Random Vacation Thoughts

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Below is a collection of random thoughts from our vacation as I begin to decompress a bit. Warning, these are very random and not all warm and fuzzy.

1. One quote both started and wrecked my entire week in Wrightsville Beach. One simple quote.

Human beings never behave more badly towards one another than when they believe they’re protecting God.”

2. That quote came from This Sermon (pick it up at 32:35). Go ahead and watch that. This blog will still be here when you get back.

3. He also said “We’ve convinced ourselves that God needs protecting.”

4. God doesn’t need protecting.

5. I quit using facebook for reasons of the quote above (among other things).

6. That quote was an uppercut, this was the knockout punch….

All these things that you’re protesting. All these things that you’re holding you’re hand up and saying God’s against that, they hold no value.

7. Yeah but…..

The ONLY THING that counts is faith EXPRESSING itself through love.” -Galations 5:6

8. Paul with the ultimate Mic Drop there. I spent the week thinking about how that could possibly look. It’s almost easier to be against a bunch of stuff. Love is messy.

9. Example – How can I love someone I have a fundamental disagreement with regarding how you treat people…..and he’s a Pastor. (think about THAT.)

10. All of that happened on our first day there…..

11. I warned you this was random…. I was born in Alaska, grew up in Cleveland and am convinced I was created to live in North Carolina.

12. There seems to be a large number of population of Wilmington that smoke. Either that or Columbus has done an incredible job of curbing public smoking. No statement, just an observation.

13. For the first time I was walking with my 12 year old daughter and began instructing her on what to look for when she (gulp) dates. If he’s not opening the door or walking on the proper side of the sidewalk to protect you, keep looking. Chivalry is not dead. Set that bar high Princess 1.0.

14. Multiple times I looked at my children and thought “when did they get so big?”

15. I turn 45 on Tuesday. In a rather somber and maybe morbid moment of reflection, I realized I’ve most likely passed the halfway pole. I doubt this body will see 90 years old. In complete honesty, my next thought was 60. That’s only 15 years. That’s my first born child. While I sure hope it’s longer than that, it was a hard drink of reality that every moment, every day, every year must absolutely count.

16. I took the book “Not a Fan” with me. Good read…for 3 chapters. I couldn’t stay engrossed in it when life was happening right in front of me. There were waves to body surf and laughs to share.

17. Body surfing is natures largest “Neti Pot.”

18. We stayed in a friends home all week. I was obsessive about keeping it clean and perfect. “The body is a temple of God” and I take horrible care of mine.

19. Wilmington to Columbus is a long time to process.

20. I came up with most of this during that drive from Wilmington to Columbus.

There will probably be much more to come. This was just the stuff that came from the drive back home. I miss being there already…..

Inputs and Outcomes

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I shared in my last post that I am leaving one company and joining another one. I also shared that this is a difficult transition because I hold my current CEO in the highest regard. He is a man of incredible integrity. He’s a tremendous leader, husband and father to 5 girls. Sitting at his feet the last two years has restored my faith in leadership and taught me so much about how a man of faith can lead a successful organization. Fortunately, I am joining another organization where the CEO has the exact same qualities. For that I am thankful. Very, very thankful. I’ve been a part of teams where that could not be said and the difference in culture was quite noticeable.

During a recent conversation with my CEO he said something that was so simple yet such a testimony to how he not only runs our company, but to his faithfulness. He said:

Aaron, I know this will sound crazy and even our investors give me a strange look when I say it, but this is how I believe we run this company – we control the inputs and God controls the outcome.

At first I just nodded my head and agreed. There is nothing I have seen in my 2 years that told me any different. That IS how he leads the company. We control the inputs and God controls the outcome. During my 3 hour commute back to Columbus, I just kept repeating those words…. “we control the inputs and God controls the outcome.”

Our finances? We control the inputs, God controls the outcome.

Our faith? We control the inputs, God controls the outcome.

My kids tryouts for various sports teams? They control the inputs, God controls the outcome.

My witness to the circles of influence where I am placed? I control the inputs, God controls the outcome.

I’m not sure who will read this today. I’m not sure where this will find you. I just felt like that wisdom from a man that has taught me so much was worth sharing. It’s made a difference in my attitude and approach to many things.

I control the inputs and God controls the outcome.

“If we faithfully cast out the net, He’ll be responsible for what comes back in.” -Tony Dungy

It’s Never How You Draw It Up

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On more than one occasion, I’ve told my wife that if you’re gonna put anything on my headstone, those are the words. “It’s Never How You Draw It Up.” If there’s anything I’ve learned in this life, that is it. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. It just never really is how you draw it up. Sometimes, often times, that is the best. Sometimes it’s even better.

And sometimes it’s not.

I’ve been away from this blog for quite some time. I’m not ready to call it a comeback (wicked LL Cool J reference), but I am ready to get some questions answered and share a bit of the journey. To all that said they missed the posts, I want to say thank you. Honestly. I never realized people read this stuff. Sorry again and in advance for destroying the english language. I got a 13 on my ACT’s and that’s no lie. Before I dive in, I need to make this disclaimer and make sure that whomever might read this understands that EVERYTHING is RELATIVE. I understand that. As John Mayer once sang, “you better take all your so-called problems and put them in quotations.” Everything is relative. Some, many, have had it worse. Perspective is really important here.

About 5 years ago, life was just humming right along. I was in a job where I was fully alive, making more money than I’ve ever seen. My wife stayed at home with the kids. We didn’t spend like crazy because I worked for a crazy volatile fortune 500 company that had a thing for “reducing the ol’ workforce” and quite often. I always liked to look at the company like the show “Survivor.” If you could hunt, fish or start fire, you were gonna be safe at tribal council (or from layoffs). My position, while valuable, didn’t hunt or fish or start fire.

Then one day I got voted off.

About 5 years ago, I was in the best physical shape of my life. My wife and I were enjoying running half marathons all over these United States. 19 of them to be exact. As I was on mile 9 of my 4th half marathon in 4 straight weekends, I hit a wall. Some would call it crazy, but I’ve never recovered. While various things came and went, I started to have some breathing problems. My best time was a 1:48 for a half marathon. Last time I ran one, I finished in 2:10. It turns out breathing is kinda important when you run. To date, we still can’t figure it out. A lot of test, a lot of suggestions. No answers. It’s just “one of those things.”

Back to the employment thing.

I took a very brief role in ministry (which is another blog post for another time). After about 6 months, I was looking for work and one of the greatest men I have ever met extended an offer. The last 2 years have been life-giving from an employment and life perspective. My wife also was given a great opportunity to join Hilliard Schools on a 20 hour, part-time contract. Just when we needed benefits, this incredible school system extended an opportunity for us to pay into theirs. That was the good news. Bad news was that the cost of paying into their benefits pretty well wiped out her check. She was working very hard for our benefits. They are great benefits and we are so thankful to have them. I just felt bad for my bride. She also supplemented her 20 hours with subbing in area schools. Every night she would find another opportunity. She never complained. She never took a day off. We were living in the “nuclear option” of our budget and she was doing all she could to help. A year ago I moved into a new role with my employer. A great role. That was the good news. The bad news was I was going to start commuting to Indianapolis every week. Many of those weeks I was gone for 2 days and one night. While blessed with jobs (again EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE), we were firmly planted in the “nuclear option” budget and growing weary.

How about your faith?

That cup of coffee in ministry left me with a lot of questions and soul-searching. I like to think of going into ministry like a 3 legged stool. For most men, we tend to define ourselves by three things – our job, our faith (if you’re a believer) and our family. Everything we are rests on those 3 legs. When you go into ministry, 2 of those legs are combined (faith and work) and you’re constantly balancing between work/ministry and family. When something happens to your job in ministry it’s like sweeping one of the 2 remaining legs. Everything you have, the weight of who you are now rests on your family. The one remaining solid leg. Ever see a failure in ministry and wonder “how did that happen?” Now you might have some insight. While, for me, there was no “failure in ministry,” I’ve come to believe that is why it commonly happens.

Suddenly things that were so solid and certain were surrounded with doubt and questions. I’m not sure if I’ll ever look at some things the same. It’s been a process. A very long, long process. Again, everything is relative, but in many ways I felt that I had reached the brink.

This is going to sound very shallow and silly, but if there’s one thing I look forward to every year, it’s our vacation in OBX. It’s where my knots come undone. It’s where everything just makes sense. It’s where we press pause on the craziness that is our family schedule to reconnect and level set. Thanks to our budget, there would be no vacation this year. We’ve done some small things but it’s just not the same.

Then, a few months ago it happened. I had one of those moments where, almost audibly, I sensed that things were slowly being restored. It happened when I witnessed my children fully alive in their church. To witness their joy and see them where they most want to be was a layer of restoration.

I forced myself to get active again. It started with walking. I never knew that walking would be so different from running. In all my years of running I had (count them) one blister. This summer I’ve had at least a dozen. I’ve tried different shoes. I’ve tried band aids and different socks. It’s been the summer of the blisters but I’m still going. Each day is a new adventure. Sometimes I jog (dreadfully slow). Other days my wife and I just walk. I’m moving and active and another layer is restored.

About 6-8 weeks ago a good friend and mentor of mine presented an opportunity to me. Ironically enough, I got it while I was on my weekly drive to Indianapolis. Over the next few weeks we talked and talked and talked some more. On August 3rd, I am joining his team to lead a new company he has acquired. This is bitter-sweet because I am leaving a company that is like none I’ve ever been a part of. It’s a family. Our President has become a friend and mentor to me as well. Saying I was leaving was one of the harder things I’ve had to do. He understood and wants nothing but the best for our family. I am a better man for having worked for the company I have been with the past 2 years. They were a refuge and allowed me to put some things back together. The 3 legs of the stool are finally being restored.

This week, my wife was offered full-time with Hilliard Schools (which she accepted). This is a double win for us. The cost of our benefits will now drop in half (because she’s full-time) and her salary will double. No more searching for daily sub jobs. No more tutoring over the summer to make ends meet. I am so proud of her. Again, she never complained. She always made it work. Our home, our family, our schedules, she has been the CEO, CFO, counselor and cornerstone of faith through it all. A layer for her faithfulness has been restored.

Oh, and that vacation? It turns out a good friend has a condo in North Carolina that is sitting open. He demanded that we take it for a week. Before the new jobs and kids go back to school, we’ve been given a gift to untie the knots and maybe (for this guy anyway), do some “business” with God. I’m closer to Him there. This was not required or expected, it was icing and another layer restored.

Life is never how we draw it up. If you’re headed towards the brink, know there is a way back. What I’ve learned is that it doesn’t all come back at once. In all the change and loss and frustration, I never lost my faith. I never stopped believing. Would I have it all back and just like before? Maybe. What I wouldn’t trade is the lessons learned. Our family is stronger. Our budget is tighter. We’ve learned things we never thought we would learn. There are still layers to restore. Some may never be the same.

There may or may not be more blog posts to come. One thing I’ve always tried to do is share the journey and do so honestly. Sometimes that’s not for the best. Thanks again to all those that have extended kind words. Until next time….

Live is never how you draw it up and sometimes that is a very good thing.

It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored
But you never know the miracle the Father has in store
Just watch and see, it will not be
Just watch and see, it will not be unredeemed

American Sniper Reflect and Review

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It’s been a LOOOOOOONG time since I wrote a post. There are a multitude of reasons which could will probably be a post all its own one day. The reason for this post is to share a little bit about the movie American Sniper. My friends at Grace Hill Media were kind enough to send me 3 copies of the film. One was for me to review. Another copy was sent to give away. A third copy of the film was sent to give to a veteran of my choosing. I immediately knew who I was giving the other 2 copies to.

My review of the film is very short and simple – Excellent. American Sniper is a hard film to watch. It makes you uncomfortable (and I’m not referring to the “R” rating although that might make some uncomfortable). I say that because, if you’re like me, it’s hard to see what we so often take for granted. I am a guy that has HUGE respect for our military. I am thankful for their service and sacrifice for this country and the freedom we hold dear. When I see it or am immersed in it, like you are in American Sniper, it leaves you numb. I can honestly say that I don’t know the first thing about what it means to sacrifice everything for people you don’t even know. Which leads me to what I did with the second copy of American Sniper I received…

I met a local member of the police department a few years ago when we were both serving in a ministry. I don’t recall the specifics of our initial meeting, but we struck up an instant friendship. That friendship still exists today. My friend works in one of the toughest parts of Columbus. Every day he puts on a uniform to protect and serve people who don’t even know his name. It should be no surprise that he also wore the uniform of this great nation and served in our military. He is strong, tough (mentally and physically) and yet values relationship and people. He has my back. You don’t know him, but he has your back too. He is a man I have the utmost respect for.  A DVD copy of American Sniper is such a small token of my appreciation for my friend.

I share all of that because when I watched “American Sniper” I was reminded of my friend. Throughout the film, I imagined my friend in the role that Bradley Cooper played. He put his country first. He made the hard decisions. He valued the people of his unit and protected those he was shoulder to shoulder with. Not only was he an elite soldier, he was also a husband and father. He struggled to disengage when he returned but ultimately found a path and committed himself to being the same level husband and father as he was a soldier. My friend is the same way. He protects those he loves and that often has nothing to do with a rifle or combat.

Bradley Cooper was outstanding as Chris Kyle. The film will leave you numb and not quite sure what to do as the credits roll. The theater I was in was completely silent. No one spoke. We all just made our way to the exits. Clint Eastwood directed the film and deserves all of the praise and awards he receives. The language is rough. The battle scenes are graphic. I’m just not sure how you make this film without both. This is the war that we don’t like to talk about or face. There are men and women facing every day.

This leads me to the final copy of American Soldier. I’m not doing a giveaway. The truth is that I already gave it away. I gave it to a friend that recently moved here from the same town that Chris Kyle was from in Texas. This film, for them, was even more personal. I couldn’t think of a better person to give it to as I know they feel a connection to this story like none of us can.

To all of those that serve and have served our nation, thank you. We need more films like American Sniper. We need more reminders that there are men and women that serve and protect us each and every day. They don’t do it for movies to be made about them. They do it so we have the freedom which we often take for granted. Thank you Grace Hill Media for providing these three copies of American Sniper.

I give American Sniper a 5 out of 5.

“Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Day My Coach Died

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When I was a junior in high school, I was chosen to attend an overnight student drug prevention education retreat (kinda like D.A.R.E). We left from school and spent 24 hours in a local recreation center (which was just an old elementary school) talking about peer pressure, influence and leading among other students. To be honest, I only remember one thing about the retreat….I fell in love with basketball during a break in the sessions.

While most of the other students spent time hanging out and having fun during our breaks, I found my way over to a basketball and a hoop in the old schools gym. I shot a few baskets and something in me found something I could really begin to get involved in. In case you missed the first sentence of this post – I was JUNIOR in high school. By this time, most kids my age had played in leagues, been working on their skill and knew the rules of the game. I only knew you put the ball in the basket. At least I think that’s how this game worked. I left a drug prevention education retreat addicted a new drug – The game of basketball.

When I got home from the retreat, I told my mom that I thought I wanted to start playing basketball. We had a hoop on the garage but it was NEVER used. The best advice she could offer proved to be the prescription for the new addiction I had. She simply said “Well, just watch TV and learn the game.” This was a different time. We didn’t have cable. ESPN wasn’t what it is today. The only time to watch basketball on TV was a Saturday game most likely on CBS. The NCAA tournament was where a basketball junkie could get their fix. That was when the most games were televised. The NBA would be on Sundays and the Cleveland Cavaliers games were on the local AM radio. I took her advice and “just watched TV to learn the game.”

At the very time I began to watch whatever games I could watch, a team with baby blue uniforms and a short coach named Dean Smith were regularly broadcast. Knowing what I know now, it had much to do with a skinny freshman that made the game winner in the NCAA tournament years before (aka Michael Jordan). This team was regularly featured because they were the gold standard in college basketball. Their coach was THE coach every one wanted to play for. To give you some insight into my lack of knowledge of the sport, the team and the man, I thought they called him “Dean” because he was someone important at the University. I was somewhat right, but that really was his name and not his position in the University.

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The more I watched Dean Smith orchastrate a game, the more I felt like he was my coach. I didn’t play in any leagues. I wasn’t on any teams. The driveway was my practice gym. I didn’t run sprints or do suicides on the hardwood. I set up chairs and bricks in our narrow driveway to learn to dribble. When a dominant freshman named JR Reid came on the scene at UNC, I studied his moves and learned to play in the post. There was no watchful eye over my learning of the game. Dean was my coach. I never met him. I never spoke with him. He had no idea who I was. But a kid from Cleveland, Ohio that was learning how to play the game of basketball took every word he said and the way he coached as if it was gospel.

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By the time my senior year rolled around, I had learned enough about basketball to be dangerous. Not good, dangerous. I thought I would try out for the high school basketball team. I still didn’t know many rules. Every other kid in that gym was light years ahead of me. I wish I could tell some great story about how I made the team but I can’t. I think I was one of the first people cut. I will say it was a good team that went to the sweet 16 in states that year, but the truth is I was way behind everyone else. I had no jump shot. I could barely dribble and didn’t know a thing about playing defense. My coach was a short white-haired man I watched on TV. I got over being cut from the team and it actually made me work that much harder. I studied the lessons of Dean Smith even closer. I watched how his teams played and what they did under his teaching. Things like –

Acknowledging the passer after a made basket:

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The quick huddle before a free throw:

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Acknowledging a player coming out of the game:

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and of course, the end of game management of “The Four Corners.”

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You may or may not have noticed but most of the things above were not about skills or techniques. Many of the things that Dean Smith brought to the game of basketball (and my knowledge of it) were about team. It was about treating your teammate and your opponent with respect. He had no time for arrogance. One of my favorite Dean Smith quotes simply says:

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When that prized freshman I mentioned earlier was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I read somewhere that Dean Smith was not happy. He believed that freshman did not deserve that kind of recognition. Seniors deserved that kind of honor and glory. He coached his teams to treat people on the court the way you would treat them off of it. Competitive? Yes. He didn’t win as many games as he did by being a push over. He did, however, treat the game with respect and the game of basketball is better for it. Much better.

I read the news yesterday morning that he had passed away and audibly said “no, no, NO!” I didn’t cry or get upset. The Carolina family knew this day was coming. I don’t think any of us knew it would be here this soon. I read that news as I was getting dressed to go help coach my daughters 6th grade basketball team in a season ending tournament. As I put on the team colors and thought about our game plan, I couldn’t help but think that none of this would probably be happening if not for Dean Smith.

That might sound sappy.

That might be overstated.

I don’t believe it is. When a kid from Cleveland found a coach from North Carolina through televised basketball games, that coach fanned a flame. He made me want to learn more about this new game I had fallen in love with. His teams made me want to be part of a team. It speaks to influence and how we may be influencing someone we never know about. Dean Smith influenced me and we never even met. I got to learn from the greatest coach of all-time by watching his games and never running a sprint. Pretty cool actually.

Our girls team won their first game in the tournament. We had to run a bit of a four corners at the end to protect the lead and bring home the win. When it was over I couldn’t help but smile and think that this one was for Dean. The girls didn’t know. No one else in the gym needed to know.

I knew.

I learned from the best.