Construction: Day 1

Today we kicked things off at Tranquility Base. While digging for a septic tank perk test isn’t very sexy, it’s something, and the sight of equipment and materials rolling onto our new property was exhilarating!

The trusses for Alissa’s Overlook arrived, and we used a chainsaw and Bobcat to clear brush and improve our river view for both the pavilion and the house. The view is SO much better! Monday, we begin pouring support pillars for Alissa’s Overlook.

A few visuals:

Trusses for Alissa’s Overlook.

Ten Things to Finish in My Fifties

•A world-class retreat center known for its hospitality and depth for writers learning the publishing business.

•Walk the Great River Road from Lake Itasca, MN to the Gulf of Mexico to raise money for AgriWellness, a non-profit that provides counseling to suicidal farmers, and studies rural American behavioral science.

•Have about five good books under my belt, and another five ahead.

•Be a more disciplined man in the areas of prayer and bible study.

•I’d love to run just one more marathon, even if it’s not pretty.

•Create some kind of center that provides hot meals for hungry people. The one thing I cannot tolerate in this world is hunger.

•Establish a sanctuary for bees and birds that would educate kids.

•Do some trail angel work on the AT.

•Syndicated newspaper/internet column.

•Know at 60 there were a few young men I had a positive impact on.

 

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The Task is Complete

Some time back around 2010 I was getting desperate. I hadn’t worked in two years and chronic depression had settled in, seeming it might never go away. Dana and I were still relatively newly married and I wondered why she even stuck around.

One morning my mom called and explained a potential opportunity with a family that owned one of those elder care businesses with several satellite offices across Arkansas. They needed two people for their Mountain Home office and they needed them soon. I drove up a few days later and they offered us the job on the spot. The emotions were mixed. The money would be a relief but leaving “home” never felt right. I made the decision that we’d make the move despite gut feelings that said it was wrong.

Time passed. Not only were the owners downright tyrants, they were an emotional bunch who lived out most aspects of their lives without discretion. Husband and wife arguments right there in the office, the kind of family dynamics that have no business in the workplace. These people were mean. Mean and depression don’t mix well. Dana and I were miserable at new depths. 

And I felt completely trapped. 

We’d made the move, though we’d not sold our house back home, and the money paid the bills. We weren’t being a burden to anyone, but the work experience made us so physically sick we came home every weekend, happy to spend time back in our house with no more than a couple of lawn chairs and a blow-up couch. One Monday morning before we made the three-hour drive back to work I had a complete spiritual meltdown, one of the lowest moments of my life.

As the weeks passed, the experience took its toll on us physically. Dana, strong, and typically full of energy became sick with a level 10 sinus infection. She stayed home from work that day, but the owners were relentless sending her email and calling her at home to carry on with her work.

Dana returned to work the following day, still sick but overwhelmed with so much work responsibility. Staying home was no relief. 

Looking back, it was also the day that we reclaimed our lives and started living again.

That entire morning, the owners, now working in an office several hours away, pounded Dana with work assignments via text, email, and phone call. Still sick and feverish, she handled it well. (Dana is MUCH better at this stuff than me.)

At the end of a command from one of the owners, Dana replied with a simple, “Gotcha.”

The owner’s reply?

“Never reply to me with a ‘gotcha.’ Your correct response is ‘the task is complete.’”

I’d never seen anything like it. The task is complete. That’s the response she commanded.

We finished the day and went for cheap fast food at a Hardees. As bad as the day had been, we feared tomorrow might get worse. And the next day, and the next.

Dana looked at me. I looked at her. 

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I asked.

“I think so.

“Let’s blow this joint.”

That evening, we dropped our keys in a business mailbox, went home, slept like babies, got up early and packed to go home. We never spoke another word to those maniacs. And we literally cheered and sang and celebrated the drive home.

We reflect on it as one of the pivotal moments in our marriage. Solid. Together. One.

Sometimes you have to follow your gut.

The Power of Just Walking Away

“Boys, the best thing you can do with death is ride off from it.” ~ Capt. Woodrow F. Call from the movie, Lonesome  Dove

Dr. Robert Lewis was teaching pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock for many years. I lived three hours away and wasn’t a member of his church, but Dr. Lewis taught me lots of things.

Like many men, I spent considerable time in my early thirties searching for an identity, a purpose, and God’s plan for my life. Clarity on those bigger things isn’t always easy when you’re simply trying to earn enough money to pay for diapers, formula, and day care. The thirties aren’t easy.

Across the country there were rave reviews in the early 90s about Dr. Lewis’ curriculum called The Quest for Authentic Manhood. Thousands of churches taught the curriculum. Dr. Lewis led the effort at his home church, and for many weeks I left home at 3 a.m., drove to Little Rock, sat in on the session, and returned to Jonesboro for work by mid morning. Quest reinforced four basic tenets for a man’s life:

•Reject passivity.

•Accept responsibility.

•Lead courageously.

•And, expect a greater reward.

For 23 years, these four ideas have guided everything I do. There were moments of failure, yes, but fewer than there otherwise might have been without them, I suspect.

One of the most important things I learned from this comprehensive study on manhood was posed by a simple question that catches many of us off guard.

When does a man become a man? At bar mitzvah? When he completes his Selective Service registration? When he first votes? What is this moment in time when a male transitions from boy to man? How does he know?

It all emphasizes the important need for things like ceremony and symbols.

How do we mark a marriage? A ceremony and symbols. How do we mark milestone anniversaries? Ceremony and symbols. In the Christian life, how do we mark the milestone of our most important decision? Ceremony and symbol.

We need these things in our life as an important way of both marking growth, and leaving things behind. Sometimes we underestimate the power of leaving things behind.

***

About two-thirds through their five-hundred mile walk, modern-day pilgrims representing dozens of nationalities encounter a special place on the pilgrimage known as northern Spain’s Camino de Santiago.

It’s really nothing more than an iron cross atop big pile of rocks, but many consider it holy ground. 

For more than a millennia, tradition has encouraged pilgrims on The Way of St. James to carry a small object from their home (most carry a small stone) and as they walk. The object represents the pilgrim’s burden, or her sin, or regrets, however they may wish to characterize it. Upon arrival at this special location known as Cruz de Ferro in the Cambrian Mountains, the pilgrim places the object on the hill at the foot of the cross, offers a prayer, and walks away.

The symbolism of marking such a moment in time is a powerful milestone representing the heart of the gospel truth.

Some say that upon our repentance of sin God cannot remember our wrongdoing. The more accurate and amazing truth is not that he can’t, but that God chooses with a holy intention NOT to recall the past. Through the power of Jesus’ blood shed on a different cross nearly two thousand years ago, we need not wallow in the shame and regret of sin.

You may not walk a five-hundred mile pilgrimage, but you can surely mark a moment representing your repentance of sin.

•Write your regrets on a piece of paper, light a match, and watch your past mistakes go up in smoke. 

•Construct a simple cross and nail your paper list to the symbol of Christ’s crucifixion.

•Next Sunday, leave an object representing your shortcomings at your church altar, say a prayer, and walk away.

Remember, God has a purpose for every person, and His work is too important for us to remain bogged down in the past. 

That’s why He sent Jesus. For your freedom!

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Ask Yourself: What Can I Unlearn Today?

“Intelligence is what we learn. Wisdom is what we unlearn.” 

~ J.R. Rim

 

Never stop learning! Always be a rookie at something! The older the wiser!

The cliches about learning are almost unending.

We’re a society that values learning. And indeed, there’s not much substitute for education and life experience. Wisdom brings a certain peace that Jesus desired for all those who walk his Way.

But could it be that our deepest wisdom comes from the things we once believed as true somewhere back on the path, but no longer find true today?

Jesus spoke of this in the way he taught and told stories.  He begins with “you have heard it said…”, then continues with “but I tell you…”  The pattern is repeated in Matthew 5 starting in verse 21.  It was not enough for Jesus to give new information.  He needed to correct the wrong beliefs that lead people astray.

American pastor and author Mark Batterson says, “Unfortunately, unlearning is twice as hard as learning.  It’s like missing your exit on the freeway – you have to drive to the next exit and then double back.  Every mile you go in the wrong direction is really a two-mile error.”

As we study God’s truth, we may also have an awareness of certain things not so true.  Sometimes they are easily spotted, and other times they’re ingrained so deeply that it’s not so easy.  We need to work toward being Christ-like, while also rejecting the things that are not of God.

What is something you were taught, or once believed, that the Holy Spirit is now suggesting you reconsider?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” ~ Romans 12:2

Be Teachable

You wouldn’t think it would be the case for someone who’s completed five decades and entered a sixth, but one of the most important lessons I continue learning is the value of being ‘teachable.”

It’s been especially true with writing — ironically the one thing I’ve always done with some confidence, and the only thing I ever considered a natural talent. Especially true in recent years, I’ve learned to maintain a spirit that is teachable.

Most of my livelihood has been based in the written word. Ten years in the newspaper business, another eight in the magazine trade. As a higher education fundraiser, and a political press secretary I made a living informing people and persuading them about certain things. It all came fairly naturally. Not all, but so much of this is about gut instinct and understanding people. That’s what I do. It’s art. And it’s science.

So it stood to reason way back in 2012 when I first decided to write a book that I came into the process with a fairly confident (arrogant) attitude. I’d interviewed 15,000 people. Written miles of copy. I’d sat with tattoo artists, strippers, men dying of AIDS, ambassadors, and presidents. A book was only a longer, more drawn out process, right? More story, right? Wrong.

That first book manuscript still sits in a file, crumpled, wrinkled, and dusty. I remember when it came back from my editor that first time. It was humbling. There was obviously an incredible amount to unlearn and relearn, so much so, it was almost overwhelming. 

But I didn’t quit. I read, studied, researched, found mentors, attended conferences, chased agents and publishers, and practically gave my life to the pursuit. If you’ve given up on a dream forgive me, but chances are you didn’t want it as much as you thought. If you want something, you’ll find a way.

In the meantime, I have published a book based on an incredible experience and a story that I thought deserved to be told. The story was as much about healing as it was about walking a very long distance. That process took more than three years.

Today, I’m closing in on the second book. It’s about a year in the making so far, and quite possibly, has involved more learning than all the years leading from 2012 until now. This is a LONG process. That’s another thing for the learning. Endurance.

You have to learn to listen to people. You have to learn not to listen to people. You have to learn who those people are. You have to learn the hard lesson that really good writing is not necessarily a great story. You have to learn how a reader’s mind processes a story. You have to learn that even when you believe so strongly in your gut that you’re right, you may be wrong. And you have to learn when to stand your ground. But you have to remain teachable. We never stop learning.

Whether you’re writing a book, or raising a family, pursuing a new career, or seeking some great truth, it’s the most important thing. Being teachable.

What will you learn today?

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Some Work Thoughts on Labor Day

 

•There is nothing worse than waking up each morning dreading where you’re about to go and spend time for the next eight hours. It’s not likely that you’ll land your dream job right out of high school or college, but you’ll get there. Don’t quit until you do.

•When you are considering a career in your young adult years, ask yourself this question: What stirs my heart?

•College is not for everyone. Don’t go to college as a default choice. Personally, I wish I knew more about skilled trades.

•Don’t be scared to take risks during your career. The greatest rewards often come with the highest risks. This is especially true for those who want to branch out into self employment. Remember, there is almost no decision that can’t be undone. Embrace risk.

•Seek out career mentors. Most professionals older and wiser are happy to share their experience for your benefit, and  you can fast forward your career track by learning from the mistakes of others.

•Have a side gig. This is especially important for those times when you may not be perfectly suited to the job that’s making you money and paying the bills. Maybe it’s a booth at a flea market, or maybe you make cinnamon rolls each Saturday for the farmer’s market. Professionally, side gigs can be a great breath of fresh air. I’d still like to have a food truck in my life, and probably will one day. I find that cooking and writing go well together.

•Don’t let people treat you badly. At least two to three occasions in my life I’ve found myself alongside toxic people in the workplace. Don’t be afraid to just walk away. One of the best decisions I ever made was dropping a key in the workplace mailbox one night, walking away, and never looking back.

•When you find that thing that stirs your heart, try to remember that everything you do is not for you. It probably stirs your heart for a reason, and the reason might be is that you were meant to have a passion for this thing and use it for the greater good. i.e. helping others.

•Understand there may be seasons to what stirs your heart. You may have a passion for something (and a capacity for) in your sixties, that you never imagined in your thirties.  You can always be a rookie at something.

•When you find that thing, and when you’ve spent some years gaining wisdom doing that thing, always be available for younger people trying to find their way. Be a mentor.

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A Few Top Fives

MOVIES

  1. Lonesome Dove (technically a mini-series)
  2. Castaway
  3. The Way
  4. The Big Year
  5. The Right Stuff

SONGS

  1. Hotel California (the acoustic version on Hell Freezes Over)
  2. I Will Always Love You (Whitney Houston)
  3. All My Hope is in Jesus (Crowder)
  4. I Believe in a Hill Called Mt. Calvary (Gaither Vocal Group)
  5. Isn’t She Lovely (Stevie Wonder)

ACTORS

  1. Tom Hanks
  2. Philip Seymour Hoffman
  3. Robert Duvall
  4. Morgan Freeman
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio

ACTRESSES

  1. Jessica Lange
  2. Julianne Moore
  3. Meryl Streep
  4. Octavia Spencer
  5. Jodie Foster

BOOKS

  1. Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
  2. Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
  3. Chesapeake by James Michener
  4. Somebody Told Me by Rick Bragg
  5. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony  Bourdain

PLACES I’VE BEEN

  1. Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
  2. Kneeling at the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain
  3. Isle of Palms, South Carolina
  4. Any sunset in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador
  5. Yellowstone National Park

SPORTS MOMENTS I WITNESSED LIVE

  1. Mohammed Ali lighting the torch in the 1996 Olympic Games
  2. 1980 Miracle on Ice
  3. Reggie Jackson’s 3 home runs in Game 6, 1977 World Series
  4. Jack Nicklaus Masters Champion 1986
  5. #6 Auburn beats #1  Alabama in Iron Bowl Fiasco

FAVORITE SUPERBOWL SNACKS

  1. SONIC cheesesticks w/Route 44 Diet Dr Pepper w/cherry
  2. Doritos w/Velveeta/Rotel cheese dip
  3. Hot Chicken Dip
  4. Giant Gyro
  5. Little Smokies

THINGS YOU PROBABLY DON’T KNOW ABOUT ME

  1. You’d be hard pressed to find more of an expert on professional wrestling during the 1980s.
  2. I like Michael Bolton’s music.
  3. I cry pretty frequently.
  4. If it’s a working day inside involving heavy writing I’ll walk outside for a breath of fresh air and a reset at least twice a hour.
  5. Ninety percent of my shirt wardrobe is in the guayaberas style.

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2018 – My Best, Worst, and Other List

Favorite Books Read: Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller; My Southern Journey, Rick Bragg; Learning to Speak God from Scratch, Jonathan Merritt

Best Movies Seen: The Greatest Showman, Same Kind of Different as Me

Best Song: What Makes You Country, Luke Bryan;  Reckless Love, Cory Asbury

Great Professionals Lost: Aretha Franklin, Anthony Bourdain, sportscaster Keith Jackson

Worst Lie: Impossible to choose.

Best Thing That Was Old That is New Again: I’m bringing the fishing hobby back into my life. Bought a nice boat a few weeks ago.

Favorite New Dream: An around the world plane ticket, and apparently there’s a new 1,700-mile hiking trail in Chile that passes through dozens of national parks.

Most Surprising New Habit: Evaluating how every word written in every  social media post might actually make someone angry before the post gets made.

Most Surreal Moment I’d Always Thought About and Actually Did: Sitting at a bar sipping whiskey with locals in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. Sounds crazy, but it was a real thrill.

Last Year’s Most Accurate Prediction About This Year: The danger of a national numbness.

Biggest Conversion: Yes, I will watch the occasional Hallmark movie now.

Favorite Personal Moment: Standing on the Cliffs of Moher, eyes closed, North Atlantic sea spray blowing against my face, breathing in the freshest air God ever created, and taking a mental picture of it all that I’ll carry with me always.

Best Sense of Personal Satisfaction: Not quitting after having three different book proposals rejected by some of the best agents in the country. We finally nailed one in November and I’m so fired up about it.

The Resulting Lesson from the Paragraph Above: Have a teachable spirit and never give up on a dream you know God puts in your heart.

Best Grassroots Experience: I got to travel all around the country speaking at REIs and signing books. But even better was the number of people who opened their homes and took me in as a guest. I’ll never forget spending time with such hospitable friends.

Most Disturbing Trends I See: “us vs. them” vocabulary; placing more value in symbols than the actual idea the symbols represent; an absence of shame.

Characterizing This Year in Two Words I’d Use: Sadly predictable.

Best Epiphany Experienced This Year:  Faith is not some notion that we come to as a matter of last resort. We don’t default to faith, but rather we come to it through an ongoing exercise of doubt and reason.  It’s all God’s design that faith is a reasoned trust. It’s His quest of choice for each of us. We come to faith just as we come to other conclusions in life.

Favorite New Gadget: A portable USB fan that travels with me everywhere.

Favorite New Obscure TV Series: Forever on Amazon.

Biggest Regret: Missing a trip to Morocco during a three-month stay in Spain.

Biggest Issue that I Was Once Set on and Now Taking Time to Carefully Reconsider: Is homosexuality consistent or inconsistent with biblical teaching, and what is the church’s role in all this?

Prediction for Next Year’s National Scene: It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but it’s going to get better.

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