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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.

It is what you make of it: attitude adjustments in the “happiest place on earth.”

At midnight on Saturday we finally pulled in to our driveway.   642 miles (give or take) prior we had been in the so called happiest place on earth.  The brain child of cartoonist and visionary Walt Disney: DISNEY WORLD! You may have heard of it, quaint little amusement park with a small plot of land with a couple of rides.  It’ s made a few bucks in it’s time.

Seriously, for most people a trip to Disney World is a cause for jubilation.  It is often the punctuation of some monumental occasion like a honeymoon, a graduation, a major birthday.  It is the ultimate cliche in celebrating sports championships. “Cam Newton, you just won the Super Bowl, what are you going to do now?” ” I am going to Disney World!”(Hey it could happen!)  So obviously I must have been pretty hyped up about this trip, right? Not so much.

It wasn’t that the trip wasn’t a celebration of something special.  In fact, what we were celebrating was more special in many ways than the examples I gave.  My older brother is a Veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq.   While on his last deployment he asked us if we would be interested in all going to Disney World once he was back in the states. The trip would include our parents, his family of five and my family of four.  Disney is his families favorite vacation destination and they have even bought into the vacation club there ( If you don’t know what that is, think timeshare only with mouse ears and a nightly fireworks display.)  So once he returned safe and sound, and we were able to save up enough,  we were off to Orlando for a week of rides, characters, and pricey T-Shirts.

So what is the problem, then?  Well, honestly, the problem was me. To start, I really don’t like amusement parks. They are crowded with people who are generally either rude or oblivious to the other patrons at best.  Everything costs twice as much as it would outside the park, especially food. To top it off the main point of going to an amusement park is the rides.  I don’t like rides.  I don’t do upside down, and I have substantial dislike for heights. So unless I really dig waiting in line for 45 minutes to meet a college student dressed up like 5’10” chipmunk, this was obviously not my place.

The trip started as I expected it would.  Waiting at the bottom of the rides with my 2 year old in the Florida heat.  Everyone around me having fun while I pulled toddler duty. Sure, the other adults offered to hang out with him while I took a turn, but why bother.  I wouldn’t have any fun anyway………Then I stopped and thought about it for a moment.   I could stew in my own self centered bitterness, or I could actually try to enjoy myself. I could stand at the exit of every ride while my family was having a great time, or I could challenge myself to ride along side them as often as I could.   I could choose to continue being a grumbling spectator, or I could actively make memories with my children and my wife. So I stopped being selfish and indignant. I got on that roller coaster, the one that  honestly scared the daylights out of me, because I knew my daughter would remember for the rest of her life that time Daddy rode the Himalayan Expedition with her.  I stopped being a malcontent about waiting in line, because I knew that at the end of that line there wasn’t just some sweaty kid trapped inside an anthropomorphic duck costume. There was also the silliest smile I have ever seen on my son’s face as he met “Dah-Duck.” I stopped my endless fretting about the cost, and I just let myself enjoy the fancy restaurant my brother made reservations for my wife and I at. She got the 50 dollar steak, and a couple cocktails.  We splurged for desert.  The chipotle chocolate cake was amazing.

No, I didn’t conquer my fear of heights.  I still don’t really care for roller coasters or rides. The people were sometimes rude, and it was crowded and hot. My feet felt like over ripe berries ready to burst. It has been pointed out to me a dozen times that I have a semi circle sunburn on the front of my noggin from where I wore my hat backwards. I also picked up a nasty cold that is currently waging open warfare on my sinuses.  Above all else, I had a fantastic time and made some awesome memories.

PS we already started saving for a return trip.  I am looking forward to it.

Fear, progress, and hand siphons.

A pair of recurring themes in my life right now are fear and progress. The two are definitely interconnected. More accurately, they are like a valve on a hand siphon. If you have never used one of these, it is basically a couple of tubes (one goes in where there is gas, the other goes where you want that gas to be) connected to a bulb by a valve. By compressing and releasing the bulb you trigger the valve to open and close. When the valve is open it allows the gas to fill the vacuum left by the bulbs decompression. When the valve is closed no new gas can come up the line. Progress is the valve in an open state. Fuel rushing up the line, out of a place where it is no longer needed or where it can’t be used at all. From there it goes into a place where it is ready to be used for new purpose, oftentimes as an answer to a desperate need. However, when that valve is closed it all stops. There is no more flow. You have everything you need in that moment to make things happen, a fuel source, a place for the fuel to go, and the means by which to get the fuel from point a to point b. That is all well and good, but as long as that valve is closed NOTHING is going to change. That is actually the best case appraisal. Most likely things will get worse. What happens if you stand there long enough? The fuel you are trying to siphon up will evaporate. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to see how this metaphorically represents our own struggles.

Once we know that fear is acting as a valve, stopping the fuel (passion, drive, creativity, happiness) from flowing, how do we disengage that valve? The simple answer is to just take action. Squeeze the metaphorical bulb on the siphon and it will work. Stepping out of the metaphorical it is taking the first step towards whatever goals you have set in front of you. Move, disregarding the risk, take the chance. It is so easy, or at least it is easy to type or say aloud. The truth is that applied action is difficult. Our heart races, our heads spins, our stomach knots up. Our whole body yells out “STOP!”

At the end of the day, whether you use to motivate yourself to move, it is all an exercise in self discipline and control. Even if you are like me and believe in the power that comes from moving on faith in God, it still takes that initial surge of self discipline to put our feet in motion. I pray you have that self discipline, and that you don’t let your lack of self control hem you in, away from where you want to be. I pray that my self control, which has a long way to go, will improve and allow me to make those first steps. To disengage the fear valve, so that my fuel, my creativity, my passion, my drive will flow. I pray that there are people there along the way to cheer you on, to help you feel like you can overcome that fear. I pray that you will go deaf to the voices who would tell you, “you can’t.” I pray your fear valve never stops your dreams from flowing.