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    In Response to Parkland

    Disturb us enough to take action and demand action.
    Comfort us to be able to move forward despite hardship.
    Inspire us to seek unity in times that divide us.
    Show us how to lend a helping hand to those who need a lift.
    Strengthen us. We need it.

    – My Facebook status update at 4:33AM on February 15, 2018

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were gunned down by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz.

    Since then, I’ve watched as my Facebook feed along with the news headlines have been jammed with viewpoints on either side of the gun control debate.  People want tougher gun laws.  Others want to put guns in the hands of educators to defend against possible shooters.  Some people are blaming politicians who take money from the NRA who seem resistant to toughen up on gun laws.  Others are pointing fingers at the FBI who failed to respond to tips that Nikolas Cruz may be dangerous.  And some would agree there’s plenty of blame to go around.

    I certainly don’t have all the answers.  A week and a half later, my Facebook status is still my prayer and my struggle.

    For the record, I don’t own any guns (unless you count my caulk gun, my staple gun, my wife’s hot glue gun, and a few squirt guns).  I’ve only shot a real gun twice (I went clay pigeon shooting on a men’s retreat at my old church, and I shot a pistol once behind my in-laws hunting cabin).  You may not like me for this, but I also once shot a chipmunk with a BB gun.  Afterwards, I felt completely awful.  I wasn’t hunting for food.  I was shooting for entertainment.  20+ years later, I still regret this pointless event.

    I don’t understand the need for civilians to have large capacity automatic weapons.  It doesn’t make sense to me.  (Now, I probably angered my gun collecting friends.)  So, I’m okay with tougher gun laws limiting the types of weapons that can be purchased/owned and requiring background checks and waiting periods.

    But I honestly don’t think tougher gun laws are the one and only answer.  (And now, my friends who are leaning hard on tougher gun laws are probably upset with me.)

    I also read about people who believe tighter security in schools is necessary to prevent or limit the damage from school shooters.  Tighter security may unfortunately be required in this day and age, but I would never suggest putting guns in the hands of our teachers.  Who says teachers won’t flip out and use their gun or that students might overpower a gun-toting teacher?

    (I hate the fact that our kids and teachers have to be afraid and prepared for this kind of violence in their schools which should be the safest places in the world.  My wife is teaching in a public school, and it’s not exactly “fun” for her to go through the training now required of teachers so they are prepared to face school shooters.)

    As I research the shooters who have committed these school shootings over the past 20+ years, I read stories of individuals who were lonely, outcast, bullied, misunderstood, and ill.  Many shooters suffer from depression, anger, and rage.  And some of the shooters were missing a key parent relationship.  In many of the stories, the shooters expressed a desire to be heard.

    “When does it turn to where the student gets to a point where they are actually going to commit violence?” Gomez said. “It’s almost like a seed that gets planted into the individual, and unless somebody is there to intervene, to conduct some type of informal intervention over the course of that person’s life, whether it’s a parent or teacher or coach, that kid continues to move towards what could ultimately be an act of violence.” http://abcnews.go.com/US/dissecting-distinctive-profile-school-shooters-trail/story?id=53197511

    People aren’t listening until it’s too late.

    People aren’t intervening.

    If we really want to make a difference, we must learn to listen to those who are different, to those on the fringes, to those who are hurting, to those who are broken.  We must learn to speak up, and we must learn to intervene when necessary.

    Each of us bears a responsibility to listen, to speak up, and to intervene.

    But this responsibility is especially greatest at home.

    Too many homes are broken.  One or both parents are absent – physically and/or emotionally.  Too many parents are trying to be their kids best friend instead of their parent.  And too many parents think their kids are perfect.  We feed into the entitlement culture by giving our kids access to way more things than they should ever see or do, by failing to say “No!”, and by making sure they keep up with the “Joneses”.

    If we want to change the world, we have to start at home.

    Commit to work on your marriage and to make your marriage work.

    Commit to be present for your children.

    Commit to having those tough conversations with your family.

    Commit to saying “No” when necessary.

    Commit to knowing your family values and commit to holding yourself and your family members to these values.

    Commit to listen.

    Commit to speak up – firmly and lovingly.

    Commit to intervene – even when it’s not easy.

    Commit to get help when you can’t do it on your own.

    Commit to get back up and do the right thing after you mess up.

    Do we need to hold politicians accountable?  Yes.

    Do we need to hold gun owners responsible?  Yes.

    Do we need to hold teachers and educators accountable?  Yes.

    Do we need to hold councilors, therapists, and doctors accountable?  Sure.

    But it starts at home.  We must hold ourselves accountable to laying the foundation for our kids.

    I don’t enter this conversation lightly.  In fact, I often stay away from controversial topics like this.  You may not agree with me on everything in this post.  I hope we can have a productive and civil dialogue instead of the “conversation” I see right now in the news and on social media.

    Also, I don’t proclaim to know all the answers or to understand each and every situation.  I’m sure there are competent parents out there who are doing everything they possibly can to raise their kids best, and sometimes these very same parents’ lives are shattered when their kids commit unthinkable acts of violence.

    I’m sorry if this is your case.

    I don’t want to judge, but I’m pretty sure we can all do more.

    We have to do more for our families, for our communities, and for this world.

    And one more thing, our thoughts, our prayers, and our actions matter.  Don’t stop thinking about how we can make the world a better place.  Don’t stop praying for wisdom, for peace, for change.  And don’t stop taking intentional actions.

     

    Blur

    “My life has been such a blur since I was 18, 19 years old. I haven’t even had time to contemplate my own life. By forcing yourself to write your life story you learn a great deal about yourself.”

    Grant Achatz

    Is it just me, or does life seem to be a blur for you at times?

    Life goes by so quickly.  And technology isn’t helping things.  Within a fraction of a second, I can be virtually anywhere via the internet.  News spreads quickly across the screens of our cell phones, tablets, laptops, and televisions.  Within seconds of a major world catastrophe, terrorist event, or celebrity death, the whole world knows about it.

    And people expect instant replies to their emails, text messages, and social media attempts to reach out.

    We are growing up in a world where people are developing additions to their cell phones.  They can’t go more than a few minutes or even a few seconds without looking at their “smart” phones.

    As a parent, it seems like life has passed me by in the matter of a few moments.  Yesterday, my daughter was born, and today she’s a freshman in college.  My son was born yesterday, and now he is driving his own car.

    And the day before yesterday, I married the woman of my dreams, and now we’ve been married for over twenty years.  (She looks the same, but I’m sure I’ve added some gray hairs, some wrinkles, and some pounds around my waistline.

    It all can become depressing is we let these thoughts consume us.

    For that reason, we must fight against the blur.

    • We must learn to stop and smell the roses.
    • We must learn to slow down and enjoy the beautiful moments of life.
    • We must learn to give thanks for the blessings of each moment, each day, and each relationship.
    • We must learn to prune our schedules, so we can spend our time on the things and with the people who matter most.
    • We must learn that in the frailty and brevity of life that we must be intentional in all things – in the words we share with others, in the actions we take, in the thoughts that run through our heads, and in the moments between the milestones of life.

    Are you going to let life be a blur?  Or are you going to do something about it?

    Make the most of every opportunity.

    Let your words be seasoned with salt.

    Embrace the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens of life.

    In fact, suck the very marrow out of life with each breath you breathe, each step you take, and each move you make.

    Don’t let your life be a blur.

    The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.  Isaiah 40:8 ESV

    What’s the speedometer of your life say right now?  Are you going 100+ miles per hour?  Or are you going slowly these days?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

    Ten Keys To Achieving Excellence

    ten-keys-to-achieving-excellence

    Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.

    Pat Riley

    Are you content with mediocre?  Or do you want to live a life that matters?

    I chose the second option.

    Living a life that matters requires intentional striving for excellence.

    Yesterday, we talked about the nine things holding you back from excellence.  Today, let’s look at the keys to making excellence a reality in our lives.

    10 Keys to Achieving Excellence

    1. Determine your priorities.  Take time to figure out your priorities.  List them in order from one to ten (or twenty).  For example, here’s an example of what your priorities might look like:  1) God, 2) Me, 3) Spouse, 4) Kids, 5) Health, 6) Job, 7) Family, 8) Friends, 9) Side Hustle, 10) Neighbors.  It’s important to know our priorities to help refine our focus.  If God is really my number one priority, my calendar should reflect this importance.  Making the first things first is part of becoming excellent.
    2. Get sleep.  Exercise.  Take a break.  Excellence requires the best of us.  We prevent ourselves from achieving greatness when we are worn out, exhausted, and out of shape.  Sleep, exercise, and rest will give you the energy to make excellence a reality in your life.
    3. Just say “No.”  Saying no to things that distract us from our ultimate goal is crucial to achieving excellence.  We must create margin in our schedules to pursue the things that really matter most to us.
    4. Get a coach.  A coach will help bring clarity to your life and will push you to excellence.  The wisdom and encouragement of a coach can take you to a whole new level.
    5. Find accountability.  Plug into someone who will ask you the hard questions and will keep you on track to achieve the goals you are pursuing.  Make sure you find someone who is dependable.  Accountability only works when you find someone who will be consistent in asking the tough questions.
    6. Plug into experts.  Who is already doing excellent things in the area(s) you are pursuing.  Talk to them.  Read their material.  Watch their videos.  Find out how they made it to the top of their fields.
    7. Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  If you want to be excellent, you have to put in the practice time.  If you want to be an excellent piano player, practice the piano every day.  If you want to be an excellent writer, write every day.
    8. Create a road map to success.  “If you fail to plan, you should plan to fail.”  I don’t know who said this, but it’s true.  If you want to achieve excellence, you have to put in the time, energy, and effort up front to map out your journey.
    9. Get off the couch and get moving.  Excellence will not come to you.  You have to go get it.  Stop being lazy.  Make your excellent dreams a reality by taking action TODAY!
    10. Keep going.  Don’t get discouraged.  Don’t lose momentum.  Get rid of the obstacles in your life, and press on to the goal for which you are aiming.

    Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.

    Steve Jobs

    If you want to live a life of excellence, it’s time to get going – NOW!

    What advice do you have for someone who wants to achieve excellence?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

    The Nine Things Holding You Back from Excellence

    the-nine-things-holding-you-back-from-excellence

    Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

    Aristotle

    One of my favorite movies as a teenager was Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  It’s a teenage boy movie full of teenage boy humor.  I think that’s why I liked it so much.  I remember seeing the movie with a few of my friends, and the rest of the year we repeated lines from the movie to each other as we went about our activities.

    In the movie, “excellent” was a word thrown around by Bill and Ted to describe anything they thought was cool, interesting, or fun.  If the movie had been made a few years ago, it might be called Bill & Ted’s Phat Adventure or Bill & Ted’s YOLO Adventure or something similar.

    I like the word excellent or excellence.  Here’s how Wikipedia defines excellence:

    Excellence is a talent or quality which is unusually good and so surpasses ordinary standards. It is also used as a standard of performance as measured e.g. through economic indicators.

    Excellence is a continuously moving target that can be pursued through actions of integrity, being front-runner in terms of products / services provided that are reliable and safe for the intended users, meeting all obligations and continually learning and improving in all spheres to pursue the moving target.

    Excellence doesn’t happen by accident.  It takes planning.  It requires repeated action.  And excellence means constant analysis and adjustment along the way.

    I want to be known for going about life with excellence.  Despite this desire, there are several things preventing me from achieving excellence.

    9 Things Holding You Back from Excellence

    1. Lack of focus – Excellence is impossible when our mind is concentrating on too many things at the same time.  I want to be an excellent husband, an excellent father, an excellent son, an excellent brother, an excellent grandson, an excellent friend, an excellent employee, an excellent boss, an excellent writer, an excellent speaker, an excellent coach, an excellent runner, an excellent driver, an excellent brewer, an excellent landscaper, an excellent reader, an excellent conference attendee, an excellent mastermind member, an excellent mastermind facilitator, an excellent Toastmaster, an excellent Toastmaster Area Director, an excellent missionary to Guatemala, an excellent leader, an excellent saxophonist, an excellent small group leader, an excellent youth volunteer, an excellent community volunteer, an excellent Eagles and Bears fan, an excellent Phillies and Cubs fan, an excellent Survivor fan, an excellent Amazing Race fan, and the list goes on and on and on.  Things things are great, but it’s hard to be excellent when I’m not focused.
    2. Lack of energy – Excellence is challenging when we lack energy.  I mistakenly believe excellence can be achieved by getting up at 4AM and going to bed at 11PM every day.  I mistakenly believe excellence can be achieved by working every day without rest.  In reality, my ability to successfully pursue excellence declines as I fail to recharge my battery by getting enough sleep and taking a break from time to time.
    3. Lack of time – Excellence won’t happen if we don’t have time for it.  I fill my calendar with activities, meetings, and “commitments” leaving little time for actions which will lead to excellence.
    4. Lack of clarity – Many fail to achieve true excellence in their lives, because they lack purpose, passion, direction, and overall clarity.  If you don’t know where you’re going, you will get their every time.  Too many of us go through life doing what others tell us to do instead of figuring out what we were meant to do.  We chase after things that don’t matter, because we don’t know the difference between “doing good things” and “doing the right things.”
    5. Lack of appropriate input – Excellence may never happen if we don’t get the right input in our lives.  If I want to become an excellent saxophone player, it won’t happen without the right instruction.  I won’t become excellent at playing the saxophone by taking lessons from a beginner drummer who has never even seen a saxophone.  And listening to podcasts about leadership will do little to help me improve when it comes to playing the saxophone.
    6. Lack of appropriate skill development – Excellence doesn’t happen with practice and intentional skill development.  Chances of becoming an excellent public speaker can be improved by listening to polished, professional public speakers, but I won’t become excellent at public speaking unless I work on my speaking skills by practicing, getting feedback, correcting my mistakes, and doing it again and again.
    7. Lack of planning – Excellence doesn’t happen by accident.  I will fail to become an excellent marathon runner without a plan.  I’ll fail to write an excellent book without an idea, an outline, and a plan to get to the final product.  It’s nearly impossible to achieve excellence without intention.
    8. Lack of action – Excellence won’t happen by sitting on the couch.  If I want to run a 5K, I have to get off the couch and run.  If I want to write a book, I have to open my laptop and write.  If I want to dunk a basketball, I have to jump.  Excellence won’t come to us.  We have to go get it!
    9. Lack of repetition – Excellence isn’t a one time event.  Excellence requires repetition.  If I want to write a book, I have to write every day.  If I want to become an excellent husband, I have to work on it every year, every week, and every day.  Too many people miss out on excellence, because they give up after the first attempt.

    Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.

    Vince Lombardi

    Come back tomorrow for thoughts on how you and I can make excellence a reality in our lives.

    Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Philippians 4:8

    What’s holding you back from achieving excellence?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

    Rooftop Reflections – Guatemala 2016 – Saturday, July 16, 2016

    rooftop-reflections-saturday-july-16-2016

    I spent two weeks in Guatemala in July.  Each morning, I woke up before anyone else in our house, and I climbed up the steps to the roof of our house in Santo Domingo Xenacoj.  This is where I started my day with prayer, reading, and rooftop reflections.

    Each morning, I recorded a video documenting my “Rooftop Reflections.”  I initially posted these on Facebook, but I realize many of my readers aren’t connected with me on Facebook.  Over the next several weeks, I’ll release these videos to you here on the blog.  These videos provide another glimpse into my experiences in Guatemala.

    Here is the sixth installment:

    Rediscover The Wonder

    rediscover-the-wonder

    Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.

    Stephen Hawking

    Yesterday morning, I woke up at 4 A.M. (when my alarm went off) with the E.T. movie theme song swirling around in my head.

    Why the E.T. soundtrack?

    I have no idea.

    As I rolled out of bed, I remember thinking about the feeling I first had when I heard that music while Elliot flew his bicycle in front of the moon with E.T. safely tucked in the basket on the front handlebars.  As I watched E.T. for the first time, I experienced a feeling of wonder.

    I wonder what it is like to fly.

    I wonder how the moon was so full.

    I wonder about the possibility of rescuing an extraterrestrial.

    Recently, I had this feeling again as I dropped our oldest off at Messiah College for her freshman year.

    I wondered again at the feelings of freedom and excitement that clearly shown on my daughter’s face as she prepared to embark on this new journey away from home.

    I wondered again at the thought of meeting so many new people and learning so many new things.

    And I wondered again at the opportunity to plug into the community offered at a Christian college.

    I think we sometimes forget to look through the lens of wonder as we move into adulthood.  We allow our sense of responsibility and our tendency for routine take over.  We forget to look at the world with enthusiasm and zest for life.  This trickles into our relationships and even into our faith.

    I like routine, but I don’t want to become complacent as I experience life around me.  I want to approach the world with energy.  I want to take on each relationship and each conversation with a sense of purpose.  And I want to live like me faith is fresh and God’s mercies for me are new every single morning.

    I want to live with wonder!

    What causes you to wonder?  What part of the world are you seeing with fresh, new eyes?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

     

    What Is Home?

    home

    The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

    Maya Angelou

    This week, I’m not home.  I’m out-of-town attending a leadership conference in Chicago and then visiting my brother’s family in Milwaukee.

    I’m away from my home in Pennsylvania.

    But I’m returning to my home in Illinois.  I lived outside of Chicago until I was 8 years old.

    Home is where the heart is.

    Pliny the Elder

    At least that’s what they say.

    Home is where I feel a sense of belonging.  It’s where I feel a connection with my past, my present, and my future.

    Home is where I feel safe.  It protects me from the storms of life.  It keeps me warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and dry in the rain.

    Home is where I feel a sense of purpose.  Sure I need to branch out – to stretch – into the uncomfortable.  But my first purpose is fulfilled when I’m a home.

    Home is the nicest word there is.

    Laura Ingalls Wilder

    I feel at home when I’m in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania.  I feel at home when I’m in Mt. Holly, New Jersey.  I feel at home when I’m at my job in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.  I feel at home when I’m in Grove City, Pennsylvania (where I went to college).  I feel at home when I’m in Xenacoj in Guatemala.

    I feel at home when I connect with others through my writing and speaking.  I feel at home when I mow the lawn.  I feel at home when I run the trails near my home or the treadmill at my gym.

    There’s no place like home.

    Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz

    Despite these feelings, places, and experiences, I still have an ache – an empty spot – for home.  When people pass away, others say “They went home.”  This sometimes sounds cliché, but I think there’s something to it.  We all have a longing for home that won’t truly be satisfied until we take up residence in our eternal home.  Until then, I’m hanging onto the glimpses of home I experience in this life.

    My home is in Heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.

    Billy Graham

    What does home mean to you and where do you find it in your life?

    This post was inspired by a fantastic video about bringing humanity to the homeless.  I hope you’ll check it out below.