Valentine’s Day Challenge

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Best-Valentine-Gifts-3Valentine’s Day – the annual celebration of love and commercialism – hits us again tomorrow, and many of us will spend the coming days scrambling to find perfect gifts for our significant others.

According to a USA Today article I scanned earlier this week, the top 5 Valentine’s Day 5 gifts are:

  • Cards
  • Candy
  • Flowers
  • Jewelry
  • Gift Cards

These are all great gifts. But this year I want to challenge you to add something to the box of chocolates or new pair of socks you buy your spouse. I want to challenge you to take 10 days…a simple week and a half…and give your spouse the gift of a blessing.

10 days where you intentionally speak and write words of encouragement to them.

10 days where you praise at least one thing you appreciate about them.

10 days where you point out things about his or her character that you love.

10 days where you point out the contributions they make to your family.

10 days where you praise their talents and gifts.

10 days where you simply attach value to the person you love most.

You know during my military career there were times where I got an award, or medal, or even a welcomed pat on the back. These were all great and appreciated however no gift or no person can encourage me like Liz. Her words, her actions, and her belief in me are needed more than any other earthly accolade. She has the power to diffuse stress and literally give me energy.

Proverbs 16:24 reminds us that “gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” So this Valentine’s Day I challenge you take 10 days and speak life into your spouse!  Drop me a note and let me know how it goes!

Practical Parenting Tip: Memories and Goals

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If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you know the main purpose of my writing is to share my experiences as they relate to leadership and life. Trust me – I am conscious of the imperfections of my efforts – but my motivation is clear – to provide others a glimpse of the lessons I have learned with the hope they can in turn build better families, marriages, and friendships. This post is one of those specific moments.

Today is the first day of 2017. A beginning of a New Year that started off the same as many others. We went to church, went to lunch, came home and due to some great weather – spent the next 5 hours outside (basketball with friends is always fun)!  During dinner (which occurred after showers for some stinky boys) we paused to reflect on the past year.

You see at this time last year Liz placed this jar on our kitchen counter.

memory-jar

She put a pad of paper and a pen next to it and explained to all of us that all we had to do was when something happy, exciting, funny, etc…happened all we were to do was write it down and place it in the jar.

Well tonight at dinner we took turns pulling out a note and reading each memory. I was amazed and impressed with the moments that impacted my family.  Of course we had the big events: first NFL game, white-water rafting and zip-lining in New Mexico, and first buck killed.  But the majority of the memories mentioned were simple but special: snow cones with friends, block party with neighbors, events at church. This was a great reminder for me that it’s the simple but intentional moments that matter most to my family.  And more importantly, this gave us a great opportunity to reflect on God’s blessings this past year.

memory-jar-2After walking down our 2016 memory lane we focused on 2017. We then talked about goals. We each listed a physical, spiritual, and academic (or work related) goal. We discussed how as a family we can work towards each of them.  I was amazed at the depth of some of the goals of my young men. They inspire me to set bigger goals!!

So what’s the point of all this – you see at the church where I am blessed to serve we continually encourage our parents to be the primary faith trainers in their home. At first glance this can seem overwhelming.  Like most things in life, specifically in parenting and marriage, we over complicate what was meant to be natural.  We add pressure to live up to a standard presented on a blog or Pinterest page.  We grab our Bible, our spouse, our kids, and our best intentions and off we go!

And then life happens…..

So in our own strength we try harder….

And we fail (according to the unrealistic standards)….

Then we become overwhelmed or feel defeated and we give up…..

Then unfortunately we don’t do anything.

memory-jar-3Well guess what – it is a New Year and you have a clean slate! Take this opportunity to connect your faith and family. Remember, it doesn’t have to be amazing and extravagant, it simply has to be intentional.

Oh yeah – and put a memory jar on the counter – trust me, in 365 days you will be glad you did!

 

Top 10 Books of 2016

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10K. Chesterton once remarked that “there is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read.” This past year I have found myself floating back and forth between these two categories so the book choices below reflect that (study and leisure).

A couple of disclaimers first:

*The majority of the books I read this year revolved around leadership, church strategy, and family ministry…specifically parenting. This list reflects that.

*These books are not in order by preference. They take on many different styles so I choose not to rank or compare apples and oranges.

*Most of these books are faith based books written by authors with a Christian worldview. However some of them (and others I read this year) are not. Several of these books are thoughtful accounts of history, leadership lessons, and practical life hacks. They will be profitably read through the lens of an intelligent Christian worldview, though the books themselves are often not written from such a worldview. To quote Al Mohler, “The world needs more careful Christian readers, who can read honestly, reflectively, thoughtfully, eagerly, and well.”

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. I really enjoyed this book! What makes this one so good? I think it has to do with superior story-telling, and then practical and clearly understandable real-world-of-business transferable principles. Within each chapter there are three subsections. The first identifies a leadership lesson learned through the authors’ U.S. Navy SEAL combat or training experience. The second subsection explains that leadership principle. The third section then applies it to the business world. A compelling narrative with powerful instruction and direct application, Extreme Ownership challenges leaders everywhere to lead and win. An easy read worth checking out.

Relentless Parenting: The Crucial Pursuit of Your Teen’s Heart. Brian and Angela Haynes. Liz and I are less than a year away from having a teenager in the house. Although I have read numerous books the last few years on parenting, I appreciate one dedicated to the challenge of parenting teens specifically. Because I personally know Brian (and currently serve at a church that still holds strong to his goal of equipping parents to be the primary faith trainer in their home) when I heard he and his bride had released a new book I ordered it right away. Like Brian’s other books, you are reminded that the ultimate goal of parenting is to pass on a legacy of faith. Brian and Angela lead the way in discussing such topics as: words of power not pain, building identity, learning to listen, setting healthy boundaries, and the importance of home. What I appreciated the most was the powerful reminder, “Every day is important in this journey. Most days in your life are ordinary, normal, and even mundane to a degree. It is precisely in the typical days of life that we do our best relentless parenting.

The Ultimate Guys’ Body Book: Not So Stupid Questions About Your Body. Dr. Walt Larimore. Do you have boys? Are they between the ages of 9-11? Well guess what – that is the primary age for you to start preparing yourself and them for the “talk.” As we all know, the “talk” is not a talk…it is a conversation that continues.  This book helped me and my older son walk this path together.  I bought two copies and we read it together. I read a few other books on this topic and can share my thoughts on them as well.  Just let me know. I look forward to sharing this book with my younger son soon.

Silent Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis. Timothy Eagan. Eagan continues his prizewinning work by telling the riveting story behind the most famous photographs in Native American History – and the brilliant man who captures them, Edward Curtis. At 32, Curtis set out West to capture on film our continent’s original inhabitants before they disappeared…along the way he created the most definitive archive of the American Indian. Eagan not only does a great job of capturing the account of the American Indian, but he brilliantly shares the extreme personal cost of Curtis’ outsized personal ambition.

Habits of Grace. David Mathis. David makes a compelling case for the importance of spiritual disciplines in our life. Focusing on the disciplines of: hearing God’s voice (the Word), having His ear (prayer), and belonging to His body (fellowship), David reminds us that the final joy in any Christian discipline or practice is “the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus as Lord.” As David shares, when all is said and done, our hope is not to be a skilled Bible-reader, practiced pray-er, or faithful church goer, but to increase in knowing and loving Jesus more each day. A good book to start the New Year with.

American Creation. Joseph J. Ellis.  Ellis is one of my favorite American Historian Authors.  If you have never read Ellis, I highly recommend him.  He is a master story teller.  His Pulitzer Prize winning book Founding Brothers is one of my top 5 books of all time.  In American Creation, Ellis continues his examination of the last quarter of the 18th century….perhaps the most politically creative era in American history.  He spends most of the book focusing on Washington, Jefferson, and Madison; specifically analyzing their successes and failures. Overall it is a fairly easy read that will give you a greater appreciation of the “human nature” of the Founding Fathers without tearing them down.

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. Paul David Tripp. If you are like me (and most parents) we often feel the pressure to do everything right and raise “good” children.  During this hustle and bustle we often lose sight of our ultimate purpose as parents.  Outlining 14 principles centered on the Gospel, Tripp’s latest book shows us that we need more than the latest parenting strategy or list of techniques. Rather, we need the rescuing grace of God – grace that has the power to shape how we view everything we do as parents.  The chapters on Calling and Identity were truly powerful.

Defying ISIS: Preserving Christianity in the Place of Its Birth and in Your Own Backyard. Johnnie Moore. This book was probably the most difficult to read…not because of how it was written but because of what it addresses…a Christian genocide at the hands of Islamic extremists. He shares never before told stories of horror alongside stories of hope. Moore also does a great job of not only presenting the facts of these acts but the demand that we take action. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.”

Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow. Carey Nieuwhof. If you are a leader in any church you should read this. Carey encourages us to have some difficult conversations. Throughout the book, Carey gives us permission to think big, reminds us to ask God boldly, and challenges us to believe that the best really is yet to come. I love Carey’s heart and passion for the local church. He believes and understands that growth in churches isn’t for the sake of popularity but for the sake of the Gospel.  —  I’m also a fan of Carey on his other media mediums. Carey writes one of the most widely read Christian leadership blogs today and hosts The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, on which he interviews today’s best Christian leaders. Carey is the author of Leading Change Without Losing It and co-author of Parenting Beyond Your Capacity.

Bobby’s Homecoming Adventure. Lenny and Kisha Moore. This book was written for all military families who are navigating the all-too-familiar deployment season. Many times, a deployment can be most difficult on children who do not understand politics, just war ethics, or military contracts. They only understand that mommy or daddy is not home. The unknown can cause fear or worry to creep into a child’s life and rob them of their joy. Lenny and Kisha aim to give parents a resource to help them teach their children how to trust God in the uncertain times. Liz and I would have loved to have such a resource during my deployments.

What about you? What are some of your favorite books of 2016?

 

Life Lessons and Hunting

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I love the outdoors – fishing, hiking, riding 4 wheelers, I could go on….but I especially like hunting. When Liz and I first got married I remember talking about taking our kids hunting.  I couldn’t wait for that day.  We even named our first child Hunter! (I can also share with you offline how Liz vetoed my recommended name for our second son).  Well God has been especially generous; we now have two young boys who are roosted on our family tree and are already bearing camo-clad fruit on the branches of our heritage as hunters.

hunting boysEach year we take at least one hunting trip with my father in law. The boys love hunting with their Dad and their Grandy; while my father in law and I simply love spending time with the boys.  This past week we completed this annual tradition again.  As we have now returned from our week in the woods I begin reflecting on the lessons hunting teaches my kids (and all of us).

Stay in Your Stand: Sometimes you see deer, sometimes you don’t.  Patience and endurance is KEY.  The longer you are willing to wait, to stay in your stand, the better your chances of having a successful hunt. Hunting teaches us that a lack of patience and endurance bears little fruit.

For my boys, there will be a day in their future when they will stand before a beautiful young lady and vow to be her husband. I hope they remember, like their deer stand, they should not climb out of it.  There will be great times and there will be tough times.  Hopefully they will remember, “Stay in Your Stand.”

Or maybe like me, they may find themselves standing in an airport about to board another flight for another tour in Iraq or Afghanistan and thoughts of “why am I doing this again?” pops in their head. Hopefully they will remember, “Stay in Your Stand.”

hunting-pic-newStay Awake: Last week I read an article in a hunting magazine that stated the #1 reason why hunters are typically unsuccessful is that they fall asleep during key moments of the hunt.  I personally know how hard it is to stay awake.  Arriving in the woods before sunrise and sitting still for hours is the perfect recipe for a nice nap.  Add some cold weather and bundles of warming layers and even the best hunter is tempted to close his eyes for a moment.   In its most raw ways, hunting teaches us that comfort based decisions are costly and rarely produce results.

I want my young men to know that there will be many times after a long day at work that they will want to go home and rest, to check out for a while…however their wives and kids will require time and attention. I hope they seize the moment to spend time with their family.

Throughout their life, I hope they put aside personal comfort for the sake of others.  Hopefully they will remember, “Stay Awake.”

aim 1Know Where to Aim: The first thing we always do during our hunting trips is conduct some refresher training. We go over gun safety rules, the hunting laws (what we can and can’t shoot), and most importantly, when the right time comes, knowing where to aim.  Anyone can shoot a gun, but knowing where to aim and how to hit your target makes a successful hunter.

As both my boys go through life I want them to have a crystal clear focus on where to aim. The world will present cheap targets with brief, momentary satisfaction. My prayer is that throughout the struggles and setbacks, the successes and victories, that my boys will always keep their aim on Christ and Christ alone.

hunting-pic-new-2There will be a day when both my boys sit in a deer stand alone….no longer needing me to supervise or assist. They will be able to make their own hunting decisions. The clock is also ticking toward that day when they pull out of the driveway and into manhood. Among the many things I hope they remember forever, I’ll add the simple hunting principles of “Stay in Your Stand, Stay Awake, and Know Where to Aim.”

3 Lessons From Youth Football

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It is mid-November and in my house that means we are putting the final touches on another season of youth football.  We started practices in early August and are now in the final rounds of playoffs.football pic 2

As I reflect on our season, I don’t dwell on the wins or losses, or the touchdowns or tackles; I instead think about the 3 lessons my fellow coaches and I have attempted to instill in each of the young men on our team.

(1) A Simple Motto. We ask our boys numerous times during each practice, “What’s our motto?” They respond at the top of their lungs, “Hard Work.”  Their habit of hard work should stretch from the football field, to the classroom, to the doors of their home. We teach them to work hard not for our benefit, but because it gives them both dignity in a job well done today and the tools and character to succeed in the future as adults.

(2) Response-ability: As my good friend and a guy I used to coach with (Mike Hernandez) used to tell our team, “It’s not if you face obstacles, but when.”  Sports provide a great avenue to teach our kids that life is full of obstacles.  In light of this, we remind our team of their “response-ability” – translation – they have the ability to choose their response to each situation they face in life.  They are not powerless when it comes to their choices.  Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, once wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s response.”  It’s important our youth learn this lesson now!

(3) Identity: This is the most important lesson.  From the first day of conditioning practices to the team party at the conclusion of the season we tell our boys, “You are loved.”  Their identity is in no way tied to their position or performance on the field (for better or worse).   For the Christ-following athlete and fan, identity in Christ becomes immeasurably important at this very point. Understanding that in Jesus we are loved unconditionally (Ephesians 1:4–5), forgiven freely (Romans 4:7–8), pursued endlessly (Psalm 23:6), and given meaning and purpose that stretch far beyond the scoreboard (Ephesians 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:9) can free us to rise above the scoreboard in victory and defeat.

football-pic-newI understand and respect the debate concerning youth sports. There are healthy arguments for and against competition at young ages.  But ultimately I believe sports are a gift, a good gift, which God gave through human creativity for our enjoyment. And just like all of life, we ought to approach it with thoughtfulness, discernment, and intentionality.

From the cheerleaders who provide enthusiasm and spirit, to the parents who trust us with their boys, to my fellow coaches who sacrifice so much of their time, and most importantly to the boys we are blessed to lead, I am thankful for football season….and the lessons we all learn.

A Battle Worth Fighting

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Throughout my military career, and even still today, I am an avid consumer of military history.  Probably because I spent a majority of my military career on the east coast, I am particularly drawn to the Civil War. Like many who study this time period, I am often draw to the Battle at Gettysburg.

When it comes to this battle, I have continually been awed by the decisions and actions of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. I have read Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel “The Killer Angels” and watched Jeff Daniels remarkably play Chamberlain in the movie “Gettysburg.” However it was not until I had the privilege of taking a group of my Marines to the actual battlefield that I truly understood this tragic conflict.

gettysburgTogether we climbed the slope of Little Round top and walked the path of Pickett’s Charge. We studied the defensive positions on Cemetery Hill and continually discussed the decision making of opposing Generals Lee and Meade. From human factors to combined arms, we immersed ourselves in the significance of this three day battle.

During a moment of reflection on the hallowed ground of Little Round Top, I paused to think about the decisions Chamberlain had to make. Against all odds, he stubbornly and courageously rallied his forces. Many historians claim his actions saved the day and possibly turned the tide of the Civil War. For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation simply stated: “For daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and carrying the advance position on Big Round Top.”

It has been six years since I was last at Gettysburg. I no longer view Chamberlain’s actions through the lens of a fighter leader. I now view his actions through the lens of a father leader. The battlefield I must now protect and hold is called my home. At stake is the hearts and minds of my wife and children.

The world will continually tell my wife and children lies about their identity.

They will continually be presented with expectations that drown their worth.

They will continually be attacked….

I have always been amazed at how one man can change the course of a battle. Husbands and Fathers….more than ever before, I believe it is our duty to do so now!!

Like Chamberlain we must not back down. We must continue to love, lead and serve well. We must continue to point them to the Father who created us for His glory.

This is a battle worth fighting….Will you join me?

A 9/11 Moment in 1983

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Thirty-three years have passed since the largest non-nuclear explosion since World War II took the lives of 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. At about 6:20 in the morning on October 23, 1983, a yellow Mercedes truck charged through the barbed-wire fence around the American compound in Beirut and plowed past two guard stations. It drove straight into the barracks and exploded.  beruit

Eyewitnesses said that the force of the blast caused the entire building to float up above the ground for a moment before it pancaked down in a cloud of pulverized concrete and human remains. That day was the largest single-day loss of life of Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Americans were shocked at the devastation, but at the time few grasped the significance of the deadly bombing. It marked the emergence of a deadly new form of terrorism never seen on this scale. For those who served or joined soon thereafter, this was their generation’s 9/11 moment…a call to service in the midst of a terror attack.

Almost all of the 241 deceased service members were from Camp Lejeune, NC.  241 dads, husbands, and friends from one town gone in an instant…the impact was devastating to the small military town of Jacksonville, NC.  Imagine what it would do to your community to lose that many of your men in one moment.

Beirut_Memorial_1Today, near the entrance to Camp Johnson, a subsidiary base of Camp Lejeune, a memorial wall is nestled among the Carolina pines. The Beirut Memorial Wall, completed on Oct. 23, 1986, bears a list of those Americans who died in Lebanon. Only four words are inscribed on the Wall: “They Came in Peace.”

The Marines lost at Beirut are also remembered in another way. Soon after the attack, a middle school class in Jacksonville decided to raise money for a memorial for the Marines. The money they raised was used to purchase 241 trees.trees

For over a decade on my way to work, I would drive down Highway 24 (Lejeune Blvd) into the main entrance of Camp Lejeune. What makes this drive different is the center lane. It is lined with the 241 Bradford Pear Trees purchased by local students….one for each man lost.

What many don’t know is that on the other side of the world there is a matching set of trees. In 1992, the director of the Haifa, Israel USO coordinated the creation of a memorial park that included 241 olive trees.  The trees lead to an overpass on Mount Carmel looking toward Beirut.

Col. Charles Dallachie, who was a survivor of the Beirut Bombing once wrote, “For Marines, great victories, great defeats and great sacrifices are never forgotten, but are remembered with battle streamers attached to unit colors. Unfortunately, there are no battle streamers to remember the ultimate sacrifice made in 1983 by Marines, sailors and soldiers in Beirut, Lebanon.”

He is correct, for the Marines lost at Beirut there are no battle streamers…there are only trees.