How to Appreciate the Precious Gifts of Time and Love

Time and love are gifts that ought never be taken for granted. I was reminded of this watching a short clip of the Little League World Series. You can watch the clip here. A coach, who also happened to be the father of the pitcher in the game, came out to the mound simply to tell his son he loved him. The kid was struggling a little bit with his pitching, but his dad wanted him to know what was most important. Get the tissues ready when you watch it.

Baseball

The clip hit close to home. I coached baseball for thirteen years. Our son was on every one of the teams that I coached. I have to admit that there were times that I was harder on him than other members of the team. I overcompensated to show them and their parents that there would be no nepotism or favoritism.

But the one reason I coached all those years was so that I could spend quality time with my son. I’ll never forget all the time we had in the car on the way to and from games to talk about things (or to simply sit quietly). I will always treasure the trips to Culver’s after the games with the rest of the team. No one could ever take away from us the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, we had as coach and player for the same team.

That dad on the mound of the Little League World Series reminded me just how much I love my son and just how quickly time slips away. The last game we had together as coach and player was a loss in our area high school playoffs. It was heart breaking. There were tears shed (yes, even my own). It was the end of an era.

Now our son lives nearly eleven hours away from us. We talk on the phone almost every day, but it’s much more difficult to go out in the front yard and throw the baseball around. Next time we get together we’re going to have to make it a point to do that.

Time and love are precious gifts. Here’s how to appreciate them:

  1. Do like the Little League coach and tell the people you love that you do. Say it out loud. Even if it’s in the middle of the Little League World Series on the pitchers mound.
  2. Be mindful of appreciating each day. Sure, there may be arguments or disagreements, but at the end of the day love still remains. Before you know it the little catcher behind the plate will be getting married.
  3. Honor the people you love with the gift of time. It’s a greater commodity than money, riches, or things. Time spent together can never be taken away. Toys break and money gets spent. Memories last forever.
  4. Receive time and love as the gifts that they are. When people want to give you those things, don’t deny them the opportunity. They should be treasured above all other earthly things.
  5. Be generous with time and love. There is far too little of either of them in this world. You can never give too much time or love to those near and dear…and even those not so near and dear. The gift of those two things could just change lives and relationships.

How will you intentionally appreciate the gifts of time and love today?

The Miracle That Is Facebook Live

If you have been on Facebook at all you have no doubt seen Facebook Live. Social media experts use it. Marketers use it. Celebrities use it. And our church uses it.

On the Computer

At our church we studied Greg Finke’s book: Joining Jesus on His Mission. The book reminds us that God has placed us in our particular neighborhoods to be everyday missionaries of the Gospel. One of the suggestions the book makes is to create missional communities in geographic locations. The idea is to gather people together in areas of close proximity to help and support one another as they share the love of Jesus.

One of the married couples in our congregation saw a problem with that. They recognized that with three children, two full time jobs, and a home that was a decent distance away from church, they’d have a hard time joining together in any real, live community groups on any consistent basis. So they took matters into their own hands. They decided they were going to use the technology available to them.

Enter Facebook Live. Every Tuesday night this married couple gathers together with potentially eighty other people for a time of devotion, discussion, and prayer. Technology has allowed all of these people to virtually be in one place at one time. It has become wildly popular and very successful with members of our congregation who find themselves in similar predicaments.

Throughout the week the leaders of the group ask questions and participants respond. The group stays in touch all week. In addition, if people can’t make the “live event,” they can watch a replay whenever they want.

Technology is a true gift of God. In reality, everything is a gift of God. It is only human beings that corrupt the things God gives. So why not use God’s gifts for the good of His kingdom? Technology is certainly often used for evil. But I’m thanking Him that members of our own congregation have seen the benefits of using it for good.

Facebook Live draws people together from vast distances. It allows people to watch after the live event is over. It provides tools for interaction as the event is going on. It creates community where once there was none.

How do you use technology for good?

When You Get That One Feeling That’s Hard to Describe

As human beings we are separated by much of the rest of creation by one thing. We experience emotions. Human beings are often beset by a nuanced feeling that might never be experienced by the animal kingdom. We are unique. The feeling we get when we experience emotion travels through our bodies, occupies our minds, and washes over our spirits.

Emotion

The Rio Olympics reminded the world once again of Bossa Nova and a favorite song. The Girl from Ipanema brought Bossa Nova into renown around the world and gave us all a song that defines an emotion that’s hard to describe. You can listen to it here. The Portuguese language has a word for that indescribable emotion: Saudede (It’s pronounced saw-DA-jay).

Wikipedia describes Saudade like this:

Saudade was once described as “the love that remains” after someone is gone. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (e.g., one’s children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence. It brings sad and happy feelings altogether, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling.

When you hear The Girl from Ipanema don’t you experience that feeling? If not that song, I bet you experience it when you hear another. Maybe it’s the song the two of you call your song. Perhaps it’s the song that takes you straight back to the stands of your high school football game on a crisp, fall evening. It may be a song that was playing the day you graduated from college. Whatever song it was, it gives you saudade.

 I often experience that feeling when I witness a sunset. It’s a happy sadness. I also get saudade when I think about the shows I appeared in over the years. When I was very young my dad made me Tiny Tim in a production of A Christmas Carol. I was bitten by the acting bug and didn’t stop performing until just a number of years ago. Every show ended with a happy sadness of what we had all achieved both as individuals and together as a company.

These days my saudade seems more focused on the people who are close to me. I reminisce about that day we dropped our daughter off at kindergarten for the first time. My thoughts turn to watching our son squat behind home plate in catcher’s equipment that was too big for his little frame. I think about that first day my wife and I called ourselves “empty nesters.”

God created us to be emotional beings. I say we embrace those emotions and appreciate it when saudade overcomes us. It’s part of being human. Experiencing saudade means that we are fully alive. And music plays a big part of that.

When do you most experience the feeling of saudade?

The Incredible Impact of Getting to Know People Better

We have a friend who is a fantastic teacher. Katie writes a hilariously honest blog at night and passionately teaches eighth-graders during the day. Although I’ve never been in her classroom I can tell you that I would be thrilled to have my own children in her classroom. She gets to know intimately her students right at the beginning of the year. I would want a teacher who wants to know my child.

Classroom

Here’s what Katie asks her students during the first week of class:

What’s one thing you would like Mrs. Brown to know about you:

Isn’t that a great question for a teacher to ask? It’s even greater when you see the honest responses of her students. They provided responses like:

  • I’m not the best at notes
  • I am a bit shy, but as the year goes forward I will get more comfortable
  • I need to be pushed
  • I have a twin sister
  • I love animals and I try really hard but I am not the smartest
  • I lost my dad six months ago, so sometimes I get really moody

Isn’t it amazing how honest kids can be when they are asked an honest question? An immediate trust is formed between teacher and student. The teacher can deal with each student with a greater sensitivity.

As I read that question, and those responses, it made me wonder what might happen if everyone had the opportunity to answer those questions. If you went to work and your boss asked you that question, how would you answer? If you went to church and your pastor asked you that question, how would you answer? If someone in your circle of friends asked you that question, how would you answer?

I can only imagine how we would treat people differently if we knew their answer to this question. The impact would be incredible. We would be more kind. We would be more understanding. People would, perhaps, go the extra mile to help someone out.

In the end, you never know the struggles someone might be facing. So why don’t we ask? And even if we don’t ask, or don’t know, let’s give people the benefit of the doubt and treat them with love, respect, understanding, and second chances.

What’s one thing you would like me to know about you? It’s just between you and me… 😉

What Does It Mean to Be Fully and Creatively Alive? (A Free Excerpt of My New Book)

My new book, Fully and Creatively Alive: How to Live a More Joyfully Creative Life, is in the very last stages of pre-production. Since it will be releasing very soon I want to give you a glimpse into the book itself. My hope is that the book will inspire you to live a life that makes you feel as though you are more alive than you have ever been before…

Alive

Here’s a small, free excerpt from my book:

Seth Godin’s definition of art is that it is a personal gift that changes the recipient. Adopting that definition will allow you to understand that there is always an artistic alternative in life. In its pursuit many discover a life that’s fully and creatively alive. Many also discover that they themselves have been changed.

So what does it mean to be fully and creatively alive? It means living a life that’s fulfilling, enriching, always growing, doing what you love (most of the time), while loving and helping other people get to a place where they, too, live a life that is fully and creatively alive.

Being fully and creatively alive begins with an understanding that the Creator God has created you to be creative. Don’t give me any of that “right brain” and “left brain” stuff. (There is most certainly legitimacy to it, but hang with me and see where I’m going with this…) I’ve seen engineers and mathematicians who are just as creative with their equations as a painter is with a palette.

Yes, God has created us in different and unique ways. Some are more naturally creative in the sense of being artistic in the way most of the world understands art. But when you understand that art is a personal gift that changes the recipient, think about the way in which scientists have created medications that change a hospital patient by bringing her back to health.

I had an audio technician change my life for the better. He installed speakers in the ceilings throughout our home and connected it to a whole house audio system. I was changed when I witnessed professional actors who were far better than I could ever hope to be present Shakespeare’s most gruesome play, Titus Andronicus. I grew an appreciation for Shakespearian language and Shakespearian acting.

But I wasn’t the only one who was changed in the process. Our son, Ben, was in seventh grade and happened to be the only child in the production. His life was changed when he saw two of the guys in the cast messing with their guitars backstage. It was at about the same time that he first picked up a guitar, grew to love it and is now attempting life as a professional musician. Being a part of that production also enabled Ben to find comfort in front of crowds, begin to learn the skill of acting, and pick up the discipline of learning lines, taking direction and picking up cues.

What is it that’s making you feel fully alive today?

Why Milwaukee Is Much More Than the Violence You See On TV

Milwaukee is getting bad press. Another officer involved shooting has ignited violence in my hometown. It’s heartbreaking to watch. My family and I lived, worked, and went to school in the very same neighborhood you’re seeing burn on TV. I’m scared and sad for my friends who still live and serve there.

Neighborhood

The Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee exemplifies the diversity much of the rest of the city lacks. Anglos, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Orthodox Jews all live together in a neighborhood named for the large city park it borders. It’s a neighborhood lined with a canopy of tall trees and beautiful, old homes. The bungalow we lived in was built in 1938.

For decades Sherman Park was the neighborhood where people knew and helped one another. Kids played together in the streets. Families walked to one of the many churches in the area. There were grocery stores, bowling alleys, bakeries, parks, and restaurants. There was a feeling of togetherness and unity.

That started to change when white people unfortunately moved out to the suburbs. African-American people began to move in. In some parts of Milwaukee neighborhoods found it difficult to retain quality of living. But in Sherman Park people continued to take pride in their homes and property. Sherman Park embraced the diversity.

The people who lived in our community took a great deal of pride in it. They still do. It’s people from other parts of town that came into Sherman Park to violently react to the officer involved shooting.

The people I know there would never do this. While I lived there we worked together to bring unity from diversity. We loved each other. We knew each other. We sat across tables from one another and actually spoke with one another. (Side note: It’s amazing what happens when people actually speak — and listen — to one another.)

The people I know there are the ones who were out in the neighborhood this morning cleaning up. They came together: black, white, hispanic, and Orthodox Jew to do what they’ve always done. They helped and served each other. They said with their actions: “Not in our neighborhood.”

It’s a scary time for the people of my old community. Who knows what will happen in the coming days and weeks.

I, for one, want to believe that Milwaukee will recover. I’m not so sure it can happen. But if the people I know from Sherman Park and the surrounding areas have anything to say about it: the city I love won’t go down without fighting the good fight. My hometown is much, much more than the violence you see on TV.

When have you felt your community was getting a bad rap?

7 Things About the Rio Olympics That Make Me Say “Wow!”

Admit it. You’ve been watching the Rio Olympics every chance you get. If you happen to be home during the day they replace the awful stuff that’s usually there. Truth be told, they’re also replacing the awful stuff that gets shown at prime time.

Olympics

For my money, there’s no more compelling story than the story of competition. It takes place in real time and you don’t know the outcome until it happens. Multiply that a hundred fold and you know why the Olympics are so popular.

But as I have watched the Olympics I have found myself saying “Wow!” over and over again. Here’s why:

  1. Rio is beautiful. Yeah, yeah. I know there are all kinds of problems. There is certainly pollution. I know about the poverty. We ought not overlook that. But have you seen those panoramic shots? Have you feasted your eyes on Copacabana Beach? Did you see the countryside during the bicycling competitions? Rio is now on my list of places I’d like to go. Wow!
  2. Bicycling is dangerous. I’m a bicyclist and I’ve had my share of close calls. But they were nothing compared to the crashes in both the men’s and women’s events. The long road races were extremely compelling without the accidents. Once the accidents started taking place they became even more compelling. …And those close finishes! Wow!
  3. Swimming is exciting. This is another sport in which I participated. In high school I swam butterfly, individual medley, and freestyle. Swimming put me in the best shape of my entire life. In high school swimming was a sport not many students came to watch. They didn’t know what they were missing. To me there isn’t anything much more exciting than a race that ends with hundredths of seconds between the contenders. Have you seen Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Cody Miller, and Ryan Lochte? Wow!
  4. I will never understand how kayakers do what they do. In a raging current they navigate through poles hanging down. Sometimes they even go under water and spin the whole kayak around. (How do they hold their breath through all of that?) Wow!
  5. The reaction time of volleyball players is off the charts. I’ve played my fair share of backyard and intramural volleyball. It makes me appreciate even more what those players can do. Digging the ball out of the net, blocking shots that are coming at who-knows-how-many miles per hour, and driving the ball down into an open area on the floor keep me amazed shot after shot. Wow!
  6. Competition is a good thing. Controversial decisions were made prior to these games that allowed participants who had been doping to take part in their events. Much of that came to a head in the Women’s 100 Meter Breast Stroke race between American Lilly King and Russian Yulia Efimova. You can read all about that here, but the way King handled it was controversial. I, for one, think she handled it correctly. At any rate, competition brings out both good and bad. You see how it brings out the best in Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky. They rise to the occasion. Cheating and doping is the worst of competition. But it almost always comes out in the end. All in all, the incredibly close competition between world class athletes makes me say: Wow!
  7. Where else do the nations come together like this? Did you happen to see the North Korean and South Korean gymnast take a selfie together? Where else could that have happened? Though their countries are bitter enemies, these are just two girls trying their best to score well and strive for medals. They see one another as human beings, not as political machines. Wow!

What is it about the Olympics that makes you say “Wow!”?

The One Thing Your Pastor (Or Anyone Else) Loves to Hear

Today I had lunch with one of the members of our church. At the end of the conversation I heard something that any pastor would love to hear. No matter your job or station in life, I bet you’d love to hear it, too. It’s an open-ended question that deserves an honest response.

Toe to Toe

The words I heard were in the form of a question: 

Is there anything I, or my wife, can do to help you or our church?

The key to this question is that it was said in all sincerity. It was not flippant. The question was not asked hoping that there would be no response. It was asked in expectation that there would be some kind of request or answer.

Although I shouldn’t have been, I was taken a bit aback by the question. I didn’t have a ready response. I said that I would let him know if there ever is anything. And I will.

I will because I know from history that the person who asked the question is ready, willing, and able to help. The key here is history. When someone backs up their words with actions in the past it’s a pretty good indicator that it will happen again in the future.

I can’t tell you how much easier my daily work would be if I had more people asking this question more often. I myself often think the question, and ponder how I can help others. But I don’t ask it nearly as often as I should. In other words, it helps to speak it out loud to people.

If I appreciate it, I know others must appreciate it as well. 

Here are my lessons from this little question at lunch today:

  1. Be ready with an answer when someone asks you what they can do for you.
  2. Make a commitment to ask this question more often: “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

How can you help someone today?

When Was the Last Time You Solved an Interesting Problem?

Since it’s back to school time it’s also time to rethink education. Seth Godin reminds us that education needs to be completely reformed. The schooling that our nation utilizes today was invented in the industrial age when factories needed compliant workers. Sit in your seats. Follow directions. Regurgitate what you learned in the text book. But in the new connection economy, Seth says, the best thing kids can learn is how to solve an interesting problem.

School

Can you imagine what it would be like if kids would be disappointed with snow days?  What if children would look forward to going to school so that they could continue the work on a problem they had left behind the previous day? Instead of providing answers teachers could keep on introducing new problems. Then they would lead and guide students to make discoveries on their own.

When was the last time you intentionally solved an interesting problem? The problems adults usually face are of the more serious kind. We don’t like to introduce problems into our lives. We’d rather get rid of them. It’s rare that we see a problem as “interesting.”

But just think about what it would be like if you would seek out interesting problems. Imagine how you would feel when you come to a creative solution for something you’ve always been curious about. What if you would keep your eyes open for problems that need a solution…problems that no one else has yet figured out?

Here are some ideas:

  • How can we make health care cheaper?
  • What’s an easier way for more people to write books?
  • How can churches be more effective at outreach?
  • What’s a more effective way for people to lose weight and keep it off?
  • How can people follow through on all of their goals?
  • What’s a better way for musicians to sell their music?

A problem is not something to fear or flee. A problem should be embraced. Even if it isn’t completely solved it can lead to discoveries. It will stimulate creativity. Free time will be filled with energy toward making something new.

It’s good for kids. And it’s good for adults. 

How can you embrace more interesting problems in your life?

Why There Is Never a Reason to Be Bored

Every so often as I scroll through my Facebook feed I’ll see a statement like this: “I’m so bored. I have nothing to do.” I think to myself: How can that be? Boredom hasn’t been a part of my life in years and years. I don’t even know how it’s possible to be bored. What must you be lacking if you are bored?

Bored

But let’s just say that you find yourself bored. What would you do? Here are 25 suggestions:

*Hint: If you click on the hyperlinks you might find a few surprises…

  1. Read the Bible
  2. Set a goal.
  3. Do some research.
  4. Start a simple business.
  5. Create a blog.
  6. Write in a journal.
  7. Dive down a worm hole on the internet.
  8. Watch a movie.
  9. Go for a walk, jog, or bike ride.
  10. Write a handwritten note to someone.
  11. Get an early start on Christmas shopping.
  12. Help a friend.
  13. Get a head start on some work.
  14. Make a gourmet meal (even if you never have before).
  15. Learn Photoshop (it’s such a marketable skill these days!).
  16. Take an online class (cheap!).
  17. Volunteer at your church.
  18. Read a book.
  19. Curate a song list on Spotify.
  20. Organize your closet and donate old clothes to charity.
  21. Play a game.
  22. Create some art (poetry, painting, or drawing).
  23. Plant some flowers.
  24. Get together with a friend.
  25. Tell your mom you love her.

What would you add to this list?