Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Realism and Contentment

My original title for this column was “Succumbing to Excuses,” but I’m feeling a little more optimistic than when I thought of that title a couple of months ago. You see, going through middle age causes a person to continually re-adjust expectations in life: physical, professional, relational, financial. The younger man in me (aka George Bailey in the first half of It’s a Wonderful Life) optimistically saw the world as one big challenge to conquer, yet it rarely crossed my mind “back then” that some of the habits, opportunities, adventures and friendships would represent peaks and permanence, not transient experiences, en route to a fulfilled life. Being ever-conscientious, I don’t believe I’ve ever treated people or projects as mere stepping stones, but I do confess to some occasional delusions of grandeur, such as perhaps being discovered for hidden talents that would at least expand if not change my career direction and application of skills. However, like the older George Bailey (middle-aged when he had that terrifying glimpse into being erased from the memory of man), I’ve been overcoming much cynicism and now enjoy seeing the countless blessings of having stayed in JH (Bedford Falls, as it were) despite former yearnings for other (literal) stages or (literal) pages.

As for personal goals, I’ll always have those, but I need not let failure (self-imposed or otherwise) rob me of contentment within the reality of my limitations. After all, many if not all of life’s goals are means toward the end of true self-fulfillment, which is elusive if we can’t enjoy a contented reality that doesn’t live up to optimistic fantasy.

There is another area of life where I don’t have to succumb to sober realism but can still afford reckless expectations for continual growth: all things spiritual. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16, ESV). It is a blessed hope that even as dreams adjust to reality and bodies and social energies slow down, the inner self can get stronger daily. That’s why character teaching in JH always trumps physical skills, and why the life lessons we try to reinforce (or introduce) come with the hope of the longest possible impact—far outlasting any one year, career, or lifetime. Be content with the profound simplicity of inner growth, and keep reaching for all the tools to help that forever goal.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

30,000 Short Days

I often reflect on the brevity of life, and I love Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90:12, when he asks the LORD, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” In verse 10, he wrote, “The years of our life are 70, or even by reason of strength 80.” Interesting claims: first, because the humble leader Moses himself lived to be 120 (a 50% boost of his generalized lifespan estimate); second, because about 3,300 years later, even here in the wealthy and medically blessed U.S., a quick web search states that Americans’ life expectancy in 2015 is about 78.8 (or 81.1 for Minnesotans)—an extremely accurate fulfillment of Moses’ age-old psalm. (But life expectancies are often much lower in most of the world.)

Let’s take that Minnesotan stat as true and multiply it by 365.25. That means we Minnesotans are “expected” to live 29,622 days—just shy of 30,000. And just as the daylight is growing shorter as we approach next month’s winter solstice, I think most middle- and golden-aged readers would agree that from our perspective, each day, year, and life-stage seem to accelerate as we age. One year isn’t as long as it used to be for seasoned citizens.

Life is precious; time is short; the years (let alone the days) fly by. Love God, love others, and give thanks in all circumstances (truly divine commands). Some say “carpe diem,” and I concur if that means to not waste one’s life but seize opportunities to love and serve others TODAY. But a better phrase (prayer) in our short, trial-filled lives is, “Teach us to number our days.” 30,000 (if that) are far too few. Make them count, and lay up treasure in Heaven.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Running with Rudy and the Godfather

A little influence and encouragement goes a long way. Whether in a literal 26.2 mile race or in the race of life, we need one another to set goals, join the race, keep the pace, and focus on the finish while enjoying the journey. Okay, “enjoying” is a relative term, at least on Summit Avenue...

I’ve written and spoken much over the years about the need to receive and give mentorship. This month saw a unique convergence of the main mentor of my own youth, my big brother Tom Arneberg, and one of my most historically significant mentees, Jughead legend Selby Shlosberg. We all ran and finished the Twin Cities Marathon on 10/4/15! It was Tom’s first, Selby’s 3rd, and my 9th, and we all ran at different paces, but sharing the Expo, Start, Finish, and a post-race feast was special.

Selby (Jughead from ‘98-‘07) was the kind of kid who learned persistence through juggling. Her parents were amazed that she didn’t quit when she didn’t succeed right away, taking until her 10th birthday (five months into 4th grade) to “qualify” three balls. I then named her my first-ever recipient of “The Rudy Award for Persistence” in Juggle Jam 1. Tom (nine years my senior) learned to juggle at age 28, and his direct influence led me (at age 20, the year Selby was born) to learn to juggle and learn to work with kids, hence my dubbing him “the godfather of JUGHEADS.” Although Tom had heard of my seven marathons as of his 50th birthday, he had never been a runner until a wake-up call (his friend’s death and his own health numbers) drove him to definitively get in shape. Five years later, he’s down about 50 pounds, he’s twice backpacked in Philmont as Scoutmaster of Troop 72, and he exercises daily.

Selby and Tom each invited me to run TCM with them, knowing my year-round commitment to all-seasons running and to share with me their newfound joy (and Type A goals). The three of us are now more peers than mentors or mentees, but we continue to influence each other. And while marathons are rare events on the calendar, isn’t it a blessing that JH, like a family, remains a place where daily mentorship, attainable goals, and relationships flourish in all seasons to spur us on in our journeys? “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us...” (Hebrews 12:1c, ESV)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mom, 30 Years Later

September 22, 2015, marks 30 years since my mom, Audrey Mae (Bollmann) Arneberg, lost her battle with leukemia at age 51. This was life-changing for me (her baby) and clan-changing for our extended family (she was the main social catalyst), but her earthly legacy lives on in unique ways. As a follow-up to my Juggle Jam 17 tribute to my mom, whose personality inspired me to create so many aspects of this company’s founding and heart, I thought it fitting to share this poem written by family friend Lynn Kerst within hours of Mom’s death and read at her funeral, where the church choir sang and three priests officiated. Mom had five kids, eight siblings, 48 nieces & nephews, and was married to my dad, Ron Arneberg, for 29 years.

     A Tribute to Audrey

     My best friend’s mom, full of joy and surprise
     Light through the kitchen window lit up her twinkling blue eyes.
     She’d sing songs and hymns in her rich alto voice
     While going about her work as a mother—full-time, by choice.
     What a vibrant sense of humor—a joy to be around
     Laughter ringing through the house was a familiar sound.
     To the church and community she was very active.
     A Christian, an Optimist, she had so much to give.

     Vivid memories flash by:
     Blowing bubbles with gum called Bap.
     Holding a baby on her lap.
     Pepperoni spaghetti simmering on the stove.
     Watching her Little League sons catch pop flies in their gloves.
     For Girl Scout activities she’d readily volunteer,
     Always adding so much extra fun and cheer.
     Setting up her portable lawn chair for games, parades, the beach.
     So involved with her children—to encourage, to love, to teach.
     Winner of “Foto Funnies” and “Dialing For Dollars Letter Game”–
     Calling “Is there an ‘N’ as in ‘Norbert’?” brought her fame.
     Bridge player, Bowler, loved to take trips
     Her ‘fridge and bulletin board were covered with newspaper clips.
     Through illness and trials she had courage and strength like no other,
     Even knitted a blanket from her hospital bed for her brother.

     On the last day of summer, she lived her last day.
     Like the season, we’ll miss her brightness, warmth & cheerfulness in every way.

     Audrey Arneberg—relative, friend, devoted mother and wife,
     We are all so fortunate who shared a part of her short and precious life.

     Audrey Arneberg, 1933-1985

The minute she died, Mom’s last words to me were, “I love you, Paul. You’re a good boy, and stay that way.” By Jesus’ grace, I continue to pass on my mom’s love, example and charge by making a career out of helping to shape youth not my own, but rather loaned to me for a moment in time to be developed...for good.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sunrise, Sunset: Half a Lifetime of Youth Work

As this column often focuses on my personal experiences, I risk being perceived as narcissistic, self-important, or preachy. However, I love (measured) transparency, so please indulge this career milestone reflection, including my commission of sorts.

On 5/19/92 at 4:03 p.m. in the parking lot of the Edina Community Center, I prayed in my car before my first interview with KIDS Club Founder Linda Sisson. I wrote in my prayer journal, “Whether or not I get this job, and whichever career direction You choose to give me right now, I WANT TO RISE AND SAY THAT IT WAS GOD WHO DID IT, BECAUSE I COULDN’T DO IT MYSELF” (emphasis in the original). I didn’t want my personal charisma or interviewing skills to land me the job; I wanted it to be God’s will, partly because I felt scared to death to take on the full-time responsibility of managing a huge older childcare program at age 23 with virtually no supervisory experience and only one summer of working with kids. As we ended the interview, Linda asked, “Is there anything else?” I replied, “I want you to know that my motivation to love the kids is my Christianity.” She smiled and nodded; granted me a 2nd interview; and I started on 6/1/92.

23 of my 46 years have been devoted to full-time vocational youth work in Edina, MN. I’ve written and said much regarding my journey, and perhaps the reason I’m so introspective is this remains a one-of-a-kind job. Believe me, I’ve bandied about ideas such as teaching, youth pastoring, speaking, writing, and entertaining. This was especially true after college graduation (Dec. ‘91); during my first bout of career restlessness (Winter ‘94); in career burnout (‘97-‘98); and Winter ‘15, when our relocation was unknown. Through it all, God has provided, I’ve not quit, and I exercise a variety of (learned) director skills.

I never left Edina for Disney World or dinner theatre, but I taste stage performing during Juggle Jams, occasional gigs, and church performances. I was recently rejected by WORLD magazine to take a mid-career writing course for potential part-time reporters, but I get to write this monthly newsletter in addition to many other things for this company. I’ve never taught in a classroom (except Sunday School), but I have the privilege of teaching life lessons and occasionally meeting with students and families outside our normal operating hours for deeper forms of spiritual and relational mentorship (with careful propriety).

I continue in youth work through God’s grace, affirmation, humble gratitude, and opened & closed doors. However long I work with kids—whatever the final fraction of my life—is truly up to God rather than me; He who created the sun has determined how many times it sets before the work of Wendy & me is complete (i.e., God’s work in us--Phil. 2:13). Our mission among swiftly flying years is to be found faithful until we’re called away or called Home.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Integrity (Wholeness)

It’s been a while since my monthly column focused exclusively on one of the many virtues we try to reinforce here at JUGHEADS. On the brink of our 20th annual show and our big move in May, reflect with me on one of the most precious virtues: integrity.

I’m not a math guy (my brothers got those genes from my dad), but I find it interesting that the root word of “integrity” is “integer”--the same word for a whole number. Just as a whole number has neither decimal points nor fractions, a person of integrity avoids compromise and compartmentalized character. Integers and integral people are whole, complete.

The problem is we as humans have a fallen nature, and integrity needs to be both taught (by mentors) and caught (by soft-hearted learners). Compromise is easy; living by convictions (even when no one is looking) is hard. Integrity is doing the right thing and having the right character even when it’s neither popular nor convenient, and even, dare I say, when it could get one in trouble, hurt, or even killed. Our world is often hostile to integrity.

Sober words for a juggling newsletter, are they not? Well, I prefer large talk over small talk, and I prefer to mentor youth toward potentially difficult lives of deep purpose and meaning rather than shallow lives of mere temporal comforts and worldly fame and fortune. Of course it’s possible to have both integrity and worldly success. However, it’s never a good bargain to trade integrity for riches, fame, acceptance, etc. Steal a trinket, and one may get away with it, but is the resulting loss of integrity worth it? Pursue the American Dream apart from learning to love one’s neighbor, but is selfish ambition and vain conceit worth it?

Introspectively, I’m a work in progress, seeking sanctification. On many days, my own self-doubts and shortcomings seem to disqualify me for leadership. But as I grow every day in my mission to become more Christlike (modeling myself after the ultimate Whole Person), my solace is that a mentor need not teach integrity from a place of arrival–he teaches just a few steps ahead on the journey toward true, lasting wholeness.

Monday, March 2, 2015

False Promises vs. True Hope

 I may be a rare person who pays (nearly) equal attention to the Oscars as I do the Super Bowl. As both a movie buff and a football fan, I enjoy seeing the best in their respective crafts. On the opposite end of lauding greatness, Wendy & I privately pan the writing of certain movies and TV shows which resort to rampant profanity, innuendo, and other offensive or sloppy use of language. For instance, I really dislike the cliche “Everything’s going to be all right,” parodied when Marge Simpson tries to reassure her kids that Homer will survive a doomed space shuttle mission. In the words of Lisa, “What are you basing that on, Mom?”

My example of precise word choice points to our serious yet hope-filled opportunity: JH is searching for a new home. (If you haven’t read my email from 2/11, we’ll forward it by request and invite you to join our email group list.) On the one hand, this is the end of JH as we know it. For 21 years, we’ve been based either in or within walking distance of the Edina Community Center, and now we need to relocate further from the hub of Edina Schools. On the other hand, “Great moments are born from great opportunity” (Herb Brooks, “Miracle,” 2004). His words to the U.S. Olympic Team 35 years ago didn’t guarantee victory, but they were based on the team’s hard work, study, and support. Similarly, any hope offered by Wendy or me (or by our myriad of supporters) regarding our successful move this May won’t guarantee victory; but we do have the history, structure, community support, divine grace, and collective will to bring us future successes, whether things look the same in a new setting or the company is re-invented, at least in part, as it has been many times since 1994.

So, I’ll resist the urge to offer the false hope as seen in so much misplaced cinematic optimism which dismisses reality and the pain of change. But I will say with one of my all-time favorite writers, the Apostle Paul, this true hope: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). We’ll hope for the best; plan for the “worst”; and mightily strive to usher in a new normal, perhaps even with expanded horizons.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Director of Empowerment

For me, February epitomizes “Groundhog Day” (1993) in reverse: in this crucial month of JJ progress, I feel as if I don’t change while everyone else changes around me. This is especially true as I get older and directing is (more) routine: my role is much more about coordinating many student leaders, choreographers, coaches, and Jugheads, but one may be surprised at how rarely I actually come up with ideas from scratch. (My strength is in tweaking existing ideas.) Even this winter, I’ve still struggled against that reality, thinking that I’m “scamming” people who may assume that every dance move, juggling trick, team triumph, or even life lesson somehow originated from me. But my ongoing solace is that to be a good director, I need not also be a good choreographer; instead, I need to help to bring out others’ talents. (I credit Wendy and several trusted parents and grads for that reminder.)

Recent Jughead graduate Erica Liddle (Class of ‘14) blessed me years ago with a saying by John Maxwell, and her calligraphy still hangs in my office: “Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” That’s the goal for every leader that pours into our JJ rehearsals (23 official leaders at last count). Even if a leader changes little, one’s job is to empower others to change. Even so, in my heart and theology, I know that I am changing (even if imperceptibly at first), trusting my ultimate Choreographer and Director to weave all moves together into this Juggle Jam called “Life.”

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Social Benefits of JUGHEADS Membership, Part 2

Personal character, the body, the brain, and healthy co-ed friendships among our 10-year age range with a long tradition of custom-made special events...those are some benefits of juggling in general, and Jughead membership specifically, to which I’ve devoted this monthly column since September. This half-year series concludes with some thoughts on two dramatic and contagious benefits of being a Jughead: student leadership and Juggle Jam. 

Remember, I didn’t set out to be a juggling coach; in fact, I never even set out to work with youth, even upon college graduation! Instead, my presumed career in radio led me to pursue theatre, music, speaking, and writing from ages 12-22, with athletics and hobbies thrown in for fun. Therefore, when God called me to pursue youth work rather than the media, I created my coaching role as I went along, growing as our rosters grew. Many kids quickly matched and surpassed my juggling skills, making it necessary for them to be cutting-edge instructors of each other.  

I established club captains right away in ‘94-‘95, but it wasn’t until the original 1999 Juggle Jam that I introduced older teen leaders to my Rec. Clubs, followed by establishing an Officer Team to plan Juggle Jam 2000. Now, I’ve settled on 17 as the ideal size of my Student Leadership Team:  students who are regularly trained through meetings; learn that servant-leadership can be both overt & received gratefully and menial & thankless; and whose roles as current members (i.e., still in childhood) carry with them a credibility and effectiveness that is different from even my college-aged coaches. It could be argued that being on our SLT carries with it an honor similar to that of a high-ranking Boy Scout or Student Council member; even so, the virtues of learning responsibility and giving of oneself aren’t easily articulated on a resume or college application. But several former leaders have done just that! 

The social benefits of Juggle Jam? For rookie families, just you wait till May. For veterans, it’s self-explanatory. Chris Jost (Class of ‘12) once quipped, “Juggle Jam weekend should be a national holiday!” That sentiment from a young man who didn’t even join till 9th grade encapsulates much of the magic of JJ: 120+ youth working together for months toward a shared goal which is then applauded by hundreds of supporters over two nights in one of the best high school venues in the state. Many lifetime memories are made; friendships are solidified; skills are stretched; stage fright is forgotten; and there is a very special bonding that is parallel to experiences of actors, athletes, and even extended families.

The word “Jughead” combines both athletics and the arts but is cemented by friendships. As long as this company exists, there will remain ongoing benefits that can’t be fully chronicled but will continue to change lives and develop youth. And even when the juggling stops, the changed lives go on, and hopefully, go on to change others’ lives as well.