Hurting People & Political Garbage

Happy November! Monday night was a blast for our family. Halloween in Washington proved to be a fantastic evening with new friends, laughing at our kids, & plotting how to best exercise the ‘parent tax’ (from my buddy Josh, not my clever phrase) that allows a percentage of the candy intake to go to the grown ups. It’s the most obviously capitalist thing about me. Taxing Halloween candy. Brilliant!

But last night wasn’t great for everyone. Across town a sweet boy from our church was with his family when he & his dad were hit by a car. The prevailing reports say that the driver was under the influence of alcohol. So there’s a measure of anger that mixes into our deep sadness. Please pray for Max, his family, & our church family. 

Parenting

Telling Parker was hard. Explaining to our son that someone he saw on Sunday is in the hospital & how he got there is emotional. And for Parker, he had two thoughts:

1. What did Max do wrong? Almost immediately, Parker remembered me screaming at him as he stepped into traffic over a month ago. And he assumed that Max had done the same thing. It never occurred to him that adults make mistakes. Adults make bad decisions. Adults can cause pain by being reckless, careless, & stupid. But as soon as I told him that someone old enough to drive had risked many lives to drive impaired, he got to the second thought…

2. Revenge. He was angry. How could someone do this? What did they have to gain from risking so much? Is it ok to say stupid right now? Because ‘stupid’ is a no-kids word in or house. Not profanity, but a hurtful word that he should avoid. How are we going to fight back for Max?

Whoa.

So what followed was a brief chat about how we, as followers of Christ, give up the right to have revenge. Christ took away the penalty for our sin, so we can’t go around repaying evil with an act that separates us from God too — I think he got the point. But he’s still angry & upset & scared for his friend, & that’s perfectly ok.

The Problem

Here’s one of the things that I love most about my oldest child. He assumes personal responsibility faster & more often than I ever have. It’s so impressive. His first thought yesterday morning was of a time that he was guilty of bad judgment & he assumed that this was a similar story. Of course, it was not. 

And that has become the crux of the problem in this season in American history. We call for unity, but naturally assume that those other people need to get on board, or get ‘right’, or correct their behavior in order to be unified. So unity means nothing more than people agreeing with me. To hell with compromise or, it’s uglier precursor, LISTENING!! And now we are mad that our representatives ignore our wishes, pander for our votes, argue about everything but policies, & make more money than just about any of us do… but maybe they are following our lead. Do I expect everyone else to compromise to my way of thinking or my standard of living? Do I care for the needs of others enough to actually invest in something or someone that cannot give me a return on that investment? Is everything that’s wrong with my country or my faith community someone else’s fault? Do I own my part in the present disunity? Do I move in the direction of community with people that aren’t in my circle of influence? Do I care? Or do I just say a lot of words & do… nothing??

The Proof

I listened to a sermon this week from Crosspointe Church where the pastor makes a fairly provocative statement about our democracy. Basically, he says that if millions of people from a couple of groups within our nation think that they are unheard, misrepresented, marginalized, & unfairly treated, then our democracy has a serious problem. And he goes on to say that it is no longer permissible for those crying for unity to think it must begin somewhere other than ourselves! And I agree.

So here are some things that bother me within our disunity, that I feel prove the points that the marginalized are trying to say:

African Americans make up 6.5% of the US population, but a staggering 40.2% of the prison population

White men have 1:17 chance of ending up in prison. Black men have 1:3 chance! Site NAACP.org & the Netflix documentary 13th, among other sources. 

1:3 women & 1:4 men have been victims of domestic violence

1:5 American women have been raped in their lifetime. 

The most common country of origin for immigration to the US is NOT Mexico. Since 2013, China & India have had more. In fact, since 2009, more Mexicans have migrated back to Mexico than have come over!!

But we don’t absorb these truths… we let media tell us stuff & blindly believe it. We read contentious websites that accuse whole people groups of ridiculous behavior. We share articles all over social media that we have never thought to fact check. We’d rather meme about Trump & scoff at Hillary. We will blindly ‘feel the Bern’ but we refuse to chase after the hurting, because abolitioning student debt has become more urgent than systematic oppression. We scream that one group hates us, while another group wants to kill babies, all the while oblivious to the fact that abortion is actually down nationwide!!! 

Stop. Drop. Roll. 

I don’t know how old I was when I first learned this 3-step technique to putting myself out, should I ever catch on fire. And I’ve never caught on fire. Not once. But if it ever happens, & shock or panic don’t overwhelm, I have a plan. It’s good to have plan, but a plan is effectively useless if you forget to employ it when the need arises. 

Scripture teems with how Christians should physically, personally, & corporately address hurting people. The Good Samaritan stopped & helped, the Rich Young Ruler was challenged to be in a posture of sacrifice, & Christ championed how believers live with & serve the hungry, naked, thirsty, foreigner, ill & disabled, & imprisoned. So what to we do? Practically speaking, how do we help?

Stop arguing

Again, tens of millions of people are crying foul, while millions more are effectively saying “no you’re not!” And freedom suffers. Police officers suffer, as the face of oppression that they should not be the face of. The poor suffer. Minorities hurt & continue to be ignored. And it is my job… your job… our job… to just. stop. arguing. 

Listen. Listen to the hurting. There is power in listening. I give up my right to speak & empower someone else to speak up, trust me, & feel a little less alone in their trial. It’s what we do with family & close friends. It’s how we treat the neighbor we like so much. Why not the stranger? We cannot be a people of righteousness if we are busy being right. 

Drop the Right to be Right

I’ve been married for nearly 10 years. I love it. I love my wife. But I’m still learning that having a valid point or a differing opinion is not always helpful. And when we listen to one another, we are always pressed to respond. But sometimes… ya know… shut up. Keep your opinion to yourself. If a leprechaun walked up to me & was disappointed with the recent lack of rainbows & gold pots, I’m sure I’d have an opinion. And I might even be right. But here’s a dirty little secret about being a comfortable person listening to a hurting or oppressed person…

I have no idea what the heck I’m talking about. I’ve buried best friends, but it wasn’t their best friend. I’ve had no money to my name, but I was not in poverty. I’ve been wrongly accused, yelled at, judged, & ignored… but not my whole life. And not all of the generations of my family.

So I might be right with my speculations, stereotypes & opinions, but that just doesn’t matter here. Listening matters. Humility matters. Having a heart for people matters. And if you listen well, & you do it often enough, & you stay through the sadness & show real concern, maybe they will ask for some advice or guidance or help, & then…

Roll With It

Until Christianity becomes illegal, heterosexuality is banned, white people become the power majority, & pesos outrank the dollar, I will never be oppressed or marginalized. I know that. I also know that I don’t know what the majority of Americans endure on a daily basis. I’m in a coffee shop, blogging on an iPad, spending money that I can comfortably spend on things that I don’t need. 

1:6 Americans face hunger. Yes that 17% of our nation. And statistically, there is a hungry person in every American county!!

So remember who you are. Thank God if you’re comfortable! And then go get a little uncomfortable. Love the hurting. Listen to them. Give yourself away. Stop tweeting hate & contention. Stop name-calling. Run every word out of your mouth through the filters of goodness, godliness, & usefulness. Stop being partisan & become passionate about people. All of them. And if you find someone in need, meet the need or find someone who can help you help out. 

I won’t blog again until after the election. And I’ll be up all night watching coverage because I love that stuff. But whatever happens, people will still need people on November 9th. Be the person looking for hurting people, & pray that I will be too. There’s an enormous need in America, but not for a leader to protect us. We need each other. And there’s a responsibility attached to being a ‘have’. There’s a calling to Christians. And someone, right now, needs someone.

Be someone. Be someone right now. In your office, be kind. In your home, be humble. In your neighborhood, be communal. In your church, be biblical. In your place, right now, wherever that is, exercise compassion & care no matter hat it costs you or how it makes you feel. People need people today. And they will again tomorrow. 

Thanks friends.

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Politics, Forgiveness, & Lobsters

I have spent a lot of this political season being very… well, political. I have a strong opinion about the situation our political candidating system has put us in this election cycle, & who is to blame for it (Spoiler Alert: I blame the arrogance of Americanism, which is not the same as loving the ideals of America). I have a strong reaction to the false link between Republicanism & Christianity. And I have a very strong reaction to the amount of people giving opinions & directives that they call biblical & Christ-centered, without actually quoting Jesus or the Bible. And this crap stresses me out.

And it has also caused some significant conflicts & tension.

Tension Sends Us in One of Two Directions

In a previous post (Stress Management & Other Stuff I FAIL At), I wrote about the implications of tension on life. And in reality, I believe that we go one of two ways when confronted by true tensions: stress or balance. 

Last week, a friend I’ve known for longer than I’ve known Jesus (so, 16+ years) got very heated with me over some things I had posted on Facebook. He called me a joke, questioned my faith in Christ, & made a few unfavorable comparisons with me & some ‘ministers’ that I do not admire or even agree with. He also posted a couple of comments on this blog site about me & my “un-Christian” views. 

It was hard. And frankly, it bothered me. In fact, it still bothers me. So, if I’m being transparent, I stressed out about it. I went back & forth between anger, disappointment, self-doubt, & sadness because that’s just what we do when we stress. Our emotional responses drive us & inevitably derail us. We lose confidence. We forget purpose, & we focus on that one pothole that was there a couple miles back. And once derailed, a train is awfully hard to get back on its track.

Take What You Can Get

I have no idea where that phrase comes from. And truthfully, it’s full of logical & philosophical holes. But in the context of stress & emotional upheaval, I think it has some truthiness behind it. When you’re looking to re-center or find your bearings again, taking any little assistance that comes your way seems wise. 

I was rocked. Was I a fraud? Am I asking people to think unbiblically? Is what I believe in my heart to be true, really a truth to believe in?

So first, I went to my foundations. More simply, I prayed, spoke with my wife Grace, & I opened my Bible. Grace believes in me. When she disagrees with the content of a post or blog, she tells me. When my delivery could have been better, but my message was solid, she critiques me. When I say something she likes, she applauds me. And when I’m down, she unwaveringly supports, loves, & cheers for me. And this is not the job of a wife… this is just what partners do. So with my best friend by my side, reminding me of the worthiness of justice for all humanity, I went to the Bible. And, since this isn’t intended to be a politically or socially driven post, I’ll just say that Scripture more than confirmed my passions & calling to the least of our society. Maybe I’ll post more on my heart for all people later, but for now…

Once again firm on my foundation, every good structure needs help being built. The terrific compliments & encouragements from some parents on the kids soccer team I coach. When a friend called to tell me that her son prays for that crazy preacher man every night. When talking to a few solid folks at our church, & they chime in with a thought I was thinking, but was a little wary to say. Embarrassingly… Facebook likes & positive comments. New friend requests with wonderful notes attached. A joking note telling me that if I get any more famous I’ll have to start a Facebook fan page… which is apparently a thing. The warm message from a friend & sister in Christ that was born with darker skin than me, thanking me for holding on in the face of attack & disagreement.  

I needed every note. I needed the texts & calls & nice things said to my wife while I was yelling at your kids. And I love our friends that we’ve made here in Tacoma. But mostly, I needed the confidence that, as a believer in Christ, I am walking in the light of what I believe to be important biblical truth, & therefore, a priority to Christ’s mission. I know that isn’t the primary burden on all of you, but it is the main thing for me. So whatever your main thing is, get back to it. Get back to your faith or your center or your calm. Get the train back on the track. That’s how we move forward. 

Breaking Through The Phase

Lobsters spend their whole life growing. It’s something called intermediate growth. And all the while, they have a hard shell that does a terrific job of protecting them from vulnerabilities, but it’s terrible for growth. So every now & then, they grow beyond the confines of their own protection. And, at the risk of being vulnerable, they break free from their shell. 

Growth is terrifying. It makes us vulnerable. We now know enough to move beyond our own present state, but we aren’t ready to BE just yet. But life doesn’t wait. So, a bit green in our new stage of growth, we move out. And sometimes… it sucks. And maybe wounded… ok, likely wounded… we have to limp. And it’s uncomfortable, kinda embarrassing, & overwhelmingly consuming, until your shell grows back. Then you keep growing. And you learn to be irritated by your shell all over again. But you keep moving. Keep growing. And hopefully, as you move forward, you are walking in the direction that keeps you closest to your center point. Because I think that’s how living is done. Whether someone hurt you, you inflicted pain on yourself through a failure, flaw or addiction, or you’re walking through grief, or life just kinda hits you harder than you’re ready to be hit, you choose. Stay miserable behind the shell of your former self, or grow beyond the need to stay covered & hidden. 

It is risky, this growing thing. But it is what we were made for. And without growing, we doom ourselves to a discomfort we weren’t designed to endure. 

You’re Still You

So now, vulnerable & wounded, you are moving in light of a growth you hadn’t expected. I’m there right now. Over a month ago, I buried a close friend & it still makes me sad. Just a few days ago, disagreement & anger cost me a friend. And the shell of comfort broke open & I really do not like it.

What do you call a lobster without its shell? It’s called… a lobster. 

Just because you don’t have the protection of ignorance or comfort any more, does not mean that you stop being who you are. This kind of growth isn’t a metamorphosis as much as it is a shedding of an older, less prepared you. And those things that cracked your confidence aren’t gone. So what does a man or woman do when life deals them some tough blows?? They keep on being the man or woman that they are, but stronger, more faithful, & more determined. 

As I continue to grieve Tripp’s death, I try to love my friends better. I call his wife & check in. And this morning, I took an hour & we taught our son to ride his bike. It was awesome.

And to the friend that is now disconnected from me, I have to be the first to forgive. Not because I’m better or anything like that. But Christ is my foundation, & forgiveness is required in obedience. And truthfully, though it certainly stings, when I told my friend that I had become a Christian back in 2000, he was supportive & confident that it was good for me. He was more confident than I was. And that investment cannot be tossed away. 

And more hurt will come… I’ll let someone down. I’ll say something that someone strongly disagrees with. And I’ll see the hurt that others endure & feel the burden of responsibility & owning the sufferings of others. Someone is going to hurt me. It’s inevitable. 

But I will grow. I will break out from behind the comfort & keep on moving forward. I’m drawn to people groups that are hurting, & that’s never going to end. I’m drawn to the kind of faith that sees humanity through the lens of Christ’s sacrifice & service. And I’m flawed & often in need of being forgiven, so I must be a man of forgiveness & understanding. Because shell or no shell, I’m still the man I was created to be. 

So when life forces me to grow in directions that I really didn’t want to grow, I just have to keep moving. Keep growing. Staying true to the center of who I am, I will love who I love, believe what I believe, & speak out for the things that I feel so passionate about.

I hope you will too.

Always forward. God bless. 

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Good Grief: Making a Choice

I wrote a blog last week. Over 3,300 people have viewed it. And I wrote it because I was sad, hopeful, & inspired I suppose. Tripp had died the prior week, I had been called in by his sweet wife & awesome parents to officiate a funeral that I was not remotely prepared for, & I had spent every day back home in N Carolina with someone who was suddenly fatherless, husbandless, or sonless. And that blog exploded. 

For perspective, I hadn’t written anything in over a year. And when I was writing, it would be impressive for one entry to get 200 views. And that was more than enough for me. It was an exercise in fun & public journaling, & not much more. But then Tripp died, & my name was in his obituary, & it seems like a lot more people were watching. A lot of them still are. And to all of you, thank you. Tripp’s influence will forever loom large in my life. 

So I wrote a blog on a Tuesday morning flight. And then late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, Tripp’s mom died. She had been battling a rare & terminal illness that had certainly taken its toll, but she was still sweet & caring, up to the very last second. And grief came rushing back. I could not stop thinking about Tripp’s dad & sisters. And then his wife. It’s a process…

Grieving Healthy

As I write, I’m outside of an Sicilian bakery in Tacoma, Washington. I’m literally on the coastline of the Puget Sound. It’s a breathtaking picture. And the bakery is crazy good. So many awesome things that I can’t pronounce, but none of them healthy. So I make a choice; eat healthy or not. 

The cannoli was incredible… Don’t judge me. At least I walked here.

And similarly, I have found myself parked right at the door of grieving. And my options for consumption are unending. I can grieve however I want. I can numb the grief by ignoring it & pretending I’m fine, or I can find some thing or person that gives me a false & temporary feeling that just masks grief. Or I can eat healthy… but if you’re like me, there’s a dark secret about healthy living. It kinda sucks. 

Choosing

Allow me to sermonize for a moment. In the book of Joshua, God brought his people through some incredible difficulties & challenges. Often, those challenges were met by the raw emotions of people who knew God, had seen His work, & been blessed by his provision. But in the midst of their crises, some felt hopeless. Usually, it was a lot of people. And they were desperate for answers or revelation or solutions. And in a moment of profound wisdom, Joshua asks them to choose this day whom you will serve (ref. Joshua 24:15). Because, like the bakery beside me, in grief we have a choice.

I spoke with Tripp’s dad today. We talk/text daily. And today is his wife’s birthday. Yes, four days after she passed away, their family was faced with funeral visitation on her birthday. Horrible.

But they made a choice. Someone had the idea to give mom some balloons. So they gathered a bunch of the family together & sent some balloons heavenward. And while it is a small gesture, it’s a healing one. It forces them to smile through sadness. It doesn’t ‘grief-proof’ their day, but it makes the daily process better. And when the story was relayed to me, it was a happy story. And there is nothing better then happiness when you’re sad. I’m so glad that they chose good grief. Because tomorrow will have its troubles, & they will need more reasons to look heavenward. More chances to place some happiness in their sadness will be needed. So if you’re in Durham & you know any of them, send a text & tell them you love ’em. That stuff is gold!

As Joshua was finishing his challenge to Israel, he turned it personal. And that’s how I should end this blog too. It would be arrogant & foolish to pretend that I didn’t think of Tripp the moment I woke up today. And I was immediately sad. And I’ve had a rough dream or two. And when my oldest son, Parker asks me about Tripp or if I’m sad, I admit my grief & occasionally get a little lost in it. But I have a choice in my grief & sadness. And there are two things that Tripp’s family has shown me this week: choose happiness & look heavenward. So I’m going to try & do that more often. 

I hope you find a balloon today, & send your heart to Jesus. 

Brad
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” ‭‭Joshua‬ ‭24:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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Shocked by Grief & Shock

I love peanut butter. Really, all kinds of peanut butter. But I also know that I don’t really love it. I like it a lot. But I don’t have a deep, intimate connection with the stuff. I know that I don’t really love it because I know what it truly means to love something & be loved. I am loved by God, & in response to that incredible & faultless love, I love my wife, our kids, & a large handful of some wonderful family & friends. And if I’m honest, I really do love our dog, Abbey & possibly the Chicago Cubs too. But I know love. I don’t love peanut butter.

And if you had asked me earlier this month, I’d have said that I knew what grief & shock were all about. I’d have told you a list of things that ‘grieved’ me or had shocked me in my life. But then last Monday, in the earliest part of the day, one of my best friends, favorite people in general, inexplicably breathed his last breath…..

And right there, in that moment. When a few hours had past, his family was just in the wee hours of that horrific tragedy, I got one call that placed an emptiness in my heart or stomach, or maybe my soul, & I haven’t truly shaken it. It’s like wishing for your ears to pop as your flight begins its descent home, but that pop never comes. I can’t do anything with the empty feeling of grief & the shock of this loss. I thought it would pop when I saw his wife or high-fived his children. When his mom & dad gave me that first hug, I was certain that the grief would break & I would start processing the shock of it all. But I was wrong.

Tripp was not just my buddy. And a few of his friends aren’t simply mutual acquaintances. And his family aren’t just folks that raised him. His wife isn’t just the nice girl he married. These are my people too. I love his wife. His family has always loved me. I can’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t love someone in his family. And very quickly, once I had confirmed the awfulness of last week, I pictured some of the funniest, most sincere friends I have ever known. And it really just compounded the grief & fortified the shock.

And like a dutiful minister, I went to the Bible & to prayer. I have desperately wanted to find a plan for closing the grief-hole in all of our hearts. But instead, I found out that God is daily grieved. That Christ was deeply familiar with grief. And that the Bible doesn’t tell me when this hurt will subside. And that is challenging for a man of faith to process. But that’s just what I’m doing. I’m processing it. Every day I have thought of my friend. And it doesn’t stop the hurt. Sometimes the thoughts inflame my emotions into tears. But I give into the daydream because, honestly, I trust God that like my body digests food naturally, I will just process my mourning naturally as well.

Whenever you eat something your body takes the process of digestion as a challenge. Separating the good bits from the bad, utilizing the good for the sake of energy, health, cleansing & clarity. The bad bits, & depending on what you eat, it might mostly be bad bits, pass through & either hurt your overall health or become the waste that they are, & you know how that ends. So here’s the question I’m pouring over as I fly home (deeply grateful for JetBlue’s free wifi!!):

What Am I Grieving? Where is the Shock Resting?

And I think I’m discovering there’s a healthy grieving & a harmful grieving, & I have to make the choice each morning, that I’m going to grieve healthy. So I am chewing on how great my friend was. I’m taking in the memories that are so precious to me. I’m committing to remember & hold on to the people that matter most to him. I’m remembering that while he can’t be the dad, husband, brother & son today that he’s always been, I still can be. So I think about my wife & kids a lot. And I cry. But it feels healthy. I’m not forgetting God. I’m not denouncing Christ or forfeiting my faith. I’m certainly not burning bridges or forcing myself to pretend I feel a way that I don’t feel. Tripp is in Heaven & that is more than enough cause for celebration & gratitude. Now, to be clear, I still confess to God all of my confusion & hurt. But God tells us to cast our burdens on Him, so I’m just being obedient. I’m not angry. I’m sad. I’m not hopeless or faithless, I’m just staggered & stunned by pain. And if anyone gets that, I trust that God does. And I don’t want to isolate or ignore my grief. I want all of those people in my life with me. I’d like to add some new folks too. If misery loves company, then healing wants the company to just move in & stay a while. And the worst way that I could honor Tripp is by distancing myself from faith & family right now… or ever!

So I’m going to keep on grieving. Just ask the woman in 9A. She’s on the plane right in front of me, with her 2yr old daughter & apologized just before take-off. I guess that’s what all traveling parents with children think about doing. And she just casually said, her Daddy is away for a while so ‘it’s just us’.

I immediately teared up. She looked mortified. I was embarrassed. Her husband is deployed in the Air Force & will be back next month. Good.

But a couple hours into the flight, when her daughter (who flies better than most adults) had fallen asleep, she turned around & asked if I was ok. So I just spilled it. I talked about how awesome Tripp was & how great his wife is & will continue to be. I told her about his family & friends, & how much I miss him. How badly I want to get off this plane & hug Grace & our boys, nonstop for about a month. And I told her where he was right now, with Christ. I spoke with hope. Yes, I choked up a couple times in those short minutes. And grief is still grief.

There’s still that awful pit in my stomach, reminding me that I’m not over it today. But it’s a process. It’s probably a slow process. But I’m getting all of the good bits out so I can use them forever. And it takes a while to digest two decades of great friendship. Missing him is just a part of loving him. And the next time someone mentions grief or shock, I’ll have a much better understanding of what they are going through. And this has helped me today.

I hope it helps someone else. Share this with anyone you want to. For now…

I don’t love peanut butter. I do love you, Tripp. I’ll see you later.

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Influence & Our Lil Boy

We have two kids. The 6 year old is just like me. I’ll post about him eventually, & it will likely revolve around passing on bad habits or something equally humbling. But this post is for Elliott, our gorgeous, precious, 16mo. old. He’s great. With 10 teeth, he has an incredible smile. He’s learning, growing, into cuddles, & adventurous. And just this week, he taught me something so valuable.

You repeat whatever you hear the most.

It seems so simple. Mommy talks about Daddy, & before long we heard “Da-da”. Daddy talks about Mommy, & “Ma-Ma” sticks. And along with those two staple terms, he’s got variations of these words: up (for being held), yes, no, baby, boo, mwah (to make a kissing sound), & countless indecipherable terms that I’m certain are brilliant. But for the most part, he’s learned what we intended for him to learn. But that changed this week, when he was in our living room, just all of the boys…

“Bubba”

For those from the north, this probably evokes a giggle & some slam on being southern. Go ahead, we don’t mind….

But what makes this even more precious is that he said it to Parker, his big brother. And I’ve been calling Parker “Bubba” since he was a baby. I don’t know why. I just have. And now it’s a family-wide thing. I say it. Grace says it. I’ve heard other family use it. Even a friend called our oldest “Bubba” at breakfast last week. And somehow, Elliott caught on. And he heard it enough for it to become more than a term her recognizes. It’s now a term he says. So it went from foreign to familiar, then normal to repeatable. It was great to hear. And now he says it all the time.

What are your influences?

Influence is tricky. Aristotle said that ‘We are what we repeatedly do’, but I think he may have missed the real impact of influence. Yes, what I do may very well define me, or at least my character. But what I read, hear, & take in trains me. Whoever I go to for counsel, accountability, gossip, or fun are my teachers. The inescapable reality is that we don’t control all of our influences. 

So what influences you? Do you have mentors in your life? Now I don’t mean blogs you read or podaasts you listen to. I mean, who are the people that directly lead you? No one? Go find someone. And in my experience, ask someone hugely important or impactful in your life. They just might say yes! And beyond mentors, what do you read, listen to, or spend your time on? I am in no way speaking against the fun things in life! To be transparent, I love all sports, country music, woodwork, pro wrestling, joking around, competing, winning, & going out with Grace, my wife. I am certainly not against enjoying this great life we’ve been given. But let’s be honest… If you are immersed in negativity, you become negative. If you are surrounded by hopelessness, your outlook becomes progressively more hopeless too. If you are neck-deep in relationships that promote something unhealthy, the impact is just damaging. It just IS!! I didn’t make up influence. I just want to repeat & lead positivity, hope, health & growth!!

Who do YOU influence?

Unfortunately, influence is not the exclusive property of leadership. You can be influenced by countless combinations of things, people, objects, & ambitions. And in return, you can influence countless people.

This is the one that convicts me the most. I influence my wife. I’m pouring something into my sons. I’m training the people that work with & for me. And as I prepare to send this out, I’m seeking to influence friends & strangers alike. It is daunting to think about how easily I influence anyone I come in contact with!

In my anger, influence. When I’m openly discouraged or disappointed, influence. When I’m unfocused or silly, reckless or off-center, I am an influence on the lives around me. And those people are… well, they’re people. Humans who love & hope & have plans. And in a moment, I can leave an imprint.

What will our influence imprint be?

If you’re like me, this is both encouraging & kind of a bummer. People are watching. Some of those people are learning. So it is up to me to try & control what they’re learning, & what they are learning from me is seen in my responses to life, challenges, happiness, disappointment, trials, failure, success, etc. & only I can control it. 

So be intentionally influential today. There’s a person that’s about to blurt out a “Bubba” that your life has taught them, so lead well!!

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Stress Management – & other stuff I FAIL at 

Stress consumes me so easily, so quickly. I think I’m just a wildly emotional person, because a lot of emotions work that way with me. But none of those other feelings effect me as physically & emotionally as stress does. 

#thinktightrope

Monday was a bear of a day, & I didn’t handle it incredibly well. A handful of factors gave me full clearance to land on the stress runway, & I crashed the plane right on top of it. Unfortunately, my attitude, leadership, patience, & perspective were on board, & they all were severely injured in the crash.

But, why? Did anything catastrophic happen? Nope. Was there some moral failure uncovered that destroyed relationships? Not at all. Here’s what I think happened. I think I came in looking for stress, & I found it. I went on a scavenger hunt for things to upset me or negatively raise my heartbeat, & I found a lot! But how did that happen?

Think about a tightrope. 

One rope, wound & secured between a location point & a destination. Pole to pole, the rope is fastened with as much tension as it can stand, because no one successfully walks across a poorly attached, overly forgiving tight rope. And there are really just two ways to navigate the rope I think.

If you have a positive view, the word is balance. All you’re aiming to do is to maintain balance as you walk across immense & important tension. You need the tension to succeed, & with balance you easily make your way to the destination. Or you could take the negative view. Same rope. Same destination. But your perspective is negative. You climbed the pole consumed with falling off the rope. You’re questioning the tension, consumed by how the tension could let you down, completely out of balance because no one skillfully walks the rope when they’re riddled with fear, doubt, & pessimism. Simply put, the tension has become your excuse for stress. 

We all have tension, but how we approach it determines our success

I love a visual aid. Hope this one helps. Anyway…

Falling before you even climb up

What is particularly convicting for me is the reality that, many times, I’m stressed out before I’m even in the tension. Issues at work, thinking about my health, thinking about the future I’m giving my kids, relationships, ministry… I’m on the hunt for stress in some areas of my life, long before the tension can even find me. And you can call it whatever you like: pessimism, negativity, poor perspective, bad leadership, or whatever else you choose, but really it’s just failure waiting to happen. 

I came to work on Monday, ready for a ‘Monday’. And you know what I got… exactly what I was looking for. I was looking for personnel problems, system failures, complaints, & stressors, & I found every last one. And my response has bothered me for the last 3 days. 

So today I walked in with a different perspective. There are going to be problems, but I’m one of the  leaders that can help us get beyond some issues, solve others, table a couple for later, & win the day. When a large issue blew up on me today, I took it. It was tense & I had an inner-thought moment that was ready to exonerate myself, blame-shift a bit, & lash out as a wrongly accused bystander…. but today I wanted to stand up in the tension. It doesn’t matter how I was a part of it. It was on my rope today, & it did not knock me off.

But there’s a rope every single day

Today the tight rope was at work. There was plenty of tension. Some of it was easily navigable, but a few moments crept in that easily could have knocked me off course. And had I got on the rope negatively, stress would have been my downfall. 

And we can’t control all of the tensions in our lives. But we have control over our preparations & responses. And in those areas we must be determined to maintain balance. To ‘live peaceably’ (Romans 12:18 ESV) on top of the tension. Because there will be tension, & it is up to me whether or not that tension gets me where I’m going, or helps me fail to accomplish what got me on the tight rope in the first place. 

Hope this was encouraging. As always, I love comments & new ideas, so send me some!

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Losing Your Calling, Learning to Dream

This is 2 years in the making, & could probably be edited, added to, & then completely deleted & rewritten for the rest of my life. But I’m 35 as I type this, & I don’t know my personal calling/purpose, & I haven’t had a dream for myself in well over a year. Closer to two years now, I guess.

I was in a car accident late into 2013, with my, then 4 year old, son. We walked away, & so did the lady that didn’t see her red light. All was fine for a month or so, & then I just started ‘drifting’. Losing focus at work & home. Tired all the time. Wildly unmotivated. And the numbness in my hand grew to a numbness throughout my whole left side by Christmas. And then in early January, I fell down a flight of steps because my left leg just lost its strength. 

There are details I could explain, but if you’re interested, look up hydrocephalus & emergency shunt revisions. The shunt had punctured my thalamus on the right side of my brain, & slowly the left side of my body turned off. I remember pieces of October, 2013 – March, 2014, but for the most part, it’s a lot of blanks. And somewhere in the surgeries, recovery, rehabilitation, & recovering feeling where it had been gone (the left side of my mouth still droops a bit), I lost the hope I had in my own future. 

A minister losing hope is a special kind of tragedy. 

I was a pastor once. I’ve seen saved & baptized people of all ages & walks of life, in Ohio, S. Carolina, Tennessee, & N. Carolina. I love preaching & teaching. And I really love being with people who want to grow closer to God. But I haven’t preached in a pulpit since August, 2010. And before the accident, it was a calling ‘on hold’. God had placed me in a season of growing & listening, & at that moment, I was enjoying it (if memory serves… & it might not. So forgive me if I’m ‘misremembering’ that). But then the doctor thought I had a tumor. Or I thought I was having the longest stroke in history. No matter what, I was breaking down physically, & the me I knew was gone. 

There’s a big scar on my head where a little one had been since 1985, when I had a surgery I can’t remember. I used to sleep comfortably on my right side. Now I wake up in the middle of the night in pain, because the right side of my head & neck is not what it used to be. I’m still trying to learn how to lay down comfortably. I worry a little just before I pick up my ever-growing 6 year old. I watch my step when I’m carrying his little brother, because I don’t trust my feet as much as I used to. And I wear out every day. It’s wild to see. And usually I can hide it at home. But last month, my boss & I were meeting & we were chatting about intentional growth for our team, & it hit me. The lights just dimmed so fast. I think I fell asleep. And I’d been working a normal 7-8 hour day. I just wear out. I’m trying to control it. I’ve pulled over on the drive home from work multiple times. I stand up in meetings sometimes. I can’t read while I’m reclined, & that was my favorite. But of all the things I’ve either lost or had changed on me, I miss my dreams the most. 

I was a dreamer, a ‘big ideas’ guy with my head up in the clouds. And I liked it up there. Quasi-philosophical, deeply theological, often surreal in my thoughts & expectations, & always guided by my wide-open passion for Christ. The flip side is that I was distant, rarely productive, scattered, & I hated trying to focus on stuff that didn’t interest me. But I was fun, I think. Goofy might be the best word. And I miss that guy. I wonder if Grace, my wife, misses him too. Because now I’m a pessimistic realist a majority of the time I wonder when the next big medical emergency is coming. (We’ve been married 8 years. I’ve had 3 surgeries, & 2 of them were pretty serious.) I worry a lot. And coincidentally, stress is great for your body & general health. 😳 But I see what has happened, & I’ve tried some things over the last year.

Goal-setting is not easy, & most people do it really incorrectly.

Being a recovering dreamer myself, I have found a good definition to my old ways of dreaming. I used to exclusively set Outcome Goals. For instance, I’d say I wanted to write a book, but never trouble myself with coming up with topics, writing often, or planning at all. ‘I’m gonna lose weight!!’ But I had no plan… Just a massive void of big ideas & fantasy-inspired dreams. And now I’m working on a new strategy, grounded in realism, but not bound to the pessimism & hopelessness that I’d define most all of 2014 with. Researchers & strategic analysts call this idea creating Input Goals. The plan is fundamentally very simple.

In order to write a book (outcome goal), I’m going to write for 15 minutes every day (input goal). In order to lose weight (outcome), I’m gonna walk/run/lift 3 times a week (input).

Simple right?

Setting goals is key to regaining your dream/calling… I think. 

So this is where I’m at now. I want my dreams back. I’d like to have some big goals, some long-term plans that don’t sound like a dude wondering about seeing his kids grow up (& that has been the entire goal set for longer than I care to think about). And I don’t really have a set destination. So here’s what I care about, & what I’m doing to achieve some things in those areas.

Family – We are paying into the debt that we have every month. Ultimately, I guess being debt-free is the desired outcome, but I’m sure there will be more to come for that. I also try to talk to Parker every day. He’s our oldest, & I don’t mean I’m trying to greet him or give him a life lesson a day. I mean a conversation. I want him to hear that I’m invested in him without me telling him that I am. And I want to go on dates with Grace. I like dating her a lot.

Leadership/Influence – I have 5-6 people that I intentionally speak to weekly about their lives, decisions, goals, & growth. I also have 2-3 that I ask for help from, as mentors of mine. I’m also trying to read/listen to something that stretches me every day (devotional, article, book, podcast, etc). And all of those because I want to lead well, & be a positive influence on all whom I come in contact with.

Faith – Simple. I want to open the Bible every day. I want to pray multiple times a day. Outcome goal… Forget ministry. I just want to be closer to Christ. If ministry is in my future, I’ll let Jesus tell me himself.

Social Media – I know it’s silly to some, but I love the stuff. So I’m trying to stay connected to this cultural tidal wave through several outlets, staying both relevant & true to myself. It’s fun. My newest adventure is Periscope. Find me there at brad_caldwell. 

Life is hard. Living ain’t so bad.

It’s been a bumpy season in my life lately. But I’m still upright. I’m still standing, though I lean a little to the left in some places. I feel better right now than I have in over a year. And I just blogged… one more input goal down.

Booyah. Leave me some wickedly inspiring comments!

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