Monday, November 9, 2009

Anniversaries, Awards and Things That Sometimes Seem to be Overrated

Flowers from Curtis, on our second anniversary...

This weekend my church celebrated twenty-five years. There was a walk down memory lane filled with speakers, pictures, videos and puppets from the past and present. Many out of town guests came back to see “where we are now” and to share with the more recent members “where we came from.”

I sat in the back with a couple friends and took in the experience. We sang old hymns and new praise tunes. We watched adults reenact old children messages. We listened to charter members recant the miracles of our past, that have brought us to where we are now. And then we cut and consumed twenty-seven (or so) different kinds of cake before departing for home, only to return twelve hours later for Sunday services.

Last week I attended a banquet celebrating local teachers for their stellar performances. Each district in the county celebrated one teacher for his or her unique and thoughtful teaching career. The teacher I accompanied to the banquet has a classroom that neighbors my own, and we frequent each other’s rooms regularly for a listening ear, pieces of chocolate, and computer print outs (since we share a printer). We make fun of each other to the students, and tease them for liking the other teacher better. New students sometimes get us confused, and once in a while we close our doors with joking scowls to the other because a class has gotten too loud.

She deserved the award. She’s challenging, thoughtful, and will listen to any student, any time—no matter how much grading she has to do.

Last July my husband and I celebrated two years of marriage. I made a nice dinner after he got home from a twelve hour shift delivering babies, and we sat together for a half hour before he secluded himself away to study. Eventually we would find time to take a break, but it would be a month later.

And I was okay with that.

I have always prided myself on being low-maintenance. When we were dating, it wasn’t important to me to keep close track of how long we had been together, and to celebrate various increments as we reached them.

Last month I received a plastic plaque celebrating my finish in a local marathon. The race was miserable, my finish disappointing. It seemed ironic to receive a carefully packaged object celebrating a time that I was not proud of, something that seemed far below my potential or expectations.

I was very proud of myself for finishing; I didn’t need a plaque.

Last year I saw an episode of “The Office” where a character seeks to motivate employees by giving out tokens (Schrute Bucks) for good behavior. Earn enough and trade them in for rewards. The parody successfully critiqued our current culture, where reward and recognition is of the utmost important, while pride in performance—in and of itself—is seemingly not enough.

I am guilty of handing out my own Schrute-Bucks in the classroom, stamping and stickering perfect homework papers, promising the students rewards for gathering a collection. No homework! Trade a bad grade in! Earn a party! Long assignments garner DOUBLE STAMP rewards. And the truth is I have never seen fourteen year olds so attentive to detail.

Unfortunately, it works.

I have sold my soul to the culture of incentive-based-performance.

What does this have to do with a church celebration? Or my anniversary? Or a well-deserved award? (Or a disregarded one?)…in my mind they are not so different. They are all celebrations of occasions: a successful church, a continuing marriage, a thriving professional, a perfect paper.

This string of celebrations over the past few months, some that I embraced and appreciated more than others, caused me to realize that somewhere there is a line between celebrations that are frivolous and selfishly motivated and those that are worthy of months of planning.

Because some milestones truly matter.

Six months of dating? Not really. Thirty-seven perfect answers to questions about present, past and future perfect tense? That’s pushing it. Twenty-five years of building a thriving supportive community? Absolutely.

When it comes down to it, celebrations and awards and milestones are all opportunities for encouragement, for a job well done, and for work that has been done well and should continue. Sometimes the immediacy of everything in the present causes us to lose sight of the entire journey. Sometimes we need to take a minute to appreciate the beauty of what has come already to appreciate the potential for the future.

And that is when these milestones come in handy. May my cynicism of the culture and my disdain for social niceties never keep me from offering true and genuine encouragement.


  1. I stopped by your blog last week and read and read, then I came back today and loved this post too. I love your writing and appreciate your perspective. From here on out, I'll be here, following you =)

  2. Thanks, Natalie. I have really enjoyed being more intentional about writing these past few months. I love that I'll have a record of where I've been. It's nice to know someone else enjoys it as well. :)