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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Week 2: Thin Spaces: Your Truest Sense of Self

 

Here’s a short video I made yesterday in the square. Happiness all around.

 

Twenty years ago I started the practice of spending several hours each New Year’s Day with my grandmother. With a tripod and video recorder in hand I’d ask her questions for hours — the kind of questions you often wonder about long after loved ones are gone. Together, in a sense, we were preserving history.

Well into our visit  one afternoon I asked her this simple question: “When was a time when you felt closest to God?”

She told a story about coming home from work one afternoon and working in her strawberry patch. “I was pulling weeds and picking berries and then there was just this feeling when I was overcome with peace — like a light came over me. I’d never felt it before and I’m not sure I’ve felt it since,” she said.

That was it. That was her story.

I’d expected something so much more colorful and wisdom-filled from this octogenarian I loved and respected so much. But that was it, and she was perfectly content with her reply.

Like so many in our agrarian family, granny sensed God’s presence when she was on her knees and her hands were in the dirt. She believed sincerely that we never owned the land. We were just God’s temporary caretakers.

My grandmother’s thin place was in the garden, and all these years later I identify with the simplicity of her answer. It need not be complicated.

***

 

This group came in yesterday just before noon. I never tire of watching the celebrations.

Going places usually gets something on my mind. This “thin place” notion has permeated so many thoughts since Dana and I arrived in Santiago de Compostela two weeks ago. I first read about it as an ancient Celtic belief mentioned in Father Kevin Codd’s book, To the Field of Stars where he elaborates on the ideas and beliefs of some that there is a thinner realm between earth and heaven in certain places.

I don’t necessarily believe in this idea as a physical property, but in a spiritual sense it’s undeniable. There are times and places when we feel closer to God than others.  How can this be, and what makes it so? After spending considerable time here in three out of the last four years, I know this is one such place, not because of where it is, but rather because of what it creates.

Watch someone as they conclude the final steps of a five hundred mile pilgrimage across some forty days. You will not see ego, pride, or braggadocio. Hugs and warm, lasting embraces replace high fives.

Much more evident is gratitude, humility, and tears of thanks. I get to watch this almost every day and it’s incredible.

It’s as if all guard comes down here. If but for the moment, we find the truest sense of self.

Watching I inevitably wonder, why can’t it be this way all the time?

I’m also focused on this idea of walking. So many places in the bible we find references to walking out our faith, or walking alongside God, or walking by faith, not by sight. It’s clear, especially in the new testament that walking was important to Jesus. Our life of learning and understanding more about God involves “walking” beside him. He does not pull, nor does he push, but He wants us to walk with Him. His invitation is, come along.

In a sense we’re on a pilgrimage to God’s kingdom. As we walk and listen I think we become more sensitive to God’s present reality in our lives. We’ll take detours, we’ll get lost at times, and we’ll learn from those missteps. But the goals is to just keep walking.

Where is your thin place?

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12 Stories in 6 Words

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His nursing home luxury? A window.

Sundown. Next morning in the afterlife.

It was his tenth second chance.

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East or West? Got a coin?

Civility was not on his agenda.

Press the button. Sleep comes soon.

Forty days of walking. It’s finished.

Married 30 years. All is lost.

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The ancient oak saw history unfold.

Arriving with new hope, access denied.

At the finish line, he wept.

If you’d just touched me more.screen-shot-2017-02-20-at-3-11-51-am

 

 

 

El Gusto es Mio … the pleasure is mine.

There we sat like knots on a log, two late-40-something men bored and useless at one of the tediously never-ending Junior Auxiliary fundraisers, when my buddy offered a dubious reading recommendation.

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-9-27-39-am“That new Truett Cathy book is pretty good. I think you’d enjoy it,” he said, staring off into space toward the luxury porta-potties apparently necessary for this particular outdoor charity event at the “ranch.”

“Chick-fil-A?” I responded, silently scoffing at the likelihood of some fast-food propaganda promo and how I might benefit from it.

“That’s him,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll check it out,” I lied.

“Hey, did you check out those porta potties?”

“Yep. Sweet. Very sweet. I think I’ll go back in and pee again.”

Two days later he shows up at my office Monday morning with his used, dog-eared copy.

Trapped. Great Caesar’s Ghost.

But I read it. And something stuck.

***

Truett Cathy was a fine man. He did a lot of good, instilled much goodwill, set an example for the kind of life to which I aspire.  He had his haters. Who doesn’t these days?

But Cathy founded his business with good people. From corporate execs to the janitorial staff, everything was/is personal. And he successfully created an environment that makes people happy to work at Chick-fil-A. He wanted people to give customers heartfelt service with a genuine smile – the kind that comes naturally.

The next time you run through a Chick-fil-A, listen for a key word.

Pleasure.

What do you hear at the speaker greeting? “Welcome to Chick-fil-A. It will be my pleasure to serve you. Order whenever you’re ready.”

Need ketchup? “It will be my pleasure.”

Soft drink too flat? “It’ll be my pleasure to replace that sir/ma’am.”

Cathy created an environment making it a pleasure for his employees to work there, and they pass their pleasure on to the customer. However you may feel about their public positions on certain issues, rarely will you have a bad experience at Chick-fil-A.

***

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Civility’s rapid decay during the last two years has on occasion made me physically ill.

Through modeling from public figures of the highest profile, by way of mass media, the entertainment industry, the lingering effects of a recession from which some will never, ever recover, and the slow, drip, drip, conditioning it creates in a very numb society, it’s now easier to treat others with incredulous disdain than with kindness. We’re almost unconscious in our rude behavior.

The Resistance??? There are may things we need to resist now, and the players in and around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue may be our least worries. We must resist becoming void of all kindness and civility. The hard part is, no one can do it but you.

I made a decision in October than I will not bow to civil decay. That requires an intentional, conscious effort every day in taking responsibility for myself. Add to a plan of a balanced diet, exercise and spiritual well-being, this:

Intentional gratitude. I’m pausing for it several times a day now.

As I focus on what’s good, (especially people in my life) it actually requires less and less effort over time. It makes it much easier to take my eyes off myself and look outward.

Truth is, it makes almost everything a PLEASURE. Regularly, throughout the day, and with no force of thought I find myself in conversation regularly saying …

“It’s my pleasure.”

“The pleasure is mine.”

“It couldn’t be more of a pleasure.”

And I’m laughing as I write this, but I mean it. Things are much more a pleasure now than they were when I paid attention to all the garbage. I’m not going back into the mire. That behavior is unacceptable. I reject it. This is my Resistance.

And so in everything I now pursue, it’s become an unintentional mantra, and I wasn’t even going for that.

El Gusto es mio…

AND THAT’S A PLEASURE!

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Relax. You’re on Beach Time.

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The photo above shows a sign I keep on the pantry door of our little Casa Azul in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. It has a purpose. Probably not the one you think.

On the exterior, I can be just about whatever you need at the moment. Extrovert? It’s not my natural style, but I can play it well enough just about any time if that’s what you need. I made a good part of my livelihood as an adjusted-style extrovert. Curmudgeonly hermit-like introvert? Yes, it comes quite naturally, thank you. Business guy in suit and Johnson and Murphys? Sure, no problem. Country farmer with dirt underneath his fingernails. Even easier.

On a positive note, my bougainvillea is looking pretty good for such dry conditions.

On a positive note, my bougainvillea is looking pretty good for such dry conditions.

But my comfort zone is being my own boss making enough money to pay bills and travel a couple of times a year, and focusing on whatever my limited attention span is interested in for the next few months. I don’t mean that in an egotistical or sarcastic way. In fact, up until not so long ago my proclivity to boredom was the think I disliked most about myself. But during the last year it’s a simple truth truth I’ve accepted – even embraced – and knowing who I truly am, supercedes most, but not quite all, things these days.

I’m no longer caught up in things like image, public opinion, social status, or chamber of commerce award banquets. I just kind of like to be my own guy. Is that so wrong?

It’s easier some places than others. If nothing else, Ecuador has taught how to chill every expectation.

There’s a radical and immediate shift in time somewhere between Arkansas and Ecuador. I’m a high-strung traveler, anxious on airplanes, exhaustively pro-active in heading off unwanted potential surprises, hyper conscious of where everything is all the time. Travel Mode begins the night before a trip and doesn’t end until wheels down at whatever destination. It took me a while to learn that wheels down in Ecuador means time moves sideways into a different dimension.

High-strung doesn’t work here. And you’d better lose the attitude fast if you don’t want to drive yourself and everyone around you nuts.

I recall the time a carpenter finally showed up at the house a week after the initial appointment. He came in, surveyed the work, and immediately left because he didn’t bring his hammer. “Back in an hour,” he said. It’s always, “back in a hour, or tomorrow, maybe.”

The time three guys made an emergency call to save us from raw sewage overflowing a septic tank onto our back yard? You don’t even wanna know.

We have a water shortage here. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get it through a municipal line. Other times, you call a tanker to fill your cistern. Need a shower desperately? The tanker guy will be there when he gets there.

Sometimes I’ll hear people talk with a wistful romanticism about their travels to exotic locations such as Cancun, Fiji, Madrid or maybe Puerto Vallarta. “Time stands still,” they say, dreamily imagining a life with so many umbrella drinks.

Maybe so, but in Ecuador, time gets turned upside down and “beach time” isn’t always the most romantic thing in the world. The key word in the sign on my pantry is “Relax.”

Tranquillo.

It isn’t perfect, but life is good in Ecuador.

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Day 3: Nate and Faith Walter

Published today on my companion blog, noteaday.com

Note A Day

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Dear Nate & Faith:

It was such a pleasure meeting you both in Santiago de Compostela last November. Lucky for us Dana made us keep searching the narrow, crowded streets, and that we finally came upon you at Pilgrim House.

I had my reservations. Not sure why, but I did. I thought Pilgrim House might be some mystic out-of-the-way place, the smell of incense burning from the back, full of strange people I wouldn’t connect with all discussing their karma and listening to tracks of buddhist chant music playing about. I’m not sure why I presumed that, but I did, and not that it would’ve been the end of the world. It’s just not my comfort zone. Of course, to my great pleasure, it wasn’t, and to our great fortune, we had the pleasure to meet you both.

Thank you for being so kind to us, for washing our clothes…

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2016: My Year-End Review – Filters and Anchor Points

(Blogger’s Note: This is the last in a series of posts looking back at 2016, and ahead to the new year. Thank you so very much to everyone who read the posts at Pilgrim Strong this year. Your encouraging comments and friendship are so much a part of what’s real in my life. We really are “just walking each other home.” May the Lord bless and keep you. May He make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May He lift up his glorious countenance upon you. And give you peace. I hope you’ll join me for a new and different kind of writing adventure next year at noteaday.com. )

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When the final numbers come in, these are the likely top 10 movies of 2016:

1) Finding Dory
2) Captain America: Civil War
3) The Secret Life of Pets
4) The Jungle Book
5) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
6) Deadpool
7) Zootopia
8) Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
9) Suicide Squad
10) Doctor Strange

Notice any trends? It’s all fantasy. More and more every day, we’re living a very real life in a make-believe world driven by fantasy and conflict. We’re losing touch with reality at unsurpassed momentum. And so many of those whose public professions you hear about making things great again, are really just driven by self-serving motives best advanced when you’re kept in a fog. I’m imploring you not to be part of the shell game.

It’s never been more important that we take responsibility for ourselves, especially as it relates to how we formulate important, fundamental opinions. To a great extent, civility’s survivability depends on how successful we are in knowing what we believe, and why.  I’m challenging you to be as shrewd as Kido the cat as you face the bait-and-switch shell game ahead in 2017.

You watched that video didn’t you? Admit it. I knew you couldn’t resist.

In 2017, please don’t let your reality be based on people or media conglomerates or commercial businesses whose self interest is to manipulate every part of your brain. Just say no.

You can help yourself with two things: filters and anchor points. These are my working definitions:

Filter – methods, personal experiences and hands-on techniques you can use to sift fantasy from reality; lies from truth.

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Anchor Point – a solid, unwavering, fixed point of reference reminding you of your identity, purpose, and direction. A practice creating a north star-like quality.

I think a lot about those two things this time every year. Isn’t it wonderful how every 365 days, we sort of get to imagine new beginnings, second chances, and do overs?

On pilgrimage in Spain this year I felt the strongest calling to make 2017 a time when I’ll take my eyes off myself and be ever-aware of the motives behind my actions. In 2017, I’ll launch a new blog designed to do just that. (You can sign up to follow that blog by email here). I’ll travel a lot – it’s high on my priority list for understanding a world outside Jonesboro, Arkansas. There will be an extended adventure/walk somewhere, most likely on the first one-quarter of the Appalachian Trail or the John Muir Trail, and I’ll walk upwards of a thousand miles getting ready, and actually doing it. I’ll start fishing again. I love fishing, and have missed it for years. I’m going back to stand in cold streams and feel the thrill of a taut, jerking line. And I want to spend a lot of time thinking about how my giftings can help others. Those are some of my plans for the new year.

In all the things I’ll do, I’ve resolved to do them with more vigor, deeper passion, greater gusto. I want to take deep breaths of fresh air, stand in awed amazement at breathtaking vistas, listen intently  to birds singing at the dawning of a new day. And I never want to stop having laughable dreams. They’re among my greatest personal anchor points.

As we close out this frenetic year and look to a clean start, I wanted to share with you some possible ideas for thinking about your own filters and anchor points.

FILTERS

  • When it comes to social media, learn to recognize bait, and just don’t take it. It’s easy enough to spot certain trigger words that immediately create ascreen-shot-2016-12-24-at-5-53-20-am “we vs. them” forum. Don’t get caught up in the false idea that your participation in these discussions advances some convicting cause or that you’re making a difference. You’re not, and no one’s really listening anyway because everyone’s talking and thinking about what they’re going to say next. Don’t take the bait.
  • As a general rule for social media, limit your time there, and don’t use it as a babysitter for your boredom. I have a lot of work to do here.
  • Limit your time watching television. I haven’t watched network news in almost 80 days and life is better. The world isn’t nearly as bad as they’re telling you.
  • Resist the comfort zone you perceive in being around people just like you. Yesterday, I received the nicest note from a man who’d read one of my blog posts in this series and he asked for some clarification on a religious matter I’d raised. We had a wonderful genuine exchange about some things on which we disagree, and yet further advanced the respect we have for one another. Isn’t that so refreshing?
  • Do your best to look at situations through the eyes of others, and realize that very few things are truly as they seem. There’s usually much more to the story.
  • Be proactive, not reactive. And calm down, for crying out loud.
  • Resolve to listen more than you speak. Be present. Again, I speak to myself.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. I’ve laughed at myself more in the last couple of years than in all the rest of my life combined.

ANCHOR POINTS

  • Be someone’s cheerleader. Younger, older, it doesn’t matter. This is SO important. One of the things I believe most about life is that we’re at our very best when we’re cheering for others. I have a few specific people already picked out for 2017.
  • Do some very difficult things all ALONE. I’d never discount the immeasurable value of sharing life experiences with a loving, trusted partner, but some of my most profound anchor points also come from times when it was just me, mentally and physically depleted, and when I had no idea what came next.

“You can’t accomplish ANYTHING without the possibility of failure.” ~ Gary “Laz” Cantrell, founder of the Barkley Marathons, the race that eats its young

  • Meditate regularly on why you believe what you believe. The ability to answer this simple question is important for you and everyone you touch.
  • Keep an understanding inside your head that the current world economy is driven by fear and conflict. Don’t be afraid. Is it any accident this phrase is mentioned 365 times in the bible?
  • Consider a daily journal and the lasting power your written words can have on your outlook.
  • Develop some new hobbies that actually require a lot of time. I mentioned fishing as one I’ll bring back next year. And I love watching Bob Ross videos and trying my hand at painting, even though the outcome is always laughable.
  • Read. Pretty simple.
  • Do some good deeds that remain a complete secret. Don’t tell anyone.
  • View life through the lens of time. So much of my thinking now is shaped by the realization of how short my time is on earth.
  • Invite people into your home. I think this is so important, and it’s such a shame that the “dinner party” is less a part of society than it once was. We’re designed for communal fellowship. Three years ago we began hosting a New Year’s Day Feast for as many friends as we can get to come. I love this day, and it gets my year off to a great start surrounded by people I care about. In fact, I’m planning the menu this morning for our fourth annual event.

In fact, it’s time to go do that now.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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