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Building a brand-Son

I admit, being Generation X has it’s advantages. We aren’t nearly as devoted to our things as the Boomers and we use technology as if it is an external tool, not the internal life-blood of existence itself. If I’m planning a trip, I still prefer to use a map than GPS. I like to write in a journal, not on a screen (there is an element of editing that goes in to transferring it to type). My favorite example of the pseudo-tech is that I prefer to read on a small digital device – that is called a “paperwhite” because of the background and letter type. I also like watches, even if I have to do the spinner/button dance to get the date number to match up after pesky months like February. Gen X, for the most part, uses tech, but doesn’t depend on it. Because we just don’t trust it.

Maybe it was blowing out the cartridges in the old NES, or was that the Atari… either way, you can do away with the cords, you can add all kinds of apps, you can even give me a solar-powered energy bank capable of recharging my phone three times in a 12 hours period (which I have and it is awesome), but I’ll use tech as I want to use it. For example, In the past hundred downloads to my library, 7 were produced after 2010. The internet, all of it is a tool. Social media? That’s how my mom sees pictures of her grandkids without me having to go to the drug store and have them printed. Facetime? Every time I get a video call request I think, “Who the … and it is always someone Gen Y or newer.” I get it, your phone has more power than the space program when they launched the shuttle… Me? I found my Gameboy the other day and was super stoked – once I blew the dust out of the cartridge.

My dad was standing in the kitchen watching me watch the microwave about thirty-five years ago. I was complaining that my popcorn was taking too long. He put his hand on my shoulders and assured me that I would have never been able to live in the fifties. He had a transistor radio with a little white earpiece… I had that height of musical freedom, the Walkman complete with the orange-foam covered headphones (I have a picture with me sporting cargo pants, my Levi’s jacket with the headphones around my neck… while at a football game and they were in band, yet for some reason I thought it appropriate.

But what my dad taught me about all this “new” stuff (like cable, portable sources) was that it was all a tool. The music helped move you, sure, but take off the headphones to have a conversation. It helps you focus, great, but people five feet away from your head should have to put up with a tinny-sounding rendition of “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Motley Crue, and under no circumstances is it appropriate to sing along. Because despite how I think it sounds, when I belt out, “In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man, now I’ve reached that age I try to do all those things the best I can…”(Good Times, Bad Times – Led Zepplin) It sounds more like the witch from Hanzel and Gretel than the lead singer of Greta Van Fleet. (If you got that reference I am tearing up with pride.)

All that kind of stuff, it was a tool – mainly to keep the kids quiet. Long before there were idiots on YouTube, Jackass was a thing. I just think it’s a good thing that Knoxville made his money early because there are things that even Steve-O wouldn’t do trending as I type. And then we found out they weren’t only human, they were broken long before the branding – and I don’t care how much money Bam paid his parents, if he were my kid he’d of been arrested. And I watch it – so I know that this is probably going to sound weird coming from an admitted Gen X-er that normally cares as much about the boomer v Gen Y thing as I do the color of bricks on a house cross town. But at some point, all this media content went from an external tool to an interior life-blood.

Let’s say, my wife, son and I walk into a restaurant. My wife, who is a photographer, notices all the colors and shades first. How have they made their space more welcoming? Where are the lights focused? Are their pictures on the walls? How are people dressed? These are the things that concern her – God love her.

Me? Does it smell bad and is too noisy to have a conversation? That’s it. I may notice if the waitress has that weird “outlined by a spoon” eye-makeup thing going on, or if she’s doing that “I just came from playing sports outside” smoke-eye thing (that I assume reduces glare). But other than that, I don’t care about other people in public settings apart from church and functions I am expected to attend.

My son? Do they have wi-fi and do we have to stay?

And I look down at him and realize – much as my dad had to help me navigate this stuff, I’ve got to guide him and frankly, I’ve been too busy watching Nitro Circus to have much of an impact (It is the most fascinating combination of daredevil Evil stuff with Jackass stuff, plus Travis dries as Subie – so there you have it.

So, I’ve got to guide him. And not in a “you can’t watch that” way, or he’ll do whatever the modern equivalent of turning the wheels in the VCR tuner to get free Cinemax is (if you get that, again, please comment). I have to guide him, and being a guide is a difficult job. Sure, I’ve been on tours, you know the “and we’re walking, we’re walking, on your right is a prime example of a painting from the DaDa period…” and whatever else is said is immediately lost in my head singing, “Da do-do-do, da da-da-da, that’s all I have to say to you.” It’s not the guide’s fault that my brain is full of songs and makes random connections. If fact, if I hear a song, and sing all night long, it’s a family tradition. I’ve even hired guides to take me deep sea fishing. We found the deep sea… fish, not so much, but it didn’t really matter since I was riding the cover of the engine compartment except when I lumbered to the side to hork chum for the sharkies. As a friend, I’ve tried to guide folks through difficult patches in their lives – but apparently asking, “Ok, so we know the affair was a bad idea now, but just for clarification, WHEN did it seem like a good idea?” isn’t helpful.

So, how am I, an admitted addict of the internet supposed to guide him?

Well, I look to the model parent (that would be God in my view) then I’m supposed to do something called “Na-Hag.” That’s Hebrew and it has a meaning that doesn’t force people to make the right decisions, but rather to lead people to the right decisions. When he was little, I guess the 22:6 Proverb “Train your child up the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it” was a big part of his life, except when it came to electronics. I pretty much handed him a Kindle and said, “Keep the volume down, Daddy’s going to check his messages” and the went on social media or tried to figure out who that actress was that did that movie that one time in the place with that guy from the TV show that was cancelled after a short run when I was a kid, maybe ten. It was about an Indiana Jones guy that flew a sea plane (it was Tales of the Gold Monkey and it was awesome, not to be confused with Black Sheep Squadron that gave us John Laroquette from Night Court and Ed Begley Jr. or that could have been a Mash Episode where he played the cook – or maybe it was both).

Anyway, how am I, the kid raised on a steady diet of television shows supposed to guide a kid who is just like his dad?

By teaching him, it isn’t the life-blood of existence. It is a tool. It’s a library where, unfortunately, everyone not only has a card but also can write books – or blogs of random lengths kvetching about weird things like Biblical Hebrew and I do that knowing that I could be very wrong, because I didn’t take advanced Hebrew classes in seminary because…. honestly I was more interested in playing Rainbow Six with my friend Andy.

It’s by sometimes choosing to use a map and a compass. To show him that their are ways to do things without the phone. It’s to band electronics on the ride to school (which I did) so we have to talk about things. It’s making “after homework, or after 5:30 whichever comes last” a thing for electronics use. It’s by making him budget the time and limiting it to… well, what still seems an absurd amount of time when you see it written down. It’s by understanding that his need for connection to his friends through that damned game is just as important to him as my need to have my huffy in working order to jump ramps with the kids in what was left of the woods after the new development came through. It’s by taking him to help his brothers and sisters move – but it is going to be hard to top when Shawn drove him through Fort Rucker and a Blackhawk helicopter did a slow flyover barely off the deck.

It’s about getting him journals and pens and encouraging him to write stuff down so when the teachers assign creative writing pieces or “what I did over spring break pieces he at east has some notes to help him make something other than “Luke and I played Fourth-Kite until 2am every night!” Even if it’s only, “I tried pears – not a fan.” It’s encouraging him to read and talk about what he’s read, even if it’s “juvenile fiction” that involves the eighth graders ruling their school for a day because they won the soap-box Derby championship (which of course starts a conversation about what a soap is, because it’s foreign to a 12 year old that uses body wash as if it were somehow precious and so finite that he only has 5 ounces to last for his lifetime).

It’s about guiding him until one of us dies. Which is both sad and true, and teaching him that things that are sad can be true, but you don’t have to focus too much on them.

And teaching him that “Is bigfoot a girl” might be ok, with safe-search on, but “girl big foot” is probably not (I checked, it’s definately weird, but “Bigfoot Girl” is apparently a movie staring Kiana Passmore, who is also apparently a recording artist. That’s a big deal, at nineteen she’s managed to be an actress I’ve never heard of and a musician I’ve never heard of either. But since my main musical influence apart from the Wheels on the Bus kids is Lisa Lobe singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” on Amazon… Oh, and if you know her please thank her for me. Also, I’ve never heard a Justin Beiber song, and apparently, he’s a big deal. But I could be wrong about that.

Which is why I won’t be able to guide him about everything, all the time. I’ll teach him how to use the tools of his era, the way my dad referenced the tools of his. But I’ll be as clueless about some of it as he was to “Dungeons and Dragons” (which was going to ruin lives – apparently) or what the heck was so fascinating about two plumbers trying to rescues a princess. And do this day, I still remember him doing the Ed Lover dance in front of one of my dates… uh-huh-uh-huh, let me clear my throat.

But I do know that one day, I’ll probably be having a conversation with my son, just like my dad did with me, and without much fan-fare or hoopla or any of the other words that are more fun to say than to read (try it), I’ll realize that my son will have reached a point where it’s time, and I’ll reach in to my chest-of-drawers and pull out something that may mean a lot more to me than to him, and I’ll give him these things and tell him to take care of them. I’ll give him his grandfather’s compass (he already has his other grandfather’s set of binoculars) and one of my pocket knives (probably not my bad-ass Blackhawk Helicopter seat-belt cutter glass-breaking survival knife I picked up at Fort Rucker (you can read that back and Yee-Hah at the end if you like, I did).

Then we’ll make some breakfast and I’ll show him how to clean and cook with it. And to make sure he pays attention. The wi-fi will be turned off.

May God guide you, guard you and grant you peace – Amen

Articles, Articles Scripture-Based

An Accidental Exile

When I first got the bike, I was convinced I’d be riding to friend’s houses within a few hours, or maybe go camping. In the last few months though, I realize most of what I’ve been doing is getting intentionally “good and lost.” I just find a road and see where it will go. If you ask me where I’ve been, about all I can say is “south of Ohio, north of Tennessee, east of here.” I’m not too particular, because it’s mainly about seeing things that I’d miss in a car. And it all started because of a realization I made a few years ago. My world was re-shrinking way too soon.

My theory is that when we are children our world is small. What we know is usually our house, our church, our school, our neighborhood and where our family lives. Our friends live nearby and we go where we are taken. Then, as we grow up a bit, we learn to drive and leave the neighborhood, our friends are people with similar interests more than addresses, our schools change, and the world gets larger and larger with each step we take… then one day, that stops, and after a while, it starts shrinking.

It starts slowly at first, and is a “fill in the blank” sentence. “__ used to __ but now __ don’t because ___.” For example, “We used to go to the theater but now we don’t because we can’t find a sitter,” or “I used to play golf but now I don’t because I need knee replacement.” If we aren’t careful, no matter what our age, we may find ourselves the victims of a self-imposed but entirely accidental exile.

Two years ago, that’s where I was headed. I’d pretty much perfected the “work-eat-sleep” pattern and it dawned on me that I was either going to have to invest in an Xbox One and learn how to play video games as well as D (who was 10 at the time) or I was going to have to actually make some plans to get away from the bland-beige walls of our apartment, or I was going to turn around and find myself retired and wondering what happened.

So, I decided, by the time I was fifty, I would have a motorcycle. A promise made to myself that I actually kept. And it’s amazing how large the world has become. But, I’ve also learned a valuable lesson. Wherever YOU go – there YOU are. As Canadian musician/motorcyclist Neil Peart put it in (The Healing Road) “You can ride, but you can not hide.” Despite Mr. Peart’s apparent agnosticism, I realized that there is nothing wrong with the size of the world, so long as we remember the majesty of God. THAT’s what I lost in my self-imposed exile, and suddenly I went from reflecting on the front of the psalm to the last passage (my “traveler’s version”).

“I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? It comes from God who made heaven and earth. God will not allow your foot to slip. Do not forget – God does not slumber or sleep. The Lord is your keeper. The Lord is the shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil, God will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.”

This is why I should never try to rewrite/rename scripture. My “traveler’s version” which I had crafted and was proud of, was still lacking in comparison to the “real” version. Because in the psalm, it’s pretty clear. It doesn’t matter if you are staying in, or going out, the Lord will guard you.

If you’re a person whose world is expanding, enjoy the new sights, smells and sounds. If you find yourself in that stage of life where it seems to be simplifying, hold on to what is good and leave behind the things that were not. If you’re somewhere in the middle, then enjoy the new as well as remembering where you’ve been. The Lord is guarding us all, and the Lord does not rest.

May God bless you and keep you –

 

Articles, Articles Scripture-Based

And just like that – nothing was ever the same again

Motorcycle

It’s been six months since my last on-line confession. Because it’s taken me that long to write this. Mainly because it took a wonderful freedom offered by my wife TJ in order for it to happen. And the last vestige of it is in this picture, taken in the fall of 2019. In it, I’m wearing my father’s motorcycle jacket. And it was the last time I wore it to ride. When I picked up my new jacket, I didn’t even know why I was compelled to buy it. But I get it now. And Christmas day, as I slipped down the driveway wearing it for the first time I carried nothing of my past life. Nothing from my father who died in January of 2018, no momento of his years on his own motorcycles. Only in my memory. I now live in a different town, doing a different ministry, with a wife he’d met once. With daughters he never met, a new son as well (we don’t do steps or halfs in this family). Blessings all.

I think I can finally put my finger on it. It started on an afternoon in May, in 2014. The day I told my son that his mother, my wife of seventeen years, had died while he was in school. I went numb and five years later, in May of 2019. One month after marrying TJ, I found the last edge of the hole that had been in me for five years. A hole that is separate from the pain of my second marriage and divorce, and the loss of my father, the perceived betrayal of friends. And only today did I realize, while reading Neil Peart’s description of dealing with his own grief after his daughter and wife died, do I understand it. When I look back, their is a psychological disconnect from “that guy.” I share his training, his memories, his experiences, and no matter the distance, as the drummer extraordinaire explains, “I could ride – but I couldn’t hide.”

And I tried. I tried in a way that was nearly textbook “how not to handle grief.”

I denied it, and went crashing into situation after situation, and enough ink has been spilled about that. I had to get out, I had to look at the man I was and say, “Sorry man, the new volume you thought you started? It was just the postlude to the first part of your story. The next book can only begin when you embrace, not what you were, but the next phase of your life, take with you the things that are good, but leave the bad behind.”

I had to come through it, and I was fortunate that I not only had friends that came back in my life from before I met Lori, but reclaimed friends that knew her before cancer, and those that knew her as she fought for more than the six official years of her diagnosis. People who helped me put the puzzle together, to see each piece as a part of a hole, and truly embrace what it was. A flawed, but ultimately good marriage where vows were lived and God was present. Yes there were struggles, but there were also so many laughs. And closing out the year at her mother’s house, with my son shooting BBs in his grandmother’s yard, seemed a fitting way to reintroduce those two to each other. To take with him the things that were good, and leave the bad behind.

And none of it would be possible if it wasn’t for my wife TJ. Who carries her faith in front of her and demands those around her honor and acknowledge it. Who not only professes the importance of family but backs it up with her actions. There are not halfs or steps in this family. Warrens, Johnsons, Williams, Hohmans, Rollins, Heltons, Clarks, Olszewskis, Bouchers, like it or not, we’re the same family now (and we travel together too). D is overwhelmed, he’s not used to having four brothers and sisters and I don’t think it’s even hit him that he’s an uncle – but that’s ok, mom is still working on the great-grandmother thing. And it is a beautiful thing.

Because it taught me something that made the other guy obsolete. For all the grief that could be carried, there is an overwhelming level of love. For all the sorrow, there is much more joy. If you let it be. And that’s why it’s taken so long to write. Because it wasn’t something that was active, it wasn’t planned, it was simply something that snuck up and overwhelmed.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, in the eighth chapter, verse 18, he writes, “For I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

The people who have claimed the gift of grace are not to be replaced, nor are they to be forgotten, but none of them would wish loneliness or isolation. Lori specifically asked that I find someone that would be a good mother to Donovan (that wouldn’t let him go to Duke). My father spent years in conversation preparing me for the time when he was not. He saw it, on the horizon, and wanted me to be the one to remind the family that as he sailed into the distance, his boat getting smaller with each moment, there was someone on the shores we can not see excited to see his catamaran getting larger, ready to welcome him to the kingdom (a bit of prose that we joked about, for it’s truth and for the level of corny). My grandfather who told his stories, the hundreds of friends that I’ve overseen services for, and for all of those that passed too far away to be visited.

And so, I proclaim to you this truth…

Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance, the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12: 1)

Any loss brings about a moment, where you know, just like that, nothing will be the same again. But do not remove yourself from the love that surrounds you, from the possibility of love coming into your life. For God so loved the world…. and loves you.

May you persevere, until the present sufferings give way to glory, and may it be revealed in a way that leaves no doubt of God’s love for you.

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Satisfaction is my enemy

I figured something out. This came to me while I standing in front of the mirror in my bathroom. I’m not going to rehash particulars, because my mid-life crisis is well documented in way too many blogs. Short version, I was incredibly unsatisfied with my job, my visions of the future, my marriage, my guitar playing, my constant sickness (or depression depending on your point of view), my weight. So, I went on a lengthy, unplanned tear down of everything external. Amicably (as much as possible) divorced, quit my job, started practicing guitar and recently started working out 5 days a week… and that’s when it hit me. For the most part, I was satisfied with my suffering.

How messed up is that? I was satisfied being unhappy. Profoundly unhappy. And worse, it was both external and internal. Yes, my circumstances were not congruent with what I wanted out of life. But in my head, my “voice” wasn’t satisfied with who I was. I was a “good” guy, I was a “good employee” (well, for the most part), I was “good” husband to most eyes, good dad, good… you get the point. But here is the truth. I was “good enough.”

Give credit to God, my parents, my inner-drive, the protestant work ethic, whatever, I was not built for good enough. You can’t support my attitude (ego) with “good enough.” Good enough kills me. Being good enough eats me alive because in my own mind, “I’ll never be good enough.” And that’s the true conflict. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t “suffer” from low self-esteem. I am “blessed” with a drive to be better, an important distinction. I am built to never be satisfied. Improvement is like a drug for me. Personal, interpersonal, professional, spiritual, intellectual improvement is my heroin.

I don’t want to have a “good call” to a “good church.” I want to have a “damn good call” to a “fantastic church.” I don’t want to be a “good dad” I want to be the best dad I can for my great son. I don’t want to be a “good husband.” I want to be the kind of husband to a wife that not only gets me but actually likes me (and the “real” me, not my representative or who I might pretend to be). I want to be smarter, so I’ve got to read good books. I want to play music, dance, sing… live life. I’ve got too many people around me that need “life energy” or “light” to drain them. I want to be the kind of guy that people around me are filled up with substance and light. Charisma? No, Charismatic. Excitable. Eccentric. I want to be able to sit around a table with introverts and discuss books (when they venture out of their houses) and get into a groove with a drummer while I play bass, or play guitar and sing.

I’ve been through darkness, in my own way, and they only way I’ve come through it at all is copious amounts of light and ridiculous amounts of laughter. I will always be surrounded by darkness, I’m not going to light a candle. I’m not going to burn the candle at both ends. I’m going to shine like the sun – a star. I wasn’t built for “good enough.” If there is something that I have to “own” that’s it. I wasn’t made for mediocrity.

And neither were you.

If you’re going to sing – sing out loud.
If you’re going to play – then have fun.
If you’re going to dance – then let it fly.
If you’re going to study – then learn and share, don’t keep it to yourself.
If you’re going to speak – then share, do not judge.
If you’re going to keep accounting tables – then be immaculate.

What I’m trying to say is don’t be “good enough.” Good is the enemy of great (read that on a poster somewhere), and I want to be great (in my own way). So, you too can be exemplary. Be better than you were yesterday (the only you can really compete with), start with the attitude that you’re already good (thus addressing the self-esteem issue) – but you can be better (addressing the satisfaction issue) – and then put in the work (which ends up solving both!).

And that’s why this came to me in the mirror. One of the last (hopefully) competitions in my head is my weight. Truthfully, my fitness level, part of which my weight is a problem. I don’t like the way I look before. Now, I know I’ll never look like Keanu Reeves (for starters his hair is the wrong color) but I’m comfortable enough to say I think that guy is attractive (and the lifestyle, musician, bass player, etc. adds layers of cool. Or Brad Pitt (his eyes are blue). But I can look better. I’d just stepped off the scale and lost a “few” pounds this week. I was starting to feel down. Then I measured my mid-section and learned that my belly was smaller than it was 13 days ago (DDPYoga baby!) and I started to get all excited. Then it hit me, why? Why did one number make me sad and the other make me happy? Because one wasn’t as much as I wanted. The other was more than expected. I wasn’t satisfied with one, but was with the other. But here is what I did.

I went to the kitchen and grabbed a gallon bottle of milk and a half-gallon of orange juice. I put those in a backpack, put that backpack on backwards (on ma belly! so jelly!) for a bit. I sat down on the couch and watched TV, then went to the kitchen and ate my breakfast with that stuff on. I started collecting laundry – grooving to some music. I’m wearing it at my computer right now. It’s cumbersome, it’s in my way and it keeps slipping off my shoulders (to be grabbed by my tiny-tiny arms). It is absolutely ridiculous and makes me laugh.

But here is the point – that’s how much weight I’ve lost. All of a sudden, I’m not “satisfied,” I’m in the same zip code as giddy. It’s not “good enough,” Because my own goal is a lot more. So that means same level of focus with MORE work.

And that’s what I’ve figured out. I wasn’t built to be satisfied with good enough.
I was built good already, now it’s time to work to make things better.

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A Letter to My Younger Self (My Inner Child Needs a Better Parent)

Hey Kid,
I’d tell you to stop being such a jerk, and be careful of hurting other people, but you don’t listen and probably stopped reading about [here]. But if you were to read this as a kid, just before Jr. High (now middle school) this is what I would tell you (no spoilers).

Running your mouth is eventually going to lead to you getting the stuffing kicked (literally) out of you at some point. But your mouth is going to be your “money-maker” in almost every job/career/call you choose. You have a power to tear people down or build people up. Have more “up” days than down ones.
You’re going to have a “pre-life” crisis. You are going to freak out and put all kinds of stress on yourself because you think that you have to “get it right” or the rest of your life is going to be following a path that you didn’t want to go down. Guess what, you’re going to make major changes in your life every couple years for about a decade. So stop trying to lock yourself down to one thing or another. In twenty years, most of those incredibly hard decisions are going to turn out to be unimportant. Sorry – that’s just life.

Your life is not a contest with anyone else, but it is going to be complicated. Because life is always going to throw stuff at you, some of it is hard, some of it is heavy and pointy and it’s going to leave scars. Sorry kid, I know you wanted the rock-star lifestyle of easy, fame and money – but your guitar heroes in my time, well, some of them are dead. Most have been through rehab, lost fame, and you’re not working very hard anyway, take some lessons. But seriously, you are always going to be facing something. Sorry, but that’s the truth. You can’t protect yourself from it, and you can’t walk away from most of it. So, make it your business to take care of your business. Don’t let the piles of dirt that fall into your days build up, they are very hard to move from place-to-place and once they become a hill or a mountain it takes forever to get rid of them. This is the fight of your life. This is everybody’s fight for life, but the sooner you get that, the better off you’ll be.
The fight for your life begins between your ears. You’ve got a decision to make – and the sooner you make it, the better it will go for you. Are you worth fighting for? Hate to bring it up, but I know there is a good chance right now, you don’t feel like you are. I don’t remember why, and it has yet to make sense, but right now you’re pretty messed up in the way you think. So let me help – you are going to live. I know it doesn’t feel like it. But I’m the older you – you’re going to live. Because deep in the recesses of your brain and your heart, below those thoughts that tell you otherwise, you actually like yourself and other people. But the problem is – you’ve got the order backwards.

I know, people are telling you that you are self-centered. Here’s a little hint: You are supposed to be. You are not supposed to be selfish. There is a difference. Selfish is putting yourself above other people, self-centered is what you are when you’re trying to work stuff out, and you have a lot of stuff to work out. You have to figure out who you are man, and so is everyone else.

Right now, you’re trying NOT to be selfish, even though you are, and like everyone else, always will be to a point. But not looking at yourself, figuring your own stuff out, you’re an empty suit of armor. People see you and think well of you, but they don’t see what is inside. That’s living a lie. You’ve got to fill the suit. You can have the greatest shining armor, people see it and admire it, but you’re going to be empty until you figure out the person inside. You’re never going to be able to accept praise for the armor AND most importantly, it’s heavy, takes a lot of maintenance and it’s not going to protect you. Plus, while you’re out fighting other people’s battles, the suit is going to fill up with nonsense that you just have to clean out.

While I’m on the subject. You are going to develop a hatred of suits. But for you, today, I want you to look at what you’re wearing and I’m going to make an observation, “You aren’t a real rebel if you dress, act, talk, walk just like all your friends.” That’s conformity. Sorry to say this young punk – but the stuff you’re doing that makes you a rebel was done by kids ten years before you, and will be done ten years after you. Want to be a rebel, do your homework.
I know it’s boring. I hate it too. But here is something you will learn. Repetition (like practicing scales) is the child of self-discipline, the mother of learning and the father of success. And relying on people outside of yourself to discipline you? It’s foolish, because they won’t always be around. Pick up your room, make your bed, go to work, not because someone else says you have to, but learn self-discipline. Trust me, if you do that now, you won’t have to reform your life in your forties. And here is the thing, it’s not your parent’s fault. God knows they tried, you’ll eventually appreciate it, but it isn’t up to them. It’s the choice you make between your ears.
When you fill the suit, you’re find out that the “enemy” is between your ears. All that negative self-talk, all that emotional weight, is there because YOU will make the active choice to carry it. Sure, it may have been FROM what happened to you, but if you keep it on your shoulders, it’s because you chose to bring it forward.
Here is a great secret of life kid, pay attention, people are always going to say negative things about you. If you’re doing something, you’re doing it wrong, or it’s not the right thing to do. If you’re not doing anything, then you are lazy. But, just like you figured out that your teacher’s opinion of you doesn’t really matter, you’ve got to thicken your skin to those people – and what they say is more of a reflection of themselves (things they don’t like about themselves or things they fear) or their own way of wearing the suit to cover up who they really are. Fight for yourself between your ears, and ANY of that negative stuff that comes in, either confront it or discard it, but one way or another put it behind you as fast as you can. You will struggle with this your entire life. But the weight of it all will only wear you down day to day if you decide to pick it up in the morning.

Which is why your safe-zone is about as safe as three-mile island (later Chernobyl). You’re building a blanket of negative self-talk and pain to carry with you. It’s comfortable, it’s well-known, and it isn’t a blanket. It’s an anchor – and that’s why you’re going to go a bit crazy for your mid-life crisis (you still don’t get a Corvette or Ferrari). Your inner-child is a bastard who is five times greedy and ten times needy, and the only person on this earth that can parent that little sucker is you. Your inner child needs a better parent. You’re going to have to do that. Don’t put it off for later because one other issue you’re going to deal with is that your “today” Rob is going to despise your “yesterday” Rob because he was such an idiot.

Look man, I know this is long, and doesn’t include any spoilers about sports-betting (did I mention, no time-machines) but it’s important. You are going to develop a unique ability to self-deceive. And the great part about that is, everything you say to other people, because it doesn’t come from truth, is going to be a lie. And your lies are going to hurt others, deeply, and you’re not going to even know you’re doing it. Because you’re so focused on the armor, no one gets to look inside. And that is going to be lonely.

So, when you’re in your mid to late forties, you’re going to have the dumbest mid-life crisis ever. You’re going to correct mistakes you knew you were making when you made them. You’re going to strip your life to the bones and then rebuild it. You’re going to raise your inner child in a very short period of time. And most importantly – you’re going to find happiness.

Not just in God, not just in a person, not just in a gig, not just in habits that you will change and wonder why you didn’t change before. You’re going to mess up, but it’s going to be ok. You are, believe it or not, going to live long enough to change your mind about a lot of things (Bill Cosby and Bruce Jenner in particular). And everything you believe about life, the future and everything is going to turn out to be wrong.

So do me a favor.

Relax. Your life hasn’t even started yet.

Do not start smoking again. Get some exercise and for the love of all that is holy, try to eat better.

Tell mom and dad you love them every day. You have no idea how important that will become later. And tell Sheryl she’s the best sister a guy could have, because she rarely lied, and when she did it was about parabolic cylinders and you will eventually stop caring about those.

Stop pining for the girl, redefining for the other one and when you meet her (you’ll know when) marry THAT girl. It’s going to break your heart but get you ready for what comes next.

Don’t stay too long and never go back to where you were before. Learn to let the past be dust, yearn for the future’s dream and work every day to make it happen.

Remember the words of your dad, and do not limit your possibilities.

Be kind to yourself, treat yourself the way you want others to treat you (because that way if no one cares enough to take care of you, you can do it yourself).

Fill the empty suit, and if you have to wear a suit, get a good tie.

Treat every single girl/woman that was kind enough to spend time with you, crush on you or just be nice to you with respect. Most of all, the ones that do not want to date you will end up good friends – do not violate that friendship, because thirty+ years later, some of them are your friends years later and while they may not introduce you to people to date (because secretly you’re their plan B because even though you’re a mess, you’re a hot mess) they will help you get your head together when you go all “piney”

Do not worry about someone else’s preferences of partners or politics, but learn what their favorite drink is, having it on hand shows class.

Write man, every day, and let other people read it. Their opinions may help you thicken your skin.

Articles

The Summersayin Family (One illustration for Six Sermons)

The Summersayin Family

Once upon a time there was a pastor named Kenneth. Ken was a bright young man and was more than excited to accept a new position as a solo pastor at the Watershed Community of Faith Church. The people learned quickly that he was a strong preacher and they had passed through their first year largely without incident. But towards the end of the first year, “that boy pastor” Ken started to notice something odd.

It seemed every month a new problem was bring brought to the board by the Summersayin family. In twelve months, He’d never met the Summersayins, but they were apparently powerful. And the Monday after his anniversary the elders were once again dealing with the concerns of the Summersayins. Pastor Ken started to doubt his work there and it took the fire right out of his preaching and the energy out of him being a pastor. After his second anniversary the board came to him and let him know that the Summersayins were thinking it might be time for him to move on.

Now, Ken was a very hard-headed kind of pastor. He loved that church, and he loved those people, and he didn’t mind that it had a short steeple and it seemed like everyone, except the Summersayins liked him. So he started seeking them out, and he couldn’t find out any of the Summersayin’s names. They weren’t on the roll, they weren’t on the attendance sheets, and according to the giving records, they’d never given anything to the church. He even went to the courthouse and he couldn’t find one single Summersayin’ in the county.

Yet, every month, when the board met, the Summersayins were still concerned about everything from planting seeds for grass outside to planting seeds of faith all over the county. So, as soon as the board got happy with his preaching and pastoring, he asked them to support a policy that any complaint had to be presented in person or at least in writing signed by the people that were concerned.

February came and Behold! Not a single Summersayin’ concern. There were concerns that came from the members of the church and the Board dealt with them accordingly.

March came and “Look here!” (a rough translation of behold) there were a couple of members with an idea for a summer festival to be held on the church grounds, including a tent, visiting preachers, dinner and hopefully some baptisms.

In April, the Reverend Kenny noticed that he didn’t get nervous before worship anymore and he was genuinely excited to come to church.

By September, Pastor Ken didn’t feel nervous before Board meetings anymore, apparently the Summersayins had left the church and it didn’t affect attendance or giving, But the whole mood of the church had changed.

Even the Beenheresawhile were active, and the Newcomers were helping out. Sure, they’d disagree over the taste of salt, but they never held it against each other in the fellowship hall.

After his third anniversary, Ken saw that the church had started doing new things, and while they didn’t work out all the time, there were no Summersayins around to tell them it wouldn’t work because they tried before in 1974. There were just people getting excited, serving in new ways, and they trusted each other that whatever strange idea they had, at least it was for the good of the church and the furtherance of God’s kingdom. And the board took care of it’s people, because everyone knew the names of the people trying to help the church, and how to comfort them when they didn’t get their way, even when they disagreed with preacher.

Over the next 23 years, Pastor Ken thought about moving on a couple times, but when he talked to other churches, it seemed the Summersayins had moved in and he’d already been through that once. Watershed CoF was no longer afraid to make them mad, or disappoint them, or say no. He already served a church that didn’t let the Summersayins steal energy from the mission of God, or direct the church anonymously, and he knew how rare a church that was – and when you find it, you don’t let it go without God speaking clearly.
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Can you find all six sermons intentionally written into this story?