Looking at Things in a Different Light

Never in my life did I think I’d learn a life lesson from a garage sale.

Once a year, some good friends of mine have a huge garage sale. This summer event was always one of the highlights of the year for them. They would always ask me if IImage result for dimly lit garage sale wanted to bring things over to sell and I always said no. But that year they were persistent and I finally decided that I was going to sell some “stuff” that was taking up space at my house. 

The garage sale was amazing… the driveway was lined with tables that were on display with all of the things they wanted to sell.  Lots of sunshine, and lots of foot traffic. It was nearly perfect – except for the garage.

The garage was dingy, even after we cleaned it. The lighting was gloomy – the paint, uninviting. It wasn’t a space you’d want to hang out in. Unfortunately, that was where all my “stuff” was laid out. The sale was so big we had no other choice but to fill the garage with all of the things that could not fit on the tables that were out front.

Over the next two days, hundreds of people shopped the sale, buying dozens of items. But through it all, the garage remained untouched. I didn’t even see anyone lingering around them. It was so strange to me. I would have thought Related imagethey’d have been among the first things to go.

I was puzzled, but I began to reconcile myself to the thought that they just weren’t going to sell.

Towards the end of Day 2, the tables out front began to look picked over, so we decided to move things around. We cleared out the garage, pulling everything out into the sunshine and on the tables out front.

And that’s when it happened.

Not even minutes after we moved my “stuff” to the new location, a young couple stopped, looked at each item carefully and then chose one to buy a few. Within thirty minutes, more things sold. And then another – and another. In less than two hours, shoppers had bought all of my stuff.Image result for garage sale

It blew me away. They went from worst to first in the blink of an eye! Really? Why?

They were no less valuable or capable – no less good – in that garage. Yet hundreds of shoppers just passed them by. They overlooked them, distracted by what they felt in the ugliness – eager to get back out where it was sunny and bright.

The shoppers needed the opportunity to see my “stuff” in a different light. And once they did, it made all the difference. They saw the value and they wanted it.

There’s so much to learn here. On the surface, of course, it’s a lesson that presentation matters more than we think. If we want to sell something – if we want to sell ourselves, it’s up to us to present well. We can’t expect people to buy in – even if it’s a no-brainer – until we do.

But there’s something more valuable here.

The thing that has stuck with me is how resigned I was that it was over. I was totally convinced that my items weren’t going anywhere. I’d accepted it. I mean, if they were, it would have happened already. There had been plenty of opportunities, but no interest. So, I was absolutely shocked to see them succeed so easily after such a small tweak. I mean, I literally picked them up and moved them 20 feet.

But with that one small change, what was unlikely became possible – and what was possible became reality.

Where else could that be true for you and me?

Is our fate sealed, or is life waiting for us to not have our minds quite so made up?

Is it possible that a simple change could have a profound effect?

What if we took a look at things in a different light?

Change1Perhaps our work could be more fulfilling.

And our friendships, more meaningful.

What if our marriages could be saved and even thrive?

What if we could make a great impact on the world around us?

Maybe we already do and just don’t see it.

Is your mind already made up?

Are you convinced of the outcome?

Do you know what you know?

Are you sure?

Looking at things in a different light might make all the difference in your life.

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And I Won’t Forget

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What kind of world would it be now?

Everything was going to change.

For awhile it did.

We were just getting familiar with “high speed” internet.

Social media and the keyboards we hide behind didn’t exist yet. Our cell phones were dumb.

Our TV’s were fat and we were all maybe a little thinner.

There were no planes in the sky. There was a slight breeze and I remember it like it was yesterday. I didn’t sleep well that night. The fear of protecting my wife and my family kept me up most of the night.

I still can’t sleep some nights wondering how I can protect my wife and my growing family. My kids are now grown and starting families of the own.

Our TV’s are now thinner and we’re all a little bigger.

Our cell phones are smart now and we hide behind keyboards on social media and say horrible things to one another.

Actually, we don’t even hide behind keyboards anymore.

Now we shout our beliefs so loud that our targets can’t even hear us.

And I think back to this picture

And I won’t forget how for a moment we all pressed pause…

To love our neighbor as ourselves. To open doors and show kindness.

To hold those we love a little bit tighter.

The world changed that day.

And I won’t forget.

Lessons Learned by Losing

I’ve had the fortune of coaching a few teams in my life.

I coached boy’s varsity for a few years, but coaching girls basketball was my favorite.
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Some teams were very talented… some were not. At the end of my head-coaching career, I had a win / loss record of 75-38.  There was a span in my coaching career where I had 28 straight regular season wins.

Sounds impressive doesn’t it?

It isn’t.   

I also experienced losing 14 straight games too. The experience of the victories are much more fun, but 25 years after I retired as a head coach, I have appreciated and applied the lessons I learned by losing much more. 

I don’t claim to be an expert. More than once I’ve thought I built a winner and had to go back and re-evaluate. Here’s what I know – I love building teams and I love coaching them once they’re built.

My favorite team ever was the one that taught me the most about leadership. 

I’d love to tell you more about them.

After I graduated from high school, I did not have any money to go to college and I was going to sit out a year before I started school. The girl’s varsity head coaching position was going to become vacant. The current head coach was moving toImage result for Girls Varsity Basketball Michigan and the school was going to be left without a head coach.  I was available and the principal of the school asked me if I could take the team for that season.

I accepted.

No formal experience… I was only a year or so older than the girls I was coaching.

What were they thinking? What was I thinking? I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The first portion of the year the girls struggled. I knew there was talent but they just never found a rhythm. We were losing. Something had to change.

First of all… this particular group never played as a team. 

It started with me. I had to come up with a plan. I decided to meet with each player and tell them their “roll” on the team. Too many of them wanted to the “high-scorer” and that was not possible. I told them very clearly what I expected from them. I then evaluated what kind of athletes we had and realized most of the girls also played soccer. They were aggressive. They were well conditioned. We just struggled to score.

So we pressed.Image result for basketball goal

We pressed a lot.

By the end of that season we had different versions of a press, traps and half-court defenses in our game plan. That was my favorite team. They fought. They competed. They started winning.

When they got tired we subbed and the bench crew would fight and compete too. We had a team goal to force the other team to burn all of their timeouts trying to figure out how to beat our press. During a timeout, we would change it up on them. With beat teams that were more talented than we were, we had a really good season.

I then found myself struggling with giving up coaching to go back to college. I am not saying I did not go to school in the fall because I wanted to remain the head coach.  It was just a benefit of sitting out another year. I started to consider of not going to college at all.

The next season, we didn’t change the team from the first year to the second. We just figured out how to put the team in a better position to succeed. We evaluated what we knew were our strengths and then pushed every ounce of energy we had into letting them maximize those strengths. Each player had a role and an understanding of what was expected of them. The goals were clear. It was a joy to watch and a joy to coach. We were undefeated the first half of the year.Image result for old school bus

On a ride home on the bus after one of our early season victories over a rival, I turned around and watched the girls talking and celebrating their victory. They pushed themselves as a team to become more than what they were.  I suddenly realized that I needed to push myself for the same goal. I secretly made the decision to get busy pushing myself to become more than I was. I committed to go to school in January. I had to find a way to tell the girls.

I was heart-broken at the prospect of leaving this group of successful girls. They showed me what a team can do if they work hard together. I clearly remember the practice when I broke the news to them. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I told them to stay together as a team and focus on the goals that were set for that season.

In just a few weeks they would face the toughest challenge of the season. I would not be there to coach them. They would play Mansfield, and that school was about three times bigger than we were. We had no business having them on our schedule.
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I had to leave them and move to Lynchburg, Virginia. 

I was so sad about that. A few weeks later, someone on my floor of the dorm knocked on my door and said that I had a call. I thought it was my mom, so I went to the phone and picked it up the receiver.  On the line were all the girl’s from the team. They had just upset Mansfield and they wanted to call me and let me know that they won. They were all thanking me for what I taught them.  

I hung up the phone when it was time for them to get back on the bus and go home to their families.

Once more victorious.

I cried for the next hour.   That happened 38 years ago and I’ve never told anyone that before.

In a way… I am still coaching.  I still have my team at work. The principles I use are still the same ones that I used when I was a 19-year-old inexperienced kid all those years ago.

I did not learn these at college… I learned them when I lost those games early in my career.

I now share the lessons that I learned from losing and have applied to my whole career as a coach, a teacher, a principal and manager.

  1. Evaluate Today – One of the first things you must do is see where you are today. What’s the health of the overall team? How is the culture? Is this team positioned for success or frustrated by lack of production? Before you can begin to assemble the game plan, you have to take an honest look at where you are today.
  2. Know Your Personnel – You have to get to know your players or those you will lead. What motivates them? What drives them? Which ones will need the most coaching and which ones are naturally gifted? Will you need to add more to the team and if so, how will they fit into the culture?
  3. Cast The Vision – Before you can move forward with a game plan, you have to set the sights of the team on the bigger picture. Success will take every single person understanding their role and embracing it. If they can’t see the vision, they can’t give all they have to it. This is one of the most difficult parts of getting momentum started. Don’t get stuck here but take the time necessary to get 100% support of the greatest goal.
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice – We spent hours learning new presses and defensive schemes. It didn’t come easy. This is the frustration phase but when you break through, the momentum really starts going. Your team at work is no different. Once you’ve set the process, work the plan over and over and over again. Take the time necessary to make sure everyone “get’s it.” Remind them of the vision. Practice some more. Corporate teams and basketball teams are no different. The process must be clear and the execution is critical.
  5. Enjoy Game Day – When game day comes, bring the energy your team needs before you even take the field, open the doors, gather in the meeting room. “From the Jump” as I used to tell our girls. We had goals within the game (burning timeouts) and would celebrate the success of achieving it. Then we’d do it again. There were days when some players just didn’t have it. We picked them up and someone else stepped in. You won’t always fire on all cylinders but each time is an opportunity for someone else to shine. Enjoy game day. Enjoy the wins and learn from the losses.
  6. When it’s All Over Keep The Relationships – To this day, I still keep up on the careers of most, if not all of the former players. While the games were fun, the relationships are what mattered. Something special happens when you work together to achieve your goals. If done well, you’ll still be friends long after you’ve parted ways.

I told you that my win/loss record isn’t that impressive. Why? Because my philosophy of winning and losing is this… if my team does what I ask it to do and they do the job they were given… the victories belong to them and the losses belong to me.

I lost 38 games in my head coaching career.

These losses belong to me. The wins to them.

This is still how I approach my work in the corporate setting… it still works.

My job as a manager is to make my team successful… give them the acknowledgment and the victories. The failures/losses go back and belong to me.

How did I learn this?

In one of the most memorable games of my career, we got beat by a rival team in the tournament championImage result for scoreboard 49-48ship game by 1 point on a layup with just seconds to go in the game. Our best player made an errant pass and the other team scored off that steal with 3-seconds to go in the game. I called time-out and I was frustrated and said something I regret to this very day… I looked at her and said, “If we lose this game it is all your fault.”

The fans sitting behind the bench heard me say this, even more embarrasing, her parents heard it as well.  I had never said something like that before in my life. 

This girl had scored 40 points and left everything on the court… she just made a mistake.

That loss belongs to me.

Why? Because for 31 minutes and 57 seconds, I could have coached differently that could have given the girls a better path to victory.

I have learned more from my losses than I ever have with victories.

Find the strategy that fits the team you have.

As a leader, manager or coach… apply the principles above, win or lose.

Then put on the full court press.

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” —Ronald Reagan

When You Can’t Find Your “Passion”

Can I be honest with you? 

The very last thing I want to do right now is write an inspirational post about finding your “passion”.

I’m tired.

About the only thing I feel passionate about is being tired.

I’ve been a little cranky and sad for a few days for no good reason. I’m behind on some writing on my next book that I wished I had finished. 

So, tonight I facImage result for losing your passione this blank page. 

I know I’m meant to fill it with encouraging words that I just don’t have today.

Nothing creates burnout faster than losing your passion.

I guess I could lie to you.

I could put on a happy face and borrow from inspiration I’ve felt at another time. I could pull out and re-write an old article I wrote and love, or I could repeat some version of what someone else has said. I could paint you a rainbow and hide the part of me I don’t want to give voice to. I could suppress what I’m feeling.

Or I could be a real person.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I sure wish I could see the cracks in the people around me – especially those who are out in front, claiming to have the answers I need.

Sometimes I think the best thing they could do is admit that taking their own advice isn’t always easy. 

How refreshing it would be to see a break in their relentless smiles for a moment. I think it would help me more to know that they struggle sometimes than to hear their “3 Steps For Getting Over Your Problems”.

So here I am – facing my own “problem”. I am struggling to find the passion I normally have about writing. I will admit that taking my own advice isn’t easy.

The truth is… I know the right things to think and say. I know what I’m supposed to do. I understand what’s good for me. But the truth is, right now, I just don’t want to do it.

Now, I’m not one to embrace a funk for long. I’ll get past this quickly – probably even by the time I post this. And because I know that, I was really tempted to lie to you and to hide from you. But if I share the best of me with you, if I ask you to rally around my words, if I call you to boldness and authenticity, then it feels right to be bold and authentic in return… even when I don’t want to be.

So what’s the lesson here? 

Well… maybe there doesn’t need to be one. Maybe it’s enough just to drop the facade with one another, to admit that we don’t always wanna practice what we preach. But I started this post privately asking myself, “How do I do this when nothing in me wants to?”. 

And I think that maybe I’ve stumbled onto 3 steps, whether I wanted to or not.

What do you do when you can’t find your “passion”?

Step 1 – Be a real person. Put away your rainbow and admit your weakness.

Step 2 – Allow yourself the freedom to gripe for a moment. You don’t have to turn in your optimist card, and you just might do some good in the process.

Step 3 – That thing you want to punt?  Go do it anyway.

Image result for find your passionLife is harder sometimes than we let on. 

It gets especially tough if you’re daring to do something big and bold. 

Sometimes, the pressure to perform perfectly will shut you down. When it does, we need to remind ourselves to refer to steps 1-3 above. 

And when we’re done,  we need to go take a walk with someone we love… and find our smile again and maybe we’ll find our “passion” once again.

 

Gotta Serve Somebody

Much of the world blinked uncomprehendingly when the Nobel Committee first announced the winner of the 2016 prize for literature. Bob Dylan.

Yes, that Bob Dylan. The folk singer. The rock star.

The counter-culture hippie poet with a marginal singing voice. In some circles that stunned silence morphed into contempt and even outrage. 

Placing Dylan on a list like that was insulting.

The prestige of the Nobel Prize for Literature would be forever diminished.

By contrast, DImage result for gotta serve somebodyylan’s Nobel honor put a smile on my face. I’m a Dylan fan. Especially early Dylan. “Like a Rolling Stone” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” appealed to me when I was younger.

In 1979, Dylan started a three-year period as a born-again Evangelical Christian. He produced one hit called “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

Here’s an excerpt:

You may be a businessman or some high degree thief,

They may call you doctor or they may call you chief,

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a construction worker working on a home,

You may be living in a mansion or might live in a dome

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Jesus’s teachings inspired these lyrics. But they could just as easily have come from the Hebrew Scriptures with which the young Jewish boy Robert Zimmerman—now Bob Dylan—would have been familiar. 

In his farewell speech to the tribes of Israel, Moses’s successor Joshua said this:

“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living.” (Joshua 24:15)

To put it simply, you’re gonna have to serve somebody. Our actions embody a deep commitment, a devotion, to something or to someone. Whether we realize it or not, whether we name it this way or not, something or someone becomes our god.

By “god” here I’m referring to whatever it is that individuals and communities believe will give their lives meaning. Whatever will make their lives matter, make their lives significant. Even if we make no conscious decision on the matter, our habits and actions—the patterns of our lives—betray what god we are worshipping.

Some people chase celebrity. Others pursue wealth or power or social status or just more stuff. They may neglect their families or their health or their integrity to get applause or to exercise control or to accumulate possessions.

We can so devote ourselves to power, prestige, and possessions that they function as our gods. The pursuit  of them shapes how we act, the relationships we form, the values we inhabit, how we think about ourselves, and how we treat other people. The Bible refers to small “g” gods as idols.

But here’s the catch. We’re gonna have to serve somebody, but we can end up serving somebody who isn’t worth serving. These small “g” gods offer what they Image result for choose you this day whom you will servecannot deliver. They offer to satisfy our deepest longings. Those longings are for the infinite and the eternal. 

We don’t want our lives to matter for a mere fifteen minutes and then be forgotten in the fog of history. We want our loves and our losses, our struggles and our victories to have meant something—to mean something—forever. 

Applause fades. You can’t take your stock portfolio with you beyond the grave. Every athletic record gets broken. Every president, world champion, and Nobel prize winner is replaced by the next one.

There is only one capital “G” God who delivers on the promise to make life infinitely and eternally significant. The God who made us in order to love us. The God who loves us so that we can share that love with one another. To serve this God is to commit ourselves to loving what that God loves how that God loves it. And that God loves the entire creation.

At the dedication of the first Temple, King Solomon said as much.

“O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart.” (1Kings 8:23).

We’re all gonna serve somebody.

The patterns of our lives will reveal who or what that is.

We are all going to have choose who we are going to serve.

Choose wisely.

Second Chances

About 20 years ago, I was having lunch at Bob Evan’s with a few of my friends.  We were talking and laughing and just having a good time.  As we were getting ready to go, I looked up and noticed that a woman sitting at the table next to ours had a very strange look on her face.  No one sitting at her table seemed to notice her appearance.  Suddenly she stood up. 

No words.  No noise.  Just silence. 

She then started to wave her arms to get the attention of those sitting at her table. 

No one noticed.

I got up from my table and ran over to the now frantic woman. 

I am not sure what it was that made me react.  I have never had formal training in performing the Heimlich maneuver,  just what I had read on a chart at work. The only thing I knew was that she was choking and no one was doing anything about it. 

Image result for second chanceI spun her around and I threw my arms around her.  I squeezed.  Whatever was lodged in her throat shot out of her mouth and I heard her take a very loud gasp of fresh air.   Within seconds the color came back to her face and although shook up by the whole event, she sat down at her table.  The look of panic on her face was now replaced with a look of disbelief.  That was the same look that was on my face as I turned around to head back to my group of friends.

No words were spoken. Everyone around us was silent.  It was as if we all were in denial that what had just happened was real. We all were in shock that the event even took place.

I had this sudden feeling of panic setting in and I just picked up my coat and bill and made my way to the cash register.  All I wanted to do is get out of there.

This happened so quickly that most of the people around us did not see it.  I do not know how long the woman had been choking but for me, the whole event was a mere 15 to 20 seconds long.  It was so surreal that it was like I was just a robot and I was just doing what I had been programmed to do.  All I knew was that for some reason, I had to get out of there.

As I got to the cash register,  the manager came over and took my bill.  He wanted to pay my bill and get my name and I was telling him that was not necessary.  I did not want to make it into a big deal and I was just glad that she was okay. 

I then felt a tap on my shoulder.  I spun around to see who it was and it was the woman who had just been choking a few minutes earlier.   Our eyes met and she was trying to come up with words to say.  As tears filled her eyes, the only words that she could mouth were, “thank you” and she started to sob. 

I did not know what to do.  I looked at her and said, “It’s okay, we all need second chances”.

I don’t know why I said that.  It just came out of my mouth. 

Much like the whole event. 

No plan or preparation… just a reaction. 

She hugged me and I hurriedly left the restaurant and I never gave her my name nor did I know hers.

I have never talked about it with anyone.  I am no hero nor do I ever want to get recognition for the event.  I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Who doesn’t like second chances? We all can think of times in our lives that we would like to have a chance to start over.  Don’t you wish there was a big red “DO OVER” button that we could push whenever we messed up?  If you are like me, the button would get worn out because of the number of times it would need to get pushed to cover all of my mistakes. 

In truth, we all like to have our faults overlooked, we’re not so good at overlooking Image result for second chance(or forgiving) the faults of others.  Why is it that we think everyone else should get what they really deserve, but we should be given a break?  Why is it that it’s okay for us to take a mulligan, but we get irritated with others who do?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that this random, chance meeting of two people in a Bob Evan’s restaurant in Toledo, Ohio has made me a better person. It has allowed me to consider the fact that God’s entire kingdom is built around second chances.  He gives us breaks, forgives our sins, moves us into a different future… and this to people who have blown it again and again.

So consider this,  for every breath you take… you get a second chance.  A chance to get it right.  Another chance to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. A chance to forgive and be forgiven.  Another chance to say “I love you” to those that need to hear you say it.  A chance to “right a wrong”. 

With each breath you take, you have a chance to change your life forever.

Sometimes I wonder what that woman did with her second chance.  Did she “right some wrongs” in her life?  Did she love her husband more?  Hug her kids a little tighter?  Did she have or start a better relationship with God?  Did she tell the people in her life that she loved them more often? Did she become a better person?  I do not dwell on these questions because I will never know the answers to them.

What I now realize in my life, is that when our paths crossed on that fateful day, I was an angry person. A person who was controlled by a temper that was not in check. I blamed everyone else for the problems in my life.  I was a frustrated person that took out his anger on people who did not deserve it. 

I had carried an angry, bitter, unforgiving attitude for a few years during that period of my life. 

That day was the beginning of change.

I am not sure if that woman made any life-changing decisions as a result of this experience.  Maybe for her, it is just a story to tell her children. 

For me, I cannot help but think that the second chance that was given by God that day wasn’t intended for her at all.

It was for me.

What A Friend We Have

It was 5:30 P.M. on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in Ohio. I am driving home from my meeting in Columbus.

I just can’t find any music that I want to listen to, so I finally stop on a radio station that is playing a program called, “Turning Point” by David Jeremiah. 

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(Want to Listen to Turning Point? Click Here)

I have always enjoyed listening to Dr. Jeremiah. He has been able to challenge and encourage me every time I hear him speak.

I listened to him for about 30 minutes when the program ended and the radio station started playing a few songs before it transitioned into the next program.

And then, the station played an old hymn of the church.

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.

What a privilege to carry, everything to God in Prayer.

O, what peace we often forfeit, O, what needless pain we bear.

All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer!

Related imageAll of a sudden, tears began flowing down my face as if a dam had broken inside of me. The tears kept rushing down my face uncontrollably. It had been years since I had heard this old hymn of the church, and I soon began to realize that I was remembering times in my life.

The first memory took me back to the age of ten years of age when I accepted the Lord into my life at the back of Robinson’s Funeral Home in Oak harbor, Ohio.  I literally could visualize myself sitting with my Aunt Brenda as she explained to me the gift of salvation that Jesus provided for the world.

These memories continued as the song filled the cab of my pickup truck. As the song progressed, I moved from thoughts of being that little 10-year-old boy into a grown man, encountering all over again situations and circumstances of my life that I had, in deed, taken to the Lord in prayer.

The memories spanned a good portion of my life ended when the song ended, and I was still wiping tears away from what I had just experienced in a 3-4 minute time span of the song.

  • It was enough time to remind me of the faithfulness of God to answered prayer when I, had indeed, taken everything to Him in prayer.
  • It was also a reminder to me that I needed a cleansing of a coldness that had settled in my heart recently. I was so grateful that all my sins and griefs he was now bearing once again, as I sat there silently confessing them to Him. How refreshing those tears felt as He gently cleansed me.
  • It was a time when I reflected on the peace that I had forfeited at times when I didn’t take it to the Lord in prayer. Oh yes, there were many times that I had experienced needless pain.

As I made my way home, I realized that this old hymn of the church had, shall we say, re-fashioned me on the inside.

What about you?  Why not take a moment in your day to listen to this old hymn of the church and use it as a tool to once again be reminded of What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  ( Just click on the video below.)

After all, He calls us His friend.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  (John 15:15)

For the Love of Writing

I’ve always hated writing prompts. You know the prompts that teacher’s give out to expand their student’s creativity. When I was a teacher, at the time, I thought that was the best way to get someone to write.

I was wrong, or at least I didn’t realize that there were more ways than one way to be creative when you write.

I have shared before that I have never considered myself a writer.  But I must admit that since I published my first book, I now have to admit that I am a writer.  I love writing and it will be something I do until I can no longer put words together in a sentence.

Image result for for the love of writingI still am not saying I am a good writer, just that I acknowledge that I am one.

I have learned a few things when it comes to writing. If someone gives me a prompt to write about, I freeze.  Writing exercises fill with me with fear, creating a barrier between myself and what I need to say. I require inspiration and an open field in order to write. Music is so important to how and why I write.

I had a teacher once, who I love and respect and whose passion for writing inspires me to this day. But I remember something she said at the beginning of the course that, at the time, struck me deeply, but which seems contrary to how operate as a writer. She said, “When people tell me they’re a writer, I don’t ask them what they write. I ask them when they write.”

She was getting at the importance of writing every day. Writers write. Right? I took that to heart and for many years I wrote everyday.

I now realize that there’s more than one way to be a writer. Discipline is essential, I think, but the degree depends on the individual. I need a good dose of inspiration iImage result for computer writingn order to write, as well, and writing every day eventually starts to feel robotic and kills my inspiration.

I’m more of a binge writer. I have to pull way back and let my creative pulse breathe. Then, at some point, I go in and I write and write and write. For so much of my life, I’ve known this about myself, but I’ve resisted it because I didn’t see this trait in serious writers. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to respect the cyclic nature of my creative life. To know what stage I’m in and act in ways that are supportive to it.

When I’m in the writing stage, then I can push. I can cancel plans and stay home to produce. Stay up to all hours of the night and never sleep.  Then it will stop for a while and I have to take a break.

After the writing stage, I’m revising and reflecting. I find homes for my thoughts and perspectives. I mentally paste the written stories on a wall in my mind and I will eventually place them in order for others to read.

I’ve learned that I write best, and sometimes write only if I write for myImage result for creative writingself. I have never been good at writing about and his dog unless I am that boy.  My new protocol is to aim to please me, and me only.  Of course, I have to go back during the revision process and check myself and reckon with the person who wrote that. Which is, of course, is me.

In the revision process, my intended audience expands to others like me. I write for people who could relate to my journey. I write, in the hope that it would be a help to others. But I can’t get there if I don’t first write for myself. 

I actually finished my book, “Footprints in a Small Town” sometime in early 2017. It took until April 12, 2018, before it was published.  For many months I struggled with writing new creative “stuff” and I wondered if I would be able to write again.

That being said, I am now filled with inspiration and I am already deep into my next book.  The creative thoughts and inspirations are flowing freely and I hope to Image result for New Projecthave my first draft manuscript done before November. It will not be a biographical book like the first one, but it will be a book based upon my faith but it will include stories and experiences that you will be able to relate to. No announcements as to when it will be published. That will be up to the powers that be.

Sales continue to remain strong for my first book and I am so grateful for those of you that have purchased it. It is still available to order a hardcopy online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and a few other outlets.  The Kindle version is available as well.

If I could ask a favor… please pray for me as I write this next book, so that it will bring glory to the One who saved me (Jesus Christ) and bring honor to my God.

 

 


 

 

 

Don’t Miss Out

As I read the news, watch the Twitter feeds, read my friend’s Facebook posts I realize we are missing something.

Our eyes are focused on what is wrong, what is going on around us and we fail to climb the ladder to see an amazing God working in our mess.Related image

We are missing the glory of God’s grace, His plan, His care and His love as we focus on the junk going on around us.

We are missing it, even in the midst of all the junk. 

We see the giants and miss the David. 

We see an ocean of despair and forget about a God who parts it. 

We focus on what we lack and never bother to ask a good God to fill it.

We grieve over a loss and never ask for comfort from the only one who can help us. 

We hear the noise and never find time to listen for His voice.

We are missing God in the midst of the madness.

Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” 

It is the most profound question ever asked! 

Will we keep our focus on and faith in a good and loving God even as our world crumbles around us?  Or will we cower in fear and bitterness at all that is going wrong?

How do we forget so easily a God who made the Universe, who died for us, who loves us more than we can know? 

We are missing HIM even as we sit in church, sing the songs and hear the sermon. 

We are missing the God, the glory, the only hope we have in a world-shaking at the core.

Today, as I attempt to “be still and know that He is God,” I realize I am letting the world make me fearful

Related imageI don’t want to miss it.  I don’t want to live the rest of my life being fearful of things I cannot control.

I want to live life with the confidence that God is in control!!!

I want to re-commit my heart to believing and trusting that my God has got this.

I need to learn to trust Him in a more meaningful way.

How about you? Or… are you going to miss it?

The Last Night at the Fair

The Ottawa County Fair … the sunbaked, annual, end-of-summer celebration of food, music, rides, farm animals and carny games. It was an aimless, all-day, all-evening event of wandering around the fairgrounds. It always seemed to me to be the biggest, longest party of the summer.

Held for a Image result for ottawa county fair picturesweek on the sprawling fairgrounds located between Oak Harbor and Port Clinton, it was the last blast of summer. The last of the good times before the unforgiving timetable of the real world kicked in before fall.

Soon the whistles of the football coaches would signal the end of summer and a gentle reminder that school was just around the corner. But for now, the week was filled with life-long memories of being a kid in the middle of the county at the end of another summer. No matter how old you were or how many times you had been there before, you are always a kid at the fair.

The 4-H kids, in addition to the farm families, would all be present having driven in from the corners of the county to display their projects. Their prize livestock and Image result for 4hfinest crops were in the competition for bragging rights. People would arrive for the nighttime concerts in front of the grandstand; there would be harness racing, live radio broadcasts and when you were young, non-stop flirting with people you’d never seen before and probably would never see again.

Sure, it was corny. You weren’t supposed to take it too seriously. It was all supposed to be fun and maybe a wink to the past. Maybe it was to be taken with a grain of salt so that you could escape for a few days from what was really going on around the world. Nothing that took place during those few days of the summer was ever meant to be permanent except for good memories forever ingrained into our conscience.

Nothing extraordinary about any of it.

Except for everything.

As a young child, the highlight of each summer was marked by the annual county fair. For several days in July, kiddie rides, games of chance, concession stands, and fun houses were erected in the heart of our county. When I was really young, unlike some of my friends who would go to the fair every day, I was usually only able to get to the fair one day during that week. I looked forward to it for months.  I look back at the time now and realize that my anticipation for the event was much more exciting than the real thing. When my day finally came around, I spent the day shoving cotton candy in my mouth, riding the giant swing ride over and over and going to look at all the animals.Image result for swing ride at the fair

At the end of the day, I’d crawl sleepy-eyed into the backseat clutching cheap trinkets won playing everyone is a “winner” carnival games.  It was the highlight of my summer.

As my summers accumulated and I advanced towards junior high, summer life became all about friends. My small group of friends and I rode our bikes all over town on long summer days creating our own adventures to shake up this small-town life. Life was filled with little league baseball, Teagarden’s pool and most importantly… the fair. These were the most important aspects of our summers.  However, there was an underlying strange realization, we were just starting to discover but not ready to admit just yet, that girls weren’t so yucky after all.

Summer still ended with the fair. But instead of playing games and riding rides, the focus had shifted.  We now walked around the fair. We walked in packs. We were all just walking around trying to look cool.

We weren’t.

However, there was strength in numbers. Even though not one of us would ever admit to it, our pack walked around hoping to run into the group of junior high girls that were gathered safely in their own pack. We would walk until we grew tired. Tired of daring each other to do outlandish acts. Tired of acting like little immature kids. Tired of trying to act like we were older than we were.

The truth was… we really wanted to go ride the rides like we did when we were little.

But here we were suspended somewhere between childhood and being a teenager. It was all wrapped up in the security of living in a place and time where time seemed to stand still. All the people and all the houses that surrounded you were as familiar as the things in your own room. You believed it would always stay the same.

The dreams of life beyond the town limits of Oak Harbor were still off in the distance. But as much as we believed, something deep inside of us knew the truth. Related imageSlowly, a change was happening. Soon enough, little league baseball would end and we would be made to face the reality that only a few of my friends would continue to play baseball in high school.

I wasn’t one of them.

I suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that I walked out of my childhood and into the next phase of my life. I wasn’t ready. I wanted to stay there in the comfort of the summer nights of Oak Harbor. But I knew I couldn’t. I was now fourteen. I slept under a roof that belonged to someone else and in a bed my father bought. Nothing was mine, except my fears and the growing knowledge that not every road was going to lead home anymore.

Things were changing. I would hear some of my own friends start to talk about making plans on leaving the safety of our hometown. I started to hear the other side of growing up in Oak Harbor. The negative. In my mind, the place was perfect, almost sacred.

Looking back, I know it wasn’t perfect and obviously not sacred. It was clear that my feelings were found in a place that was caught up in the reluctance to move from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.

Before I knew it, I found myself in high school.

Going to the fair was now focused on running into other kids from school and seeing who had coupled up or broken up over the last few months, triumphs or casualties of summer.Related image

We no longer walked in packs. I would usually just hang with my best friend Bryan Blakely. It kept the competition down and I would not have to be embarrassed by that one friend that always acted like an idiot.

During fair week, when the sun went down, that magical familiar feeling of youth slipped over me once again. Those exciting feelings of not knowing what would happen next would overwhelm me. I could not help but think that there was the possibility that the crush you had might see you and smile at you.

When it looked like no one was around, I worked up the courage to go on the Kamikaze, a ride that shuttled you in giant, nauseating upside-down loops. I screamed at the top of my lungs while “Do Ya” by the Electric Light Orchestra blasted through the ride’s crappy speakers, and I felt like a badass.

I wasn’t.

At the time, there was no greater disappointment than on the last night of the fair when they packed up and left town with all your wishes still unfulfilled.

That last night at the fair in 1976, in the darkness of night, Bryan and I walked home from the fairgrounds. Our ride left us, and we had no choice but to walk theRelated image four miles back to Oak Harbor. At sixteen, the premise of walking home on a hot summer night seemed to be perfectly logical. It was so dark that it seemed you couldn’t see past your next step. The only light coming from the moon.

We took our time. There was no need to hurry. It didn’t seem like there was that much to go back to.

Bryan and I talked about everything on that long walk home. We talked about our childhood, our families. We talked about music, what we liked and disliked. We talked about girls. We talked about our future. He told me what his plans were for his life. Bryan wanted to leave the tiny confines of Oak Harbor, Ohio, as soon as he could.  He wanted to see the world and the sooner the better. 

For me, I wasn’t exactly panicking about my plans. I don’t think up to that point in my life I had ever given a second thought about what I was going to do with my future. I was just sixteen years old. To me, the future was for someone else to worry about.

We had walked almost all the way to town when suddenly Bryan and I stopped talking. It seemed as if there was nothing left to say. I wanted to stay there, in that night, but I knew I couldn’t.

Things were about to change again.

Walking through that neighborhood I grew up in, I realized that there was a time I knew every family on the block, their kid’s names and the names of their dogs. But Image result for porch lights at night on old housemost of those families were gone now. The ones who stayed were not the same. The world was moving on. 

Only the porch lights remained the same.

Eventually, I made my way home and walking past each one of those homes, I started to realize something. I was beginning to understand that in each home, with its Ford parked out front, white bread on the table and TV set glowing blue in the falling night, there were people with stories. There were families bound together by the pain and the struggle to make it in life. I was just starting out on my journey to figure out what life was about. Growing up in Oak Harbor, protected by the outside world, I wasn’t even sure I knew what “real” life was anymore, but I knew I had a lot to learn and my quest to finally find it was a long way off.

Walking up to my driveway, I noticed what a beautiful night it was – lit by the moon.  The world smelled fresh and clean. I turned the handle of the front door and opened it.  Like always, there was my mom sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper.  As I walked into the room, she put her paper down and stood up. She gave me a big hug. She never said a word and neither did I. We didn’t have to, for at that moment I felt like a kid again. Life and all its responsibilities were knocking on the door, but for tonight, they would have to wait.

There would be other nights that summer where we would hang out and try to be cool. We always failed. But the sad truth is there wasn’t ever another night just like that one.

Our brotherhood was forever etched in stone and would never end, but when that summer ended the remaining high school years that lay ahead would find Bryan and I moving in different directions. Once school started we never hung out again, at least not like we did before. The last time was that last night at the fair.

Bryan and I didn’t really accomplish anything that night. At least that is what I thought at the time. He and I would talk about it over the years when we would see each other.  I spoke about that last night at the fair and how we never went to the fair again… at his funeral.

It’s been well over 40 years ago since that “last night at the fair” and I still have not been back to the Ottawa County Fair.

Like all good memories… that night and the long walk home will always be set in my memory and in my heart.

Image result for Ottawa County fair