Magic Moments Delivered by Yellow Envelopes

The mail has become very important for us these days. Our daughter’s wedding invitations went out in early July. Now every day we anxiously go the the mail box looking for little yellow envelopes that contain replies to the wedding.

HiRes copy

More than an avalanche, it has been a trickle. Each day we get one, or two, or maybe three replies. All the while I’m anxiously wanting to figure out what will be the bottom line. How much money will come out of my pocket to provide our guests with a nice evening and a fun party to celebrate Ashlyn and Josh bringing their two lives together?

But the trickle of tiny envelopes is a reminder to me that this is yet another special season of life. The march of the postal parcels will soon enough give way to the march of the beautiful bride down the aisle. So for now, it is well enough to take one day at a time and enjoy hearing from friends and family all across the country.

From the very beginning my wife, Tammy, and I have always made certain to appreciate each season of our children’s lives. We cherished the

  • tiny fingers and first teeth
  • frosting-faced kids eating first birthday cakes
  • the transition from tricycle to bicycle
  • preschool and kindergarten
  • school days and little league
  • talent shows and birthday parties
  • homework and report cards
  • high school friends filling the house
  • baseball games and main stage plays
  • senior awards and graduation
  • picking a college and moving away
  • far away phone calls and long evening drives

And now a wedding.

Time is a gift from God that never stops…and never stops giving. Though we often take it for granted, and sometimes wish it away, every day time gives us moments that are magic if we just open our eyes.

So I’m going to enjoy heading to the mail box for the next few weeks. And when I take out a tiny yellow envelope, I will think of the wonderful moments leading up to this one. And I will look forward to the many more that are yet to come.

What is it that reminds you of magic moments in time?

Have a Coke and a…Smile

Someone gave me a Coke, and it made me smile. No, really. It did.

closeup of smile with white teeth

A couple of weeks ago at church, one of our younger members walked up to me after the service and handed me a Coke. It was one of those “share a Coke” bottles that had my name on it. It said: “Share a Coke with Tom.”

I smiled.

Relationship Counselor, and author, Gary Chapman says that people express and receive love in five different languages

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Receiving Gifts
  4. Quality Time
  5. Physical Touch

I took the quiz a while ago and found out that my “love language” is Receiving Gifts. It means I like to show my love by giving gifts, and I feel very loved when I receive gifts.

My young friend didn’t know it, but with her thoughtful little gift she made me feel loved. It was more special to me than she probably even knew. I haven’t been able to drink the Coke from the bottle. I just like looking at it on my desk. No matter how small the token, it’s a reminder that someone thought of me.

All this made me wonder how many simple opportunities we all pass up every day to do something, no matter how small, to show someone that he or she is loved and appreciated. Maybe you don’t know what someone’s “love language” is, but you could certainly use one of the five to show someone attention and appreciation today.

Notice something someone is doing and “affirm” her.

Offer to take some work or a chore off of his hands.

Give a small gift.

Spend more than a passing moment. Sit for a moment and really listen.

Give a hug or pat a back.

Or share a Coke with a friend whose name is on the bottle.

I bet they’ll smile.

An Important Lesson from the Life, and Death, of Robin Williams

I am often in the minority when it comes to this type of thing. It seems that celebrities over whom much of society fauns are least on my list of favorites. I was never much of a Robin Williams fan. It’s tough to trust someone who, in interviews, never gives a straight answer. I was uncomfortable with the fact that I could never really tell who Robin Williams was as a person. His comedy seemed a bit too bizarre, too off-kilter for me (as I said, I realize I’m in the minority).

Robin Williams star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Having said that, Robin Williams starred in what is probably my favorite movie of all time: Dead Poets Society. Though it makes me cry every time I see it, I cry because it touches me and moves me to the core. It reminds me of the kind of teacher my father was: creative, against the grain, memorable. It ignites in me my creative spirit. It shows the importance of freedom for creativity and the value of a caring mentor. When he wanted to be, Robin Williams was a great actor.

There is no doubt that Robin Williams’ life “mattered.” Just witness the outpouring on Twitter, Facebook, Television, and all other media upon news of his death. His life and career had an impact on millions upon millions of people.

And now, maybe even more so.

I have lately been doing a great deal of contemplating over the phrase: “Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” No doubt, Robin Williams was fighting his own battles as is evidenced in the news reports regarding his recent (and not so recent) life. People have treated me in ways that show they have no idea the battles I face, and I’m certain I have treated people in ways that show I have no idea the battles they face.

If Robin Williams’ death will remind us that we all face battles, maybe, at least for a time, we will all be a bit more kind. Perhaps we will put the best construction on everything. Maybe we’ll stop talking about people in unkind ways and stabbing them in the back. Perhaps we’ll listen harder, have more compassion, and get people the help they really need when they need it.

No, Robin Williams wasn’t my favorite comedian or actor. But his troubled life and untimely death are an important lesson for us all: “Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

What Are You Passionate About?

It all started a few days ago when I read a tweet by Allison Vesterfelt (you really should check out her blog, you know…it’s really that good) that said: “Instead of asking people what they do, ask them what they’re passionate about. Great advice from @theminimalists (you should check them out, too).” So I posted the statement on my Facebook page, and that’s when the fun began.

Passion

As people “liked” my post, I specifically asked them what they were passionate about. People were readily willing to answer the question. What great and interesting answers there were:

  • Baking!
  • Accompanying other musicians on the piano
  • Kids. From teaching Sunday School to coaching soccer. I love working with kids.
  • My family
  • Good words. However they are expressed.
  • Helping my students be the best they can, my family, and following the Lord
  • Training, equipping, and encouraging people in the gifts God has given them

Then someone asked me what I was passionate about. The funny thing about your passions is that they are right at your fingertips. You don’t even have to think about what they are. You know immediately.

So, I said: “I’m passionate about helping and encouraging people to chase after their dreams.” I immediately thought about how I helped our kids do that. I thought of how I loved encouraging college students to do it in my thirteen years of teaching at a university.  I thought of how, even now, I have a mentoring group of four young men that I love encouraging to pursue and follow after their dreams. I provide them materials to read that will help them think and dream. I encourage them to write down goals. I enjoy one-on-one time with each of them to provide personal encouragement.

But that isn’t my only passion. The small amount of space on social media won’t allow for my other passions, things like:

  • My family
  • Music of all kinds
  • My relationship with my Savior
  • Biking
  • Date nights with my wife
  • Eating good food
  • The Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers

We are complex people who have many and various kinds of passions. But it sure is fascinating to ask someone what theirs is, and hear which is the first to come out of her mouth. It gets deep into the depths of a person with one quick question and answer.

So I’m going to ask you. I want to know you better. I want to learn from you.

What are you passionate about? 

How’s a Dad to Feel When His Daughter Goes Wedding Dress Shopping?

When our daughter got engaged in December, I had no idea what I was going to face in the coming days and weeks. Who knew that one of the first things to be done following an engagement is to go shopping for a wedding dress? Apparently it takes months for the wedding dress to be delivered once it is ordered. Then it needs to be altered, which takes even longer.

Ashlyn & Me

So less than a month after the engagement, off went my wife with our daughter and her future mother-in-law and sister-in-law. I may be an unusual dad, but I was feeling just a little left out. I wanted to go along. I wanted to feel a part of it all. I have never minded shopping, and this seemed to be one of the most important shopping days of my daughter’s entire life.

But “left out” wasn’t the only emotion I was feeling. My emotions were all over the map. So I decided to have a little fun with it and ask my Facebook friends just how I was supposed to feel while my (only) daughter was shopping for a wedding dress. Answers were predictable, poignant, even funny. People posted things like:

  • Lucky if he doesn’t have to go along.
  • Happy, and proud, and excited. Also a little left out of the fun, she’s all grown up, is this really happening? Shall I go on?
  • Happy, excited on the surface, a little wistful below, and profoundly glad that God has brought two beautiful people together.
  • If it’s anything like how the old babysitter feels, then I wish I was there to hug you.
  • I’m going to go with sadly elated.
  • Broke.
  • Old.
  • Very poooooor!
  • Happy but sad at the same time.

Yep. I pretty much felt all of those things. For some reason I kept having flashbacks of the moment she was born. I was wondering how this all happened so fast. I was incredibly happy for her. I was melancholy for me.

Time has a way of passing and stealing away moments that you wish would last forever. But time doesn’t stop. It keeps going and keeps on giving gifts that come into the present.

That’s why my wife, Tammy, and I always made a point of enjoying each and every stage through which our kids went. And that includes this present stage. It means that we will have a wonderful new member of the family and a whole new phase of life that will produce all new moments and memories.

In the mean time, we went to the bridal store last Saturday. I got to see Ashlyn try on her dress. I pulled out the credit card and paid for it. And I recognized that the little baby who made me shed tears of joy when she was born, is at the phase and stage of life that will probably make me shed more tears over time gone by, over moments that have passed, over memories about to be made, over my little girl becoming a married woman…always mine, but also now belonging to another whom we love like a son.

So, how’s a dad to feel when his daughter goes wedding dress shopping? The whole gamut of emotions.

But mostly blessed.

How would, or will, or did you feel?

A Simple Way to Say More Than Just “Thank You”

Sometimes “thank yous” can be pretty empty. I’ve experienced plenty of empty “thank yous” in my life, and I’m sure you have, too. A simple “thank you”…just those two words…may, at times, not be enough. One can almost always tell whether or not a “thank you” is sincere.

Thank You Green Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

Sometimes someone says “thank you” because they’ve been told to, or they feel obligated, or they don’t know what else to say. It’s understandable. But I try not to get myself into a similar situation. When I say “thank you” to someone, I want them to know that I really mean it. If not, I try not to say anything at all.

Here’s how to make sure the recipient of your “thank you” knows that you are sincere:

Add a specific compliment to your “thank you.”

For instance, I know how intimidating it can be to preach in front of other pastors. So whenever I sit at the feet of another pastor and listen to his sermon, I always thank him for his message, and I add to my “thank you” a specific thing I liked about the sermon. It gives me the opportunity to listen carefully, and it provides affirmation for the one who has preached.

When our son, Ben, played his recent CD release show with his band, My Red and Blue, he made sure to thank each of his band mates for all they had done to help him. As he did so, he made sure to compliment them specifically for the way they had played, or the time they had put in, or all they had done to make the evening a success. It’s money in the bank. People are much more apt to loyal and helpful in the future if they sense your sincerity today.

So give it a try today. Add a specific compliment to your “thank you.” You’ll feel good about it, and the recipient of the “thank you” will feel truly thanked.

How do you make sure people know that your “thank yous” are sincere?

If You Don’t Change, You’ll Face the Far-Reaching Consequences

Failure to change and keep up with the times has consequences far more reaching than you may know. Last night we had to go buy a computer for my wife, Tammy. We have two other perfectly fine computers in our home, both in working condition.

Time For Change

So, why, you may ask, did we have to go buy another one? Tammy is employed by a charter school of the Seminole County (Fla.) public schools. The online resources they use for report cards and other tracking can only be accessed through the use of Internet Explorer. And Internet Explorer does not work on Macintosh computers. Both of the computers in our home happen to be Macs (I wouldn’t have it any other way).

As a result, Tammy couldn’t use our computers to do any work at home. And that put her at a distinct disadvantage. So we had to invest our hard-earned money on an inferior machine, just so she could get on an inferior browser to go to an inferior web site to do work she needs to do at home.

Ridiculous.

Failure to keep up with the times, to invest in state-0f-the-art technology, to do what it takes to be on the cutting edge has consequences of which you may not even be aware. Some bureaucrat refuses to change and update software, so the consequences have an impact on the family budget of workers in their schools. Can you say “short-sighted”?

Our world is changing and advancing faster than ever before. Those who keep up (as best they can) will benefit. Those who fight change will face ever more far-reaching consequences. It’s hard work to keep up with everything. But keeping up will mean easier connection with those you serve, those you hope to reach, those you work with, and even those who work for you. There will be less resentment and more buy-in from all of your constituencies.

Instead of making life frustrating for others because of reluctance to upgrade, bring about change that makes peoples’ lives easier, more meaningful, and faster to connect with others. Upgrading technology may seem impersonal. But streamlining life brings people together and makes for happy employees, faithful customers or members, and less frustrating interactions.

It may seem silly or even obvious, but it’s more important now than ever before to 

  • keep up with the times
  • invest in state-0f-the-art technology
  • and do what it takes to be on the cutting edge

What are you doing to make sure that you are bringing about positive change in your life, organization, or company?

What Training for a 100 Mile Bike Ride Taught Me About Setting Goals

It was either crazy or foolish. I told our congregation I would ride my bike 100 miles in one day to raise money for a pending deficit. The deal was this: 1. I ride 100 miles; 2. They pledge what they can to help ease our end-of-year deficit.

Bicycle Ride

So I started riding. And riding. …And riding.

The pledges started rolling in until they totaled almost $26,000. And my bike wheels started rolling until I was riding 100, 125, 150 miles per week.

Over those many, many miles of bike trail I have learned some lessons about major goals that roll right into the rest of life:

  1. Give people something to rally around, and they will respond. If we had just simply said, “Please consider decreasing our deficit by making an end-of-year gift,” we probably would not have received a fraction of what will be taken in as a result of this ride. When people had something to rally around, the response was quick and generous, with “lead” gifts paving the way.
  2. When you set a goal, announce it out loud to a group of people. It’s hard to go back on a goal that others have heard come out of your mouth. In fact, chances are that you will achieve your goal.
  3. Learn from others who have gone before. When I set out to train for my “century” ride, I did all kinds of research to find a training plan that would work for me. Without doing that, I may not have been ready, or I could have injured myself, or I may have had to “reinvent the wheel.”
  4. Enlist a partner. When I announced I would do the ride, I encouraged anyone who could to ride along with me. I made special mention of it to the four young men in my mentoring group. One of them, Justin Fricke, took me up on it. Justin is a self-proclaimed “weekend warrior” who’s been training both alone and together with me…and blogging about it. When we ride together the time goes much faster and our common encouragement and support helps when muscles fatigue and bodies get tired.
  5. Stick with it. Blogger, Seth Godin, talks about “The Dip”: pushing through that time when others might just quit. There have been mornings when I have felt like staying in bed, when I haven’t felt like pedaling any further, when I feared yet another steep incline (in Florida inclines aren’t natural…they’re bridges over roads). Yet I couldn’t let all those people  down (see #1), and I couldn’t let myself down.
  6. Get support. Often, to accomplish a goal it takes more than individual fortitude. It takes help and support along the way. A group of young adults in our congregation are going to be the “support team” for our century ride. They will meet us along the way with liquids, nourishment, encouragement, and anything else we might need. It really helps to have someone cheer you along as you set out to accomplish your goal.

Don’t shy away from goals that stretch you a little…or a lot. If I can ride a bike 100 miles, there’s so much you can do, too.

What advice do you have to help accomplish a big, hairy, audacious goal?

Surprise! Not Everyone Likes You

Apparently not everyone likes me. The other day our congregational president was calling members of our church, following up on our recent stewardship effort. One call put him in contact with someone who hadn’t been to church in quite some time. When our president inquired “why,” the response was: “I was a Pastor (“so and so”) fan; not much of a Pastor Eggebrecht fan.”

Hmm. Really?

Dislike

I guess there are worse reasons not to attend a church. It just sort of felt so “personal” when this information was relayed to me. OK, I’ll admit it, I was hurt. I know I shouldn’t have been. And I know that, as a leader, not everyone will like me. But that doesn’t take away the fact that I’m a human being who has feelings.

As a “pastor type” I want everyone to be happy. I feel a certain burden and responsibility if someone doesn’t like “church” because they don’t like me.

But this isn’t the first time. And it won’t be the last. We live in a fallen world filled with people and personalities, some that get along and others that don’t. Sometimes personal preferences are just that: preferences.

What I’m trying to teach myself is that it’s OK if (surprise!) not everyone likes me. It’s perfectly fine if someone finds a place or a preacher with whom they can better connect.

It isn’t easy for me, because like everyone else I want to be loved. But people in public, visible positions of leadership will not always be liked. The other day I read a tweet by Andy Andrews that said, “If you need everyone to be happy, you should be a wedding planner not a leader.”

I don’t want to be a wedding planner (that’s another story for another day). So I better get used to everyone not being happy. Not that I won’t try to make that happen. I just won’t expect it to happen.

So don’t be surprised when not everyone likes you. Especially when you’re out in front doing uncomfortable things, blazing trails, making well-thought-out changes, or simply being you.

What’s your response when you discover someone doesn’t like you?

You Never Know When You’ll Have an Impact

You never know when you’ll have an impact on someone, so keep your eyes open for opportunities. I’m not sure my eyes were open when I entered the college classroom to teach a theology class. There, sitting at the back of the room with one of his friends, was Tanner. Before the class even started Tanner began to engage me and the entire class with his humor. He was already joking about the amount of homework, or some inside joke he had with one of his friends, or what the first assignment was going to be.

Tanner

Of all the students in the class, Tanner was the one I thought I might impact the least. I wasn’t sure that he’d be engaged or anxious to learn what we had in front of us. But as the class proceeded over the next few months, I found Tanner to be thoughtful in his response (albeit, often with a joke included!), faithful in his studies, and ready to take on challenges.

It turned out that wasn’t the last time I had Tanner in one of my classes. Nor was it the last time I would encounter him in everyday life. There was the time my wife and I gave him and his roommates a large screen TV. There was the time I ran into him in the university library and had a great chat. There was the time he came and visited our new congregation in Florida, even after we had moved away from Milwaukee.

And there was the time he asked for support for his Kickstarter campaign to record a “spoken word” album…and the time he asked for a reference for a job he desperately wanted.

Then there was the time I opened up the CD packaging for his dream-fulfilling “spoken word” album, only to see my name listed amongst those he was “thanking.” It brought me almost to the point of tears. I wondered what I had done to be thanked. Really all I had done was recognize a person with unique gifts and talents, and encouraged him at times along the way to pursue his dreams. Apparently that encouragement meant something to Tanner. And it meant more to me than he will ever know that he simply thanked me for having a small part in pursuing his dream.

This is what all adults ought to do, not only with their own children, but with any younger people with whom they have influence. Encourage them to dream, and hope, and live, and love, and chase after what makes her heart fly or his adrenaline rush. It’s the reason one of the highlights of every month is to meet together with four young men who have become a part of my year-long mentoring group. We read. We encourage one another. We push each other. We joke around. We support hopes and dreams. We value open and honest discussions.

And I see right in front of me dreams being planned and pursued, and even coming true.

So thank you, Tanner, for the “thank you.” You have had an impact on me by making me realize that a little encouragement goes a long way. I will never forget the joy and laughter you brought to our classes there at good old CUW. But more than that, I’m looking forward to seeing where your life leads next.

And, by the way, Tanner also got the job.

Whom is it in your web of relationships that you can impact and encourage to chase after her or his dream?