Keep the Train Rolling

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 4 submission.

Today is my 39th birthday. One year away from 40.

I wrestle most days with feeling like a failure. The definition of success I learned growing up (marriage, family, steady job, plenty of money) hasn’t played out in my life. I’m almost 40 and still starting over in so many ways.

But then I stop and think:

  • I am a husband to a wonderful wife, Rachel.
  • I am daddy to two beautiful children, Ella and Jon, and a third, Ruthanne, who waits for me in heaven.
  • We have a beautiful home.
  • We have nice cars.
  • I have a wide and wonderful assortment of friends.
  • I rock Twitter.
  • I get paid to do what I do best: communicate (both written and verbal).
  • I’ve recorded and released an album with two of my closest friends.
  • I’ve written over 365 radio programs that still air to this day on 1700 radio stations worldwide (not to mention podcast downloads).
  • I’ve written and directed three short films, and won a Telly award for one of them.
  • I’ve written and published 5 books.
  • I’ve started three blogs, two websites, and one company.
  • I’ve pastored a church that was dying, and helped it not only die with dignity but give over $300,000 away to deserving causes as a last act.
  • I’ve performed over 30 marriages, many of those being the marriages of students who sat under my teaching and mentoring.
  • I’ve been privileged to write for a Fortune 500 company, a multi-national leadership firm, one of the nation’s largest churches, one of my community’s finest charities, and countless other people whose vision deserved to be shared.
  • I’ve interviewed entrepreneurs, civic leaders, spiritual leaders, and other interesting people and been privileged to share their stories with the public via magazine articles.

All of that by 39. Sure there are folks who’ve achieved more–but there are those who’ve achieved less. It’s not a competition anyway.

But more than all I’ve achieved, I’ve come to realize what I’m proudest of is that we–my wife, my kids and myself–keep looking for the next thing. The next step. The next challenge. We may fail, but as my wife is fond of saying, “We’re going to keep the train rolling.”

We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know this: if we win today, tomorrow will take care of itself.

It’s taken me 39 years to understand just what that means. Here’s to another 39 (and more) to keep living it the best I can.

What Was the Beaver Thinking?

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 3 submission.

What was the beaver thinking?

That question has haunted me the last couple of days. My family went for a walk at a local park, and my son took us off the trail so we could see his secret spot – a place near the lake’s edge where he and I had walked before. There’s a tree there that looks like a beaver or some other animal invested a great deal of time in attempting to bring said tree down.

Only at some point, the beaver (or whatever) stopped.

It’s so odd, so strangely beautiful, that I took a picture of it. Here it is:


I’ve had that picture – that tree – on my mind since then. What was the beaver thinking? Did he get bored and give up? Did she decide the tree was going to fall the wrong way and endanger lives? Did he simply lose faith in his ability to bring the tree down?

What was the little furball thinking?

I realize I’m anthropomorphizing the beaver, but even if the beaver wasn’t actively thinking, something made her stop.

And it’s been driving me insane.

What was it? What did the beaver see/feel/intuit to bring a fairly advanced project to a screeching halt?

I will never know. But it’s taught me a ton about perspective.

It’s easy to look at the tree and assume something negative. The beaver was killed. The beaver was lazy. People (or in this case beavers) don’t just leave projects unfinished unless something bad has occurred.

And I’ll admit – those were my first thoughts.

But something inside me called for another point of view, called for me to actually think about the situation instead of just snapping into my regular mindset. So I came to believe the beaver walked away. Likely because walking away was the best – the wisest – decision, even if it meant the invested time ultimately yielded no reward.

The power of perspective can make a radical difference between seeing an unfinished project as a failure or as learning space. I can’t say what the beaver was thinking, but I can say this:

Whatever his thinking, he certainly challenged mine.

Back to the Future for a Great 2015

It’s officially 2015. For a moment, set aside that this is the fictional year to which Marty McFly time-traveled in Back to the Future II and gather ’round the fire to listen to your friend, Jason.

Forget about the endless barrage of “It’s a new year – so make it a good one” blog posts you’ll see today.

Don’t sweat the “16 resolutions you can actually keep” posts.

Ignore the parade of “Make This Your BEST YEAR EVER” links.

Just concentrate on this one simple truth: You’re alive, and anything is possible. After all, this is the year the Cubs win the World Series.

Hope your 2015 is equally as amazing.

Into The Deep Blue

deep blueYesterday afternoon, I considered that my opening line for a talk to some at-risk students at Project LIFT might just be throwing up on the lovely blue carpet. It was a deep blue, like the far-out part of the ocean that people always warn you to avoid unless you’re an expert swimmer or have a boat. I’ve always been one to get nervous before speaking – and it’s probably more akin to anxious excitement than nervous dread – but I was especially amped up yesterday because it was a new experience for me. Sure, I’ve spoken to hundreds of youth over the past 15 years, but it was almost always within a church context, almost always on a passage of Scripture. This was different. This was me speaking to a theme, trying to inspire kids with tough backgrounds and even tougher realities to overcome the hardships before them and aspire for something more.

Sure, we were meeting in a church, but I was doing something new. And I knew I would either nail it or fail miserably.

I decided that nailing it was the preferable option. So I pushed my anxiety aside, kept my Whatchamacallit candy bar in my stomach where it belonged, and I started telling a simple story about a boy, his kinship with a pencil, and the journey of discovery they made together. (If you’re interested, here’s the PDF: Project LIFT – The Boy)

If you’ve ever spoken to teenagers before, you know they can be a tough sell. They’re smart, they’re savvy, and if they think for a second that you’re flim-flamming them, they’ll shut you out and move on. The students I spoke to yesterday were no exception. But as I went along with the story, trying my best to weave in humor and add in improvisational moments based on their responses to me, the most amazing thing happened.

They stayed with me.

Now, here’s where years of youth work comes in handy. To the average person, a teenager who is “staying with me” might seem a lot like a distracted, disinterested person. They rarely keep eye contact, they tend to shift in their seats, and every so often they’ll look up or down or around the room to see if maybe a magic fairy has flown in to grant wishes. It can take some getting used to. In fact, you really have to simultaneously speak to them and look for the cues that they’re with you: a smile, a subtle nod of agreement, leaning forward in their chair at a crucial point, tapping their neighbor on the shoulder and gesturing for them to pay closer attention. All of those signs were present yesterday afternoon, even as my talk soared past the fifteen minute mark.

I wrapped it up after 25 minutes, and the best thing in the world happened.

They wanted to ask me questions. Which means they had listened and heard something that piqued their interest. I even got asked two of my favorite questions: Have you ever thought about being a teacher? and Have you ever thought about doing stand up comedy?

(In case you’re wondering: yes to the first and no to the second.)

Afterwards, the folks who invited me to speak (without ever hearing me, might I add – brave folks) told me that it was the first time they could remember that the kids had ever sat through a presentation without having to be redirected.

“That never happens,” one worker said. “They actually listened to you.”

Yesterday, I took step beyond the familiar boundaries I’ve always known, and the ground beneath my feet was just as firm. I’ve always been told – and believed – that I was a good preacher; yesterday was the first time I’ve been told I was a good speaker. There may not seem to be much difference, but for me, there is. And since you might be asking yourself, “Self, what is the difference?”, I’ll tell you:

A preacher comes with a built in audience. A speaker has to earn one. God has always been gracious to me because He’s always provided me with a platform to speak from and people to speak to. I’ve never taken it for granted, but it’s always been built in for me because of my involvement with a church. Yesterday He showed me that he could open doors beyond a church (never mind that I was physically inside a church) and that I could earn the right to be heard. He showed me that He could do more with me than I’d imagined.

The best part of the day, however, the part that just made me fresh-from-the-oven-chocolate-chip cookie gooey inside, was when I got into the care with Rachel to leave. She silently grabbed my hand and said, “Good job.” I kissed her hand and said thanks. But then she added this, and I knew things were going to be okay:

“I loved hearing you speak like that. You really seemed to be in your element. It was awesome, and the kids really enjoyed it.”

One journey ending, another beginning. Into the deep blue we go.

For My Fellow Writers

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 8.37.45 AMNormally I don’t post twice in one day, but as this will be short post that will only appeal to a select few people out there, I figure it won’t hurt anything. This is for all my fellow writers out there. Today, I was the featured article for – which I got because they happened to read a blog I guest posted on Ed Stetzer’s website. It may not be a Pulitzer prize, but it’s progress in my career. Another credit. A wider audience.


You know how sometimes you sit over the keyboard and sweat blood trying to think of what exactly it is that you’re trying to say? You know something’s inside of you, dying to get out and onto that computer screen, but your fingers and your brain aren’t speaking to one another so you just sit there and stare at a tauntingly empty screen. You pray. You offer mental bargains to yourself. Nothing works. You despair you’ll ever make it as a writer.

If you identify in any way with the above paragraph, I would just like to encourage you today. It’s worth it. Every little ounce of time and sweat and energy that you put into a piece is totally, completely worth it. Because someone, somewhere, reads it. And someone, somewhere, cares.

Keep writing. Keep believing that your words matter.

Because to someone, somewhere, they do.