Category Archives: Family

Chasing Down a Dream

I can put the napkin down…I do not have egg on my face. And I am so relieved.

After highly publicizing my intention to run a 5K race-something I have NEVER done before in my life-yesterday, I did it…and I finished.

With a good luck kiss from my wife, and the encouraging words, “just don’t throw up” echoing in my head from my good friend Rachael, I was off. And my life was changed forever.

I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s true.

You see, when I weighed 360 pounds and I could barely walk up a short flight of stairs without stopping because of severe knee pain and extreme shortness of breath, running a road race wasn’t anywhere on the radar of plans for my life. In fact, I genuinely believe that if I had tried to run at that point, I probably would have had a heart attack.

And I was probably right.

But that was then…In the last four years, I have lost weight…close to 100 pounds.

And with the loss of fat has come a gradual gain in self-confidence.

But it was a series of challenges that brought me to the point where I am able to write this particular blog post:

  • Steve challenged me to run one mile, because he saw my lack of belief in myself;
  • Larry, Bryan, and Mark challenged me to run a 5K with them;
  • And I challenged myself to risk looking like a fool if I failed by telling anyone and everyone who would listen what my goal was.

So here I am, 24 hours later, reflecting on my first 5K. The race route has been cleared, the road has returned to normal, and the only reminders I have of the race are a couple of tired legs, some great memories, and a few nice pictures.

And, oh yeah, I also have more than 100 comments and “likes” on Facebook from well-wishing friends and relatives. Thanks to everyone for their well wishes.

To be honest, I was a little bit surprised at the massive groundswell of support. People who had friended me and then disappeared from my Facebook feed are popping back up to congratulate me or to tell me that they are inspired to set a similar goal.

You know what that means?

It means that during a time when the stock market is down and gas prices are up…when the politicians on both sides of the aisle can’t stop the attack ads and negative campaigning…when the Middle East situation continues to spiral out of control…

People from all cross-sections of society NEED to hear a feel-good story.

As I ran this race, I was energized by the people along the 3.1 mile route, shouting encouragement, clapping for the runners, handing out cups of water, and even spraying willing runners with a hose to cool them off.

I joked with a couple of people sitting in lawn chairs at the end of their driveway that I would trade places with them if they wanted. They laughed, politely declined, and encouraged us to keep going. As I approached the finish line, the race director was standing at the top of the hill, shouting encouragement, “Keep going! You’re almost there! Good job!”

And then I heard the calls from my friends, my wife, and my kids:

“Keep going, Jon! You can do it! Go Dad! WOO HOO!!!” I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and was immediately mobbed by my favorite people in the world…my family and friends.

With my son, Andrew, who finished 17 minutes ahead of me. 🙂

And as I thanked them for their encouragement, I also thanked God for giving me the strength to do what I could never have done on my own.

So now I have done something I never IMAGINED would be possible…I’m looking for my next challenge…and I’m excited to figure out what it will be.

In the meantime, I am planning to run my next 5K. It’s at the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival. And it’s in three weeks.

I guess I better keep running.

Because I can’t accomplish my dreams if I’m not willing to chase them down.


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The “Domino” Life

When I was young, I watched a TV special about these guys who wanted to set a world record for tumbling the biggest field of dominoes. They spent weeks and weeks meticulously setting up dominoes, one at a time. If their placement was off at all, it would cause a failure in the pattern, and not all the dominoes would fall. On the other hand, if, during the setup, they accidentally knocked over a domino, it would cause a cascade effect that would cause hundreds of dominoes to fall early. They would frantically find a place to remove a domino somewhere up the line that would stop the untimely chain reaction, and then they would have to clear the fallen dominoes and start to rebuild from the point of failure.

As I reflect on the patience one must have to undertake such an effort, it reminds me of my life. I spend a lot of time trying to maximize my effectiveness in so many areas: spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, relational…and when one area of my life is not going well, it tends to cascade over into the other areas of my life, like dominoes that aren’t meant to fall until the entire “puzzle” is set up just right.

Recently, I have been struggling mentally. As the summer semester draws to a close, I find myself completely drained. I’m having mental lapses, making careless computational errors (not good when you’re a math teacher!), and just having trouble focusing in general. This has made it difficult to run.

Yes, I said run…

You see, I have come to realize that what everyone says about running really IS true. It’s all mental. In the last couple of months, I have increased my base running distance from one mile to two miles. And it has been that mental focus that has enabled me to do that. Being mentally drained from teaching has made it difficult to run.

Being the emotional person that I am, this has been discouraging for me. I have felt slightly depressed over the past couple of weeks, and a lot of it is rooted in my self-perceived lack of progress with running. I have my first ever 5K in just nine days, and I do not feel ready for it. This makes me worried, draining me emotionally.

Being drained emotionally has made it difficult to give to my family in the way that they need me to. I am a husband and a dad. My wife and kids require and deserve that part of me which meets their emotional needs…and it has been hard to give the way I need to.

And when I am having trouble meeting the demands of life, I often find myself being frustrated with God. I ask Him to give me the capacity to meet the challenges of daily living, and yet, at the end of the day, I look back and see a series of little failures along the way that add up to a non-productive day.

Does anyone see the problem here?

I believe that the victories in life flow from my spiritual relationship with God first and foremost. When I look back at what leads me to ultimate spiritual frustration, I recognize that it is because I am coming to God with the scraps that I have left at the end of the day. And I’m mad that the scraps are not pleasing to God.

My most useful, productive days are those where I place God at the forefront of my day, where He belongs. Drawing on His strength enables me to be more focused and mentally tough. And then, like the fall of the dominoes, the rest of my day cascades into place.

And when the dominoes fall the right way-the way that they are intended to fall-it creates a beautiful design…one that I can look back on and say, “Thanks for using me today, God.”







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Are My Dreams Weird?

This might end up being the stupidest blog ever…

Or I might just find out that I am not as weird as I think I am…

Or that you’re all as weird as I am.

I’ll let you decide.

Have you ever awakened in a really foul mood because you are mad at someone for something that they did to you…in your dream?

It happened to me this morning. One of my very best friends did me wrong in a dream I had last night…and now I’m really ticked off at him…

What’s really interesting is that this “very best friend” of mine is someone I haven’t seen in 10 years…this is someone that I was very close to in high school. We have kept in touch sporadically over the last several years, but I haven’t seen him since my 20th reunion.

But oh, he did me wrong in my dream last night.

You see, in my dream, he went with me to the funeral of one of my relatives in Minnesota. This was a dream, so the relative in the coffin was someone I have never actually seen before. But in my dream, we were very close. Anyway, my uncle is a pastor (that part is true) and he was performing the ceremony for my deceased relative. Of course, I was devastated over the loss of this person (who doesn’t REALLY exist), and so I was grateful to have my friend (let’s call him Harry) to support me.

Now Harry is ex-military (which is true) and he came to the funeral in his dress blues to pay respect to my dear departed relative (who isn’t real). It seems that my relative left me a large inheritance of some sort (which is how I KNOW this was a dream, because my family doesn’t have LARGE inheritances to leave to anyone), and my uncle (the pastor) was the executor of the estate. As soon as the funeral was over, I introduced my uncle to my friend Harry, who was all duded up in his Army dress uniform. My uncle was so impressed that my friend was a veteran that he decided to give my inheritance to Harry…who TOOK it! My friend took the inheritance (that doesn’t exist) that was given to him by my uncle (who DOES exist) from my dead relative (who doesn’t exist).

So I woke up, and now I’m mad at my friend Harry (whom I haven’t seen in 10 years) and my uncle (whom I dearly love).

What’s the point of this little anecdote?

The point is this: I really WAS grouchy this morning, because of this stupid dream! I allowed something non-existent to dictate my mood…it was only after a hot shower and some quiet, reflective time that I was able to focus my mind on the day ahead with a modicum of anticipation.

Do you ever find yourself in this situation? Maybe it isn’t something as innocuous as a dream. Perhaps it’s the guy who cuts you off in traffic, or maybe it was the neighbor’s dog that left a present on your back patio this morning. Could it possibly be that co-worker who is perpetually negative and has decided to target you as their object of derision today? Or perhaps it’s the student who has decided with two weeks left in the semester that it’s now time to start attending your class and expects you to allow her to make up all of the homework that she has not turned in for the last 14 weeks…

What is that thing (or who is that one person) over which you have no control that has dictated your mood for the day?

Or for the week?

If you’re like me, you allow the frustrations from early in the week to carry you through until Friday. And then, when you look back, you find that your week has been generally unproductive, because you have spent the better part of your mental energy all week being mad at the world about something over which you had no control. And this lack of productivity keeps you grouchy through the weekend.

Silly, huh? Yet all too real…

So what are you going to do about it?

Personally I am through allowing that which I cannot control to control ME. Our attitude is a choice. What we think about is a choice. The Bible tells us that we are to take every thought captive. I choose to do this. This will take some practice, and I will fail along the way. But I will be happier and more productive along the way.

I think I need to give Harry a call…ten years is far too long.

Hey, I feel better already.


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Who’s On Your Board of Directors?

Ever wonder why big companies have a Board of Directors?

Think about it…when someone starts a company, they make themselves the president, and they make the all of the decisions that determine the course of the organization.

But when the company gets really big, they suddenly need to have a “board of directors” to make the major decisions…

Do you ever wonder why?

The answer is obvious: there is wisdom in the counsel of many. If one person makes a decision without taking into account the wisdom of others, they do not have the fullest picture of how their decisions can impact the company…a wrong decision made by one person could cause the destruction of an organization and the loss of jobs for many people.

Having a board of directors makes perfect sense.

As individuals, we need to have our own “personal board of directors” as well…

I had never heard that term until my friend Steve used it with me several years ago.

Steve was explaining how he had arrived at important decisions in his life. As a youth pastor, he has served in churches in Indiana, Illinois, California, and Florida. He has had to make a multitude of career decisions, family decisions, decisions about how to handle the problems of teens under his care, and so on.

Whenever Steve had to make a critical decision, a decision that could have a far-reaching impact on himself, his family, or others, he would consult his personal board of directors. This was a group of 5-6 people, including his wife, in whom he had complete confidence. They were people who would not tell Steve only what he wanted to hear. They had permission to speak clearly and directly into Steve’s life…even if what they had to say was not going to make Steve happy. These were friends closer than brothers who would pull no punches in offering Steve the best wisdom they possibly could.

I like this idea…

Not only do I like this idea…but I think it is extremely important.

We need people in our lives in whom we have complete confidence; people who can tell us what we may not want to hear-not because they are being cruel, but because they love us and want what’s best for us.

Our spouse should be one of those people…if they are not, then you have larger issues to work through. My wife is my best friend. I could not imagine making major decisions without her input…and she definitely does not always tell me what I want to hear.

We also need close friends who can serve us in the same way…not too many, mind you. But enough that we can get a diversity of opinion when we are trying to make the best decision possible.

They need to be individuals who can get in your face and call you out when you are wrong, comfort you when you are grieving, and rejoice with you when you celebrate.

It’s important that your board of directors has the same value system as you. Its also important to get a diversity of opinions from the group. My wife Katie is one of my board members…so is Steve…and my oldest son, Jack. I also have guys like Mike, Carl, and Eric that I rely on for wisdom and counsel when I need it.

How about you? Do you have people in your life who have the total freedom to put on their boots and stomp around in the mud of your life? Are they allowed to call you out when you need to be called out? Do they offer you sound wisdom, whether you ask for it or not?

Proverbs 27:6a says, “wounds from a friend can be trusted.”

If you don’t have any friends that you can trust to wound you once in awhile, I would suggest that you find some soon…

Because we all have decisions to make in this life…

And most of them should not be made alone.


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Writing about Life…the Universe…Everything…

(A conversation with my 15-year old son, Matthew)
Matthew: “You need to write a blog…”
Me: “Why?”
Matthew: “Because I enjoy reading them…”
Me: (dumbfounded stare)
Matthew: “And because you haven’t written in almost a month…”

(Facebook instant message from a co-worker)
“More blog please!”

Matthew is right…it has now been a month since I have posted anything in The Marginal Writer. I originally intended to write regularly. And I wanted to get better at my writing

To that end, I have sought out advice and counsel from bloggers far more prolific and successful than myself. I have subscribed to blogs about how to write better blogs, how to “find my voice,” how to “focus my message,” and how to “grow my tribe…” and I believe that every one of them has added some value to my thinking…

But mostly, they have made me feel inadequate.

Two months ago, I was on a roll…I was writing on all sorts of random topics in my life that interested me. And, surprisingly enough, there were people who were actually interested in the random wandering of my writings.

Then I decided to get some blog training…

And my creativity locked up…

I started to feel inadequate, because everything I read about blogging told me that the only way to increase my readership was to narrow my focus to a specific topic. One of my coaches posed the following questions to me:

• What am I passionate about?
• In what topic do I have expertise or a desire to learn?
• What could I write about for a year without running out of ideas or energy?

These are excellent questions from a very successful blogger and blog coach. I wrestled with these questions for days. And the truth is, I could not find a specific answer for any of them. I don’t have any one thing that I feel I am an expert in, and there are so many things I want to learn that I find it hard to focus on just one thing. There is no one subject about which I am so passionate that I could write for a year without running out of ideas or energy.

Or maybe…

Maybe there is…

I am passionate about my life…That sounds self-centered, but bear with me for a minute…

I am passionate about my wife…I am passionate about my kids…I am passionate about laughter…

I am passionate about my friends…I am passionate about my students…I am passionate about my hobbies…

I am passionate about losing weight…I am passionate about trying to get fit…I am passionate about writing…

More than anything else, I am passionate about my relationship with Jesus Christ…

So when I put them all together, what does that give me?

It gives me my life…

And I could write about what’s going on in my life for a year and beyond without ever exhausting the supply of interesting stories…

So I’m back…

And I’ll be writing about what’s going on in my life.

If you enjoy reading it, that’s great…

If not, that’s okay, too…

Because I will have enjoyed writing it…

You see, my 15 year old son finds my writing interesting…

And that means more to me than finding any tribe…


Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Family, Focus, Motivation, Self-discipline, Writing


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Cheaters Never Prosper…Do They?

I caught some cheaters this week…

Of, course, they don’t think that they were cheating…which makes this story all the more frustrating.

But I’m getting ahead of myself….

I have this class…there are about 40 students. It’s a math class for majors…and I gave them a take home test last week.

That was my first mistake.

When I gave them the test, I told them that they were honor-bound to work only on their own tests…that they were not to receive any outside assistance.

That was my second mistake.

When I got the tests back, I began to grade them…

That was my third mistake.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? This entire scenario is fraught with mistakes. There is plenty of blame to be placed here.

And it’s all on me.

Just ask my students…they’ll tell you that they weren’t cheating. They’ll tell you that my instructions were not clear, that I did not define for them what constituted cheating, and so the assistance that they offered each other was not cheating.

This was not one or two students…

This was six…

And those are only the ones for whom I was confident enough in the evidence to confront them. I had at least 4 other students that appeared to copy off of one another, but the comparisons were not quite strong enough to make a case in front of the Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs…

Which is something I did not want to do.

I offered these six students a reasonably painless (for them) way out. Since I was dropping their lowest test score anyway, I would just give them a zero for this test, drop THIS score and calculate their grades based on the four previous tests. We would not speak of this again, they would learn a lesson, and we would move on. I told them that if they did not wish to choose this option, they were free to file an appeal, at which point, we would have a hearing with the dean of their department and the Vice-Chancellor.

None of them wanted that.

All of them admitted that they had worked together in pairs on the test.

None of them admitted that they were cheating.

In fact, all of them seemed bewildered that I was accusing them of cheating.

They didn’t think that helping each other on a take home test was cheating…

Or wrong…

One of the students was actually so indignant that she demanded a hearing in front of the dean and the Vice -Chancellor because, even though she admitted that she helped another student, SHE had done her own work, so she was not “guilty of cheating.” She did not view her assistance on a take home test to a fellow student as morally wrong.

You know what is saddest about this story?

It’s not that our society has declined to the point that the intentional violation of rules is viewed as the fault of the rule maker rather than the rule breaker…

It’s not even the fact that some teachers have now resorted to requiring that their students sign a code of conduct contract in order to protect themselves from litigious individuals.

What’s saddest about this whole mess is that the students in my class…the students I caught cheating…the students who honestly don’t feel that they did anything wrong…

They are all studying to become Elementary School Teachers.

That’s not a typo. I’ll say it again in case you think you misread it…

They are all studying to become Elementary School Teachers.

Within 3 years, these students will be teachers themselves, standing in front of a classroom full of children, molding them…developing them… teaching them…

And they have no moral problem with cheating…

They believe that the rules don’t apply to them…

And they are going to pass these values on to the next generation of students…

Students who will one day grow up, graduate from high school, and walk into my college classroom…

Students who will wonder what the big deal is when I catch them cheating…

Suddenly, homeschooling doesn’t look like such a bad option.

At least my kids will know that cheating is wrong.

And if they do it, and they are caught, they will know that THEY were wrong…that THEY are responsible for they mess…

And they won’t blame it on the teacher.


Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Family, Society, Teaching, Uncategorized


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The Ultimate Fighter

My best friend from high school is named Adam*.

Adam has a weight-loss plan…

It’s not a very good one.

In fact, Adam only manages to lose a few ounces every year or so.

And he does it in an extremely painful manner.

He has fractions of his lung removed.

You see, Adam has cancer…

Or rather, Adam HAD cancer.

Now he has it again.

And after December 8th, he will not have cancer…again…

Adam has been battling cancer for more than 5 years. Ironically, that qualifies him as a “cancer survivor.” It’s ironic because every time a new mass of cancerous cells pops up, they go in, remove them, and he is “cancer-free” again…until another mass appears.

Then he goes on his “cancer cell removal diet” again, loses a few more ounces…and the circle continues.

Adam has a cancer scan every 3 months…

We keep hoping that the scans come back negative…ironically, negative is a GOOD thing, positive is a BAD thing.

Adam and I have been friends for 33 years. In high school he was a bit of a nerd…so was I. Neither one of us was going to play on the football team. But Adam was a genius…he still is. I wasn’t a genius…I’m still not.

Adam elevated his nerd status when he was named the valedictorian of our senior class. And he forever immortalized his legendary nerd status by winning money on a Hollywood trivia game show in the 1980’s.

He won a LOT of money.

THAT wasn’t nerdy…

Funny thing about nerds…

You don’t think of them as tough.

You think of them as the wimpy guy with the thick glasses and the pocket protector…the skinny guy in the chess club who’s good at math and science, and likes to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Adam had thick glasses…

He was good at math and science…

He was in chess club and loved Dungeons and Dragons…

Not sure about the pocket protector…

One thing I AM sure of?

Adam is not a wimp.

Adam is tough…

Adam is fighting cancer on a daily basis…fighting like a warrior.

He is fighting for his wife…He is fighting for his son…He is fighting for himself.

Adam is not a wimp…

You know what he is?

He’s tougher than any ultimate fighter I’ve ever seen…

He’s my hero…

If you’re smart, you’ll make him your hero, too.

And say a prayer for him on December 8th…even heroes need prayer.

*The story is true. The name “Adam” has been fictionalized-at my friend’s request-to preserve a certain level of anonymity.


Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Family, Motivation, Uncategorized


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