Hunting and Life Lessons

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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.”

Stay 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.

There 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.”

Speed of Life: How Fast Are You Going?

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I love books…especially books on leadership.  One of the best ones I have read recently is called “Leadership Axioms” by Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois.  In his book, Bill provides a collection of insight and wisdom aimed at helping today’s leader.

127846878_Autobahn_412644cDuring one of these short essays Bill recalls a moment at the conclusion of a conference he was speaking at in Germany.  Bill’s translator was bringing him back to the airport and along the way they chatted about the most impactful moments of the conference.  To quote Bill, “As we made our way through a residential part of town, our conversation matched the relaxed, easy pace of our drive.”  But then they hit the autobahn.  (For those who may not know, Germany’s autobahns are famous for being among the few public roads in the world without speed limits for cars and motorbikes.)

Bill immediately noticed that the faster his friend drove, the less they talked.  He recalls that for most of the drive on the autobahn they rarely spoke at all. He somewhat jokingly added, “Instead of continuing our enjoyable conversation, we found ourselves focusing solely on dodging other cars and avoiding a crash.”

I believe there is an important lesson in this story for all us….especially during this time of year.  We add events to our week, items to our list, and begin planning for a New Year.  We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous therefore we overbook. Before we know it we have generated a velocity that we find hard to sustain.

Maybe it is time to slow our pace, adjust our schedule, reorder priorities, and focus on our relationships.  I know there have been seasons in my life where the health of my relationships with my Creator and my family have suffered due to the speed I had committed to.  My speed caused me to be less aware of God’s presence in my life and even less aware of my actual presence at home.  Driving on the autobahn may be fun….but it is not sustainable and it comes with a price.


I challenge you to slow your speed.  Find time to rest…Time to relax…Time to enjoy your family and friends…Time to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10).

And I’m actually going to take my own advice….if you are looking for me next week, my boys and I, along with my father-in-law, will be relaxing and enjoying the view of  Southwest Texas from a deer stand.


Conversations With My Grandfather

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papa 2One of my favorite places to be as a kid was in a 1978 Chevy Truck with my Grandfather. It didn’t matter where we were going.  Many times we were pulling a boat to the lake.  Other times he was dragging my brother and me with him to the railroad yard where he worked.  Regardless of where we were going, it was the time in his truck that I remember.

I loved asking him questions. Questions about the Korean War, questions about the country music stars he had played with, questions about faith, questions about life, questions about nothing at all.  Without a doubt, these conversations had a profound impact on my life.

Deuteronomy 6 is an oft-quoted passage of many family advocates, and rightly so.  Verses six through nine of this dynamic chapter challenge the families of Israel as to how the wonderful book of the law should be used:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9, ESV

Did you catch that? Right in the middle of this passage describes “when” we should have these conversations with our kids. “Talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  TRANSLATION: During everyday life!

There are things that every one of us do each day of our lives that we can use to teach key life principles to our children. These events move beyond regular family devotions to what many call “devotions in motion.” Even mundane activities like walking the dog, washing dishes, or driving to football practice can be used to share timeless biblical truth and principles….simply by having conversations with our kids.

Papa 1

As I further reflect on these conversations, and their role in forming the hearts and minds of my two boys, I cannot help but see the connection with our Heavenly Father. How much more should our conversations with Him mold and shape our hearts ? As we pray and read His Word, He speaks to us. In a sense, He is sharing Himself, His thoughts, His will, and His values with us….a powerful conversation!

As a dad now, I know that the conversations I have with my two sons will have a lasting impact on them as they continue to grow up. They will help shape and mold their hearts and minds, just as the conversations with my Grandfather did for me.

The Weight of Expectations

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“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s how you carry it.”

heavy-pack-1-5-official-1024x661It was summer 1996 and these were the words of my Senior Drill Instructor, Staff Sergeant James Porter.  He was demonstrating to my boot camp platoon how to properly carry our Marine Corps “pack” in preparation for the long days of hiking ahead.  For our next phase of training, we would spend some time in the mountains and hills over San Diego with more than 80lbs on our back.  I watched as those who took his advice and instruction thrived, while those who did not failed.

As a husband, there are many weights in my pack; however experience has taught me that one of these weights is typically larger than the rest:  expectations.

These expectations are typically broken down into two parts.

First: what do I expect my wife to do (my expectations)

Second: what does she actually do (her behavior)

In my short 16 years of marriage I have learned this one basic lesson: There is always a gap between expectations and behavior.  Maybe this gap is there because of how things were done with my family or how things where done in her family. Maybe this gap is there because of something I have failed to communicate. Regardless of the reason….the gap is there.

But here is the bigger issue – I will typically fill that gap with one of two responses: I can believe the best about her OR I can assume the worst about her.

I want to be clear // what we choose to put in that gap is fundamental to the health of our marriages. Our relationships will grow or fade depending on what we choose to put in that gap.

Stephen Kendrick, author of the best-selling book The Love Dare beautifully states, “Love chooses to believe the best about people. It gives them the benefit of the doubt. It refuses to fill in the unknowns with negative assumptions.” Centuries before Stephen wrote his words, the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church at Corinth, boldly declared, “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.”

Love demands we fill in the gap by believing the best! When we assume the worst, our pack becomes heavier. Thankfully we can lighten our pack by communicating our expectations and assuming the best! Remember, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s how you carry it.”


Leadership Minute: Picture Perfect Parenting

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This morning on the way to work I was listening to a podcast and the following question was asked, “Is your family the picture you had in mind.”

That question got me thinking. Whether we admit it or not, we all hold pictures in our mind of how we think our family should look or how our family should “behave.”

Before I got married and had kids my picture looked like this: Dad’s in charge, we have morning devotions together before our breakfast, relaxing evenings together, we never eat fast food….you know…every morning our children wake up and call their parents blessed.

YPE_038Well we soon all come to grips with reality and say, “that’s not us” but we (or maybe it’s just me) still feel an incredible pressure for it to be “us.”

The truth is, there is a degree of dysfunction in every family. After all, a family is merely a gathering of flawed human beings. So don’t buy into the myth that we have to make more lists, get more organized, spend more money, and never make mistakes in order to be successful parents. Unrealistic pictures paralyze parents. Remember….our role as mom or dad is not to impress our children with our ability to parent. Our role is to impress our children with the love and nature of God.

I love the following statement by Reggie Joiner, “The family exists, even in its imperfection, to display the heart of God to every generation.”

Instead of looking at your family and wanting a “Better Picture” – shift your thinking and look at the “Bigger Story.”

Family Core Values

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In my previous organization, we had a list of 3 core values: Honor, Courage, and Commitment. As Marine leaders, we consistently led numerous discussions on how these values were lived out and demonstrated by individual Marines and collectively as a warfighting organization. More importantly, we were expected to model them on a daily basis.

Realizing the importance of core values in my “job” solidified the need for my family to define our own set of values. Over time and after much prayer and discussion we came up with five.

Our Core Values are:

Prayer with Expectation

Truth with Compassion

Scripture with Application

Generosity without Reciprocation

Leadership with Humility

(*I’ll save future blog posts to describe each one and why they are important to us*)

The purpose behind defining your family core values is not to have something nice to put in a frame or hang on the fridge, but a clear list of values that drive your decision making and provide focus for how you “do life.” To paraphrase author and leadership consultant Will Mancini, core values are the shared convictions that guide our actions and reveal our strengths. Simply put, they should be a constant reminder of what is important to your family.

When you don’t know or you haven’t clearly defined your values, you end up drifting along in life. Instead of basing your decisions on an internal compass, you make choices based on circumstances and social pressures. Conversely, when your family’s core values are clearly defined the benefits are numerous:

  • Provides a framework to make individual and family decisions
  • Helps ensure unity
  • Makes life simpler because it frees you to say “no” to certain things and “yes” to better things
  • Most of all: core values allow you to do more of what you do best!

Your family already has a certain set of core values….maybe you just haven’t clearly defined them yet. They are underneath the surface of your daily activities. Your role as a leader in your home is to pull them above of the waterline. The more your family knows about itself, the better it’s able to deal with life. Trust me… there’s something about actually writing down your values that makes you more committed to living them out!



Talking With My Kids About Terrorism

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Thursday was a mix of emotions for many, my family included.  Earlier in the morning, a dear friend of mine, returned to his family after a lengthy deployment. His unit was gone over 7 months. Similar to the other Marines he was deployed with, he missed birthdays, school parties, anniversaries, and holidays. His wife and two kids simply missed him. On this day, their countdown was finally over. A husband came home to his wife. A daddy came home to his kids. The joy of reunions are indescribable to those who have not experienced them. This was a great day for hundreds of Marines and their families.

usmc mourning

Then a little after 11am news broke that a young man named Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez sprayed an Armed Forces Recruiting Center with gunfire before driving seven miles away and killing four Marines at a Navy Reserve Center. Although the investigation continues, there are no answers that will truly satisfy our desire to know “why?”

Within a few hours on Thursday, a number of families were reunited with their Marine while four other families, through an act of terrorism, had the fabric of their lives destroyed.  The contrast in emotions was overwhelming.

My boys had questions about both events.  As I spoke with my children over the next two days I wanted to ensure they understood four things:

#1: There is evil in this world.  This cannot be ignored.  We can refuse to watch the news or read the articles but that will not make it go away.  In fact, one of the great fallacies of our modern life is the assumption that we have the right to live in peace and security. The plain truth is Jesus never promised us safety in this world…quite the contrary.

#2: Our response to this evil is not simple to explain or understand.  There is no one right way to face evil. God may call us to fight and conquer like Joshua, submit with hope like Jeremiah, or preach like Jonah.  But, even in light of these examples, we must remember that the One we are told to emulate is Jesus…His love and His sacrifice.

#3: I reminded my boys that strong people always stand up for victims .  That’s why we have a military, local police, first responders, etc… All of these men and women are willing to sacrifice to allow us to sleep peacefully in our bed each night. They sacrifice their personal comfort, their freedoms, and many even their lives, to protect and defend us.  However the burden to protect and serve others does not fall  solely on their shoulders….we must also do our part to protect those who may be weak.  Regardless of our response, to overcome this evil, service and sacrifice is required.

#4: Perhaps most importantly I remind them of who wins in the end. “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” – Revelation 20:10.

16 Years of Marriage

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Sixteen years ago today, Liz and I stood at the altar and made a commitment to each other for the rest of our lives.

wedding pic









Here is a brief snapshot of our blessed life together since that day:


2 boys…who are very much boys


2 dogs

0 cats (this number will remain the same)

A dozen or so lizards…maybe more…maybe less…don’t ask

moving truck


9 inter-state moves


12 houses



medal pic


Too many training exercises, military operations, and deployments to count…




Laughs…many more


On the day I left for bootcamp in 1996, Liz handed me a small leather bound Bible.  She told me she had underlined one verse that spoke from her heart. I spent the next 2 hours on the plane looking for her message.  I found it in the Book of Ruth.







3 years of long distance dating and 16 years of marriage and she has never wavered from those words.

To the girl of my dreams, my bride of 16 years; I hope you know:

You still fascinate and inspire me.

You still influence me for the better.

You’re still the object of my desire.

Thank you for another wonderful day of marriage.

Courage Under Fire

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July 1st 1863….

152 years ago today, the largest military conflict in North American history began when Union and Confederate forces collided at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The epic battle lasted three days and resulted in a retreat to Virginia by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Throughout my military career, and even still today, I am an avid consumer of military history. When it comes to the Battle at Gettysburg 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 five 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 be continually be presented with expectations that drown their worth.

They will continually be attacked….

But like Chamberlain I will not back down. I will continue to love, lead and serve well. I will continue to point them to the Father who created us for His glory.

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 now do so.

Will you join me?

Want to Change the World: Make Your Bed

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Every year around May and June, I am routinely intrigued and sometimes entertained at the number of celebrity commencement speakers at universities across our country.   Some commencement speeches are dull, some are grandiose, and some get made into Top 40 hits.  But some, some are truly motivational.  Last year was one of those moments.

Admiral William McRaven

In 2014, the University of Texas at Austin invited Admiral William H. McRaven to share his philosophy of leadership with the recent graduates.  At the time of his remarks, Admiral McRaven was serving as the head of the U.S. Special Operations Command.  Before commanding all of our nation’s most elite warriors, McRaven, a Navy SEAL for 36-years, had been at the tip of the spear in the war on terror since 2001. He had commanded a squadron in the legendary Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as SEAL Team Six, and even oversaw the planning and execution of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.  On this day, he choose to share ten lessons learned from basic SEAL training.  Although all were compelling I found lesson #1 especially convicting.

Lesson #1:  “If you want to change the world….Make Your Bed”

McRaven shared that how every morning in basic SEAL training, his instructors would show up in his barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was his bed.

McRaven elaborated, “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day.  It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.  By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right…..And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

McRaven’s statement may sound a little far-fetched, but his advice is undoubtedly worth considering: if you want to make an impact on a large scale, you have to be comfortable making it on a small scale too.

This made me wonder: As a parent and spouse, how often do I overlook the importance of the small mundane tasks.

Do I spend more time planning for a great trip or vacation but neglect the blessing of an early afternoon off with the kids?

Do I shoot for the moon on my wedding anniversary but totally miss the target on scheduling regular date nights?

Do I overlook the importance of the hours I have today while focusing on my 5 year plan?

Like Admiral McRaven, I too am convinced that we all need to be reminded that success in most parts of our life revolves around doing the simple things really well.

Do you want to have an impact on this generation…start by making your bed!



(After making your bed, I highly recommend reading the other 9 leadership lessons McRaven presented that day