Sunday, June 17, 2018

Bottling up Vacation

I grind my teeth at night.  So much so that my teeth are cracking.  I had a root canal last week.   

We just returned from a beach vacation. I did not grind my teeth during the trip.  The burdens of the days lessened to the point that there was no need for my mind to subconsciously grate the stressors into oblivion at night. How do I bottle up this state of mind?  (And save my teeth).

There are disciplines I embraced on vacation that I don't put into my everyday practice back home.  Can these be captured and reproduced at home?  Or, are they like taffy or boardwalk fries and only fully experienced with the backdrop of an ocean?  I believe these truths brought relaxation on vacation and subsequent less teeth grinding:

Find your tribe - I enjoyed my morning run most days of vacation.  I was often on the boardwalk early, with countless other runners.  It was a community, all of us running off the baggage.  I ran past a lot of runner's in Eagles gear and wondered when they jumped on the bandwagon or if they were lifelong followers.  I was able to see them as fellow sports fans, humans running with a purpose - rather than simply stereotypical Philly fans, throwing batteries at the opposition and booing Santa Claus.  My son's running coach says that we run because we can, because today we've been blessed by God to have strong legs and healthy bodies.  So we run.  And under the rising sun over the surf, we were a community of people running - simply because we can.  Common people of purpose.  I believe God's hard-wired us to be in community, with Him, with others.

Listen more - We recently listened to a talk by author John Lynch about depression.  He said one of the best ways to help someone is to just listen.  Not fix.  Not make it about you.  Just listen.  I have weaknesses in listening.  I have can offer a potential solution often before the issue is fully divulged.  We discussed a wide array of topics during the trip.  Irritable bowel syndrome?  Declining church attendance?  I had answers.  (These are seemingly unrelated, but I also had an answer for how, in fact, they may be related after all).  Need to lose a few pounds?  I had an answer.  And then, I stopped answering. Instead, I listened.  And asked questions. I looked into the eyes of the other runners and wondered about their story.  I called the waitress by name with a smile, asking her about her day.  The focus shifting from self to others.  I believe God listens to us - silently at times, always with great attention.  And I believe we are to become more like Him. 

Cheat (when it's OK to go off-script) - I agreed to join my wife on the Keto eating plan (I don't believe diets are to be called diets anymore).   I'm typically not a dieter, or, eating plan changer, but she had me at, "you can eat all of the butter and bacon you'd like."  I won't detail the 30-day journey here, but there were many great benefits to the plan.  And, I lost 6 pounds heading into vacation.  However, I selectively and increasingly cheated during vacation and gained back a chunk of the weight I had lost.  And I am OK with that.  Life isn't always either/or.  It's a lot of both/and.  I've spent many years agonizing over my career, my parenting, my marriage, my friendships, my theology, my calories, my miles, my past, my future - hoping I've chosen the right one and frantically searching for options I may have missed.  Similarly, I have trouble trusting the lady inside my GPS.  I tell her where I want to go.  She maps my path..  Yet, I always have this underlying tension that she's wrong.  That I won't get to the appropriate destination.  I guess my point is that it's OK to take a wrong turn.  And, perhaps even enjoy finding a new route.

Less screens, more surf - We watched more surf than screens throughout the week. I checked worked emails once a day.  My iPhone battery lasted the entire week.  (I can't remember that last time it lasted a full day)!  We didn't just slow the screen consumption, we abandoned it for periods of time.  The result?  The team at work handled things.  Problems were solved and new challenges arose that will be solved.  The business of business continued.  God continued His work as well.  He didn't have to wait for me to get back online.  (Who knew)?  Like other addictions, screen overload numbs your senses.  As I withdrew from the screens, my senses heightened.  I noticed the sound of the birds waking the day and the green grass of the dunes bright against the tone of the sand.  The blue of my wife's eyes and the freckles on my son's face drawn out by the sun.  The flags waved by the ocean's breeze.  Technology is important and good and useful - when it's under our control.  I can hear God, the morning birds, the surf, and the sound of my children's heart (and consider how they're all interwoven) more clearly when it's quiet, my mind freed from a scrolling feed of emails, texts, and twitter. 

Be in community with God, with others.  Listen to them - really, listen.  Give yourself enough grace to not be perfect all of the time. Shut off the buzz of busyness.  These are the things I want to bottle up, bring home, and sip from each morning.  A toast to the freedom found in the salt life. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Measure Everything

It's a basic business principle to measure everything.  If you aren't measuring the minutia of your operations, you're likely missing opportunity for continuous improvement.

Our world has adapted this value, the measurement of all things.  My vehicle sends me routine diagnostic reports, tracking efficiency and capacity.  My watch and phone count my steps, tell me to move, and celebrate or encourage progress.  My Bible app records consecutive days I've been in the Word, or absent.  Facebook apparently tracks more than I am aware.  This hyper-measuring is all with good intention, to help me live a better life. 

My family and I were recently on vacation.  We barely escaped the looming temptation to postpone or cancel the trip to visit family.  There were just too many things circling.  Deadlines immovable at work, standardized testing at school, youth sports tournaments already paid for, and the realization that it's quite difficult to step off the treadmill without first reducing the pace.  It's even more difficult to jump back on.

Author Andy Stanley says that happy marriages are rooted in our ability to be selfless.  He calls it a "race to the end of the line."  In marriages at least, measuring does far more harm than good.  When either participant is keeping score, expectations are constructed and a failure to deliver on those expectations grows into resentment and... half of the marriages in our country know the rest of the story.

We went on a boat on vacation.  The waves lapping the sides of the pontoon, the wind a humid chill.  We left our devices behind, launching into the sea seemingly the only way to escape the self-imposed measuring of all things.  No notifications informing me of a message in queue, waiting for my response, clock ticking.  The rocking of the ocean lulling us to calm, distracting from the busy to the quiet.  It was only after the wind, earthquake, and fire passed that the Prophet Elijah heard the still, small of God as recorded in the Old Testament. Truth is mined from the depths of our souls when the loud storms of our days pass and we are left standing in the still and the quiet.

What to do with all of this?  The measuring and controlling versus the exhaling and slowing.  Perhaps it's not either / or.  Are we just measuring the wrong things?  Or, not measuring enough things?

We need to measure our organizations, our pursuits.  The discipline of excellence, of using all that we've been given to make the world a better place and the intentionality to slow, see, and listen are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, they're interwoven and dependent on one another. 

We need to measure our days.  The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the early church and noted, "Don't waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, ...barren pursuits..." (The Message).  We must be intentional with our time, an exhaustive resource.  Yet, an afternoon spent in conversation and coffee with a friend might be measured as the most significant work God has put in front of us today.  Equal to that of running a Fortune 500 company?  In both, the fortune found in investing in people, in life.

We need to measure our marriages.  Opposite score-keeping, measurement should be found in out-serving the other.  Stanley says that when we can get to the point of saying, "I owe my spouse everything and they owe me nothing in return," we've uncovered one of the secrets to a happy marriage.  This is counter-cultural.  This is illustrative Jesus' life (Matthew 20:28).

Essentially, it's re-orienting our innate sense to measure.  Oriented toward earthly pursuits, they seem void of meaning at the end of our days.  "It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement - that they seek power, success, and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life."  (Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents).  Oriented toward the imaginative, purposeful, abundant, joyful heart of our Creator and we almost unknowingly become the same, living life on purpose.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Every Day is a Gift

I believe the last funeral I attended was in 2014.  It was honoring a co-worker, someone I'd spent much time working alongside, a doorway separating our offices.  I wrote then that I'd wished I'd kept that door open more often, had more time, appreciated the moments - even the mundane, miraculous gifts of relationship. 

I attended another funeral a few weeks ago.  Another co-worker.  Gone unexpectedly and much too soon.  We worked together the day after Christmas.  We talked about the minutia of work - materials to be ordered, schedules to be made.  When I learned of his loss, I immediately grieved the conversations missed.  I'd wished I asked more about his Christmas with his family, about his dogs he loved so much, about his life.  I wished I'd talked more about my faith, about his faith, about the things that matter most. 

There is no expectation that we become best friends, or even have relationships at any depth, with our co-workers.  At least, we're to show up and work together to do a job.  At best, we're unified in diverse abilities working collectively toward a common mission, with mutual purpose.  In either case, we're human beings with lives and stories and baggage and hurts and dreams and souls.  While our work lives and personal lives are compartmentalized to some degree for good reason, they're not mutually exclusive.  We're people.  And it seems every time I lose a co-worked, I wish I'd known more of the person.

Things always slow down for a bit when someone is lost.  The pace lessens as we pause to examine the colors of the sunrise, notice the unique characteristics in the faces of our children, and realize that the conversations with our parents aren't forever.  And then things speed up.  We don't purposefully bump up the speed of the treadmill that is life until we notice we're sweating and breathing heavy, lamenting the racing of it all - the race we choose to run.

Author Ann Voskamp writes, "life is not an emergency."  I want to work hard, with commitment and relentless pursuit in my vocational and volunteer endeavors this year.  And I want to slow the pace.  To know that I do, in fact, choose when to run and when to walk.  To see the sunrises with eager expectation of what God has in store and to appreciate the sunsets with gratitude and peace.  To hear more about the person, to learn about their dogs. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Doing the Hard Stuff

My Dad says that if it wasn't hard, they wouldn't call it work.  I've had the opportunity to work on both ends of the for-profit and non-profit spectrum.  Both provide very difficult challenges and hard work to be done.  Both also provide rich soil for cultivating meaningful relationships and bearing fruit from meaningful work.  Along the way, I've learned that the greatest fulfillment and the most significant, meaningful, and lasting impact is rooted in selfless acts of serving others, done in the most difficult of circumstances.  In short, serving others even when it's hard.

Give Even When It's Hard

Recently a business owner engaged in a long and tedious debate over expanding his business in a local community.  While there was support for this effort, there was also some very vocal opposition  Ultimately, the business owner agreed to not proceed with his plans in exchange for a monetary settlement.  He and his family decided to donate the entire amount to charity, in the same community that has opposed his plans. 

Kuppy's Diner will receive part of the donation.  They posted this on Facebook, "Got a message today ... [that the business owner] wanted to donate $2,500 to our car show charity for 2018. He was paid $25,000 to keep a crematory out of our town and instead of being spiteful to our people, he is donating 100% of the money to these different community services. Bravo to [this business owner's] generosity, we would have been lucky to keep more business in town. A very commendable move and we will put our share to good use next year."

It would have been fair to reason that the monetary settlement should offset some of the personal investment the business made into the battle to expand his business.  It would hard to reason to gift the entire amount back to the community. 

Serve Even When It's Hard

I attended a retirement party this weekend for a man who gave 40 years of his life to the non profit world.  Surrounded by family and friends, his impromptu speech noted that from the start of his career, he simply wanted to serve others.  He said that it's what we all strive to do, really - serve others.  However, if you can find a way to serve others in your work and enjoy the work you're doing, you'll find real contentment.  The work of CPARC is not easy.  It's interwoven with families far extended in time and energy to meet the special needs of individuals, an ever-changing landscape of health care, funding challenges of a non-profit, multiple sites and facilities to manage, and I could continue. 

It would have been fair to reason that this man put in an appropriate amount of time in serving others with special needs and that he might transition to a role less taxing in the last chapter of his career.  It would be hard to work relentlessly for four decades, serving those in great need with an unwavering focus.

Love Even When It's Hard

I know a Director at a local alternative school.  The type of school where a student goes when they are not functioning well in a public school.  A school that can be the last stop before a student either redirects to find a path toward graduation or, too often, drops out all together.  Defiance, verbally and physically, from students in outspoken and aggressive ways is not uncommon. 

While he affirms the work can be difficult, I've never heard him speak poorly of these kids.  When a dramatic story includes student behavior that results in police intervention, he peels back the layers to expose the context in which the student is living.  Almost never a Dad to be found.  Almost always brokenness and dysfunction at best, abuse and neglect at worst.

How does this man, who has a family of his own, spend his pre-Thanksgiving break?  Coordinating and delivering 40+ Thanksgiving meals for the families of the students he serves.  In the garage where these meals are assembled, there is a huge mural painted by this man's family and friends that reads, "Love Wins." 

It would be fair to reason that showing up and doing the work of a Director at an alternative school is doing your share of loving others.  It would be hard to go above and beyond and spend your time off with your family preparing meals for these same students. 

Most would agree that loving, giving, and serving are action items to be embraced.  Few of us find the courage and motivation to love, give, and serve when it's not reciprocated, applauded, funded, required, fair, or when we're just simply too tired from life to offer any more.

Speaker and Author Andy Stanley says that any time you identify that you have power (resources, influence) in a situation, look to leverage that for the least powerful (those on the fringes, the least, lonely, or lost) in the room.  I believe that makes a life well-lived.  Receiving.  Giving.  Living.  I also believe that we always have more to give to the degree that we receive it from an inexhaustible source found in Jesus;  the Christ who relentless seeks to love, serve, and give to us - freely and unconditionally. 

I have a book signed by Author Bob Goff with a handwritten quote that I've made into my life's mantra, a decree I hope to aspire to daily.  It reads, "Love God.  Love People.  Do stuff."  I'd add, "(Even when it's hard)."

Friday, September 29, 2017


At age 22, my supervisor asked me what I hoped to become.  I said that I just wanted to get married, buy a house with a yard, have a few sons, and coach them in Little League.  I've achieved my dreams.  I am so grateful.

There are many goals I have yet to accomplish, influence to yield, and work to be done.  However, my aspirations have now moved toward the second half of my life.  My vision for the future remains simple.  I want to be one of those guys who gather at a local coffee shop, breakfast diner, or gas station and meet together.  They drink coffee, talk High School football, forecast the weather, bark about the next generation, and reminisce.  Or, at least I think they do.  I'm not yet included, so I am not certain.  But, I hope to be a part of this someday.  Another 15 years or so, I suppose.

Most of my dreams are rooted in being a part of something.  To belong.  Throughout most of my life I've been partially committed to many things, rarely "all-in" with any particular group or movement or circle.  During my most selfish and isolated years, I lived by the mantra spouted in the classic move Heat where Al Pacino says something like, "don't ever have anything in your life you can't walk away from in less than 15 minutes if the heat rolls in."  I thought that was cool, independent, free.  It's desperately sad.  As I matured, I broke down some walls and let those closest to me in... sometimes.  There was always a longing to belong to this group or that and, at the same time, a fear of the risk involved when you really love those who belong with you, for you.  The belonging not guaranteed.

I know many adults still carrying baggage from decisions in the rear view.  At times, I share their story.  Almost always those decisions were made in a misguided effort to belong.  To a person.  In a family.  Alongside a group.  As part of a movement.  To be wanted.  To be valued.  To be known.

It's a search for identity, really.  This arduous trekking toward our true identity is generationally ingrained, parentally instilled, environmentally influenced, and socially contextualized.  But mostly, it's spiritual.  What are we searching for?  Comfort?  Purpose?  Peace?  Simply to be known?

Author and Counselor John Eldridge writes, “The problem of self-identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time. Perhaps the problem. It should haunt old age, and when it no longer does it should tell you that you are dead.”  Fathered by God: Learning What Your Dad Could Never Teach You    

I believe that we only ultimately find our true identity listening to the small, still voice of our Creator, whispering through the Fall leaves for us to be still.  To know.  Calling us from the passing clouds to look up.  To see.  Through the noise of the forest, rustling us awake to His presence.  To become. 

I also believe God calls us, as fathers, to instill in our children, as imperfectly as we might, a sense of belonging.  That they might know we're proud, our love unconditioned by sports performance or academic prowess.  That they might sense, in the depths of their soul, that their is nothing they could ever do that we might love them less.  I pray my boys know this.  I pray that I know this.

Eldridge continues, “Without this bedrock of affirmation, this core of assurance, a man will move unsteadily through the rest of his life, trying to prove his worth and earn belovedness through performance or achievement, through sex, or in a thousand other ways. Quite often he doesn’t know this is his search. He simply finds himself uncertain in some core place inside, ruled by fears and the opinions of others, yearning for someone to notice him. He longs for comfort, and it makes him uneasy because at thirty-seven or fifty-one shouldn’t he be beyond that now? A young place in his heart is yearning for something never received.”  

May you find your place this week.  In true community with others.  In deep relationship God.  And may we be a springboard for that deep assurance of having a place, of being known, to others - looking them in the eye, letting them know they matter.  Every.  Single.  One.


Sunday, July 9, 2017


With all the smart talk of the importance of being present, I still find it difficult to be in the moment.  As I've aged, I'm certainly more aware, more thankful for the moments passing.  Yet, I still fight anxiety because I know the moments are fleeting.  Like I am not getting the most, or, worse, wasting.  It's the end of a delicious steak dinner and I'm wondering if I rushed it, not savoring its essence.  Or, worse, not fully appreciating the time and attention given to the recipe, not appreciating the imagination of the Creator chef, me all-consuming and insatiable. 

I've noticed the passing of many great people over the past year.  Their remembrances are grand, like parades or simple short blurbs in the local journal.  In either case, it seems their faces fade too quickly.  The world turns.  All of that work, striving, trying to please - honored by signature remarks.  And gone.

I sit with a group of esteemed professionals talking through a book about living intentionally.  We all want significance.  It's not as much about the story we're writing, it's about why we're writing in the first place.  These lives, all matter.

For years, my wife and I would take our kids to the pool and look longingly at the parents sitting in reclining chairs reading leisurely, their children off.  This year was the first year that when we made our first visit to the pool our kids were gone and we were left sitting quietly.  We could read, talk, or do whatever we wanted.  I wondered where the time had gone. 

I've spent too much time, I reckon, thinking about what's ahead and what's behind.  Forging along without regarding or holding too tightly to the tide going low.   Not enough time simply being.   Here.  Now.  

I sat in a backyard concert tonight listening to a future-star Jeff Campbell.  A lyric struck me.  "I'm me because of you."  I am me because of God's saving grace.  He's whisked me from the mire, standing me straight again and again for something I don't yet see clearly.  Purpose.  I am me because of my wife.  She's summer and sun and light in my darkness.  I am me because of family.  Friends.  Paths crossed that seemed without regard, but significant. 

It's all we can do, I suppose.  Appreciate the now.  Figure out our why.  Understand why we're who we are, becoming.  Our legacies are there, in the story, ripples of eternity in each conversation, in the moments.  I pray we see them and know that He is doing more than we could know or imagine.  Hope.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Throwing Too Hard

We were up early on a Saturday morning to run a family 5K.  My wife had to work in the afternoon, but we had four unscheduled midday hours.  We put off chores and were just home.  It felt calm but unproductive.  Rest.  Is this what our life has become?  A sliver of peace found in inadvertently unplanned hours in between literal and figurative races and work.  We wanted more.

Author Shauna Niequist tells about a time when she was with friends discussing the future.  "One friend said that a way to get at your desire or dream is to answer this question:  if someone gave you a completely blank calendar and a bank account as full as you wanted, what would you do?  The first thing that leapt into my mind:  stop.  I would stop.  I would rest.  I would do nothing at all." (Present Over Perfect, 2017).  Is this what our culture has become?  A longing for quiet, simple rest - a desperate search for peace.

Noah Syndergaard is a starting pitcher for the Mets.  He's young, strong, and strikes people out.  He's an energy booster to the already rushed hours of the Big Apple.  During the off season he added 17 pounds of muscle and stated that he wanted to top the coveted 100 MPH mark on more pitches this season.  Baseball loves flamethrowers, speed, velocity.  Even at the risk of shortened major league careers because human arms aren't made to throw 120 pitches every few nights at speeds approaching triple digits.  Still we want more.  And youth baseball rewards it.  And most young pitchers that throw that hard for that long in their early years are working in sales before they ever see a baseball scout.  In a recent outing Syndergaard felt a pull, a tightening.  The team recommended an MRI.  He refused.  Instead he went out to pitch again.  He's a hero - playing through the pain, ignoring the warning signs of fatigue.  Synergaard's next start was shortened as the pain pulled him from the game and further testing revealed a lateral muscle tear, his season over.

Niequist vulnerably defines her addictions to performance even when it was detrimental to her well being.  "I thought I needed to be fast and efficient, sparkly and shiny, battle-ready and inexhaustible.  There was, I will be honest with you, a lot of pressure from all sorts of places.  I could be those things and so I was, and then lots of people told me I had a responsibility to do more and more and more.  For a long time, I listened to them."  She continues,   "But what I've learned the hard way is you don't answer to a wide swath of people and their opinions, even if they're good people, with good opinions.  You were made by hand with great love by the God of the universe, and he planted deep inside of you a set of loves and dreams and idiosyncrasies, and you can ignore them as long as you want, but they will at some point start yelling.  Worse that than, if you ignore them long enough, they will go silent, and that's the real tragedy." 

Great stress relievers for me include running and writing.  Sadly, I often turn both into performance metrics, never content with the process, always frown-faced over more miles that could have been logged, more pieces that could have been published.  Never enough.  There is more to do at work and at home and when you're running crazy and keeping busy there isn't enough time to run and write and breathe.  I know it's too much, not healthy and whole.  Yet, things need done.  The fields need harvested and the workers are few.  And the busyness numbs.  Like the food and the drink can, it soothes.   The busyness feels a bit stressful, but eventually it makes you feel less of anything at all.  It masks real relationship for plastic productivity.  And there are seasons in my life when I've grown accustomed to not feeling anything.  Pitching through the pain.  Refusing the MRI.  Losing a season on the bench because I was bull-headed and prideful.  The crowds always applauding me for pitching a few extra innings beyond the allotted pitch count (capacity), until I couldn't.

This isn't about the number of events on the calendar, committee meetings attended, chores marked off the list, or hours logged at the you-name-it.  It's about presence and the peace that's found in just being.  The best times cannot be manufactured, they're organic.  The memorable moments kindle, flame, and bright embers fade into the starry night like a campfire.  Unique, mysterious, magical, beautiful, peaceful, and fleeting.  They're not reproducible. They're God-given and plentiful, yet easy to miss.  I've missed many moments, enjoyed many others.  This season I plan to pitch to my capacity and to ask for help from the bullpen when I need it. I'm going to try and not miss the perfectly green grass of a freshly cut infield, the smell of popcorn and peanuts at the ballpark, and the sweet crack of a wooden bat on a baseball.  I won't miss these things trying to throw 100 MPH.  I will be just where I am, imperfect and present.