Your Friendship: Is it Freely Offered, or Earned?

In the formative years when I wasn’t playing golf on Sunday, most of those afternoons were spent watching the finely covered major tournaments broadcast on CBS. Any sportsman will tell you the coverage of CBS’s Masters is among the classiest of television events.

best friends

October 17, 2009. They day I married my good friend.

From the play by play, to feature profiles, to the ceremonious passing of the green jacket, Jim Nantz, Verne Lundquist and Gary McCord captured viewers’ attention from tee to green.

Even the commercials were classy.

You need not be a died-in-the-wool fan to remember the 1970s Smith Barney commercial starring famous actor and producer John Houseman.  This line he delivered at the end of the commercial, is recalled three generations later, not only because of his brilliant delivery, but also because of the profound message it carried:

“Smith Barney. They make money the old-fashioned way…they earn it.”

Last night, Dana and I were discussing friends, friends of friends, and all the relational dynamics involved in what makes people “click.”

It started with the discussion about a friend of a friend who’d told his friend he knew I didn’t much care for him. Dana’s friend shared that news with her earlier this week, and she passed it on to me.

This is what Dana said she told her friend: “Steve’s not gonna just give his friendship away. It’s something he’ll (the friend of the friend) have to earn.”

Honestly, I’d never given that much thought to my life’s relationships, but I won’t deny its truth.

friends and sports relationships

This photo, taken in 1980, is my championship team that went 30-6. I love every one of these guys still today. The friendship among us was truly earned. I may never see some of them again, but I love every guy in the green and white … and coach Jim Ellis in the center.

I know a few friends who naturally lavish their love on others. I’ve always wished I could be more like those people. Perhaps it’s a personality flaw, or maybe it’s just a byproduct of life experiences, but after we had the conversation, I realized it’s true: I don’t just hand out free tickets to friendship. And you don’t change the way a 46-year-old man “is.”

fellowship bible church

This is Chuck Gschwend, a pastor at Fellowship Bible Church where I attend. He’s the single most loving man I know.

Most men I know don’t have a wide circle of friends. In fact, most are lucky if they truly have a good friend at all. And oftentimes, I think, we consciously choose to limit our circle of friends because of the value we place on the gift.

And for me, that’s precisely what friendship is – a gift. One to be thoughtfully given, and thankfully received.

The friend of the friend who told his friend I didn’t much care for him is a guy I’ve met twice. My recollection is that we talked about dogs, work and football. Chit-chat, it was for the most part. Nothing real.

The quality I admire most in any friendship is pure transparency. The freedom to share truth without fear of judgment. The freedom to fail without repercussion. The sanctity of knowing that even through the worst of times, a friend is a friend is a friend. It’s loyalty absent effort.

It’s precious and rare.

And it’s because of the precious value I place on true friendship that I write often about my best of friends. Dana is one. The other is a high school buddy and golfing parter who’s closer than a brother.

Brady and I have been friends for 34 years. We’ll be friends ’til we die.

relationships between men

My long-time buddy Brady Cornish – we talk almost every day, and shoot an occasional round of “extraordinary” golf.

Dana and I were acquaintances nine years before we married. In the first five years of our ‘relationship,”  she didn’t even like me that much. It took a long time for me to break down the barriers to see through to her heart, and she has the purest of hearts I know.

Sometimes I wish I loved people more. It’s what we’re called  to do, but it’s not easy is it?

Just wondering, how many “real” friends do you have, and what are the qualities you most admire in your best of friends?

Do you offer your friendship freely, or do others have to earn it?

In the spirit of John Houseman’s message, “Good friends don’t show up, bite you on the bottom and say, ‘Were here!'”

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The Difference in a Year

“Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” ~ Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding from Shawshank Redemption

A year does make a difference.

These are some things that are different now, than from this time a year ago.

  • Just as the calendar year rolled around, it became obvious my dad’s illness was considerably more serious than any of us knew. A few weeks later, he died in a hospice bed. I’m the only son of an only son. When your dad goes missing from  your life, things change. You inherit new responsibilities. You wrestle with your own mortality. A few days ago, I found myself in one of his favorite stores, and for a fleeting moment, thought about what I’d get him for Christmas. Then I remembered he was gone. Every so often, I cry, but mostly, I think about the pure joy he now experiences, shake my head in wonderment and smile.
expatriates in ecuador

Dana and me with our newfound friends Caesar and Maggie. Caesar is a Peruvian lawyer and French-trained chef. I’ll never forget our first visit when Caesar said, “I am a citizen of the world.”

  • I’ve gained a greater appreciation for diversity. My years as a kid were spent growing up in a small, rural-American community. We were all white, low-to-middle-income products of the Mississippi delta. In an age absent of smart phones and iTunes, I passed the time reading encyclopedias, subscribed to National Geographic for Kids and corresponded with a pen pal in Venezuela. Today, I’m amazed by our divisiveness, and I find myself purposefully reaching out across racial and cultural lines. Those times are the most rewarding of experiences.
  • My view of what it means to be a Christian has radically changed. At 19, I decided “going to church” needed to be a part of my life, that it would make me a better person, and basically, that it would be a ticket to eternity. The endless three-point sermons through which I sat spoke much more to my performance than they did to my acceptance. The result was my focus on an endless string of failures and the notion that I never quite measured up. It produced guilt, shame, and an overall sense of failure. It took getting angry with “religion” to finally understand the God in whom I believe made the ultimate sacrifice because He knew I’d never meet the standards of the law. The freedom to fail, and knowing that God won’t ask for my resume has changed all I ever believed about the church.
  • I got my best friend back. From the time we were in the seventh grade, Brady Cornish and I were best friends. Together, we rode the country roads, played a lot of golf, and got into a lot of mischief. We became as close as brothers. In
    best friends and relationships

    Brady and I posing for a quick snapshot just before a match last weekend in Mountain View, Arkansas.

    1988, I allowed my own life circumstances to get in the way of our friendship, and even though we lived only 30 miles apart we went 22 years without as much as a phone call. The loss of the relationship was my fault, not his. But a day never passed when I didn’t think of him. In January, I needed my best friend, drove to his house in shame, and did my best to ask his forgiveness. He embraced me as if a day had never passed. Today, life is fuller and days are more complete because our friendship is stronger than ever. I’m blessed beyond measure by Brady’s trusted friendship, and have no shame in acknowledging just how much I love this great man.

  • I’m playing golf again. In our early years, Brady and I played golf every weekend. When our friendship was lost, golf was lost with it. It’s a minor thing in the grand scheme, but the time we now spend together on the links are among the best of times. After so many years, the slices are more frequent and the drives aren’t as long, but we’re working on our games together and making progress. Golfing days are good days.
  • Once again, writing is a big part of my life. Producing words from a keyboard is the place where I’ve always been most myself. I was a newspaper reporter for 10 years, a press secretary to a member of Congress for four years and operated a publishing business for a time, then let it all go. It was a huge void. Now I’m blogging regularly, working on two books, and with a little luck will publish my first work on Amazon this coming Black Friday.
expatriates in ecuador

This is a photo of our home under construction in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. From where it sits, we can see miles of beach and south Pacific sunsets every night.

  • If you’d told me this time a year ago, that I’d be building a house in South America, I’d have laughed out loud. Last April, Dana and I took a whimsical trip to Ecuador. The first night I saw the sunset on the South Pacific I thought of my dad and just how short life is. What the heck? We bought a piece of land on the beach, started construction in June and will go back to our finished la pequena casa azul en la colina on December 21. We’re excited about what it all means.
  • And so I’ve become semi-fluent in Spanish. Dana and I want to immerse ourselves in the Ecuadorian culture. Those six hours of college spanish were 25 years ago. Rosetta Stone‘s getting me there, but there’s a long way to go.
  • I feel as though I have friends around the world now. Blogging on wordpress has allowed some wonderful new friendships and really closes the distance between like-minded writers and entrepreneurs. It’s so much fun to receive a compliment from someone thousands of miles away, and to return the favor almost every day.
  • More than ever, I believe in second chances. All those guilt-ridden failures a few hundred words back still carry their consequences, but they overwhelm me no more. Everyone wants to leave a legacy. I’m thankful to be on a journey where I know mine will be found.

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I’m Augustus McCrae, Texas Ranger: I Called it First.

(Blogger’s Note: Currently in the midst of a six-part series on How to Write Copy that Kills, I’ve taken a break over the last few days to write about other opportunities that have popped up on the radar screen. I’ll return to the series tomorrow, but it’s just another good lesson that there are no rules when it comes to writing.)

On a recent weekend trip to Mountain View, Arkansas, we came across this sign, made famous in Lonesome Dove. I love this photo of Brady and me, taken by my wife, Dana.

When we were elementary school kids, we were children of the country and had to get imaginative when it came to having fun. Often during recess we’d pretend to be the favorite characters from the popular sitcoms of the day. I remember around 1977, one of our favorites was Happy Days.

My best friend then, and now, Brady Cornish, was drawn to the character of Arthur Fonzerelli. Brady went on to become a high school golf medalist, and on the course, he was The Fonz. To this day for many, he’s still The Fonz.

Fast forward 25 years.

When Larry McMurtry‘s best-selling novel, Lonesome Dove, was made into a 1989 made-for-television mini-series, it immediately became my favorite movie of all time. It’s still my favorite today.

And there’s a good reason.

Lonesome Dove was a brilliantly written book, and the mini-series lived up to McMurtry’s novel. It’s a story of adventure, love, life, death, justice, mercy, but most of all – friendship – between the two unlikeliest of men.

Robert Duvall portrays Texas Ranger Captain Augustus McCrae, a man full of life, rough, but tender-hearted. He lived life in the moment and to the fullest.

Tommy Lee Jones portrays Texas Ranger Captain Woodrow F. Call, a no-nonsense quiet man, visionary, loyal, focused and business-minded. Easy-going, yet not a man you want to cross.

The film is special to me, because it reminds me of the friendship I have with Brady. We are different, he and I, but there’s something that holds us together like glue, and the Gus-Woodrow friendship,  parallels the relationship we have.

Brady’s never seen Lonesome Dove.

After a time of separation, our friendship was re-kindled in January of this year at the death of my father. Other than my wife and mom, he was the one man I needed by my side to get through a difficult time. At the funeral, he sat next to me as my brother.

Shortly thereafter, I gave Brady a copy of Lonesome Dove. I wanted him to watch it and see if he recognized the friendship between Gus and Woodrow as being the same as ours.

He’s saving the six-hour video for a long snow day at home and that’s fine by me.

The scenes throughout remind me of us. There’s the one where Woodrow beats the living daylights out of a Union soldier who has just horsewhipped a young boy in an attempt to requisition his horse for the army. Woodrow wouldn’t stand for abuse and neither does Brady. The end of the scene has Gus pulling  Woodrow off the soldier just before he kills him, then Woodrow calmly says: “…never could stand rude behavior in a man. Won’t tolerate it.” That’s my friend.

Most fans would acknowledge the most moving scene in the movie at Gus’s death, where the two friends have their last conversation. Gus makes an unbelievable request of Woodrow to give him one final adventure. Even at his demise, Gus was thinking of his friend. It’s odd, I know, but I’ve imagined that conversation between Brady and me at the end of our days. Carrying out the request, Woodrow carries McCrae’s body 3,000 miles to bury him at the place of his desire. I know if I asked my friend, he would do the same for me. For many reasons, I tear up each and every time I view this video.

Truth is, either one of us could be Gus or Woodrow. But I’m Gus. I called it first!

It’s silly for a 46-year-old man to see himself in a movie. I guess it’s the kind of thing ole’ Gus would have done.

Uva Uvam Vivendo Varia Fit!

For a related post on my sidebar blog see: http://wp.me/p2wzTk-25

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Our Relational DNA: It Spans the Globe

This sweet lady sold me a pancho at The Middle of the World equator monument in Quito. She reminded me of my grandmother. The pancho is a rather GQ look if you ask me!

Dana and I had a number of reasons for undertaking a 10-day adventure in Ecuador, but chief among them was to immerse ourselves in the culture.

We knew there would be a number of challenges. We have an elementary grasp of the language, knew we would be traveling in unknown territory and had established only a few on-line relationships with a few American expatriates prior to our journey into Guayaquil and our ultimate destination to Puerto Cayo.

This Ecuadorian group of family and friends was on holiday at Los Suenos del Mar, and as they were posing for a group photo I ran to them to get a photo of my own. They were thrilled that I would want a photo for myself, and we spent the rest of the day, posing for more group photos together and sharing stories about our families.

For certain, there were many challenges, and we embraced them. Some have asked about our takeaway from the trip, and for one, I can say to no small degree that my faith in humanity has been restored.

This group of local tourists had been partying all night. As I walked to breakfast, bleary eyed at 7:45 on a Sunday morning, I was yet to have my first cup of coffee when they insisted that I share in a drink of the local spirits. I couldn’t say no! Viva la Ecuador!

People are good. I believe that again. And our last day in Puerto Cayo confirmed that belief.

This is my new friend, Manuel, and his two young sons. We are tough hombres!

Whoever we are, and wherever we live across the expanse of this globe, we have an innate desire to be relational … and it only takes a single kind gesture to make a lifetime of memories.

The woman at center is an Ecuadorian school teacher. She insisted that her daughter practice her English with my wife, Dana.

The Best Business Advice I Ever Got?

When approaching a new business venture don't bite off more than you can chew. Take things one small bite at a time.

I’ve been blessed with a diverse career in journalism, publishing, fundraising, marketing and branding and even owned a small business for a period of time.

In the process there have been some magnificent opportunities to be around some great men who were willing to impart wisdom and share their secrets to success. Oftentimes I think a certain fear wells up in us to approach an older, more seasoned veteran of the trade, but my experience has been when I am well prepared, passionate and curious for helpful knowledge some of the greatest businessmen in my area were more than willing to give me a block on their busy schedule … and it has been invaluable to me, whether I took their advice or not because lessons have been learned.

It all got me to thinking about the realm of advice I’d been given, and so I wanted to share a few tidbits of that wisdom and then offer a few personal observations. Here are the Dirty Dozen I can recall:

1. YOU’LL NEVER GET ANYWHERE WITHOUT THE SIGNIFICANT HELP OF SOMEONE ELSE. When I was going into business for myself I sought out some self-made men. Two of them (who happened to be great friends) but were never partners in business told me this identical thing. And I believe it to be true. I can think of no significant thing I’ve ever done when someone didn’t lend me a hand. And I don’t mean a staff or a personal aide. I’m talking about someone more successful that you or me who would help make a connection, or send a deal your way or buy something from you when they really didn’t need it just because. They did it for me, and I certainly hope to do it for others one day.

2. THE ONLY RULE IS THAT THERE ARE NO RULES. Well, I struggle with this one. I have a natural bent toward rule breaking and almost despise rules and doctrine. It was a great newspaper publisher who shared this with me, and in journalism, for the most part, you can get by with it. There’s a fine balance between being really good to employes and allowing them to take advantage of you. In my brief stint as an independent business owner, there were no established guidelines for vacation or time in and time out. Just do your job. Maybe that’s why it went down the tubes. On the other hand, the church I attend most regularly operates from a business model guided by a “constitution and bylaws” which I find disturbing in that particular venue. Seems to me the guidelines are already there in the best-selling book in the history of the world, but I digress.

3. DON’T BURN BRIDGES. It’s a good rule. Things always come back around. I’ve been there, done that. Sometimes, it sure feels good though. Ninety-five percent of the time, burning a bridge is wrong.

4. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. I once worked for a man who had previously served as an agricultural liaison to President Clinton. It was a cush political job, but just because he was the President’s buddy, he carried a pretty big stick. He told me the first few times he walked into an Ag Cabinet meeting, he just sat in the back of the room, wearing a special lanyard and never said a word. They had no idea who he was or what he was doing there, but they were scared to death of him.

5. YOU CAN’T SPEND WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE. I think it’s baloney. Anyone with a vision and drive and passion can find the money for whatever they want to undertake.

6. A PART OF SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN ALL OF NOTHING. I currently work for a local company that employs only around 30 people. Three entrepreneurs founded the company and have developed strategic partnerships all over the world. With those partnerships they prove that pennies multiplied by volumes in the millions adds up to real money. Had I understood this lesson years ago, I might be wealthy myself. Oh, the humanity.

7. YOU MUST HAVE A VISION. Without a vision, the people perish, and so it is in business. And just as a vision carries you forward, you continue to see ahead. I cannot believe how fast the world is changing every single day.

8. KEEP A CLOSE INNER CIRCLE. Right on. Jesus had the 12, but He also had the three. There is no better scenario than having two or three companions with whom you can share your heart, and who will not judge you, no matter your mistakes. The freedom to be transparent is real freedom.

9. TEST & MEASURE. Almost nobody gets this. I’m amazed at how most business people spend advertising dollars having no idea of the amount of revenue that it directly generates. I’ve been blogging for about two weeks now. One of the great things about WordPress is that the ability to test and measure is at my fingertips. If you regularly analyze your hits, it’s a piece of cake. I can tell you exactly what topics will draw what number of readers and the day AND time of day when they are most likely to read my material. Generally, if my work’s not published by 8 a.m. you can forget it. My posts usually go out around 6 a.m. And this post is a test in itself. It will hit around 1 a.m. CST, so it will be interesting to see what happens this go around.

10. CONNECT. And I don’t mean as in FaceBook or Linked In. Connect with real people you can touch and with whom you can shake hands and look at the pictures on their office wall. My rule of thumb is if you don’t make a connection within the first minute of a one-on-one meeting it’s not gonna happen. This is more art than science, more innate than learned. I once coached a small restaurant owner who had previously worked in sales. She had a great story about how difficult it was to get past a gatekeeper to a potentially huge client. A little behind-the-scenes research showed her the guy liked to play cards. Each week for three weeks she sent him an Ace in a simple envelope. First the Ace of Hearts; next the Ace of Clubs; and then the Ace of Diamonds. The fourth week she cold-called the guy and the secretary gatekeeper said no way. She simply replied, “Tell him the Ace of Spades is here,” and she walked in and closed a huge deal. Beautiful.

11. ANSWER THE PHONE NO LATER THAN THE SECOND RING. Yep.

12. FALL ON THE SWORD. I’ve had countless times when I was accosted by an angry client or co-worker and just let them rant and rave as long as they want while I stay quiet. And my typical response will be, “You know, you’re right and I’m sorry.” It’s amazing how you can disarm someone with an apology whether it’s deserved or not. But who wants the hassle of a fight. Not me.