Living a Better Story

Every day is its own story; with the rising of the sun comes conflict, twists, turns, and, if we’re paying attention, character development. The ultimate author of each day is God, but within our individual spheres, we are the ones at the keyboard. It is our will that shapes our days, filling them with something meaningful and interesting or with whatever happens to happen to us.

In college, one of my least favorite writing exercises was writing about whatever happened to be closest to me. This was assigned by one of my professors as a week-long project in a writing for publication class; the theory being writers should be able to take the boring and infuse it with meaning. Now that I’m almost 40, I can understand the exercise and even practice it on a regular basis (as anyone who’s read my blogs can attest). But in college, all the exercise produced were pained descriptions of Coke cans, beer bottles, empty Chinese cartons and the ennui of people who weren’t old enough to navel gaze but didn’t let lack of experience get in their way.

Sadly, the stories many people tell with their lives are similar to those college writing exercises. There’s a lot of detail, a lot of observation, but very little in the way of meaning. So many people just drift from day to day.


I walk with my kids to the bus stop almost every morning. We talk about a lot of things, mostly stuff that I consider inane but means everything to them in the moment. Whether it’s the recreational habits of squirrels, the strangely friendly cat that roams around our house, or the odd pink thing with veins lying in the middle of the road, my kids are intentional about asking questions that help them understand the world they inhabit.

As an adult, I occasionally (okay, frequently) find this incessant questioning of the world to be uncomfortable. Not because I don’t want my kids asking questions, but rather because I don’t want them asking questions of me at 7:15 in the morning before the coffee kicks in.

But in my more lucid moments (or when I’ve gotten enough coffee) I appreciate and marvel at their curiosity. In those times, I enjoy hearing how their brains work, enjoy hearing their made up hypotheses and fairy tales, enjoy the fact that they choose not to live in a world of drudgery but rather a world of magic and wonder. My morning is made better by the visits of their fairies and robots and heroes and horses, but it only lasts until they get on the bus.

Then, all too often, my world turns back into mindless detail: bills, work, chores, worries. The magic disappears with my children.

It’s my own fault, naturally, because I too often choose to see the world as drudgery. I’m just as capable as my children of seeing magic in the world but I don’t give myself permission to do so. I resign myself to living a boring story instead of a better story, because that’s the grown up thing to do. Grown up people don’t daydream, don’t have imaginary conversations in their heads, don’t invent different worlds where things are not as they seem.

But we do. Ashley Madison. Fantasty Football. Facebook. TMZ.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it’s not that we shouldn’t have stories; it’s that we settle for crappy ones.


I read a quote this morning that struck me, and I want to share it as a way of encouraging you to live a better story, to choose something beyond the dull sheen of a standard life.

“The story of our past cannot be rewritten.”

That’s from J. Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership. And while Sanders’ context was different than my own application, the idea remains true–we cannot rewrite our stories. We may go back into our yesterdays and try to infuse them with meaning posthumously, but we cannot change the events, cannot change the outcomes, cannot change the words on the eternal page (depending on your view of time travel, that is).

Instead, we have only one option if we want better stories. We must live them today. We must live our lives with eyes open, ears attuned, hearts prepared for the magic that comes even from something as simple as a trip to the bus stop in the morning. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s to keep writing, to stay at the keyboard with discipline and persistence. Not everything will be gold, mind you, but if you don’t write junk you’ll never get to something worthwhile. Inaction doesn’t prevent bad work; it prevents good work from developing.

So today, make a choice to do things differently. To have a better attitude. To see a different perspective. To imagine another outcome. The power is in your hands to make magic happen anywhere.

Live a better story.

It’s possible, today.

Defeating the Scarcity Mentality

A scarcity mentality is the perspective that there’s only so much good to be had.

Like a pie, or a pizza, there are only so many slices, and once they are gone, that’s it. There is no more.

This mindset comes out in people in different ways; for some, it creates a hyper-competitiveness, an insatiable need to win at all costs. For others, it creates a deep-seeded selfishness, manifested in a refusal to share or be generous.

For me, it resulted in fear. Of almost everything.

That fear–of failing, of letting others down, of not being good enough–took over my life at different points along the way, resulting in me accepting life instead of living it. When doors of opportunity opened to me, I passed them by because I was afraid. When people encouraged me, I shook them off because I was afraid. When I wanted something more, wanted to BE something more, I remained passive because I was afraid.

Of all the constants in my life, the most debilitating has been that scarcity mentality.

Because God is merciful (and persistent) with me, I’ve been tackling my scarcity mindset over the last two years.

I stepped away from a job and lifestyle that kept me comfortably helpless, and I’ve spent each day learning to be dependent on God and the talents and passion he gave me. As a result, I’ve done things I didn’t think possible: published my own books, started a community news website, even taken a job as a full-time writer with a nationally renowned company that focuses on an area about which I’m passionate.

I have learned that you defeat the scarcity mentality by choosing to see the world differently.

Leadership experts Steven Covey and John Maxwell talk about that perspective shift. They call it an Abundance Mentality. It’s the belief that the world is not finite in its goodness; that even if the pie runs out, all you have to do is bake another. And another. And another. It’s the choice to look for the good in life, instead of looking for the bad.

There is goodness, beauty, and wonder all around us–if we’ll choose to see it.

Photography has taught me that lesson. With a camera, I tend to look at the world differently; instead of seeing only what’s in front of me, I find myself looking for different perspectives, for beauty that would otherwise escape my notice. The practice of trying to document that beauty with my camera is exactly what trains me to look for it.

Being a writer helps too. Small moments with my kids become life-affirming gems (or, in some cases, massive growth experiences).

But nothing has helped me embrace abundance like surrounding myself with people who share that mindset. I had no idea how impactful my surroundings were until I changed them. I’m constantly around people who strive for excellence, see things from a positive perspective, and encourage others to live the same. As a result, I find I am defeating the scarcity mentality on a daily basis.

Being with people who see the world as a blessing instead of a curse is essential to living a life of abundance.

You can’t see what’s good in life if you’re surrounded by people who are afraid of that goodness going away. By nature, you end up focusing on the diminution of goodness instead of what is actually good. It’s a subtle thing, this mindset, but it’s powerful nonetheless.

If you find you’re surrounded by people who talk about what’s good only when they lament its gradual (or sudden) loss, then you are in a scarcity environment. You will find your growth either stunted or entirely halted, simply because you can’t grow when you’re stressed all the time.

You change your life by changing your mindset, and you can change your mindset by changing your environment. It’s hard, and you may be able to think of a million reasons not to do it, but I promise you it is worth it. The freedom you’ll feel by looking at the world as it is–full of promise and wonder–will heal you more than leaving your old world could ever hurt you.

Beauty, hope, and fulfillment are out there. You don’t have to live afraid.

A Son’s Dream, A Father’s Fear

IMG_4643The other day my son announced his intention to launch himself into space on a one-way journey to explore the galaxy. As his father, I should be used to him making grand, above-his-age statements (he’s only 6), but hearing my first grader calmly state his dream to die in space threw me off a bit.

He was so calm when he told me his idea.

“I want to build the ‘100th Horizon’ which would be a spaceship big enough to hold me and other people, and we would fly to the end of our galaxy learning about space. We would even fly past Pluto and other ice planets.”

“But it would take you years to get to the end of our galaxy,” I countered. “Mommy and I might be dead before you would come home.”

“I know that,” he said. “Me and my friends would all probably die in space, but that’s okay. It would just put me closer to heaven, so I could see you faster after I die.”

I’ll admit–that choked me up. But it was what he said next that floored me. I asked him why he would want to fly off on a one-way journey into space. This is what he said:

“Because I want to give my life to help people. We would have better knowledge if I flew into space.”

I wasn’t prepared for that answer. My wife and I have taken great pains to instill in our children a love and compassion for others, and we’ve always gone out of our way to encourage our children’s natural interests. My daughter, Ella, loves to dance and sing, so we’ve enrolled her in dance classes and helped her audition for school musicals. Jon loves science and playing drums, so we signed him up for drum lessons and try to fuel his thirst for knowledge.

Rachel and I both grew up in cultures that encouraged dreams, but weren’t so quick to encourage acting on them. We don’t want our kids to grow up like that; we want them to dream AND act, to be intentional with how they live their lives.

In short, we’ve never squashed their dreams. Despite what you might think, this is a challenging position to maintain.

As a parent, you want what’s best for your kid, but sometimes what’s best for them absolutely kills you on the inside. Hearing Jon so fearlessly announce that his dream was to launch himself on a suicide mission for the betterment of mankind made me want to throw up. In fact, on my insides, I could feel the fear rising up. My mental list-maker went into overdrive, concocting as many reasons why he SHOULDN’T go into space as I possibly could.

But I didn’t breathe a word of that to him. The only allowance I gave my fears was to mention to Jon that if he went to the end of the galaxy, it would make me sad because I would never see him again. Given how much my son loves me, even that was probably too much, an unfair emotional manipulation perpetrated on a child by an adult.

But Jon’s response was not only perfect, it was completely Jon: I’ll just be that much closer to heaven, so I’ll see you sooner.

Even now, I want to cry typing that out. It’s such a beautiful statement: I will live my dreams, but I will always love and think of you.

As a parent, could I ask for more?

Sometimes, I worry that I will transfer my fear issues on to my kids. I see Ella hesitate when walking into a room full of people she doesn’t know, and I wonder if I caused that. I see Jon have a meltdown because he hurts himself while playing, and I wonder if I’ve somehow bred weakness into him.

But then my children say and do things that amaze me, and remind me of what my actual end goal is as a parent.

My job as their dad is to raise them to be healthy, functional adults capable of living a life of meaning and joy. That means allowing them to experience and learn things as a child that cause me great fear.

I would rather be the one who feels the ugly, paralyzing fear. I would rather live through their childhood years worrying and fretting over things than pass that anxiety on to them. I want them to emerge from my home with a sense of wonder and courage, a belief in themselves and their talents that propels them to do things much greater than anyone could imagine.

My son wants to launch himself into the uncharted ends of space on a one-way trip to broaden humanity’s understanding of the universe we call home. As a dad, the idea makes me want to curl up into a ball and cry for a couple of days. But it also makes me proud of my son, proud of the man he will one day become, regardless of whether or not he actually makes it into space.

So, as his dad, I’m going to do the only thing I can: I’m going to bust my butt to introduce him to people who can expand his knowledge. I know some folks who know some folks, so I’m going to set up some lunches where Jon can interview an astronaut or astronomer. I’m going to take him back to the Space Center in Huntsville, AL, and maybe send him to Space Camp one summer.

I’m going to do everything I can to encourage my son to be all he can be, because that’s what is best for him as a person, and what’s best for me as a dad.

And if he actually achieves his dream, it might just be what’s best for mankind, too.


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 6 submission.

There have been relatively few times when I’ve surprised myself. In fact, the only one that comes to mind is finding the strength to speak at my daughter’s funeral. She was stillborn 5 days after her due date. I was a wreck.

It wasn’t supposed to happen to me and my wife.

Yet there we were: a tiny pink coffin, a tiny baby girl, and hundreds of people gathered at the graveside.

I cleared my throat and spoke. I don’t remember any of it. All I remember were the hot, unstoppable tears that rolled down my face as I addressed my grieving wife; my stunned parents and in-laws; the pained faces of people from my church. I spoke from my heart, where raw pain collided with faith.

And in five minutes it was over. I watched as the men from the funeral home lowered my daughter into the ground. I watched as the dirt fell atop her casket. I watched until my daughter was nothing more than a memory.

The next day, I got up. And then I did the same thing the day after that. And the day after that.

I’ve repeated that process for almost 10 years now.

My wife and I have two children now. We take them to visit their sister’s grave every year on the anniversary of her birth/death. We sing happy birthday. We give her fresh flowers. And we walk away holding hands, knowing how precious life is.

Sometimes, the most surprising things are the simplest.

Into the Deep End

ImageOn Monday we went swimming at my sister-in-law’s pool. It has a diving board and a ten foot deep end, so Ella was all pumped about being able to dive and jump into the pool. But once she went off the diving board, Jonathan wanted to go too. He stepped up on the board and got ready to go, but the lifeguard blew his whistle and stopped him.

“You can’t go off the diving board with a life vest on. You have to be able to swim,” he said.

Rachel talked with him and let him know that Jon could kind of tread water. The lifeguard said that as long as Rachel were in the deep end, holding onto the wall, Jon could jump off and she could then swim out and get him. That seemed fine, so Jon took off his life vest, Rachel slipped into the water, and my son stepped up onto the diving board.

And he jumped.

He made a satisfying splash, and as soon as his head came back above water, he smiled. But the panic took over because he realized he didn’t really know what he was doing. He started paddling, and suddenly, for a split second, he disappeared under the water…

…until Rachel brought him back up. She had him. He was safe. Together they swam to the pool wall and climbed out. Jon had triumphed. Everyone clapped. It was cool.

But then Jon spent the rest of the day in the kiddie pool. He was too scared to even go in the shallow end of the big pool. In fact, he actually spent most of the day huddled in my lap, sipping his juice, too scared to get near the water. The episode with the diving board just chilled him on having any more pool fun.

This morning, I know how he feels. I tried to make the move to the big time as a writer. I ordered new business cards with the blog logo. Easy. Then, I upgraded my WordPress to a premium account.

Not so easy.

Well, the process was easy. Everything went smooth as silk, got the domain that I wanted, got the site linked to it. And then I went to the part I was really excited about – customization. I was ready to make the blog look like I wanted, ready to bring my vision to life.

But the tools were limited. I don’t know what I was expecting, but essentially I paid $100 for a domain and the options to change a limited number of fonts and colors. Which, by any standard, is a steep price to pay. I immediately regretted it.

WordPress has a great refund policy, so I was able to cancel my purchase. I expect to get a full refund in a couple of days. But that still left me without my goal – a completely personalized website, with my own domain.

So I did some more research and learned that I could get everything I wanted through for around $70. Being cheap, I signed up.

I’m excited. I can download the package and transfer my blog completely over to my new website. I can have personalized email at my own domain. I can open up a store and sell ebooks or t-shirts or coffee mugs if I want.

But the domain is in limbo because I made that stupid mistake with WordPress.

And immediately, I felt my stomach knot up. I felt like I wanted to vomit. Like Jonathan off the diving board, I suddenly seized with fear that I’m an idiot, I can’t do this, that I’m going to make more and more mistakes until I eventually screw my life up so bad I can never recover.

The reality is, I might have to change the domain name to something ending in .net or .org. Big deal. There’s worse mistakes.

But for me, it’s part of the process of breaking free: I’m learning that I can make mistakes – even big ones – and my life doesn’t end. Before, I felt free to make small mistakes, but never big ones. Never. It was why I never risked anything; when you risk, you open up the door for big mistakes, and big mistakes can set you back.

But they can also set you free.

I’m hoping that the domain issue is resolved in a day or so, and I can begin building my website and get it transferred over by the weekend. The neat thing is I can import everything from this blog to the new site, no content lost. The even neater thing is I have the opportunity to add personal skills that can make me more attractive as a freelancer as well.

Today was a huge step into the deep end. For a minute, I thought I was going to drown. But I know now that I can swim.

That’s a victory.