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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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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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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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No Way Out: How I Am Forcing Myself To Be Accountable

The key to accepting responsibility for your life is to accept the fact that your choices, every one of them, are leading you inexorably to either success or failure, however you define those terms.

-Anonymous

I have never been a particularly “self-responsible” person. That’s not to say I do not take responsibility. Most people would say that when I screw up, I will own it. And when I am leading a team and the job doesn’t get done, I take responsibility for getting it done or accepting the consequences of failure.

But when it comes to self-responsibility, I have never been the model to follow. This is evidenced by my repeated failures in the area of personal fitness, my seeming inability to ever satisfactorily close out a project, and my general laziness. Even when I have been in accountability relationships, my accountability partner has usually become tired of trying to keep me motivated. They seem to think that their inability to help me reach the goals to which I am being held accountable means that they have somehow failed…so they give up.

But I have discovered an accountability method that keeps an accountability partner from becoming worn out: I call it “multi-lateral accountability.”

Some people call it “not putting all of your eggs in one basket.” Seth Godin calls it building a “Tribe.” However you want to label it, there really is “strength in numbers.”

Case in point: I have chosen to widely publicize my plan to run my very first 5K race.

For those who don’t know me, I used to weigh over 360 pounds. I developed diabetes, I could not walk up stairs without huffing and puffing, and I had pretty much resigned myself to a shortened life span because of my obesity. I have since lost 90 pounds, my diabetes is under control (without insulin), and I have a renewed sense of purpose. At one time, the very idea that I would EVER be training to run in any kind of race was laughable.

So, where was I?

Oh yes, I have chosen to widely publicize my plan to run my very first 5K race….

The key words in this sentence are “widely publicize.”

I didn’t just tell my wife…I didn’t just tell my closest friends…

I posted it on my blog. I made it my status on Facebook…I am telling anyone who asks…I am telling anyone who DOESN’T ask…I’m basically putting myself so far out on a limb that if I DON’T run this race, I will lose all credibility with just about everyone I know…

And even some people I don’t know…

Because, you see, the coolest thing happened to me the other day…

One of my Facebook friends (Mike) “liked” my post…and one of Mike’s Facebook friends-someone I don’t even know (let’s call him Jerry) saw my post. And Jerry wrote me to ask how I was losing weight.

Wow…

Someone I didn’t know wanted to hear my story…

And I couldn’t wait to tell it to him. You know why? Because I’m just an average guy, like everyone else. I have my struggles, like everyone else. Like so many people in our country, I have struggled with obesity, and I never saw a light at the end of the tunnel…I never saw a future where I could ever be anything more than the “beached whale” that so many of my classmates called me in high school.

And then something changed…

And now, someone I have never met has asked me to share with him how I’m doing it.

You know what else is cool?

As I write this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, waiting to meet “Sam,” another guy that I don’t know. Sam learned about me from another mutual friend, and he is driving up from Lafayette so that we can meet and talk about what I’m doing to get fit.

As I was exercising this morning, I was thinking about all of the people who have been encouraging me, offering me exercise and diet tips, praying for me, and cheering me on (One friend from church even said that she was going to come to the race on August 11th to support me). And I realized that I had never experienced this kind of accountability before. This isn’t a private conversation anymore. This is a developing community of accountability partners who are cheering me on and encouraging me in the fight.

And I want to say thanks.

I also want you to be on the lookout for other people like Jerry and Sam. If you think that they would be encouraged to know how someone else is fighting the same battle, please share this story with them. I want to be able to encourage as many people as I can.

And it never hurts to have a few more accountability partners too. 🙂

 

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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.

Except…

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.

So…

How can I help?

 

 

 

 

 

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