The First Four Minutes

Dr Phil recommends that every couple spend the first four minutes of their day being kind to each other.  He promises that if you take that first four minutes of every day and make it special you will have a long and happy marriage. 

We have a new delivery driver and he comes from a challenging background.  His family never had much money when he was a kid and his father and mother were both alcoholics – not the funny kind either.  They both went through bouts of substance abuse and each of them spent some time in prison.  They have both remarried a couple of times – to pretty much the same person they left – only changing names but not situations.  He has several siblings – and even more step siblings – all of whom either have or are currently serving prison sentences as a result of learning early how to run afoul of the law.  I get bits and pieces of his life – a little at a time.  One of his stepfathers owns the business next to ours and asked me to give him a shot after our last delivery driver got locked up for an outstanding warrant.  I know how that sounds…I guess I should explain.

Michael and I sort of seek out people who have “a past” and try to get them to give themselves another shot.  Neither of us is really in a position to judge and more often than not we are disappointed to find that most of them just can’t get past their “past” and end up repeating it.  We try to keep an open mind and at the same time protect ourselves from any fallout that may come from having them around.  Its not always easy to get close to someone like that and not feel a real sense of loss when they make choices that force us to cut them loose, but we always feel like we have had an impact on them and always hope that – someday – they will look back and realize that we did our best.  There were people who did it for us and we are paying it forward I guess.

Anyhow – our delivery driver is married and has four daughters ranging in age from 8 months to 10 years.  They all live together in a tiny trailer with no air conditioning and they don’t have a car that runs.  He has spent some time at school (that is our euphemism for prison – nothing needs a euphemism more than prison, don’t you think?) himself and has had no luck with steady work since then.  Big companies just don’t hire convicted felons – no matter how long ago it was – and they really have a problem giving a guy a shot with a really obvious prison tattoo of a cross and teardrops on his face.  It’s hard to look past.  It must be even harder for him.

Imagine looking in the mirror every morning and seeing the permanent reminder of doing something so horrible that you got locked up for it.  Imagine that reminder stamped – not only on your face, but on your soul.  And on your spirit.  And in the eyes of everyone who looks at you and makes a judgement about your character.

As it turns out – this young man is an unusually sensitive man and a very hard worker.  He has excellent customer service skills and we have regular comments from customers about how helpful and friendly he is.  But he has a lot of demons and carries a lot of fear with him.

In passing conversation over lunch, I shared Dr Phils “First Four Minutes” theory with him and he was intrigued.

In this new age of of men who are more aware of their impact on their their families, he worries that his past will influence the opportunities his daughters will have.  He is concerned that they will choose men like…well…like him.  He thinks that the sins of the father will be visited on his daughters like the sins of his father were visited on him.  He wonders if they will hate him later.  He worries that they will lose respect for him when they are old enough to know details of his life.  He wonders what he can do to keep them from repeating the cycle of a long family history of drug use, alcohol abuse and shattered relationships.  His wife grew up with many of the same experiences he did but she doesn’t share his concern with same fervent desire to break the chain and blaze a new future.  To her, there is no expectation of a better life for her daughters than what she has experienced, or what her mother experienced or what her mothers mother experienced.  He wants her to want more and she wants him to be satisfied with the way things have always been.  They spend their first four minutes of every day in utter chaos – assigning blame for duties not done and expectations not being fulfilled. 

We spend the rest of our lunch in a sort of thoughtful concern, and then suddenly he flashes a big smile and says that God won’t give us more challenges than we can handle.

And as he leaves the room to go back to work, I was stunned with the thought about how kind God had been to me.  He must have known very early that I would need every opportunity and every measure of support to survive the choices that I would later make.  I guess he didn’t have a lot of confidence that I would be able to overcome difficult circumstance and gave me a life that others envy.

I have wonderful parents who raised me to know what love is because I saw it between the two of them every day.  They never fought and they never drank and they never left me locked in the car while they went to score drugs from a bad area of town.  They told me they loved me often and in many ways other than just verbally.  They never failed to provide for my health and wellbeing and I always had plenty to eat and pretty clean clothes to wear.  They never disappeared to “school” for a couple of my formative years and they balanced discipline with love in an effort to teach me right from wrong.  As a result of their example, I have a wonderful husband that I am in completely in love with and who is completely in love with me.  I have two wonderful sisters who enjoy the same close, devoted and loving relationships with their husbands that I do and I think that raising three girls to have three very different lives but with the same underlying values speaks volumes about how really great God was to all of us.  Would Michael and I and my sisters and their husbands have enjoyed the same marital bliss if our parents were divorced and remarried with all of this extended family that has become so common in our culture?  Does this mean that we are nothing more than the sum of our life experience?

As Michael and I have just celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary, I look at him with different eyes and I know that we are together because God saw fit to not give me more than I can handle.  I live a charmed life.

God gave me the “First Four Minutes” all day long.

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