On Your 16th Birthday

On October 6, 2000 my entire life changed. I became a dad for the very first time. You’re story was just beginning to be written. We knew we were having a son. Thanks to a country song by Little Texas called “Amy’s back in Austin” we also knew your name long before you were born (if you would have been a girl, you might have been Amy Austin Conrad). Actually, years later I was in Nashville and had the opportunity to tell the man that wrote and sang the song all about you and your name.

Speaking of music, at the time of your birth, there was a popular song by a group everyone makes fun of now called “Creed.” The song was called “With Arms Wide Open” and this very blog is called the same thing. There was a line in that song that I prayed over you many, many times. Even the day you were born.

“If I had just one wish, only one demand. I hope he’s not like me. I hope he understands. That he can take this life and hold it by the hand. And he can greet the world, with Arms Wide Open.”

I wanted so much for you. I wanted you to avoid the mistakes I made. I wanted you to squeeze every ounce out of this life. Today, I am amazed at who you are and who you have become. Today is a milestone. Today you turn 16. You take the wheel and an entirely new world opens up to you. So while I have this moment and while I had some time, I wanted to share the journey you’ve allowed me to join you on these 16 years. For the many, many ways we are so much alike (that apple fell RIGHT beside the tree), we are different in so many positive ways (you’re an honor student for example). Let’s take a look at just a few…

I always sound like the bragging dad when I say that “the ball just seems to find you.” From clearing the bases  with a game winning hit in a championship game with the Marlins…

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to the game winning hit for the Red Barons championship and getting the save in the epic game vs UA….

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Speaking of pitching, how about pitching not one, but two no-hitters?

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As if that wasn’t enough. You’ve authored some pretty incredible last second shots like this one to beat Darby… (video quality isn’t what it is today)

Or this one to cap off an incredible comeback (after you made 2 free throws to tie it)

Thank you for giving me so much to cheer for and so many stories to tell….

Not only has it been my joy to have a front row seat, I’ve loved being able share the journey with you. From introducing you to the sports before you played them to coaching on the field and talking it through afterwards…

And how can we look at sports and not talk about sharing our love for being fans. Again, I’m not sure you ever had a choice. From the very first day, all you’ve ever known was Carolina Blue…

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I have to say that Carolina Blue has taken us on some great adventures and rides…

We got to see them beat THE Ohio State University in Columbus even when the requirement of the tickets was we had to wear Buckeye gear. We still made it work.

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Our fandom has even taken us all the way to the sports Mecca in Chapel Hill where we celebrated the 2009 championship, visited the locker room and Roy Williams office.

and then paid our “respects” to that other school 8 miles down the road….

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Early on I introduced you to the Raiders…

the Indians and Cavs….

You’ve even rebounded for a king….

We saw that king leave, return and deliver on a promise….

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We’ve been in the dugouts, court side, and on fields…

and on scoreboards…

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Now while the sports has been great, let’s talk about life for a few minutes…like we always do, always have and always will….

I think my favorite will always be the ones by the ocean. From way back when….

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to then….

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and even now…

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We didn’t just chat at the ocean… we owned the waves too…

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We’ve toured with the bands like Jason Aldean…

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Zac Brown Band…

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Toby Mac…

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And who can forget Thousand Foot Krutch?

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We even met a man who inspires our faith, Max Lucado….

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We’ve seen the world torn apart…

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And put back together again…

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It has been my honor to be your barber all these years too…

Just as you took your first set of wheels and had some freedom…

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There’s an entirely new form of freedom now. This one requires far more responsibility…

img_20160417_162256Like parking….

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But you’ll get it. You always do.

If there was nothing else in this post but this video, I will always be the most proud in who you are, who you’ve chosen to follow and what you have chosen to own….

your faith.

So as I close this, I just want to say Happy Birthday Austin. Thank you for always saying “yes” when I asked if you wanted to go somewhere with me..

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Now I just ask that as you head out the door on your own….maybe you do the same for me? I’ll always be your wing man. I’ll always ride shotgun. I’ll always be your biggest fan.

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Love,

Dad.

 

 

Why Would U Mourn Prince?

I’ve seen a few people question why people would honor Prince. He was, after all, controversial, edgy and so on. I’ve asked myself why I was saddened last week too. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. It boils down to this – Prince is a part of my story. I’ve learned that until you fully embrace your story, you can’t move forward writing new pages. The story will include good and bad. There will be wonderful memories and times you wish you could erase. Removing them removes pages from your story. It minimizes what made you who you are.

Prince was big in the 80’s and at a time when an awkward and clumsy teenager like me was trying to figure things out. It was a time of first loves and friends and homecoming, learning to drive and prom kings and queens. It was the age of excess with big hair, fluorescent clothes and the music. Oh the music…

It was my first concert (New Edition) with Eddie B and Lori N. It was riding in the car with my best friend Chad signing Van Halen songs until we wore the tape out. It was Friday nights in Mayfield driving around to songs by The Outfield with Ern and Stephen. If there was a piano somewhere around, you just had to learn the intro to Home Sweet Home by Motley Crue. You had to know how to move and moonwalk like Michael Jackson. I once cut school to buy INXS tickets for Vickie when I wasn’t even allowed to go to the concert (she did get me a shirt so I could act like I went). We slow danced to Bon Jovi and learned to rap to Run DMC, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys and explored our goth side with The Cure and Violent Femmes.

I could go on and on and tag so many more friends from those years. They are treasured. Sure, there were broken hearts and scars. There was puppy love and having no clue how to treat our first dates. But we were writing our story. We were learning the mistakes to teach our children to avoid at all costs. The habits, the trials and the things our parents said we should avoid.

I’ll leave you with one last thought… I begged my parents to buy us a VCR. Everyone had one. We finally got ours for Christmas one year. The first video we ever watched (from Bedford video) was one I also begged my parents to let me see. The movie? “Purple Rain” by Prince. Not exactly the way to bring confidence to the purchase your parents made. It was edgy. It was a little raunchy. It wasn’t a highlight for me choosing family movies. Neither was “Dirty Dancing” when each of my family members walked out of the theater one by one in the first 30 minutes….

What can I say. It’s a part of my story. I embrace it. I lived it, loved it, recovered from it and at times, miss the simplicity of it. That’s why I mourned Prince last week. I mourned another reminder that my story, my songs and history had slipped away.

#RIPPrince

Joy and Pain

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a text asking for a favor. He recently had jaw surgery (thus the text and not a phone call) and wanted to write a post about pain. Because he’s one of the few friends I have let in to my journey with chronic pain, he thought I might have a few words to share. Below is the email I sent him. I have to be really honest and tell you I really wrestled with sharing this. I do this for one reason and one reason only…I hope it helps someone else.

In the past few weeks, I sent it to another close friend that is walking a tough road right now. Somehow it brought them some peace to know they weren’t alone. I pray this finds anyone that needs to hear it by posting it now. You’re not alone. Praying for each of you as you find your peace and joy in the pain.

Here’s what I sent him –

Sorry, couldn’t resist the title….

Pain sucks. If I’m 100% transparent, it’s not the pain that bothers me. It’s the fear that comes with the pain. I’ve told my doctor on multiple visits that “the pain won’t bother me, I can deal with it. What I want to make sure of is that it’s not killing me.”

I’ve owned seven Pontiacs. Seven. No particular reason, it’s just the way that it always worked out. Every last one of those Pontiacs followed the same dreadful path. I was told each time that “the ‘whatever-whatever’ engine will run ya forever.” Seven. Every Pontiac had a multitude of dashboard lights on when I traded it in or sold it. In every case but one, the car still ran pretty well (beyond the normal age and wear and tear) but all of those warning lights were on.

That is my experience with pain. I’ve got dashboard lights on all over my body. Some more serious than others. I leak oil. I get overheated. I have to regularly check the tires for slow leaks. But I’m still going. The old body I call a car still gets me from point a to point b. But when I get concerned is when another new dash light comes on. Is this the one? Will this be the one that will lead them to find the cause of all the other lights? Will we get the news that this one can’t be repaired and I’ve got limited miles left?

That’s my pain. I could lie and say it’s led me to a closer relationship with Christ. I could give you stories about hours in prayer and some incredible peace I’ve found.

I’d be lying.

It sounds good on a Sunday morning video but it’s not real. What I have learned to accept is the “thorn” that Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 12.

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I’ve prayed that God would take pain away more times than I can count. I’ve done it in the middle of the night when I feared I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. I’ve done it in the morning hoping to get through one day pain free. But for whatever reason, He hasn’t taken it away.

So my dashboard lights will continue to glow until I trade this “vehicle” in one day. I hope that day is long after I’ve seen my children grow and made forever memories with my bride. Until then, I’ll keep the oil filled, air in the tires and do my best to enjoy every mile we spend together.

Praying for you man. Love ya.

Eight Is Enough?

A few weeks ago I heard my favorite author Bob Goff on the radio. He said that the average amount of people that can fit around a standard hospital bed is eight. He then said “10 if your friends are thin.” He went on to raise the question of who the eight people would be in his life.

And it stuck with me.

The truth is I heard that radio interview on our way to church and I have no idea what our Pastor preached about that morning. The entire service I was still kicking around what Bob Goff had just said.

Eight people.

The last faces you would see before you close your eyes and exit this life.

Eight.

Ten if they are thin.

Wow.

What a powerful (and maybe a bit morbid) thought.

Who are the eight people you want around your bed?

Do they know it?

Maybe today is a good time to let them know.

Then spend the time you have before that day investing in one another.

Eight people.

Ten if they are thin.

Go.

Setting The Pace

Forty five. Forty Five is kind of record. Forty five is a malt liquor. Forty five is the number Michael Jordan wore when he returned from playing baseball. Forty five is not an age that we should say “they would have been today.” Today, I am doing just that and I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with it.

I woke up this morning to see that my good friend Stef would have been 45 years old today. Sadly, a dreadful disease not worth even mentioning took him after he fought like a warrior. There is not a single time I hear his name that I am not reminded of my struggle to come to grips with how this can happen. How can this be ALLOWED to happen? This morning I reflected on Stef’s life and the short time I was blessed to share with him as my friend. That’s when it hit me….

He set the pace.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to run or attend a race, you might have seen them. There are people walking around with little sticks with a number at the top. Some even have balloons attached so you can’t miss seeing them. They are pace setters. They position themselves at the beginning of the race so that those who have set a goal for a finish time know who to stay with. There’s tremendous pressure on them. They can’t have a “bad race” because they’ve got a group of people counting on them to make their goals.

And that is exactly what Stef did.

Stef wasn’t a marathon runner and didn’t carry a stick with balloons and a pace number. Stef’s life was his pace sign. When you were with him, you wanted to set your goals to finish this race with him and like him. He accepted the pressure of knowing if you were going to be in his circle of influence, you could feel safe knowing he was leading and leading well.

His pace was loving Jesus without apology.

His pace was loving his family.

His pace was loving his friends.

If those were your goals, he was the guy you wanted to stick close to.

The interesting thing about those that set the pace is it’s not just for the group you’re in. As a race goes along, you can measure your estimated finish time based on where you are. You might not be with one group, but you know you’re ahead of another one. When one passes you, you know you’ve got to pick up the pace if you plan to finish in that time.

And this is where I challenge anyone that might read this. Especially the guys….

What I learned from the life of my friend Stef is that each and every one of us is a pace setter. We’ve got a group of people we are leading to a finish line.

How are you doing with that?

To those that feel like you are not leading a pace team but you’re running with someone that is, stay the course. If you’re in between two pace teams, stay the course. If you feel like your goal finish time pace team just passed you, don’t be discouraged. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes we have to adjust our goals mid-race. Keep going. Keep pushing.

If you are the leader of your home and your family, keep a steady pace. As Stef once told me, “you’ve got people counting on you.”

While never saying a word about it and even after he is gone, Stef continues to lead my pace group. I know if I finish this race at the pace he ran it, I will have finished well.

Thank you Stef. Thank you for setting the pace. Save a place for me. I’ll finish this race one day too and can’t wait to see you.

This Is Not A Test – Review

Thanks to my friends at FlyByPromotions, I had the opportunity to review the new Toby Mac CD – “This Is Not A Test” this week. I have always believed that one of the marks of a great artist is their ability to stay relevant as time goes by. Many artists turn to shock value and other creative ways to stay in the public eye. Others continue to mold their sound to match that of the current music scene. DC Talk had a knack for doing this and it should be no surprise that former DC Talk member Toby Mac continues that trend.

“This Is Not A Test” is another example of Toby keeping with the current sounds while continuing to spread the message of hope, love and a life that follows Christ. There are not many CD’s that the kids and the parents can agree on but “This Is Not A Test” is one that can used on road trips and the whole family will be satisfied. The grooves are smooth and the lyrics are easy to understand. One song flows to the next and makes “This Is Not A Test” a joy to listen to.

About TOBYMAC:
Toby McKeehan(known professionally as TobyMac) is a husband, father, performer, songwriter, producer, and businessman.  Growing up in the northern Virginia suburbs adjacent to Washington D.C. helped instill his love for rap music.  While attending Liberty University during the mid 80s, Toby met Michael Tait and Kevin Max Smith and these three friends formed the Grammy winning, platinum selling group dc Talk.  Toby began his solo career in 1999 with his first solo album, Momentum, releasing in 2001.  Momentum has been followed by four additional studio albums, Welcome to Diverse City (2004), Portable Sounds (2007), Tonight(2010), and Eye On It (2012), along with his first live album, Alive and Transported (2008).  This Is Not A Test is his 6th studio album to be released.  Starting with dc Talk, and then going solo when the group disbanded, Toby still clings to such rootsy notions as hard work, persistence, patience, and – perhaps most relevant of all – the power of music, which he insists is still what keeps him going.  “It’s the truth,” he says.  “I still believe that a song can penetrate a heart.  I believe God can use a song to open someone’s mind and heart.”
S O C I A L • C O R N E R
YOUTUBE CHANNEL – Includes a 3 part video series for the song Feel It 
“Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review – Finding Noah

I believe that most people want some form of proof. Although we have already seen many things that prove the existance of God, it seems like many people would like that one thing. Something that is indisputable. Something that they can point to and say, “now I believe.”

I recently had the opportunity to preview an upcoming film called “Finding Noah.” I had to watch it over the course of 2 nights due to a very busy schedule. The first night I watched it with my 15 year old. The first half of the film drew us in and left us wanting to get to the end to find out if they did, in fact, find Noah’s ark. The first half also set the stage with many historical facts that I did not know. It seems the quest for Noah’s ark extends far back in history. Really far back.

I won’t give away the ending here, but this is a powerful film. Obviously the quest for Noah’s ark and the wonder of if they will be successful is the most powerful story line. There are further story lines about each of the men and what this expedition means to them personally. Many have made the trip more than once. I really enjoyed the film and highly recommend it to anyone that might read this. Here’s more about the film:

For over 2,000 years, man has been searching for the final resting place of Noah’s Ark.  Though there have been many attempts, few have been able to fully explore the one place specifically noted in the Bible: Mount Ararat.  Located in Eastern Turkey, Agri Dagh or “The Painful Mountain” is the tallest mountain in the region and lies in the very center of a centuries old, geo-politically unstable hot spot.  With constant threats of deadly rock slides, hidden crevasses, and glacial ice falls, the Kurdish Rebel held mountain poses great risk to any explorer, let alone those performing a thorough scientific investigation.  
Join director/producer Brent Baum and the FINDING NOAH film crew as they follow an expedition of intrepid explorers on a perilous trek up to Mt. Ararat’s desolate summit.  There, using state of the art technology and real-time satellite imagery, this team of archeologists, scientists and professional mountaineers will begin a grid work of exploration unlike any before, hoping to finally resolve the age-old question:  did Noah and his Ark actually exist?  
Shot in never-before filmed locations in the harshest of conditions, this unprecedented feature-length documentary shows just how far men are willing to go to discover the truth.  Narrated by Academy Award nominee Gary Sinise, FINDING NOAH is more than a quest for answers, it is a testament of the human spirit, where belief and the need for exploration transcend risk and limitation.

 

Numbers on a page

What were birthdays like before facebook? Honestly. Some may read this and think I’m being a bit over the top, but I am overwhelmed tonight. To each and every person that left a Birthday note, thank you. Please know that those words are heartfelt and here’s why….

I sat here tonight closing out another birthday and stumbled on this envelope in my desk. The envelope contains some items my parents had laying around the house when they moved. There are some old pictures and memories and then there are these. These are my grade cards. While this is only 2 of them, it might has well have been all of them. Notice that GPA? Not good. Not good at all.

The reality is I was an awful student. My mind was filled with day dreams and other places while many were hitting the books. I have no idea how I got through High School. I’m still not 100% sure how I got through college. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know I certainly didn’t ace any of my english classes.

Yet tonight I am full. Each and every one of you that left a simple “Happy Birthday” are a face that has a story and at some point it has intersected mine. Some for brief moments, others for many years, all words on the pages of the chapters of my life. When I look at these “grade cards” I never knew then how this story would go. If we go by these numbers and what they represent, I would have guessed it wouldn’t have turned out anything like it has.

But it didn’t.

I’ll never have “book smarts.” My kids don’t ask me for help in school. One thing I never take for granted is the value of friendship and how every person we meet can make us believe we are far more than a grade card can ever report.

Thank you all for your kind wishes.

Thank you all for your friendship.

Thank you for giving grace when I needed it,

love when I didn’t deserve it,

And for never treating me like the numbers on these grade cards.

 

Random Vacation Thoughts

Below is a collection of random thoughts from our vacation as I begin to decompress a bit. Warning, these are very random and not all warm and fuzzy.

1. One quote both started and wrecked my entire week in Wrightsville Beach. One simple quote.

Human beings never behave more badly towards one another than when they believe they’re protecting God.”

2. That quote came from This Sermon (pick it up at 32:35). Go ahead and watch that. This blog will still be here when you get back.

3. He also said “We’ve convinced ourselves that God needs protecting.”

4. God doesn’t need protecting.

5. I quit using facebook for reasons of the quote above (among other things).

6. That quote was an uppercut, this was the knockout punch….

All these things that you’re protesting. All these things that you’re holding you’re hand up and saying God’s against that, they hold no value.

7. Yeah but…..

The ONLY THING that counts is faith EXPRESSING itself through love.” -Galations 5:6

8. Paul with the ultimate Mic Drop there. I spent the week thinking about how that could possibly look. It’s almost easier to be against a bunch of stuff. Love is messy.

9. Example – How can I love someone I have a fundamental disagreement with regarding how you treat people…..and he’s a Pastor. (think about THAT.)

10. All of that happened on our first day there…..

11. I warned you this was random…. I was born in Alaska, grew up in Cleveland and am convinced I was created to live in North Carolina.

12. There seems to be a large number of population of Wilmington that smoke. Either that or Columbus has done an incredible job of curbing public smoking. No statement, just an observation.

13. For the first time I was walking with my 12 year old daughter and began instructing her on what to look for when she (gulp) dates. If he’s not opening the door or walking on the proper side of the sidewalk to protect you, keep looking. Chivalry is not dead. Set that bar high Princess 1.0.

14. Multiple times I looked at my children and thought “when did they get so big?”

15. I turn 45 on Tuesday. In a rather somber and maybe morbid moment of reflection, I realized I’ve most likely passed the halfway pole. I doubt this body will see 90 years old. In complete honesty, my next thought was 60. That’s only 15 years. That’s my first born child. While I sure hope it’s longer than that, it was a hard drink of reality that every moment, every day, every year must absolutely count.

16. I took the book “Not a Fan” with me. Good read…for 3 chapters. I couldn’t stay engrossed in it when life was happening right in front of me. There were waves to body surf and laughs to share.

17. Body surfing is natures largest “Neti Pot.”

18. We stayed in a friends home all week. I was obsessive about keeping it clean and perfect. “The body is a temple of God” and I take horrible care of mine.

19. Wilmington to Columbus is a long time to process.

20. I came up with most of this during that drive from Wilmington to Columbus.

There will probably be much more to come. This was just the stuff that came from the drive back home. I miss being there already…..

Inputs and Outcomes

I shared in my last post that I am leaving one company and joining another one. I also shared that this is a difficult transition because I hold my current CEO in the highest regard. He is a man of incredible integrity. He’s a tremendous leader, husband and father to 5 girls. Sitting at his feet the last two years has restored my faith in leadership and taught me so much about how a man of faith can lead a successful organization. Fortunately, I am joining another organization where the CEO has the exact same qualities. For that I am thankful. Very, very thankful. I’ve been a part of teams where that could not be said and the difference in culture was quite noticeable.

During a recent conversation with my CEO he said something that was so simple yet such a testimony to how he not only runs our company, but to his faithfulness. He said:

Aaron, I know this will sound crazy and even our investors give me a strange look when I say it, but this is how I believe we run this company – we control the inputs and God controls the outcome.

At first I just nodded my head and agreed. There is nothing I have seen in my 2 years that told me any different. That IS how he leads the company. We control the inputs and God controls the outcome. During my 3 hour commute back to Columbus, I just kept repeating those words…. “we control the inputs and God controls the outcome.”

Our finances? We control the inputs, God controls the outcome.

Our faith? We control the inputs, God controls the outcome.

My kids tryouts for various sports teams? They control the inputs, God controls the outcome.

My witness to the circles of influence where I am placed? I control the inputs, God controls the outcome.

I’m not sure who will read this today. I’m not sure where this will find you. I just felt like that wisdom from a man that has taught me so much was worth sharing. It’s made a difference in my attitude and approach to many things.

I control the inputs and God controls the outcome.

“If we faithfully cast out the net, He’ll be responsible for what comes back in.” -Tony Dungy

It’s Never How You Draw It Up

On more than one occasion, I’ve told my wife that if you’re gonna put anything on my headstone, those are the words. “It’s Never How You Draw It Up.” If there’s anything I’ve learned in this life, that is it. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. It just never really is how you draw it up. Sometimes, often times, that is the best. Sometimes it’s even better.

And sometimes it’s not.

I’ve been away from this blog for quite some time. I’m not ready to call it a comeback (wicked LL Cool J reference), but I am ready to get some questions answered and share a bit of the journey. To all that said they missed the posts, I want to say thank you. Honestly. I never realized people read this stuff. Sorry again and in advance for destroying the english language. I got a 13 on my ACT’s and that’s no lie. Before I dive in, I need to make this disclaimer and make sure that whomever might read this understands that EVERYTHING is RELATIVE. I understand that. As John Mayer once sang, “you better take all your so-called problems and put them in quotations.” Everything is relative. Some, many, have had it worse. Perspective is really important here.

About 5 years ago, life was just humming right along. I was in a job where I was fully alive, making more money than I’ve ever seen. My wife stayed at home with the kids. We didn’t spend like crazy because I worked for a crazy volatile fortune 500 company that had a thing for “reducing the ol’ workforce” and quite often. I always liked to look at the company like the show “Survivor.” If you could hunt, fish or start fire, you were gonna be safe at tribal council (or from layoffs). My position, while valuable, didn’t hunt or fish or start fire.

Then one day I got voted off.

About 5 years ago, I was in the best physical shape of my life. My wife and I were enjoying running half marathons all over these United States. 19 of them to be exact. As I was on mile 9 of my 4th half marathon in 4 straight weekends, I hit a wall. Some would call it crazy, but I’ve never recovered. While various things came and went, I started to have some breathing problems. My best time was a 1:48 for a half marathon. Last time I ran one, I finished in 2:10. It turns out breathing is kinda important when you run. To date, we still can’t figure it out. A lot of test, a lot of suggestions. No answers. It’s just “one of those things.”

Back to the employment thing.

I took a very brief role in ministry (which is another blog post for another time). After about 6 months, I was looking for work and one of the greatest men I have ever met extended an offer. The last 2 years have been life-giving from an employment and life perspective. My wife also was given a great opportunity to join Hilliard Schools on a 20 hour, part-time contract. Just when we needed benefits, this incredible school system extended an opportunity for us to pay into theirs. That was the good news. Bad news was that the cost of paying into their benefits pretty well wiped out her check. She was working very hard for our benefits. They are great benefits and we are so thankful to have them. I just felt bad for my bride. She also supplemented her 20 hours with subbing in area schools. Every night she would find another opportunity. She never complained. She never took a day off. We were living in the “nuclear option” of our budget and she was doing all she could to help. A year ago I moved into a new role with my employer. A great role. That was the good news. The bad news was I was going to start commuting to Indianapolis every week. Many of those weeks I was gone for 2 days and one night. While blessed with jobs (again EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE), we were firmly planted in the “nuclear option” budget and growing weary.

How about your faith?

That cup of coffee in ministry left me with a lot of questions and soul-searching. I like to think of going into ministry like a 3 legged stool. For most men, we tend to define ourselves by three things – our job, our faith (if you’re a believer) and our family. Everything we are rests on those 3 legs. When you go into ministry, 2 of those legs are combined (faith and work) and you’re constantly balancing between work/ministry and family. When something happens to your job in ministry it’s like sweeping one of the 2 remaining legs. Everything you have, the weight of who you are now rests on your family. The one remaining solid leg. Ever see a failure in ministry and wonder “how did that happen?” Now you might have some insight. While, for me, there was no “failure in ministry,” I’ve come to believe that is why it commonly happens.

Suddenly things that were so solid and certain were surrounded with doubt and questions. I’m not sure if I’ll ever look at some things the same. It’s been a process. A very long, long process. Again, everything is relative, but in many ways I felt that I had reached the brink.

This is going to sound very shallow and silly, but if there’s one thing I look forward to every year, it’s our vacation in OBX. It’s where my knots come undone. It’s where everything just makes sense. It’s where we press pause on the craziness that is our family schedule to reconnect and level set. Thanks to our budget, there would be no vacation this year. We’ve done some small things but it’s just not the same.

Then, a few months ago it happened. I had one of those moments where, almost audibly, I sensed that things were slowly being restored. It happened when I witnessed my children fully alive in their church. To witness their joy and see them where they most want to be was a layer of restoration.

I forced myself to get active again. It started with walking. I never knew that walking would be so different from running. In all my years of running I had (count them) one blister. This summer I’ve had at least a dozen. I’ve tried different shoes. I’ve tried band aids and different socks. It’s been the summer of the blisters but I’m still going. Each day is a new adventure. Sometimes I jog (dreadfully slow). Other days my wife and I just walk. I’m moving and active and another layer is restored.

About 6-8 weeks ago a good friend and mentor of mine presented an opportunity to me. Ironically enough, I got it while I was on my weekly drive to Indianapolis. Over the next few weeks we talked and talked and talked some more. On August 3rd, I am joining his team to lead a new company he has acquired. This is bitter-sweet because I am leaving a company that is like none I’ve ever been a part of. It’s a family. Our President has become a friend and mentor to me as well. Saying I was leaving was one of the harder things I’ve had to do. He understood and wants nothing but the best for our family. I am a better man for having worked for the company I have been with the past 2 years. They were a refuge and allowed me to put some things back together. The 3 legs of the stool are finally being restored.

This week, my wife was offered full-time with Hilliard Schools (which she accepted). This is a double win for us. The cost of our benefits will now drop in half (because she’s full-time) and her salary will double. No more searching for daily sub jobs. No more tutoring over the summer to make ends meet. I am so proud of her. Again, she never complained. She always made it work. Our home, our family, our schedules, she has been the CEO, CFO, counselor and cornerstone of faith through it all. A layer for her faithfulness has been restored.

Oh, and that vacation? It turns out a good friend has a condo in North Carolina that is sitting open. He demanded that we take it for a week. Before the new jobs and kids go back to school, we’ve been given a gift to untie the knots and maybe (for this guy anyway), do some “business” with God. I’m closer to Him there. This was not required or expected, it was icing and another layer restored.

Life is never how we draw it up. If you’re headed towards the brink, know there is a way back. What I’ve learned is that it doesn’t all come back at once. In all the change and loss and frustration, I never lost my faith. I never stopped believing. Would I have it all back and just like before? Maybe. What I wouldn’t trade is the lessons learned. Our family is stronger. Our budget is tighter. We’ve learned things we never thought we would learn. There are still layers to restore. Some may never be the same.

There may or may not be more blog posts to come. One thing I’ve always tried to do is share the journey and do so honestly. Sometimes that’s not for the best. Thanks again to all those that have extended kind words. Until next time….

Live is never how you draw it up and sometimes that is a very good thing.

It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored
But you never know the miracle the Father has in store
Just watch and see, it will not be
Just watch and see, it will not be unredeemed

American Sniper Reflect and Review

It’s been a LOOOOOOONG time since I wrote a post. There are a multitude of reasons which could will probably be a post all its own one day. The reason for this post is to share a little bit about the movie American Sniper. My friends at Grace Hill Media were kind enough to send me 3 copies of the film. One was for me to review. Another copy was sent to give away. A third copy of the film was sent to give to a veteran of my choosing. I immediately knew who I was giving the other 2 copies to.

My review of the film is very short and simple – Excellent. American Sniper is a hard film to watch. It makes you uncomfortable (and I’m not referring to the “R” rating although that might make some uncomfortable). I say that because, if you’re like me, it’s hard to see what we so often take for granted. I am a guy that has HUGE respect for our military. I am thankful for their service and sacrifice for this country and the freedom we hold dear. When I see it or am immersed in it, like you are in American Sniper, it leaves you numb. I can honestly say that I don’t know the first thing about what it means to sacrifice everything for people you don’t even know. Which leads me to what I did with the second copy of American Sniper I received…

I met a local member of the police department a few years ago when we were both serving in a ministry. I don’t recall the specifics of our initial meeting, but we struck up an instant friendship. That friendship still exists today. My friend works in one of the toughest parts of Columbus. Every day he puts on a uniform to protect and serve people who don’t even know his name. It should be no surprise that he also wore the uniform of this great nation and served in our military. He is strong, tough (mentally and physically) and yet values relationship and people. He has my back. You don’t know him, but he has your back too. He is a man I have the utmost respect for.  A DVD copy of American Sniper is such a small token of my appreciation for my friend.

I share all of that because when I watched “American Sniper” I was reminded of my friend. Throughout the film, I imagined my friend in the role that Bradley Cooper played. He put his country first. He made the hard decisions. He valued the people of his unit and protected those he was shoulder to shoulder with. Not only was he an elite soldier, he was also a husband and father. He struggled to disengage when he returned but ultimately found a path and committed himself to being the same level husband and father as he was a soldier. My friend is the same way. He protects those he loves and that often has nothing to do with a rifle or combat.

Bradley Cooper was outstanding as Chris Kyle. The film will leave you numb and not quite sure what to do as the credits roll. The theater I was in was completely silent. No one spoke. We all just made our way to the exits. Clint Eastwood directed the film and deserves all of the praise and awards he receives. The language is rough. The battle scenes are graphic. I’m just not sure how you make this film without both. This is the war that we don’t like to talk about or face. There are men and women facing every day.

This leads me to the final copy of American Soldier. I’m not doing a giveaway. The truth is that I already gave it away. I gave it to a friend that recently moved here from the same town that Chris Kyle was from in Texas. This film, for them, was even more personal. I couldn’t think of a better person to give it to as I know they feel a connection to this story like none of us can.

To all of those that serve and have served our nation, thank you. We need more films like American Sniper. We need more reminders that there are men and women that serve and protect us each and every day. They don’t do it for movies to be made about them. They do it so we have the freedom which we often take for granted. Thank you Grace Hill Media for providing these three copies of American Sniper.

I give American Sniper a 5 out of 5.

“Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Day My Coach Died

When I was a junior in high school, I was chosen to attend an overnight student drug prevention education retreat (kinda like D.A.R.E). We left from school and spent 24 hours in a local recreation center (which was just an old elementary school) talking about peer pressure, influence and leading among other students. To be honest, I only remember one thing about the retreat….I fell in love with basketball during a break in the sessions.

While most of the other students spent time hanging out and having fun during our breaks, I found my way over to a basketball and a hoop in the old schools gym. I shot a few baskets and something in me found something I could really begin to get involved in. In case you missed the first sentence of this post – I was JUNIOR in high school. By this time, most kids my age had played in leagues, been working on their skill and knew the rules of the game. I only knew you put the ball in the basket. At least I think that’s how this game worked. I left a drug prevention education retreat addicted a new drug – The game of basketball.

When I got home from the retreat, I told my mom that I thought I wanted to start playing basketball. We had a hoop on the garage but it was NEVER used. The best advice she could offer proved to be the prescription for the new addiction I had. She simply said “Well, just watch TV and learn the game.” This was a different time. We didn’t have cable. ESPN wasn’t what it is today. The only time to watch basketball on TV was a Saturday game most likely on CBS. The NCAA tournament was where a basketball junkie could get their fix. That was when the most games were televised. The NBA would be on Sundays and the Cleveland Cavaliers games were on the local AM radio. I took her advice and “just watched TV to learn the game.”

At the very time I began to watch whatever games I could watch, a team with baby blue uniforms and a short coach named Dean Smith were regularly broadcast. Knowing what I know now, it had much to do with a skinny freshman that made the game winner in the NCAA tournament years before (aka Michael Jordan). This team was regularly featured because they were the gold standard in college basketball. Their coach was THE coach every one wanted to play for. To give you some insight into my lack of knowledge of the sport, the team and the man, I thought they called him “Dean” because he was someone important at the University. I was somewhat right, but that really was his name and not his position in the University.

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The more I watched Dean Smith orchastrate a game, the more I felt like he was my coach. I didn’t play in any leagues. I wasn’t on any teams. The driveway was my practice gym. I didn’t run sprints or do suicides on the hardwood. I set up chairs and bricks in our narrow driveway to learn to dribble. When a dominant freshman named JR Reid came on the scene at UNC, I studied his moves and learned to play in the post. There was no watchful eye over my learning of the game. Dean was my coach. I never met him. I never spoke with him. He had no idea who I was. But a kid from Cleveland, Ohio that was learning how to play the game of basketball took every word he said and the way he coached as if it was gospel.

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By the time my senior year rolled around, I had learned enough about basketball to be dangerous. Not good, dangerous. I thought I would try out for the high school basketball team. I still didn’t know many rules. Every other kid in that gym was light years ahead of me. I wish I could tell some great story about how I made the team but I can’t. I think I was one of the first people cut. I will say it was a good team that went to the sweet 16 in states that year, but the truth is I was way behind everyone else. I had no jump shot. I could barely dribble and didn’t know a thing about playing defense. My coach was a short white-haired man I watched on TV. I got over being cut from the team and it actually made me work that much harder. I studied the lessons of Dean Smith even closer. I watched how his teams played and what they did under his teaching. Things like –

Acknowledging the passer after a made basket:

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The quick huddle before a free throw:

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Acknowledging a player coming out of the game:

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and of course, the end of game management of “The Four Corners.”

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You may or may not have noticed but most of the things above were not about skills or techniques. Many of the things that Dean Smith brought to the game of basketball (and my knowledge of it) were about team. It was about treating your teammate and your opponent with respect. He had no time for arrogance. One of my favorite Dean Smith quotes simply says:

Dean-Lion-quote

When that prized freshman I mentioned earlier was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I read somewhere that Dean Smith was not happy. He believed that freshman did not deserve that kind of recognition. Seniors deserved that kind of honor and glory. He coached his teams to treat people on the court the way you would treat them off of it. Competitive? Yes. He didn’t win as many games as he did by being a push over. He did, however, treat the game with respect and the game of basketball is better for it. Much better.

I read the news yesterday morning that he had passed away and audibly said “no, no, NO!” I didn’t cry or get upset. The Carolina family knew this day was coming. I don’t think any of us knew it would be here this soon. I read that news as I was getting dressed to go help coach my daughters 6th grade basketball team in a season ending tournament. As I put on the team colors and thought about our game plan, I couldn’t help but think that none of this would probably be happening if not for Dean Smith.

That might sound sappy.

That might be overstated.

I don’t believe it is. When a kid from Cleveland found a coach from North Carolina through televised basketball games, that coach fanned a flame. He made me want to learn more about this new game I had fallen in love with. His teams made me want to be part of a team. It speaks to influence and how we may be influencing someone we never know about. Dean Smith influenced me and we never even met. I got to learn from the greatest coach of all-time by watching his games and never running a sprint. Pretty cool actually.

Our girls team won their first game in the tournament. We had to run a bit of a four corners at the end to protect the lead and bring home the win. When it was over I couldn’t help but smile and think that this one was for Dean. The girls didn’t know. No one else in the gym needed to know.

I knew.

I learned from the best.

There’s This Guy…..

Sunday after Sunday, I have had the same thought. Sunday after Sunday, I forget to put it into words. This morning I reminded myself as I was taking notes in church by writing three simple words…. “There’s This Guy….”

There’s this guy at our church…

There is this guy at our church that inspires me every single week. He doesn’t sing (that I’m aware of). He doesn’t play an instrument or lead worship. He doesn’t stand up and preach (at least not verbally). He doesn’t run the sound, lights, usher or speak a word. Sadly, I don’t even know his name.

What he does speaks to me every single week. After our worship team is done and as the Pastor takes the platform, he appears from behind a door. He quietly moves the microphones, hides the pedal board, sets up a stand, places a glass of water on it and puts the makeshift pulpit on the stage. Then he quietly disappears to his seat somewhere among the rest of us.

And this speaks to me. Every. Single. Week.

I wish you could see this guy. I wish I could put into words what joy beams from him. I wish I had a video of him doing what he does. I really wish I had a video of him doing this when he had what appeared to be a bad knee for several weeks. He literally limped out there, moved all of the things he moves and limped off the platform. Never complained.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Corinthians 12:4)

This is the sermon he preaches each week while never saying a word. Every Sunday when I see “this guy” do what he does, I’m reminded that we are all given different kinds of gifts. We’ve got an incredible worship team. They sing like I could only dream to sing. The guys that rock the guitars make me wish I would have taken lessons and practiced a lot. The people that do sound and lights and video and usher and greet….all important. All great. And then there’s this guy….the one that does something that needs to be done and does it so well. He oozes joy in doing it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (1 Corinthians 12:27)

What I enjoy about “this guy” is that he is fulfilling his purpose. Again, I don’t even know his name. His “sermon” is short but the message is strong.

Do what God designed and gifted you to do.

Do it with joy

Do it even when you don’t know others are watching

Do it even when you don’t feel 100%

When you use your God given gifts, that thing that comes naturally, you’re doing so much more than a job or duty. You are bringing Him glory. You are inspiring others to do the same.

There’s this guy that preaches a sermon every Sunday and never says a word.

What sermon are you preaching today?

#BeBrave

Send Em On Down The Road

IMG_1311-001Tough week last week. When I say “tough” I’m always quick to point out that the word is very relative. Last week was one of those weeks where you’re looking for that chapter in the parenting manual that covers how to handle certain situations. Truth is there is no manual. An even bigger truth is you navagate as you go.

I said last week that the details were not important. They really aren’t. Last week was a lot of things. Last week stretched our parental “wisdom” (I use that term losely).

It was about seeing God given gifts in your child that they don’t see

It was about pushing where you can while allowing them to make choices

It was about choices and consequences

It was about trust. Trusting them and them trusting you.

There were tears. There were words…a lot of words.

There were inspirational speeches and motivational speeches.

There was a let down and building back up.

When you become a parent there is so much you don’t anticipate. You assume things. You dream big dreams. Last week was a reminder that we are all given gifts and talents but until we step into the moments, our gifts and talents will never be fully appreciated or realized. We need people in our lives to encourage us to step into those moments. To be brave.

The sports reporter Rick Reilly once wrote – “We are here to be there for our kid when they score the game winning goal…and especially when they don’t”

Last week was one of those kinds of moments.

On Tuesday I downloaded the new Garth Brooks CD. I’ve often said that if they put a soundtrack to my life, Garth Brooks music could pretty much play the entire time. One song jumped out at me right away called “Send Em On Down The Road.” It’s classic Garth. These words really hit home…

You can cry for ‘em
Live and die for ‘em
You can help them find their wings but you can’t fly for ‘em
‘Cause if they’re not free to fall, than they’re not free at all
And though you just can’t bare the thought of letting go
You pick ‘em up
You dust ‘em off
And you send ‘em on down the road

I said last week that I was so proud of “the boy.” Always. As parents we have and will face moments when we will “help them find their wings but can’t fly for ’em.” Wisdom tells us there will be days when we wish we could step into the moment for them.

But it’s not our stage and it’s not our spotlight.

You pick ’em up.

You dust ’em off.

And you send ’em on down the road.

Mom and Dad, you gotta let em go. Today’s hurt will be tomorrows victory. Life is lived forward and understood backward.

Send ’em on down the road…..