family.

By my observation, the men in my family do not know each other very well.

We tend to fake our way through conversations - or keep it shallow and just talk about sports.

It is tough to watch these conversations.

It is tougher to participate.

But let's leave the men alone, and let me focus on one man - me.

See, I do not know the dudes in my family very well.

I can guess that they see me on the whole as a smart, quiet, nerdy dude with a really big mouth.

Maybe the mouth is not as big now ... but if that is still my rep, I earned it in my younger days.

I was a handful.

On some days, I still am.

I am still a truthteller, but I am learning to tell a more graceful truth (instead of a harsh truth).

So maybe I should lighten up on calling the NFL a modern-day plantation, huh?


I digress.

My personal family disconnection stems from not-so-pleasant childhood memories of conflicts that dominated our frequent family gatherings.

We used to get together a lot - like every month.

Then the gatherings stopped.

I did not miss them.

I was further disconnected by several comments - some were direct, but most were subtle ones about both my mother and me - especially in the wake of my parents' divorce.

This was a sensitive time, and I am a pretty sensitive cat.

That was a lethal combo.

It led to a series of independent, unfortunate, awkward events with several different family members that were never discussed or resolved.

They were just carefully observed, absorbed, and correlated by a dude with the memory of an elephant.

What do I mean?

I mean that I encountered family members (young and old) at different times in different states on different holidays and special occasions ... and had disturbingly similar negative experiences.

I memorialized the experiences through the comments.

"I don't think you're the right man for the job".

"You're too fat to sing a Michael Jackson song".

"I'm the adult - you should be calling me".

"We can't get in touch with you because nobody ever has your current number".

"We never see you".

"You're making some money now - you can do better".

"We didn't know you were following us to the game".

"Look at you looking all masculine now".

"Man, that was good ... but you should have put it all in a PowerPoint."

During any visit, it started to feel like the conversation in the room changed when I walked in.

Like I remember it changing when the kids born out of wedlock would visit family gatherings.

Nobody really knew them, so nobody knew what to say.

Ditto for me, perhaps.

Right or wrong, I concluded that I was not part of the family clique.

Feel me, now - this squad is definitely a clique, and I ain't in it.

I figured that the best way to keep it together might be to stay away.

I softened that stance when I married my wife Keisha.

I softened it even more when we had our daughter Hannah.

Experiencing joy will help you heal a lot of hurts.

They both encouraged me to be intentional about sharing our life with my family, and protecting our peace.

Maintaining the balance between outreach and setting personal boundaries was tricky, but necessary.

I made a move - I figured that supporting family endeavors with all my servant strengths and talents would be a positive step.

To do this, I suspended my longstanding rule about being careful letting certain folks see me sweat (work hard).

I still had to be careful, though.


All the traditional family strongholds I experienced (verbal microaggression, control, narcissism, envy, selfishness) may have been softened by time and space - but they were still there.

And they have been passed down to successive generations.

Coming together to work purposefully, though, helps set egos and agendas aside.

It also keeps the strongholds at bay while you continue to pray that they are broken.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

This gives me hope for healing and change.

Providing hope for healing and change is my life's work.

So, showing support by helping to carry the load became my simple strategy to deal positively with folks who act a little "funny" with me.

I have to say this again.

It is a simple strategy, but it takes careful balancing to make it a safe one.

Anyway - let's get back to the Fantasy Football opportunity.

One of my dozens of cousins (who played college football, and had an NFL tryout many years ago) invited me to join the family Fantasy Football league for this season.

He invited me last season, but I declined (based on several previously mentioned elements of this confession).

This year, though, I figured that I could at least volunteer to run the league as its commissioner.

This would give me both family fellowship and business opportunities (for testing my analytic roster management tools).

I volunteered myself, and accelerated development of my tools for the upcoming draft.

Then my cousin announced to the league members that I would be "helping out this year".

In hindsight, I think this meant "Derrick will be my assistant this year".

If he tells me that directly (before announcing it publicly), I could clean up that mess.

"Hey, man - I am volunteering to run the league - not be your assistant".

I have been the assistant before, and know that assistants are often not treated very well - especially by horrible bosses.

I know I am a servant leader - a "doer" who sets the tone with silent examples.

I have learned to submit myself to all I encounter in kindness, care, concern, and respect.

I walk closely, though, only with other servant leaders who submit themselves similarly.

I create hard, permanent boundaries with those who step on my neck when I bow to them.

This is a very simple way to know with whom you can roll.

I learned this global truth by dealing with the cold, cruel world.

I apply the wisdom locally, though, to teach family members how to treat me.

I already know that I need to find my way out of this situation - it ain't safe.

In fairness, my cousin probably does not know much about me, how I feel, or how I operate.

I would guess that his in-person familiarity with me might be limited to watching me sweat (work hard) at our last several family events.

Folks can get it twisted when they see you toil.

This misconception (when mixed with a little arrogance and convenient ignorance) can get you on the wrong road.

Especially with family members - and anybody else who can take you for granted, mistake kindness and meekness for weakness, or confuse service with servitude.

I am a handy dude - no doubt about that.

Check that - I am a handyman - and the proud son of a proud handyman.

I am my wife's, mother's, father's, and daughter's handyman.

I ain't nobody else's handyman.

I always have the right of first refusal when asked to do anything.

And I do need to be asked ... respectfully.

Either way, the potential lack of mutual respect with my cousin is now on my radar.

That potential would become real.

First came a text message directive to send correspondence to members asking them to vote on dues for this year (because no dues were collected last year).

That sounds like assigning me to "bad cop" duty in order to avoid it.

Perhaps the absence of "bad cop" leadership is what enabled members to not pay dues last year.

I responded to the directive with a pushback that asked about last year's expenses, and suggested how they could be recouped in this year's budget.

I then asked him to call me so that we could talk, and told him that any talk about cleaning up last year with dues payments this year needed to come from him - not me.

Text messaging is a microaggressive way to avoid real-time discussion and rebuttal.

It is a bad way to communicate - and an even worse way to handle business.

After agreeing to talk (which to me says "no more texting"), I got another directive to (instead) send a poll to the members with all of my suggestions.

Cousin, please.

No thanks, cousin.

I see exactly how I got this job, and I resign.

So how did I get this job?

By trying to do too much - and by relaxing some boundaries that should probably remain intact.

See, if I revile Fantasy Football as much as I say I do ...

... and find it tough to only talk about sports (to avoid "real" topics like discovering the roots of our strained family interactions) ...

What was I trying to accomplish by helping to manage a league of non-paying relatives - who made last year's commissioner self-finance the whole season?

My first answer: I was trying to connect, trying to see how a league runs, and trying to test my tools.

My second answer: I need to connect while respecting my personal boundaries.

That is, I need to connect by mutually engaging in purposeful, direct service that makes all egos and agendas subside.

My second answer (continued): This means that I should run my own Fantasy Football league.

I should be the commissioner, draft all the teams quickly using my tool, and let the season play out while I ignore it and its obsessive distractions!

I hate taking the long way to wisdom, but sometimes the winding path provides a more memorable lesson.

I thought the battle was won, and the lesson was done - but wait, there is more ...

It may go without saying that my cousin warmed my chili - just a little.

So let me woosah.

I have a track record of cutting people off - and then leaving it like that.

I do not let anyone or anything get me warm twice.

Carrying the burden of offense is a hard way to live, though.

This is a little more subtle than unforgiveness - but can be just as burdensome.

When I carry offense, sometimes nothing major has happened ... but I decide that I will not allow anything at all to happen with the person who offended me.

That may take it too far.

If I am merciless in judgement, then I will be shown no mercy. (James 2:13)

So the need for boundaries is clear, but I am learning to stop short of finishing my stories of teaching people how to treat me with "piercing periods".

I am learning how to finish them with "kind question marks".

So what's a "kind question mark" for this one?

I had to sleep on this.

I woke up this morning with a simple story ...

My Dad and his oldest sister are two people who have not always spoken life to me.

They have not always spoken life to each other.

I have learned that they both inherited this trait, and may have been bruised by it first before becoming the bruisers.

I warred with them both silently for years for things that they said.

Believe it or not, though, I stopped the war.

I have managed to set boundaries, and still have sincere, purposeful relationships with them both.

It helps that they are both older - because it reminds you that time is fleeting and frail.

They are both role models, though, for an approach that uses "kind question marks" ("What can we do together?") instead of "piercing periods" ("Leave these crazy jokers alone".).

This cousin is the youngest son of my Dad's oldest sister.

So, reasonable "kind question marks" for him can be derived from my experience with his mother.

They might even be informed by his mother herself.

Thank God I still have a relationship with his Mother.


2,172 Words

About Derrick Brown (Standup Storyteller)

I am Keisha's husband, and Hannah's father.

I am a “standup storyteller.”

I fuse rap, spoken word (poetry), oration (traditional public speaking), singing, and teaching into messages of hope, healing, and change that I write, direct, and produce to help people who help people.

Everything must change - and stay changED.

Tradition begins and ends with change.

Change begins with me and the renewing of my mind ... then continues through efforts to effect small-group discipleship (equipping others to equip others) with audiences that respect and embrace mentoring, mediation, and problem solving as tools of change.

I am the product of my mentoring relationships, peacemaking (and peacekeeping), and problem-solving ability.

My education began when I finished school.

After school, I enrolled in a lifelong curriculum that includes classes in ministry, entrepreneurship, stewardship, literacy, numeracy, language, self-identity, self-expression, and analysis / synthesis.

My projects execute a ministry that has evolved from wisdom earned through lessons learned.

I want to share this wisdom to build teams of "triple threat" fellows - mentors, mediators, and problem solvers.

We will collaborate in simple, powerful ways that allow us to help people who help people.

I now know that power is work done efficiently (with wise and skillful use of resources, interests, communication, and expertise).

Copyright © 2018 Derrick  Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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