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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Discovering Tozer

Two good friends recently turned me on to the works of A.W. Tozer, who in 1919, began 44 years of Christian ministry. His works are among the most insightful I’ve read. It’s as if they were written just yesterday.

Among the more than 40 books he authored, at least two are regarded as Christian classics: The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy. His books impress on the reader the possibility and necessity for a deeper relationship with God.

I wanted to share selected exerpts from the preface of The Pursuit of God, written June 16, 1948. See his insight just as it exists today:

“In this hour of all-but-universal darkness one cheering gleam appears: within the fold of conservative Christianity there are to be found increasing numbers of persons whose religious lives are marked by a growing hunger after God Himself. They are eager for spiritual realities and will not be put off with words, nor will they be content with correct “interpretations” of truth. They are thirsty for God, and they will not be satisfied till they have drunk deep at the Fountain of Living Water…

“There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, or anything unusual in their personal lives. They minister constantly to believers who feel within their breasts a longing which their teaching simply does not satisfy…

“I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: ‘The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.’ It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table. The truth of  Wesley’s words is established before our eyes: ‘Orthodoxy, or right opinion is, at best, a very slender part of religion…

“Thanks to our spendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church  the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us…

“Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.  The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness ofr the very  God Himself in the core and center of their hearts…

~A.W. Tozer – The Pursuit of God

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Happy Transparent Birthday, Dana.

Happy 39th birthday, my sweet love. What would I do without you?

39 Reasons I Love You…

  1. You make me smile and laugh.
  2. Despite my quirks and faults, you love me without condition.
  3. God‘s face shines through your eyes to every person who sees you.
  4. Your compassion, that which comes straight from your heart, is your greatest characteristic.
  5. You forgive.
  6. You came along.
  7. Don’t know a single person whom you haven’t blessed.
  8.  Since I first met you, life has never been the same.
  9. You’ve taught me great life lessons.
  10. You held me through those nights that were so hard.
  11. You gave me a “man” room.
  12. Your face is pure beauty, but your heart is more so.
  13. Basherte.
  14. Helpmate.
  15. Friend.
  16. You make everyone you touch, including me, better than we/they are.
  17. You love my family.
  18. You know when to reign me in.
  19. You make a great first impression.
  20. You overlook my mistakes.
  21. Your sense of adventure inspires me.
  22. You never ask for much.
  23. You look great in a sundress and cheap sunglasses.
  24. Your eyes pierce through to my heart.
  25. You play a mean conga.
  26. I love that you can be cosmopolitan one moment, and country the next.
  27. You never stopped believing.
  28. You understood the hurt.
  29. You bring people together and know your role on the team.
  30. You lead quietly, making things happen, and no one ever knows it.
  31. You care not for the credit.
  32. No one looks better in a funky hat.
  33. Your touch overwhelms me.
  34. Your soul speaks to mine.
  35. You came along.
  36. You came along.
  37. You came along.
  38. You came along
  39. And you saved my life.

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Aggressively Pursuing the UN-balanced Life

Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.”

~ James Dean

For years, I’ve considered my obsessive-compulsive behavior to be a character flaw.

But, alas, I believe I will now embrace it.

Several weeks ago, I hired a coach to help keep me disciplined in specific areas of my life I deem important. We’ve had interesting conversations about dreams, goals, and mostly he has helped me take a view of things not just from the surface but from an “elevation of 20,000 feet.” It’s given me a new perspective on the totality of life.

In our last conversation as time came to a close, he pitched the idea of the importance of living a balanced life. He explained how too much focus in one area can detract from another, and the danger of creating “deficits” in some particular life compartments.

The balanced life.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’ve decided, as good as it sounds, it’s not for me.

I’m 46 years old. Had some major highs, and some of the lowest of the lows. Each high and low has been a great lesson. There have been some mistakes, and I’d take a “do-over” on some things, but I’ve had a great life, unbalanced as it may have been.

And I’m not sure I can change that now. The last thing I want to be is milquetoast. I don’t want to pursue a little bit of anything.

I want to stand on the equator, close my eyes and marvel at the magnificence of God‘s creation.

When I can wrap my mind around running again, I don’t want to exercise for 30 minutes a day. I want to train for one last marathon.

I want to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged children.

I want to exhibit the radical love that Jesus showed to the woman caught in adultery.

I want to feed the hungry, comfort the hurting.

I want to collaborate with a small group of committed people…and change the world.

I want to lavishly spoil my wife, kids, mom, best friend and other friends with love, kindness and gifts.

I want to write books, not for the sake of calling myself an author, but to be a best-selling writer, and to offer readers a new perspective on things that really matter.

I want to drink thousand calorie milkshakes whenever the urge hits me.

I want to live life to the RADICAL EXTREME.

A balanced life. It sounds so right…and yet so boring.

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What do Jesus, Sarah Palin and Al Sharpton Have in Common?

Not that much that I can see, honestly. But they all get a lot of “hits.”

I love writing. And almost as much as I love writing, I love the metrical study of writing and what gets people’s attention. The world of communication now moves with lightning speed, and by virtue of sheer volume, it takes something special to get readers to stop and read – something that tugs at their heartstrings.

It’s funny I’ve noticed in recent months that a photo post of my dog often generates more “likes” and responses than almost any other thing I can post on Facebook. It’s a humbling thing for someone who considers himself a journalist.

Yesterday, I took a daylong fast from coffee and a few other personal indulgences… and I had a bad back ache. The ensuing bad mood gave me the perfect excuse to make a quick “airing of grievances” on FB.

The post was simple. Three things I don’t like on my wall:

  • People telling me I don’t love Jesus if I don’t “repost” their post about how much they love Jesus.

Anything about Sarah Palin. I don’t care for Sarah Palin.

Inciteful posts about the Trayvon Martin case used by a number of “journalists” to promote racial conflict for the advancement of their personal agendas.

Interestingly, dozens of “likes” and comments poured in through the day and throughout the night. And they came from people across the spectrum of religious and political beliefs.

Let’s take these one at a time:

  • I’m going to be bluntly candid about this. Jesus loves you. He loves you with as much love as there is in the universe.  But He doesn’t give a crap about your professed love for Him on Facebook. If it makes you feel good, so be it. I just don’t think it’s the depth of commitment for which He’s looking. Offer a kind word to someone who’s down, or help a neighbor in need. That’s the ticket.
  • I don’t blame Sarah Palin for putting herself in a position to make money. Flukes happen, and she’s the product of one of the greatest political flukes in modern-day. I do, however, take a stand against  FOX News for using her as a ratings enhancer, and today, NBC’s Today Show for allowing her to co-host with Matt Lauer, a fine journalist. It’s Today’s response to Katie Couric‘s weeklong guest host stint on Good Morning America. Does Sarah Palin really have that much of value to say to us? I’ve yet to see it. Her intellectual stimulation fails to reach me. But she’s a great performer. I’ll give her that. Nothing more.

  • Finally, Trayvon Martin. Maybe the most irresponsible journalistic hype since Nancy Grace adopted the Casey Anthony cause. We now have Al Sharpton leading America’s case against the injustice done against Trayvon Martin … and not that it wasn’t a major injustice. But it’s no longer about Martin. It’s about Sharpton and self promotion and elevating his status as a journalist/activist (the two of which just don’t jive). Shame on you MSNBC. You’re better than that. And out of the woodwork comes Geraldo Rivera. Give it up Geraldo – the original self-promoting journalist. Go home.

David Brinkley, Peter Jennings, Andy Rooney and Tim Russert – I miss  you guys. But you wouldn’t want to see what this has become, anyway.

Now, for a cup of coffee to improve my mood.

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Taking a Break from Breaking News

 

From 8 to 5 or so each day, I have the privilege to work with a tremendous group of people.

With about 30 or so employees, we are small in number, but significant in influence. The work we undertake has a positive impact on nearly 2,000 companies internationally.

As it exists, our work environment is male-dominated. Ninety percent of our staff is men, and it creates a certain culture, particularly since every individual is entrepreneurial, driven, vision focused and committed. It also just so happens that we all get along really well. It’s a great place to work.

Our shared personality traits make for a dynamic work environment where we focus corporately on the task and hand, and we also have a lot of fun.

And, on a fairly frequent basis, we have some pretty intellectual conversations.

At mid-morning yesterday, one of my bosses, an intellectual, worldly and thoughtful man, handed me a daft letter he’d composed as a letter to the editor for our local newspaper. Seems my boss had become (I’ll use the word disillusioned) with the media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case, and the inflammatory nature of its portrayal, particularly in the television broadcast arena. It pushed him to his tipping point, enough so, that he took time out of his day to communicate his utter frustration.

And for what it’s worth, I agree with him.

The news stresses us out.

Just last week I read three local newspaper accounts of a local police chief charged with sexual assault of a minor, a pastor from my hometown who had kidnapped and assaulted a minor, and another law enforcement official 10 miles down the road involved in an internal department scam. A bloodpressure spike is a great way to start the day.

How does a news junkie like me control the natural tendency to stress over the news and its impact on my local community.

Later in the morning, I had lunch with another work colleague. We often talk about our life’s journey, the challenges we face, and give encouragement to one another to keep moving forward.

As we talked about the news, he shared an interesting experience.

Years ago, he said, a study in which he was engaged suggested a weeklong “news fast.”

His study indicated that a morning dose of the daily news, with all its negativity, hype and hoopla could subconsciously get our day off to the wrong start.

It can mean the difference between being outwardly impacted, or inwardly focused.

Isn’t that interesting.

I’ve always felt a need for the news. For many years, it’s been my livelihood. The need to be informed, is crucial, I’ve thought.

Or is it?

I’m thinking about taking a break from the breaking news.

This will be interesting.

The Binge: 12 Lessons Learned

“The only book that shall ever be written is the one that flows up from the heart, forced out by the inward pressure. When such a work has gestated within a man, it is almost certain that it will be written. The man who is thus charged with a message will not be turned back by any blase’ consideration. His book will be, to him, not only imperitave, it will be inevitable.” ~ A.W. Tozer from “God’s Pursuit of Man.”

Over the long weekend, I reverted to a style that has served me well from college to the present.

I was never good at composing research papers over extended periods of time, never embraced studying a bit each day, and really never have been good at doing a “little bit” of anything. For most of the things I do, I have to go “all-in.” It’s why I stay away from casinos.

I’m a binger.

It goes agains the conventional writing style that most experts will offer. Most say the best way to begin writing is just that, begin writing … write something each day, even if it’s just a few hundred words. That’s good advice for beginning writers, I’ll grant you. It creates a habit, and habits are good things for writers.

But if you’ve moved to a point where you’re more serious in your work, the notion of bits of pieces of writing daily may no longer work.

It’s become apparent that if my first book has any chance of being released by Thanksgiving – I must binge.

Last weekend, Friday 3am through Sunday noon was a 57 hour writing session with very few breaks. It was productive, resulting in nearly 10,000 words of decent copy.

When you write for three days straight, you inevitably learn some lessons. Here are 12 I learned:

  1. Without moving your cell phone’s switch to the “off” position, it will continue to ring.
  2. A.W. Tozer is magnificent.
  3. Periodic naps help.
  4. Grape juice keeps you going.
  5. One moment, you think what you’ve written is brilliant. On second read, it can sound really stupid.
  6. Sometimes, just sometimes, volume trumps quality.
  7. There’s no substitute for a good chair.
  8. The environment in which you write can make a huge difference.
  9. If you have a random thought, put it on paper immediately.
  10. Sometimes, it’s more important to write randomly, than chronologically.
  11. It’s ok to take a short Facebook break now and then, but just a short one.
  12. It’s going to take at least three more binges to get this thing done.

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