Changing of the Guard

My job is stressful.

Let me rephrase that: my job is one of the most challenging, frustrating and draining things I have ever engaged in.

For those that don’t know (and to myself ten years from now if you forget what you used to do and are now looking back; hi future me!) I work at a group home for the chronically impaired mentally ill. This means primarily the inability to live on one’s own due to severe disorders such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective, bipolar, PTSD and various others.

My goal, as the Senior Residential Technician, is to work alongside the part-time technicians and the Rehabilitation Specialists to teach our clients life skills. These include, but are not limited to; cooking, cleaning, personal hygiene, legal services, medical services, coping and learning to enjoy life again. In summary, I work with up to ten grown adults at any given time, doing my best to teach them how to live life well. Fitting, no?

Here I am at only 23 years of age, feeling a lot like Moses some days. “Who am I” that I should teach these men and women, most of whom have lived much longer than I, how to live their lives well? In all reality, I’m still trying to figure it out myself. Life is hard, even without a debilitating mental disorder. It truly is only by the grace of God that I am able to stand and lead these people through something I myself don’t yet fully understand.

I’d like to rephrase once again, without discounting my previous assessment: my job is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far. I have learned so much in the seven months since I started at Hoosier House. I have learned not only about mental health and the stigmas associated with mental disorders, but also about myself and many characteristics which I believe God wants to hone in me.

Leadership. Patience. Love. Time Management. Kindness. Work Ethic. 

The list goes on. Point is, the hardest things are often the most rewarding, and often times God will put us between the hammer and the anvil in order to strengthen us. No amount of college could have prepared me for the amount I have learned working with the “mentally ill,” who have in many regards taught me as much about life as I’d like to hope that I have taught them. And to think, I had no intention of using my psychology degree when I moved to this place.

This job hasn’t only been rewarding in the way of unexpected personal growth and life lessons. My clients, the word we use instead of “patients,” have been amazing at expressing their gratitude for me. This is something else that I never expected, but am myself very grateful for.

One young man, we’ll call him Birch, recently expressed to me that he is so grateful that I came to work with him. He stated the words that I feel may be hyperbole but appreciate nonetheless: “I don’t think I would still be here without you. So thank you Brady. Thank you so much for all that you do.”

Another, Elm, encouraged me the other night while sitting around the dinner table with most of the house. He told me about the division in the house between clients and staff before my arrival, stating that they only saw staff members for chores and designated outing times. He called my arrival at the house the “changing of the guard,” and spoke to what a difference I have made for him and the entire house.

These words broke my heart and encouraged it all at the same time. This may have been the moment that I truly began to understand how much God is able to use me even despite my flaws, lack of life experience and lack of intention to even consider working in a place like this.

While I don’t believe that this is where I will be long-term, I am definitely seeing the fruit of my being where I am right now, and I am enjoying the sting of that refining hammer. As written in Esther, I am encouraged by these words that have become so central to my girlfriend;”For who knows if you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”

Much Love & Many Blessings my friends,

Brady J. L. Smith

Another Man’s Treasure

As it turns out, I am not very great at listening to my own advice. I wrote about A Simple Warning not too long ago, and against all the logic in that post I simply could not resist going against the very wisdom I had provided.

About a week ago, Katherine and I went “hiking” in the woods behind our apartment complex. I lace that with quotations because while there are a few moderate inclines, it is primarily flat and pretty wide open back there. I should really just call it what it is and say we went for a walk, but I strive for extraordinary!

I digress.

As we walked along, we happened upon a path which neither of us had ever seen nor walked. The head of the path was no longer apparent and we found it by a bit of luck. And I am so glad we did. This was by far one of the most beautiful of the trails back there. The foliage had time to grow in nice and thick around the trail, and almost the entire way we were able to spot wildflowers of varying size and color. Downed trees from recent storms gave the trek some substance, and a few small bridges over the bubbling brook that ran through the woods were great places to sit, breathe and just be.

Midway through the walk, I spotted a red mass about 100 yards off the path. I let her know my intentions, and then darted towards this potential treasure. Lo and behold, we had discovered a tent that had clearly been abandoned there for quite some time. As we approached, we stopped and listened for the sound of any porpoises. When we were certain that this tent was devoid any marine life, we drew nearer the target.

If you’re reading this, your first thought may be that what I’m about to say involves the theft of someone’s home, but I assure you that this is most undoubtedly not the case. Rusty poles broken and canvas tattered, this tent had no life left in it, except the multitude of spiders, worms, gnats and other creepy crawlies now inhabiting it. If anyone had lived here, they were long gone by now.

In addition to the wildlife that now populated this derelict camping equipment, we dug out a handful of old goodies that suggest this may have been a tent of meeting – and I don’t mean the biblical kind. Using the broken tent poles as giant chopsticks, I pulled out a moldy old blanket, bottles of vodka and Kroger brand orange soda, a pack of old waterlogged cigarettes and some sweatpants never again suitable for human use.

Changing my use of my giant chopsticks, I twirled the remains of the canvas around and around akin to the way I use a fork to eat spaghetti. I hoisted it over my should, ensuring that no part of this mess touched myself or my girl, and began the trek home. I may actually attach some photos this blog for the first time to show how ridiculous I looked.

After a lot of laughter, a couple of stops, and some much needed time with my favorite girl, I arrived back home. I set my prize out on the back deck so that the coming rainstorms might pre-wash the fabric for me. The next step is put it through the washer and dryer, and then Katherine plans to sew up the holes to see if we can breathe new life into this old tent.

Updates to come when this is all completed. Hopefully I will be out camping sooner than originally planned, and for a fraction of the cost!

Much Love and Many Blessings friends,

Brady J. L. Smith

 

The Day That Tom (Almost?) Got Away

It was an extravagantly beautiful day in Bloomington,  and I had finished all of the droll paperwork I have the opportunity to do each and every day. One of the great perks of my job is that it is my job to spend time with my clients. Pretty great, huh? I went upstairs to retrieve a client from the depths of his  dark bedroom, where his entire day had thus far been consumed by video-games, and prompted him to get out and enjoy the sunshine.

Shortly thereafter, we were walking along Bloomington’s B-Line walking trail, having a grand old chat about his life, his interests and how he has been doing with his treatment of late. These are some of my favorite conversations with my crew, and all under the bright sun and blue sky. Such joy!

As we were walking back to the house, we were suddenly accosted by a loud banging THUD not far from our location. We paused, looking at one another and then across the street where there sat two vehicles. The first that we noticed was un-moving, and seemed to be the source of the sound. We waited and watched for what seemed like a very long time, but was probably only a handful of seconds, and I finally noticed a shadow beneath the van, towards the front end. This is where we set our focus.

The shadow remained in place momentarily and then our eyes followed as it darted towards the rear tire well, and then things got really interesting…

What darted from behind that white van elicited some choice words from my companion and left me wondering if there is anything I won’t encounter in this strange world. The bipedal creature, standing roughly three and a half feet tall and sporting a beautiful plumage, dashed away from the back of the van and towards the far end of the parking lot. I really could hardly believe what I was witnessing!

It gets weirder folks…

While completely bewildered and still attempting to process what we were seeing, my focus was broken and then shifted to the sound of an engine starting and doors slamming. I witnessed two grown men and a woman jumping into a small truck. The vehicle quite literally peeled out of the parking spot it was in, tires squealing, and immediately began pursuit of the fowl.

Now I understood the origin of this bird, after having primarily been wondering from whence a turkey had spawned not far from downtown Bloomington. This trio had apparently been transporting a live turkey for some purpose, and it had escaped their grasp as one of them (presumably the woman) exited the vehicle to enter the Gynecologist’s office to which this lot belongs.

The truck sped off behind the building and into a connected lot, at which point we lost sight of the ordeal. My companion and I discussed whether to pursue this matter any further, and decided to let this one go unresolved. I pray the bird succeeded in it’s escape. Godspeed Tom.

Much Love and Many Blessings friends,

Brady J. L. Smith

Of Date Nights & Seahorses

Not too long ago, I heard tell of a caravan of filmmakers planning to create none other than… wait for it… yep a film, here in Bloomington, IN. Even more, they would actually be filming at The Pourhouse Cafe, which was my secondary place of employment at that time, and were looking for extras for the film. Without skipping a beat, I reached out to my manager to pick her brain for details. There was not much yet set in stone, but I got enough.

Shortly after I had heard about this opportunity, I emailed the production company that I was put in contact with. I sent them all of the required information and waited patiently.

I never heard back.

For those of you that don’t know me all that well; know now that a simple lack of response on a film production company’s part is not enough to keep me from finagling my way into their film.

The day of filming, I rushed straight to the Pourhouse after my shift ended at my full time job. My heart raced as  I arrived in the back parking lot and saw two trailers sitting there, the temporary housing of the stars of the movie I was about to assert myself on. Was this really happening? Was I really going to enter this party to which I had not been formally invited? You bet I was.

Excited but actually quite nervous, I called out my car window to the first chap I spotted, who was carrying clothing out the trailers at the time. He approached me cautiously, probably wondering who I was, how I had bypassed security to get into this parking lot, and why I was calling to him out of my window. I informed him that I had emailed about the extras casting, sheepishly admitting that I had not heard back but wanted so badly to be in the film.

The man seemed unmoved by my woeful tale of rejection, so I tried another angle. I then proposed that I go inside to speak with my manager to offer my assistance in preparing the food and drinks for the cast and crew. He gave me the green light, and she pleasantly accepted my help inside. Next thing I know, she comes back to inform me that she had spoken to the assistant director, and he would let me in as an extra! YES!

I was then directed to Costumes, where I was assessed, informed my outfit “just wouldn’t work,” and instructed to go home and change. I was willing to do whatever they needed at this point. I was about to be in my second movie. Did I mention that this wasn’t my first run-in with “acting?” Check out Rodeo Girl, starring Kevin Sorbo and Sophie Bolen sometime. It’s a real treat!

As I was driving home, I realized that that I was now faced with a genuinely difficult decision. I already had a date night planned with the lady, but surely she would understand? In my short sojourn home, I had received her somber and yet selflessly supportive blessing to give up date night to “have such an awesome experience.”

Can I just take a moment to praise my wonderful girlfriend? She is such a gem. Without fail, she always has the grace and love to put my needs above hers, and would give just about anything to make my dreams and desires come to fruition.

What kind of man would I be to abandon my plans with this amazing woman just to pursue my own fame and fortune? It was date night after all. I called back and offered three scenarios to choose from:

  • We go on our previously planned date and have nothing to do with the film.
  • We both go back to The Pourhouse, get rejected and go on our previously planned date.
  • We both go back to The Pourhouse, convince them to allow her in as well, and spend the evening on set filming The Good Catholic.

We arrived on set with determination in our hearts and our best “hipsters at a coffee shop” outfits, and walked confidently down to the basement room housing the extras for the evening. Next thing we know, the guy from the parking lot is inquiring as to who this young lady is, and where she came from. I had no idea before now, but this was the assistant director of the film, and he was now looking for answers.

“Well sir, this is my girlfriend. We had plans tonight before I showed up here, so I brought her back with me when I went home to change. It’s date night.” He chuckled, had her checked with Costumes, and welcomed her to the set.

Most of the night was spent waiting in the extras room with a small group of others who had not been chosen for the first scene that was filming that night, and we had a splendid time getting to know them, all the while sitting in wonderment that date night had taken such a turn.

Eventually, we were called upstairs, where we were seated at a table directly in front of the camera. We were to be a young couple on a date in the film. Date-ception, anyone? As you can probably imagine, the whole thing felt quite odd. I had no idea what it felt like to have a large Hollywood-grade camera 4 inches from my face. As I sat there, probably pale, I stared motionless into my girl’s eyes, and suddenly felt a dramatic increase in respect for actors and actresses. We were completely clueless, and all we had to do was pretend to be on a date (which we’ve done, no joke, close to if not more than 1,000 times). Acting is HARD.

We sat through the filming of a single scene at least 20 times, hearing the same lines repeated time and time and time again… Wow. Our table was placed directly next to that of the starring characters of the film, and it was such an incredible and surreal experience. These three were hilarious, and it was such a joy to get to know them through the evening. It’s amazing how easily we forget that the people we see on screen are real life human beings. Granted, the star actor was in two episodes of Gotham and had nearly made the cut to be none other than Captain America in the MCU.  At this point, I’d say I’m practically a sidekick by association… I digress.

We made it through the evening, and were asked to return the following night to film another portion of that scene. We were even told that we had to return, as we were already guaranteed to be in the film, and it would be noticeable if we were absent for the rest of filming. Boy oh boy was I excited now! Here we were, being guaranteed making it past the cut, and invited back to film more! I couldn’t have imagined this going any better. We are on our way to stardom.

We returned the following night for another grueling day of filming. Had I mentioned that both days were roughly 8 hours of sitting and/or filming? Date night had transformed into super-epic-and-slightly-painful-date-weekend. And man what a cool opportunity and blessing it was! To avoid sitting in the painfully bland basement as much as possible, I asserted myself as barista-man and made drinks for any and all of the cast and crew who so desired a drink, as well as restocking coffees and otherwise using my ninja-barista skills to please the powers that be. The assistant director especially enjoyed the 20oz mocha(s) with an extra shot that I made him. Brownie points!

As we finally closed out the night at approximately 2:30am, Katherine and I were invited to show up just a week later to film a different scene, and potentially appear twice in this film. However we cordially declined, finding this experience to be enough Hollywood for us for a while.

A combination of great timing and asserting myself upon a situation I greatly desired to be apart of, this turned out to be one of my favorite experiences in life so far; particularly here in Bloomington. I chose to do something I feel was extraordinary and I am so glad for the choice.

Much Love and Many Blessings Friends,

Brady J.L. Smith

 

New Year’s: The Resolute Life

Ordinarily, I am not one for “New Year’s Resolutions.” I believe that they can be a great springboard, but let’s be honest; If you are really serious about making a major change in your life, any arbitrary day of any arbitrary month is a good enough time to start something new. Or to end something.

I often wonder if coining something as a New Year’s resolution is, for many, just an excuse to put something off and enjoy the way things are just a few months more. On the flip side, perhaps using this term allows you something to blame when March Madness begins, and you really want that drink with your buddies.

For me, it was the former for the back half of 2015. I kept telling myself that I needed to get out more, explore my new bivouac, meet new people, dedicate more time to those people and ultimately just remove the Xbox from in front of me and live life to the fullest. Of course, being in a new town where you know next to no-one is pretty scary, and can be quite paralyzing at times. It can be so much easier and is often more comfortable to get to know Walter White, Wilfred and the cast of Daredevil than it is to have real conversations and foster something far more satisfying.

Some time in December, nearly four months after I had moved to Bloomington, I identified the source of a growing dis-contentedness that had been festering and gnawing at my soul. Here I was, in this beautiful new place to which I had looked forward to exploring for months now, and I found that the majority of my time was spent sitting in front of a television, in my bedroom no less. And I like to refer to myself as “adventurous.” For shame.

At this point a decision was made; I would change things. I would break these self-centered and lonely habits and really go enjoy the world around me. I was going to make friends, make memories and make life grand… once December was over. Of course, with my new full-time job, the constant nagging of seasonal affect, and my upcoming week long trip home for Christmas, it could wait until January. I had unintentionally created my own resolution for 2016.

So, I decided to run with it.

To celebrate New Year’s Eve: 2015 Edition, I picked up an overnight shift at work. Yep. Starting at 10:30 pm, I began my year off right. I spent my night with some of the most awesome people I know, the clients who inhabit the group home I am blessed to work for. We brought in the new year with sparkling grape juice, a cornucopia of snackage, and a fantastic game of Settlers of Catan. Don’t think for two seconds you had a better New Year’s than me.

Following this most excellent of nights, I resolved to truly pursue a life that I might see someone else living and think; “Wow. Now that’s what I wish my  life could look like.” I made lists of things I wanted to do, hobbies I wanted to experiment with and locales I wanted to explore.

In the following month, I spent many an hour trying new things, seeing new places and spending time with great people. In this short time, I discovered the joy of exploring God’s underground beauties,  tested my fear of heights while bouldering and high-rope climbing,  explored the art of acting (okay, so I was just an extra…) and even joined dear old friends at my Alma Mater to view a film we were previously in. This is just scratching the surface of what a person is able to accomplish in a month, and these are the kinds of tales I hope to document here, for my own remembrance and  perhaps the enjoyment of dear friends and family.

As I’ve stated, I have never been a big fan of these resolution things… but perhaps they aren’t so bad. As American author Isaac Asimov once stated:

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

I dusted off the ol’ windows this year to let some new light shine in, and I am oh so glad that I did. Here’s to a (belated) New Year, and a life lived to the best of my ability every single day.

A Life Extraordinarily Well Lived

“What a presumptuous title for a blog!” This is what I imagine many people may be thinking (there I go again) if they happen to stumble upon this, my humble attempt at recording my adventures in life.

Allow me to explain myself, if I can find the words.

For a long time, I cared a heckuvalot about people’s opinions of me. I cared what y’all (does anyone even read this other than my mother? Hi mom!) had to say or think about my life, my accomplishments and my failures. As a matter of fact, I still struggle with that, but we’re working on it.

I began thinking a while back that I’d like to be like that man from the Dos Equis commercials. Y’know, the most interesting man in the world? I put far too much energy and emotion in being my best self for the attention and praise of others. I found myself constantly exhausted, always trying to do the right things, say the right things and otherwise entertain, impress and encourage happiness in every single person I ever encountered. I was trying in vain to be interesting in order to garner worldly attention.

I believe this was often a result of low self-esteem, or the inability to find my identity in what really matters. I found myself consistently drawing from a well of human-approval that certainly didn’t quench my thirst for long. As it turns out, there IS only one “well that does not run dry,” and I was drawing from all of the wrong places.

Nowadays, I find that I am still seeking to be like Mr. Equis. However, I have a renewed sense of purpose and intention.

I believe that God created mankind with the purpose of loving Him and one another through a life of worship and service. Most would agree with that. I also believe that part of this oh-so-sweet deal (He’s kind of done a lot for us, while asking little in return) is that He created this big, beautiful world for us to not only survive in, but to thrive. God, in His infinite love, power and creativity has given us the opportunity to explore and appreciate the entirety of this planet. The world is quite literally our oyster.

Think about it. God created the earth, the stars and everything in between for His glory and our enjoyment. He took the time to create millions of unique flora and fauna, carve the miles and miles of caves to explore within the earth’s crust, placed billions of stars in the night sky to illuminate our path and reflect his majesty, and so much more. Everywhere you look, there is opportunity for both adventure and worship.

So many people take for granted the beauty and majesty of everything at our fingertips. We make excuses, we busy ourselves with the screens before us, we allow money and people to prevent us from experiencing everything we desire. I am in the process of learning to break away from all of that in order that I may experience everything that I am able.

I still strive to be the “most interesting man on the planet,” but it is no longer for anyone but myself and my God. I want to experience as much as I possibly can, to explore every avenue of life. I desire to seek every ounce of God’s amazing creation, and worship Him through it all. In the end, I know I won’t be perfect (far from it I imagine) and there will be many hiccups.

I will fail to love well.

I will seek the approval of others.

I will make excuses.

I will write blog posts that are probably way too long.

I will fall short.

I will fail to appreciate everything that God has given me.

I will start too many sentences in life with “I.”

Nonetheless, I shall continue to pursue God as best as I can and I believe that includes living the life He has gifted me to the best of my ability. I hope to someday look back at this life and think, “Man, I’ve had a Life Extraordinarily Well Lived for God.” For now, this seems to include stories of adventure, loving others, making new, lasting relationships and trying things that will often be quite uncomfortable.

 

Thanks for reading, and may you pursue your dreams and live a Life Extraordinarily Well Lived.

 

Brady J. L. Smith

 

A Simple Warning

If ever you find yourself meandering about the forest and suddenly happen upon a seemingly unobtrusive, and yet mystically tantalizing small tent, just walk away. As you find yourself inexorably moving in the very direction in which I have just told you not to walk, I will advise you just once more; just… walk… away.

Undoubtedly, like so many before you, you will at this point disregard my sage warning once more, drawn unabashedly towards what you believe to be the clicking and whistling sounds of a troupe of dolphins. Need I remind you that you are in the middle of a forest? Please just stop walking!

By this point in time, should you continue, you are beyond the help of myself, or any mental health professional for that matter, if you do not turn around. You are now irrevocably helpless unless you decide, against your clearly very poor judgement, to heed this; my final attempt at offering you salvation.

You arrive at your destination and enter this veritably unsuitable source of deep sea creature din in the middle of the forest, whereupon you find yourself in a well decorated lounge of surprisingly considerable size. What happens next would inspire a sense of both fear and wonder in any reasonable person, but you and I both know that you are well beyond either by this point.

You now recognize yourself as standing face to face with the impossible; before you sit three of the most well dressed and austere aquatic mammals you have ever laid eyes upon. They sit about what you can only describe as a table, pyramidal in shape and standing inverted upon a single point, and just to the far side of them is an unnecessarily large fireplace. Peering at you expectantly and with some disdain for some time, through a monocle and over a mustache that would arguably rival that of my Great Aunt Ruth’s, the central figure of the three now expresses a distaste for your tardiness and your lack of biscuits but nonetheless offers you a seat and the opportunity for a fireside chat. You agree, and are then offered a simple choice between coffee or tea.

As you may recall, I stated prior that I bear one last piece of advice for you. Contrary to your actions up until this point, I strongly consider you observe this, the last glimmer of hope offered to all whom I have written to in your current position in time and space. For all who have ignored my counsel up until now – for all who find themselves in just such an odd and incomprehensible predicament and cannot choose which beverage to accept – for all in tents with porpoises, I implore you; do not drink the tea.