Beachside Seat Reveals God’s Big Show

This morning I found myself in a randomly selected roadside church — or maybe I should say beachside church.

The small worship center, located in a town whose population is still harboring dreams of crossing the one thousand resident threshold, sits just off the road between the only two stoplights in town. A dozen cars are scattered around the elevated building. Pulling between two posts below the structure, I park my car and find my way inside.

Sitting down onto a seat on the back pew, I listen as the minister shares his words with the congregation. Dressed in a t-shirt and blue jeans, I’m not even sure he is wearing shoes.

“Today we’ve a baptism,” he says. “And isn’t that awesome?”

“Here is what is going to happen,” he said. “I’m going to go put on my bathing suit. We’ll all meet across the street on the beach for the baptism.”

Certainly words I’ve never heard from a minister standing behind the pulpit.

Minutes later our small group, maybe a dozen or so, are standing along the water’s edge as waves aggressively eat at the sand below our feet. Between the bright sunshine and churning waves, God is putting on a show.

The minster takes the hand of a young girl dressed in a white bathing suit. The girl then instinctively reaches with her free hand for her dad as the three begin walking into the waves. I look around at our small group. No one is wearing shoes as we prepare to see God welcome this young girl into his flock.

Nearby fishermen are casting into the surf. To our left two surfboards rest in the sand between sessions. I’m quite sure there is not a manmade cathedral as beautiful as the one this girl is about to experience.

The three of them stop and turn around about 20 yards into the surf. The minister and father say a few words – words we cannot hear for the soundtrack of waves crashing around our feet. And then, each with a hand behind the young girls head, the young girl leans back and is washed over by both the waves the moment.

I do not know the name of a single person standing on the beach at the moment but suddenly feel the warm sense of family fill my heart.

Applause breaks out from not only our small group, but from those around us.

It is moments like this, standing in front of one of God’s most beautiful and powerful creations, that I am reminded of what a humble role each of is to play in His plan. No matter what someone tells me or whatever happens to me, I am – much like the sand and water around me – just part-time player with very small role.

As the young girl returns to the shore I can see a spark in her eyes. She is cold on the outside, but warm from within.

It is then I look down and realize God is there — even in the sand between my toes.

– 30 –

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Being Nice Never Goes Out Of Style

Of all things, glam-rock artist Lady Gaga, reminded me of why it is important to be nice to others in life.

In a recent interview about working with musical icon Tony Bennett, she mentioned what different environment she found herself in whenever she walked into the recording studio. The odd couple, by any measure, was recording collection of jazz standards. Tony Bennett, at the age of 88, is sixty years her senior.

“When I walked into the studio, everyone stood up for me and was dressed so beautifully and told me I looked lovely, ” she said. “I’ve never been treated that way before.”

At first I was confused – and then, of all things, felt a twinge of sadness for her.

Regardless of what we might think about her larger-than-life persona or attention-getting antics on stage, inside there is a human being. And to have gone so far through life and never felt the warmth of the respect Tony Bennett expressed is, in many ways, an opportunity for us to pause and examine our society.

We all learn from our environment – particularly our home environment. Lessons we learn there are carried with us forever, not only reflecting the values of our upbringing, but also defining us as individuals as we navigate life. And many of those important lessons are taught across the kitchen table at home.

Which brings me back to Lady Gaga.

Most of us are raised to appreciate the simple premise of treating others with respect, to make them feel special or wanted. Once ingrained in our soul, these simple instincts help guide us through life and ensure we always treat others as if they are the most special people in the world.

But what it what is hidden behind the words Lady Gaga shared that caught my emotions. It is not that she’s never had a door opened for her or for people tell her she looked nice. On the contrary, she’s undoubtedly heard these words countless times before. But until she walked into a room where the Tony Bennett set the tone, she didn’t realize all the others were for a paycheck. Tony Bennett, and those around him, did it because it was the right thing to do.

The other night I was out to dinner with my daughter and a friend of hers. Walking back to the car I instinctively reached to open the car door for her friend. The look I got back was probably similar to what Lady Gaga felt – one of surprise and not sure what to do. As I smiled until she was comfortably seated, I felt a bit of confusion. Was I making her friend uncomfortable by doing this?

Getting behind the steering wheel I thought back to Lady Gaga and her experience with meeting Tony Bennett. Am I just getting old? Is it wrong to go out of my way to make others feel welcome, respected, and comfortable? Should I change my behavior?

And then I thought of Lady Gaga and how she felt around Tony Bennett – and quickly found my answer.

– 30 –

Family Traditions Shared In Unlikely Places

The passing of traditions comes in many shapes and sizes. For some it might be a mother sharing a special recipe she learned from her mother. Similarly, the technique of how tie a particular fly might be passed from a father to a son while fishing along the banks of a mountain stream.

“Lean forward,” said the father to his son. “Fall into it. Trust yourself.”

Sitting on the coping of a local skatepark, I am looking out across the deep, white bowls of a local park as parents are teaching their kids to skate.

His son, wrapped up in elbow pads and a helmet, looks unsure and unsteadily towards his father. Trusting his dad’s instructions, the boy leans into the open space and falls towards the open concrete floor below.

The boy, after falling forward, hangs on for a few feet before his fear of gravity gets the better of him and he bails out – skidding across the concrete on his pads.

“Good job,” said the dad, obviously proud of his son. Dressed in a tank top with tattoos spreading down his arms, he too is passing along a family tradition.

Walking across the park I find another parent walking alongside his son as he learns to navigate the rolls of the beginner’s side. Both are laughing, particularly the father.

I finally take another spot along a high vertical wall and dangle feet over the edge. Skaters of all ages race below me. For someone whose better skating days are nearly four decades behind them, it is a heartwarming experience in an odd, surreal way. You see, if you know me, you probably know I was a competition skateboarder in my teens. To me, skating was a defining part of my life. Along with my friends, we’d be out all night skating on anything concrete or that offered us a chance to defy gravity. Sure, we broke a few rules along the way, but for the most part we were harmless to others and ourselves.

So ingrained in my life is skating, my wife even surprised me with a very special ‘dream skateboard’ for a birthday a few years back. Heck, rarely does a month go by I don’t hope on my skateboard for grins.

Speaking of my wife, she’ll quickly tell you stories about her repeatedly getting phone calls from well-meaning neighbors about me shooting hills with our kids one of my skateboards. And to this day, I’m proud to say, both my son and daughter can skate circles around most of their friends.

Which brings me back to my feet dangling over the coping on top of a tall vertical wall. From my vantage point, both the one of age and elevation, I can see the past, present, and future in one view. Life, memories, and traditions are being created all around me.

As I get up to leave the skatepark I pause at a nearby bench. Sitting there is a grandfather calling out encouragement to his grandson.

Yeah, that’ll be me one day. But odds are, I’ll be at the bottom of the bowl with my gear on.

– 30 –

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Slaying The Dragon Of Self-Doubt Not Easy

Earlier this week I found myself sitting at a table while a speaker discussed her journey through life – and how she overcomes the ‘enemy’ of self-doubt. She shared of how in everyone’s journey, self-doubt insistently creeps into our lives, planting ‘reasons’ not to chase our dreams or simply get out of our comfort zone.

Making decisions in life is difficult enough, she said. Having a constant companion of self-doubt dragging behind us like an anchor only gets in the way of us truly discovering who we are.

Her words resonated inside of me, as I know the enemy of self-doubt all too well.

Talking about her personal journey, she shared how she discovered the courage and tools to unwind from the faceless force between her and her dreams.

“Each day, whenever I’d find self-doubt creeping into my decision process, I’d write it down – making a list to review at end of the day,” she said. “In the end, they really weren’t all that scary.”

She shared some of the more common visits we all seem to get from self-doubt – almost a ‘who’s who’ list of greatest reasons not to act on opportunities in life. “I’m too old. I’m not qualified. I don’t have enough experience.”

Ego, she said, is among the most common and powerful tools in self-doubt’s arsenal.

And like most of us, I’ve experienced a lifetime of visits from these unhelpful visitors. And unfortunately, when I was younger, I all too often gave over the steering wheel to them – finding in the end all I had accumulated was a big fat bag of regrets. This only made me feel worse.

But then at some point, after years of accumulating a worthless bag of results force-fed by self-doubt, I decided to change my life one day at a time.

One day at a time, as most of us know, can be a long, lonely, and uncomfortable journey.

Eventually I discovered a simple solution that helped my slay my dragon of self-doubt: faith combined with a 360-degree view of the opportunity in front of me. In the process, I’d make sure I identified the good, bad, and ugly. And in the end, if the potential outcome would leave me with ‘ten fingers and toes’ (my unscientific risk measurement), I’d continue to move forward exploring the opportunity / experience in front of me.

And just like the speaker discovered her personal tool, I’d done the same. By asking myself what is the worst that can happen, my experiences helped create a reservoir of confidence that eventually overpowered self-doubt. And having faith – and knowing God was my co-pilot – only helped me be confident in making better decisions in life. And since then, honestly, what a ride it is…and I have no idea where it will lead.

It is my hope the speaker’s words changed someone’s life on that morning. I have to believe in my heart that she was there to speak to someone hidden in the audience – and to change a life that day.

And from that moment, another journey of ‘one day at a time’ can begin. I hope they enjoy the ride as much those of us who’ve learned to slay the dragon of self-doubt do.

– 30 –

Battle of the Bulge Comes Home

“When I look at you,” my son said, “I don’t see you as fat – I see you as, well, fifty.”

My son’s honesty is, many times, painful.

For many of us, we spend our lives telling us such self-inspiring sayings such as “50 is the new 40” or “you’re only as old as you feel.” Well, unfortunately, ‘spin’ can take you only so far.

A funny thing happened after my odometer crossed the magical 50,000-mile line – my body suddenly decided to stop responding to diet and exercise like it once did. It is as if, as the odometer pushed the forties into history, the warranty on my entire body sees to be expiring as if on cue.

My son is at the stage of life – early twenties – where he is currently fighting to keep weight on his bones. Dragging his body into the gym nearly every day, I watch as he thrashes his body into doing exercises a body should’ve be able to do – particularly mine. He even keeps a mysterious oversized container in kitchen of some fancy powder to mix into drinks – calories and protein from what I understand.

On the other hand, I am counting calories from the other end of the spectrum. For me, one day off the calorie-watching wagon and I’m suddenly finding my clothes fitting oddly. Imagination or not, this is not fun.

I guess I am like most people my age, a generation to whom exercise was a simple way to moderate our health, only to one day find a strange interruption in the plan as our AARP cards arrive in the mailbox. For years we could cut back a bit here, skip a meal there, and after a few days of lacing on our running shoes, we were right back where we wanted to be. Well, for those of you with fewer miles on the odometer than me, let me warn you now – you’re going to need a new plan.

At our office, food is something we do well. Got a birthday? Food day. Anniversary? Food day. Even when launching a new product, we find it as a reason to bring in a giant cake.

Food, being such an important part of socialization, does not make my current predicament any easier. With everyone bringing in family specialties or a favorite pastry from a corner shop, you have to sometimes take one (or two donuts) for the team.

Which brings me back to my conversation with my son the other day.

I guess as some point in life you’ve got to learn to adjust your give and take formula. I just might need to accept that after 50,000 miles, I can’t keep up with a twenty-something in the gym. Maybe life going forward is not going to be all about a strict adherence to tightly measured calories or the notches on my belt. Maybe, at this point in life, the universe is trying to tell me that a happy and healthy life is not one measured exclusively by the currency of calories or digits on a bathroom scale.

– 30 –

Odd Jobs Lead to Lifelong Lessons

The older I get, the more I appreciate the ‘you are the sum of your parts’ theory.

“I remember working at my father’s meat market,” said a friend. “The sawdust covering the floor, the smell of the meat, the noises.” He talked about the long hours, the hard work, and the low – if any – wages.

The ddd jobs of our youth, believe it or not, help shape us into the people we are today.

My dad loves to tell the story of how as a teenager he’d haul blocks of heavy ice from a horse-drawn cart, up flights of stairs, and then deliver into the icebox of a customer’s home. Not glamorous, but by doing so he learned the discipline of hard work and return of a modest wage for his efforts.

I believe we all share similar experiences like my friend and dad – experiences that changed us if only by the smallest of margins. Learning to work is as important as the compensation we get for our time and efforts. And many times, it is these very moments that shape our lives going forward.

Personally, I’ve made more pizzas than I could ever eat in my lifetime, dropped enough fried chicken into a boiling fryer to fill a small dumpster, and mopped enough floor tiles to cover an aircraft carrier. But I also learned to never stand still – to always be busy.

“If you’ve time to lean, you’ve time to clean”, was the mantra regardless of the name on the sign outside. And while the phrase literally encouraged us to always keep the kitchens clean, the bigger point was to instill the habit of always being on the lookout for something productive to be doing with our time.

Every once in a while these days I’ll find myself with a few friends and the conversation comes up about our worst jobs growing up. But the odd thing is, when we start talking about odd jobs, you’d swear we missed them. Our stories are told like we’ve lost old friends or survived terrible battles. Believe it or not, these stories are generally told with an odd romantic overtone – one of a time gone but not forgotten.

To never experience the baptism of working odd jobs while young is to have missed one of the great opportunities in life.

I’m sure most of us can honestly look at ourselves today and admit we are better off because of something we taken from odd jobs – and I’m not talking about money. For some of us, our work ethic might have been sparked while standing knee deep in mud with a shovel in our hands. For others, it might be as simple as learning to get up with an alarm clock each day. But with each odd job, we took something not reflected on our pay stub.

Sometimes I hear people refer work to as a dirty four-letter word. But the truth is, the feeling of belonging, learning to work towards a goal, to understand the value you have to others, is something much more valuable than a paycheck will ever be. And to learning to do it well will pay dividends for a lifetime.

– 30 –