Journey to Full Surrender

The Surrender

For 47 years I’ve fought various battles. The little nation-state of Jason is war-torn, exhausted, and we’ve used all our resources to fight many different enemies. A little over a month ago I surrendered wholly for the first time in my life.

I’ve fought hard for many things for many years – my job, my family, my livelihood. I’ve taught my children that fighting is living – fighting through the difficult thing, to be persistent and consistent, because it will pay off in the long run. I think I even wrote an article on The War At Home recently, which I just reread in a new context. For 18 years I fought to raise my child, sometimes I fought against him, sometimes I fought other circumstances. But it sure was a fight, and I was left wondering if I did enough. Re-reading again, I can see there were glints of hope in my surrender there – knowing that God would fill the gaps in Jackson’s life where I failed.

What I’ve learned recently is that to live in the fullness of God, you must surrender your whole life, your whole heart, every single drop of it. Surrender has changed my actions because I work on my faith instead of my actions. I don’t focus on trying to do good things or being a good person – instead, I focus on loving God, reading His word, being obedient to Him – and when I do that, the path is made straight and wide. I’m still so flawed and imperfect, but have learned that God loves me because He made me this way. That act of surrender has changed my heart, and has thusly changed my actions. I’ll never be deserving, I can never earn His love, but I’ll always be forgiven, I’ll always receive His grace, and I’ll always be His child.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Romans 12:1

I’ve been a man of action. I think God is teaching me to be a man of faith instead, which is changing my heart, in turn changing my actions. As Romans teaches us, the Jews knew the law – and in action, worked to obey the law. But knowing the law and being obedient to the law is not what God asks us to do. Instead, he wants us to relent our heart unto Him, through Jesus Christ. I’m relenting and resting in God. I’m not working less hard or giving less effort, instead I’m working on being faithful, listening to his guidance, and following through with obedience.

When a new mountain appears I say “watch God move this mountain”. And, without fail, He has moved those big and little mountains in my life. I didn’t have to work harder to get over or through them, I just trusted in God to move them, and He did! He did! Are you hearing what I’m saying to you?

I’m so incredibly imperfect, so incredibly flawed – but I’m good, created in His image, at this time for His purpose. I was put here and now to thrive and be successful. The best thing I can do is be faithful, trusting in the goodness of God, relenting to His glory for His purposes.

Why I Surrendered

For many years I sought the things of this world, the things that my sinful heart desired. After a long and hard road I discovered that seeking those things, whatever they were, did not bring me happiness or contentedness or joy. To the contrary, they made me unhappy, taking all my joy, and leaving me with less than nothing. A life of sin left me unfulfilled, and more, less than empty.

The enemy is a liar, the king of liars. He will whisper “do this thing, it will bring you happiness” – but it did not, instead it stole all of my joy. I’ve learned in my life that the only real happiness I’ve ever felt on this side of heaven came from the goodness of God.

But, I didn’t start out that way. I didn’t start out even thinking that God loved me. I didn’t start out believing that He wanted my heart. What I knew for certain is that I wanted my children to find joy and love and hope and peace in their lives, and that their sinful nature would lead them where mine lead me.

For them, I started taking them to church. I gave them to God, so that they would find a way toward the only path that provides real joy, peace, love, and hope. I was hopeful those good people could teach them about God. As a side affect, I also went to church. It didn’t change me much for a long time. I was certain God didn’t want my nasty heart full of sin. God may have loved me at some point, but look at my life – He had no purpose or need for me. But then I found rest and comfort – I looked forward to just going and being at rest. I was resting in Him. I needed the rest, because the battle had been long.

Then, over a long time, He began to speak to me – He was seeking me all along in the only way I would listen. My single act of obedience in trying to help my children was just enough to let in a sliver of light into my life. That light became bigger and bigger. I see now that faith is about relenting, resting, surrendering. Many years after that first visit to church when my kids were little, I am able to fully surrender. His love never changes. Maybe you’re hopeless today, maybe you think God doesn’t want you. Let me testify, He does. I just decided that I would try it out, what’s the worst thing that would happen? I would go and sit and church, and I knew it wouldn’t change me or make Him love me. I’m glad to have been wrong. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

My shame can’t separate
My guilt can’t separate
My past can’t separate
I’m Yours forever

My sin can’t separate
My scars can’t separate
My failures can’t separate
I’m Yours forever

No enemy can separate
No power of hell can take away
Your love for me will never change
I’m Yours forever

The War At Home

The news is telling us all about Ukraine, it sure is heartbreaking news. Worse, as an advocate of freedom I wish our government would do more, even if that means sending our young men and women to a far-off place to fight. But, that’s a lot of my opinion, I’m not a politician, and this post isn’t about politics.

We’re all fighting wars, every single one of us. For the last two years we’ve all been fighting a common enemy, the COVID pandemic. But more than that, our world has shifted sands beneath us all. Schools are remote then in person, or some mix. Inflation, raising gas, utility and rent prices. Some are fighting a wage war, where we’re demanding more money for jobs that have been considered for less-skilled workers. Us parents, we fight wars daily – all while trying to remember that a pandemic or something else awful might someday steal our babies. I’m exhausted, and I bet you are too.

I’m 46 years old this year. People my age bear the brunt of paying more taxes, being in leadership roles, volunteering, helping in just about everyway. We’re raising our children and often actively are or are preparing to take care of our parents. At least, those of us lucky enough to have good ones. For me, this has been taking a toll too. But it’s a fair tax, I suppose, and one paid by every single generation. We’re the wage earners prime in our careers, we have children of school age, some of us are bosses or managers, or are leaders in various other roles.

More and more I see young people and I judge them too harshly because I was once young too, and probably much more foolish than they are. But I fall into that trap anyways. But this gives old me some hope! I think that when I’m 86 I will look back at the young buck that was once 46 and thought he knew something about life, and scoff. I will be softer, wiser, and smarter.

My oldest son turned 18 and this has sent me into a bit of a tailspin lately. I feel old, but know that I am not as old as I feel, but I feel old. I am so worried about his future, if I did enough, what else I can do still.

I remember the day he was born, he literally took my breath away the first time I saw him. It was real and true love at first sight. I remember thinking what a great dad I would be, the best dad! Jackson would be good at everything, loved by many, so perfectly smart, charming, charismatic and athletic. I would give him everything I knew, and he would become one amazing man some day.

Then he was 5, then 10 – and the years began to slip by fast. Then 12! then 15, then got his license and I blinked and now he’s 18! I wasn’t the perfect father, I didn’t teach him everything – I barely knew anything when I was 26 or 36, but I did the very best that I could at every moment. Sometimes I was angry, angrier more times than I wanted to be. Sometimes I was frustrated, sometimes sad. Sometimes I was working too much, and gone when I didn’t want to be. Mostly – I was so fearful of the man he might become that I didn’t get to take in the man he was becoming. You see, I was just scared to death he would become just like me.

But he became more than me anyways, in spite of my flailing around at fatherhood. Simply put, I taught him everything I knew, and he learned it – and made it his own. He took what he liked, and discarded what he didn’t, and became his own person. I can’t begin to tell you how proud my oldest son makes me. He’s incredibly smart, confident, he’s a hard worker and a good person. He cares about people, and the world, and is passionate about making our world a better place. Our world is better with him in it, he doesn’t know that’s enough for him to change the world, yet.

Someday soon he’ll realize that I know less than he could’ve ever imagined. Someday he might not need me, if I did my job right – and I hope I did. Someday he’ll be 46 and I’ll be pushing 80. Perhaps he’ll wonder how long Dad will still be around. He’ll have children, and I hope a good marriage and job and life – but he’ll have some shape of a life – and even if it turns out to be the most amazing, I’ll still wonder what I could do more and better for him. I hope he won’t need to borrow money from me then, but I hope to have more to give him then too if he needs it. If he needs a ride, or a friend, or someone to talk to, I hope I can be there for him too.

Someday, all of my children will be grown, even 4 year old Evan. I suspect Rachel and I will see grandchildren, and perhaps great grandchildren! Perhaps I’ll be a better grand-daddy than I was a father. Someday they will all be standing beside my casket, there will be flowers, and I’ll be at rest. Meanwhile, they will continue to fight The War At Home with whatever I could equip them with and everything else they learn.

When I pray for my children nightly, then it always goes something like this:

Father – when I failed, I pray you fill in that gap with your abundant wisdom, mercy and grace.
Father – when I was too angry, let them only recall a love full of passion.
Father – when I was gone, let them only recall that they missed me.
Father – seek them all the days of their lives, that they may seek you.

There are many wars worth fighting, but none more important than for the hearts and souls of your children. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust – we will all pass and return to dirt. But legacy is passed down to the next, and the next, and it is the only war worth fighting at home. Except, it’s not a war at all – it’s a love. Giving everything that you have in that moment, that’s love. Protecting with all that you have, that’s love. Holding with all the you are, that’s love. Teaching all that you know, that’s love. And, as a song once said, Love is all you really have to give. I hope that I loved enough, and where I failed, God lifted his love and shrouded my behavior. I’ve many years to go, and in the future, I want to give more love – even if they all turn out to be just like me. Perhaps I’ll learn to love me, too.

Original Sin and Chicken Nuggets

The Original Sin

Genesis tells us that God created the heavens and the earth. We can also learn that He created Adam, then Even. We know that they lived in Eden, a place that provided for all of their needs perfectly, and they lived safely with God, surrounded by his love. Many of us know that God’s only commandment was that they must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As we read, we learn that Eve and Adam did not resist, they sinned, and knew shame. God makes them leave the perfect home he created, and so humanity began it’s journey with sin.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Psalm 51:5

Note: it’s probably not a coincidence the sermons at Wildwood Church are on a series about Genesis.

The Sin of Knowledge

I was scrolling through social media as I was waking up this morning. You and I both know that everyone has an opinion, and I usually agree, disagree or fall somewhere in between. The more ridiculous the social media post, the more responses they draw. Often, aren’t the responses more interesting than the original post?

Then I read something so ludicrous, so astounding, that I became memorized by the pure stupidity in the comment. How can people be so stupid? I found myself lamenting over a future full of fully incapable and stupid people. Then, I got sidetracked by a YouTube video telling me why McDonald’s icecream machines were always broken, and how that’s a conspiracy. That made me think about Science. Science is fact-based, and when practiced carefully, can find truths over a period of time. But today, amidst the COVID pandemic one thing I often here, and think I’ve agreed with too often is this one simple statement, which varies, but is simply: “It’s science, stupid”.

The Evolution of Science

I’m fully vaccinated, I believe in the science of vaccines. Moreover, I recently got my booster. Some people chose not to get a vaccine, and some chose not to get the booster. I got the vaccine because it’s science – a virus caused this pandemic. I did not get the shot for myself. First – I’m a father, son, husband, friend – and I care about those around me. This was a rare time in history that the choice I made could change the course of history – so I chose, for the protection of all I love, to get vaccinated.

Some of you haven’t chosen to get vaccinated. Some of you are concerned about the side effects – long and short term. Some are concerned over what they might really be putting in the vaccines. Some of you believe that COVID is a hoax, or a conspiracy. And people sometimes say to you “It’s science, stupid”. This is an expansion on “science doesn’t lie”.

Science has been wrong. Science has lied. Science has conspired. In this video, the second YouTube video I watch on McDonald’s this morning. It’s a small example of how our entire eating habits were changed by a scientist who used false information that changed how we eat and market food – leading to the creation of the chicken nugget. Moreover, we continue to eat things that are unhealthy built on a lie told half a century ago. “Science fact” begins it’s life as a theory. The old scientific method of study it – and sometimes, over the course of time, discover the theory was wrong. This has happened time and time again through the course of history. Once a thing has been studied enough, it’s proven science fact. But there are many examples of long-proven scientific fact that was just flat wrong. Science is a method of learning how to know.

The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge

Wikipedia

Adam and Eve Like Chicken Nuggets, Too

The Serpent told Eve that God didn’t want her to eat from tree of knowledge of good and evil because then she would know what God knew.

The original sin was a sin of knowledge – our desire to know. Humans like you and I want to know so badly that we devote most of our life to knowing. We need to know, we must know, and we’ll continue to learn until we know the most we’re capable of knowing in our lifetimes. We went to school, we send our kids to school and colleges. We start careers, we take continuing education classes, go to conventions, read books and articles – all so that we can know more. We want to know more so that we can be better at our jobs and in our careers, to help people, to make the world a better place, and to make more money. We seek knowledge like a hungry wolf hyena hunts a dead carcass. A human’s appetite for knowledge is insatiable.

We are humans, born in the sin of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Seek and You Will Find

Social Media is fun and entertaining. It can be heartwarming and wonderful. There are pictures of our loved ones who we’re unable to see as often as we want, and look at those babies growing up! It can also leave us angry, bitter, sad, depressed and demoralized.

As I seek knowledge, because it is my sinful nature, I want to be cognizant of the God I serve. God gave us free will, so we have a choice about what we seek. We have a choice about what we seek from Social Media. Ultimately, I seek the heart of God. I pray for His wisdom in all my decisions, even and especially on the decisions I fail to pray about. If you are seeking the heart of God, then seek that too on Social Media.

I also seek knowledge to learn how to do my job better so that I can provide best for my family and give to my community. I seek to become a better person everyday – I think most of use do that. I want to encourage you to continue to seek knowledge, and to seek that knowledge with your eyes held up high on the prize that is God’s love.

This sinful world is lost, the real one and the virtual one. Seek God’s purpose, God’s love, God’s heart. This morning I scrolled through social media and was disappointed, watched a couple videos about McDonalds, then God spoke to me about knowledge and sin. Seek and you will find, too.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:13

Choosing the Right Yoke

Today I was struggling, truthfully, it started yesterday. And probably long before that – it’s been a long year or five. The particular struggle in my life is irrelevant, but the lesson of the struggle is. I know God has been working on me about showing joy during times of struggle – and, keeping with my pattern, I’ve struggled with that too. But today I did something better and turned to His word for guidance. And after some different passages I fell into one that spoke to me clearly in Mathew.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light

Mathew 11:28-30

Merriam-Webster defines a yoke, and there are several meanings. In the Bible, it’s most often used to describe a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together. Merriam-Webster would go on to say that it could be an oppressive agency. Why does the dictionary think as I do? Carrying a yoke, that’s oppressive, burdensome.

Jesus has the audacity to say if you have a burden, take another burden? What exactly is Jesus saying to me here, in this moment where my burdens seem too heavy?

Love, Servitude, Obedience

The yoke that Jesus carries is one of Love. As a human, this often comes in the form of serving others, and Obedience to God. How does loving others, obeying and serving God make our burdens light?

So often we choose to take up the yoke that solves our problems. Let me work and toil on this thing so that I can fix my happiness, my struggle, so that I can fix my joy. But, Jesus tells us to drop our yoke and take up his yoke. His yoke is easy and light, it includes love, serving others and being obedient to God.

Loving Yourself The Way God Loves You

If you’re a parent you know the sheer joy of watching your child do something really bad, but you are overcome with sheer joy. I’ve seen numerous plays, concerts, and sporting events where my child was not the star – but they were always my star. When Seth was in preschool, they had a Christmas performance where he was Santa Claus. He was dressed up in a Santa outfit, including some stuffing in his belly to make him appear extra jolly.

Seth was so shy then in that play. He spoke timidly, and made it through the underwhelming performance. It was a performance that only a parent could love. Have you heard the phrase “a face only a mother could love”? Well, you’re face/life/circumstance is that that only a Father could love and adore. You too are a hot mess, like the rest of us. But God, he adores us – even amidst our greatest failures he tears up in pride in how strong you are, how well you fight through the hard time. Amidst the struggle, The Father is glowing.

Joy

one thing I’ve been really struggling with for a long time is being joyful on the outside when there are trials, tribulations, and struggles of various sorts. I’ve never been good at smiling during the hurt, at being joyful through the pain. God knows this, and he’s been working on me about it – but I’ve fought him the whole way. How can I find joy in a moment like this? How can I be happy when my world is falling apart? How can I show joy even as the world around me crumbles?

I was today years old when I learned that my joy should be derived from Him, that even and especially amidst my struggles God peers on with utter love, joy, amazement at His creation. And friends, that’s all that really matters amidst our earthly struggles. This earth is a pitstop to reach a place where His love surrounds us eternally.

Holiday Stress

The holidays always bring some joy. Often the most wonderful time of the year brings it’s own set of baggage. Remembering those who we lost, the hurt of family who is not around anymore (or never was). The pain of loss, the heartache of not being able to give your children all that you want to give them. The financial stress, the rush, the arguments with family and friends.

The Pain, The Pleasure

All of this is life. The pain and the pleasure, the love and the hate, the hot and the cold. But in Him, we can take His yoke, and be more joyful. Today I’m thankful to have the time to sort through some of this in my head, and I hope that it works – that I can be happier in times of sadness. And, even if I can’t yet – He will be watching with amazement at His creation working through some set of struggle, and loving me every bit more because of the struggle.

In times of my personal struggles, as long as I continue to seek the answers through His word and prayer, then I be better – encouraged. Maybe I will learn, and maybe I will practice what I learn. I’ll keep turning my eyes to Jesus during times of struggle, and perhaps someday, you’ll see me with joy amidst that pain.

My Children Can Know Peace

My wife and I have four children together, our oldest is currently 17 years old. For his entire life (and more) the United States of America has been at war against terrorism. First Iraq and then Afghanistan and other places in-between. This week that is all coming to an impossible end. As videos and images show the terrible outcome of war, I’m incredibly thankful that perhaps we can turn a corner. I’m hopeful that the country in which my children call home can now be more peaceful and, instead of war, we can spend the next 20 years at peace.

“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King, Jr

For the next 20 years young women and men won’t return from a foreign land with scars they will carry with them the rest of their lives. For the next 20 years, young people can instead visit foreign lands and return with things that will enrich their lives and the lives of others. For the next 20 years, young people can pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness instead of pursuing enemies in foreign lands. For the next 20 years, people can love instead of hate. For the next 20 years, people can build instead of tear down.


I’ve been a faithful patriot, I served my country with honor, and will continue to do so until the day I die. However, I pray that my children see the love and obedience I show towards God above everything else. I pray they love Jesus with all their might, that they teach their children (and their children and their children) about the love of Jesus. I pray they learn about the endless Love that only He can offer. Today I’m thankful for a new day of peace, and that the days of war can finally come to an end.

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.”

Mathew 24:6

Love, At the Barbershop

Yesterday I went to the barbershop to get a haircut, mostly because I was starting to look like a wild man, but also because I like going to this place that reminds me that the world can be simple. Instead of being just reminded of a simpler time, I left upset and disappointed. It wasn’t until this morning that I was able to resolve my disappointment, anger and disgust.

My favorite thing about visiting the barbershop is that it reminds me of a simpler time. Today people like you and I push ourselves to mass consumption, we’re rushed, exhausted, and always spending our time and money in places that don’t bring us enjoyment. I certainly don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a trip to Walmart, or The Mall, or Other large place of Big Promises and Low Expectations. More often than not, I don’t leave one of these big box stores a better person. I’d even venture to say that I leave a lesser person – more disappointed in people, and companies, and even myself. But harken back to a time before these Big Box Stores when small shops did the jobs of these places, and I think you find places that give more than they take. In Ashland there’s an abundance of these small businesses that will enrich your life. As a child, I recall going to White’s Meat Market, which is still open but I haven’t been there in many years. I still shop at the same store my grandparents did, not because there are falling prices, but because it literally takes me back to a simpler time every time I step through those doors.

As a child, I recall getting the world’s best hot dogs from the deli, among many other treats. There, they may even offer to take your groceries to your car for you, and will even walk the isles to help you find something. I go there not only because it’s convenient, but because they offer some little things that I like in their deli, and carry the brands that I’ve remained loyal to for years. Just yesterday I went to Jolly Pirate Donuts and picked up a baker’s dozen. And those are just 3 little places that I love in Ashland, but there are many more. Before Walmart people mostly shopped at small businesses that left them more fulfilled, better people.

My second favorite thing about a barber shop is that it’s a place to meet people in the community and talk about current events. I never know who I might see and get to talk to, and the topics can be just about anything. Sometimes it’s just talk about the Kentucky Wildcats, or rumors about expansion of local business or new business, but sometimes it’s politics. Even as we try to avoid it, and most people do, it comes up – we can’t help it, and it’s mostly okay. I can hear other people talk about something I don’t agree with without getting enraged, which yesterday I thought was a bad trait.

Among the topics yesterday were how badly the Wildcats were playing, this much we all agreed. But there was a lot of talk about fear. Fears about the COVID vaccine, how the recent vote to allow alcohol sales in throughout Boyd County would cause mass alcoholism and child abuse, and fear that President Biden would be ushering in a new world order. Some men in the shop had powerful opinions about the former and present president, neither of which I agreed with. I left there thinking that I should not go back to that barbershop, because I couldn’t believe the man I knew could believe in such crazy, conspiratorial ideals. To me, the thoughts he expressed were dangerous to our community and nation, and these opinions were not based in fact, but instead in rumor, rhetoric and hearsay. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

The words they spoke left me disappointed that I didn’t say something to defend the view of my world. But this morning, that all changed, as God began to speak to me about Love. During Jesus’ time, he did not spend time focusing on the politics of the day, instead he almost always talked and displayed love. A quick Google search says there are at least 157 mentions of the word “love” in The New Testament, and little about politics. However, Jesus’ story was a very political story. Jesus was crucified and died because he claimed to be King of the Jews – which was treasonous, according to the Roman Empire. Though he did mention politics occasionally, especially those in The Church and those of Rome, he almost always turned to thoughts and acts of love. I recalled 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, which states:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

There is plenty in this world that I disagree with, and sometimes I’ll make my thoughts known. The older I get the more I choose not to express myself, because I’ve been wrong enough to know better. I’ve grown to believe that this non-action is a personal weakness. Sometimes it makes me feel like a coward. Today, I’m reminded that my weakness is not weakness, and that I am not a coward. Instead, I’m showing love to others in the same way Jesus did.

If I chose to never go back to that barbershop again I would not be showing patience, I would be easily angered, I would be keeping a record of wrongs. When my oldest son, now 16, was a toddler, this barber gave him his first haircut. I’ve trusted him with the people in my life who I hold most dear. While he’s not my dear friend, he’s an old friend, and I want to show him the love of Jesus.

These thoughts give this old sinner hope this morning. Because if I can show the love of Jesus, the patience of Jesus, then so can you. These small acts of love will make the world a better place. Even in the midst of a pandemic, political upheaval and turmoil, and a time when social norms are changing. We do not have to agree with one another to treat each other with the love of Jesus.

The Heart of a Free Man

I’m currently listening to the book The Richest Man In Babylon, which I heard had some worthy ideals that may appeal to me. It’s been a bit of a laborious read since the linguistics are from another era, namely the era of the early 20th century, but I push on. It talks about the great American ideals of picking yourself up by the bootstraps, being self-reliant, and taking control of your (financial) life while not blaming others for the situation you happen to be in. In this way, it may be a timeless classic. Let’s face it, in 2021 this may need reiterating.

We live in a time when many people think that they deserve what others toil for. We can read that Jeff Bezos makes about $9,000,000 per hour, and wonder why because even making just $15 per hour would change many lives. Mr. Bezos is one of a handful of billionaires that simply make too much for the good himself or society. But let us stop there on that today – because there is truth in the reality that none of us control what Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates or, for that matter, what your neighbor makes. You can only control your own financial future, and to focus on the success or failure of another man is simply a bad way to go about improving yourself.

Those born into wealth and privilege have the easy path toward passing that same wealth/privilege down to their children and grandchildren. However, that does not preclude you and me from also becoming wealthy.

Picking yourself up out of a cloud of debt is going to be the hardest job you may ever do. I thought the author did have some valuable insight on the matter in the following thoughts, which are vastly paraphrased: If you found yourself in a fight for your life, wouldn’t you fight as if your life depended on it, bringing all the strength and power you could muster? The same could be said about your debt. Debt is a man who will take all that you have, including your pride, and punish you so much that you will be afraid to show yourself in front of your friends and family. Debt is a big, strong, powerful man, he will pummel you. Make no mistake about it, if you have debt (and don’t we all), you’re in the fight of your life.

If you have somehow over-leveraged yourself, or have been through a life event that has impacted your income, then you may find yourself struggling. COVID has given many terrible gifts, and for some, it has been the gift of a hulking debt soaking up what little income you have remaining. To paraphrase my favorite TV minister, this is just a season of your life, God is setting you up for the greatest come back of your life. But that come back depends on your ability to recognize the opponent (debt) and fight with all the tools in your toolbox.

In The Richest Man In Babylon, the author states that the mind of a free man fights, while the mind of a slave will roll-over, and accept his fate. I nearly didn’t include that in this blog because it recons back to a time when men should be slaves to other men. But let’s be real for a moment, aren’t we all slaves to something? Perhaps that’s a habit (like tobacco), a debt we owe, our upbringing – but we’re a slave, in that context. As he states, we can choose to have the mindset of a free man, a man who can hold his head high in public, a man with coin jingling in his pockets, a man who makes consistently good decisions.

Wealth is not achieved overnight, it’s the slow build up of good decisions and discipline. Luck will bless the prepared man. But today I ask you to examine your mindset, and ask yourself which mindset you have, the mindset of a slave or one of a free man. If you have a mindset that says ‘everyone is against me, I’ll never get out of this situation’ and so on, you can change your mind, you can become a free man, too.

I’d love to hear your feedback, or if you’ve read this book, your thoughts on that too.

Good and Successful Men

I’ve a confession: my high school career did not contain anything to brag about. I did not make good grades, in fact, I barely graduated. I was not motivated, smart, happy, and maybe I wasn’t even nice or friendly. I did the bare minimum to get by.

After high school, I bounced around between jobs, attended the local community college where I finally graduated. I tried to go to Morehead State University, but I left there after one semester flunking at least some classes. During this time I was always trying to get better gainful employment, but mostly didn’t do well for myself. I even tried a small business that also failed, not because it was a bad business, but because I did not have the tools to allow it to succeed. There’s not a lot from years 18-24 that I’m proud of, because I just coasted along. I had no idea what success was, how to get there, nor did not have any direction in my life.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I was a dirt bag, because I wasn’t. I didn’t do drugs or get a face tattoo, I was never arrested. To the contrary, I tried hard not to do those things, and I’m thankful for that. You see, I was trying really hard – I was (and still am) a really hard worker. I thought that I should get a college degree, but this is the same guy who barely passed high school – so I didn’t even know how to do that. Even with that goal in mind, I didn’t have an ambition, a dream that college would fulfill.

At 25 I joined the Navy, which changed the course of my life. Since 25, I’ve mostly done well for myself. In the last 10 years, the trajectory of my life has changed drastically for the better, but it’s been the culmination of a lot of hard work, one day at a time. Taking a moment to reflect, I wish I knew at 18 (or 8) what I know now. I wish that I had direction, someone who was successful to lead and teach me. As much as the adults in my life loved me (and I was surrounded by lots and lots of love), I didn’t have anyone around who was successful in their life who had the time to teach me how to also be successful.

Nobody is born with the innate knowledge of what it takes to work your way up on the job ladder and how to build and maintain your credit. Boys like me had to stumble their way through it, and a few made it through on the other side and became successful. But that success wasn’t through who I was or knowledge I attained. Mostly, it was through one person or another being nice, giving me a chance, and coaching me through the best way they knew how.

One such man was J.B. Finlay who was the director at the Huntington VA Medical Center. I met him while doing an internship that was required for me to graduate with my BS degree from Ohio University. I am grateful for the kindness that he showed me, for giving me a window into his success. Another was a professor at Ohio University, his name was William Rau. In his classes I learned how to be a good student. He counseled me on a career, and was perhaps the first teacher who treated me like I was or could be smart. Another gentleman, Curt Justice was an incredibly smart business man, a hard worker and would give anyone the shirt off of his back. He taught me that owning a business meant you could do all of the jobs in the business, and that fear did no service to the businessman. If he had to jump out of a airplane as part of his business, he would jump then figure out how he would land. He also taught me a great deal about faith and God. James Shallard worked at a little company called AppRiver, and he saw a skill set of a young man and thought those skills could be put to work on his software development team. He gave me a chance, and plenty of time to grow into a position, and to him, I’m grateful because he gave me my foot in the door that would reveal a great passion in working with technology.

There were others along the way, and there will be more I think. Today I strive to teach my four boys the lessons I’ve attained over the course of my life. Almost all of them were hard lessons. My goal is to give them the guidance that I lacked so that they can make better, more informed, decisions. They are my legacy, but there are other boys out there who need my guidance, my knowledge, and need to see my success. Perhaps there’s a young man out there who hasn’t seen success, and doesn’t have direction, and is fighting the invisible man, much like I was. You can’t win a fight against an opponent you know nothing about, and that pretty much sums up what I was doing as a young man. I think in the weeks, months and years to come, I’ll try to find this young man, and lift him up like those men who helped me.

In today’s world, good men do not have a high value placed upon them. With all the talk of toxic masculinity, one thing has been forgotten – good, successful men know how to teach boys how to be good, successful men. It has been my life’s experience that there is a serious shortage of good men in this nation willing to share this knowledge. We need good men more than ever to teach, mentor, coach and lift up our boys. In spite of being very busy in my own deeds, I have a new goal to teach and help raise up young men.

Victorious In Kentucky

Thomas Wolfe authored a novel titled You Can’t Go Home Again. It’s about a successful novelist who returns home and is shunned because the characters in his books were indeed about real people in his home town, and they were ashamed and angry they he had exposed them. Even though I spent a decade in Florida after leaving my home town, I never wrote or spoke anything inflammatory about those I once knew. Mostly, I was trying to shed the coat of existence that had been placed upon me. That coat contained more than 2 decades of history, and many people who knew me before I could walk. Sometimes when people know exactly who you are, it’s hard to become what God has destined you to become. Six months ago, we all moved back home – history in tote.

After nearly 10 years of fighting to get myself and my family in better positions, and redefining who I was, my fear was that hitting this reset button would reset who I had become. My fear has not become a reality. Instead I find myself even more determined to become who I am destined to be, and reading my last name will not remind anyone of who I was decades ago, it will remind them of what they see right in front of their eyes. The path of my life in Kentucky has been wide and straight, and even easy, so far.

When I left Kentucky I felt small, vulnerable, poor and failed. Probably because I was all of those things. To say that I had struggled mightily is an understatement. Like many Americans who had faced similar fates in decades past, we packed up everything we could fit in the smallest trailer we could rent, and headed South. Upon reflection, that journey was reckless, and even stupid. Rachel and I drove nearly 1000 miles with 3 small children with everything we could carry and very little money. When we arrived at Florida, we had hoped there was a place to stay, as was promised, and that we could make it. This was a sink or swim moment, and one I cannot imagine putting my children through at this stage in my life. But after 10 years, not only did we swim, we became better people, harder workers, fighters, and survivors. Maybe those traits best define us now. We have lost battles, we have been hurt – but we pushed, achieved, and finally over-achieved.

In our return home, we carry those values we have earned, not because we choose to, but because that’s who we are now. I return home not in defeat and with lowered shoulders, but in victory, shoulders back and prepared to be victorious of anything and everything that gets in the way. If that thing is history or people I knew or once knew or heard about, then so it will be. I’m home and am ready to receive what is mine, and for that matter, what is yours. I am victorious.

A Warrior’s Love

Tonight I have fatherly love on my mind. Not the kind a father gives his children, instead the type of love a child craves from his father. I have always craved acceptance and approval of my father, and have felt that he gave neither. Recently, I’ve noticed how much my own children crave my acceptance and approval, and how I’m also not giving them what they want.

I can see they crave some outright blessing, whether that’s a verbal “how amazing of you to do that, you make me proud” or a show of gratitude. Like my father, I find myself not giving those blessings, not because they don’t exist, but because a father’s love is already beyond approval – it’s unconditional. Besides that – that blessing would only last a moment, and they will continue to seek it. Even when my children do things that embarrass me, I accept and approve them. Not because I apply a blessing to their action, but because the biggest joy I can imagine is them being happy, content, successful, capable of being loved and showing love.

Father’s don’t have an agenda except that we want everything that is good for them. When I perceive one of my boys doing something that is going to steal their own happiness or success from them, in my heart, I disapprove, because of my love. It is a father’s love that causes this disapproval.

My relationship with my father has been broken for many, many years now. There is some pain, and there is some joy. For many years I really disliked what I thought he did to me (or rather, what he didn’t do). When I became a father, I vowed to be the man he never was. Because of this I’ve stayed away from jobs that required me being gone for extended periods, I’ve coached them and been to almost all of the games and practices. I cook, clean, work incredibly hard, and try to teach them everything I know. I’ve tried my very, very hardest to be the very best father I can be. Yet, here we are – them craving my acceptance and approval, and me (seemingly) providing neither.

Tonight I was thinking “where have I gone wrong?” Now, I think – that’s the nature of fathers and sons. A father loves more than a son can imagine. A son thinks of love as a one-dimensional object that is displayed toward them, not on them and around them. When I discipline my children or have difficult discussions with them, it is never for my benefit, but for theirs. I think this is perceived as disapproval and non-acceptance. Isn’t that a shame that I thought this, and that my children think this also?

Now I think about how I can change that dynamic – how can I show them that I approve of them while I care about them probably more than they care for themselves? As a 45 year old man, with a father in his 70’s, I find myself doing things that I think would impress my dad – isn’t that just silly? Is that God’s way to instill in us to love ourselves as much as a father loves his son? To be clear, I’ve never done much to impress my father. He’s much more accomplished than I will be at his age in many ways. I’m constantly amazed at how smart he is, even today. Just last week I was blown away by a correspondence with him and thought “he’s so incredibly smart, I can never be that smart!” That is indeed, the summation of a father-son relationship. That is God’s way to tell me “you can and you will do better”.

The epitome of a father’s love is that he’s willing to sacrifice being loved (or even liked) if that means encouraging his son to do better, to be stronger, to fight harder. A mother’s love is a sympathetic love, a father’s love is a love that builds courage. Both sympathetic and warrior love encourage a child in a different way. As a son, my mother’s love taught me to be kind, giving and loving. My father’s love taught me to be courageous, brave and to fight for the life I didn’t know I wanted.

When I see my children seek my approval I know they seeking something I can never give them, because absolutely nothing is ever going to give them what they deserve. One small step can derail a life, every single choice matters, every thought, every action – and part of me is satisfied they will think of me and ask themselves if I approve. What they’re really asking is “is this what is best for me?” However, I know they will despise me for it, maybe even hate me and may even cause them to rebel. That’s what I did. But, they will continue to strive and fight for what is right, and that’s the kind of love I want to give them, a warrior’s love.