Forget the Lingo, Get the Best

This week I’m participating in Seth Godin’s #YourTurnChallenge. My goal is to blog everyday this week (Mon-Sun) here on my site as well as on the challenge’s official Tumblr blog. Here’s my Day 2 submission.

I took this picture over the weekend. I was at a retreat for leaders, and I woke up early to snag some photos of the sunrise with my new camera. It’s not often I’m able to have the early morning to myself, so I was excited to capture some great shots.

I struggled for the first 15 minutes because I still don’t have a great grasp of photography – I have no idea what F-Stop should be used when, or what ISO really means, or even how white balance works. I normally just put the camera on “Automatic” and let it do the work for me.

Trouble is, that usually produces some flat, uninteresting pictures.

It certainly did on Saturday morning. I put the camera on autopilot and got crap in return. I wanted the contrast of the sunrise against the darkness of the morning and instead I got flashes and fuzzy images. Finally, I had to put the camera on a stripped down manual setting (“Creative Assistance”) and figured out how to get what I wanted without having to know all of the insider terminology. And I got some beautiful shots.

My friend, who’s a professional photographer, looked at some of them and said, “Those are fantastic. Now, go back, dig into the metadata, and figure out what the settings were when you took them. You’ll learn something to help you next time.”

The experience with my camera is similar to my experience with the business my wife and I have started. We don’t know all of the insider terminology, but we know what we want, and we’re willing to do what we can to get it. We’re also happy to learn from others on how to improve along the way.

Our goal is to double our business from last year this year. We offer writing services to help organizations and individuals sharpen their message, and while we don’t know a lot of marketing buzzwords or trends, we do know what makes a great story.

And we know great stories connect.

So that’s what we do: we make sure we tell our client’s great stories, and we get better every time. There might be others out there who do it faster or better, but we put our bones into everything we write and we let our words deliver our client’s soul. It’s less like work and more like art, and the end results are almost always amazing.

Small Stuff, Big Stuff

This week I’m participating in Seth Godin’s #YourTurnChallenge. My goal is to blog everyday this week (Mon-Sun) here on my site as well as on the challenge’s official Tumblr blog. Here’s my Day 1 submission.

This morning, my wife and I hauled all of our furniture out of the house and into the garage. The total amount of furniture isn’t much: there’s maybe 12-15 big pieces we had to move, and working together made that part a breeze.

What sucked was all the little crap accumulated on top of the big stuff.

Pictures. Pens. Pencils. Bill to be paid. Bills paid in full. Jewelry. Watches. iTunes gift cards. Phone chargers. Remote controls. Letters. Notes from school. Notes from the kids. Old Post-It notes. Earbuds. Water bottles. Kleenex boxes. Pillows. Throws. Stuffed animals. Books. Books. Books. More books.

Just a mountain of tiny things that piled up on the big things simply because we often lack the mental energy to put things in their proper place.

It’s amazing at how much the little stuff–the effluvia–paralyzed us when we started to move the big things.

“Where does this go?”

“What about this?”

“Should we keep this?”

“Where did this come from?”

We were frazzled before we’d even picked up the first thing. Not putting stuff in its place, be it a drawer or box or the trash can, paralyzed our hoped for progress. The more we tried to figure out the small things, the longer the big things sat there, unmoved.

Finally, my wife went for a jog. I stared at the piles in despair.

Then, I moved some small stuff to the floor, picked up the big thing they’d been covering, and I moved the big thing to the garage. I came back to my bedroom, moved the next pile of small stuff and moved the big thing underneath. And I repeated that pattern until I’d moved all of the big things I could move on my own.

Once I got the big stuff moved, I found places to put the small stuff (the trash can was my go-to spot). When my wife returned, all that remained was the big stuff we needed to move together. After only a couple of hours, everything was moved. The job was done.

Small stuff can be moved. It’s small for a reason. If you want to get the big stuff moving, just set the small stuff to the side and dig in.

It’s surprising how easy–and how forgettable–that lesson really is.

Overlooked, He Overcame

It hurts to be overlooked. This morning I received a very polite rejection email for a job to which I don’t remember applying. After racking my brain for a few minutes, I remembered the position – a writer for a non-profit organization – and re-read the email.

It read, in essence, like this:

“Dear Jason – thank you for applying to [company name] for the writing position. At this time, we are moving on in our search. Though your resume had many outstanding qualities, we felt at this time you were not a match for us.”

It went on a little more after that, but that was the gist. I looked up the job posting to see which of my qualifications fell short of their standards. Based on the posted description, none did.

So why was I overlooked? Why was it assumed I wouldn’t be a good fit?

I’m sure there are lots of reasons, and I’m not exactly beating myself up over this. (Obviously, if I really cared about the job, I would’ve remembered applying for it.) But it does sting a little bit when you’re exactly what someone says they need, only they don’t want you. To be overlooked, no matter the rationale, stings. So yeah, I was a bit bummed that yet another job had turned me down.

But then I remembered today is Christmas Eve. All over the world, in various churches, people will celebrate the arrival of a small Jewish child, born some 2,000 years ago in the backwoods of the Middle East. People will sing his name, declare his glory, and salute his birth in a stable, a birth witnessed by animals, shepherds and filth.

Overlooked in his birth, Jesus still changed the world. If we can take no other hope for Christmas, let us a least take this much: the same can be true of us.

Small Sorrows

That nick on your dining room table. The way your carpet bunches near the corner. Over there, next to your cookbooks? Yeah, that’s a crack in the counter top that seems to get wider every day.

Your car wheezes to life instead of roaring. Every time the weather changes, you or your kids get sick – sometimes all of you. A piece of siding wants to fall off your house and crush your azaleas, which probably deserve to be crushed given how sad they look.

A hangnail.

More gray hair.

Some stain on your favorite jeans that refuses to go away.

These are the small sorrows of life. Read separately and they are perceived as small; taken together, they become sorrows. It’s a strange phenomena, but one that you’re likely very familiar with. Chances are, you’ve been noticing the pile up, kind of like dishes in your sink or the insurmountable load of laundry you just can’t make yourself wash.

They’re a lot like toy cars, these wretched, tiny sorrows, in that one or two on the kitchen table doesn’t bother you. And if your son is like mine, then you also know that the next time you turn around every single freaking one of them will be on display, covering the table and clattering to the floor because there’s simply not enough room for them all.

Another way of describing it is drowning. Single drops of water are no threat, but when you toss a bunch of them in a pool, pretty soon you’re in over your head, struggling to stay afloat, wondering if someone – anyone – will come to your aid. Occasionally, there’ll be a lifeguard. Often, you’re on your own.

Sink or swim.

On the bad days, sinking seems the better option. What could be simpler than to just give in to the sorrow, let it overwhelm you, and hope that the “experts” are right and that drowning really is the most peaceful way to die? So you quit kicking. You quit struggling. You take a last breath and allow the water and darkness and sorrow to wash over you.

Only to discover that you still float.

Now you have to make a choice: take another breath, or let this one completely go? Keep floating or sink? Only a few sink; most take another breath, gulp another lungful of oxygen and hope. And even the ones that sink get only so far – usually, that survival instinct kicks the legs into gear and suddenly, there they are, breaking through the top of the water like Daryl Hannah in Splash.

And now they have to choose again: swim, float or exhale?

Personally, I’ve done all three, and quite often end up doing some sort of combo maneuver. Today, for example, was a swim-float-swim-punch-yourself-in-the-face kind of day. I was tempted to quit. I was tempted to exhale. But there was something in me that wouldn’t allow it. A sudden realization from my faith; I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say, I was confronted again with a particularly powerful and woefully under-examined (at least in my neck of the woods) truth about God, and I came out the better for it.

I decided that swimming was the choice because only swimming brings you closer to the side of the pool of sorrows. Only swimming gives you the opportunity to actually emerge completely from the water and find dry land. Everything else leaves you in the midst of your sorrows; it gives them power, more power than they deserve.

So your kid got sick after you took her to the doctor for a preventative visit. So she spiked a fever, went pale, slept like a college graduate and threw up all over herself. Small sorrows, my friend. Small sorrows.

Keep swimming, and they’ll be behind you soon enough.

Father Fail

My morning as a father.

I had trouble communicating with my son this morning. He was being difficult with Rachel, yelling at her over her decision to cook his frozen strawberry waffles instead of serving them to him ice cold. Rachel, ever the good mother, was trying to patiently explain that the waffles had to be cooked else they’d be inedible.

Jonathan wasn’t accepting her logic. He kept throwing his hands in the air and jumping about in a circle, like a deranged dancer, shouting “No! No! Afful! Afful!” until I lost my patience and intervened.

“Jonathan!” I boomed. “You go sit on the couch right now!”

He stopped, mid-“Afful!” and looked at me. Then, without a word, he hustled into the den and sat down on the couch. I walked over to him and stood there.

It was an intimidating move, I’ll grant you that. I know my son loves and respects me and on occasion I use that weight to gain a parental advantage. Sue me.

“Jonathan,” I said, my voice stern and cool, “you sit on this couch and don’t move. You’re in timeout for not listening to your momma.”

Then, just for effect, I repeated myself: “Sit here. And DON’T. MOVE.”

He nodded his little blond head and I went into the kitchen to refill my coffee cup. Rachel went into the bedroom to get her running shoes on, and as soon as she passed by and was out of his line of sight, he hops up and begins to climb off the couch.

I see this from the kitchen, coffee in hand. And in reacting, I make a bad decision. I choose to yell at the boy. Not just yell, mind you, but to raise my voice and alter my tone to one that an adult would use with a disobedient dog.

“Jon-a-THAN! I said SIT DOWN.”

I caught him so off guard that he didn’t sit down – he just collapsed in a heap where he was, then shimmied his way back to a sitting position.

Rachel came out of the bedroom and looked at him. He sat there, face downcast, hands folded in his lap. She then walked into the kitchen and looked at me.

“I wish you wouldn’t yell at him,” she said.

“Sometimes that’s the only way to get his attention,” I countered.

“Still, I don’t want him to grow up and be aggressive like that,” she said. “There’s better ways.”

This all happened two hours ago, and it’s still on my mind. There’s better ways. Better ways of disciplining my son. Better ways of communicating with my son. Better ways of teaching my son about what it means to be a man.

And better ways of being a man my son can imitate.

I try not to make any bones about my life as a father, about my relationship with my kids. I try and share with humor and candor and reflection the many challenging things that a father faces on a daily basis. And, more often than not, I try to make myself look somewhat good in the process. Sure, I toss in some self-deprecating humor to keep from painting myself as superman, but I never really throw out the truly ugly things I do, in part because they’re ugly and in part because people don’t respond well to ugliness.

And I tried to do that with this post. Tried to find a way to make it funny. There was an avenue, but in making this funny, I would have made it insincere. Phony. Ugly.

Better to share my father fail than to try and pretty it up. This morning, I made a mistake with my son, and it’s hurting my heart. Thankfully, fatherhood is not one moment fixed in time, but the accumulation of moments throughout a life, so I’ll have ample opportunity even today to make better choices in how to discipline, communicate with, and teach my son.

Perhaps the greatest blessing of all, those opportunities will be afforded me because my son is still young enough to not hold a grudge; he’s still young enough to know only that he loves me because I’m his dad and he’s my son. It’s a portrait of grace, is what it is.

And I’m not going to ruin it. Father’s fail. But failure isn’t permanent.

Thank God.