Ira Glass and the Concept of Taste

The book of Genesis says that God saw everything He made and it was very good, including us. We are made in God’s image. We are the multiplication of His creativity, created to be creators. From earth tones to copper sculptures and everything in-between, our concept of taste is so diverse and complex and sometimes just straight-up bizarre.

The problem with taste and talent is there’s a gap. In our sin-stained current reality, the level of our creative talents are not as developed as our innate concept of taste built into us by our Creator. Even the concept of stylistic taste is underdeveloped. We don’t fully know what looks good and right and truly creative until we see how others have developed their God-given skills to create what we realize to be very good… just like Genesis.

What is good is that the gap between our taste and our skills can be bridged. Ira Glass shared one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever heard on bridging the creative gap.

Even though Glass is a self-proclaimed atheist, I firmly believe he’s onto something here. Part of our calling as creatives is to chase the excellence of creativity that matches our divinely-given taste. Some of us are born with more natural creative skills, but we all have a natural draw to what’s creative, appealing, and eye-catching in our everyday lives.

Whatever your artistic outlet may be, drawing, engineering, designing, composing, or organizing, the distance between your current skills and your picture of what is good and excellent may be further apart than you may want. What you’re making right now may be bad, but you probably know it.

Work at your craft. Get expert advice, take a class, and develop thick skin to handle the truths of your current shortcomings. And don’t give up. Don’t let the naysayers and the critics and the ignorant suffocate your sacred echo of God-given creativity.

May your creative gap be shortened through many hours of work. May your resolve be stronger than your critic’s opinion. And may your creativity reflect Your Heavenly Father’s imprint of intelligent design on your own life.

Brain Dump – July 30, 2014

  • Read books you absolutely disagree with from authors with whom you are philosophically polarized. The Communist Manifesto is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and it’s also one that made me think about why I hate it. Stretch your faith through reading and discussion.
  • Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” is still one of my favorite TED Talks. What you do has to start with a purpose burrowed deep into your core. Your “Why” has to drive your “What,” whether it’s work, ministry, relationships, or fun. Life without purpose is a life not lived.
  • A new friend of mine made a profound statement today, saying he’d rather be thinking about God while doing what he loves doing instead of sitting in church thinking about what he loves doing. Worship has no location boundary. If we’re not creating engaging opportunities to worship together as parts of the Church, no matter where we are, we’re drifting away from the center of our worship: our Creator and Savior Jesus Christ.
  • The three biggest issues facing the Church today is navigating the LGBT lifestyle, the use of marijuana, and spiritual abuse. How the Church responds will say a lot about where we are with the mission of Christ, the grace and truth of God, and our level of surrender to Gospel transformation.
  • Pray for Dr. Kent Brantly as he fights for his life with the Ebola virus. The virus has no known cure at this time. His wife and two kids are thousands of miles away and not certain whether they will see Kent survive. Pray for a miracle and unbelievable grace for them.
  • Make your car a university on wheels. Set aside whatever time you can to download podcasts, lectures, messages, sermons, audio books, whatever you want that will build into your future. Turn your car radio into a mobile classroom during your commute.
  • Your identity in Christ is yours to protect, not forget. The most dangerous threat to your identity in Christ is letting anything or anyone but Christ start maligning your identity. You are a child of God and a valuable treasure worth redemption in His eyes.

Brain Dump – July 23, 2014

 

  • God keeps providing new clients and opportunities to connect more with great personalities through Keynote Content. At least four big opportunities are on the horizon and they’re big, I mean, huge. I’m praying for God to keep opening doors and giving me clarity to keep building His business the right way.
  • If there’s one thing I’ve been reminded about this week, it’s that the average person doesn’t know anything about Hamas, Palestine, Israel, ISIS, Syria, and what’s really going on in the Middle East. In more than one way, things rarely change.
  • I love the message of Colbie Caillat’s new music video “Try”. It’s a great conversation starter on how mirrors and media are some of the worst perspective-setters.
  • An idea with organization is called a plan. Know the difference between an idea and a plan. Ideas are cheap. Period. Anybody can come up with an idea. Ideas are usually organic and messy and disjointed. The hard part is taking an idea and putting boundaries and purpose behind its future and then the real mastery is earned.
  • We were made by a Creator to be creators in imitation of Him. Our art and design needs to take more lessons from creation. Nothing that’s the color white in the natural world lasts very long: snow, clouds, teeth, waves, etc. God put us in a vibrant world for a reason. Take a tip from creation: expand the palette of your life experience by adding color where you can.
  • Kara and I got to spend the weekend up in Estes Park connecting with different summer camp staff and leaders. I’m humbled and amazed at how God carries on opportunities I was blessed to help start seven years ago. And guess what? It’s growing and changing lives without me, another great reminder of the small part I get to play in God’s massive plan.
  • The Gospel is the greatest message you could ever share. Why does Christ’s sacrifice makes such a dynamic change in your life? It takes practice and guts to share something as beautifully polarizing and personal as your story of faith.
  • God still holds tomorrow.

Brain Dump – July 17, 2014

Mind - 01Once my schedule shifts into summer mode, I try to capture a variety of random ideas and thoughts into a weekly brain dump.

  • I’ve been learning a lot of chasing dreams. There’s an art to refining your dream and squeezing it into specific goals, steps, and actions. You can’t just make it happen; it’s taming the rogue side of a whisper. It takes discipline, passion, and a gut-drive to want to live for something significant.
  • Did you know that atoms are over 99% empty space? Just empty nothing-ness. If we took all the empty space out of all the atoms in the universe, the entire universe would fit in a ping-pong ball.
  • Speaking of being disciplined, one of the greatest disciplines is creativity. Anyone can throw chaos into action. It takes a disciplined artist to harness the collective scramble into intelligent creation.
  • If you’ve never heard of Eric Thomas, look him up! He is one of the voices I choose to listen to with following my dreams. Lions and zebras both wake up and need to run with everything they’ve got to survive. Are you a lion or a zebra?
  • Speaking of passion, I’m getting a little tired of lukewarm pastors saying, “I’m burned out.” For some pastors I say that’s impossible; you were never on fire in the first place. If you don’t have the fire of God’s message and heart for His people burning in your bones, it’s spiritually impossible for you to burn out because it just ain’t there! Where’s your fire?! Does ministry burnout happen? Absolutely. Don’t cheapen burnout by overlooking your lack of passion from the start.
  • How does the Church handle marijuana? That’s a great question and it’s one I’m hoping to launch into some great conversations with different pastors, believers, and other really interesting voices. August is when I’m hoping to dive deeper into the conversation.
  • To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “You are you, there is no one who can be more youer than you, of this is the most truest of true.” So, stop trying to be someone else and be comfortable in your own skin. Don’t be the next famous so-and-so; be the first you.
  • I’ve just finishing up a six-month reading of the Gospels. A few things I’ve realized: the crucifixion and death of Jesus makes me more and more uncomfortable the more I realize the depth of my own depravity, and there’s plenty Jesus said that I understand less than I “understood” five years ago.
  • God still holds tomorrow.

The blog turns four!

4th anniversaryToday marks four years I’ve been blogging. Some of the highlights:

  • 70,000+ views
  • 3,600+ shares
  • 523 followers (and counting)

And all while being a dude who blogs without ever wearing, or ever wanting to wear scarves, V-necks, guyliner, or skinny jeans.

Blog, I’ll be honest, there are times I’ve hated you. Between late night writer’s funk to the early morning sacrifice, you haven’t always been my favorite hobby. I’ve left you on the side of the road for weeks. I’ve been tempted to drop you like 4th period French, to scrap away everything and just chalk it up to external processing. Nope, not gonna do it. At least, not yet. You got a fresh facelift around Memorial Day and we’re back in business.

To those of you who are part of my faithful tribe, thank you for following. Your support, comments, push back, hate mail (thanks again, Grandma), and sharing in this messy, brain-barfing collection of my ideas, struggles, and platforms continue to be a valuable blessing to my life. Thank you.

The biggest blessing though has been seeing how my Savior and Creator continues carving and honing my heart through these postings. Some of the highest and lowest points of my faith and life are stitched into these words. I’m a strong man, follower of Christ, pastor, and thinker because of these past four years.

So, before I start shouting, “Four more years!” here’s to another year hitting “Publish” and knowing that if only God Himself chose to read this, it’s still His work in my life that makes this writing worth the while.

Happy 4th birthday.

3 Choices Every Married Couple Needs to Make Daily

Over our past three years of marriage, Kara and I have made it a point to spend quality time with older, wiser couples. The criteria is that they’re Christ followers, married at least 15+ years (give or take), raised/raising great kids, and have what appears to be a healthy marriage.

Here’s why: I want to learn from people whose success I want to imitate, not whose mistakes I want to simply avoid. That’s also why I don’t take financial advice from broke people. Imitate success, not scars.

When it comes to marriage, I’ve learned there are three choices every married couple needs to make daily. Good days, bad days, every day, these choices will make or break any marriage.

Choose each other

The first choice is choosing to be with each other. That’s how you got married in the first place: you chose each other. It’s easy to choose to be with your spouse on the good days. It’s much harder to choose to stay with them when the crap hits the fan.

Choosing to be with your spouse and stay with your spouse is a daily decision. It needs to be a conscious decision to choose your spouse over your own selfish agenda, over being “right”, porn, co-workers, family members, addictions, hurt feelings, bad moods, and even disappointment.

I choose Kara because I know she’s been custom-made to be my wife. I need to choose her, no matter what.

Choose grace

This is probably a good time to admit I’m not perfect. In fact, this morning I made us late going out the door because of my failure to plan. Kara chose grace. Choosing to be with your spouse means you also choose grace.

This isn’t a mercy mission with a scoreboard; it’s a conscious commitment to grace and forgiveness. Learn together. Have honest conversations. Choose grace and be prepared to choose it again and again. Choose to forgive as Christ forgave us.

To be clear, choosing grace doesn’t mean ignoring issues. That’s not grace; that’s empowering an eventual train wreck. Grace means you owe it to your spouse to be honest about why grace is a choice and not a demand.

Choose joy

This is a powerful truth I was reminded of by Rick and Kay Warren after their son committed suicide. Kay shared that as they stood weeping outside their son’s apartment, they knew they had a choice to make: choose joy. This isn’t a sunshine-all-the-time choice, but it means when life is beyond frustrating, you have a choice. You always have a choice to your responses. Choose joy over anger. Choose joy over defeat. Choose joy over quitting.

These three choices can radically transform any marriage. Choose each other. Choose grace. Choose joy.

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Safeco Field, Seattle Mariners (April 25, 2014)

The last stop in our 30 before 30 MLB Stadium tour was Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners. I’ve always wanted to visit Seattle, and this trip did not disappoint.

We ate lunch at the SkyCity Restaurant at the top of the Space Needle, which is quite an experience. If you’re wanting to grab a meal there, make reservations at least two weeks in advance, go during the lunch hour (much cheaper), and ask for a window seat. It doesn’t feel like you’re rotating at all, but the constant change in view gives you a great 360 of Seattle during your meal.

After our Space Needle lunch, we walked to the “original” Starbucks, the “Gum Wall”, and then made our way through the Pike Place Fish Market. We also made the two-hour drive north to Friday Harbor for a whale watching tour. No whales, but we did get a rain check for a reunion tour.

Of course, the main reason for our visit was checking our last stadium off our list. Three summers, 30 stadiums, more flight and road miles than I can keep track of, and our bucket list is now complete. The Mariners rallied with 4-run 8th inning and held off the Rangers with a final score of 6-5. It felt a little anticlimactic to visit our last stadium, but we were glad to say we saw all 30 MLB stadiums before we turn 30.

If you’re wanting to check out Safeco Field, here are a few tips you might want to know:

  • People kept telling me to pack rain gear for Seattle, but we had sunshine every day of our trip. I’d still recommend packing rain gear, just in case. Safeco has a retractable roof though, which means you’ll only need the rain gear outside the ballpark.
  • Safeco Field is right down the street from CenturyLink, home of the Seahawks. They give tours during the offseason and it’s worth trying to line up your tour with a Mariners nightcap. Unfortunately, our plans didn’t line up. Bummer.
  • We weren’t allowed to bring in any outside food or drink, including water! Plan ahead and be prepared for price gougers once you’re inside the gate.
  • We’re glad we stayed with friends in Seattle. Hotels are expensive! If you do need a place to stay, I’d recommend something close to the airport.
  • The food at Safeco is very impressive. They have a whole variety of food and beer on tap to pair well with your taste buds and budget. If you want to grab a bite to eat before the game, check out the Pyramid Ale House for a great atmosphere.
  • Tickets weren’t that expensive, even with Rangers, a division rival, in town. Safeco does have the largest Jumbotron in MLB and the view is worth paying extra.

Thus ends our MLB tour. We’re planning on visiting new stadiums as they open, but for now, we’re content with saying we’ve been there, done that.

IMG_0832

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Chase Field, Arizona Diamondbacks (March 31, 2014)

Camelback MountainAt the end of March, Kara and I flew to Phoenix to take in Cactus League spring training and cross Chase Field off our bucket list.

If you’re a big-time baseball fan, traveling to spring training is a must. This was my first time at spring training and I’m kicking myself for waiting this long to experience it. The Rockies and Diamondbacks share a new stadium and the new Cubs Park is a beautiful ballpark.

We climbed Camelback Mountain in the middle of Phoenix, which is a great climb and an incredible 360 view of the city. We also drove up South Mountain to watch the sun set.

Next, we drove up to Sedona to do some hiking over the weekend. If you can afford a jeep tour (or got lucky, like we did), it is well worth the cost. There’s a small brewery in Sedona called Oak Creek Brewery that has one of the best BLTs I’ve ever tasted. We also made a day trip up to the Grand Canyon and were tourists for a day.

Devil's Bridge - Sedona, AZWe headed back to Phoenix for Opening Day with the Diamondbacks at Chase Field. The Giants were in town and the festivities were fairly decent, but nothing too special. In fact, it felt more like a good Friday night than Opening Day. The Giants won on a late Buster Posey homer than landed two rows in front of us and we checked stadium #29 off our bucket list. Only one more to go!

If you’re taking a trip to Chase Field, here are a few tips to keep in mind…

  • Chase Field has access to a fair amount of parking lots and the Metro Light Rail public transportation. The stadium parking garage was fairly cheap ($12) for baseball parking, especially on Opening Day.
  • Chase Field does have a retractable roof, which they opened right before first pitch. Very nice! Also, a 747 flew over the stadium late in the game. Can you say distracting?
  • The most impressive part of Chase Field is the food selection. It ranks right up there with AT&T Park (San Francisco). I ate orange chicken from Panda Express and Kara had a burger from Fatburger. This year the Diamondbacks introduced the D-Bat, an 18″ long corn dog ($25). It looks great, but it’s a heart attack waiting to happen.
  • I was very impressed with the sight lines around the stadium. No matter where you’re waiting in line, you’re almost guaranteed a good view of the field.

In the end, Chase Field made our top 10-12 of MLB stadiums. Good game, great food, and a much-needed vacation to a beautiful part of the country.

Chase Field Opening Day 2014

3 Benefits to Saying “No”

We say yes to too many things. I’m just as guilty as the next person.

“Yes, I’ll have another brownie.” “Yes, I’ll hit the snooze button again.” “Yes, I’ll agree to this opportunity even though my schedule is already too busy.” “Yes, I’ll go on a second date with you, even more compromising than the first.”

We all make these choices. The inability to say no can keep us from living a healthy life with good boundaries. This is why the word “no” is a great word.

"No" is a great word

I’ve said no to business lunches because I was already committed to two other luncheons that week. I’ve said no to mentoring a high school student because he repeatedly disagreed with the input from both his parents and me. I’ve said no to ministry opportunities because I respectfully disagreed with the overall direction of the ministry.

The reason I say no isn’t because I’m a jerk (some people may disagree, but I try to not be one.) If I say no to less relevant, sub-par opportunities now, then I get to say yes to even better opportunities tomorrow. There are three major benefits to saying no.

  • No is a reliever. It can be freeing and confrontational in a positive way. If I feel someone’s wasting my time and theirs, I will decline the next opportunity from them and then we talk about why. It’s safe to say those are uncomfortable conversations, but if I don’t say something, how long will the unhealthy pattern continue into the future?
  • No also helps draw really good boundaries and clear expectations. For example, churches and nonprofits are notorious for asking volunteers to contribute and serve far beyond their skill set and schedule. It’s a blessing to volunteer, but you need to protect your sanity and the reputation of the organization by saying no when needed. “No, I can’t serve on another committee because I’m already serving on two other ones.”
  • No communicates authenticity. I respect people more for saying no than giving an obligatory yes. When someone I know and trust says yes after a track record of wisely saying no, I know I can count on their commitment. There is a time to say yes when we need to say yes, but more often than not, the default answer should be no.

I’ve said no to a variety of bosses over the past fifteen years. “No, I won’t cut corners.” “No, I won’t go behind a co-worker’s back.” “No, I can’t lie about what really happened in that meeting. Leadership needs to know who you really are.” One of two things happen when you say no at the right time to your boss: 1) they’ll punish, maybe even fire you for not giving them free reign on your decision-making, which means you probably don’t want to work for them in the long run, or 2) they’ll ask for clarification, help you find a solution, and respect you more for saying no. Either way, it’s a win/win.

The biggest objection to no is that the base of our human nature wants to please everyone. Saying no makes us feel like we’re a disappointment. It’s okay to be disappointing at times. We need to feel disappoint because it helps us manage healthy expectations of ourselves and from others.

One of the best practices in life is becoming more comfortable with saying no, an art we need to refine. This is why no is a frequent flyer in my vocabulary, and it needs to be in yours, too.

What are some other benefits to saying no more?

How I Put Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits Into Practice

Steven Covey's The 7 HabitsYesterday I reviewed Stephen R. Covey’s classic work The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One question I’ve been asked is how do I personally put Covey’s 7 Habits into practice. Each of us has a unique approach to implementing any formula, strategy, or method, but I thought I’d share my own.

The approach I’m using with Covey’s 7 Habits needs a few qualifiers. First, how I do things doesn’t mean you should do them the same way. Find what works for you. Second, the 7 Habits take time to develop. Much of what I’m about to share took a significant amount of time to adopt, just like any other healthy life pattern.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

The struggle is never being proactive in what we want to do. It’s always about being proactive in what’s either uncomfortable or unknown. A major shift for me in becoming more proactive is doing little things sooner, like making a phone call when I don’t want to, asking tough questions sooner, and admitting when I need help.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

I first started writing my life plan a little over two years ago. It became a framework for me to do some self-examination, ask for informed, trusted feedback, and pray for clarity and direction. We can’t always plan for what life throws our way, but we were made to follow the dreams God gives to us. Creating a dynamic life plan is a fantastic way to begin with the end in mind. Spoiler alert: write it in pencil.

I can’t expect to hit the goals of my life plan if I’m unfocused in my approach. This means the word “no” is one of my favorite words. I’ll share more tomorrow, but if I say no to less important, less relevant opportunities now, it frees me up to say yes to the right opportunities when they come.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

This is one of the easiest habits to understand. Think of the next right thing, and then do it. As simple as it sounds, it can be extremely difficult. I’m making it a habit to not procrastinate on anything. If it’s the right thing to do, there usually is no time like the present. Sometimes timing is a factor, but truth doesn’t change itself over time.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

It’s natural to ask what’s in it for me. The tougher questions is, “What’s in it for us?” When I get into two-sided situations now, I have to think about how both of us can benefit.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

I like having solutions, especially if it’s a quick-fix. The frustrating reality is that I don’t always have the right answers. This is the most humbling, frustrating, and yet, still rewarding habit for me. If I take the time to fully understand a situation, it gives me the most time to limit misunderstandings, gain clarity, and ask better questions.

Habit 6: Synergize

This habit is the easiest to exercise through my work with entrepreneurs. Many entrepreneurs already have a “lone wolf” mentality because of the nature of launching a new venture. The challenge is showing the value in collaborating with others. Personally, I love doing things my way in my time, my, my, my… you get the picture. I now make it a point to collaborate with others because we can do more together than we can apart.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

When I first read this habit, I almost checked out mentally. I can set and meet goals; I do it all the time. This is deeper than just meeting a goal. This is adopting a mentality of constant self-renewal and a lifetime of learning. What are the steps I can take now to grow for tomorrow? This changed my approach by realigning my goals into a more holistic approach to life.

Have you read Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? What’s been your experience with trying to adopt the 7 habits?

Book Review – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)

Steven Covey's 7 HabitsI first heard of The 7 Habits from one of my mentors in college. He constantly referenced Stephen Covey’s words. If this was a random person’s suggestion, I might have dismissed it, but Dr. Singley is a highly accomplished and dare I say, highly effective person. Even though this book was written 25 years ago, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is still a relevant work.

I’m very impressed with how Covey first communicates the book’s purpose. Too many authors launch into the content of their book without giving the context and process for how to implement their findings. I think we often try breaking bad habits without any plan to replace the bad with the good. For many of us, we assume the rat race of busyness is indicative of success. Covey suggests otherwise…

“It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. It is possible to be busy – very busy – without being very effective.” (The 7 Habits, p. 98)

The research Covey shares about perspective driving response is very interesting. I think our definition of success is sometimes skewed by our personal agenda instead of empirical reality. By combining perspective and outside response, Covey coaches his readers to develop habits within the right context.

I also appreciate Covey’s value of interdependence when it comes to setting habits. This is a foreign thought for many purpose-driven individuals, including myself. I’m a goal-setting, flag-planting, land-claiming, driven personality, but the idea of building healthy habits in community makes sense with both my faith and Covey’s work.

The most valuable insight I gained from Covey’s work is a new approach to setting goals. I took each of Covey’s habits and started rebuilding my monthly goals. It’s taking a while, but I’m hoping to share my implementation of Covey’s habits in tomorrow’s post.

One of the biggest mistakes readers could make is discounting The 7 Habits as a dated resource. So much of this book contains timeless principles that I fully expect it to still be relevant fifty years from now. Building healthy, successful habits is easier than you might expect. You can start by picking up a copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Book Review – Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t (Jim Collins)

Jim Collins book Good to Great is one of the more quoted books in my recent memory. Lead pastors, managers, CEO’s, business coaches, and others have quoted different concepts from this book to me. After my second time through this book, I understand why.

Good to Great (Jim Collins)The Hedgehog principle is a fantastic concept for every organization, non-profit, and start-up to consider. I’m noticing the difference between companies who think with the same clarity as the Hedgehog principle, and the ones who don’t. It’s helped me gain clarity as I’ve worked to build Archway Ink.

Leadership is another passion of mine, and Collins’ concept of the Level 5 leader is well supported. It’s not surprising how much of the good-to-great success can be directly tied to dynamic leadership. Everything rises and falls on leadership, including the good-to-great and comparison companies.

The only caution I have with Good to Great is when it comes to churches. Could many, if not all, of Collins’ principles be applied to ministry? Yes, but be careful. I’ve seen church staff take Collins’ bus analogy and turn it into an almost one-sentence brush-off for people choosing to leave a local church. “Well, it looks like they weren’t the right people on the bus!” Anytime we allow business concepts to be the first response to a spiritual decision, that’s dangerous territory.

Collins and his research team did an outstanding job building this classic. It’s hard to believe Good to Great has been around for almost 15 years now. The fact that people are still referencing its principles is a testament to Collins’ work.

I’d recommend any new startup, CEO, SMB owner, and leader read Good to Great. This quote alone sums up the purpose behind this work…

“…in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.” (p. 210)

Good to Great can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you want to read more of Collins’ works, visit JimCollins.com.

What Dr. Lou taught me about setting goals

Lou Holtz Notre Dame

I’m a huge college football fan. I’m also a goal-setter, Type-A, and an entrepreneur, which makes all three of those a master’s class in redundancy. The other day I read a story about Dr. Lou Holtz that taught me a valuable lesson about setting goals.

Lou Holtz was the coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team from 1986-1996. I grew up watching Dr. Lou win big games with the Golden Domers. I admire Lou Holtz, even though I’m not a Notre Dame fan. The thing I respect about him the most I didn’t even know until earlier this month.

The year was 1967 and Holtz had just lost his job as an assistant coach at South Carolina. He was broke, jobless, and his wife just had their third child. He started to dream and write everything down on paper. He wrote down 107 personal and professional goals. Some of them were more realistic than others, and some were pretty extreme, like the following…

  • Run with the bulls in Spain
  • Meet the pope
  • Win a national championship
  • Coach football at Notre Dame
  • Land on an aircraft carrier
  • Go skydiving
  • Be on “The Tonight Show”

107 goals and forty-five years later, Dr. Lou has accomplished… 102 of them. What Dr. Lou taught me is putting dreams into quantifiable goals shows a life with a dynamic future.

I’ve heard people say setting goals is a lost cause, claiming it’s essentially an evergreen version of New Year’s Resolutions. “Set and forget” is the phrase I heard the other day.

In reality though, the most vocal people I’ve heard against setting goals are also people who have accomplished next to nothing in their lifetimes. If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every single time.

At the end of every month, I set new goals for the next month. Six categories, two to five goals per category, all measurable in some way, and tracked through Evernote. Very few people know what my goals are each month. Someday, sixty years from now, I’ll publish (most of) them in a memoir, but not now.

I want my life to matter, but to do that I need to use my God-given wisdom and insight to make the best plans I humanly can. Setting goals is putting an expiration date on your dreams. I believe God gives us ambition and opportunity to make much of the life He’s given to us. Thanks to Dr. Lou, I have my latest inspiration.

The most dangerous word for dreamers

Roadblock sign

Chasing your dreams takes guts. It takes raw, gag-stopping, brow-wiping, palm-griming guts. Dreams are dangerous.

Nobody gets in trouble for coloring inside the lines. Nobody finds themselves facing age-old fears when they’re the pace car for status quo. It’s only when you decide to chase your dreams and do what you were made to do that danger comes your way.

Out of all the fears to face when chasing your dreams, there’s one word more dangerous than any of all.

Two letters, one seed of doubt.

If.

If he doesn’t say yes… If they don’t hear my book proposal…

If this plan doesn’t work… If this new career doesn’t succeed…

If I fail… If we lose it all…

If…

If tries to plant the seed of doubt. Our minds can easily finish the worst possible sentence. The good thing is, we’re not the first ones to face this deadly word.

If You claim to be the Son of God…” (Matt. 4)

Satan knew what he was doing. So did Jesus. And in that moment where Satan tried his hardest to compromise a fully hypostatic Savior, this small little word first met its matchless opponent.

The fearmongering of “what could be” was beaten by what was finished. The If claim became a conquered fear.

If God is for us, who can be against us? If this is the path God’s leading us to follow, who could ever stand in our way but ourselves? If we take the first step to chase the dreams God has ahead of us, what will God do next?

If this is the dream God’s created you to chase, the most dangerous part is that your dream might not be big enough.

If you will chase God’s path for you, what’s God going to do to blow your mind?

If

Creating a road map for chasing your dreams

Chasing your dreams - 01

Every one of us has hopes and dreams. Some may be more realistic than others (thank you, American Idol), but we still have dreams.

Our world loves the idea of chasing dreams. Chase your dreams. Become a better you. “I believe I can fly…” It may work for Disney with a little fairy dust and an over-sized pumpkin, but the truth is, dreams take time and work to develop.

One of the seven habits from Steven Covey is beginning with the end in mind. The beautiful part about having hopes and dreams is our imagination takes us right to the finish line. We’re already living the dream, life is beautiful, and I can almost see the credits rolling. The part we often overlook is there’s usually a long and difficult journey to get from where you are now to Dreamland.

It starts with needing a road map. You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are right now. What steps will it take to make your dreams a reality?

I’m in a big-time dream-chasing season of life, which I love and sometimes loathe at the same time (mostly love). I put together a road map for where I wanted to be, and I’m following that road map.

You need to build a road map custom-fit to your own dreams. Here are some steps to building your dream-chasing road map…

  • Write down your goals and prioritize them – seeing your dreams on paper is the first step to making them a reality.
  • Write down all the objections and obstacles you can think of to each dream, even the ridiculous objections. Fear is a powerful enemy and one we need to face with a sound mind and strong faith in what God’s doing in us.
  • Do your research and add details to your goals (now you’re starting to define your reality)
  • Ask your spouse (or best friend) for their honest feedback
  • Ask your mentors for advice (you should have more than one)
  • Put together a life plan (more on that later this week)
  • Ruthlessly evaluate your life plan for potential roadblocks, obstacles, and detours – you can’t plan for everything, but you can usually make better plans.
  • Talk with a success/life coach – this is a wonderful investment, especially if they know you personally and are in the same field you want to pursue.
  • Now put together a timeline – what will you do and when will you do it? (this can be tweaked as you grow)
  • …follow the map. Tenaciously, faithfully, wisely follow your road map.

Go chase your dreams, and happy trails to you.

Book Review – Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work that Matters (Jon Acuff)

Start book Jon AcuffWhat if you could break out of the work rut-tine? What if your dream job is closer than you expect? What if doing work that truly matters is more of a reality than ever before?

Sure, we’ve all heard those same questions before… and then some veneer-flashing, wonder speaker pitches us the next “get rich” quick scheme. (*buzz*) Pass! Not for me.

Confession time: that’s what I expected when I first started reading Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work that Matters by Jon Acuff. I was completely mistaken.

The past hundred years has seen a revolution in how we use technology, culture, and the way we do business. The old model of “slave away for 30 years, and then you can enjoy the good life,” is now being challenged with the dawn of startups, solopreneurs, and people unwilling to accept status quo, hook, line, and sinker.

Acuff does an excellent job walking his readers through the life path of work that matters. The easy road is the average road: the normal, the entry-level to the junior level to mid-management to senior to exec…. to death. That doesn’t sound like a great road to me at all, especially since the past ten years has taught me many senior and executive personnel have lost their identity (and family) to their companies long ago.

Things change on the awesome road. Acuff explains seven stages on the road to doing awesome work, and how each of these stages adds value to your journey. It’s harder because you will need to face fears and insecurities, including some ghosts from your past, but the reward is work with purpose attached.

This book was a major catalyst in helping me launch Archway Ink. I was sick and tired of the glass ceiling over the past near decade, and I believe in a better way of life and fulfillment. The decision to chase dreams that matter was one of the best decision I’ve ever made. Any time someone mentions to me they’re ready for a change, to do something more with their career, future, even their life, I’m recommending “the Start book”.

https://i0.wp.com/justinmederich.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Jon-Acuff.jpg?resize=135%2C175Jon Acuff is a New York Times best-selling author of four books, speaker, and semi-pro fear-puncher. He also has my favorite first name, which makes us basically blood brothers. Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work that Matters can be purchased through Amazon. If you’d like to read more from Jon Acuff, visit his site to read his latest posts.

Be a voice, not a parrot

Parrots

Have you ever heard someone talking and it sounds like they’re just stringing quotes together? It’s pretty obvious. Nothing sounds original. You almost want to put air quotes on either side of them to set the right context for what they’re saying.

I’ve been “the quoter” before. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with quoting someone else. It’s more valuable though that I can articulate my own reaction to what a quote means. If I’m just using quotes to sound smart, then I’ve missed the whole point.

With so much verbal noise today, it’s tempting to just parrot back different trendy quotes or ideas. If I was meant to be a parrot, I’d have wings and feathers. Whenever I do that, I miss the most important part: why did those quotes strike me in the first place? It’s my responsibility to figure out where I stand with ideas I engage, even if I ultimately realize, “I don’t know how I feel about that.”

There’s a massive conversation going on about God and faith and the Bible and church and culture. And we get to be a part of that conversation.

In that conversation though, we each have a responsibility: be a voice, not a parrot.

You don’t have to be a super genius, or even be absolutely certain what you believe about other opinions and ideas… but you do have to be yourself. You may not be the most recognized, smartest, most educated philosopher of today (it’s okay, I’m not either!), but you get to share your unique perspective on other people’s ideas.

We don’t need the next Albert Einstein or Plato or Thomas Edison; we need the first you. Share your ideas. Share your perspective. In your own way and to the best of your own ability, know what you believe and why. Have your own voice.

And don’t be a parrot. Parrots are noisy. Parrots say what people train them to say. You were made for more than just a pretty bird; you’re made in the image of God capable of original critique and thought.

Be a voice, not a parrot.

Ideas are clouds, not concrete

Cloud - 01

Ideas are cheap. Good, bad, any type of idea, it doesn’t cost you anything but brain power. Our brain neurons fire at unthinkable speeds, which produce ideas with hardly any effort at all.

The problem with ideas is sometimes they’re hard to convey. Most times we can articulate our thoughts and ideas, but there are seasons in the creative process where even articulating ideas can be a difficult hurdle.

It’s because ideas are more like clouds, and less like concrete.

For example… how would you define a cloud?

Right about now you might be glancing out the window for a cloud. It’s easier to point out a cloud if you see it, but it’s much harder to define exactly what it is. There are massive clusters of microscopic ice crystals large enough to refract light from all seven color wavelengths to appear white in color… and that’s what we call clouds.

Much easier shown than said.

A concrete concept has little to do with actual concrete. It’s definite, absolute, an existing part of reality. At some point, everything we see around us was an idea turned into a concrete concept.

Someone had an idea of four circles and a bench or two with a motor to propel the benches and wheels to transport people places faster than a horse could. Of course, that’s now what we call a car, but someone had to articulate their idea in a way people understood so the idea went from “cloud” to concrete: a car.

When it comes to sharing ideas, much of the struggle isn’t about whether an idea is good, bad, or average. The biggest struggle is clearly articulating and defining the idea so others can understand.

If you’re involved in any type of creative process, the responsibility is on you to wrestle for the clearest, simplest ways to explain your ideas. If I can’t explain it simply, then I probably don’t understand it fully myself.

The journey from ideas being hard to define, like a cloud, to being more concrete is well worth the struggle. You owe it to your team, your fellow creatives, and your Creator in heaven to be as clear as you can with the clouds your brain produces. They’re not just ideas; they’re possibilities waiting to be defined.

The most valuable buried treasure

Buried treasure - 01

People are fascinated with buried treasure. It could be a fossil discovery, a treasure map, the Dead Sea scrolls, hidden memoirs of a genius, even pirate’s gold. Anytime a new discovery leaks, it’s a race is to see what treasures are found.

When it comes to buried treasure though, the most valuable buried treasure is ideas we never share.

Graveyards are full of ideas, dreams, goals, aspirations, whispers of thoughts on how to better change the world and the status quo… that were never shared. There are countless stories of brilliant people who left hidden memoirs, locked and sealed, with the ideas they never shared with anyone else.

The reason? They didn’t know how others would respond. They were afraid of sharing more.

It’s hard to share an idea at times. Maybe others smirked, or even laughed off your last idea. Maybe it got shot down logically, or because enough resources weren’t available. So, you bury your next idea, and the next, and the next, until you have a graveyard of ideas, unsure of their potential.

Here’s the truth… some ideas aren’t good ideas. Some ideas need to be wadded up and shot from downtown into the trash can. But, you’d be amazed at how many bad ideas are springboards to good ideas. Don’t be the only judge and jury of your own ideas. The last thought you’d want to hear was about what could have been.

Don’t let your ideas stay with you. Find a way to share what could be, and trust others to help you develop and sift through your buried treasure. Ask yourself these three questions and start digging up your buried treasure.

  • What ideas are you hoarding today? Why?
  • Have you taken an idea, even a decent, but not great idea, and buried it because you’re afraid of someone else’s response?
  • Who can be the sounding board for your latest ideas who’s also capable of honest feedback?

Book Review – Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World (Michael Hyatt)

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael HyattI’ve followed Michael Hyatt on his blog for the past five years. Michael is an exceptional blogger, leader, and productivity enhancer. When I heard he was writing a book to help entrepreneurs find their platform, I was excited to see the results.

Enter Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt. He begins with the premise of anyone needing to share their message is in need of a platform. Entrepreneurs need an elevated opportunity to shout to the world our intrinsic value and selling points.

It’s not about ego or being the center of attention. It is about having something of value to others and finding the most powerful way of getting that message to others who can benefit from it. (Introduction)

Hyatt goes into great detail covering everything from best practices Twitter to setting up a Facebook page, product launches to protecting intellectual property, and much more. Part of my job is doing much of what Hyatt talked about, and even I still came away with new ideas and better understanding.

This should be “required reading” for any entrepreneur, no matter how long you’ve been on your own. In fact, each of my three newest clients came away with instructions to read this book. If you’re looking for the best way to find your platform, this is the first place I’d start.

I haven’t personally met Michael Hyatt yet, but hopefully that will change soon. Much of what I do as an entrepreneur, blogger, and leader can be tied to his wisdom over the past five years. This is the latest tribute to helping others find their voice.

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World can be purchased through Michael’s product listings or through Amazon. If you’d like to continue discovering your platform, check out Platform University.

The Two Greatest Debates of Life

Know who you are

We live in a world of struggle: political, economic, physical, and most importantly, spiritual. There are very real forces on both sides of good and evil who are fighting over our existence and choices as humans.

I truly believe that the greatest struggles of life come down to these two debates:

Who you are and whose you are.

Our identity has never before been so threatened and questioned like it is today. Mirrors lie, commercials set impossible standards, and instant media access makes it harder than ever to hold onto our identities. If you’re a follower of Christ though, your identity is already secure.

It starts with understanding the reality of who I used to be. I wasn’t just separated or lost, like some kid who wandered off in the grocery store or the mall. I was dead! Gone. Game over. My sin and choice to do what I wanted to do, no matter the age, is what put the terminal infection in my soul.

But then I came alive. I’m not just “found”; I’ve been rescued. I’m not just healed; I’m forever alive.

Who am I? I’m a child of God. I’m a child of the Victorious One and He’s already wearing the title belt. When I forget who I am, I let other identities cloud my decisions and change my focus. Losing my identity pushes me away from the One who gave me a new life.

The second debate is where freedom finds its struggle. It’s not enough for me to say I’m free. Free to do what? Whatever I want? It depends on who has your loyalty.

If you’re living with the freedom of forgiveness, but not the loyalty, you don’t fully understand the authority of God on your life. He sacrificed His Son so that we can have a second chance. Spoiler alert: Jesus didn’t have to die; He chose to die. He did all of this because He had the only right to reset the soul count forever.

Whatever your struggle may be, it probably comes down to these two debates. Know who you are. Know whose you are. Our identity and submission to the reign and rule of Christ gives us all we need to answer these debates.

Know who you are. Know whose you are.

Fighting corporate forgetfulness

Fighting corporate forgetfulness - 01

Years ago my dad shared this truth with me about leadership: forgetfulness is one of leadership’s worst enemies.

One of the worst mistakes a leader can make is forgetting their past experiences. They forget what it was like before they were in charge, especially when it comes to making decisions that affect the people following them. It’s called “corporate forgetfulness”.

It’s what plagues executives in plushy desk chairs when they forget what it’s like to be an entry-level worker. They forget the long hours, crappy pay, and the skittish roulette of economical layoffs. When the most powerful person forgets what it’s like to be at someone else’s mercy, that’s when mistakes can be deadliest.

If you’re leading a group of volunteers, remember what it was like to have passion, not paychecks driving your commitment. If your decision as a leader will cripple the passion of your volunteers, then you’ve given in to corporate forgetfulness.

The best way to keep a healthy perspective as a leader is to stay in constant conversation with your team. Don’t ask your team members to do what you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. Stay current with their stress levels, workloads, and time.

Some of the best GMs in the world walk the assembly lines, chat with team members in the break room, and have an open-door policy. It helps them keep a firm grasp on their team’s reality. My best learning moments as a leader are when I get to see a situation from a team member’s perspective.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to remember your past experiences. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself what it’s like to not be the most powerful person on your team. Pull out your old pay stubs from ten, fifteen, twenty years ago and remember how hard you worked to make much less than you make today.

And if you do forget, be humble enough to admit your forgetfulness and ask for honest opinions from your team. What’s their current reality? You might be surprised at what you don’t know they’re facing.

Don’t forget your past experiences. You owe it to your team to make frequent trips down memory lane.

Setting the learning curve

Setting the learning curve

I recently started working full-time as a writer. A majority of my time is now spent working with entrepreneurs to develop their content, like blog posts, web copy, social media, etc. It’s exciting and challenging all at the same time.

What it means is I’m doing a lot of reading. A lot. Most of it is coming pretty naturally, but some parts of my re-education are a struggle for me. It’s because I’m finding my learning curve.

Something I’ve noticed is how often people refer to this alleged “learning curve,” the rate at which someone needs to realign their way of thinking to learn a new process, material, or even a skill.

Musicians talk about being behind the learning curve when they first move to Nashville. Athletes talk about a steep learning curve once they start in the big leagues. Even movie stars say there’s a learning curve when it comes to the tabloids. Wow, life must be rough.

My question is… who sets the learning curve?

People compare themselves to the learning curve all the time. “I’m behind the 8-ball,” or “I’m ahead of the game,” or “I’m falling behind,” or “Thank God, the teacher graded on a curve,” or any other reference to the curve. Who sets the curve?

The learning curve is about comparison and expectations. If I’m starting something new, then I’m coming at it with my own custom-made toolkit of weaknesses and strengths. My learning rate, depth, and retention will be different than anyone else’s because I’ve been custom-made.

Sometimes it might mean that what you want to do the most isn’t where you’re gifted the best… and that’s okay. That might mean you need some good wisdom and insight to step in a new direction. Sometimes it means you need to try harder. What it doesn’t mean is that your value is tied to your success.

Just because an individual or an industry has set expectations for what and when you should achieve, it doesn’t mean your life’s worth or ability is tied to beating the curve. God set His image in you and you get to explore life in a way and at a pace that He’s wired you.

Don’t let some arbitrary rate of pace or degree of learning rob you of who you are in God’s eyes. You’re His creation, crafted and covered by His hands. You’re already a treasure in God’s eyes. Now, go find what your gifts are at the pace that God’s wired you to follow.

Honor God, do your best, and set your own learning curve.

What Bruce and Steve taught me about storytelling

One story that’s taught me the most about storytelling involves Bruce and Steve.

The story starts with Bruce. He’s living in the New England area. Nobody really knows where he came from, nobody really knows how he got here, but Bruce is a killer. His first victim doesn’t even see him coming. It’s dark, hardly anybody’s around, and nobody could have stopped him. In fact, nobody even really saw what happened.

The local sheriff starts putting evidence together. He finds out Bruce isn’t like any killer he’s ever seen before. Nobody’s seen Bruce and lived to tell about it without complete horror on their face. Bruce is brutal, one that threatens to destroy an entire community, and it’s up to this one man, this sheriff to bring Bruce to justice.

There’s one detail to keep in mind though.

Bruce is the mechanical shark in Jaws. That’s the nickname that some of the set designers gave to the shark during production.

If you didn’t know that Bruce was a shark, would that change the story? Would Jaws have been a great movie without the shark? I think so.

Other shark attack movies have been made to try duplicating or even eclipsing Jaws, like Megaladon. They’re touted as “the next Jaws,” or “the most terrifying movie since 1975″… but they flop. They don’t have the same traction as Jaws. Why is that?

It’s because they miss the point.

Jaws isn’t about Bruce the shark. Sure, the shark adds to the terror of the story and makes it more memorable, but it’s not the backbone of the story.

The most important part of Jaws is Roy Scheider’s character, Captain Martin Brody. He’s literally the new sheriff in town and he faces unbelievable obstacles. Opposition, doubt, ridicule, fear, all of those are churning inside his life throughout the entire story.

So, who’s Steve? The director of Jaws was a very young Steven Spielberg. He was only 28 when Jaws was released and he captured the humanity and internal struggles that Brody faced. The most touching part of the movie is this scene between Brody and his son Sean.

At this point, the shark is just window-dressing. If you didn’t know that this scene was from Jaws, would it even matter?

Here’s the lesson I learned about storytelling from this scene: an internal struggle turned into triumph will always be greater than any external opposition in a story.

With CG and a massive budget, you could re-create a theatrically great rendition of Jaws today, but it needs a great character like Brody to make it last. It needs someone that the audience can picture themselves with at that same table, face in hands, feeling that same weight over their own struggles in life. Am I good enough for this job? Why doesn’t anybody believe in me? Am I crazy for what I’m doing? Is it really me against the world? And why would I ask for something as simple as a kiss? Because I need it, as silly as that may sound.

Overcoming the struggle inside will always trump whatever you face on the outside, including a giant killer shark. And that’s what makes Jaws a great story.

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros (September 27, 2013)

JK at Houston Space CenterWe drove from Dallas to the Space Center in Houston. One of Kara’s favorite childhood memories is her visit to the Space Center. If you’re wanting to visit, I recommend the Tram Ride and the audio tour.

After the Space Center, we headed into the city to Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros. It was the end of the season and the Astros were already well over 100 losses for the season. My beloved Yankees were in town and the Astros honored Andy Petitte before his retirement.

The Yankees slipped by with a 3-2 win and we checked Minute Maid Park off the list to end our 2013 MLB travels. We’re down to two ballparks!

Here’s what you need to know about Minute Maid Park…

  • Houston traffic is notoriously congested and we felt the full brunt of it driving through the city. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the stadium.
  • We found parking for $5 on the other side of the highway. It’s a decent walk, but not too bad if you’re wanting to stretch your legs. There is a smaller stadium parking lot, but it fills up very quickly. If you’re staying close to the ballpark, take the Metro light rail to get there.
  • Minute Maid Park is a covered stadium, which is nice with the Texas weather and any Gulf coast rain.
  • Houston’s mascot is named Orbit, one of the funniest mascots I’ve seen so far. Whoever plays Orbit should be signed to a long-term deal.
  • If you want a food challenge, try the nachos supreme. It’s 30 oz. of loaded goodness. Good luck!
  • One of the unique features of Minute Maid Park is the slight incline in dead center field. With the right hit, things can get really interesting.

JK at Minute Maid Park

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas Rangers (September 26, 2013)

Our last MLB trip for 2013 was our Lone Star Trip to the great (debatable) state of Texas. We packed up our Mazda and headed to Dallas for the first stop of our excursion: Globe Life Park in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers. We stayed with my aunt and uncle and made the trek to the ballpark through the teeth of rush-hour traffic.

It was a great game with the division rival Los Angeles Angels in town. We cheered on the home team as Jurickson Profar went yard at the end of the game for the walk-off win. I’m a big fan of Globe Life Park and if you’re heading there for a game, you should keep this info in mind…

  • We found parking on the northeast side of the ballpark for around $15. The way was only about 4-5 blocks away in distance. Traffic wasn’t too bad going to the game, but you definitely want a good exit strategy for after the game.
  • If you’re staying near the ballpark, you can catch the Arlington Trolley for free.
  • If there’s one thing the Rangers know how to do well, it’s food. There’s BBQ, Southern fried food, sweet tea, ballpark food, and a hot dog over two feet long! It’s called the Boomstick and will set you back $26.
  • I’m a fan of the Globe Life Park entrance. It captures the Texas spirit, which seems impossible given the every-growing ego of the Lone Star State. The brick work and black iron gates give a very classy look to the stadium.
  • There’s a reason we went to Texas in September: it’s Texas! You will fry your ever-lovin’ brain out braving 115 degree weather in July. Don’t be dumb; go on the opposite ends of the baseball season.
  • We didn’t get to see the Texas Rangers Baseball Hall of Fame because it was closed for a private event. I hear it’s nice though.
  • It’s Texas: you’ll hear “Deep in the Heart of Texas” more than you want, which is around oh, once.
  • If you’re into amusement parks, Six Flags over Texas is right next door to the ballpark. Shhh… you’re welcome.

We had a great time in Dallas and said our goodbyes as we headed off to our next stop: Houston! Twenty-seven ballparks down, only three more to go! In honor of Texas’ big-ness, here’s an oversized picture of us outside Globe Life Park.

Jon and Kara at Rangers Ballpark

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Yankees Stadium, New York Yankees (September 20, 2013)

After our stop at Fenway, we spent the night in Boston and did some sightseeing the next morning. We did a mobile walking tour of Harvard with an app I downloaded from iTunes Store. I don’t know what I should have expected when I thought of visiting Harvard, but it turned out to be really smart college kids who dress… like college kids. Hoodies, jeans, ear buds, Chucks. We did step into the church on Harvard’s campus. It has a beautiful cathedral ceiling with a massive pipe organ.

That night we took the Amtrak out of the Back Bay Station to the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps, the one and only New York City. We took a taxi ride to our hotel and I firmly believe everyone needs the experience of riding in the back of a taxi through NYC. The heart rate alone is worth the taxi ride.

JK - Top of the RockWe did the usual sightseeing while we were in NYC. We walked through Central Park, which is an amazing way to spend a day. If you have $12, take a row boat out on the water for up to an hour. We also saw the Top of the Rock (30 Rock). If it was a year earlier, I would have asked Kenneth to give us a tour. Sadly, those days are over. I can say that Top of the Rock is much cheaper than the Empire State Building and it has a better view, especially of Central Park.

On our way to Yankee Stadium, we stopped by the American Museum of Natural History for a tour. It was packed but a very good tour. If you’re kicking around Central Park and want to step back into time, stop by the museum. And no, I didn’t see Ben Stiller or any displays coming to life.

We took the subway to Yankee Stadium and I had flashbacks to when we were rained out almost exactly two years earlier. We were sitting seven rows off left-center field with a $5 umbrella and a bucket of fried chicken when the game was postponed against the Red Sox before a single pitch was even thrown. I almost cried. Almost. This visit was all about crossing Yankee Stadium off our list.

The Yankees honored Ichiro Suzuki for his 4,000 major league hits with a pre-game service and the game was underway. It was a great game as the Yanks beat the Giants 5-1 off an A-Rod grand slam. After two years of waiting, we finally checked Yankee Stadium off our list: twenty-six down, only four more to go!

If you’re wanting to visit Yankee Stadium, here are some things we learned from both our visits.

  • Yankee StadiumIt’s New York: bring an umbrella. Everywhere. A big umbrella. Big enough to cover you and anyone else with you. Ironically, it didn’t rain at all during this trip, but I won’t make that same mistake twice. Also, bring a jacket for early or late in the season when the temperature dips towards the end of the game.
  • When we were rained out two years ago, Ticketmaster refused to give refunds to any ticket holders for the rainout. Thankfully, we bought our tickets through StubHub. I called StubHub once we got back to Denver and they credited our account for the full ticket price. Since then, we have bought our sports tickets almost exclusively from StubHub. A great exchange policy by StubHub cost Ticketmaster almost 60 sports game tickets (and counting).
  • If you’re heading to Yankee Stadium, don’t drive. It’s New York: take a taxi, or brave the subway. If you’re going to spend any amount of time (over 3 days) in NYC, get a 7 day pass. If you’re taking the subway everywhere, it will pay for itself very quickly.
  • Ride the B, D, or 4 trains to get to Yankee Stadium. All of them stop at 161st St. at Yankee Stadium. The stop is on the southeast corner of the stadium.
  • The food at Yankee Stadium is very good. It has New York style pizza, Italian sausage, loaded nachos, and lots more. Come hungry and enjoy a great dinner.
  • Get to the stadium at least two hours before game time if you want to see the Yankees Museum and Monument Park (two separate areas of the ballpark). It’s worth getting in line early to make sure you experience both of them.

JK - Yankees Monument ParkFor the rest of our time in NYC, we bought discount tickets from TKTS to see the Phantom of the Opera. It was my first time seeing a Broadway on Broadway! It was one of the best, if not the best, theater experiences I’ve ever had. We also toured the New York Public Library (no ghosts – I checked), ate a great dinner at McGee’s Irish Pub & Restaurant (inspiration for McLaren’s in HIMYM), and grabbed lunch one day at Katz’s Deli (When Harry Met Sally).

We also got a chance to worship with Hillsong NYC at their Irving Plaza location. I have never seen people lined up for two city blocks just for church. God is doing incredible work through Hillsong’s ministry and I’m glad we got a chance to be a part of it for at least one weekend.

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox (September 18, 2013)

Two years ago Kara and I took a red-eye from Denver to New York City to visit the Mets and the Yankees. In short, the trip was memorable for all the wrong reasons, but we laugh about it now. We paid to see the Red Sox and Yankees play at the new Yankee Stadium. Yankees, Red Sox, late September. This was the game I dreamed about for years. We were six rows off the wall in left-center field with a bucket of fried chicken and a $5 umbrella purchased at the exit of the Times Square subway station…

…and the game was postponed until the day after we flew back to Denver. Ahh! It was one of the soul crushing moments for a lifelong Yankees fan like me. We needed redemption, another chance to truly check Yankee Stadium off our list.

So, fast forward two years, and we headed back east with a slight detour: Boston. This would be dark, moving into enemy territory. Red Sox fans can pick out certain smells better than anyone else on earth: clam chowder, Dunkin Donuts, and a Yankees fan in Boston. I went in unmarked, all Yankees apparel safely stowed for our entire stay.

We flew into Logan Airport and grabbed a rental car to kick around town. If you’re planning on driving in Boston, here’s some info to know: Boston roads are crazy! I have never seen three lanes merge into one without any signage or warning like I saw in Boston! A good co-pilot is recommended if you have to brave the traffic.

The Four's Restaurant (Boston)We stopped by The Four’s Restaurant off Canal St. for a late lunch. If you want a first-class look into the history and culture of Boston sports, along with a great meal to boot, then make your way to The Four’s. We were very pleased with our experience there.

After lunch we kicked around the rest of the North End of Boston, including a walk along the Freedom Trail. If you have extra time, the Freedom Trail tour is worth the 90 minutes of walking to learn more of Boston’s heritage.

That night we headed to Fenway Park, the capitol of Irish baseball, bad facial hair, and the only place where calling someone a chowderhead is a term of endearment. The Orioles were in town and Chris Davis put on a clinic in clutch hitting as the Orioles prevailed in extra innings. I still hate the Red Sox, but I have no qualms about saying Fenway is a special place. Here’s some of what we learned if you want to go to a Red Sox game…

  • Parking is a nightmare around Fenway. Prices start at $45 and go up to $50 quickly. If you want to go east or north of the stadium, there are some parking garages that can give you the evening rate around $15 for the game. The catch is that you have to enter the garage after 6:00 p.m., which works great for a night game.
  • The food was very good, lots of variety and tasty! Save your appetite for the ballpark because it’s worth the wait.
  • The info displayed on the  two Jumbotrons along the outfield contain backgrounds consistent with the Green Monster to the left of them. It gives a very uniform, clean look to the fan experience and one that I can appreciate as a visual design dabbler.
  • Fenway is very up to date with technology, advertising, and staying current with cultural trends. We saw a couple of charging stations sponsored by Verizon where fans can choose from a variety of plugins to charge their phone while at the ballpark. The hard part is that you have to stand there to wait for the charge. I’d suggest that if you have to charge your phone, there should be mini-lockers/drawers with coded chips for owners to deposit their phones for up to 15 minutes. That way your phone can charge in a secure location while you’re getting concessions, using the facilities, or actually watching the game.
  • Sweet Caroline. It played in the 8th inning and I experienced one of the most magical moments I’ve ever had at a baseball game. The feeling alone was worth the visit.
  • We sat in the section to the left of the Green Monster. Since Fenway is an older stadium, it doesn’t have the greatest sightlines like you might see at some of the newer parks. Be sure to check out websites like aviewfrommyseat.com to see your potential view.

Even as a diehard Yankees fan, I am impressed with what Fenway has to offer. We’re getting close to the end of our 30 before 30 bucket list. Twenty-six down, only four more to go. Thank you, Boston, for a great first visit. I hope to return again sooner rather than later. Cue Sweet Caroline.

JK - Fenway Park

What Inigo Montoya taught me about vision

IMontoya - 01

The Princess Bride is a classic movie. It’s quotable, has great characters, the plot is ridiculous, yet emotionally honest enough to make it cult-like in its following. All in all, a great movie.

One of the most memorable threads throughout the movie is Wallace Shawn’s character (Vizzini) repeatedly using the word “inconceivable”. All throughout the movie. Something happens, inconceivable. Good, bad, indifferent, it doesn’t matter; it’s inconceivable. Finally, Inigo Montoya tells him, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

It’s a funny moment. You might even laugh when he says that. As a leader though, the same can be said about how people use the word “vision”.

It’s easy to start using a highly potent word because of what it conveys, but it gets misused so much that its meaning gets diluted and robbed of its potency. Vision is why you do what you do. Vision is seeing both what is and what could be, and knowing why your team is headed in the direction it is.

“We send Survey Monkey surveys to everyone who attends because their opinion matters to us. That’s part of our vision.” That’s not vision. Vision should be a part of the reason why you hosted the conference in the first place. Getting good feedback helps reinforce the execution of the vision: did this conference accomplish why we hosted it?

“We use special dishes for serving dinner to our visitors because that’s our vision.” That’s not vision;  special plates are a specific detail in an expression of the vision. Special dinner plates are what you use. A nice dinner is how you communicate a visitor’s value, which can be a part of your vision: “People matter to us because they matter to God.” The plates aren’t the vision; they’re the effect of the vision.

When it comes to using a highly potent word like vision, we need to be even more intentional. Taking the time to hone your vision into a clear, concise idea is invaluable to your organization. Make sure you know what you’re saying. Otherwise, I don’t think it means what you think it means.

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Marlins Park, Miami Marlins (July 12, 2013)

After the Rays and Twins game, we started the four-hour drive down to Miami. We stopped at Doc’s Beach House in Bonita Springs for a great dinner right off the beach. It was a perfect stop at the midway point outside Naples and the food was very good. We finished our drive through the north side of the Everglades and got into Miami late that night.

Kara at Everglades Alligator FarmThe next morning we headed to the Everglades Alligator Farm. It’s located about 40-45 minutes south of Miami and I’m very impressed with the experience. We took an airboat ride (my first one), watched an alligator feeding, and toured the farm. This was one of the highlights of our entire trip. If you have the time, go visit the farm.

Jon at Monkey JungleOur next visit was to Monkey Jungle, which is a half-hour drive back towards the city. There are mesh-covered walkways all throughout the reserve where monkeys climb all over. At different parts in the canopy, small dishes on long chains hang down for visitors to put raisins for the monkeys to pull up in the dishes and eat. It was a great experience and we had a lot of fun.

Finally, we headed to Marlins Park, the newest stadium in major league baseball. It’s a beautiful stadium with a contemporary look. The Nationals were in town and their ace Stephen Strasburg got hammered by the home team. His line: 2.0 innings, 5 hits, 7 runs, 4 walks, 2 K, 1 HR. Ouch. The Marlins pulled out an 8-3 winner and we enjoyed post-game fireworks after the roof retracted for the night.

Our last stop in Florida bumped our ballpark total to twenty-five. Marlins Park is a nice visit if you’re spending some time near South Beach. Here’s some of what we learned from our visit…

  • I’ll be honest, Marlins Park is located in a pretty suspicious part of Miami. We parked about 5-6 blocks away from the stadium for $5. More parking is available closer to the ballpark, but the overall feel of the area is the same.
  • One of the touted features of Marlins Park is the aquarium behind home plate. It is there, but you need to have a ticket in the 100 section to get anywhere close to the aquarium.
  • I will say the food was good. The Taste of Miami section gives a great cross-section of food and the price is comparable to many other ballparks.
  • We give the “Best Jumbotron in MLB” Award to Marlins Park. I’m very impressed with its layout and the timeliness of score updates. Well done, Miami.
  • The Clevelander bar is located along the outfield wall. We didn’t visit, but we heard that there’s a pool at field level where visitors can watch the game.
  • Major league baseball still hasn’t taken off in Miami and I was very disappointed that Marlins officials would rather let an anemic first-level attendance remain the same throughout the entire game. We were two out of six, six people in our entire section in the 300 level.

JK - Marlins Park

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay Rays (July 11, 2013)

Kara and I packed our bags and headed down to Florida for our MLB Sunshine Trip: Tampa and Miami. We took the late-night flight into St. Petersburg and stayed the night on Treasure Island. The next morning we drove to Tropicana Field to cheer on the Twins. Sadly, the Twins couldn’t complete a good comeback and lost, 4-3. We were sad, but still had a good time at the game.

If you’re wanting to catch a Rays game, here’s what you need to know…

  • Tropicana is pretty much a barn with terrible turf. The field is so bad it looked like camouflage during the game. There’s not much to see at Tropicana and I feel bad that a great team, like the Rays, are stuck with such a half-hearted following and a terrible home.
  • Without a doubt, one of my favorite pictures of my bride. How the heck did I get so blessed?

    Without a doubt, one of my favorite pictures of my bride. How the heck did I get so blessed?

    The highlight of visiting Tropicana Field is experiencing the Rays tank in center field. They have over 20 sting rays in a salt-water tank where you can reach into the tank and touch them. There is a limit of 50 fans at the tank at a time, so you probably will have to wait in line. I promise, it is well worth the wait.

  • Since Tropicana is a dome, expect a loud game. The day we visited six elementary schools brought their summer camp kids to the game. The giveaway for the game just happened to be thundersticks. We sat in the front row of the outfield section right at the wall and had over 100 pairs of thundersticks going crazy behind us.
  • Parking was very cheap ($5) about 4-5 blocks east of the stadium. There is a stadium parking lot, but it costs $15. I’m not Dutch, but I am thrifty.
  • There is a good variety of food, but nothing too unique.
  • Be sure to check out the Hitters Hall of Fame on the second floor. It contains showcases of MLB’s greatest hitters and is free to visit.
  • Baseball in Florida hasn’t taken off yet, for whatever reason. Translation: you can get great tickets for cheap. The Rays are a great team so it’s a steal to get into a game.
  • If you’re needing a place to stay, we stayed across the bay on Treasure Island. Beautiful view of the ocean and better rates than near the stadium.

The first stop on our Florida trip is officially checked off the list. Twenty-four stadiums down, that’s six, only six until we’re done!

JK - Tropicana Field

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Citi Field, New York Mets (September 24, 2011)

The next stop on our MLB tour was Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. We were rained out the night before at Yankee Stadium with the Red Sox. I can’t even begin to verbalize the letdown I felt. I know, that’s shallow and there are far worse things to be upset about, but c’mon! We left Yankee Stadium and went back to our super sketchy hotel in Queens (don’t ask- it’s a long story) for some rest.

The Phillies were in town and on top of the NL East. We watched the Mets squeak out a close victory and Jose Reyes ended the season with the NL batting title. Citi Field is a nice ballpark to visit, but not very memorable overall.

If you’re heading to Citi Field, here’s what you need to know…

  • As I mentioned about the Yankees, it’s New York: bring an umbrella. Everywhere. A big umbrella. Big enough to cover you and anyone else with you.
  • For hotels, it’s easier than you’d expect to find a cheaper (under $150/night) hotel within a decent distance of Citi Field. Brooklyn has a fair selection of hotels worth choosing from that have close access to the subway. If you’re not sure about the location of a hotel, call the front desk to ask about shuttle service.
  • Citi Field does have a stadium parking lot, but since it’s still New York, just take the subway. If you do decide to drive, don’t worry about cash for parking. Citi Field offers credit/debit card payment options at the parking lot entrances.
  • If you’re taking the subway, the “7” train is the main subway running to Citi Field. Just look for all the Mets fans and follow them.
  • There are no restaurants close to Citi Field, but thank God the food selection is decent inside. If you can eat at McFadden’s inside the ballpark, they have an incredible sports bar experience and the first restaurant I’ve ever seen with batting cages inside the restaurant!
  • Citi Field has one of the more impressive main entrances I’ve seen. We liked the tribute to Mets legends, like Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Mookie Wilson, and others. Well done, Citi Field.

Three (four with Yankees) stadiums down, twenty-seven to go!

Citi Field New York Mets

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies (May 30, 2013)

The last stop for our East Coast trip was Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love and home of the Phillies. We visited Independence Hall, the Declaration House (where Thomas Jefferson penned the Constitution), and the Liberty Bell (tourist alert!). Then, we made a great decision and grabbed the best Philly cheesesteak I’ve ever tasted at Jim’s Steaks. If you’re ever in Philly, do yourself a favor and eat at Jim’s.

My Grandpa Zepp grew up in the Philly area so I have fond memories of the Phillies being his team of choice. Our visit to Philly was almost exactly at the one year anniversary that Grandpa passed away. We drove to Citizens Bank Park and toured the Hall of Fame section in the outfield. Philadelphia has such a rich history through the Phillies organization with names like Kruk, Schilling, and Schmidt leading the way. The stinkin’ Red Sox were in town and didn’t play gracious guests, pounding the Phillies by the score of 9-2. We did enjoy our time in Philly and crossed ballpark #23 off our list.

If you want to catch a game at Citizens Bank Park, here are a few tips to remember…

  • Jon and Kara - Citizens Bank ParkParking cost $15 and is a massive parking lot surrounding the stadium. It’s very accessible close to the highway and beats trying to find a decent parking space several blocks away (I’m looking at you, San Diego).
  • Food was okay, but not great. A lot of it seemed pre-cooked and could have used more time in the warmers.
  • Phillies fans are both passionate about their game… and somewhat unaccepting of opposing team fans. Since it was the Red Sox, I didn’t care as much, but there’s still something to be said about being hospitable. For being the city of brotherly love, I just wasn’t feeling it.
  • It’s Philly- look for the Phanatic. Easily one of the most recognizable mascots in pro baseball, the Philly Phanatic did not disappoint. Around the 7th inning, the Philly Phanatic used a t-shirt gun and actually shot a t-shirt over the third level and out of the ballpark. Well done, well done.
  • Citizens Bank Park is a nice ballpark, but there’s not much about it that’s memorable or visually appealing. It’s a 21st century baseball park, but that’s it. It’s ranking around the lower third of our stadium rankings already.

After the game, we drove to Hershey to stay the night and toured the Hershey’s Chocolate World the next morning. It was well worth the time and extra travel for the experience. Neither of us have a sweet tooth and we still had a great time!

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles (May 29, 2013)

Fort McHenryThe next morning we packed up and made the quick drive to Baltimore. We stopped by the Baltimore Aquarium for a visit and walked along the harbor. The delicacy of Baltimore is crab cakes, especially with being right on the Chesapeake Bay. We passed on the crab though and headed out to visit Fort McHenry. If you’re a history buff like me, then you’ll appreciate the place where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the Star-Spangled Banner. It’s worth the small entrance fee into the fort.

Before the Orioles game, we walked through The Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards. It’s next door to Oriole Park and has one of the most impressive historic sports collections I’ve ever seen. It covers the history of all Maryland sports and is worth arriving early at the ballpark. Our entry fee was $8 each.

Babe Ruth Birthplace and MuseumWe also made the short walk to Babe Ruth’s birthplace and museum. There is a path of baseball logos inlaid in the sidewalks leading from the ballpark to his museum. As a Yankees fan, it was a special treat to see the house where the Great Bambino was raised. The entry fee was $6 each, but I would have paid double for the experience.

The climax for our evening was Oriole Park. We heard from multiple sources that Oriole Park was an impressive site and would rank high in our final MLB Stadium rankings (which will be out next year once we finish with #30). I can safely say it’s a very impressive ballpark. Oriole Park is the first MLB stadium built in what’s now referred to as the retro classic style with brick exterior, black wrought-iron gateways, and gradient archways. It’s a truly beautiful park and set the template for many of the newer parks in MLB, namely Busch Stadium (St. Louis), Coors Field (Colorado), and PNC Park (Pittsburgh).

The Orioles got revenge on the Nationals from the night before and we enjoyed a beautiful night in Baltimore. If you’re planning a visit to Oriole Park, here’s some good info to keep in mind…

  • Parking was $10 and a little bit of a walk, but not too bad. Park a good 3-4 blocks away from the stadium. Being located right on the bay is good for scenery, but it makes real estate a premium commodity.
  • For the national anthem, Oriole fans (really, any Baltimore team fans) loudly shout “OH!” in the middle of the anthem at the beginning of the phrase, “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave…” If you time it right, it can start the experience off right. (We tried it in Boston when the Orioles were in town. Yep, it happened there, too.)
  • I don’t know if it was because the Nationals (read: rivals) were in town or not, but Oriole fans get an A+ for enthusiasm and crowd vibe.
  • The food selection was decent. It had some BBQ, sandwiches, Jon and Kara - Oriole Park at Camden Yardstypical ballpark food. The Orioles do a great job of incorporating their brand into the food service.
  • If you sign up for the Designated Driver booth sponsored by Budweiser, your name is put in a drawing to win a swag bag of Orioles merchandise. I won and got a bag of great Orioles memorabilia…that’s been separated into our shrine downstairs or onto Craigslist.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a wonderful experience. We checked it off our list and headed towards Philadelphia. Twenty-two stadiums down, only eight more to go!

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Nationals Park, Washington Nationals (May 28, 2013)

On the Sunday before Memorial Day, Kara and I hopped in the Mazda and headed east. Next stop: Washington, D.C.! We arrived in Washington on the early evening of Memorial Day and visited the war memorials around town. That is one of the most striking memories for me from all our travels. We met two Vietnam veterans who rode their Harleys up from Columbia, MO, of all places! They shared some powerful moments and memories with us and we were honored to shake their hands and thank them for their service.

We headed to Nationals Park to catch the Nationals take on the Orioles. There was an hour and a half long rain delay, but we still caught the entire game. The Nationals beat the Orioles, 9-3, and we checked another park off our list.

Here are some of our highlights from Nationals Park…

  • We were welcomed to the ballpark by the oversized Presidential mascots. Later, they ran a mascot race around the infield.
  • Parking was easily accessible and fairly affordable. The Metro has reasonably close access to the ballpark, but the rain delay caused the last train to depart before the game ended. Boo, hiss, that’s poor form, Metro.
  • Nationals Park gets my vote for the most enthusiastic singing of the national anthem. It was quite an internal struggle to not be “that guy” starting the U-S-A chant after the song. I cheered inside, which is still a win for me.
  • Wait to eat until you’re inside the park. The Nationals organization has done a fantastic job incorporating both baseball and political themes in their marketing for food vendors. The lone butt-scrunch moment was when I saw the booth with the label “Senators Sausages” plastered above. There’s an Anthony Weiner joke in there somewhere.

If you are planning any extended visit to the D.C. area, be sure to check with your local senator’s office about guest passes to the Senate and House of Representatives gallery. There are so many sites to see around the Capitol. You can spend at least three days there, and that’s without even touring any of the Smithsonians! We highly recommend the International Spy Museum.

Jon and Kara - Nationals Park

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Petco Park, San Diego Padres (April 27, 2013)

After our time at Dodgers Stadium, Kara and I drove down to San Diego, the final stop to our Cali tour. We met up with our friend Katie who we met in Denver and spent the morning with her at the San Diego Zoo. We took a friend’s suggestion and hopped on the tour bus ride around the zoo. In a word: wow. We saw more of the park in a half hour ride than if we walked the entire time. Also, the gondola ride over the park is well worth the extra cost. You get a great view of San Diego and a relaxing ride as well.

That night we headed to Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. I love that it’s located in the heart of the Gaslamp district, a historic part of the city. We watched the Padres come from behind to beat the Giants in 12 innings, which made for a great end to our tour.

Jon and Kara at Petco Park

San Diego is a beautiful city to visit and Petco Park has plenty to offer for visiting fans.

  • Parking tends to be pricy close to the stadium ($25 +/-). We found parking for around $10… about 12 blocks away.
  • The Jumbotron in the outfield sections is one of the more impressive ones that we’ve seen. It’s covered in ivy surrounding the screen, and the back side allows visitors to see game information. At certain times throughout the game, flames shoot out of cannons on top of the Jumbotron.
  • There’s also a large section of grass behind center field for picnic blankets and lounging. Not sure if general admission tickets are sold for that section, but it’s worth looking into if you want to enjoy a picnic at the ballpark.
  • The food selection was very good overall. They have a gluten-free vendor (an automatic win for Katie), a fair variety of stadium food, and a few specialties to spice up the menu. There’s also a wine bar inside the stadium for the finer tastes of life.
  • Once inside the ballpark, be sure to find the “History of Baseball in San Diego” display. It’s very well done and is well positioned to catch your eye.

If you have time before the game, explore the sights and sounds of San Diego. Between the zoo, Mission Beach, Sea World, and the Gaslamp district, there are plenty of attractions around the city. Petco Park is a good park with some of the best sight lines I’ve seen so far. It was a good end to a great trip and it goes down as #20. We’re almost in single digits on our countdown!

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers (April 26, 2013)

After our two day stint in the Bay Area, Kara and I flew back to LA and the oldest ballpark west of the Mississippi: Dodgers Stadium. Tucked inside the Chavez Ravine overlooking downtown LA, Dodger Stadium is one of the legends of major league baseball, the first true monument to baseball’s westward expansion of the early 60’s. I’ve watched the Dodgers face the Rockies since 1993, so this was one of the ballparks I pictured in my mind when Kara and I first started talking about this MLB ballpark tour.

Jon and Kara at Dodger Stadium

We watched the Dodgers face off against the Milwaukee Brewers in front of a decent Friday night crowd and squeak out a 7-5 victory. Our seats were located in the left field bleachers, which left us little opportunity to explore the rest of the stadium because of restricted access due to our seating location. There are a total of two identical concession stands and two sets of bathrooms tucked directly underneath the left field bleachers… and nothing else. No fan fun. No walkway. No tribute to Dodgers history. Nothing.

It was still a decent ballgame and with the deep  Dodgers tradition, there is a good feel of baseball in the air when you arrive at the stadium. Here is some of our experience when it comes to Dodger Stadium:

  • Choose your seating chart wisely. That’s what we learned. I’m told that one of the best views of Dodgers Stadium is on the loge level.
  • If you’re going to catch a Dodgers game, try to catch the radio broadcast. Vin Scully is a legend in baseball and his voice is a great throwback to the golden years to start the game.
  • Parking is fairly cheap at $10 a pop. There’s no shortage of parking with a massive lot surrounding the stadium, but it’s LA: leave for the game early or risk being stuck somewhere for three hours.
  • Dodgers Stadium is the largest stadium in MLB. I thought that might be the case when we were walking to our seats, and sure enough, I was right. It holds over 56,000 people! Translation: wear your walking shoes.
  • Food is decently priced.
  • If you’re sitting in the bleachers, prep for an even rougher crowd than you’d expect in the bleachers. We had LAPD stationed all around our section and they kept themselves busy the entire game.
  • Since it was a Friday home game, we were able to go onto the outfield grass after the game and watch a fireworks show. Worth the experience, even if we were limited in access to the rest of the ballpark.

The Dodgers have such a rich history in their organization and I’m glad we got to experience a night game (and fireworks!) at a place like Dodger Stadium. If we ever return I’ll be sure to buy tickets in the main seating area of the park so we can fully experience all that the park has to offer. For now though, nineteen ballparks down, only eleven more to go!

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: O.co Coliseum, Oakland Athletics (April 25, 2013)

After our visit to AT&T Park, we took the short drive over the bay into Oakland and the home of Moneyball. We watched the A’s jump out to a 2-0 lead over the Orioles in the first couple of innings, only to get pounded 10-2 in the final box score. The outcome of the game somewhat matched our experience at Oakland. It’s not pretty, folks, hide the kids before we get into a full review of O.co Coliseum…

If AT&T Park is one of the true beauties in MLB, then O.co Coliseum is her ugly stepsister. To put it gently, O.co Coliseum took a swan dive in our ballpark rankings before we even walked inside its gates.

When the in-game emcee and camera crew can gather only a sparse handful of quasi-interested, half-awake fans from an entire section, all of whom are wearing a grand total of maybe two pieces of team apparel in any of their attire, all for the purpose of playing a fan game that the emcee prefaces with “okay, now remember to act excited”… that gives you a State of the Union on baseball in Oakland.

And the team deserves so much more than this! Oakland has fielded some of the best teams in baseball history, including recent history (2012 AL West Champions!), and yet they have to endure the cold confines of this glorified concrete half-bowl. I understand, the Coliseum was built for the Raiders, the pride of Oakland, but the A’s deserve a home of their own. Rumor is that a new home for them in the San Jose area is set for completion in 2017.

If you are wanting to catch some Moneyball, brace yourself and keep these tips in mind:

  • The Coliseum shares a parking lot with Oracle Arena (home of the Golden State Warriors). Parking cost us $17 and we were well within walking distance of the Coliseum.
  • The food is actually the best part of O.co Coliseum, but it’s still not great. I had a Philly Cheesesteak that could go a dozen rounds with almost any other Philly steak I’ve met. Kara ordered a meatball sandwich that was fairly decent as well.
  • BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) also services fans to the Coliseum. It’s worth looking at transit times and availability if you’re planning on shuttling over from San Francisco.
  • The A’s mascot is an elephant. Who knew?!
  • Even with an atmosphere like the Coliseum, the A’s are still one of the best young teams in MLB. It will be exciting to see them continue to grow over the next few years.

In the end, we chalked up Oakland as a great team with a lousy home. Hopefully they’ll get a new location to fit a quality team for the future. Eighteen stadiums down, only twelve more before we’re done!

Jon and Kara at O.Co Coliseum

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants (April 24, 2013)

Jon and Kara at AT&T ParkThe next stop on our Cali tour was AT&T Park in the city by the Bay. After our one-night stay in LA, Kara and I took the 70 minute morning flight up the coast to San Francisco for a three day stay in one of the most romantic and naturally beautiful cities in the entire country. With AT&T located right on the bay, the view from the the park is breathtaking in itself.

The Giants are also one of the hottest teams in baseball over the past five years and it’s translated to an incredible home-field atmosphere. We enjoyed a post-lunch first pitch from the 300 level along the 1st base side of the field as we tried to focus on a great game between the Giants and Diamondbacks while a world-class backdrop stretched beyond the ballpark.

I can safely say that AT&T Park ranks in the top five, or higher, of my favorite ballparks in MLB. If you’re planning on a trip to San Fran, here are a few things we saw:

  • Parking is very expensive ($35+) within half a mile or more of AT&T Park. I’d recommend navigating the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) when it comes to game day. The difference in cost and convenience is well worth the schedule. BART runs right by the ballpark and drops off on the west side of the stadium.
  • The designers of AT&T Park did an incredible job with the main entrance. Be sure to get a picture outside the main entrance.
  • Find the Say Hey Kid display with Golden Gloves, silver slugger bats, and signed balls by Willie Mays, a legend of Giants history.
  • When it comes to food, you’d be hard pressed to find a more diverse, exceptional, and reasonably priced selection of food than at AT&T Park. We bought garlic fries and patty melts that were stupid good to my taste buds. There’s also the McCovey Carvery, the Ghiradelli’s Chocolate Corner with uniformed wait staff (left corner outfield), and seafood shacks all around the park.
  • The view from along the outfield wall is a puzzle picture waiting to happen. We watched what looked to be a large-scale ferry dock just outside the outfield wall and people disembarked right to the ticket gates. That’s not something you’d see most places… say Kansas City, as an example.
  • Since the park is right on the bay, it’s wise to bring a hoodie or some sort of jacket with you in case the wind picks up off the water. Third base gets sun, first base gets none.

We couldn’t have chosen a better time to visit San Francisco on our 30 before 30 MLB tour. Seventeen down, only thirteen to go! AT&T Park is a gorgeous venue for catching a game and I would definitely return in a heartbeat. Well done, San Fran. I can see why people leave their hearts in your care.

Steve and Jon at AlcatrazAs far as tourism goes, take the time to walk along Fisherman’s Wharf before it gets too late. We ate at Alioto’s, which is a great dining choice if you like seafood. If you have a free morning, take the tour of Alcatraz. The Rock is a fantastic tour to experience. We went with my buddy Steve, who looks like Matt Damon, and is pretentious enough to want a shout-out for our visit there. This pretty much sums up our friendship. I would say more, but we ran out of time. My apologies.

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Angel Stadium, Los Angeles Angels (April 23, 2013)

Angel Stadium - 01On April 23rd Kara and I flew to California for the start of our 2013 tour of MLB’s mini-Meccas. First stop: Angel Stadium in Anaheim.  I’ve visited Angel Stadium during trips to LA twice before meeting Kara, but this was definitely worth re-visiting. We watched the Angels beat the Rangers in 11 innings when Howie Kendrick went yard for the second time that night.

We really enjoyed our first stop on our MLB Cali tour. If you’re ever in LA and want to catch a game at Angel Stadium, here’s some good info to know…

  • Angel Stadium is fourth oldest ballpark in major league baseball. Outside of the condition of some of the concrete, I wouldn’t have guessed that. Props to the Angels organization for the renovations.
  • Parking is easily accessible with stadium parking surrounding the stadium and cost $10. Exiting after the game was also fairly simple onto Gene Autry Way. It’s LA though so don’t expect to go anywhere fast, even at 10:30 at night.
  • The main entrance for Angel Stadium is one of the more impressive ones we saw on our trip. Definitely a photo opp.
  • If you get to the stadium early enough to catch batting practice, walk down to the left center section of the outfield wall. Many of the players hung out near that section during warm-ups.
  • The food is good overall, pretty typical stadium food. We ended up getting personal pizzas for dinner at the game.
  • The atmosphere of the stadium completely embraces the feel of LA: palm trees in the left field corner, a rock waterfall behind the outfield wall, and plenty of patio space throughout the ballpark.

After visit number three, I came away even more of a fan of Angel Stadium. The team has a recent history of solid play, a promising future, and a great fan base. We enjoyed our time with the Angels and headed off to our next destination: San Francisco. Sixteen stadiums down, only fourteen to go!

Chick-fil-A Leadercast – May 10th, 2013

CFA Leadercast 2013 Banner

I’m a huge fan of Chick-fil-A. Everything from their chicken sandwich (better than any burger, ever) to their customer service to the strategies and principles of business that Truett Cathy started with decades ago, all of it is a part of what makes Chick-fil-A so successful. The people at the Mecca of Chicken Goodness work incredibly hard to create a culture of exceptional service.

One of the most impressive parts of Chick-fil-A is their culture of leadership. Enter the Chick-fil-A Leadercast. I’ll let them tell you about in their own words though…

What is Chick-fil-A Leadercast? 

Chick-fil-A Leadercast is a one-day leadership event broadcast LIVE from Atlanta, GA to hundreds of locations around the world on May 10, 2013. Strengthen your leadership by simplifying your life. SIMPLY LEAD.

Full. Our lives are full of things that we think will grow our businesses and increase our influence. We are busy – and that may, unknowingly, be holding us back.  What if there was potential impact in simplifying our lives so our leadership could thrive? Leading in a complex world requires simplicity to cut through the clutter. Saying NO to what may seem good could help increase your capacity to live your life to the fullest. Join us at Chick-fil-A Leadercast as we learn to Simply Lead.

The speaker lineup says a lot about a conference’s attention to their audience. Chick-fil-A has hit a home run this year (my thoughts in parentheses):

  • Jack Welch, Former Chairman and CEO of General Electric (Business and leadership genius)
  • Andy Stanley, Best-selling leadership author and communicator (It’s a Christian leadership conference in Atlanta. Not inviting Andy Stanley would be like not wearing red, white, or blue on 4th of July.)
  • Mike Krzyzewski, Head men’s basketball coach, Duke University and Team USA (As a Duke fan, this makes me drool.)
  • John Maxwell, Best-selling author and leadership expert (See Stanley, Andy for similar response)
  • Dr. Henry Cloud, Best-selling author and leadership consultant (I’m reading his book Boundaries right now. Get a copy, let it wreck your heart in a beautiful way.)
  • LCDR Rorke Denver, Navy SEAL and star of the 2012 movie Act of Valor (Navy SEAL. Done.)
  • Sanya Richards-Ross, 2012 London Olympic gold medalist, track & field (This is the wild card for me. I’m really curious.)
  • David Allen, Best-selling author of Getting Things Done and productivity expert (A newer name in the business world, but a valuable voice to hear.)
  • Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State (2005-2009), via exclusive Simply Lead video interview (In the words of my friend, she’s the U2 of women in politics. Agreed.)

Also, Chick-fil-A is proud to announce the Chick-fil-A® Leadercast® Blog App. I took a gander through it over the weekend, and I’m excited to see their new content roll out soon. It’s going to be solid gold!

Visit the main Chick-fil-A Leadercast site to find a local simulcast site, sign-up, and get more info. It’s $60 and it’s an investment in your leadership future. Do yourself a favor: don’t miss this.

Content creation, blogging less, and Door #3

Door #3 - 01

The last few months are a lesson to me about content creation: you can always produce more, but it may not always be better. Even the most creative person in the world has a tipping point for their creative juices. Mine have been running in the red for too long now. I’m being asked to produce more content now than I ever have been. This is a dream come true, but it also comes with its side effects.

Nowadays my time is filled with a different type of content creation. I get to teach our students at Mid Rivers every week, which means that I write the entire manuscript (2200-2500 words) and practice it several times before Tuesday night. Add in a variety of devotionals, letters, responses to students’ questions, and journal entries, and the ol’ keyboard is getting quite the workout.

It’s a good thing for me as a writer and teacher, but the effect has been felt in my blogging. I used to blog five days a week, sometimes every day. That’s ebbed and petered down to a slight dribble of blogging. I used to write a series of posts called the Friday List. They were collections of random facts and interesting ideas that I’d come across each week and barf out into cyberspace. That came off life support at the 1st of the year.

I’ll admit, I’ve felt a huge tension as I try to maintain my blogging frequency and the content demands. My time demands and the quality of content that I want to share just aren’t a reality right now. They’re just not playing nice together. So, the natural inclination might be one of two things: try ratcheting my blogging frequency back up to five times a week, or pull the plug on the whole deal.

I choose Door #3.

I’m choosing to blog less, but still schedule out my content postings for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It’s not as frequently as I’d like, but it puts up a good boundary for me to post as I can. It gives me a chance to breathe between posting. When I was posting five times a week, I noticed a dip in quality at times. The pressure to post for the sake of posting can be hard to resist if you’ve put that standard in your mind.

And now I don’t feel that pressure any more. Sometimes your creativity needs a Sabbath. Sometimes you need to take a former dream outside and give it a decent burial. Sometimes it means you need to let go of what you’re holding tight with one hand so you can grab something else even better. Sometimes it means that the first two options aren’t what you feel is best.

Sometimes we all need a Door #3.

iamsecond: Childless

60-Days-of-Second: Follow along as 15 bloggers journey through 4 readings each from the new book, Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First. Together they will blog through 60-Days-of-Second. Register to follow at www.iamsecond.com/blog. Get the “Live Second” book in stores December 9.

Day 8 by Jon Cook.

“God had promised to make Abram’s descendants great. But still the childless Abram waited.” -Live Second, 10.

Over the years as a pastor and as a friend, I have walked with multiple couples through the pure darkness of infertility. I have cried with them and hurt with them and asked God why as doctors and treatment and life changes and so much more have been attempted in the hope that two thin lines crisscrossing on a test will be the start of something new.

Sometimes the blessing of a child comes… but for many of these friends, the reality remains the same. And the tears still come. And the pain still hurts. And the question of why is louder than ever. It’s messy and so personal. It’s left me wondering why myself because in the end, there really isn’t a great answer. As a friend and as a follower of Jesus, that’s a tough place to be.

I hear those same cries and the tears and the pain and pure agony of a father’s heart trapped in a childless man when I read this story about Abraham wanting his own child. At what point did Abraham wonder if God would actually follow through on His promise of a son. “God, you promised me a son… now what?”

God did eventually give Abraham a son but part of Abraham’s struggle along his journey was that he pushed his own agenda above God’s. You won’t give me a kid now? Fine. I’ll do it myself. Abraham’s struggle was in wanting a child but for a lot of us, that same type of struggle comes in other ways.

That job you’ve been waiting for and still haven’t gotten. That relationship that’s still broken and a mess. That ache in your heart from the apology that’s never gonna come. It hurts. And you beg and cry and ask God to do something, to fix it but things remain the same… and you start to wonder if maybe you could do better than God.

At what point am I putting my own desires over the plan that a truly loving and giving God has in store for me? Am I putting my wants before what God wants for me and from me? Living second today is giving God the benefit of the doubt, that maybe what I want and what is best for me are two different things.

And it’s okay to be honest with Him about it. He can handle my questions, even the big, hairy ones. He can handle my words, as raw and real as they might be. He wants me to be honest and upfront with Him because if anyone can handle it, He can.

The point of living second isn’t to get what I want; the point is that sometimes I’m called to sacrifice my own greatest desires in hope that a good and loving God has something better in store for me. His timing may not always match up with mine, I may even hate the answers that come, but I can trust in a God who knows me best. What I want may not be what I need but I can be honest with God about how I feel.

iamsecond: Cosmos

60-Days-of-Second: Follow along as 15 bloggers journey through 4 readings each from the new book, Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First. Together they will blog through 60-Days-of-Second. Register to follow at www.iamsecond.com/blog. Get the “Live Second” book in stores December 9.

Day 7 by Jon Cook.

We breathe with [God’s] consent, walk by his allowance, and rule through his grace.” –Live Second, 8.

It doesn’t take long to realize that our little neighborhood called Earth is a very small part of the universe. A quick glance through the facts about the cosmos confirms that we are small and the universe is very, very large. When our own sun is the little kid on the block, that’s when you know it’s not all about you.

The crazy thing is that sometimes I think it is all about me. I give into the lie that my schedule and deadlines and opinions and needs trump so many of the good things in life. I begin to think that what I want is more important than other relationships, ministry, justice, and even time with my Creator.

I can get so engrossed with what I feel is important as I walk inside at night under the blanket of stars that I don’t stop to look up and to be amazed. The same God who made all of the stars and planets and keeps them from crashing together is the same God who wants to be the biggest part of my life and my everyday agenda. That is what causes me to worship in wonder.

Wonder is my response to who God is and what He’s done. Why would a God who made all of this and keeps all of it in perfect unison want anything to do with a simple human? He made all of this and I’m shocked that I get to even be on His radar. Not only am I on His mind but the words of David in Psalm 8 also remind me that God puts value and worth in me. He sees in me something worthy of His attention and the value in me is what He can do through me.

Living second is about remembering it’s not about me. I’m just renting this space here on earth and there is a God in heaven that chooses to have a relationship with me. I get to be a part of this; I get to listen for the voice of God and talk with Him about my life. I get to be a part of His creation and live and breathe and move and be in community with others. And all of this happens because of what He allows to be.

Living second is about being in wonder. Living second is about remembering it’s not about me. I need to take some time to look at the stars tonight and to wonder. The Creator of the universe wants to be the most important part of me and I get to live second.

 

Next for the 60-Days-of-Second:

Day 8- “Childless” by Jon Cook

iamsecond: Reset

60-Days-of-Second: Follow along as 15 bloggers journey through 4 readings each from the new book, Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First. Together they will blog through 60-Days-of-Second. Register to follow at www.iamsecond.com/blog. Get the “Live Second” book in stores December 9.

Day 6 by Jon Cook.

“Noah’s family would start with a sacrifice, a promise to obey, a commitment that God would be their God. What direction have we chosen for our family?” –Live Second, 7.

If your family history is anything like mine, then you probably have a few ghosts from generations past that come out from under the table at family reunions. Maybe dad was a drunk or mom has anger issues. Maybe grandpa was a pervert. Maybe your family has more things wrong with it than you can count and it seems that’s just the way it’s always been. I think all families have at least one black eye when it comes to bad decisions further up the family tree. The beautiful thing is that it can take only one person to reset a family’s direction.

For my family, that reset started with my dad. He made the active decision to not repeat a lot of the habits and hurt that other family members had given into before him. It was my parents who decided enough is enough and started stepping in a new direction. It was their decision to live differently that helped pull a U-turn on my family’s direction.

The decision to walk away from God came way before Noah’s time. He had no control over it. By the time he came on the scene, wickedness and corruption had wrecked the direction of mankind. The flood was a reset, a fresh start for Noah’s family and creation. For all of the wickedness and destruction that had been caused, this was a clean slate to start all over again.

This reading was a great reminder to me: I have the chance to be a reset for the future. My choices and my decisions have a timeless impact on the path my family takes. It’s up to me how my attitudes and words and actions affect the future of my family. How I respond to the struggles of life and the struggles inside of me have a huge impact on the direction my family takes.

I can live second through how I respond in kindness. I can live second through how I value my family’s needs over my own. I can live second through my decision to take a step in the direction of God. I can choose grace instead of hate. I can choose love over selfishness. I am the only one responsible for what I do and as my decisions go, so goes my family’s future.

I am the reset for my family. I am the one responsible for how I influence my family into the future. How I follow God is up to me. How I love my family well is up to me. I’m the one responsible for helping lead my family towards God and away from a flood.

The reset starts with me.

 

Next for the 60-Days-of-Second:

Day 7- “Cosmos” by Jon Cook

iamsecond: Divine Despair

60-Days-of-Second: Follow along as 15 bloggers journey through 4 readings each from the new book, Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First. Together they will blog through 60-Days-of-Second. Register to follow at www.iamsecond.com/blog. Get the “Live Second” book in stores December 9.

Day 5 by Jon Cook.

“The Creator, the infinite and eternal being, feels misery at our wickedness” –Live Second, 6.

When I read through this story of Noah in Genesis 6, I asked myself: why was God so harsh in his decision to flood the earth? I read the title of this selection “Divine Despair” and at first I couldn’t see how despair was the driving force of God’s decision to flood the earth.

So, that made me wonder… what is despair? It’s a loss of hope; it’s the last heave of strength, the “why not,” the half-hearted, one in a million chance you take, just praying for something, anything to happen. Despair is a hopelessness that’s deep and rooted and hard to remove because all the other options seem to be off the table. Despair can drive you to do something you’d never do otherwise, even something drastic.

What drives despair? Lots of things can make someone desperate. Love that’s been lost can drive despair. The aching and the longing to have that love again can drive someone, even the God of the universe to do something drastic. It was despair to capture the attention of mankind again that drove God to flood the earth and start all over.

When God saw the wickedness of the world Noah lived in, there was despair. In the story it says that God regretted that He’d even made mankind. I can almost picture the weight of regret in the heart of God. And that’s when He threw in the towel. There’s a huge sacrifice that sometimes accommodates despair and the flood was God’s way of saying, “That’s it.”

The hard part is that honestly, I don’t really think of divine despair when I look at my own life. What have I ever done that would drive God to do something drastic out of desperate love for me? My everyday brokenness, this infection in me called sin has a moving effect on the heart of God. It troubles Him and offends Him at the very core of who He is. For all of the good that God has made me capable of doing, why do I do what I do?

In my brokenness, I can bring divine despair.

My brokenness doesn’t just affect God. It has a ripple effect on my relationship with my wife, my co-workers, my neighbors, my friends, my family, and each person who crosses my path each day. The early roots of despair start to dig in when I let my brokenness erode everyday conversations and I overlook conflict and pride and selfishness and a sense of entitlement in me.

If brokenness brings despair to God and those around us, then what would be its cure?

Hope.

Hope is what was on God’s mind when He shut Noah in the ark. It was hope that sent Jesus to die on the cross. Hope is a beautiful contrast to the brokenness around me. Hope is what causes me to see what could be instead of just what is. Hope drives us to do something when despair would just as soon make us quit.

Living second in contrast to divine despair is by bringing hope. Living second today is looking for what God can do through you. Living second is about putting God and others before you in hope of what they can do. I can live second by bringing hope today.

 

Next for the 60-Days-of-Second:

Day 6- “Reset” by Jon Cook

Friday List – November 2, 2012

It’s Friday and I’m enjoying our first full weekend in our new house. Here’s the Friday List.

Death, grief, and waking up at 3 A.M.

This has been a tough year for me to wrestle through death. I’m not a grim-faced pessimist who thinks about death with any frequency at all but this year’s been a little different. Here’s why…

In January my friend Shawn was killed in a car accident on his way to a worship conference. He led worship as a high school senior at the young adult ministry I led in Denver. In June my grandpa passed away from an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He felt fine in the morning and passed away by that night. In late July my friend James lost his battle with Stage 4 throat cancer. He was 35 years old and led worship with me for Saturday night services in Kiowa three years ago.

In late August a friend of mine from high school Rachel passed away from complications with her pregnancy. She was 37 weeks pregnant with her baby girl Selah, who also passed away shortly after Rachel. In August some friends of ours had an emergency C-section for their first baby, a boy. He was 24 weeks old and put up an incredible fight for a month. He passed away on September 14th. I don’t think I will ever see a smaller casket.

About a month ago I woke up in the middle of the night and started reading Scripture. We had just read parts of Lamentations 3 in our weekend services the Sunday before. I even led worship that weekend and read the verses about God’s faithfulness being new every morning.

So, when I woke up in the middle of the night, it wasn’t because I was so at peace with God’s faithfulness. I was angry. I was upset with God because if His mercies are truly new every morning, why wasn’t there enough mercy to prevent these tragedies from occurring?

I was all ready to start giving God the verbal what-for there at 3 A.M. until I read these verses towards the middle of chapter three:

31 For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.
32 Though He brings grief, He also shows compassion
because of the greatness of His unfailing love.
33 For He does not enjoy hurting people
or causing them sorrow.

I chewed on these verses for almost half an hour and wrestled through these thoughts…

God doesn’t get giddy when it comes to grief. He’s not some sicko or dark, brooding God who gets His kicks from watching us go through tragedy. He doesn’t abandon those He loves to go through hurt alone. God may allow tragedy to happen but He follows it with compassion. He does that because it’s who He is; it’s part of His character.

Anyone on the outside looking in at the losses I’ve seen this year might argue that point but He’s proven Himself to me in more ways than I can count. I’ve seen situations and experienced stories where things are restored and the broken made beautiful in ways that can only be explained as grace from God.

So, I hold onto this promise, that God doesn’t just check out when the stuff hits the fan. He’s right there with us and it breaks His heart when He allows the weight of our brokenness to crash into our world.

Each of these losses has resulted in someone telling me personally that they are closer to God because of the person we lost. That’s the unfailing love of God in these situations: people in the midst of tragedy experiencing a God who cares enough about them to get close to them in their pain.

God cares about us when our brokenness threatens to pull our lives apart. Even when grief comes because we live in a broken world, His compassion is at the ready. At the moment we hurt the most, His grace and compassion are already on its way.

If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

And that’s what helps me sleep at 3 A.M.

Drugged with busyness

There are times when I overload my schedule and it starts to show its effects…

I feel groggy, on edge, and not quite myself. My usual upbeat attitude is missing and my nose is barely peaking above the pile of to-do’s. My soul feels dry, like a plant needing water for days, and I can feel it in a lot of the areas of my life.

That’s when I realize I’m drugged with busyness. It’s no one’s fault but mine, a self-inflicted lethargy over my mind, body, and spirit. It’s the virtual bender on my own daily planner that creates this fog in me. It’s the litany of tyrannical urgency that shortens the rest that I take.

The problem is that I love being busy. I love being on-the-go with a full schedule before me. It’s why I’d rather ride a real bike instead of a stationary bike. I’d rather be going somewhere than simply spinning my wheels.

That’s when I know I need to rest. The schedule is still full but I make extra effort to finally downshift my spirit into a slower pace of life in the times in-between. It’s my human attempt to remind my heart and body, “Be still… be still. You don’t have to push the limits of your body, mind, spirit, and schedule. Let off the tempo a bit and simply be.”

God made rest for us. The temptation for me is to underestimate how much rest my mind, body, and spirit need. This is the passage from The Message that sticks with me when God reminds me of the rest I need. This is what helps me snap awake from busyness.

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” -Matthew 11:28-30

Freely and lightly. Not without burden; not without healthy boundaries. Rest is what keeps our eyes alert and our focus intact when busyness threatens to take control. A real rest is keeping company with our Rabbi and learning rest from the One who created it in the beginning.

May you shake the fog today with clear eyes and may you withdraw from the drug of busyness.

Friday List – September 14, 2012

It’s Friday and I’m loving the fall weather that’s just starting to settle into the Lou. Here’s the Friday List.

  • A lot of time is wasted at work every day and some of the most “productive” practices are the biggest culprits.
  • Speaking of culprits, Vertical Video Syndrome is one of the most tragic conditions affecting videos today. Don’t be ignorant; get help today. You’re not alone.
  • One of the movies that is flying under the radar right now is Lincoln. Directed by Steven Spielberg, music by John Williams, starring three Academy Award winning actors.
  • Creative of the Week // The 100 Most Creative People in Business 2012. I came across this list and got lost for a while.
  • Photo of the Week // Lava tube in the Hawaiian surf.
  • Video of the Week // John Clayton – This is SportsCenter
  • Thought of the Week // How to Run Your Meetings like Apple and Google.
  • Quote of the Week // We knew that Google was going to get better every single day as we worked on it, and we knew that sooner or later, everyone was going to try it. So our feeling was that the later you tried it, the better it was for us because we’d make a better impression with better technology. So we were never in a big hurry to get you to use it today. Tomorrow would be better.” –Sergey Brin, founder of Google

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Kauffmann Stadium, Kansas City Royals (September 3, 2012)

This past Labor Day Kara and I stopped by Kauffmann Stadium in Kansas City on our way to Colorado. Kara had visited Kauffmann before during a visit to see her sister Lisa a few years back, but I had never been. It was on our way, we hadn’t visited it together, and the Rangers were in town. That sounds like a win-win. It proved to be a great choice as we enjoyed a beautiful day at the ballpark. Yu Darvish pitched a no-hitter into the 6th inning, and later the two benches and bullpens emptied for a near-rumble on the mound.

Here’s some of what we learned about Kauffmann during our visit…

  • Kauffmann Stadium was recently renovated in anticipation of the 2012 MLB All-Star Game so some of the newer features caught our eyes as we toured the stadium.
  • The highlight was definitely the fountains along the outfield sections. Kansas City is the city of fountains (who knew? Second question… who cares?), but the developers did an excellent job with capturing KC’s heritage and the Royals’ history.
  • The Royals share parking with Arrowhead Stadium so the price is cheap and the access is easy, both in and out.
  • It’s Kansas City: do yourself a favor and get yo-self some BBQ!
  • If you’re going to visit Kauffmann, go later in the year because the Royals are usually the doormat of the AL Central by 4th of July. For example, exhibit A: our tickets were in the first row along the 3rd base line. Cost on StubHub: $10 each!
  • It’s still Kansas City, the ugly step-sister to St. Louis. If you’re looking for scenery surrounding the stadium, go somewhere else.
  • The Royals have included a great Hall of Fame museum in their renovations. We saw some incredible pieces of history that the Royals have carefully compiled from their long history. It’s worth the visit to see some of their memory lane.

Kansas City and Kauffmann proved to be a great break in our 12 hour trip to Denver. Kudos to the Royals organization for giving an old stadium a classy face-lift. The 2012 tour of MLB concluded with our visit. We’re officially halfway done with our 30 before 30 MLB challenge: fifteen stadiums down, fifteen to go!

Kauffmann Stadium - 01

Friday List – August 31, 2012

It’s Friday, college football is back, and it’s a three-day weekend. Enjoy the weekend and here’s the Friday List.

  • Digital license plate readers are becoming a controversial subject for travelers across the U.S. Your license plate can be scanned, tracked, and compared against a database of categories from known felons to vacation hot spot visitors and everything in-between.
  • CNN just released a list of the world’s craziest water slides.
  • Sam Crabtree just released a list of ways to capture and hold your audience’s attention if you’re a public communicator (Part 1 and Part 2).
  • Creative of the Week // Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine. My favorite note-taking app met my favorite writing notebook. Thank you.
  • Photo of the Week // IDV Solutions has mapped all the tornadoes in the U.S. for the past 56 years.
  • Video of the Week // Celebrity Prank in New York City.
  • Thought of the Week // Props to Rick Warren for canceling the civil forum between Obama and Romney. It took guts to call out how both sides have been vitriolic leading up to this election.
  • Quote of the Week // Your prayers have the potential to change the course of history.” –Mark Batterson

Friday List – August 10, 2012

It’s Friday and the Olympics are winding down. Enjoy the weekend and here’s the Friday List.

Brain Dump – August 5, 2012

I’ve come to a realization: blogging on a frequent basis through the summer months is slippery. I’ve decided that a better way to journey through the summer months with blogging is to capture all my ideas for the week in one post. If other posts happen to show up, that’s fine but a weekly brain dump will help me process better through the summer.

Here’s what’s been on my mind this past week…

  • This afternoon over 50 of us will be driving to Joplin for a four day missions experience. We’re making a conscious effort to develop relationships with other churches and ministries there and we’ve stayed in contact over the past year. I can’t wait to see how much healing and restoration has happened since I was there last June. Pray for us and for our hearts.
  • If you haven’t heard of One Day’s Wages before, take five minutes and think about giving away one day of your paycheck.
  • Leaders, your team is the most valuable part of your ministry, not your personality, your pedigree, or your opportunity. Pour into your team! Love them, lead them well, and be humble enough for honest feedback.
  • Ministry isn’t going to be perfect. In fact, a lot of times it’s better when it’s not. That’s what God’s been reminding me about a lot lately, that I need to let go of excellence if it means that authenticity is what’s at stake.
  • Getting another set of eyeballs, or multiple sets of them, on an idea can pay off with huge dividends in the end. It’s saved my butt more than a few times and it saved me again this week. Ask for opinions and leave your pride on the side.
  • As much as Pinterest is already cluttered up with fashion and home decor ideas that have zero appeal to the typical guy, including yours truly, I have found that a quick browse is a great kickstart to a brainstorming session. And I still have my man card.
  • The best commercial of the Olympics so far has been for Sunday Night Football. It can’t come soon enough.
  • I already have September 17th circled in my calendar. That’s when J.J. Abrams’ new show, “Revolution,” premieres on NBC. Part of what made LOST so great, among many things, was the writers’ ability to tell a great backstory and breathe details into the characters. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

That’s enough for now. ‘Til next time…

Friday List – August 3, 2012

It’s Friday and this is a weekend for rest and watching the Olympics. For now though, here’s the Friday List.

  • Internet speeds 100x faster is possible with Google Fiber coming soon.
  • Here’s a full list of free church graphics and resources. If you’re looking for quality series graphics, videos, and other resources, then you’ll love this list.
  • Ever want to see what the South Pole looks like in person? Now you can with Google Map street view of the South Pole.
  • Creative of the Week // Ebru – Turkish paper marbling.
  • Photo of the Week // Fireworks from the London Olympics Opening Ceremony.
  • Video of the Week // How to Write a Country Song. So true.
  • Thought of the Week // Was “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” more about supporting the traditional view of marriage or free speech? What isn’t debatable is Chick-fil-A probably isn’t going out of business anytime soon.
  • Quote of the Week // The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you do with what you know.” – Tony Wagner

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals (July 5, 2012)

After our time in Pittsburgh, Kara and I turned westward and headed home to St. Louis. We tacked on an extra day of vacation to spend downtown by the Arch after we got back and crossed Busch Stadium off our ballpark list. We’ve looked forward to catching a Redbirds game since moving to the Lou and it was a perfect night to catch a game with our Rockies in town. The Rox got killed but we had a great time getting to see Busch Stadium in person.

Here’s some of what we learned after visiting Busch…

  • When it comes to food, get a pretzel hot dog and enjoy with a good amount of ketchup. Also, if you want to forgo alcohol, stop by the DD booth by Budweiser near the Ben & Jerry’s cart down the first base line. If you sign up as a DD for the night, you’ll receive a voucher for a free fountain drink. You’re welcome.
  • Parking is cheap about five or six blocks north of the stadium. We found parking for $5 by the Bread Co. (Panera) off Pine Street.
  • The architects of this Busch Stadium did fans a favor by building home plate to face the Arch and the river. Other cities should take note. (Neither stadium in Chicago offers a great view of downtown.)
  • Ticket prices are steep. World Series wins come with a mortgage for ticket sales. We paid more for tickets at Busch Stadium than virtually all the other stadiums we’ve visited with comparable seats.
  • The highway system gets tricky around Busch Stadium with the ballpark being so close to the river. Be prepared for a wrong turn or two if you’re not careful.

All in all, Busch Stadium is a beautiful stadium with a massive range of seating. I’m excited to catch more games there, but I can’t call myself a Cards fan…yet. They’re still the reigning world champions and I love my Rockies and Yankees too much. I can say though that I’m a fan of catching some more ballgames at Busch.

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates (July 4, 2012)

On the 4th of July, Kara and I left Cleveland and drove to Pittsburgh to take in a game at PNC Park. I will say that this is probably the best season in the past twenty years to watch a Pirates game because they’re actually relevant this year. Not only are they relevant but they were in first place coming into the All-Star Break! Throw in a great American city of steel workers, like Pittsburgh, and it was the perfect setup for a patriotic day at the ballpark.

We loved our visit to PNC Park as we crossed it off our bucket list. Here’s some of what you might want to know if you’re planning a visit…

  • PNC Park is right next to Heinz Field (home of the Steelers). Translation: lots of parking space but crappy roads and congestion around the two parks.
  • Like Three Rivers Stadiums, its predecessor, PNC Park is located right next to the riverfront. It has a beautiful view of the yellow bridges crossing into the city and a walk along the river is a promising experience.
  • Is it a rule that you can’t be a major sports team in Pittsburgh unless your team colors are yellow, black, and white? Those are the exact colors of Pittsburgh’s three franchises: Steelers (NFL), Pirates (MLB), and Penguins (NHL).
  • The ticket prices haven’t inflated to reflect this season’s success. We got first row tickets at eye level with the players in left field. It’s a beautiful park and Pittsburgh did a great job of giving clear sight lines of the riverfront.
  • Be careful if you take the Pennsylvania Turnpike to get to Pittsburgh. It can get tricky going eastbound into the city. There are limited exits, if any at all, so heads-up.
  • The highway exit system around PNC Park was very similar to Cleveland with a quick and easy exit away from the ballpark.

If you’re in Pittsburgh around the 4th of July, stay down by the riverfront for late night fireworks. That’s the one part we weren’t aware of ahead of time but it still didn’t fit into our travel plans. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Pittsburgh and wish we could have stayed longer. However, we started westbound away from Pittsburgh and home to Busch Stadium. Thirteen stadiums down, seventeen to go!

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians (July 3, 2012)

The next stop on our summer baseball trip was to Cleveland, Ohio to check out Progressive Field, home of the Indians. It had been several years since I had been in Cleveland and it was a good game as the Angels came into town.

Like Great American Ballpark, its kissing cousin in Cincinnati, (and who doesn’t have one of those, right?) Progressive Field isn’t the flashiest stadium, even somewhat sterile and fairly unappealing to the eyes, but it does have good facilities and great seats.

Here’s some of what we discovered during our time with the Tribe…

  • At one point we heard the Indians war drum in left-center field, just one section over, when the Indians offense started catching fire. Any sports games is better with a massive war drum. Those should be standard issue for a whole variety of venues.
  • We walked through the Indians Hall of Fame display in left center. They did a great job of highlighting both franchise legends and great moments in Indians history. Take five minutes and enjoy the rich heritage of a perennial bridesmaid-finish team. (Sorry, Cleveland fans, that was for my best friend Randy, a die-hard Cleveland fan.)
  • When it comes to food, Progressive Field knows how to do it right. Cleveland is known for its cheesy fries, also called the “twisted potato,” a single spud sliced in a spiral and deep-fried to delight. Try saying that five times fast…
  • Parking wasn’t too bad at all; prepare to spend the typical $10-15. With I-90 and I-77 intersecting right next to the stadium though, it made for a surprisingly quick exit with minimal traffic at the end of the game.

The weather didn’t hold up though and we found cover from the rain with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Post-game fireworks weren’t going to happen with all the rain so we left early and checked Cleveland off our list. Twelve down, eighteen to go!

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers (July 2, 2012)

After driving up to Toronto to see the Blue Jays, Kara and I headed down to Detroit to see the Twins take on the Tigers. I had heard lots of fans sing the praises of Comerica Park and I wanted to see for myself. It’s safe to say that Comerica lives up to its billing as one of the nicest parks in the Midwest, if not all of baseball.

If you have some extra time (translation: an entire day), head over to the Henry Ford Museum and enjoy an incredible experience. You can easily spend a whole day there and not nearly see everything inside. Airplanes, American history, exhibits, and of course, cars are packed into one massive building. The chair that Lincoln was shot in, the writing desk of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the table and chair set from Mark Twain’s house, those are just some of the things you’ll see at the museum. It’s worth the money, just go.

When we got to the game, we found parking for $10 at the Opera House a few blocks away from the park. Good location to the park, super sketchy building. A word of advice: don’t insist on taking the stairs, even though your wife doesn’t think it’s a good idea. That’s a slasher movie waiting to happen. Welcome to Detroit. Needless to say, we rerouted our footsteps and took the elevator.

There’s a food court inside the ballpark with a full-sized carousel in the center. Food vendors line the outside with an incredible variety of food. Hot dogs wrapped in bacon? Score one for the cardiologist! We grabbed two for a decent price and headed to our outfield seats.

If you want to catch the Jumbotron scoreboard, don’t sit in the left field bleachers. (It’ll be right over your head.) There are two tigers on top of the scoreboard and their eyes glow green at different times. That might have been when they played “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” …born and raised in south Detroit.

Walk around to center field to get a look at past Tigers legends, like Al Kaline, Cecil Fielder, and Alan Trammell. Their statues and name plaques are right next to the Chevy fountains that turn on when a Tigers run scores.

All in all, I’d rank Comerica Park right up there with Turner Field, Coors Field, and Miller Park as one of the top five stadiums I’ve seen. It was a great game, the Twins won (which always makes Kara happy), and we left Comerica with eleven stadiums crossed off our list.

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Rogers Centre, Toronto Blue Jays (July 1, 2012)

On July 1st Kara and I headed up to Toronto to catch a game at the Rogers Centre. It was Kara’s first trip to Canada and we didn’t realize that since it was July 1st, it was also Canada Day. Typical Americans. When in Rome, as they say, so we had a great time with the crowd, festivities outside the ballpark, and a pregame recognition of the Canadian Royal Forces.

We parked east of the Rogers Centre for a reasonable price and walked to the ballpark. Traffic wasn’t too bad coming into Toronto, even for Canada Day (D’eh?). On a friend’s recommendation, we ate spicy Italian sausages that are sold outside the ballpark. So good! For a real Canadian experience, be sure to grab some poutine as well.

If you have an extra hour or so, stop by the CN Tower for a ride to the observation deck and glass floor (Wha-?!). It’s right next to the ballpark. You don’t need directions, trust me, you’ll know which one it is. Just look up.

Our seats were on the 500 level behind home plate and it was a fantastic view of the entire park. If you melt in the heat though, then I’d suggest finding other seats. The Rogers Centre has a retractable roof but all of the outfield seats were in the shade for almost all of the game.

If you’re worried about US dollars in Canada, the exchange rate has been neck-and-neck for a while now. We had no problem interchanging US and Canadian dollars because there’s virtually no loss in value between the two.

Rogers Centre isn’t the flashiest ballpark, certainly not the most up-to-date one, but it’s unique as the only MLB stadium not in the United States. We had a great time watching the Blue Jays in their neck of the woods, even if they did lose to the Angels, and we can now cross it off our bucket list. Ten down, twenty to go! One-third of the way there!

Friday List – June 29, 2012

It’s Friday and this is a weekend for rest. Kara and I are up in Michigan for her cousin Josh’s wedding today. For now though, here’s the Friday List.

Friday List – June 15, 2012

It’s Friday and we’re getting geared up for Baptism on Sunday. For now though, I’m enjoying a quiet morning at home and then getting some fresh air this afternoon. Here’s the Friday List.

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Turner Field, Atlanta Braves (May 28, 2012)

This past weekend Kara and I headed down to Atlanta to see the sights of Turner Field. I’ll be honest, after taking in a game at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati on Friday, I was kinda ready for an upgrade in baseball scenery. The good thing is that Turner Field didn’t disappoint at all.

It was Memorial Day and the pregame ceremonies were exceptional. The Braves organization did an outstanding job of remembering our fallen troops and honoring our veterans. There was a massive American flag for the national anthem, recognition of veterans from all the branches, a moment of silence, and the always appreciated military fly-over.

One of my favorite parts of Turner Field was the giant drum in center field. When the chop gets going, the Braves chant starts growing, and the bass drum gets booming, Turner Field can get pretty eerie. As far as game day environments go, it’s a pretty sweet experience.

We found great parking west of the northwest gate of the stadium. A little sketchy in the neighborhood but it was just fine in broad daylight. There’s a bunch of parking just north of the field for $15 if you’d rather stick closer. We parked in the parking lot of Calvary Temple Baptist Church for $5, which went towards helping them build their new building. Sounds like a win-win.

When it comes to food, do yourself a favor: don’t eat before you arrive. It’s worth the extra money to get some great Southern cooking around the ballpark. They even have the favorite fast food of Churchland, Chick-fil-A, on the first level. Also, spend the extra $2 a person to take a walk through the Braves Museum on the first level. The Braves have a rich and long history that includes members like Babe Ruth, Roger Hornsby, Connie Mack, home run king Hank Aaron, and all of the more modern day legends.

Turner Field ranks right up there as one of my favorite MLB ballpark experiences so far. Nine down, twenty-one to go!

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds (May 25, 2012)

On Friday Kara and I packed up our car and drove to Cincinnati to watch our Rockies take on the Reds at Great American Ballpark. Since Cincinnati is less than five hours from St. Louis, we decided this would be a fairly easy ballpark to check off our bucket list. The added bonus was seeing the Rockies seal the win, 6-3. Eight stadiums down, twenty-two to go!

Here’s a few things we noticed during our visit to Great American Ballpark…

  • If you arrive early, check out the open plaza on the southwest side of the park. Jugglers, magicians, and all sorts of fun attractions are there to help pass the time until the gates open. The Reds team shop on the south side of the plaza has story after story of Reds trivia, apparel, and lots of other fun collectibles inside, not to mention the three-story tall baseball bats that double as pillars inside.
  • If you’re looking for good food, you could do worse than Skyline Chili. Their specialty is their chili dog but they have other options as well. The chili dog may look gnarly to the eyes but it was great on the taste buds.
  • Parking can be kinda tricky with the river blocking off one whole side of the stadium so keep a heads-up for a good deal that you might get only one block west of the highway by the park.
  • Since Cincinnati is on the Kentucky border (and the Cincy airport is actually in Kentucky), we found that hotels were much cheaper around the airport than in Cincinnati.

All in all, we enjoyed our visit to Great American Ballpark. It’s not the flashiest ballpark or the most iconic but I’d give it a 6 out of 10. Hey, they can’t all be Coors Field! Here’s to checking another one off the list.

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago White Sox (May 11, 2012)

Kara and I headed up to Chicago this past weekend to spend time with my family, see my sister Jenna graduate from college, and catch a White Sox game. I’ve seen a game at U.S. Cellular Field before since I lived in Chicago for six years but this was Kara’s first game at “The Cell”. We enjoyed a beautiful night at the ballpark and the White Sox beat the Royals, 5-0, behind Gavin Floyd’s gem of a game (5 hit shutout). Seven stadiums done, twenty-three to go!

Here’s some of what I’ve learned from visiting U.S. Cellular Field…

If you’re wanting to save a few bucks on parking, avoid traffic for a bit, and have an “experience,” I’d recommend taking the Red Line on the “L” (CTA) to 35th/Sox. Parking tends to run $20 and up around the stadium and with the L costing $2.25 a ride, the cost might outweigh driving. The Red Line drops you off less than three blocks from the stadium and it’s a short walk to the entrance gates.

There’s all sorts of great food sold throughout the stadium but I’d suggest going with a classic Chicago style hot dog if you’re catching a game. That always washes down well with your beverage of choice and soft serve ice cream in a collector’s plastic helmet. There’s a Bacardi’s lounge on the first floor and all sorts of great views of the surrounding area. You can even catch an incredible view of downtown Chicago from the exit ramps after the game.

London 2012 and Stop the Traffik

The summer Olympics are going to be here in ten weeks (give or take a few days). I love watching the Olympics with all the fanfare, the patriotic showings, national anthems, broken world records, and all the attention and excitement that it causes. The Olympics have birthed iconic moments and beginnings, from the U-S-A chant to Bob Costas’ classic line, “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” the Olympics create some amazing experiences.

But there’s a darker side to the Olympics that I didn’t know about until just a few years ago. It’s the reality that human trafficking is at its highest demand, both geographically and chronologically, when surrounding large-scale world sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, the World Cup, and the Super Bowl.

It’s estimated that in the weeks leading up to the London Olympics, over 40,000 women will be trafficked into the greater London area and boroughs for the sole purpose of forced prostitution during the games. Most of these women will be from Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and even parts of the western world.

40,000 women. That’s more than a medium-sized city… and it’s sickening. I’m all about rooting on your country in the Olympics but this is an atrocity that supersedes any national allegiance. It doesn’t matter what country wins what race if we’re turning a blind eye to these types of terrors.

Human trafficking is running rampant in our world today. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is the fastest growing means by which people are enslaved, the fastest growing international crime, and one of the largest sources of income for organized crime. It is the second largest source of illegal income worldwide exceeded only by drug trafficking.

In the light of such darkness though, there is hope. Stop the Traffik is a non-profit organization that is helping lead the fight against human trafficking. Jesus has broken the chains on our souls and we celebrate our spiritual and physical freedom by helping to end all slavery today. We can partner with organizations like Stop the Traffik to help spread the news about the horrors of human trafficking.

For the record… don’t boycott the Olympics. Ignorance isn’t bliss. Just because you tune out doesn’t mean the terror will end. Instead, you should share this with others because education can bring change. We can’t help change what we don’t know about. The Olympics aren’t the problem; the slave trade is. The Olympics are the symptom but human trafficking is the disease.

I still plan on watching the Olympics and celebrating the U.S.’s successes… but for the first time at an Olympics, I want my eyes to be wide open to the darkness behind the scenes. Pray for gaps to be broken in the trafficking trades. Share with others about the dark shadow around the Olympics.

Friday List – May 4, 2012

It’s Friday and this has been an amazing week all around. My heart’s full from a great night at Mid Rivers last night and the weekend is finally here. Here’s the Friday List.

Friday List – April 27, 2012

It’s Friday and I’m enjoying a quiet day at home with Kara. Here’s the Friday List.

  • A mother of four in Coahuila, Mexico is pregnant again… with nine babies.
  • Six weeks ago Invisible Children released their Kony 2012 documentary. This past Friday was the target date to promote Kony 2012, themed Cover the Night. Now the mood seems to be… remember Kony 2012? Relevantmagazine.com has this article about Kony 2012, Invisible Children, and Slacktivism.
  • Creative of the Week // Coffee Cup Art
  • Photo of the Week // Cooking on a Log (Cut the log evenly on both sides so it stands up freely. Then cut it into vertical segments most of the way down the length of the log. Stuff in some newspaper into the cracks as deep as you can get it, leaving a wick at the bottom, and light it up. The log burns from the inside out, and you have a simple, handmade stove.)
  • Video of the Week // Vinyl Waveform Sculpture
  • Thought of the Week // Name-calling is ‘rhetorical pornography’ by Jim Daly, Russell D. Moore and Samuel Rodriguez, Special to CNN. Why Christians need to watch the names and labels they use.
  • Quote of the Week // “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” – Søren Kierkegaard

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs (April 21, 2012)

After seeing the Rockies win a thriller over the Brewers, Kara and I headed back to our hotel for the night. Right before bed we realized something… Guess who’s playing in Chicago tomorrow afternoon? Da Cubs. The Lovable Losers, the team that can’t even spell World Series, the North Side mob who curses at the name of Steve Bartman, the Completely Unimportant By September Cubs were playing Cincinnati the next afternoon at Wrigley. We hopped on StubHub, lassoed a few tickets (plus one for my youngest sister Jillian), and set an early alarm for the next morning.

We arrived to watch a great game with the Reds. I lived in Chicago for six years so this was the latest in multiple visits to Wrigley, but this was Kara’s first visit. Amidst 40 degree weather and limited sunshine, the Cubs came back to win in very uncharacteristic fashion and sent us home with stadium number five checked off our list. Five down, twenty-five to go.

When it comes to visiting Wrigley, let’s be honest: it’s Wrigley. You’re going to see historic landmarks all around you. Wrigleyville itself is a historic landmark and the vibe at a home game is second to none. Feel free to frequent any of the more historic houses and businesses before the game to walk through history. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind…

  • Parking is where you need to be careful. I’d recommend finding any way to park for free next to a Red Line stop and then riding it all the way to Wrigley. Parking alone can easily cost you $20 or more, so either come with deep pockets or pay a couple bucks each way to ride the L.
  • As far as food goes, the ballpark food is fairly decent, but why settle for a hot dog when you can get unbelievable food all around Wrigleyville?! Do yourself a favor: go to the game early. The pre-game vibe, the Chicago accent, and the myriad of great smells from a variety of restaurant kitchens is enough to kick off your game day just right.
  • Chicago 101: If you get a Chicago dog at the ballpark, don’t put ketchup on it. That ruins it.
  • Because Wrigley is old and the historic look of the park is being preserved, there are limited modern additions for fans. No Jumbotron, no electronic lineup with stats, no out-of-town highlight tracker, and limited pitcher/batter info. It’s history and it’ll stay that way until the build another one.
  • Wrigley is very windy. And cold. Some of the coldest baseball I’ve ever experienced has been at Wrigley. Bring a jacket and wear pants if the game isn’t in mid-season.
  • Tickets are super easy to get outside the ballpark, but online tickets tend to get pricey. Spoiler alert: it’s not because the Cubs have an amazing championship record; it’s for the Wrigley experience. The ivy, the historic look, the fan loyalty, all of those add to the price… but the price is worth saying you’ve been to Wrigley.

Here’s a pic from our afternoon with the Cubs… (Credit goes to Jillian for taking a great picture)

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers (April 20, 2012)

Kara and I have made it part of our bucket lists to visit all of the MLB stadiums. This past weekend we drove up to Milwaukee, WI to catch our Rockies playing the Brew Crew. Five down, twenty-five to go!

Thoughts on Miller Park… Good food, great seats, indoor fireworks (always a win!), and they play “Jump Around” late in the game. If you’re ever up in Cheeseland, I’d recommend a trip to Miller Park. Be sure to eat at Friday’s: great food for a decent price and an incredible view of the field.

Here’s a pic from our seats at one of our favorite stadiums to visit so far.

Creating microclimates

I first became aware of the term microclimate about a year ago. According to Wikipedia, microclimate is a small area that differs in climate than the surrounding area. I went to the Denver Botanic Gardens for an afternoon last April and entered a microclimate as soon as I stepped inside.

Even though the gardens are right in the heart of Denver, there are massive hedges enclosing the entire perimeter. There was beauty everywhere I looked but what was even more important, there was peace. It was quiet. It was peaceful. It was quiet. Taxis were flying by outside but you wouldn’t know it because the vibe and feeling is so much different.

In different parts of the garden I could see little pockets of seclusion tucked off the main paths. It was a stressful time for me with grad school, wedding planning, ministry, and a variety of other things on my radar. When I first started in the garden, relaxing and resting were the farthest things from my mind. The longer I spent in the garden though, the more I realized that I need microclimates in my everyday life.

Microclimates give us little pockets of peace and places where you can just take a deep breath. Some people call these their “God spots” or their “God places,” places where they can disconnect from the world for a few minutes and connect with their Heavenly Father.

It might start with turning off the radio while you drive. Maybe you don’t make that extra phone call during lunch; maybe you take a walk instead. Maybe it means you get up a little early and spend time by the pond at a local park.

Create microclimates in your everyday life. Find those places where you can pray, sit, think, talk out loud, read, take a deep breath, whatever it is that creates gap and deafens the noise of life for just a moment. Notice the difference between the chaos of life and the peace of a God-saturated microclimate.

Friday List – March 16, 2012

Happy Friday everyone. Tomorrow’s St. Patrick’s Day and I keep hearing how crazy it gets here in the Lou. Drink a green beverage of choice and high-click your heels.

Here’s the Friday List.

Friday List – March 9, 2012

It’s a beautiful day here in the Lou and I’m headed out for my first round of golf this year. For now though, here’s the Friday List.

  • The design mockup for the iPhone 5 is already turning some heads.
  • Tim Challies recently tackled the subject of birth control, a controversial topic in the eyes of some Christians.
  • Whether you agree with Invisible Children’s film about Joseph Kony, you can’t deny the genius and results of their massive social media push in releasing it.
  • Creative of the Week // Recycled Robotic Elephant.
  • Photo of the Week // charity: water’s Photo of the Day – February 26, 2012
  • Video of the Week // Push-Pin Portrait.
  • Thought of the Week // Ten of thousands of children have been victimized by Joseph Kony. Tens of millions have been killed by abortion. Let’s change both of those.
  • Quote of the Week // “Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you.” – Marsha Norman

Friday List – March 2, 2012

It’s the first Friday in March, which means that March Madness is right around the corner. Tomorrow night my beloved Duke takes on North Carolina for all the regular season marbles. Bring it on, Heels.

For now though, here’s the Friday List.

  • The traditional shave used by Teddy Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill, and your grandpa is making a comeback. I’m making the transition this next week.
  • Ever wonder how Uncle Sam spends our tax dollars? Take a look.
  • This infographic from REI might come in handy during campouts this summer. The Art and Science of S’Mores.
  • Creative of the Week // The Artistifier.
  • Photo of the Week // Landscapes by Mike Shaw.
  • Video of the Week // World Record Paper Airplane
  • Quote of the Week // “Never believe that a few caring people cannot change the world. For, indeed, that is all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead

Friday List – February 17, 2012

Kara and I went to Creve Couer Lake today and watched a bald eagle soar. After a long and rewarding week, it’s Friday. Let’s start the weekend.

  • Lately Mars Hill Church in Seattle has been coming under fire by the media because of stories circulating about church discipline at Mars Hill. Here’s a response from Mars Hill regarding this criticism.
  • This photo made me laugh because it’s both funny and true in a lot of cases.
  • If you haven’t heard of Hope Mob yet, go check out their Kickstarter page. It’s about bringing real change and hope.
  • These business cards are guaranteed to make an impression.
  • Creative of the Week // Red Eye by Christoph Niemann
  • Thought of the Week // CNN Money – “Best Advice I ever got
  • Photo of the Week // The Middle-Aged White Guy’s Guide to Christian Rap by Tim Challies.
  • Quote of the Week // “… the church that lives for itself is sure to die by itself.” – Michael Green

Friday List – February 10, 2012

It’s Friday and I’m enjoying a quiet night at home to rest up and get recharged before the weekend.

  • Chuck Norris recently endorsed Newt Gingrich for 2012. Let’s just cancel the election today.
  • One week until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Can’t wait for baseball to start again.
  • Creative of the Week // Musical Woodpile.
  • Thought of the Week // “Look me in the eye” by Brad Lomenick, Catalyst.
  • Photo of the Week // Arial & Helvetica.
  • Video of the Week // The Copenhagen City Wheel developed by MIT.
  • Quote of the Week // “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.” – Helen Keller

That’s not a hero

It may be cliched and people may have overused this idea but lately I’ve been really focusing on believable heroes being used by God. I think we all have an idea of what a superhero is supposed to look like. They have the “S” on their chest, half-mask to hide their secret identity, the sidekick, the boots, and the cape. Oh, that’s right… I keep forgetting that “The Incredibles” blew the capes myth out of the water. No capes… but the boots are still a must.

Capes or not, we still have an idea of who really fits our idea of those who can save the world by leaping buildings with a single bound. What happens though when Napoleon Dynamite or Ugly Betty are supposed to be our hero? What happens when the hero looks more like everyday Joe than G.I. Joe?

Sometimes we think that God can’t use us because we don’t fit the right mold. We look in the mirror and think God can’t do something amazing through us because we’re too flawed or broken or regular or everyday, just too plain ordinary. There have been days where I looked in the mirror and thought, “God, you’re working with some spare parts here. Good luck doing anything with me.”

That’s one of the biggest lies out of hell, thinking that God can’t use us because we don’t think He can. We throw in the towel because we think our flaws disqualify us. We think our weaknesses make us damaged goods in the eyes of God, illegitimate children to our Heavenly Father. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In your weakest moments, those moments that may be embarrassing and under the surface or the scars that may have cut much deeper, those are spotlights for God to show up the greatest. Don’t let your flaws and imperfections deceive you into thinking you can’t be used by God. In our weaknesses, Christ’s strength shines through in perfection (2 Cor. 12:9-10). You are a believable hero in a part of God’s bigger story.

Friday List – February 3, 2012

It’s Friday and I’m headed out to Winter Blast with over 200 of our students from all three campuses. I’ll be speaking tomorrow morning for our worship time together so say a prayer for me. For now though, here’s the Friday List.

Friday List – January 27, 2012

It’s Friday and I’m celebrating an awesome week of ministry and life. Hope you have a great weekend!

  • Materious has created an umbrella with a samurai handle and appearance.
  • Anton Repponen has released a prototype of running shoes made out of transparent silicon for Nike.
  • Creative of the Week // Simon Schubert. Paper art, we meet again.
  • Photo of the Week // Using the Oxford Comma. And yes, I still do.
  • Video of the Week // A rice commercial with a powerful message: What about daddy?
  • Thought of the Week // One glance at my Ministry Influencers list on Twitter reminds me how volatile faith and the Church can be. We need to play nicer.
  • Quote of the Week //Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

Joe Paterno, the imperfect icon

I remember when I first caught a glimpse of Joe Paterno running out onto the field with Penn State. My grandpa is from Pennsylvania and he pointed JoePa out to me. It was the early 90’s and I thought JoePa was already old then as I watched him sport his Coke-bottle glasses and old blue sweater. What was it about this old guy that kept him pacing the sidelines for over four decades? That’s the question that was answered for me as I watched him through the years.

I’ve watched JoePa have some great years and some pretty crappy years at Penn State. His teams were usually well-coached players with a lot of red hair and last names that were hard to pronounce. Linebacker U. became the mantra of Penn State during Paterno’s era. Actually… everything about Penn State happened during JoePa’s time there. One of my favorite memories of JoePa was a small blip in a Big Ten commercial where he made a plea at the end for recruits to “Come to Penn State!” For whatever reason, I thought it was funny.

JoePa was a legend at Penn State, no doubt about it but the Sandusky scandal at Penn State threatens to put a huge stain on his legacy. The greatest lesson that I’ve learned from JoePa in this scandal was that the best of men are still men at best. We all make our mistakes but it shakes the world a little harder when our heroes are the ones making them.

Was Joe Paterno wrong with how he handled the Sandusky allegations? Yes. Does it erase forty years of quality leadership, honor, and integrity? Absolutely not. He was idolized around Happy Valley, an icon in the eyes of millions in Nittany Lion nation, but he was also imperfect.

JoePa was just a man with great leadership, a lunch-pail work ethic, and plenty of his own faults. Will one terrible mistake be the mark of his legacy or will it be about the high school graduates that he helped shape into men of honor? Only time will tell.

How will you remember Joe Paterno?

Friday List – January 20, 2012

It’s Friday and Kara and I went to see “Red Tails” in theaters this morning. I give it a 6 out of 10 (the acting needed help).

Quit being a jerk online

Over the past week I’ve been reminded again how brazen people can be when it comes to what they say online. I notice it each time I browse the comments sections on blogs, readers’ feedback on research journals, or news article discussions. It gets even more personal and destructive when it comes to places like Facebook, Twitter, email, chat, and text messages.

People type and post things on the Internet that they would probably never say in-person. I’ve been there, done that, and yes, I’ve been ashamed of what I’ve written. It’s almost like not being face-to-face gives us the lie that we can post things that verbal discretion would otherwise curb or censor altogether. It takes guts and yes, sometimes an even deadlier dose of stupidity to say certain things in-person.

It’s even easier to post something incredibly destructive online if we think we’re somehow hiding behind an obscure username and made-up ID. Whether anyone can even tell your comments are truly coming from you, do you really want to be a jerk online? Do you want to be spewing pride and bitterness and even hatred to people with just a few key strokes? Would you ever do that to them face-to-face, especially if you’ve never even met them?

These seven thoughts have saved me from posting potentially damaging comments in the past…

  1. If you have to think twice about whether you should post what you’ve written, don’t submit it. Think about it some more.
  2. If there’s no purpose in what you’re about to post, don’t submit it.
  3. If you honestly wouldn’t say it to that same person face-to-face, don’t submit it. Ask that person if you can talk to them in-person if you really feel like you need to share what you have to say.
  4. If you’re hiding behind the excuse of “well, it’s the truth!” then don’t submit it. If it’s really that true, a hate-filled post is probably the last thing that should be used to wrap a truthful message.
  5. If you submit this message now, will you regret it later?
  6. Does this message accurately reflect the person you want to be?
  7. If you’re posting under a different username, would you be ashamed if someone found out it was actually from you?

It may seem harmless. You may feel like you’re safe behind a misleading username. What you can’t hide is the fact that these messages of destruction can be easily typed without a second thought and yet they can cause so much pain that we may never realize. Before you hit submit, think about the weight your words can carry, even if it’s “only online.”

In the victory, we still mourn our losses

My friend Shawn passed away on Thursday. He was in a car wreck in Utah on Wednesday afternoon and died from severe head and spinal injuries. The Salt Lake Tribune ran an article about his death and the crash but it doesn’t tell the whole story about Shawn’s life and how it fits in God’s story.

Shawn was 20 years old and we spent a good amount of time together during his junior and senior years of high school. We talked about him interning at our church as a worship leader but the timing didn’t work out before he headed off to college. Shawn was a gifted musician, one of the most naturally talented singers I’ve ever known. His music continues to inspire so many people, especially one of his songs called, “Live With No Regrets.”

I cried when I heard about Shawn. I know that he’s with his Savior in heaven but this one stung… a lot. As a pastor, as a friend, as a follower of Christ, this one hurt pretty deeply. I know that Christ has taken away the eternal effects of death. I know the victory’s been won because of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection for us. I know that I know I’ll see Shawn again in heaven someday…

…but sometimes though, even with Christ’s victory, these are the incredible losses that still happen. It’s worse than seeing one of your favorite characters die before the end of a movie. This isn’t a made-up person just written in a script somewhere. There are memories and smells and laughter and personality quirks and conversations that you remember from being with them. It’s personal. It’s a loss that shakes you.

The thing we have to hold onto as believers is that this isn’t the end. Christ still holds the victory over death, even if death still takes some of those closest to us on earth. In the victory, we still mourn our losses. In the losses, we look forward to the resurrection. In the resurrection, we will see each other again. I’m looking forward to the day when I see Shawn again.

Friday List – January 13, 2012

It’s Friday and snow has finally come to St. Louis. I had a good laugh driving yesterday as I passed white-knuckled people going 15 mph in their Priuses and Impalas. Let’s get the weekend started right with the Friday List.

  • Mars Hill Church in Seattle is giving away their Witness font that has become a staple of them. Follow the link to download.
  • Speaking of fonts… in a horrific display of typography, a group defending the use of Comic Sans font has recreated iconic logos with Comic Sans type. I’m guessing that Google will actually use this recreation for a week as some sort of back-handed reply.
  • Did I mention I’m a big fan of Michael Hyatt? He shared a past post of his about slaying the three-headed dragon of lethargy at the beginning of your day. It’s three heads: spiritual, physical, and intellectual lethargy.
  • Creative of the Week // Aaron Niequist’s “A New Liturgy”
  • Thought of the Week // “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action” – Simon Sinek, TEDx @ Puget Sound, 2009.
  • Video of the Week // Movie trailer for Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.
  • Quote of the Week // “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” – C.S. Lewis

Friday List – January 6, 2012

It’s the first Friday of 2012. Let’s get the weekend started off right.

Reading List 2012

Last year I shared my reading list for 2011. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read all of the books I listed then so I carried some of them over to 2012. I will be reviewing each of the books I read and posting the reviews throughout the year. Here is my reading list for this next year:

  1. The Wounded Minister (Guy Greenfield)
  2. They like Jesus but not the Church (Dan Kimball)
  3. The Circle Maker (Mark Batterson)
  4. The Art of Theological Reflection (Patricia O’Connell Killen and John de Beer)
  5. Messy Spirituality (Mike Yaconelli)
  6. Searching for God Knows What (Donald Miller)
  7. The Master Plan of Evangelism (Robert E. Coleman)
  8. The Tipping Point (Malcom Gladwell)
  9. The Power of a Whisper (Bill Hybels)
  10. Good to Great (Jim Collins)

Did I miss any must-reads for this year? Any that I should take out?

Happy New Year 2012!

Happy New Year everyone. Hope you had a great day celebrating the kickoff to a new year. New goals, dreams, hopes, challenges, lessons, and failures waiting to be springboards are all possible in this new calendar. What are your goals or dreams for 2012? Leave a comment and share them with me.

Top Ten Posts from 2011

It’s that time of year to share the top ten posts from 2011. These posts aren’t necessarily the top posts statistic-wise but they may also be posts that were the most shared by readers and the most commented on by readers as well.

  1. Sometimes I’m Peter
  2. The Man Behind the Curtain
  3. Blessed: The Peacemakers
  4. Blessed: Those Who Mourn
  5. The potential in a “small” American church
  6. Doing things God’s way
  7. Back in Eden: Breath of Life
  8. Ash Wednesday for evangelicals
  9. Adultery and affair
  10. The end of the world – May 21st, 2011

Hope you have a great time celebrating New Year’s tonight.

Friday List – December 30, 2011

It’s the last Friday in 2011 and Kara and I are enjoying our first holiday snow up here in Minnesota. It’s Friday so here’s the List.

Friday List – December 23, 2011

Two days ’til Christmas and we had an amazing time at the two Christmas services at Chesterfield last night. It’s Friday so I’m enjoying a great time with Kara, hoping and wishing for a little snow dusting to come before Christmas.

Friday List – December 16, 2011

It’s two weeks ’til Christmas and snow might finally be coming to St. Louis! Kara and I are headed down to Jefferson City today to see the old house where her family lived. For now though, here’s the Friday List.

Friday List – December 9, 2011

It’s Friday and my schedule just hit the fast lane. 16 days til Christmas so here we go!

  • Keep praying for the most recent victims of the shooting at Virginia Tech yesterday. I still remember the first shooting a few years ago.
  • I came across this infographic via Michael Hyatt’s blog about how sitting is killing you.
  • Perry Noble recently shared a great post about the addiction of social media. I’m guilty of this myself.
  • Bosses, do you care if your employees are at their desks or not? Co.Exist has an interesting post about that question.
  • An east Texas town’s Nativity scene has come under fire from an Atheist group in Wisconsin. Two thoughts: 1) It’s Texas, don’t mess with them, and 2) tell the Atheists that the empty area next to the manger scene can sufficiently represent the Atheists’ beliefs. Boom baby.
  • Creative of the Week: Calvin Nichols’ work with paper.
  • Picture of the Week: At the pump with Tripp Crosby.
  • Quote of the Week:

We write frankly and fearlessly, but then we ‘modify’ before we print.” – Mark Twain

Friday List – December 2, 2011

It’s Friday and what a week it’s been. This time last week Kara and I were in Denver and since then we have driven 13 hours, moved into our new condo (with a huge help from a great moving crew), and run a bunch of errands to get settled in St. Peters.

For now though, it’s the Friday List.

(Black) Friday List – November 25, 2011

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and is staying injury-free for today’s Black Friday sales. Kara and I are skipping on the spending sprees, saying our goodbyes to Denver, and leaving for St. Louis this afternoon. We’ll be taking off in a few hours but I figured since I had a few minutes, I’d get the Friday List out.

  • For all of you who held off on listening to Christmas music until Black Friday, I hope you’re now enjoying your Christmas tunes of choice. My favorite this year: A Very She & Him Christmas (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward).
  • Church Relevance just released its list of Top Church Logos of 2011.
  • Photojojo.com is selling an attachable telephoto lens for iPhones. There should be a creeper disclaimer that comes with each of those.
  • Here’s 9 things you need to know about Amazon, including its unbelievable growth from one garage to needing over 25 million sq. ft. in 50 warehouses.
  • Picture of the Week: The fashion range of Zach Galifinakis.
  • Quote of the Week:

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” – General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U. S. Army

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of us in the U.S. I know we’ve all heard how blessed we are as Americans but let’s strip things back and realize again how much we are truly blessed.

  • The average American has clean drinking water. Over 3 billion people, that’s billion with a capital B, don’t have that luxury. Did I mention I love the work of charity: water?
  • Approximately 137 million Americans live on less than $6,000 a year. If you make any amount more than that, you are wealthy in the eyes of billions, including almost half of our fellow Americans.
  • If you’re a typical American, you probably drive to work. Millions of people around the world walk to work and no, it’s not because they just like stretching their legs.
  • At the job where you just got a four day weekend, you probably get a lunch break. You have food to eat on that lunch break. Millions of people only get one meal a day. You get a half hour to an hour to eat what’s probably your second of three meals for that day.
  • Speaking of jobs, if you have one, the unemployed 9% of America’s work force would probably love to be in your place. Even if your job sucks, trust me, it’s better than being unemployed.
  • If you’re celebrating today, you’re probably spending time with your family, likely one or both of your parents. There are over 163 million orphans worldwide who would love that chance.

We have so much to be grateful for today. The most important gift is the cross of Christ that levels human barriers, bridges our insufficiency, and gives us hope and forgiveness again. Thank God for the cross and redemption.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

The clash of Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, which is hard to focus on when TV and radio ads for Black Friday have been playing for the past three weeks. Seriously, three weeks. It’s been almost surreal to think that Thanksgiving is tomorrow since Kara and I have been so busy with getting ready for our move to St. Louis. But you’d have to be deaf and blind to not sense the clash between Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

I’ve heard the ads on the radio and seen them on TV pretty much non-stop for the past week and a half to two weeks. It’s been the usual rolling waves of Black Friday focus: killer sales, early bird openings, door-busters, and online discounts. The thing I’ve noticed this year though is the timing.

Fifteen years ago it was considered early for a store to open by 5 AM on Black Friday. Ten years ago it was 3 AM. This year I’ve noticed that stores are opening with sales on Thanksgiving night, some stores at around 6 or 7 PM. The line of Black Friday’s invasion has steadily pushed earlier and earlier to where Thanksgiving isn’t given the gap needed to separate itself from its consumer-focused successor.

Is Black Friday all bad and from the devil? No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m wondering though is if we can consciously create our own gap to separate the two, to give Thanksgiving the attention and introspection that it was designed to command.

Take the time to focus in on Thanksgiving tomorrow and all the many incredible gifts that God has chosen to give us (translation: things we don’t deserve) by focusing on each one by one for a period of time.

If you’re driving, turn off the radio with the Black Friday last-minute ads and zero in on your blessings.

If you’re prepping food in the kitchen and it doesn’t need your fullest attention, think through how your life is better this year in certain areas.

Go for a walk and pray, think, talk out loud, and stay present with your blessings.

Turn off the TV with the commercials and let your mind wander towards a rhythm of gratitude by repeating the phrase, “I thank God for ____” and filling in the blank with whatever list of things come to mind.

The clash between Thanksgiving and Black Friday is a present reality in an ignorant and indifferent world. We can either choose to let those two collide with the same ignorance around us or we can actively separate the two in our hearts and minds to keep our priorities healthy and our thankfulness intact.

Not arriving at Point B

As a believer, it’s easy to be all about arriving at Point B when it comes to our questions. You know about Point B, right? It’s that ideal place of arriving, the place where all your questions are answered, t’s crossed, i’s, dotted. It’s the final destination of faith.

Maybe you’re wrestling with the idea that your faith is only real as long as all your questions are answered. Whether it’s about faith, God, life, people, anything that has questions, it’s easy to feel this pressure to have all the answers.

What’s worse is that when you do have doubts, you immediately work to find an answer in your arsenal of information to fill in the blank or you worry that your faith isn’t as solid as you thought.

I hate to be Johnny Raincloud here but getting to Point B shouldn’t always be our end goal. If you feel like you have all the answers to life’s questions, that can be a very dangerous place to live. The idea that any of us have all the answers to life’s questions is a complete lie. For all those questions that blow our little three-pound human brains, there’s a good and great God big enough to handle each of them.

Maybe the journey is more important than the destination for these reasons:

Sometimes the lessons learned in the journey are better than any at the destination.

Sometimes the whole point of walking in faith isn’t about having all our questions answered but willing to walk where we can’t see ahead or where we’ve never been before.

Sometimes not arriving at Point B is the healthiest thing that can happen to our faith because it shows us how God exists beyond our questions and still wants us to wrestle with His greatest gift: the chance to believe, even if we don’t understand it all.

Sometimes the best practice for our faith is releasing our grip on our uncertainties and just letting them rest. We’ll probably never have all the answers to our questions but sometimes it’s more about what we learn along the way than actually getting to some final destination.

Friday List – 11/11/11 (which is just fun to type)

It’s November 11, 2011… 11/11/11. It’s also Friday. I get to see my wife tonight. This is going to be a good day. Today is also Veteran’s Day in the US. Thank you to all the men and women who have served in the armed forces and given yourselves to maintain the freedom we experience here.

  • The scandal at Penn State is one of the most heartbreaking tragedies to hit college sports. No child should ever be a victim to a predator. This situation has reminded me again that even a great icon like JoePa can make mistakes and that he’s only human.
  • Just started using Spotify. Why didn’t I start sooner?
  • Here’s a map of all the McDonald’s in the United States. The South is lovin’ it.
  • Creative of the Week: BMW Hourglass.
  • Picture of the Week: The Reincarnation of Chris Farley.
  • Video of the Week: Visualizing how a population grows to 7 billion.
  • Quote of the Week:

“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them that they didn’t understand life.” — John Lennon

Dear18Me – A letter to my 18 year old self

This letter was inspired by Dear18Me.com where people post letters to their 18 year-old selves. Since today is my 27th birthday, I thought this would be a good time to share.

November 9, 2011

Hi Jon,

So, you’re now a freshman at the Moody Bible Institute and you’re probably thinking about how different college is from, well, anything else you’ve ever done. Speaking of Moody… you didn’t quite see yourself at MBI, did ya? It was law school or bust and then, BAM, God changed your path. You’ll have the MIT trip to Ecuador to thank for that.

I don’t want to ruin too many of the surprises for your future but let’s just say you’ll be amazed where God takes you in the next ten years. I will give away a few spoilers though… (shhh, you’re welcome.)

In about a week you’re going to sign up for English Comp. II with Miss Hecht for next semester, not because you want to take a class from her but because you know she will stretch your writing. Get ready for some ugly assignments and grades in your ongoing hatred of English. You may laugh at this but your love for writing will turn into a passion of yours. In fact, you’ll get to the point of writing every day…and loving it!

Since we’re on the topic of love, that girl you like right now? Yeah, don’t worry about her. Sometime after college you’ll get invited to a Halloween party by a good friend of yours. A word of advice: GO! You’ll figure out the rest later. And no, I’m not going to give away what year it will be.

Random thoughts here: Your taste in music sucks but that’s okay. In about six weeks you’ll come across Coldplay for the first time, which will be a manageable springboard to good music. Learning what good music is will change your entire perspective on your major. Some advice on personal hygine? Shave your goatee and get a good haircut, please. Learn to listen more than you speak and hey, since we’re here, learn to think before you speak, too.

There’s more I could share but I tried to give you more advice to follow instead of being a fortune teller. You will go through troubles and valleys in the next nine years that will break your will, your pride, and even shake your faith. Don’t worry though, they will shape you into the man that God has called you to be and you’ll have plenty of stories to share in the future.

You’re a great guy (when you’re not acting like a sarcastic smart aleck, by the way, work on that) and you have so many opportunities in front of you. The best advice I can give you is to keep pursuing Christ with everything you are. The next best advice I can give is that when something called Twitter is invented, BUY ALL OF ITS STOCK THAT YOU CAN! You’re welcome!

Love you, man, and happy birthday to me, to us (that sounds weird), okay, happy birthday to me.

Jon, age 27

Friday List – November 4, 2011

It’s November and Denver got pounded with its first big snow of the year. Some places around south Denver reported up to 2 feet of snow. And since it’s Denver, basically all the snow is melted now.

“Giving into one’s dark side never accomplishes anything.” — Jiminy Cricket, Once Upon A Time