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Part-time job throwback: what trends can I draw from the jobs I held as a teenager?

My first part-time job: the local library

My first part-time job started as a summer job helping at the local library. I lived in a small town in Missouri, and we had a historical library that was built using Carnegie dollars back in the early 20th century. It was a great small town, old feeling building. I hadn’t spent much time there, but somehow my dad had the idea that they might be willing to hire me for the summer. I honestly don’t quite know how it came about, but he helped me get an interview with the director of the library. Looking back, I was only 13 years old at the time because it seems like it was the summer after my 8th grade year.

Bolivar Carnegie Library part-time job

The local library where I worked when I was 13 year old — Source: Kaethesson

I would ride my bike to the library each day that summer in sometimes sweltering, moist heat, and I would spend my days sorting and shelving books, helping patrons find books, checking in and checking out books, and all the other things you imagine librarians doing. Through that experience, I learned how to deal with adults, both customers and employers, I gained some additional layers of responsibility, I came to understand the value of large print books and audio books, and I discovered that genealogy is a big deal for small town libraries.

My second part-time job: the local downtown law firm

I don’t remember how long I worked at the library, but it seems I may have worked there into the school year. At some point, I upgraded to working for the local downtown, small town law firm. I don’t remember if that shift was my idea or if that was also an idea hatched by my dad. One of the law firm partners was my best friend’s dad, so maybe it came about through the friendship, but there also may have been some dad initiative mixed in there as well. It seems like I started working at the law firm the summer after my freshman year, so i would have been 14 years old. I was young for my age in school, one of the youngest in my class.

At the law firm, I was responsible — along with one of the lawyers’ sons, with whom I alternated work days — for all filing and file tracking and for running all the errands to the court, the recorders office, the title company and other downtown venues with which the law firm did business. I was routinely called into attorneys’ offices and given photocopy projects or simple research projects and errands. Yes, I was a “gopher”, but I was hanging out with real lawyers in a real law firm and getting paid to do it. I had always considered being a lawyer, and from that experience, I learned many things, most of all that law firms are very quiet, sometimes serious, and professional places.

I worked at the law firm for a few years, and I had some great experiences there, including meeting then-governor John Ashcroft and wandering downtown shops with him as he shook hands on a campaign stop. I remember being aghast as he jaywalked from one corner of the downtown square to another, violating all downtown square walking traffic protocols I had learned as a young law firm employee, to get to a group of people and shake hands. I was even made an appearance in the background of a photo of him in the local newspaper the next day.

My third part-time job: the local weekly newspaper

In my junior year in high school, I took journalism class in high school and found traction for my love of photography and writing. That year, I approached the local weekly newspaper to see if they would hire me. Again, I think that whole process was actually initiated by my dad. I don’t remember making the initial contacts to get the job, which leads me to think that he did. I interviewed with the publisher of the newspaper, and he hired me to help at the newspaper to shoot, develop and print photos and to proofread and assist in the layout of the newspaper.

I ended up working at that weekly newspaper — the top weekly newspaper in the state of Missouri at the time — for the rest of high school and into college until my senior year in college. It was a great job that gave me lots of experience and connection and responsibility, and I owe much to the people who helped me along there and coached me and held me responsible and taught me the value of doing a good job, all in the context of the small town newspaper in which they (and eventually I) held much pride.

What trends can I draw from these part-time job experiences

Why do I write all of this? There are trends in these storyline that I notice:

1) My dad acted as a catalyst in contacting employers and connecting me into my part-time jobs

My dad was influential in the process of opening the doors necessary to help me get those jobs. Those employers likely did not have an opening for a high schooler. My dad talked to someone and convinced them to meet with me and consider opening up a position for me. His relational way and his initiative made all the difference in my getting those jobs.

2) The people who hired me for a part-time job were willing to train and coach me

Those employers were willing to hire me (some, at a very young age) and to find a way to use what skills I did have and to train me and coach me in the rest. I learned much through those years, and you can chalk that up to the leadership and staff at those companies who were willing to take a risk on me and deal with my failures and error and help train me into a young adult with better skills for tomorrow.

3) I was willing to hustle to get the part-time job and ultimately do the work to keep the job

I wanted work, I wanted the pay, and I was willing to work and learn and figure it out. I can tell you — I was not always a responsible young man, and I disappointed many times. But I still wanted those jobs, and I was willing to dress nice, figure out how to get there (even before I could drive), show up, and do the work day after day.

The 3 key elements involved in my early part-time job development

The trends I can quickly identify in my teenage part-time jobs are as follows:  The relationships with the employers and the job positions themselves were opened up through initiative and interaction on my behalf; employers were willing to take the time and provide the resource to hire and develop young people; and I was willing to put in the work to show dedication and desire on my part to show up and do the work.

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Taking first steps to sort through your personal dark side

In my last post, I was talking about how we each struggle with our own personal dark side. We each seem to hold onto things about ourselves that we think no one else should ever know.

Sometimes we are dealing with facts and regrets from our past.  Other times, we struggle in our hearts and mind over situations we have lived through that we can’t seem to process. Oftentimes, instead of processing these things consciously, we just hold them and hide them. But whatever your personal dark side looks like, simply trying to hide it deep inside does not work. What’s eating you up inside always seem to find a way to leak out through your personality, moods, treatment of others, inability to move forward in life, or just your emotions or lack of them.

I shared lyrics from the Kelly Clarkson song “Dark Side” and how that song captures the struggle of processing your personal dark side and what to do with it. Throughout it all, the crux of the song is relationship, about revealing your dark side to someone else and the risk of doing so. At its heart is a desire to overcome the fear of rejection to be known and understood.

Or will you stay
Even if it hurts
Even if I try to push you out
Will you return?
And remind me who I really am
Please remind me who I really am

Who have you let glimpse into the depths and dark of your soul? Anyone? It’s hard to do. It’s scary. We fear losing control of our personal dark side, of the darkness, the anxiety, the fear somehow taking over. I’ve felt that fear. We all have if we’re being honest with ourselves. Wrestling with our personal dark sides is a very earthy, real life human moment. We all experience that struggle in different ways. Trying to move past that personal dark side can feel like trying to scale a wall of fear that hinders personal progress.  Realistically, though, the only real way to move forward is to climb that wall of fear created by your personal dark side and get to the other side.

Climbing over wall of your personal dark side

I won’t judge anyone for fighting hard to hold onto their darkness. When you combine the fear of losing control of your deepest and darkest secrets along with the risk of rejection from someone you love, that’s a huge wall to climb over. It is not easy.  At one moment or another, we have all tried to climb over that wall, tried to overcome those fears to talk to someone about what’s going on inside us.

It is also important to acknowledge that sometimes our hesitation isn’t just for self-preservation sake. We might also fear for the other person. What will happen if we pass our pain and hurt and darkness over to that person we love and trust? Will our pain and darkness somehow transfer over to them in the process and hurt them as well? Sometimes our struggle and darkness feels so heavy. We are not sure that another person can handle the burden. The last thing we want to do is drop a weight on this person we love and inadvertently cause them or our relationship to crumble under the weight of our pain.

We have all stood at the foot of that wall and stared up at it, wondering if it’s worth the risk and the energy that will be required to scale it and get over it. We wonder if there’s something better on the other side of the wall that’s actually worth the effort.

A few tips from what I have seen and experienced in my own life:

Just tell one person about your personal dark side

Don’t let the fears overwhelm you. You don’t have to go tell the world or bare your soul on on Facebook. Just tell your person, the one you know you can trust. Share your personal dark side quietly and one-on-one in person with someone you know who will love you regardless and who will not hold it against you. It may be a friend, a counselor or pastor, or a lover or spouse. Find your person and let them in.

Take your time and go slow

Share it in pieces, in small, manageable bites, to make sure it’s really safe and to find your stride with them and to give the time to process it with you. It will take time, but doesn’t real relationship always take time? There’s no rush. You have been processing your personal dark side for a long time. You can afford to take some time to work it out slowly. It may take your other person some time to process as well, so there is no need to hurry.

Consider meditation to help separate out and better identify your personal dark side

Over the last six months, I have become a big fan of meditation thanks to the Headspace app.  I have found that meditation has taught me how to separate my thoughts and fears from my identity. Your dark side, when it comes down to it, is not your identity.  Your dark side is merely thoughts, feelings and experiences that you cling to and identify with.  Try meditation with a goal of learning how to separate your personal dark side from your actual individual identity.  It might help you find a place from which you can move forward.  There are many ways to get into meditation, but the simplest I have found are the sites and apps like Headspace and Calm.

Don’t be afraid of the professionals

I have learned a deep respect for the professionals who work with human minds and relationships. The human psyche is complex on so many levels and can have so many layers, stacked and integrated one upon the other. Professional counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists have been trained and have tools and insights that might be more helpful than just talking to a friend. Also, professionals have confidentiality obligations. Knowing that your matters will be kept confidential can help you work through your stuff without fear of anyone else knowing until you want them to know.  If you don’t quite know where to start in finding a professional therapist, you might check out this Art of Charm podcast mini-episode titled How To Find A Therapist.

Climbing over that wall of fear will make all the difference

From my personal experience and from walking alongside friends through this process, expending the time, energy and effort to climb over that wall of fear created by your personal dark side is worth everything you will put into it. It will be hard. It will require significant mental and emotional expense on your part. Take your time and don’t rush it, but do the work it takes to climb that wall.

Everyone’s story and situation and experience is different, but it will be worth it. Honestly, you may not feel it immediately.  But over time, you fill find a place a solace, a level of peace, freedom and an energy of empowerment that will help you move forward. You will be able to see yourself differently and manage what is inside in a whole different way. It will no longer own you. You will own it. And in a way you didn’t expect, you will share that ownership with the person with whom you shared the experience. Once you are over the wall, you together then will be able to figure out what’s next.

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Everybody’s got a dark side

“You just wouldn’t understand. I have this dark side of stuff that I can’t really talk about or let out.”

Ever said this? Ever heard it from someone else? I’ve lost count of how many times over the years I have talked like this or listened to someone else try to avoid talking about what’s going on inside them.

It’s not pretty there and few have ever gone …

A friend dropped the Kelly Clarkson song “Dark Side” on me the other night. He quoted the lyrics in a text to try to help explain what was going on in our conversation, and I was surprised at how poignant the lyrics were in the moment. Even more, though, those lyrics fit so many moments in my life and the lives of every single person I know.

Oh oh oh, there’s a place that I know
It’s not pretty there and few have ever gone
If I show it to you now
Will it make you run away?

In my younger years, it seemed every teenager felt a dark side within them that they wrestled with. I sure did. All of us in high school and college seemed to have this fear of letting our dark side out too much and letting too many people into it.

No one ever told me this dark side feeling would extend into adulthood. Heck, they didn’t tell me a lot about adulthood! (Anybody else feel like the adults kind of hid the true story of what it’s like to be an adult?) Our dark sides are much bigger than anything Darth Vader or Anakin Skywalker had to deal with.

Our dark sides can extend from childhood to our teen years and linger on into adulthood and into our marriages and permeate everything we do. When we are younger, childhood abuse, neglect, and trauma and teenage struggles over identity, relationships, sexuality, drugs, alcohol and family seem to run the dark conversation.

Dark sides in adulthood get even more complicated

But adults struggle with dark sides, too. As I live through my forties right now, I can recognize that people around me, no matter what age, are still struggling with elements of their dark side. In adults, I wonder: do our dark side stems from our younger years and morph and mutate over our entire lives, or do some people develop a dark side in their adult years based on grownup issues?  Do we ever move beyond our dark side or is there always some form of dark side in us for our entire life?

dark side mark twain quoteAs we get older, we deal with challenges with alcohol and drugs, marital struggles, grief and loss, personal trauma, mental illness, anxiety, fears and so much more. The list goes on and on. Just because you gain more years in your life doesn’t mean you figure out how to manage your dark side any better. But the adult version gets even more complicated. We try to mask and suppress our dark sides through adding on additional vices like alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, anxiety and other addictions.  Identifying and weeding out the source of the pain gets even more complicated because the vices can create layers of dark side to sort through.

No matter who you are or your place in life, you are wrestling internally with something that you hope other people don’t discover about you. Tabloids are full of the struggles and flaws of public personalities and celebrities, but isn’t this something we all deal with in our own quiet moments?

What is the first step of dealing with your dark side?

What’s your thing you are holding onto? How do you handle your dark side? How do you process it? Do you hide it? Do you let it control you? Have you shared it with someone close to you? Or do you try to manage it alone with varying degrees of success and failure? Does it create bigger problems for you because you suppress it out of fear it will get out? Are you able to process it in a way that doesn’t affect other areas of your life?

Like a diamond
From black dust
It’s hard to know
What can become
If you give up
So don’t give up on me
Please remind me who I really am

I don’t have all the answers. And dealing with your dark side requires an individual response. (If you don’t know where to start or who to talk to, I encourage you to look into professional counseling.)  But you are not alone.  We are all in the same struggle, each finding our way. Remember one important thing — you are not the struggle. Your dark side is not your actual identity, and you are much more and bigger than the struggle.  But take the first step and start by letting someone you trust into your struggle.

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AAA: I pay you membership dues. Now please send out your minions.

When I say “roadside assistance,” what company comes to mind? AAA Auto Club! They have branded themselves as the group that will help you out of a broken-down car bind and help save the day you run out of gas or have a flat tire or have any kind of car trouble. Whenever I’m looking and planning toward a road trip, I make sure my AAA membership is up to date.  In the same way, it seems that everyone around me also asks if my AAA membership is up to date.

I recently had a co-worker tell me that someone else in the building called him a “bad dad” because he didn’t have a AAA membership for his family. He has kids in college, and the name caller felt my co-worker was doing his traveling children a disservice in not making sure the AAA minions were standing ready to charge out and save his children from roadside problems. That obligatory feeling is good business and great branding for AAA.

I have been sorting through all of the memberships I pay for on a regular basis and evaluating whether they are actually worth my money.  My AAA membership is an old standby worth evaluating because that obligatory element really makes me start to wonder if I pay them solely for the name and emotional experience or for their actual value of service.

Is AAA Auto Club a membership worth my money?

Over the years, I have waffled over whether AAA is actually a necessary part of my life. I have not been a consistent customer. Yes, I admit it: I am AAA fickle. I have toyed with my auto insurance’s roadside assistance rider on my insurance policy. I paid my auto insurance company a small fee for “roadside assistance” but it really boiled down to just a reimbursement plan. There were no insurance company minions at the ready charging to my rescue. (Only AAA has the minions.)  I had to do all the work of finding a tow truck myself and then submit receipts for reimbursement. The AAA approach is much more service oriented.

When I started traveling more for work a few years ago, I jumped back into a AAA membership. Every time I book a hotel for work, I can get a discounted rate if I have a AAA membership number.  Those discounts made AAA worth the fee the annual fee. And, yes, by paying that simple fee, I suddenly had AAA minions at my fingertips when needed. A double benefit!

I have also discovered over time that I can get shopping discounts with AAA if I pay attention at malls or surf the AAA website or app. What used to just be an auto club now offers many other services that I probably don’t even know about. They now offer insurance and more, and they would love to replace that auto insurance company who offered me a non-AAA roadside assistance option. Overall, it seems worth the annual charge to my debit card to keep AAA around. Heck, I even became a premium member a few years back, paying a little more each year for some added benefit.

Where the rubber (or the transmission) hits the road

First AAA tow with my roadside assistance auto club membershpWe recently took a several hours trip away from home, and on the way there, the transmission on our family car started having troubles. The further we got from home, the more concerned we got as the transmission started having obvious problems shifting and accelerating. Then, very quickly, the issue because a real problem as we started losing gears and could not fully operate the car.  We found a small town convenience store to pull into and started making calls.

What was most ironic in this roadside moment was that I forgot I had the AAA minions at the ready and that the primary purpose of having a AAA membership is emergency roadside assistance. I pay for AAA membership year over year, and I use its discount benefits when traveling to get better rates at hotels, but in the moment I needed emergency roadside assistance, we called my wife’ dad first for help. Thankfully, during that phone call, before he headed our way with a trailer, he asked, “Do you have AAA?”

Oh, yeah. I guess I do pay for that every year for this exact purpose.

The first call to AAA

I called AAA. A very nice lady helped me through the process and dispatched a tow truck to my location. She even set me up for text updates of the tow truck’s status, which was very helpful. She informed me that since I’m a premium AAA member, I am entitled to one 200-mile tow each year in addition to 3 other 100-mile tows. Wonderful! Hooray for paying for upgrades!

I told the very nice lady that since home was within 200 miles, I would prefer to tow it home so I could then figure out which shop I could use to do the repairs. She set up that information in the system, and we were good to go. I was ecstatic because, honestly, I came away from that call feeling more confident and secure in my roadside situation than when I started. Isn’t that the point of paying for a AAA membership anyway?

In a short time, the tow truck arrived and loaded up my poor Suburban and hauled it away. Several hours later when my family and I arrived home with the help of extended family, my car was safely parked in my driveway, ready to go to a shop the next day. Great success! Thank you, AAA! I’m so glad I pay for this membership!

Then came the next day …

The second AAA call

Once I determined the proper transmission shop to do the repair, my wife convinced me that I shouldn’t try to drive the transmission-torn Suburban across town. She asked:  since we still have 3 available 100-miles tows this year, why not call AAA to take the Suburban to the shop?  That sounded like a very good idea compared to being stuck on the side of the road again two days in a row.

I called AAA again to set up the tow from my house to the transmission shop. Another helpful lady was on the other end of the line, but she wasn’t as helpful as the first. She gave me bad technical details of my plan.  Although my membership allowed for 3 other 100-mile tows this year, I could not tow from my house to a shop. What?!?!?

This second lady said that I should have been informed of this by the earlier very nice lady.  I was not, and I was now not very happy.  Apparently, AAA will allow you to tow from roadside to an auto shop, and then if that shop can’t do the work, you can use another tow to get it to another shop.  But once your car lands at your house, you have to break down again before they will allow you to use up another tow. What?!?!?

I asked the now not-so-helpful lady on the other end of the phone if she understood the real-life repercussions of that policy.  I explained that their policy would require me to make an attempt to drive a broken car to a shop, break down, and call them on the side of the road for a tow.  Instead, wouldn’t they rather I skip the breaking down step, call them upfront and have them tow from my driveway without my breaking down in the first place?  She said she understood the issue, but that AAA wouldn’t let me use a tow from my driveway.  She confirmed that I would need to break down again before they could tow the car.

Suddenly my membership benefits weren’t so glowing ….

Second AAA tow with my roadside assistance auto club membership

The third AAA call

I drove home over my lunch hour to start the long, slow, gearless journey across town.  I anticipated that I should probably drive with my hazard flashers on due to the missing gears.  Having no idea what to expect, I actually brought along a granola bar and a bottle of water due to the late summer heat.

Departing from my house, on the first set of hills, my transmission couldn’t keep up almost immediately. Once the car hit a certain speed going down the hill, the transmission lost all traction and couldn’t engage again until I coasted up the next hill far enough that it slowed down to catch a gear. It was disheartening. After the second hill like that, I pulled over. There was no way I could make it all the way across town missing at least two gears.

As directed, I called AAA from the side of the road, less than half a mile from my house.

The AAA app experience

This third time, I used the AAA app instead of calling.  I wasn’t in the mood to talk to another helpful lady. The app on my iPhone was a little glitchy, but it finally worked to send out the bat signal that I needed help. The GPS feature on my phone pinpointed my location, and I received notification on my phone that help was coming.  Forty-five minutes later, the tow truck arrived. All was good in the world again … Except that the entire third call to AAA was unnecessary.

I understand that AAA, at its heart, is an insurance company. But as a “member” who’s paying extra for their “premium” membership, I’m not paying to be cited insurance-like policies. I’m paying to have access to tow trucks that get my car out of a bind, no matter where the car is parked.  Skipping over the part where the first helpful lady never actually disclosed that I might run into problems if I towed to my house, I struggle to discern why someone I pay a membership fee (and never really use, year over year) actually told me to go out and break down on the side of the road before they’ll help me with a service that I pay for.

Did my AAA benefits pay off? Yes. Was it a positive membership experience? In one way, yes, but the totality of the experience left a bad taste in my mouth.

What can we learn from this AAA experience?

I don’t write all this to gripe about AAA — really. Overall, my AAA experience has been positive with that one big exception.  The whole point of this article and series is to look at what we expect when we pay for a membership.  We’re paying for memberships and monthly commitments left and right, but as members, are we getting the benefit of our membership fees?

As a business person, if I’m going to provide a service, my customers need to feel that the service benefits them. And if I’m going to provide a service under an ongoing fee membership model, I need to consistently provide the service for which they’re paying when they need it.  My minions must be ready to charge out and help no matter what without citing technicalities because I’m debiting their bank account every month.

Ongoing memberships innately create a sense of entitlement in the mind of the customer.  Those membership fees are departing their bank account monthly (or annually). When the customer shows up to get the benefits for a service they pay for monthly, they want white glove, membership-privileged service.

Bottom line:  Keep the promise

In this particular situation, he first AAA call felt white glove. The second AAA call did not. That second AAA call felt like they were taking my membership fees but holding back in the moment when I called them to utilize their services.

Sure, AAA gives me travel discounts, and that feels good.  And AAA gives me all kinds of travel discounts and will sell me insurance.  But when I pay AAA, I’m really paying for the minions who rush to my aid.  That’s the promise of the AAA Auto Club brand.

Minions are no good when they cite a provision in their contract that keeps them from helping.  When the AAA minions are not sent to my aid due to a contractual provision, I don’t feel like AAA has kept their promise.  The end result is I feel let down, not like a special “premium” member.

What can we learn about providing services to people who are paying us money? We all want to feel pampered. We all want to feel special. And we don’t want anyone making money off us to cite unnecessary rules at us in our time of need.

Stay tuned.  I’ve got more membership experiences to come.

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Writing as me and no one else

It doesn’t matter how much I want to write.  The writing and getting to the writing is the hard part.

In high school and college, I wrote constantly.  I journaled, I wrote poetry, I wrote fiction, and it just flowed.  I would sit down and write, and the crafted words would just come out.  What came out of me was actually pretty good writing that made people stop, read, look at me and want to talk about what they had just read.

I majored in English in college and I wrote plenty in that program, but, looking back, I have wished I had been able to find a writing degree  instead of just an English program that was much more focused on reading for the purpose of teaching than writing for the purpose of writing.

My dad is a published author many times over in the non-fiction realm.  When I was a child, he would disappear to his “study”, which was the dining room table that he’d taken over with books and an electric typewriter in that formal dining room we never used.  My evenings after dark were spent to the gentle hum of that typewriter off in the distance and his pecking away at the keys.  He would take breaks, eat a snack over the kitchen sink in our small galley kitchen, and then he would get back to his quick-paced hunting and pecking.

My dad has never formally learned to type in the ways I was taught to type in high school.  He still hunts and pecks on a keyboard faster than anyone I know.  It’s incredible to watch.  He would sit in the study, night after night, hunting and pecking away, building a book manuscript on pieces of typing paper.  I once met his editor, and she was a serious lady who knew how to slice and dice his manuscripts to make them brilliant.

He also had a newsletter that he would manually mail out back in the day.  My first job was typing in his newsletter subscriber  addresses into our Apple computer database software.  He was also always working on articles for periodicals, and the massive Writer’s Market volume was a constant around our house.

I grew up wanting to write like he wrote.  I wanted to publish books and articles and be known for my knowledge and for my nuances.  It was a very early goal (besides running for President).

Around sixth grade, I wrote an article outlining tips to get autographs on baseball memorabilia.  I submitted that article to a national baseball cards periodical, and they bought it!  They sent me a check for $20 and published my article with a byline, and I was so proud.  My dad was proud, too.  It was an incredible start to my career as a published author.

Through college, I worked at the local newspaper doing a combination of technical and creative work, including photography, layout, proofreading and editing.  I was never satisfied with how much writing opportunity I had at the newspaper.  I would wait intently for the week the sports editor would go on vacation so I could fill his spot and write actual articles for the newspaper.  I loved having a byline with my name on it alongside words that I had crafted specifically for those readers.

I think it all changed when I went to law school.  Law school changed both my thought processes but also my life processes.  The intensity of work gave me less time to pursue creative outlets, including writing for my own sake.

Law school pushed forward the more technical, more non-fiction part of my brain.  In doing so, it shifted how my mind settled in quiet moments, and honestly, I lost some of my whimsical creativity.  Everything running through my brain shifted into a technical processing of facts and details into theories and meanings.  It wasn’t bad.  It was just different.

It’s now almost 20 years later.  Life has become a version of busy that I never anticipated —  insanely busy sometimes.  I have a wife, a gaggle of kids, a career, commitments, and a life that doesn’t stop moving at many levels.  It’s hard to fit additional things into my life that I don’t really love and that I’m not really passionate about.  Just managing the daily details of our life is enough to keep anyone busy full time, but I’m still drawn to write.

I enjoy writing, and I write as lawyer, but it’s mostly drafting documents.  I feel I have really good at technical document drafting.  But I want more.

 Over the years, I have written some informational, promotional and periodical articles when asked to do so for work or for church.  At one point, I even wrote a recurring newsletter for our church’s small groups ministry.  I have run a few blogs and found a creative outlet there, but even then, I was mostly focusing on politics and religion (or coffee).  I’ve become more of an “expert” than a “creative,” although I’m still a very creative expert.  Over time, I’ve lost sight of that dream of being a “writer,” but it’s still lingering.

And now I find myself here — a dad, a husband, a professional, a middle-aged man — and I want to write.  I’m feeling a constant urge to write *something*, *anything*.  About a year ago, a friend challenged me to start journaling, and I did.  Then I set up a new blog space (this one), and wrote a little bit.

Interestingly, last December, my writing process fell apart.  I was talking to a trusted friend who enjoys tracking me, and he had read the few blog posts I had written.  In that conversation, he encouraged me to actually write *me* — not just ivory tower, preachy thoughts.  He has read other random, passionate posts of mine over time, primarily on social media, and he told me that my writing on my blog was nothing like what he knew of the real me.  He challenged me to write with meaning and honesty and out of the real me.

I took his encouragement to heart, and then I got stuck.  He was right.  I wasn’t writing me.  I was just writing to write something and be someone who wrote.

I has taken me most of a year to settle into a place of figuring out how to sit down and do my best to just write out of the person I am instead of writing out of a person I envision people want me to be out in fake Internet land.

For the last several weeks, I’ve daily said I was going to write.  And I haven’t.  And I understand that writing is a discipline that I just must do.  But there has been more to my struggle to write.

I have not been writing because I don’t want to disappoint myself.

I have not been writing because I don’t want disapproval of my closest people.

I have not been writing because I don’t want to realize that no one cares what I write.

I have not been writing because I don’t want to write something that triggers negative reactions, whether from myself, my closest people, or any third party out of there, whether they know me or not.

I have not been writing simply out of fear — pretty much fear of rejection.

Here I am writing anyway.  And, I’ll tell you, my heart is racing.  I’m not writing out of the deep engaged passion of a writer who can’t stop (although there is some of that mixed in).  I’m writing to get over the hurdle of anxiety of not writing well enough to be proud of what I’m doing.  Honestly, I know I will do well, but only if I write out of me.

If I write as a persona of a person that I think people want me to be, this won’t work.  And if I write gripped with fear of disappointing or offending other people, this won’t work.  I just have to write and reach deep inside, dig through the surface, and get past the facade I hold up that I think is the writer people want.

Instead, I need to write as just me.  Let’s do this.

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May 16, 2014: Prehistoric skeleton in Mexico, Bobby Fischer’s dad, blog name change, David Foster Wallace

13,000-year-old skeleton found in underwater cave in Mexico:  A near-complete skeleton of a 15-16 year old girl has been found at the bottom of what was once a pit in the ground, surrounded by the skeletons of other ancient elephant-like mammals called gomphotheres, saber-tooth cats and giant ground sloths that fell into the same hole over time, all now part of an underwater cave system.  At the time she would have fallen into the hole, during the late Pleistocene timeframe, the last ice age we’ve seen on earth, the water was lower than the ground where her skeleton was found, but over time, the water has risen to cover all of these skeletons, preserving them.  This girl would have been a contemporary to the woman known as Arlington Springs Woman whose bones were found on an island off the California cost in 1959 by Phil Orr.

The sociopolitical love affair drama around Bobby Fischer’s real father:  In a random conversation today at Kingdom Coffee about Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, and chess, all because one of my coworkers has never seen the 1993 movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, we ended up looking up Bobby Fischer’s Wikipedia page to figure out when he died.  We were surprised by the World War II-era drama around the question of who his actual father was.

Fischer born in 1943 in Chicago to Regina Wender Fischer, an American citizen of Polish-Russian Jewish descent who was born in Switzerland but raised in St. Louis, Missouri.  While studying medicine in Moscow, she married Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, also known as Gerardo Liebscher, a German biophysicist, in 1933.  He is listed as Bobby Fischer’s father on the 1943 birth certificate.  But Bobby’s mother had fled Russia to Paris due to anti-semitism, and then in 1939, she fled to the United States under the threat of German invasion of France.  Hans-Gerhardt Fischer tried to move to the US as well, but he was never allowed into the country due to his German citizenship.  They had separated in Moscow but were not divorced until 1945.

Fischer’s mom became pregnant in June 1942 and was effectively homeless in 1943 when she had Bobby.  She moved around quite a bit and raised Bobby and his older sister as a single parent, eventually settling in Brooklyn, New York, obtaining a master’s degree in nursing and beginning a career as nurse.  A 2002 investigation has shown that the FBI tracked Bobby’s mom and her circle of friends in the 1950s under the suspicion that she had Communist sympathies, and in that process, the FBI determined that Paul Nemenyi, a Hungarian Jewish physicist was actually Bobby Fisher’s father.  The FBI tracking shows that Mr. Nemenyi made child support payments on occasion, once reported Bobby’s mom to social workers, and paid for Bobby’s schooling until Mr. Nemenyi’s death in 1952.   After his death, Bobby’s mom wrote a letter to Mr. Nemenyi’s son, asking if anything had been left in his estate for Bobby’s benefit. The whole story could be read, though, that Mr. Nemenyi just had a concern for Bobby and wanted to watch out for his well-being.  On top of it all, Bobby’s mom gave differing details to social workers about Bobby’s father.  On one occasion, she told a social worker that she hadn’t seen Hans-Gerhardt Fischer since 1939.  On another occasion, she told the same social worker that she’d traveled to Mexico in June 1942 and seen Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, and that Bobby was conceived during that visit.

This is the type of historical intrigue you’d hear on the Stuff You Missed In History Class podcast.  It’s fun to sort through history because humans are such a scrappy bunch.  A while back, I bought the domain name, and I’m thinking of switching this site over to that domain instead of its current  It’s a little longer, but it’s easier to spell and means a little more than just on the name I use for social media.  I like the positive feeling it creates.  So, I may shift over this blog to use that name in the next few days.

David Foster Wallace was right: Irony is ruining our culture: We live in strange days, and it’s interesting to what how irony and cynicism has become so constant, especially in technology. It’s rampant on social media, comments, forums and it’s migrated to television and movies. It’s inherent in our culture, but it seems to eat at our ability to be introspective, mindful and sober in our thoughts. I’m good with a little irony and cynicism, but it seems to be eating up our culture like a uncontrollable virus. I’m intrigued to see what comes next. History typically sees a counterbalance come into play to even out such an extreme, but I’m curious to see in what form that comes about.

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Reflections on Peter Enn’s “recovering from inerrancy in the second half of life”

The blog of Peter Enns resonates with me sometimes, and his post “Recovering from inerrancy in the second half of life” hit me personally. I felt it deep inside, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain why it affected me.

In the last year, pretty hardline positions and accusations against others’ views of inerrancy were central in the accusations that led to a painful church split that included my leaving my church home of 13 years to start over. In that situation, there was little willingness to discuss the nuances of the inerrancy debate or the qualifiers that go into the scholarly discussions of inerrancy that educate our use of the word in the American church. So-called “inerrancy” became a litmus test and a god and a substitute for other unspoken grievances without any discussion to define the word honestly or acknowledge all the baggage that was being dragged along by the accusers and hidden behind the word. The Enns blog post recounts the story of a friend of Enns’ and his friend’s difficult journey away from the inerrantist view. Enns notes:

“My friend, now past normal retirement age, left his former subculture 25 years ago and, in the throes of midlife, built a new career for himself. He’s been very happy, and he has also been active in a very-not-evangelical-or-inerrantist-inner-city church. He’s moved on and he’s just fine. “

I echo Enns in noting that, “My point isn’t to talk about inerrancy here.” There is no pointing fingers intended here. I’m simply working through some thoughts on the way to another place.

Some people will expend significant amounts of energy to declare the boundaries of the Christian faith and then declare others outside those boundaries, making declarations, sometimes publicly and repetitively, to castigate (in “love”?) a person who self-identifies as a follower of Jesus but who has been deemed by the declarer to actually be outside the boundaries of Christianity (as defined by the declarer). There are whole enclaves of evangelical thought and culture that seem driven to point out who’s not “really” a Christian or a true believer or follower or Christ because of this or that view or this or that behavior.

But one thing I’ve realized in the past year or so is that the spectrum of Christian faith is broad, even when those who like to draw the boundaries aren’t willing to admit it. Everyone has different opinions as to where the boundaries are, even within faith communities that supposedly believe the same thing. You’ll find that the nuances of human spirit and belief create quite a diversity of thought in the world of faith. And, granted, some boundaries that define Christianity are more clear than others. (And, yes, there are actually boundaries where what you’re talking about or practicing is no longer the Christian faith and has become something else, but from what I’ve seen, the actual boundaries are nowhere as objective as many make them out to be.)

Here are some observations from the last year or so: Those pursuing Christianity tend to agree that there is an absolute, definable and knowable Truth, and we find that Truth in the person of Jesus Christ, who actually lived, died and rose from the dead, and who serves as the perfect image of the unseen God. And we worship that Jesus and that God as divine. Those pursuing Christianity also tend to agree that the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit and its convicting and teaching ways that somehow supernaturally impact our thought processes and challenge and change us into something we weren’t before, usually at both a spiritual and personal level.

But I quote Enn’s discussion about his friend above because I’m coming to this place of realizing that you ultimately need to be settled in your own heart — you need to be “just fine” with where you are — that you are listening to and following God in an honest and authentic fashion, with a teachable heart, pursuing the teachings we find in the Bible in the best way you know how. The challenge for some, though, is acknowledging that there is a ton of interpretation that goes into how each of us works through those teachings and giving grace to those who are “just fine” with a different interpretation.

Our best place when we don’t agree with someone else’s views is to give grace to the one who sees it differently while seeking God’s grace for us so that we change our own mind if we’re wrong. I find that the intellectual debate is fun and can be hearty and passionate, but we evangelicals often go too far in cutting people off at the knees when we do disagree. And, unfortunately, from what I’ve seen recently, we evangelicals often then go out and declare to our friends who we (hope) agree with us about how wrong the other person is, disparaging them in the most concerned tones we can conjure while often exaggerating the opposing views to make sure we get agreement from those listening. (We’ve all done it out of our own pride and self-interest, and it’s important to admit that we have all been hypocrites at one time or another in that moment.)

This week, I read a post by Ed Cyzweski asking “Can Christians Be Unified If We Don’t Want the Same Thing?” There were some challenging and compelling questions in that post, and I encourage you to read it if you’ve gotten this far into my thoughts here. The post challenged my thinking on how to help create an atmosphere where people can pursue their faith with open hearts and open hands, seeking Christ and asking questions without being beat up for things that they may come across and, at least for some time, sit on and think through and talk through that may be outside the mainstream of thought within our subculture.

Human life is a progression of thoughts and moments, constantly shifting and moving. We humans are never set in stone, and our beliefs and actions are only reflections of our place in life at that moment, often shifting at a moment’s notice if enough changes. But we too often judge people based on their beliefs or actions at any given moment, and we project that judgment forward as if it will always be who they are. That kind of judgment doesn’t take into consideration the human experience. We have to give people space to work through ideas and sift through actions and beliefs so they develop and grow while acknowledging that their thoughts and beliefs aren’t permanent and may change over time.

Cyzweski says something that connects with who I want to be: “Living in the truth of the Gospel means I’m committed to removing the boundaries that others think the Gospel compels them to build.” That quote captured the swarm of ideas that I’ve been working through for months now, and it helped seal in my heart that I want to be that person who’s helping tear down sometimes false, sometimes unnecessary and sometimes completely arbitrary fences in the Christian experience that block people from truly connecting with Christ. And I want to offer the grace to people that helps them find Christ and hear God’s voice and live in the joyous interaction with the Holy Spirit that changes people and makes them truly new.

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What a difference a year makes!

As we’ve just wrapped up the first week of school and had a great experience as we roll into our first full year in the Nixa school district, it hit me this weekend how things have changed significantly over the last year.

A year ago, we had just sold our house in Ozark and had moved into the Springfield school district to prepare to build.  We were living in a rental house and integrating our kids into the Springfield schools that we anticipated they would be in once we built our house.  The rental was a true blessing of a house that covered our needs and worked for the time being although it had minimal outside space (we really need to go to a park to get real outside time), and it had a grumpy old neighbor who wasn’t the most friendly guy and was really hung up on his boundary lines and his space and made it clear from day one that he had no patience for kids (while wearing his “World’s Greatest Dad” t-shirt on Father’s Day).  That being said, we really enjoyed the Springfield school district while there, and oddly enough, I really enjoyed actually living inside the Springfield city limits.

Looking back on that time, though, we were so transitional and between moments in our life as a family.  Since that time, we’ve bought our property in Nixa, we’ve shifted schools, we’ve shifted our life out of Springfield and back into Christian County, and it hasn’t been an easy process.  We’ve gone through six months of remodeling our new home and settling into the new way of living in a different house with different systems and a different flow of life.  It’s been crazy, but it’s come to a really good place that just feels right.  As we’ve wrapped up this remodel time in our new house, we’re so excited about where we are, both in the property and the feeling of our home and as a family as school has started with a good outlook.

Also toss into that timeline that at this time last year, we never would have expected that the church we’d invested our lives in for over a dozen years would split. What a major disruption of so many lives, including ours, has taken place in the last year of time!  Our church body went for months in limbo as it seemed like the different factions might be able to reconcile and bring it all back together, but then things just began to slide apart.  Since Amy and I were both heavily involved at church and I was in leadership, we were stuck right in the middle of it all.  And then there was the aftermath of negativity that now slowly seems to be dissipating, even though you still hear of backbiting and slanderous accusations (even today I heard one!) that have no merit and no grounding in facts.  But since then, Amy and I have had the honor of being part of the group of people who have collaborated together to start a new and dynamic church that has taken off in ways we would have never imagined and has been a place of hope and Christ-expression for many people who were beginning to give up on church.

At this time last year, Amy had just had foot surgery and was barely healing and onto a scooter, so I was buying school supplies and going to school meetings, and her mom was living with us to help out as the school year started.  During the course of the last year, she had the same surgery on the other foot, and we did the whole process a second time right as the church situation was blowing up and also then with recovery continuing on into the time we were moving to the Nixa property.  Those two foot surgeries really took focus as a couple and as a family, and it’s good to have them behind us.  They were such milestones in such a tumultuous year, and I’m glad we’re past them.

I was making breakfast this past weekend for the kids, making my Daddy Waffles, and it just hit me that we’re past all that.  We now live in a new home (to us) with a new flow of life in a new school district in a new town and participating in a new church.  “He makes all things new!”  I know that phrase means much more in a Biblical context, but it’s been a year of lots of challenges and quite a bit of stress and pain, both physically (through the foot surgeries) and emotionally (through the challenges of both school and church that have taken place), and it really hit me as poignant in this moment of new.

As this year has progressed, we’ve made new friends and new alliances and have begun eating at new restaurants and frequenting new parts of town and thinking about the world a little differently.  He truly does make all things new, and we’ve felt the refreshing of his Spirit come over us in the last little while as we’ve found a moment to take a breath and realize that we’re in a completely different place and in a completely different life than we were a year ago.  And, as I cooked breakfast, I realized how important it was to realize that and to memorialize that moment of accepting the change that God brings into our lives as He shifts us to where He wants us to be.  And I took a moment to appreciate the evidence of God working in our lives as a family and as individuals as He continues to daily make us new in that more spiritual way.

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