Category Archives: Society

It’s Not All About ME…(Anymore)

I’m a big weenie.

I hate to admit that, but it is becoming more evident to me every day.

Three weeks ago, I ran my first 5K. I made a big deal about it to anyone and everyone who would listen. I didn’t want to fail, so I put myself so far out there publicly that, if I DID fail, I would look like a weenie.

I didn’t fail in running the race.

But I have failed in the three weeks since then.

You see, I haven’t run at all since that race.

I haven’t written anything since the race either.

The two go hand in hand…

You see, a couple of days after the race, I injured my back. The doctor doesn’t believe it was race-related (thank goodness), but I have been in quite a bit of pain for three weeks. Multiple trips to the chiropractor and daily ice and heat treatments have been intermingled with my teaching course load, making it difficult for the back to completely heal. That’s the main reason I haven’t done any running for the last three weeks.

So why haven’t I done any writing?

Well, that’s where the whole, “I’m a big weenie,” thing comes in…

I am someone who has difficulty compartmentalizing various parts of my life. In other words, when one area of my life is not functioning smoothly, I can’t avoid having it spill over into other areas of my life. This is very frustrating.

And being in chronic pain has sucked the enjoyment out of my writing.

Even now, as I sit on an ice pack, I am struggling to force out words. It’s an effort, not a joy.

And to me, writing has been all about the joy.

Therein lies the rub…

I want my writing to become more than just a creative outlet…I want it to become a meaningful place for others to reflect and discover something in themselves, borne out of shared experience. I want people to resonate with my words…to be encouraged, chastised, convicted, and motivated. I want my words to drive people to take action.

And if that’s the case, then I need to be writing daily…not just when I feel like it. Good writers are disciplined…good writers write nearly every day…even if they write something that no one ever sees except themselves. And I haven’t even been doing that.

Instead, I have been completely unmotivated, resulting in a complete waste of time on mindless junk…like Facebook Scrabble and BTD5.

So here I am on Labor Day, 2012, celebrating the spirit of the American worker…and I’m not doing anything worthwhile.

I have to get up and go…I need to move. Even if it hurts…and I need to set a goal that will motivate me to run…and to write.

I have set that goal:

  • On October 20th, I will be running another 5K.

Now before you go, “Oh no, here we go again,” let me explain.

My last 5K was all about me, I admit that. I had to prove to myself that I could do something I did not imagine possible. But life can’t continue to be “all about me” or it becomes pointless. I firmly believe that our lives need to be centered on serving God and serving others.

Food Bank of Northwest IndianaSo on October 20th, I will be running in the “Hope’s Harvest” 5K run/walk to benefit the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. I am looking for sponsors who are willing to donate any amount in support of the run. All proceeds will go directly to the Food Bank, whose mission is to support area food pantries.

I also want to encourage people who may want to walk or run themselves to be a part of our team! The entry fee of $25.00 also goes directly to the Food Bank and will provide all participants with breakfast, lunch, and a goody bag, including an event T-shirt. You can join the Cornerstone Food Pantry Team by clicking on the “Hope’s Harvest” banner at the end of this blog.

There you have it folks…I need to have a goal to pursue, or I get complacent…sluggish…unproductive… ok, I admit it; LAZY! But now that I have another short-term goal to pursue, I feel so much more motivated!

I also have the opportunity to help those in my community who do not have the resources to feed their families. What better way to serve? So get motivated yourself! Set yourself a short-term goal-something you can accomplish in the next 6-8 weeks, and something that will be a service to someone in need. Then, get off your butt, and get going!


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Teach your Children Well…

In the classic film, A League of Their Own, Manager Jimmy Dugan, a washed up, alcoholic, former major leaguer, is hired to manage a traveling women’s baseball team during World War Two. At the height of the movie, Dugan, played by Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, explodes on his right fielder for making a bad throw. She responds by bursting into tears, eliciting Dugan’s now famous rant: “ARE YOU CRYING? There’s no crying! THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!”

I’m no Jimmy Dugan. And I don’t coach baseball. But I learned one very important thing this afternoon…

There IS crying in SOFTball. A LOT of it…at least when you coach 10-12 year-old girls.

I’m not denigrating my team. I love these girls. And I may have learned more about leadership in one afternoon on the softball field than I did from all the speakers at the daylong leadership conference I attended the day before.

But there was a LOT of crying.

We got beat. 17-4. It was not pretty. It can’t be when you lose 17-4. But it was an incredible learning and growing experience…

For me…

I learned that there are a lot of parents who apparently derive their own sense of self-worth from the successes (or failures) of their children. I watched my third baseman make the RIGHT PLAY with a runner on 3rd, but because she did not make a good throw, her parents yelled at her that she should have made a different play…

Even though it would have been the wrong play to make.

My third baseman was in tears.

My catcher was in tears because she asked her mom to stop yelling about the misplays…to which the mom responded, “FINE! I’m never coming to another one of your games ever again!” before stomping off to the concession stand.

My catcher was in tears…

I saw my own daughter miss a couple of balls at first base. She tried…but she missed them.

She was in tears.

I saw a girl strike out, but she forgot to run when the catcher dropped the ball. You can run on a dropped third strike in softball. Everyone was yelling at her, she became confused…and burst into tears.

I saw my shortstop burst into tears of anger because the other team kept their best pitcher in the game for another inning, even after we were losing by 13 runs.

Yes, I saw a lot of crying in softball today.

But you know what else I saw?

I saw a catcher who fired up her team with motivating words when the score was getting out of control. I saw one of the youngest, and least experienced, players on the team start a rally by running as fast as she could to eke out an infield single. I saw the girls start to get excited as a few runs came across the plate. I saw a player hit a two-run double and stand on second base with her arms raised in triumph. I saw my own daughter make a couple of very nice plays at first base. And I saw a lot of the critical parents start to cheer.

What are we teaching our kids?

Are we teaching them that the only time to encourage them and root for them is when they are doing well? Are we instilling in them the idea that success, not honest effort, is the most important thing to be gained? Are we seeing our own failures in our children when they fail? Are we making it about OUR success, instead of about THEIR fun?

I used to be that way…When my kids would succeed, I felt like I had succeeded. And when they failed, I felt like I had failed. And no one wants to fail. So I would get mad at them because they had made me look bad. I took it personally when my son would lose a match in Tae Kwan Do, or when my kids would make a bad play or not run in soccer or baseball.

And then I started coaching kids’ softball.

And I came to realize that the kids just want to have fun. Most of them want to get better, hit the ball farther, run faster, and score more runs…but they mainly want to have fun. And we, as the adults, have made it all about winning.

I’m as guilty as every other parent.

After the game, I sat in a circle in the outfield with the team and we talked about the game. One of the girls suggested that we go around the circle and have each person say something good that one of the other players did during the game. It was a sweet time. Some of the girls were shy…some of them repeated what another player had said.

But they were a team. And they were encouraging one another.

I know that there are some parents who probably wish I was a more aggressive, “in your face” kind of coach. I question whether I need to be more hard-nosed. I hear the coaches of the other team yelling at their players, and I wonder if I’m not getting the best athletic performance out of my players because I’m not tougher with the players.

But one mom came up to me after the game was over-after all the players had left and I was shoving equipment into the bag, and she said six words that meant the world to me.

She said, “I’m so glad you’re their coach.” She emphasized the word “you’re.”

Being aggressive and “in your face?” That’s just not my personality. I am an encourager. I like to motivate people, and I like to help them recognize the situations that they are in so that they can plan their next steps.

And I’m okay with that.

There will be those people who are not fans of my coaching style…Most of those people are parents.

But when I took my third baseman by the shoulders, looked her in the eye and told her, “You made the right play. Don’t let anyone…ANYONE tell you otherwise,” she started to cry again.

Except this time, they were tears of relief.

And seeing her accept that was more important than winning a softball game will ever be.


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Guess What? I’m GOOD at Something!

If you’re good at something and you know it, is it tacky to acknowledge it?

I’m not suggesting that you display a lack of humility or brag about your abilities. That is clearly rude.

But if you have struggled with self-esteem issues most of your life-if you have honestly felt like you weren’t good at anything-and then evidence begins to mount that suggests that you ARE talented in a certain area, is it okay to accept it? Is it okay to step out of the shadows and say, “Hey, I’m good at something!”?

I think it is…

I have faced this struggle for many years.

As a kid, I was frequently picked on and beat up by the neighborhood bullies, no matter where I lived. It seemed like whenever we moved to a new place, the bully radar would go off, and they would come flocking to my front porch.

When you consider that I went to six different schools between kindergarten and my senior year of high school, there were a lot of bullies who took their turns beating me up. As a result, I always suffered from low self-esteem…

And I never believed that I was good at anything.

This belief persisted throughout my youth and early adulthood, and well into my career as an educator. For the first several years of my career, I was a high school teacher in Gary, Indiana. My students all liked me well enough, but I never thought my teaching ability was anything special.

Then I started teaching at a university…what a world of difference that made.

Faculty members at universities are required to focus on three things: research, service to the university, and teaching. It is the utmost desire (read: requirement) of the university administration that each faculty member be very good to excellent in at least two of these three areas. Since I am not a researcher, I have focused on service and teaching.

Since we are “encouraged” to be very good to excellent in these areas, there are a number of metrics that are used to measure our progress toward these goals. We are evaluated every semester by our students, we are required to submit an annual report to the administration that details all of our service, teaching, and research activities for the past calendar year…

And there are awards…

In 2001, one of my students nominated me for the top university teaching award. I decided not to apply. I didn’t think that I could win. Awards were for the really great teachers…

A dear friend, Dr. Robin Hass, encouraged me to apply. She had won the award previously and was the chair for the teaching committee. She told me that she had heard good things about my teaching. Robin was an exceptional teacher for whom I had an enormous amount of respect. I applied, more out of respect for Robin than because I thought I could win.

I won.

I’ll never forget the day that I ran into Robin in the stairwell and she told me that I had won the “Founder’s Day Teaching Award.” I was stunned…I honestly thought that I had no chance to win. And I thought that it was probably a fluke.

But I was grateful.

A year later, I won another teaching award, and a couple of years after that, another. Other faculty members started asking ME if I could observe their classes and write a teaching recommendation letter…even some of the Ph. D.’s! And as I looked at the people who were asking me to write letters for them, I realized that they were people for whom I had a great deal of respect…because they were excellent teachers.

And now, these people that I believed were excellent teachers were asking ME to write THEM letters of recommendation as they applied for other teaching awards, as well as promotion and tenure. Now, I may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but even I could see that there was a connection here: good teachers don’t ask bad teachers to critique their teaching.

So I’m a good teacher…I accept it. And I am grateful for the abilities that God has given me.

And now I seek to serve others through teaching whenever I have the opportunity.

What about you? Do you have a skill, a talent, or a gift that you have never fully shared because you just didn’t think you were really good enough? Are you hiding your abilities from those you might really be able to help because of fear or insecurity?

Keeping our talents to ourselves is selfish…the greatest act of generosity is to give freely, expect nothing in return, and celebrate with the recipient when our gifts are received.

So will you be selfish? Or will you be generous?

Choose. Now.


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Make a Difference

“I’m trying to make a difference; I’m not trying to make a dollar.”

-Seth Godin

Too many people think that the only way to make a difference is to have lots of money that they can throw at a problem, thinking that this will fix the problem, or at least make it  go away.

I am one of those people…are you?

How often have you said, “If I ever win the lottery, I’m going to fix (insert your own world problem here).” I tend to say this every time the Mega Millions jackpot exceeds $200 million…because that’s the only time I ever buy a lottery ticket.

Because “you gotta be in it to win it…”

So I buy a lottery ticket about once every three years or so…I spend the days leading up to the drawing telling all of my friends about all of the noble things I am going to do with my winnings, and then I check my ticket the morning after the drawing.

Then I pitch my losing ticket in the garbage and go back to my life…and nothing really changes.


Maybe I become just a fraction more cynical…maybe I become just a fraction less likely to make a difference in the world…because there is something engrained in my psyche that believes I cannot make a difference if I don’t have “enough money.”

My problem is in the scope of my focus. I have this idea that if I do not make some huge difference in the world-a difference that will be a game-changer for a large number of people-then I have not made enough of a difference…so I don’t try.

In other words, it’s all about me….

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever shied away from a situation because you didn’t think that you had the resources or the ability to make a difference? I do it all the time…

And I’m sick of it.

That struggling single mom might be raising a future research scientist who will find a cure for cancer…the abused child on your son’s baseball team might grow up to become a pro athlete with the resources to help other children who are being abused like he was. That drug-addicted high school dropout might find a way out of their lifestyle and start a recovery program for other dropouts.

We have no trouble envisioning what our “million$” will do for nameless, faceless people across the country or around the world…but we have trouble imagining what change might occur if we make a contribution within our own community.

I don’t need to make a dollar (or a million dollars) to make a difference…and neither do you. In a recent blog, Jeff Goins summed it up best: “In a selfish world obsessed with celebrity, we need more generosity. We don’t need more rock stars; we need more servants. It may be the only thing that can save us from ourselves.”

I’m done trying to be a rock star…I want to be a servant.


How can I help?






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Redefining Myself


I have A.D.D.…It’s self-diagnosed, but I’m pretty sure I have it (My wife will tell you that I am a hypochondriac, but that’s a topic for another blog).

I can’t focus on anything for more than 4 or 5 minutes before my mind is racing off in another direction. It makes blogging extremely difficult. And, as badly as I want to write a book, I don’t know if I will ever be able to stay focused long enough to do so.

That’s a cop-out, and I know it. But it’s MY cop-out, and I’ll thank you not to judge me for it.

We all cop out on something. Either we lack confidence, or we lack encouragement, or we lack self-discipline, or we lack focus…

I have been using my (self-diagnosed) A.D.D to define myself, to give myself an excuse for not pursuing my passion to write. I start an article or blog post, but I run into a wall, so I give up. I want to be a writer, but I feel like I can’t get the words out that I want to say. I want to encourage people, and I have general ideas for how I want to help others, but when it comes to putting the words into print, I struggle.

I hate that.

I want to tell stories that offer hope. I want to share words that strengthen and encourage. I want to inspire others…to motivate people. I see a future that I love. I want to help others who do not love where they are…those who want to chase after their dreams, but are afraid to do so. So what am I afraid of?

I am afraid to fail. I am afraid to try something and not have it go well. Why is that?

I have become used to accepting failure as an identifier of who I am, instead of what I am doing. But the reality is that if I am not failing at something, it’s because I am not pursuing new adventures…I am not trying new things. I am sticking with the same old routine that got me where I am today-teaching math to people who don’t want to learn it, while gazing out the window, and feeling as if life is passing me by. Life doesn’t have to be that way.


We need to redefine failure in our society. Failure does not define who we are…it doesn’t even define what we did. Failure is a stepping stone on the road to success.

Thomas Edison tried over 10,000 models for the light bulb before he found the one that changed our world. He did not look at the first 9,999 attempts as failures. He considered that he had found 9,999 ways NOT to make the light bulb! And then he found the one way that worked. His success was made possible by the multiple failures he experienced along the way.

My blog is relatively new. I have written about 50 posts. And in every one of them, I can find something that I would change if I were to rewrite it. But each of them has been a learning experience. There are some that I didn’t want to publish. But I knew that I would be shrinking back from my passion if I did not put them out there to be read…to be critiqued…to be criticized.


Jeff Goins says that you are a writer when you decide to call yourself one…when you start believing it yourself. That’s hard for me. I have always identified myself as a math teacher. But I don’t love to teach math…I just love to TEACH. So I should call myself a teacher.

I also love to write. So I should call myself a writer. The beauty of being a writer is that even if no one reads it, I still wrote it. It’s not the same for a teacher.

To be a teacher, I have to have a student, a learner who is processing the knowledge. It’s like the age old question, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a noise?” If I teach something and there is no one to learn, have I really taught?

That’s not the case for a writer. I can write an epic novel, a short story, or just a sentence…

And even if no one else reads it…

I still wrote it.

I like that.

So I’m going to call myself a writer.

I’m even going to change my profile on Facebook to make it official…I am a writer.

And even if no one reads what I write…guess what?

I’m still a writer.


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Taking the Final

As I gaze out over my class, watching frantic students punch buttons on their calculator and glance furtively toward their neighbors to see how far they’ve gotten, I can’t help but think…

“I’m so glad that I don’t have to take a final exam…”

Students who have been preparing throughout the semester seem confident, but not cocky. They take their time…but, inevitably, they are the first ones to turn in their exams. They are not fearful…but they let out a sigh of relief that one more pressure point has been relieved from their lives…at least for the moment.

On the other hand, there are those who punch their calculators a bit more aggressively…those who glance toward their neighbors, perhaps not just to gauge their progress, but in hopes that they might catch a glimpse of an elusive answer that might give them the last few points they need in order to push them over the threshold from a C- to a C, the bare minimum necessary to receive credit.

These students are not confident or cocky…they are fearful.

The irony of this situation is that they have been confident-some of them even cocky-throughout the entire semester…until now. Even though it was detailed to them throughout the life of the course that their efforts were not going to accomplish their goals, they skipped class, failed to complete homework, did not seek assistance from those able to help them, and generally ignored their responsibilities to themselves and their future. And now, time is winding down at the end of the final exam, and they are unprepared.

That’s a lot like life, isn’t it?

I’m learning this now, in my 40’s. Throughout my life, I have ignored the doctor’s advice to lose weight and take care of my health. I have ignored those who have encouraged me to develop my leadership skills and public speaking ability. I have passed up chance after chance to pursue the goals that I want to achieve. I have been confident (sometimes even cocky) that I will eventually accomplish all that I have planned to accomplish.

And now, I find myself “punching the buttons” of life a bit more aggressively…glancing at those around me who have been preparing for their whole life, and hoping that I see something in them that might give me the “answer” I need to push me the last little way that I need to succeed.

Is it too late?

Just as my students should have been preparing throughout the semester, I should have been preparing throughout my life…

Why did I wait until I was in my 40’s to finally get serious about my health?

Why did I ignore the advice of the people I respected who told me that I had the relational skills to reach those in need?

Why did I waste all those years on frivolous stuff when I could have been preparing to more completely serve others?

Because I didn’t want to do the work…because I was focused on short-term satisfaction, rather than a lifetime of gratification…because I was lazy…

Just like my students.

And for my students, it is likely to late for them to bail out their grade…

But it’s not too late for me to make an impact on the world…By reaching out and serving others.

That’s what I hope to do…with my weight loss, with my speaking ability, with my relational skills…

And with this blog.

It’s not too late for you either. Are you still focused on yourself, as the world passes you by? It’s time to jump out of yourself and jump into the rest of the world…find someone who has a need…

And meet that need.

Serve others…give of yourself…use the talents and abilities that God gave you…

And give to someone else…

Because someday, we will all face the ultimate “final exam.”

And for me, I want to know that I prepared for it the best that I could.


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Catastrophic hardware failure…

Not the words you want to have pop up on your screen when you are in the middle of writing a report for work..or paying bills online…

Or…playing Facebook scrabble…

Ok, YES, I was playing Facebook scrabble when those three words appeared in the middle of a blue box…in the middle of my screen…while the rest of the screen went blank. I sensed immediately that something was wrong…I have a college degree, so I’m pretty good at making logical connections.

For example, after several moments, I determined that the words “catastrophic hardware failure” and the inability to access anything on my hard drive were probably connected somehow.

I was right…

Google told me so.

Google also told me that this is likely not a hard drive issue, but rather, a larger issue in which the computer has converted itself into a rather large paperweight.

I have been nursing this computer along for a few years now…it will be six in August (I wonder how old that is in “people years?”). Anyway, I’m hopeful that I can salvage the hard drive, as I haven’t backed it up in about a month. On the other hand, I haven’t done TOO much important stuff in the last month that I might be missing…

Other than my taxes…

I’m sure the state of Indiana will understand if I don’t send them their payment…I’ll tell them that my computer had a catastrophic hardware failure. Everyone in today’s age of technology knows what that means. And I will also explain to them that I need the money I was going to send to them to purchase a new computer.

Since I use my computer to make money, if I do not have a computer I cannot make money. Therefore, if I buy a new computer, I will make more money, which means I will owe the state more money and they will end up coming out ahead in the long run…

Doesn’t that make sense?

Yeah, I don’t think they’ll buy it either.

Oh well, I have learned something valuable about social networking. I have had so many of my Facebook friends, even people I have not talked to in years, send me suggestions for ways to get great deals on computers. One person offered me a friends and family discount…another one recommended a site where I can get an educational discount since I am an educator. And others have sent me links to refurbished computer sites where I can get great deals on almost new machines.

I feel very blessed.

Much better actually than I did last night…

When my computer told me that I had a catastrophic hardware failure.

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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in Society, Uncategorized