Reflections from the other side of a vacation

Vacations are like a great massage. Awesome in the moment, undoubtedly restorative, and always over too soon. Their effects are also short lived.  Generally, all those wonderful effects of both the massage and the vacation start to fade just as soon as they are over.  Day one back here at work, and it is startling how quickly I just picked up right where I left off.

I feel certain I am ready to move on to the next chapter of my “professional” life.  The problem is I am not really sure where that is, or what that looks like.  I am all for planning, but that can be hard to do when you can’t even accurately pin down what your viable options are. There’s a part of me that wonders if I shouldn’t just step out on faith, give my notice and see what path God lays before me. In all honesty, I don’t have that strength of faith in me, not yet at least. Feel free to judge me on that if you want, but like I said in post #1, it’s the transparent honest truth. 

For now, I am just trying to find contentedness in the fact that I have a job that allows me to live in a lifestyle that 80% of world would probably consider to richness.  I just got to spend a long weekend away with my family in hotel/recreation park where I got to see my kids laugh, demonstrate some serious bravery (both tackled “rides” I thought would be too much for them), and also there creativity. It’s not like I have it bad, per se.  I just know that when work is bad, it is like poisoning your well. No matter how awesome my family or life is, if the place you spend 40+ hours leaves you frustrated and empty that can so easily spill over in to the rest of your life. I just continure to pray that I find some direction before that happens, or if it already has started to happen, before it get’s too far.



Perfectly Imperfect

As someone new to the whole world of blogging I am constantly striving to become a better blogger/writer (I am not sure that the two are actually one and the same, but I am going to pair them up anyway!). One of the things I have done to improve my skills is to read through the posts I have already written. I like to look back, removed from the euphoria that comes with new creative output, and see what worked and what didn’t. In doing this I noticed some things that I liked, and some things I will strive to change. I also noticed a trend. It seems like a lot of my posts give off the impression of a guy who has it all together. Someone who has, or at the very least thinks he has, all the answers. So I wanted to write something very different from that in today’s blog.

Before I go too far, I want to say for the record that I am blessed beyond anything I have ever, or could ever earn. I have a beautiful,loving wife, two healthy kids who are full of life, a job that supports us, and family and friends who stand by us. That doesn’t mean my life is perfect. Perfection, for any of us walking this big blue marble, is unattainable. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get caught up in the pursuit of it. Like some Quixotic quest, we attempt to slay a foe that does not exist. I, for one, struggle with this concept mightily. As a creative person, I am compelled to write, to paint, to draw, to make music, and to sing. There is a side of me, though, that can only see the flaws in the results of these compulsions. In turn I struggle with my confidence. Am I creating something that matters, or am I just going through some self-satisfying routine? Am I as good as the person next to me?

I also have to admit to being very weak willed at times. I have a soft spot for sweets. I have less of a soft spot for exercise. As a result I have rather large soft spot in my middle! I have at times succeeded in shedding those pounds, sadly I am currently back on the wrong side of the scale. Another thing, I have a tendency to take the easy road to avoid conflict as well. I hate it with a passion, and it has landed me in more trouble than it has ever led me to avoid. There’s more. I have a hard time being patient and compassionate with the people I love the most. I can be the epitome of virtuous patience for a complete stranger, but I find it hard to extend that same patience to my children or my wife. Why is it I can afford this to someone who I may never cross paths with again, but for the people I live my life alongside, whom I love deeply, I find it so hard to give? I am a deeply flawed individual, no doubt.

So, what am I saying? Woe is me? Why can’t my life be better? How do I fix myself? Not at all. More than anything I just want to be real about my life, and share some of my struggles. I don’t ever want to give the impression that I am something I am not. I AM flawed. I AM conflicted. I commit when I know I can’t follow through. I sin. I hurt people I love. I mess up constantly. If ever I give the impression that I think otherwise about myself, well that is just another example of my mistakes.

I also know that this is the same story we are all living. None of us are perfect. The world would like to tell us otherwise. They also, coincidentally (wink, wink) have a product that can help us achieve that. Perfection is an unrealistic expectation. We all know this deep down, but it somehow doesn’t stop us from trying. I think that is ok. Striving to be a better person is never a bad thing. I just hope that we can all learn, myself included, that falling short of that impossible goal is not only OK, it is the ONLY outcome possible. The thing that helps me reconcile this is my faith. I believe in a God that knows my imperfection and grants me forgiveness for when I fall short. I follow a Savior who has already paid for my mistakes. Knowing that my maker made me perfectly imperfect, that my flaws and struggles serve a purpose, well that certainly changes the perspective for me. I don’t always keep sight of that, but then again, maybe even that flaw serves it’s purpose too.

How far does the ripple travel….

There are 24 hours in day. 60 minutes in each hour and 60 seconds in each minute. How many things do we experience in that time that we would simply pass off as the mundane. We get up and get a drink, we flip channels on the TV, we give a cursory greeting to someone entering a room. Each of these things are probably forgotten almost a quickly as the moment passes. What is remarkable about any of these actions? The funny thing is, there may be something there unseen at the time. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

As an example, a friend of mine went out 3 years ago to check his mail.

Yup, powerful stuff here, huh? Well, little did he know when he went to sift through bills and circulars for the latest sale at the grocery store that he was about to stumble on to something that would change everything. Amongst those other things was a flyer announcing, in a town with what must have literally a hundred churches, one more was getting ready to open it’s doors. This little piece of mail probably cost less than a dollar to print and mail out. It was one of many printed exactly like it. The majority of which, I can only imagine, ended up in a trash bin or used to scrawl notes on by a kitchen phone. To the mail carrier who dropped this little piece of card-stock off, this was one of, no doubt, thousands of pieces of mail that would pass through his or her hands this day. A day that was probably of little note, in a week that was most likely unremarkable. Just another moment passing as quickly as it came. If you could ask that mail carrier today, would he or she remember this event? Unlikely, to say the least.

That said, that event impacted my friend’s life in an enormous way. It brought a man who had drifted from his faith back on course. It led to friendships that he cherishes deeply. The pastor of this church would (a short 3 year later) preside over his wedding, to a wonderful women he may never have met if it weren’t for that return to his faith. While that is great reason to triumph, the story doesn’t end there.

That church would come to lean on my friend greatly. He runs the sound most Sundays. He keeps our individual ministries, the “dream teams”, running. He has also begun leading us on some Sundays, allowing our pastor a chance to recharge his batteries. I know for me, he has an uncanny knack to speak the right words to me at the time I need to hear them the most. He is a man I consider a spiritual mentor. He has definitely touched the lives of our small Church. Still yet, the impact of that little flyer doesn’t end there. His contributions have allowed our Church to dig a capped well in a third world nation An act that allows a village to have a source of clean water, freeing children of a chore that prevented them from participating in school. This church sent a couple to Kenya, to help a woman who runs an orphanage that is home to over a hundred young souls. Without his sweat on Sunday morning to haul in speakers and set up the sound system, would we even have a community capable of banding together and making this happen? The act of opening the mail that day three years ago still reverberates today, and it is ringing across the entire globe.

One moment can make a difference. One routine event can change a world. One person, broken and flawed like the rest of us, can bring impact the lives of SOOOOOO many.

Thanks, Joel for checking the mail.

Who I Am, Not Who I Was

I like to think that some of the people who are reading this blog are folks who know me personally. Of those that do, some may have just recently met me. Some may have known me my entire life. For others, maybe we are reconnecting after some time apart. Those of you in that last group probably aren’t sure what to make of this blog. This certainly doesn’t sound like the guy you knew back then.

Who was I? In some ways I bore great resemblance to who I am now. Music was a huge passion for me. I was every bit as quick with a joke (and no they haven’t gotten any better). I battle a lot of the same self doubt and insecurities, though I’d like to think I put up a better fight now. I still have the same flowing locks as back then. Ok, not so much on that last one.

Beyond those things, and a few others, I am very different. For one, I never saw myself as parent material, but I am now a “Daddy” to two kids that fill my heart to overflowing. My playlist is more likely to sweep into a piano, than charge into overdriven guitars. And yes there is less (way less) hair up there!

What I hope, though, you will have noticed is a change in my heart. That the young man who was so sure of his own views is now more open to the ideas of others. That the angry boy has found a way to forgive and let slide. That the guy who wandered aimlessly has a heart lead by faith.

I hope who I am now is someone who makes people feel loved and important. I pray the new me is forgiving and slow to anger. More than all, I hope who I am tomorrow is even better than who I am today.

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

A while back I was introduced to a concept that has changed how I approach many aspects of my life, and I want to share it with you today. The Principle of the Leadership Lid is something you may have already heard or read about it. The principle itself is a part of the larger work of John C Maxwell, an expert in leadership and the author of the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. The principle itself can boiled down to the simple statement that an organization can move no higher than the leadership qualities of it’s leader. This means that no matter how many quality folks you staff your team with, they are “capped” by the abilities of their leader. To put it another way, if you have a team full of 8’s and your leader is a 5, you can only realistically expect to be a 5 as an organization. Through this concept I realized that it wasn’t just about training my people well, and equipping them with the tools to succeed. It was also about training and equipping myself. Leading isn’t just doing the job at hand, it is about getting your team to buy in, inspiring them to think critically, understanding the ebb and flow of morale. No matter how well trained your team may be, you will never get them to reach their full potential unless you push yourself to your full potential, until you set the bar for them.

So how do we become better leaders? How do you go from the 5 in our example to an 8 or a 9? The most important step, as is usually the case, is the first one. Simply be intentional about how you lead. Put it to the forefront of your mind. As you make your decisions, ask the straight forward question, am I being a good leader by making this choice? I am not saying you will always get it right, but your more likely to as long as you are intentional.

The next step is completely contrary to our preconceived notions of leadership: follow. In order to be a strong leader, you have to follow a great leader at some point. The Quarterback is undoubtedly the leader of the football team. ( or at least the offensive unit). The team will usually only go as far as the QB will take them (leadership lid!!!). Breat QB’s aren’t, just hatched that way. They have studied under other great leaders. Be it coaches or offensive coordinators, someone lead them, and they learned the principle of great leadership through that relationship. Would the Manning brothers have been capable of 3 Super Bowls if they had not been taught how to lead by David Cutcliffe? I don’t think so.

I would also encourage all of us who are leaders to be a perpetual student. Go to seminars, read books, have an insatiable appetite for learning. The reason I asked earlier how we get to 8 or 9 instead of 10, is because I don’t believe in 10. 10 means you have hit the pinnacle, that you can go no further. The idea that you are the best you can possibly ever be is frightening to me. There is always another step to take, there is always another lesson to learn. You may be a 9.9 right now, but if you just sit back on that, you will never make it 9.99, and neither will your team.

The beauty of this principle is that it doesn’t just apply to the 40 hour a week, 9-5 role I serve in at my day job, or the time I spend in my church or other organizations. It also applies to the 24-7-365 job of being a father. How can I expect my children to do their best, if they don’t see me doing mine. How can I expect my children to succeed if I do a poor job of leading them? Sure, my wife and I are a team and she is as much a leader to my kids (if not more) than I, but we have to lead as a team. I have to hold up my end of the load as well. This is important, and I fail regularly, but I never give up. I don’t want them to give up, either. I want them to succeed as members of my team, and I want them to be successful leaders all their own, one day.

I will leave you with one final thought. Even if you aren’t in management, don’t have a family, or aren’t a part of an organization, you are still potentially a leader. We never know who is watching us, emulating us, using us as their point of measurement. We may not have a title, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t a leading. We may not be aware of it, but our own lack of growth may be putting a lid on someone else’s potential.

When You and I Don’t See Eye to Eye….

I had two posts already started and intended for publish this week. Something better came along and I felt compelled to push those other posts to the wayside and dive into this instead. The following, therefore, is mostly off the cuff. Please proceed with caution!

During October 2012 Story Church, where I am a member, is running an excellent series on politics. I know what you are thinking, and yes politics and religion is absolutely a combustible mixed topic. Before you click on the back arrow, let me stop you. This series doesn’t go in the direction you may expect it to. No one is handing out flyers on who to vote for, or how to vote on certain issues. Instead the discussion is about going beyond the division of left and right, red and blue, conservative and liberal. It is about unity, and moving beyond platforms and parties.

One of the key points made in this series, so far, has been the simple statement that “as long as there is an US vs THEM, there can be no WE.” Like all good lessons, this one is pure common sense, but is hard to live out. Is it not easier to draw our battle lines and stand shoulder to shoulder with like minded individuals, than it is to associate with those who don’t share our core beliefs? We would rather shout into our echo chamber, and look at all the bobbing heads who agree, than be on the other end of someone expressing an opinion contrary to our own. Where, I would ask, does that get us? It doesn’t take an active imagination or in depth research to figure it out. If you happen to be social media junkie, er, user like myself, just look on your twitter feed or Facebook timeline and see for yourself. We place our platforms ahead of our fellow man/woman. We value our opinion more than we value our relationships. Friendships are being damaged, relatives are ready to disown each other. Facebook friend and Twitter follow counts are plummeting! This doesn’t have to be the case……

My favorite moment of the series so far, was a point made at the end of the service this past Sunday. We were challenged to make a concerted effort to move beyond these divisions. To buy that person on the other side of the aisle lunch. To go out of your way to have a cup of coffee with that person with the “vote for” bumper sticker that looks the opposite of yours. To make a connection with someone who votes differently than you.

While the context of the discussion has been political divisiveness, I think it can be more broadly applied. What if you stopped thinking that the person whose skin is a different color than yours as “them.” What if you decided to have lunch once a week with that co worker who you know is in a lower tax bracket than you. What if you came to the conclusion that the person who doesn’t share your faith or beliefs is no less worthy of your love.

This doesn’t mean you don’t care about your issue, or that you shouldn’t take part in the political process. We should be so thankful for our right to vote, and we should exercise that right when given the chance. What it does mean is that we become mindful of how our political and personal leanings effect our interactions with others. It means being able to say I love you, even if I don’t agree with you. This concept is the lynchpin of my faith. To love you, even if you don’t vote or think or even pray the way I do. To care about you, even if you don’t care about me.

Pastor Jeremy Copeland has spoken and written (more eloquently than I) on this topic, and is my key source for almost all of this material. I would encourage you to check out his blog ( and the podcast on the Story Church link above.