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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I Am a Christian: A Confession and 15 Personal Principles

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(Note: This list of principles isn’t something I sit around and study, pour over daily, or even consciously consider, but rather an articulation of words expressing practices that have come naturally over time. Sometimes, in my own spiritual journey, I find it’s important to write these things down. That’s really all this is. Nothing more, nothing less.)

A general distaste for labels aside, I am a Christian whose identity is in Christ. I claim it without pride, superiority, self-righteous indignation, guilt or shame. I claim Christ as my only saving grace and aspire to follow Him. We communicate in words and so Christian is as good a word as any for what I am. I’ve found none better.

I’d also wager that because of a growing movement in my own tribe I’m considered by many as a soft, weak, even an unpatriotic Christian. The juxtaposition of those latter two words doesn’t even really work, but that’s where we are today – an entirely different topic. “Libtard.” “Moron.” Suffering from “cranial-rectal syndrome.” Those are a few things other Christ followers have called me, or said about me lately.

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35

Haha.

It’s possible during the last couple of years I’ve had upwards of a hundred conversations with non-Christians. Atheists. Agnostics. People of other non-Christian faiths. Frankly, they’re among the most constructive conversations I’ve enjoyed, and in many cases the quality of these people’s character is unsurpassed.

If you’re a Christian who’s never entertained a deep conversation with a non-Christian, you should try it. What non-Christians see in the “Christian” community, and the conversation they’ll engage you in as a result might just test you more than you know. Try, without judgment, to explain Christian evangelical support for some high-profile things non-Christians have seen in the last two years. Imagine, without emotion, how you might explain your belief system in those various contexts.

I’ve done it dozens of times, and will do it dozens more, and I’m okay with it, but it ain’t easy. I had one such conversation last night with a couple that I adore and care about as much as family.

Consistently, non-Christians express three ideas about this distaste for the faith. They say:

  1. That we almost never practice what we preach;
  2. That we claim forgiveness without repentance. (Those aren’t the words they use, but that’s what they mean.) and;
  3. They say that we rub God in their faces with language such as “God did this, or God did that,” as if He micromanages the minutia of our daily lives. Did God really cause you to find your keys? Then he also caused you to lose them, right?
This morning's sunrise over the foothills of the Andes mountain range is as good a visual as any to pop in here for some variety.

This morning’s sunrise over the foothills of the Andes mountain range is as good a visual as any to pop in here for some variety.

Because I’m frequently in these situations (and welcome them) it’s been more important than ever to find the clearest ways to articulate the who, what, where, when, why, and how of my Christian belief. It begins with knowing those things myself, not only how to express them, but how to live them. Witness is how it might be best described.

And here’s an uncomfortable confession: While I’ve never been more at peace with my beliefs based on bible study, church attendance, and the guiding of the Holy Spirit, I often tell non-Christians that I’m not the “typical” Christian. And I don’t even know if that’s really the right thing to say, or even if it’s good or bad, but it’s surely how it feels. Ah, the struggles of imperfection. Some things we’ll never understand on this side of the realm.

Since life is less about what we say (although, yes, words do very much matter) than it is about what we do, the following are some guiding principles I try to practice in being the kind of Christian I believe God wants to see in me. I fail at these things, yet try, … in no particular order of importance:

  1. Know what you believe, and why you believe it. Period.
  2. Be quick to apologize.
  3. Listen without judgment and never, never, never condemn.
  4. Understand every person you see is wounded and in need of a friend.
  5. Avoid “we vs. them” language and move through conversations slowly.
  6. Know that doubt is a part of faith and ultimately causes growth.
  7. If you remain inside four walls, the only thing you’ll ever see or know is the same four walls.
  8. Don’t be a hypocrite. Keep convictions and actions consistent and be hyper vigilant about it. It’s that simple.
  9. Be charitable, but low profile. Don’t shout your good deeds from the mountaintop.
  10. Remember, someone is always watching. See #9 above.
  11. Create for yourself a mission-field mindset the moment you walk away from the bathroom mirror each morning. This mission begins after you brush your teeth.
  12. Have a world view, and lose the false notion that God has some kind of special fondness for your homeland.
  13. In the emotional valleys, remember that the vine dresser prunes the vine so new and better fruit can grow.
  14. Be the cheerleader you always needed. We’re at our best when we’re cheering for others, plus, everyone needs a cheerleader.
  15. Jesus is the model. Live like Him. How I live like Jesus is determined by how I learn about Jesus and how I learn about Jesus is entirely up to me. But live like Jesus.

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2016: My Year-End Review (Part 3 of 4)

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(Blogger’s Note: This is the third in a series of posts reflecting on 2016, and looking ahead to challenges in the new year. Tomorrow in the final post, I’ll share some thoughts about ideas and approaches we can adopt (filters and anchor points, if you will) in what I view as a post-truth world).

What a year. My, my, my, 2016. What got you so stirred up?

During the last three days I’ve written about personal observations and takeaways from 2016, and the foreboding potential for the “perfect storm” I think it creates next year. Never before have we been better poised for a complete unraveling of a civilized society. No, sadly I don’t think that’s a dramatic overstatement.

We’ve been told the following:

“Unfortunately, there are no longer any such thing as facts.” ~ political surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of (the president elect’s) supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? …  Now some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” ~ Hillary Clinton

“Look at that face.” (a negative reference to opponent Carly Fiorina) ~ the president-elect of the United States.

Seriously, how did we go so low, so fast?

One of the most important revelations occurring to me in 2016 is this: At a certain point in life we’re responsible not only for what we say, but what people hear. This requires looking outside and beyond ourselves – more practically – taking our eyes off ourselves.

Yesterday, I wrote about what I see as six of the most serious circumstances that weave together and create the most ominous set of domestic challenges in my lifetime. I believe they are the new invisible enemy of American society. You can read that post here.

Today, I’m adding to that list of unfortunate 2016 circumstances that may very well establish nonsensical, bizarre behavior and a complete absence of civility as the country’s New Normal. In 2016 we also witnessed the following:

  • We’re living in a “news” environment that wants to “bait” you, much more than it seeks to inform you. Even though the results are long counted and official, have you noticed how the mainstream media just can’t let the election go? The latest completely irrelevant debate is whether Obama would have defeated the new president-elect in a contest between the two. Have you noticed when it’s not the election, it’s black vs. white or christian vs. muslim? When you take the bait, it drives the ongoing conflict, and the conflict is necessary for the media’s survival. Stop taking the bait.
  • Increasingly, we are living with, (and buying into) our own perceived image of ourselves as opposed to who we truly are. It’s part of the evolution of social media, has been going on for years, and it’s the worst possible thing for personal development. A solid foundation of knowing who you are, that in which you believe (and why), and where your truth is anchored, is the key to everything else in life. Don’t lose your ability to look into an introspective mirror. Brand yourself if you must, but cast yourself in refreshing reality.
  • Our convictions have never been more shallow. It’s so easy to brand ourselves as a staunch advocate for this cause or that purpose. Words are cheap. Want to really convince people of your convictions? Go out and get your hands dirty.
  • We love making public declarations of our charitable endeavors. We’re literally shouting our good deeds from the mountaintop. Self-awareness of your motives has never been more important. May I recommend this book as you consider your own motives in the new year?

    A book recommended by my friend Jay Gunter that has really shaped some of my thinking.

    Or just meditate on this: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Those words are so important to a fulfilling life.
  • The irony of creating a false image of ourselves, and the public pronouncement of our good deeds in a world that’s more accessible and smaller than it’s ever been is that we are lonely. In the absence of deep, meaningful, real relationships, we are crying out for friendship and attention.
  • Also ironic is that in an increasingly small world, our knowledge about the world is shallow. We’ve furthermore begun replacing an intrinsic desire to know more about the world, with our preferred ideas about what we want the world to be. Of all the things in the last election cycle that troubled me outside the public mocking of a disabled reporter was the widely circulated “fake news” article suggesting Pope Francis endorsed the future president-elect a month before the election. Anyone with any degree of world knowledge whatsoever knows a pope would never endorse a political candidate. It would never happen. No matter how much you wish things like this to be true, they are not, and never will be true. If you’re going to “share” news, share responsibly and, quite frankly, know what the hell you’re talking about.  Want an interesting place to begin your world knowledge? I came across this video in 2016:
  • This may stir some people up, no doubt. I don’t understand the obsession we have with national pride and the insistent belief that the US is the best at everything. No disrespect to military sacrifice intended – that’s an entirely different topic, but news flash. We’re not the best at everything. Want to see a cohesive family unit? Go to Latin America. Quality engineering? Try Germany. Extraordinary high standards of living? Norway. We are not the greatest at everything under the sun, and we could learn some things if we weren’t so obsessed with fear, walls, a minuscule fraction of crazy people, and the insistence that we’re the greatest. Personally, I don’t think God looks out and sees borders.
  • By now, we’ve taken enough bait, and allowed the media to lead us down enough roads of conflict that we’ve surpassed the highest levels of intolerance. Our default reaction is now an intolerant one. This intolerance has stifled productive conversation and is a root cause for bringing any greatness we have to a complete standstill. We’ve become a “what about this” or “what about that” society. At the slightest mention of a candidate mocking someone, the next person will say, “well, what about the deplorable comment?” Well, what about it? Both actions were wrong, and neither justifies the other. Stop getting so caught up in a label or a “side” that you can’t see the bigger picture. Talk for crying out loud. If we can’t talk to one another and learn from one another, I hope you like where we are right now, because we’re not going anywhere. This place and these circumstances are your home forever. Welcome to chaos.
  • As part of the obsession with labels and “we vs. them,” we’ve bought into the false idea of things like “binary choices.” If you live in the US, you enjoy freedoms because some magnificent advocates for change preceded you. Advocates for change don’t always get to see the change they valiantly pursue. Look outside the system. The possibilities are endless.
  • A final thought: As long as everything is about who gets the credit, there’s nowhere to go but down.

As I wrote yesterday, this is all way more negative than I prefer. So many of these circumstances you cannot control, but you CAN take responsibility for yourself, and that responsibility has never been more important.

In tomorrow’s final post, I’ll offer some ideas about filters and anchor points that work for me, and that you may also consider for 2017.

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2016: My Year-End Review (Part 1 of 4)

(Blogger’s Note:  This is the first in a series of reflections on 2016. Today’s post recounts some personal milestones. Tomorrow will highlight some big-picture things we all witnessed and experienced.)

Name seven awesome things that turned 50 in 2016.

There was Astro Turf, Doritos, Fresca, the Toyota Corolla, the Super Bowl, Star Trek, … and well … Your’s Truly.

Fifty years. My Lord.

Because such a milestone was just around the corner I was already thinking a lot about 2016 this time last year. I wanted to experience significant things, real things, even make a lasting mark this year. I hoped to have tangible achievements this year. Here’s how the year fared:

  • More than anything, I’d hoped to publish my first book. The experience of walking across Spain in 2015 was filled with incredible stories, both
    The personal sell (stamp) I created for letters and whatnot. Design credit: Hanne Pelletier

    The personal sello (stamp) I created for letters and whatnot. Design credit: Hanne Pelletier

    internal and external. The transition from journalist to literary author was astoundingly more difficult than I imagined. Good writing in one place does not equal good writing in the other. That was my lesson. The draft for #PilgrimStrong currently stands at about 50,000 words and is just a few chapters from completion. Decisions about the direction for the completed draft remain, but are much clearer than they were months ago. It truly is a marathon writing a good book, and I insist this work be the best it can be. Balancing patience with peace was a huge lesson this year.

  • In a completely unplanned moment, Dana and I booked another October trip to Spain so she could share in the pilgrimage experience I had a year earlier.  Together, we spent 30 days walking some 275 miles with a backpack and pair of shoes. I believe marriages need big experiences like this where you share intense time together and really depend on one another. Times like this become anchor points in a marriage and they hold things in place. When you share something together that’s hard, fun, adventurous, seemingly impossible at times, and completely laughable … well, you’ve really done something together. Sharing the pilgrim experience with Dana is one of the highlights of my life.
We made it!

We made it!

  • In April, I attended my first real literary conference in Asheville, NC and pitched my book to eight different reputable agents. The process is much like I imagine speed dating. It’s an interesting experience selling an idea you’ve poured your heart and soul into for months when there’s five minutes on the clock. Even though no one offered me a million-dollar contract and begged me to write another book, (that’s what I wanted, ha) I count it a successful trip.
  • We joined a church in April which was kind of a big deal. That might surprise people who are familiar with much of the way I express myself in writing, but truth is I’ve had a fairly volatile relationship with church (i.e. what we’ve made of church) over recent years. In fact, I’d just about given up, concluding church wasn’t really necessary for the kind of life I wanted to live. I was wrong. We’re thrilled with the mission of The Rock of Northeast Arkansas. It’s a bible-based church focused on the deity of Jesus and the Great Commission. The leadership is humble and transparently real. I could say so much about this, but will end with the sentiment that I’m just so happy we didn’t give up on church.
  • It was another year when by way of more wisdom than I once had, I let several ideas go. That’s so hard for people like me. When you have an idea that you’re passionate for, it’s difficult not to engulf yourself in that idea, full steam ahead. But I have the battle scars to show you it’s not always the right thing. Once again, I passed on the food truck idea this year. God closed a door that I honestly thought was the real thing when I had a vision for a Spain-like neighborhood cafe just two blocks from our home (I recently wrote about that here). We looked at a small hotel for sale in a “resort town” about a hundred miles from Jonesboro, and I even made a serious call to a culinary school, but they weren’t accepting students for the spring semester. As you see, there’s a theme in all that, and it’s a belief that’s been refined from time traveling abroad. Much as writing does, I believe in food and hospitality, and how they can be used to perpetuate certain callings. Life is literally lived out in Spanish cafes and bars. Those ideas aren’t going away. It’ll be interesting to see how they play out this year.
  • On the topic of traveling abroad, I spent 82 days outside the United States in the last 12 months. Outside my faith and family, it’s the single thing I love most and radically shapes how I think. Up next is Ecuador for four weeks with wheels up on January 13.
  • The friendships we’ve created through travel really grew this year – not just on-the-ground friends, but those with whom we’ve made
    Coffee with new friends in Santiago - Steve, Darla and Andrew.

    Coffee with new friends in Santiago – Steve, Darla and Andrew.

    acquaintance sharing our experiences online. We’ve connected with so many people in the US and abroad just because of places we’ve been and things we’ve done. If you’re one of those people reading now, I want you to know how thankful we are for that relationship, and how much we truly enjoy the conversations we share with you.

  • It was through one such friendship that I got the unique opportunity this year to submit a video application for a TED talk. I connected with Michelle Burch Coleman, a communication professor and fellow outdoor enthusiast, during my first pilgrimage last year.  When I asked her consideration for a testimonial on my blogsite, we took it a step further and pitched an idea to TEDx Dayton where she coaches speakers on occasion. I didn’t make the final cut, but the possibility, and experience of the early phases in that process pushed my limits in a way that helped me grow. Thank you, Michelle, for that opportunity.
  • Things like gardening and recycling became a much bigger priority for me
    I had almost eight weeks of a garden harvest like this every day.

    I had almost eight weeks of a garden harvest like this every day.

    in 2016. I think it’s just the desire to do things that are real. Meditate on these terrible facts today: In calendar year 2016, US citizens will discard 35 billion (with a B) plastic water bottles. Furthermore, we’ll place 100 billion plastic shopping bags in our nation’s landfills, the total of which required 12 million barrels of oil to produce. Those bags will deteriorate over a millennium.

  • I created a YouTube channel this year where I have lots of videos including this one – a reflection about my first pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago:
  • Got a tattoo -a scallop shell, the symbol of the camino pilgrim. A wise Frenchman told me once, “A true pilgrim never stops walking the path.” Thank you for those words, Jeannick Guerin, and thanks to my friend, Beth Jusino (now my tattoo twin) for graciously letting my copy her creative idea.

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  • Tossed and turned all night on April 16 as we worried about friends in family in  Ecuador when a 7.8 earthquake hit close to home. Our house was spared and our friends and family were okay, but it was a horrific ordeal where thousands lost their lives and  the rebuilding will go on for years. World news barely covered it.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-2-44-00-pm
  • One of my best achievements this year has been turning off network news. I spent two decades in the news business and love what it once was, yet despise what it has become. I haven’t seen television news in more than 70 days, and my life is better.
  • In 2016, I grew to believe the things I believe even more and with a stronger commitment to truth than ever before.

More on that from a much different perspective tomorrow, and in the following days.

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A Note a Day: 365 Days That Aren’t About Me

I spent two hours writing an entirely different blog post offering a detailed explanation about why I decided to take on a new daily blog. Then I threw it away. True and genuine as it was, it would’ve been far too divisive – a terrible start to a new and heartfelt purpose.

But there were some things this year that really impacted my view on the world in a deep, intimate and personal way – things we all watched – things many of us couldn’t believe we were seeing. One moment I recall in particular still tears at me. As Dana and I walked across Spain in October and November, I tried my best to process it all. To be honest with you a couple of days out there were downright depressing.

When I was a kid, I really thought I’d be president of the United States. There was an astronaut phase. In high school, I decided I’d probably settle for governor of Arkansas. I wanted to impact the world. Always have.

Our world has changed a LOT in the last two years – maybe more so than during thescreen-shot-2016-12-07-at-11-08-03-am collective 48 years leading up to my last two. We’re increasingly fear-motivated and conflict-driven. Ironically, a world that’s become more available to us all is pushing many into polarized corners where we’d rather be with people who look like us think like us and believe like us. We’re approaching zero tolerance for diversity of opinion. Hatefulness is part of our daily experience. The kind of behavior I disciplined my own children for is now the acceptable norm among adults.

My heart wants to change all this. My head knows it probably won’t.

At some point during our pilgrimage I felt God tell me to let Him take care of the world. My responsibility, He said, is my own little corner of it. I decided to cast aside the things that are frustrating, disingenuous, even false, and drill down to something that is simple and genuine and true. And more importantly than anything, I think, I resolved to take the focus off ME. I’m sick of myself.

And so I’ve decided to write a note a day.

The simple discipline of writing 365 personal notes in a year is exactly what I need. In 2017, I want my life to be about what I know God desires for each of us. He wants us to take our eyes off ourselves. So many other things take care of themselves beyond that one, simple act.

It’s easy to imagine thank you notes, encouragement, apologies, special acknowledgments, maybe notes that should’ve been written, but never were. It’ll be interesting to see where it leads, but it’s one small discipline to keep me focused on what’s real and important. It’s not that big a deal really – just something I thought I could add to a few other daily rituals, just as I believe in walking, meditating and daily bible reading.

All notes will be published at a new, developing site noteaday.com. The site isn’t finished, but there’s a widget there now that will allow you to follow by email once posts begin on January 1. Feel free to sign up any time if you like.

I’m also open to your suggestions and ideas. Note categories, different approaches, whatever. It’s still a work in progress. Let me know what you think.

Feel free to join me on the new blog next year for the simple act of writing a note a day.

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I’m 50: And No Longer Untested

50. Two score and 10. Half a century. L.

However you phrase it, I become all those things today, and it’s nice to have this one day, when you stand ON TOP of the hill and look out all around to the landscape long passed, and capture a hopeful glimpse of that which is yet to come.

No, I can’t believe it. No, I don’t really comprehend it.

Yes, it blows me away. And yes, I’m completely okay with it.

In fact, despite the milestone reminder that time is moving ever so quickly, I’ve never been more in the zone, never more sure of my purpose, and never so completely at peace.

I’m battle tested through the teens, 20s, 30s and 40s, and there were bloody wounds, now nothing more than reminiscent scars – wisdom even. There were mistakes. Regrets. Lessons. And a few victories along the way.  I am no longer untested, yet the test goes on.

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I’ve been tested enough to know WHAT I’VE LEARNED. I’VE LEARNED:

  • You can’t unscramble an egg.
  • How to talk less, listen more, and most importantly at times shut up and walk away.
  • Things are rarely what they seem.
  • Looking at yourself in the mirror, being comfortable in your own skin – whatever metaphor you wish to use about this, you’ll never be truly happy and at peace until you can do these things.
  • It’s never a good idea to buy a mattress (where you spend 1/3 of your life) from a store called Sleep Cheap.

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I’ve been tested enough to know WHAT I REGRET. I REGRET:

  • Hurt that I’ve caused to family and friends because of my own selfishness.
  • So much of the feeling that I have worked hard for, and deserve, what I have, when in actuality, none of it belongs to me. Not one thing.
  • That in so many of the most special moments, I didn’t stop, and breath and take a better picture in my mind. I’m more intentional about that now.
  • Pride.
  • That it took so long to learn how to make big decisions, balancing them with gut feelings, and the wisdom of experience. It’s just that wisdom takes time, and there’s no way around it.

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I’ve been tested enough to know WHAT I BELIEVE. I BELIEVE:

  • I have studied the sciences, read the scholars, and traveled the world. At the end of it all, I believe in God the Father. God the Son. And God the Holy Spirit. And despite my flaws and failures, I believe there is no higher aspiration than bringing glory to Jesus’ name.
  • In the pursuit of Truth. I believe relevant truth is a contradictory term. I have a go-to source for Truth. It’s called the Bible. If not to Him, “to whom shall we go?”
  • There is future day of judgment. And my greatest concern about that judgment today is not my eternal destiny, but how I use the gifts God has given me for the greater good.
  • The greatest things in the world result from a step of faith.
  • Everyone, everyone, everyone, needs a cheerleader.
  • We’re all at our very best when we’re cheering for others.
  • Finally, I believe that everything I just wrote in this section will turn a lot of people off, assure them of my narrow mindedness, and cause them to stop reading right here. And I’ve mostly had to stop caring about that. Let it rain.

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I’ve been tested enough to know WHAT I ONCE BELIEVED, BUT NO LONGER BELIEVE. I NO LONGER BELIEVE:

  • That our resumé is the measure of who we are.
  • Organized religion/church is at fault for anything. Yes, I once believed that, but no longer believe it. The Church has zero obligation or responsibility to us. We have a responsibility to ourselves. And the church is one (only one) tool through which we grow, and serve. I no longer believe I can blame the church for anything. If something about the church has hurt you, it wasn’t truly of the church.
  • That my convictions count for anything.
  • There’s plenty of time…

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I’ve been tested enough to know THAT TO WHICH I ASPIRE. I ASPIRE TO:

  • Let the people I love know how much I love them.
  • Have greater compassion, more understanding and create fewer obstacles for myself. I aspire to quit playing God, and get out of my own way.
  • Leave a few good stories behind that my family can share and be proud about.
  • Be less concerned about expressing my convictions, and more concerned about actually making a difference.
  • Be a conduit for conveying how much good there is out there in the world.
  • More humility. Less pride.
  • Go on at least one more great adventure. I have a grandaddy of one in mind. Lord, help me.

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I’ve been tested enough to know THAT FOR WHICH I HOPE. I HOPE:

  • I can fully understand absolute surrender to Christ.
  • I can write a few things that somehow contribute to the greater good, and help someone.
  • We’ll all wake up to realize how we’re being led to conflict and other things that don’t matter in the name of equality, freedom of expression, and a free press.
  • That you can feel the peace I’ve come to feel over the last year.

Yes. I’m 50 now.

And I’m no longer untested. Let it rain.

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Decency Personified

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I was mostly quiet yesterday. I simply couldn’t speak.

I’d pulled into the parking lot and was just about to run into the grocery store for a few errands when the text message dinged. I couldn’t process the words that Tommy Shewmaker died a few hours earlier. I didn’t even know Tommy was sick. I’m so ashamed. So broken.

It was as if I’d been punched in the heart. I sat there staring at the phone for 15 minutes as paralyzed as I can ever remember. At some point I walked into the grocery store, but couldn’t even remember why I was there.

He’d apparently been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer around Thanksgiving as I was nearing the end of the Camino de Santiago. And he died about 50 days later. It was that fast. I’m devastated, but this isn’t about me.

In a world I fail to comprehend less and less each day, Tommy was one of those men I admired purely because his head was screwed on so straight. His decency surpassed all standards. He was radically good.

Everyone loved Tommy.

We met in 2010 during my short employment at a tech company where I was completely out of my league – a right-brained creative word guy in the midst of a bunch of left-brained geniuses. Tommy was one of them, but he was different. He was so very normal. I mean it as the highest compliment.

He loved his family. Spoke about them all the time. They were his single highest priority. He told great stories and had a voice I always thought belonged on radio. He loved the ribs I’d occasionally cook for a company lunch. Loved sports. Worked out almost every day.  Tommy was a lot of things. But mostly, he was just so kind and decent and normal. I loved that he was so normal. Blessed that he was so kind.

My father passed away about seven months after my hire. Tommy and I were good acquaintances – not close, do-things-together kind of buddies – but friends. Yet, not necessarily at that time the kind of friends who went out of their way for one another. So when from nowhere he walked up to embrace me at my father’s funeral I couldn’t have been more genuinely taken aback. It was Saturday, and Tommy lived 25 miles away. He’d gone exceedingly out of his way to comfort me. He just showed up. It’s one of the kindest gestures I can ever remember, yet so much more than simple gesture. It was an action from Tommy’s heart. He mourned for me. It’s incomprehensible that I mourn him today.

God, he was such a decent man.

When I left the company we stayed in touch. Tommy loved travel.

About this time last year, he wrote me with several questions about Ecuador and the experiences I’ve had living there off and on the last three years. He said he was thinking about retirement, albeit a few years away. He spoke of the responsibilities he had to family, especially his grandchildren, and yet his sense of adventure longed for parts unknown. He wanted to explore Latin America as a possible outpost for retirement, and making the most of his retirement dollars. It thrilled me to speak with him about it, and share my ideas. I mostly just enjoyed that it was Tommy.

We should make a point to get together and talk about it over a cold beer, I wrote. Come to my house … I’ll break out the grill for those ribs you love, I said. He agreed we would make the appointment to catch up and discuss our mutual interest in so many things.

That sit-down never happened. I never saw Tommy again. He crossed my mind a few days ago. I should give him a call, or write him a note, I thought, before moving on to the next “important” thing. Tommy was dying and I didn’t even know it. Now he’s gone.

As I lay in bed last night I couldn’t help but think how selfish it was to be so sad that Tommy’s gone. I know where he is. I should celebrate what he’s now experiencing this very minute. I wish I could hear him speak of it in that crystal-clear baritone voice with that laugh so genuine to the pit of his gut. You could hear Tommy laugh across the building. His joy was effusive.

He was a passionate servant to his family. Purely decent. Humble. Real.

Can there be a greater compliment to a man? I think not.

Rise high in Glory, Tommy Boy. I miss you.

Thank you for being my friend.

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