Suffering Well — There is Power in Our Pain

Suffering is a part of our world. It is one of the few guarantees for every life. The degree of suffering varies greatly but we all experience pain, heartache, fear, neglect, and the list goes on.

I have lived a relatively blessed life, and most of the suffering I have experienced has been at my own hand; poor judgment, selfish decisions, making the same mistakes with increasing confidence. So, you might be asking yourself, “Why write about something you have little experience with?” I’m about to tell you.

My journey through life has brought me into the lives of some fantastic people, individuals who have stared pain and uncertainty in the eyes and defiantly pressed through so much darkness. I’ve watched my best friend face a disease that will undoubtedly take his life, but he does so with grace and dignity. I have seen people die from cancer and marveled as they passed to the other side without fear. Friends who have endured the pain and disappointment of divorce, others whose marriages have survived seemingly insurmountable struggles.

There are so many people who have taught me so much—hosts of lessons in each chapter of their stories. But the one that stands out the most, the lesson of most vital importance is this: There is power in our pain.

These people have learned to suffer well, and in doing so, they have helped me and many others gain a perspective that is often lacking in our world. The strongest of individuals are those who don’t shy away from the pain of this life but let the fire refine them making them stronger because of the pain they have endured.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

When someone can embrace the shadows and press on in spite of the darkness they’re facing; they give rise to a new understanding in those who walk with them. All who encounter such people are given the opportunity to discover a new perspective—that there is always hope and there is always a choice. Circumstances can and will shape us, but we always have a say in how the shaping occurs. Life may break us, but we have a say in how the broken pieces are mended.

I hope and pray that when my turn comes that I will stand strong, and as the waves come and the defining circumstances threaten to wear away parts of me, that I will remember that I have a say in how the shaping occurs, that I will remember there is power in my pain.

No Matter The Outcome

Acts of compassion are powerful. They let others know that they matter, that they’re loved, that they aren’t alone. In recent years there has been an increasing number of research studies on compassion and the effects on both the giver and receiver. One thing that has come out of the variety of studies is that when someone is treated with compassion, they are more likely to do the same for others.

It turns out we get what we give (or we give what we get). When others treat us with disrespect, anger, and disdain, we are more likely to do the same. And when we experience love, grace, and mercy, we tend to pass those things on to those we encounter.

So what happens when we experience the ultimate act of compassion? What happens when we acknowledge someone’s sacrifice for us? It changes us, at least it should.

Several weeks back, I wrote a piece titled The Magic of Letting Go. In the post, I explored how I view the cross. The focus of that piece was the beauty that exists in letting go of our burdens and how such a decision gives us the ability to carry the load of someone else. You can read the original post here.

Shortly after I posted the blog, a woman sent me an email thanking me for painting a picture that helped her understand and appreciate the magnitude of forgiveness, freedom, and strength that is found in the symbol of the cross. Others reached out saying similar things.

But while there was positive feedback, others still expressed concern because they felt I skirted something very important. I had spent time in prayer and meditation on that post, and my thoughts and heart led me to address the magic and beauty represented in the symbol of the cross. While I had no intention of ignoring the source of that magic and beauty, for some, that was a major take away. I want to clear the air here.

Compassion, grace, mercy, love. These are all beautiful things. Behaviors we all should model for others. Practices that make the world a better place. In the Christian world, the ultimate symbol of compassion, grace, love, and mercy is the cross. Why? Because it is the symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice for all humankind. It is his death and resurrection that make the purest form of love possible. Love without an agenda. Love for all. A love that I believe in with all my heart.

The cross is one of the most famous icons in the Christian faith because of the love it symbolizes. This kind of love is what makes it possible for us to let go of our pains and burdens, it is what makes forgiveness and compassion possible, it is this love that gives us the strength to step into someone else’s story, press into their pain, and walk with them, no matter the outcome.

However, in social media posts, the news, and even hallway conversations; many claiming to hold the cross high are selective about the people they love. It turns out we don’t get to point to the cross as our anchor and yet be particular about who we will walk with in their pain. To embrace Christ’s death and resurrection is to embrace a love for all of humanity regardless of differing faiths or lifestyles.

I have come to recognize that to be discriminatory about who we will love is to reject the cross and the beauty it represents. To embrace it means I must choose to love all humankind, extending compassion to all I encounter, letting go of my pain so I can press into the suffering of others.

The late Rachel Held Evans said it best.

“But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”

This is the kind of love we are offered. It’s time to pay it forward.

No matter the outcome.

Please, No More Us Versus Them!

I have been sitting on something for more than a week now—a topic I wasn’t sure how to tackle. But It hasn’t left me which usually means I need to get it out of my head and heart. So here it goes.

Easter Sunday is a day where many gather with friends and family to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. People talk of hope, new beginnings, and forgiveness. Food is shared around tables filled with love, grace, and mercy—a happy day. But this past Easter was far from celebratory for many in Sri Lanka. At least two hundred fifty men, women, and children were murdered because they believed differently than others. The following Monday, more blasts were reported, more injuries, more devastation, more pain.

Shortly after the first bombings were reported, I stood in the foyer of our church and I heard a man say, “This is an attack on our faith.” Another gentleman shook his head and countered, “Any attack on any house of worship is an attack on our faith because it’s an attack on humanity. ”

Now that is an interesting perspective—one I've had to chew on for a while.

It seems like not a day goes by where violence doesn’t fill our news feeds. And as I read the stories, Twitter feeds, and Facebook posts, people are choosing sides without understanding the magnitude of their decisions.

Any time a church, mosque, synagogue, or any other house of worship is attacked, and people are wounded or killed, the responses widely vary. Some respond with comments about attacks on people while others talk about attacks on a specific faith. Then there are those who feel more anger and outrage when such deeds are carried out against like-minded individuals. Others still seem to take little notice when differing faiths or groups are caught in the crosshairs of hateful actions, and then there are those that claim God’s judgment and celebrate when others who believe differently suffer.

So many cry out about attacks on the cross, attacks on beliefs, attacks on sacred ideologies—but first and foremost, these are attacks on people; attacks on families.

Thinking back to the conversation I overheard, I tend to agree that any attack on any church or house of worship, regardless of the faith represented, is an attack on our faith. Why? Because it is an attack on the innocent, it is an attack on men, women, and children; it is an attack on our neighbors, it is an attack on those we are called to love.

And now, thinking about the seemingly constant violent attacks on all faiths, we should be heartbroken by all of it. No other response is appropriate, regardless of the building, the people, the race, the lifestyle.

Easter is a day that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. His life and teachings were and still are filled with love. Love offered to others regardless of differences, regardless of the life they lived. We should do the same.

When we treat our “own” people as more important than others, we narrow our scope of love, grace, and mercy. With such thinking, we cheapen the faith and beliefs we claim to hold dear.

A Letter To My Wife—I Guarantee This Isn't What You Think

Typically writing comes naturally to me. Every week I sit down and let the thoughts flow. It’s therapeutic. It’s cathartic. It’s healing. Until it no longer comes easy.

Today I found myself at that point. No thoughts with clear direction, no drive to address a specific topic, just a lot of ideas rattling around inside my head. So I decided to have some fun. I’m going to give you a look under the hood with a letter I wrote to my wife:

Honey,

My mind can be a scary place. Not because of the crazy ideas I have at random moments throughout the day, or the dreams in Technicolor… my mind is a scary place simply because of the haphazard way I process information. Maybe it’s better to say, “lose” information. Don’t worry, I almost always find it! It’s just a matter of when and where. 

You often look at me with a concerned look, gently placing your loving hand on my shoulder and say, “Honey, what in the world is going on inside that head of yours?”

I’m about to tell you, so hang on; it’s going to be a trip!

Have you ever lost your keys?

Or your wallet?

Or your glasses?

Or your belt?

Only to find them somewhere you’re certain you didn’t leave them? Except for the belt, I can’t blame anyone else for putting it on without my noticing. 

That’s my mind, 100% of the time—oh and it’s also my life! I lose crap all the time! But that’s not the point of the story, back to the chaos that is my cursed way of processing everything from the important to the mundane.

I have a series of file cabinets in my brain. I’m not sure how many, but for the sake of simplicity let’s say there are three (there are way more than three, but we don’t have all day). These file cabinets are responsible for holding information past, present, and future—kind of like the Christmas Carol ghosts, but not nearly as helpful.

The file cabinet of my past should hold things like birthdates, the contents of recently had conversations, the name of a someone I met last week at church, or where I set my keys last night. The file cabinet of my present is responsible for the information needed to complete the task directly in front of me like mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, or unloading the dishwasher. And finally, the file cabinet of my future is where I should find my appointments for next week, dreams, or aspirations.

Here’s the problem! None of these file cabinets do their damn job! I used to think they were misnamed and if I reorganized them, my filing system would make more sense.

Uh, nope!

But I know who's responsible. I blame it all on Reggie—he’s a little troll that lives inside my head.

Reggie the Troll has one job – file information. It should be a simple task. Here’s the problem though. I’m pretty sure Reggie is a complete drunk and is as ADD as I am! Because if I showed up for an audit of Reggie’s work right now here is what I would find:

Picture a massive warehouse, mostly empty (yeah I know how that sounds—shut up!) with one exposed bulb hanging from the ceiling. The faint light from the flickering lamp casts long shifting shadows across the floor from three large file cabinets. The drawers of each cabinet are scattered across the floor with file folders and documents lying everywhere in complete disarray.

Atop the center file cabinet is the dark form of Reggie the Troll. His mangy hair is pulled up in a poor attempt at a topknot, and he has a chewed up cigar hanging out of the corner of his mouth. Grease stains cover his shirt, but that’s okay because he dressed up today, he’s wearing a tie—keeping it professional. An almost empty bottle of gin dangles from his left hand (who drinks gin straight anyway?), and his right hand is stuck halfway down the front of his pants (we have something in common), which clearly haven’t been washed in weeks.

Through sleep filled, bloodshot, squinting eyes that can only mean a wicked hangover or the worst case of pink eye ever, Reggie looks at me and grumbles, “What do you want?”

“I’m here for an audit. I want to see how well you’re keeping things in order.”

Reggie reaches down deep to adjust whatever trolls have in their pants and then pulls his right hand out from the depths, sweeping his arm extravagantly through the air while shouting, “Take a look around, everything is in tip-top shape.”

The momentum from his grand gesture is too much, and Reggie slips and falls off of the file cabinet. The force of his head striking the ground echoes with the hollow thud of a watermelon. Don’t worry; Reggie is fine—just another day at the office.

So here I am, staring at a passed out troll, three empty file cabinets, an empty bottle of gin, and a host of information that I would love to have readily available, strewn across kingdom come. This will take me weeks to sort out. Good help is so hard to find. That’s why I just turn and walk away.

So the next time I forget a birthday, can’t find my keys or don’t remember a conversation, give me a little grace.  The next time I start mowing the lawn, only to get distracted and half empty the dishwasher and then take out the garage while the lawnmower sits in the half mowed yard, you’ll know why. Just remember, the next appointment I miss…

It’s all Reggie’s fault.

That reminds me, I told him I would get him another bottle of gin.

Walk With Me — The Desire of Every Heart

Everything is better with someone you love. Whether it’s a good meal, a fine wine, walks through the neighborhood, or hikes across foreign countries; when we share experiences with others who we care deeply for, there is a depth to such experiences we can’t achieve on our own.

I believe that shared adventure is one of the most important facets to any successful relationship because at the heart of every human id a desire to know and be known. I was reminded of this recently as my wife, and I took a long weekend to Walla Walla, WA with some friends. Six couples, together in one house for three days.

These are people who have been with us in our journey of life for a while now. Some for three or four years, others a decade, and others still for most of our lives.

In the mornings some of us sat in the hot tub and watched the sunrise, taking in the beauty and enjoying the quiet together. We shared breakfast, talked about things big and small, and spent time at different wineries. Each day tasted wine, enjoyed great food, played games, and laughed a lot.

The second morning we were in Walla Walla, I sat with a few of the guys around a fire pit on the back patio. The sun was still low in the sky and the cool morning air fought against the heat of the fire. I read while others chatted, but I kept getting distracted by my thoughts.

What makes this work? How did we get here with so many beautiful people?

We are a jumble of individuals. The things that make us different outnumber the things we have in common. Some of us are conservative, others liberal, and others still are middle of the road. Career paths are varied. Some are introverts, others extremely extroverted, and some fall somewhere in between. I could go on for a while about how different we all are, but the beauty of these people is that despite the differences we possess, we all have chosen to walk this life together.

When we are willing to walk through life with others, and they choose to do the same, we are bound by something far more powerful than shared interests, similar political views, or the same hobbies. We become united by the shared experiences made possible by enduring life together.

The depth of love, grace, and forgiveness I have come to know through these people has only been made possible because every time I have needed someone to walk with me, they have been there to do so.

Look For The Wonder - Life Is Better This Way

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a kid on the inside. I still have an active imagination; I love to explore, and discovering new places opens up a host of possibilities in my mind—new adventures, new stories, new challenges.

While my inner child is always at play, he has grown older over the years and sometimes he needs a reminder about the things that matter… sometimes he needs to be challenged by the joy and imagination of children much younger and much less inhibited.

For spring break, my wife and kids headed to the Grand Canyon, while I flew to Florida for some work. A few days into their trip, I met them in Zion National Park. I arrived at the cabin where my family was staying at 1 in the morning and was woken by my three children (13, 10, and 9) a few short hours later. They were so excited about some hikes they had saved just for me.

We packed up our stuff, loaded the minivan, grabbed a quick breakfast, and headed out. The landscape in Zion was breathtaking. It’s hard not to feel small in such a place, but the excitement of my three kids had me rushing ahead alongside them, exploring nooks and crannies. Smiles accompanied the heavy breathing from climbs and questions about what we might find around the next bend filled our minds.

That night, we made our way to Bryce Canyon, but because of snow, most of the trails were closed. We hiked what we could while there, and the next day, we made our way to Capitol Reef. But on the way there we stopped at a State Park called Kodachrome.

We hiked through a barren landscape to structures that looked like blobs of clay dropped from the sky. These red structures offered many tight channels and holes to explore. My oldest daughter, Cambria, and I found a spot that seemed inaccessible, so we climbed our way to the top of the narrow space in between some rocks. The climb was sketchy, but after several slips and near misses with falls, we made it up the 60-foot climb and stood side by side in a bowl surrounded by red clay towers. Small slivers of bright blue told us where the sky was were visible. For a few minutes, she and I were the last people on earth.

“This is so cool!” said Cambria as she smiled.

My inner child was right there with her… so cool. I was sharing an adventure with my daughter, but not as her old dad. I was a kid doing kid things with my children.

A few days later we found our way to Goblin Valley where my wife and I climbed, crawled, and shimmied our way through more cracks and alcoves than we have in years. The kids hid, tried to scare us, sat atop natural thrones as a young king and queens, and the smiles and laughter could not be contained.

“Mom! Dad! Come check this out!”

“Hey guys, come over here!”

Every moment was filled with exploration, imagination, and joy.

We finished our week in Arches, and though we were tired from miles and hours of hiking, memories were etched deep in our minds and on our hearts.

The one that left the most significant mark on me isn’t a particular hike or landscape; it isn’t the joy on my children’s faces or the laughter that makes me smile as I write this. The single most powerful idea, maybe call it a lesson, that I hold from our time together is the power our children have to keep us young. Our bodies will age, our knees will ache, our steps will slow, but when we seek to experience things with them, and through them, a part of us is awakened—one that was never meant to fall asleep.

When life distracts me, when it vies for my time, my energy, and when I feel drained, I turn to my kids. They are gifts God has given me. Through their eyes and through their experiences, it’s as if he is saying:

Remember the joy, embrace the adventure, look for the wonder—life is better this way.

Unintended Consequences

Life is full of the unexpected. Our decisions and actions can bring things across our paths we don’t anticipate. These unintended consequences arrive without warning and, depending on the type, can take our breath away. Be they good or bad; they leave us surprised.

Unintended consequences that bring about adverse effects are no fun, but when you are blessed by someone else’s response to your actions… well, those are the moments that make life beautiful.

A childhood friend, Chris Scott, recently reached out to my best friend, Justin Skeesuck, and me to inform us about some surprising news. Our 500-mile wheelchair journey through Spain was being used as the inspiration for something great! A friend of his, Lynel Curd, is the coach for the Greenfield-Central Guard, a winter guard team from Greenfield-Central High School in Greenfield, Indiana. Lynel had his entire squad watch our film, I’ll Push You, and they then created their routine around our story.

When I reached out to Lynel to request a copy of the routine, I didn’t know what to expect. I sat and watched with tears of joy in my eyes as young men and women told their interpretation of our journey through their choreographed routine.

To watch someone take a part of your life and use it to create a part of their own is humbling in the best of ways.

A little over a week ago, Justin and I FaceTimed with the team and fielded questions. Thirteen young women and one young man surprised us with their insights. Questions about struggles and lessons in life gave us a peek into their minds and hearts, and everything we saw was beautiful.

There have been a lot of unintended consequences that have come out of our crazy trek through Spain—this is one of our favorites. To be reminded that someone is always watching, learning from who we are, the person we choose to be motivates us to make better choices. But, more importantly, it’s one that keeps on giving. Our journey may have inspired the Greenfield-Central Guard’s routine, but their routine has giving us the motivation to keep doing what we are doing.

To keep writing. To keep telling stories. To keep sharing love with all we encounter—because this is what makes life worth living, sharing it with others.

Greenfield-Central Guard competes on the national level. They just finished regionals and are headed to Nationals on Thursday. Click here to watch their routine.

Arrogance or Ignorance? Either Way, Something Needs To Change

My wife and I travel for work. While we don’t have extremely heavy yearlong travel schedules, it seems to come in waves. Recently, she had a long stint, and I was at home with the kids. While I don’t enjoy being apart from my wife, I always find value in the times she is gone because I am forced to acknowledge all the things I take for granted when she is here.

Over our almost 22 years of marriage, we have assumed certain roles. Some would call them traditional. Historically, she has done most of the laundry, cooked the majority of the meals, done the grocery shopping, and kept the house running along—all while working. I have helped out where needed, cooked the occasional dinner, helped in the kitchen, and done the majority of the yard work. This has always worked for us. But as we both have been traveling, we have had to take on each other’s responsibilities. It turns out she has a few more than I do.

This last week was a reminder of how much she does. But before we get to that, I want to share a quick story. I heard a remarkably arrogant (not to mention misogynistic) statement the other day. A man was talking to a friend of his about their plans for the evening, and he responded to a question with, “She’s at home making dinner where she belongs.” I overheard a bit more, and everything screamed of, “I’m better than my wife, and she is there to serve me.”

All I could think was, “What an ass!”

That conversation was in the back of my mind off and on during the week my wife was working hard out of state. While she was gone, I took the kids to school each morning, worked a full day of work, picked the kids up from school, made dinner, ran to the store for a few groceries, cleaned up the kitchen, and got the kids to bed, not to mention three loads of laundry on Thursday and another three on Sunday. It turns out working full-time and running a household is a whole lot easier with two. My wife does alot, and when she is gone, I am reminded of exactly how much. But whenever she is home, I become slightly ignorant to the amount of time, energy, and work she pours into myself and our three kids.

While it may not be the same as the arrogant mentality I heard from a stranger, when I choose to be ignorant to all that my wife does, it makes me just as much of an ass!

I have known many men and some women who have fallen into this trap. Some know it and don’t care; others let the routine of life create expectations out of other’s actions. But, any time someone’s work, dedication, or acts of service for another are expected, go unnoticed, or are trivialized, it’s disgusting, and there is no excuse.

Whether you are a husband, wife, friend, or coworker; if you have fallen into the trap of expecting any form of work or sacrifice from another human being as opposed to being filled with a deep appreciation, something is off. Whether it’s arrogance or ignorance, something needs to change.

The only appropriate response to any act of service, no matter how routine, is appreciation. If you do one thing today, make sure you let those who do so much for you know how much you appreciate them. And I’ll do the same.

Just Because - Giving Like A Child

This morning I woke up early with the intention of working out. I got dressed in my workout clothes, put on my shoes, and then sat down on the couch for a few minutes too long. But I’m glad I did.

As I sat in the living room, my thirteen-year-old daughter was in the kitchen packing her lunch for school. Once she had picked up her bread crumbs and dishes, she started to head upstairs to get ready. But before she made it up two steps, she stopped, turned around and walked over to me. Bending down, she wrapped her arms around me, hugged me, and kissed me on the cheek.

Smiling, I asked, “What was that for?”

She smiled back, “Just because.” And then turned around and headed up to her room.

What a great way to start the day. Just because.

An hour later, my youngest was up, and she came into my room as I got ready for the day. She walked up to me, still sleepy-eyed, and wrapped her arms around my leg. She didn’t say it, but I knew it was just because.

At some point, as we grow older, we begin to lose the just because mentality. I don’t believe it ever completely goes away, but as adults, the number of social transactions we are a part of that have expectations definitely outweigh the ones that don’t.

Blame it on society, movies, or social media; there are a host of influences out there promoting the use of behaviors that will get us what we want. Over time, we can become motivated by paychecks, tax breaks, and any other scenario where we get something for what we give. But at the end of the day, we're the ones that choose to give with expectations or choose to just give.

Kids get it, they give hugs just to give hugs and give kisses just to give kisses. They have more excitement about giving a gift at a birthday party than any adult I have ever seen, and they're ready to give someone in need money or food with no thought of how it will impact their schedule or bank account, and with no regard for who is or isn't watching. Kids live with a natural just because mentality.

Today, find a moment or two where you can operate with that same mentality. Take someone out for coffee or lunch, just because. Find someone in need and give them time, money, or food when no one is watching. Find something good you can do, and do it just because.

The Magic of Letting Go

I prefer not to get political or talk about religion in much of my writing because so many times it becomes divisive, or a point of contention for many people. But today, I need to get something off my mind. I’m not a religious person. In fact, I’ve found little value in religion itself. Living by a list of rules and checkboxes to make sure I’ve done things right has always smacked of misguided motivation for me. It’s not that I don’t value much of what religion can teach us, but the motivation is often disconcerting, and sometimes it frightening, especially when religion is placed in a position of higher importance than the relationships we possess.

I go to a Christian church, and though some of my political and religious views aren’t terribly popular among some of the church patrons, we find a way to set those differences aside (most of the time) and engage in honest and thought-provoking dialogue. Recently, someone asked me what the cross means to me. I didn’t have to think long. My response was, “It’s the source of a magic that sets us free from our burdens so we can pick up the burdens of someone else.” Needless to say, the word “magic” used in the same sentence as “the cross” raised some eyebrows—this made me laugh.

I could tell the individual I was speaking with and a few of those who listened in were thinking of wizards and cauldrons. I had some explaining to do. When I say, “magic,” I’m not referring to spells and witchcraft. For centuries, people have used the word magic to explain the unexplainable, to try and give some context to things not understood. The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights were thought to be magic, fire was a gift from the gods whose source was unexplained for centuries, and there are a host of other things that until they explained were thought to be magic.

Once I had clarified my perspective and the reason I had used the word, anxieties seemed to subside, and people were more inclined to listen.

So I continued as I explained what the cross represents for me, a place of letting a go, a focal point for many that stands as a reminder that we don’t have to hold on to the burdens we carry. We always have the choice to let them go, sometimes we set them down for a minute, a few hours, a few days, But when we choose to set whatever is weighing us down at the base of the cross, it gives someone else the opportunity to pick it up and carry it for us.

And this is where the magic happens. When we let go of the pains, addictions, trauma, and the host of other things that plague our lives, not only are we allowing others carry what we were never meant to deal with on our own, our arms a free to pick up the burden of another.

I finished with the conversation with, “The cross represents the magic of letting go. We can’t fully understand the dynamics at play in any situation, but when we choose to set our pains aside, sometimes just for a moment, and carry someone else’s load, we are permitting others to do the same.

The cross represents a beauty that all men and women should aspire to because we all can be a place where someone can lay down their burdens knowing that we will pick them up.

Ask yourself, “what is preventing me from carrying someone through hard times?” Once you’ve identified it, try letting it go and let the magic happen.

Little Adventures And Big Teeth

Life is an adventure — one grand experience filled with a multitude of smaller ones. And it’s the quality of the smaller ones that make the big one worthwhile.

I get to travel a fair amount. Working with my best friend, Justin Skeesuck, as a keynote speaking duo, we find ourselves all over the country — sometimes the world. More often than not, our clients fly us in for a few days, which means we are on the road for 3 or 4 days at a time. But sometimes we have events that are close enough together that flying home just to hop back on a plane doesn’t make sense. It’s on these kinds of trips that we find a way to tap into our inner child. We’re always looking for the next adventure. But our experiences always have a unique dynamic because Justin lives life from a power wheelchair (Justin can’t use his arms or legs due to a progressive neuromuscular disease).

Over the past few weeks, we traveled from Boise to Kansas, and then to several cities in Florida. Our days were filled with a number of events, so we bounced from event to event with some downtime in between. And with downtime comes the opportunity to do things we wouldn’t normally do, in places we wouldn’t regularly visit. In Hutchinson, KS we spent time with their Chamber of Commerce team, spoke at their annual meeting, and took advantage of the opportunity to explore a salt mine 650 feet below the earth’s surface. From there we headed St. Petersburg, FL where we spoke with representatives from universities far and wide at CCCU’s multi-academic conference. Our free time there was filled with hours on the beach, good dinners with the wives, and some incredible fish tacos.

After saying goodbye to the amazing women who chose to marry us (still trying to work that one out), we headed to Orlando, FL. We were going to be speaking at ThermoFisher Scientific’s North American Sales Conference. But we had some free time and needed something exciting.

Justin and I are no strangers to doing stupid things together — we have so many stories involving trips, crazy foods, and idiotic escapades. One of the reasons we have maintained our friendships over the course of 43 years is the fact that we are always ready to jump in and embrace the other’s ideas and sense of adventure, no matter how big or small the adventure might be.

Justin had read about an accessible zip-line in Orlando where the line took riders over a pond filled with Alligators. When he asked me what I thought, I was all in. The day before we were supposed to speak, we headed to Gatorland. We bought our tickets, worked our way to the zip-line office (past some huge alligators), and filled out the appropriate releases.

While the team harnessed up Justin, I was instructed on how to get into mine. Ten minutes later, Justin and I were at the top of the long series of ramps that led to the drop off point. In the water below there were gators as long as 14 feet. Several hundred of them swam in the murky waters below.

While the crew secured Justin to the zip-line, I filmed. Minutes later they let him go. He laughed the whole way across the pond. Five minutes later, I was doing the same thing.

Though it was short, we had a great time, and we have one more story to tell. A small adventure that helps make up the bigger adventure that is our friendship.

Since making our way across that pond, I have been thinking about what each of us can do to enrich our relationships with our children, with our spouse, with our friends. While there is no shortage of improvements we all can make, one guaranteed way to grow deeper is to live life together — and we don’t have to fly across the country to do so. Every day offers opportunities for more adventures to be taken and more stories to be written. Whether it's through backyard games of hide-and-seek, puddle jumping till you’re soaking wet, forts built out of cardboard boxes and duct-tape, bike rides to get ice cream, a walk holding hands, coffee in the middle of a workday, or happy hour conversations — every day we can find ways to live out a little adventure making the big one so much more significant.

Take some time today to go on a little adventure with your kids, your spouse, or a friend. Because it’s the little ones that make the big one possible.

There Are Worse Things

I recently went on vacation with my wife and three kids. The destination was Orlando, and we had the Kennedy Space Center, Universal Studios, and Disney World in our sights. But first, we had to get there.

My wife travels a lot for work, so we utilized some miles for tickets for myself and our two youngest. The catch was we were on a different flight. Boise to Seattle, Seattle to Chicago, Chicago to Orlando.

We made it all the way to Seattle before things went south. A winter storm hit Chicago, and our flight was delayed, and we were going to miss our connection. So my nine-year-old daughter and ten-year-old son sat next to a pillar and snacked on some granola bars while I waited in line to see if we could get booked on a later flight to Orlando. I struck up a conversation with the lady standing in front of me, and as we chatted, we overheard one of the agents say “ all flights into Chicago are canceled.”

The woman standing next to me said, “Well, that stinks. but there are worse things.”

I nodded my head in agreement, and said, “going hungry.”

She said, “Having no water.”

“Not having a home.”

“Or a job.”

We continued the back and forth while a man in his fifties, lit up the agent who was trying to help him, all because he was going to make it to the Caribbean a few hours later than planned.

Finally, we were both called up to the desk. The young agent who was helping me spent 25 minutes looking through options, had to make a few phone calls, and after ten more minutes, we finally had a way to get to Orlando. But it wasn’t going to be pretty because a lot of other airports were being affected by weather and few flights had enough room for three passengers.

I walked over to my kids and said, “Well, we're going to make it to Orlando, but not till tomorrow.”

With tears in his eyes, my son Josh asked, “Are we going to miss going to NASA?”

“No, but here is what we have to do to make it.”

I explained that we had a 5-hour layover in Seattle, a flight to Las Vegas, another 4-hour delay and then a redeye to Miami where we would have to race to make a connection to Orlando.

I smiled and said, “There are worse things though.”

“Like what?” asked my daughter, Olivia.

Without missing a beat, Josh said, “Not having a house.”

I smiled and said, “Or not having money to buy food.”

To which Olivia continued the game with, “Or not being able to go to Orlando at all.”

The scenarios continued as we walked to a restaurant to get some food.

With no changes to our new itinerary, we made it to Miami at 540 am the following morning. Running on little sleep, and feeling mildly grumpy, Olivia said to me, “There are worse things.”

We made it in time for the Kennedy Space Center and all things NASA, enjoyed a wonderful time as a family and made it home safe and sound.

But what a great perspective to have. There are always worse things, and to listen to my children rattle off scenarios and be grateful that they were on a trip that had delays and changes in plans was beautiful.

Every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister — so pretty much everybody — has the opportunity to focus on the negative or use challenging scenarios to give the children in their lives a different perspective. One that finds things to appreciate when situations don’t go the way we want, as opposed to dwelling on how bad we have it in any given moment.

There are plenty of things to get upset about; being a few hours late to a Carribean Island or a day late getting into Orlando sit pretty low on that list.

When it comes to day-to-day struggles like bad traffic or airline delays, someone always has a harder situation than the ones we're facing. It helps to keep that perspective.

Hard Realizations - The Challenge of Differing Perspectives

This past weekend, my son and I went up to the local ski resort to enjoy some time on the slopes. I used to snowboard, but three knee surgeries and no cartilage in my right knee mean I watch and coach from below. On the drive up we listened to music and talked about his week at school. The fourth grade is filled with great stories, goofy things he and his friends do and experiments or science projects that far exceed my expectations for a fourth-grade classroom. This kid loves school, is a bit of a thinker and, like all three of my kids, teaches me a lot.

When we arrived, the sky was bright blue, the air a warm 37 degrees, and the ski hill was busy. For four hours, Josh rode the lift and worked to perfect his turns. It was his fifth time up.

We enjoyed our lunch, sat by the fire, talked with friends, and packed up to head down the hill. That's when it hit me.

Do you ever have those days where you're just trucking along, enjoying the simplicity of the day and something comes out of the blue and strikes you? It hits you so hard, you have to take a moment to understand what has just happened.

We were headed down the hill listening to more music, and a few lines from a song struck me.

I'm tired
Of tending to this fire
I've used up all I've collected
I have singed my hands
It's glowing
Embers barely showing
Proof of life in the shadows
Dancing on my plans

I asked my son, “What do you think the writer is saying here? What is he talking about?”

Josh thought for a moment and then answered, “I think he is saying ‘sometimes you’re just done. When life gets hard, it hard to keep going.’”

I don’t know why I asked the next question; it just came out. “Have you ever felt this way?”

The back seat was quiet for a few seconds and then, “Yeah.”

Josh is ten.

“When?” I asked.

“When I was little, and I would get in trouble with you or mom for something, sometimes I wondered if you still loved me. When I felt like that, I wanted to disappear.”

“Even though we always told you there was nothing you could do to change our love for you?” I responded.

“Yeah, because when I was little, I didn’t know it yet.”

My heart broke for a moment. I asked, “How about now that you’re older?”

“No, now I know you love me no matter what.”

I have put a lot of thought into digesting that conversation. A three or four-year-old heart and mind processes things much differently than that of a ten-year-old. But juxtapose my son’s four-year-old heart and mind against my then 37-year-old ones and things suddenly get very eye-opening.

Perspective matters. Thinking back to the times I have had to discipline my kids, I know I approached the situations with my life experiences, my understanding of love, my perspective of forgiveness, responsibility, and accountability. My son only had four years of that, and the difference in those two perspectives is stark. And because I hadn’t recognized this, I had given my boy a moment of doubt.

It turns out the same rules apply to others our same age, or people older than us. Individuals with far more life experience than a four-year-old may have a greater understanding of the things we encounter, but this understanding will differ from our own. No one, not a single person, will have the same perspective as I do. It is essential that I remember this, Whether I am having to discipline my child, have a hard conversation with my wife, or am dealing with the difficulties that come with working with people; I must remember that no one sees things the same as I do.

As parents, spouses, and friends, I can’t help but wonder how many broken hearts and wounded souls could be avoided if we all would seek to understand someone else’s perspective before we react; before we speak.

Making The Same Mistakes With Increasing Confidence

Several years ago, when I worked in healthcare, I was responsible for the Spine Service Line at a hospital in Idaho. My role had me working with many different disciplines; nursing staff, physicians, physical therapists, the operating room, etc. At that time, we were pursuing a lot of changes because we were experiencing so much growth. As a result, we were trying to implement new practices as we examined the latest in research as it applied to patient care, and we needed the buy-in of physicians to make the necessary changes a reality.

Most of the people I worked with understood the need to create new approaches to patient care and medicine. But a few had the mentality of, “We have always done it this way, why should we change?” These individuals refused to read the research, had no interest in what experts in their fields had to say, and buried their heads in the sand.

After a particularly frustrating meeting, one co-worker said, “The most dangerous thing a person can do is make the same mistakes with increasing confidence.” Those words got my attention. Refusing to change in the face of new information, hosts of data, and ample research is indeed a scary thing. And this isn’t a detriment to just healthcare. Every single business or organization is damaged by people who make the same mistakes with increasing confidence. And every relationship impacted by such a mentality suffers.

But the question we need to ask is why? Why do people do this? Is it fear? Is it insecurity? Is it pure stubbornness? Or, is it willful ignorance? I would argue it is all of the above. And I would also argue that no one is immune. We all have beliefs and ideas that we hold dear; things we don’t want to let go, preconceived notions that we live and die by. While my former co-worker was addressing issues in a hospital, his words bring me back to two specific topics — politics and religion.

There are no two areas where I see more fear, insecurity, stubbornness, and willful ignorance. As a result, we make the same mistakes, over and over, while thinking we are “true to our convictions” and “standing strong.” Don’t get me wrong, I am all for convictions and strong beliefs but conviction out of habit is simply stupidity and standing strong because of beliefs I have been spoon fed is borderline crazy.

With a volatile political landscape fueled by a plethora of “believers” spewing words of hate, bigotry, and misogyny, we need to start looking for ways to learn from our mistakes as opposed to repeating them.

I rarely get political or dig into issues of faith, but it is time for us to stop making the same mistakes with increasing confidence. We must make decisions based on accurate information, not habit. Which means we might have to go looking for it as opposed to believing what Fox News or CNN tells us. We must establish beliefs based on understanding as opposed to regurgitating those of others. Which means we might need to crack open a book and learn something for ourselves. We must establish a new norm, approaching people with love and grace and not be disappointed when they don’t respond in likeness.

Because hate and ignorance aren’t working, they never have. These are mistakes we have been making for far too many generations. It’s time for something new, and it starts with each of us, regardless of which side of the fence we are on with any given issue. It begins by acknowledging the mistakes we have made and learning from them.

Take a moment today and look at the mistakes you've made and own them. Dig into them and try to understand why you did what you did. But most importantly, admit you were wrong. Go to those affected by your mistakes and apologize.

This is the only place where the change we so desperately need can begin.

No Matter Who You Are, You Are Significant

We live in a broken world. Every time we turn on the television or peruse news feeds, pain, suffering, and negativity lead the headlines. Not a week goes by where we don’t hear about riots, mass murders, starvation, or abuse; our world is filled with so many people in so much need. If you’re like us, this often feels overwhelming. With so much hurt at every turn, it’s easy to feel defeated – to feel as if nothing we say or do makes a difference.

Then we hear a story of a man or woman who has started a nonprofit equipping people in third world countries with food, water, homes, and educational resources or a team of individuals raising millions to combat homelessness through shelters, counseling services, and job placement programs. Our hearts swell with hope because someone out there is actually making a difference. But while we are encouraged that people are fighting against the darkness, there is a lingering feeling that what we do still doesn’t matter, because we aren’t feeding starving children or building homes for the homeless. This lie can subtlety work its way into our hearts and minds, and if we aren’t careful, the lie becomes truth because we stop doing the things that matter – because for some reason we believe we aren’t enough.

If we want the world to heal, for hope to rise, we must understand that no matter how large of a platform a celebrity has or how world-changing an organization is, a person’s legacy isn’t built on grand acts. It is the culmination of all the little things we do that makes our lives worth living, this is how we fulfill our purpose. The legacy we pass on to future generations is who we are, how we live our lives in the day-to-day: the way we treat a waitress, the times we acknowledge service men and women for their contribution, the moments we look a grocery clerk in the eyes and ask her name. These little things in everyday situations carry weight, they’re significant — because no act of love goes unnoticed and no act of compassion is futile. There are a million moments in each of our lives where we have the opportunity to bring joy or pain, light or darkness, heaven or hell to others through the words we say and how we say them; through the things we do and how we do them. Each one of us has significance, because each one of us has the power to bring love and compassion to the lives of each person we meet. 

Yes, the world needs nonprofits that build freshwater wells in villages in Africa or equip underserved communities with medical resources, but living a life in a way where we actively seek opportunities to love in simple yet profound ways, is as, if not more important. Every day is filled with opportunities to positively impact our friends, families, significant others, children, and strangers — because every single act leaves a mark on the lives of those around us, good or bad. Every decision, every word leaves an imprint on others, but we often fail to notice these imprints because we don’t appreciate the influence we have on our world.

Who we are on a day-to-day basis is the greatest testament to what we believe. The way we treat others, and the intentions behind our actions undoubtedly leave impressions on those we encounter.

Every one of us has remarkable power and influence. Understanding this is the first step in making this world a better place.

True Isolation - A Darkness Few Understand

Most people don’t know that I spent a number of years working in mental health. More specifically, I worked at an inpatient psychiatric hospital. The four years I was employed there opened my eyes to new kinds of pain and suffering; types of torment I didn’t know existed.

One patient in particular had a major impact on me. Her life was normal just a few weeks prior to my meeting her for the first time. The decline I witnessed in a bright and vibrant young woman was painful for everyone to watch. Toward the end of my time working with this particular patient, she said something to me that I have never been able to shake, “Patrick, do you know what it’s like to be completely alone? You might be here in front of me, but in my head it just me, and all the versions of me that scare me.” As we dug a little deeper, she explained how the world inside her brain was where she spent all of her time even though she wanted to be somewhere else and how the sense of isolation she felt was crippling.

I went home that night and wrote some of her words down and they inspired a piece of poetry. Last week, as I dug through my files on my computer, I came across that poem:

Here I lie underneath this white sky
Where the sun never sets and never will rise
With all these people why do I feel so alone?

 I hear the voices, but can’t see the faces
Remember the where, but can’t find the places
I just some need someone to lead me back home.

 I have fallen
And now I am broken
And all these words that I’ve spoken
Mean so much to me but nobody cares.
I am my family
I am my friends
This isolation is a terrible means to a tragic end.

 The darkness in this room made of pure white
Is blacker than an eve with no moon light
And louder than the voices that sound from these walls.

 Surrounded by people who are paid to listen
My mind perceives their weak intentions
I just need someone to wipe my tears as they fall. 

I have fallen
And now I am broken
And all these words that I’ve spoken
Mean so much to me but nobody cares.
I am my family
I am my friends
This isolation is a terrible means to a tragic end

I have fallen
And now I lie here all broken
A shell of a man who once had a place in this world 

But the world has failed me
And now has compelled me
To create this place where I exist on my own,

I exist all alone

This is a stark reminder that we are all surrounded by people who are hurting and broken and often we don’t even know it. Their pain can be from a struggle with mental illness, trauma, death, loss of a job, addictions, and the list goes on.

I wish I had taken more time with this young woman. I couldn’t have changed her outcome, but maybe, if only for a moment, I could have made sure she didn’t feel alone.

We can’t fix people’s problems or take on their pain and trauma, but all of us have the capacity to step into others stories, to listen, to love, and to make sure they know they aren’t alone.

Hide and Seek - A Short Story

Writing has always been therapeutic for me. Normally, I write about the things that are on my mind, social justice, address questions of faith, or atypical thoughts on leadership.

But I also enjoy writing fiction and poetry. Short stories are my favorite because of the challenge that exists in getting readers invested in just a few pages. But sharing my short stories scares me because of the vulnerability that exists in allowing others experience something I have created. I have a hard time letting people I know read some of my work, let alone strangers.

This is the first time I have publicly shared one of my works of fiction. I hope you enjoy it, but a warning — this is not your typical short story. These words tell of the incredible and crippling power of love and loss.

Hide and Seek

Rays of light kiss the ground as they filter through leaves and branches from above. The only sounds I can hear are the breaths I take and the chatter of the trees gently scraping against the house. It is warm where I am squatting, the sun on my back. I am listening for you.

“One”

“Two”

“Three”

I can feel my hands pressed against my face. They're wet. Why are they wet? My fingers rest gently against the skin above my eyebrows, the sides of my thumbs against my cheeks. My hands are tremble against my face. Why are they shaking?

I keep my eyes closed. You always know if I cheat.

“Four”

“Five”

“Six”

The wind creates friction between the leaves of the trees. They whisper distant secrets as you hide. Do they know something I don”t?

“Seven”

“Eight”

“Nine”

There are so many places you can go; so many places you can keep out of sight — I map them out in my mind. The garden shed offers dark shadows, the bushes along the porch provide many pockets of shelter hidden from view, the trees are full of foliage, the field across the street gives you so many more opportunities to hide from me. These games can last for hours.

“Ten”

“Eleven”

“Twelve”

I remember when you were three. You would hide under the kitchen table in plain sight, but you would bury your head in the carpet. Your giggles brought me so much joy, your whole face would smile when I found you. As you grew older, pillows piled high were your best attempt at camouflage. I would come upstairs and find every cushion from the furniture stacked on top of you.

When you were five, you had mastered the art of concealment, but your lack of patience always gave you away.

Your seven now and your so good at staying out of sight that sometimes I have to give up. Oh, how you love that!

“Thirteen”

“Fourteen”

“Fifteen”

The cool of the breeze counters the warmth of the sun on my neck. I can smell the fresh cut grass below my feet as I squat next to the corner of the house. The heat radiating from the peeling gray paint against my t-shirt. You have probably taken off your shoes so you can run silently through the grass like a ghost.

“Sixteen”

“Seventeen”

“Eighteen”

Time is almost up. You better have found a good place to hide. I can't wait to see the joy on your face when I have to call out, “I give up!”

“Nineteen”

“Twenty”

“Ready or not, here I come!”

I slowly stand up, excited for the hunt. The shed is close. With each step, the gravel of the path crunches beneath my feet. You'll know I’m coming. I reach for the handle, turn it gently, and yank the open the door. Quickly, I step inside. The light coming in from the window creates dark shadows in the corners, but they don't contain you. There's nothing here but shovels and rakes, but the dirt on the floor is disturbed, so you must have been here. Where are you?

The bushes along the front porch leave just enough space for you to crouch out of site. Spiders have never bothered you. One by one I check the gaps — the likelihood of finding you increasing with each space that lies empty. Cobwebs and last years leaves are all I find.

I work my way around the house, scanning the trees. The depth of green is mesmerizing. The light of the sun flickers through the leaves and dances like falling glitter. You do love to climb, but you're not up there. I continue to the back of the house. The backyard offers little shelter.

You aren't under the trampoline or in the garden. Where could you be? Have you bent the rules and gone inside?

Up the back steps, the old boards creak beneath my feet. The back door is ajar. You never leave doors open. Why do I feel uneasy? I start in the kitchen. The pantry is empty. The dining room table hides nothing.

Down the hall to the office, sometimes you hide under my desk or in the closet. You aren't here.

Why do I feel panicked that I can’t find you? There are so many places you could be. My heart is beating faster now, why do I feel this fear?

I step into my room. Under the bed, the closet, behind the chairs. Nothing. Where are you? I can’t breathe, but this is just a game.

Into your room. I reach up with my hand to push the door open and see my fingernails for the first time. They're broken, and flesh of my knuckles is torn is torn. What did I do?

I step inside the walls of your bedroom. What happened here? Your bed is tipped over against the wall. The carpet is torn up from the floor; boards are bare and broken. There are holes in the walls. Are you hiding in there? I reach in and pull drywall and insulation to the floor, adding to the debris scattered around my feet. Nothing but darkness and emptiness answer my calls.

“This isn't funny!” I call out. “I’m done playing.”

I just need to hear your voice, to know that you are alright.

I run upstairs. Each room is similar to yours. In complete disarray, haphazardly torn apart. Who was here and what were they looking for? You were just with me, we just started playing hide and seek. There has been no time for someone to break in, to do all this damage.

You're not safe. How can you be?

I am screaming your name. Calling out for any response, but no answer. Back downstairs. I am sprinting down the hall and out the front door, looking everywhere and yelling so loud it hurts.

Where could you be? Who has taken you?

The field and the woods beyond — that's where you are. You're just hiding.

I’m running toward the fence that borders the grounds. I can feel the soft grass change to the hard dirt of the country road under my feet. Leaping over the old wooden fence, I land on unkempt grass. I am running so hard that I don't notice the stones until something catches my eye.

I see your name on one of the stones and stop.

I stare at it as I walk closer, the engraving coming into focus. My hand reaches out, and I trace the cold letters with my fingertips — your name. The numbers are familiar, but they don't make sense. You're not gone. Tears fill my eyes and begin to dampen my cheeks. No, this can’t be right! You're just hiding. It says so right here, just below the years.

“I love you daddy. Count to twenty and come find me.”

I stagger across the dirt road back to our home. I can’t breathe. My legs are shaking. Slowly I squat against the corner of the weathered house and place my head in my hands as the tears stream from my eyes.

Rays of light kiss the ground as they filter through leaves and branches from above. The only sounds I can hear are the breaths I take and the chatter of the trees gently scraping against the house. It is warm where I am squatting, the sun on my back. I am listening for you.

“One”

“Two”

“Three”

I can feel my hands pressed against my face. They're wet.

© - Patrick Gray, Words Are Stories

What Do You Believe? - The Answer Is In Your Actions

Who we are on a day-to-day basis is the greatest testament to what we believe. Our daily actions demonstrate so much about our personalities, the nature of our heart, the condition of our soul.

I can point back to many people who have helped shape who I am through their understanding of this fundamental truth. And just as many people have given me a reason to doubt their intentions, their word, and their character because of their failure to understand that who they are on a day-to-day basis is the greatest testament to what they believe.

Our world is filled with strife, pain, chaos, and confusion. And every day I witness people who claim to love others demonstrate the opposite with their social media posts, snide comments, holier than though banter, and general entitled behavior in the name of freedom or religion. And when this happens, I have to pause, take a breath, and remind myself of what is true.

One of my favorite songwriters is Jon Foreman. A man with an incredible gift, he has a way of saying a whole lot in very few words. In the song Is This The World You Want, the bridge is a beautiful and poignant piece of poetry and a powerful reminder of what makes us who we are: 

What you say is your religion
How you say it's your religion
Who you love is your religion
How you love is your religion
All your science, your religion
All your hatred, your religion
All your wars are your religion
Every breath is your religion

Each day, our lives are filled with a multitude of decisions and many of them paint a picture of who we are and what we believe, regardless of how we claim to live our lives. If you call yourself a Christian but use hate-filled rhetoric or talk about any group of people in a demeaning way, others are getting the real picture of who you are. If you claim to be an advocate for life and social justice and yet are wishing pain and misery on those who think differently than you, you’re falling short.

This week and in the weeks to come, measure every conversation, every social media post, every comment on someone's thread with this question, “Does what I am saying or doing line up with who I claim to be?”

Maybe a better approach would be to ask yourself, “If who I am was measured by this one behavior, this one statement, or this one moment, is it how I would want to be known?”

If the answer is no, choose a different path.

Come Together - The Power of Common Ground

My son and I share a love of music, and though my tastes are different than his, we both respect the interests of the other. Over the past few years, he has introduced me to a some music he can’t seem to listen to enough.

A ten-year-old drummer, he gravitates toward bands with some drive to their music and challenging beats. Namely, Twenty-One Pilots. So when they decided to come to town, I had to take him.

I have had a lot of concert experiences that have left me reeling in the musicality and showmanship of the bands. While this show was no exception, what has me still thinking about the concert is the people.

We had arrived early to try to find decent parking. The lot was filled with beat-up pickup trucks and luxury cars and everything in between. We had to park on the farthest side of the lot because half the crowd had arrived before us. Walking through the parking lot, Josh told me how excited he was as he skipped, jumped, turned all while singing to himself. I smiled as I scanned the parking lot and noticing the bumper stickers. Some said Trump, others Obama or Bernie. We saw Coexist, Jesus Loves You, Darwin Fish stickers, and many more. The variety of people that attended the show was vast.

We found our way to the line of fans and waited to get to our seats. Surrounded by thousands of people, we saw children around my son’s age (ten years), men and women in their seventies and every age in between. In the sea of bodies, there were war veteran hats and Harley Davidson bandannas.

As the doors opened, we worked our way to the entrance, walked through the metal detectors, and climbed the stairs to the Mezzanine. Finally, we found our seats in the arena and waited for the show to start.

From the opening song, thousands of voices lifted as one, singing every word, moving to every beat. The energy was palpable and for two hours, a group of individuals from all walks of life, from different belief systems, and various political parties set any differences aside and became one community around their love for this band’s music. More than once, I scanned the crowd and took in the joy and excitement on so many faces. Not once did the energy let up and for those few hours, 10,000 people focused on the one thing they all had in common and reveled in it.

Amidst the loud music and screams from adoring fans, there was peace; something that seems to be in short supply these days. That night was a powerful reminder of who we are capable of being when we choose unity instead of division, love instead of hate.

My son sang every song at the top of his lungs and played every beat with his imaginary sticks.

As we drove home, he said to me, “I can’t believe everyone was singing. It was so cool to be with that many people singing the same song.”

I said, “Yeah bud, it was.” But as his eyes became heavy and he drifted to sleep in the back seat, all I could think about was what it would be like if we set aside our differences, focused on what we have in common, and chose to sing the same song. It wouldn't mean we all held the same beliefs or supported the same causes, but it would show that we all valued one another and that would be a wonderful place to start.

The Wisdom of Youth

I grew up in Ontario, OR; a small town that sits on the west side of the Snake River on the Oregon/Idaho border. Located in an area that has dry, hot summers and cold winters, Ontario is home to about 12,000 and is part of one of the poorest counties in the state. My hometown has seen some tough times; when the economy tanks, Ontario gets hit hard. When it booms, not much seems to change. The story isn’t much different for the surrounding communities. But the towns continue to persevere.

Normally, I return to Ontario to visit family for birthdays or holidays, but recently I spent some time there for a very different reason. My best friend, Justin Skeesuck, and I were asked to speak at a leadership summit for high school students; something that didn’t happen in my day.

Intrigued, we agreed to participate in the event, not really sure what to expect. What we experienced was incredible. More than eight hundred young men and women from all over the valley (some traveled more than an hour) gathered at the local community college to play games, celebrate community and relationships, and learn about leadership.

While Justin and I were the ones doing the “teaching”, I think we learned more than anyone else.

The energy of these students from communities far and wide was palpable. Each one seemed excited to be there, to be alive, to be a part of something bigger than themselves. We watched the event unfold with laughter, screams of joy, and all kinds of shenanigans. When it came time for us to speak, the gym was full of attentive future leaders.

We finished speaking to a much more enthusiastic applause than expected from eight hundred high school students and moved to a table where we met more than a hundred of the attendees. As the many beautiful faces came through the line, we were asked questions about leading well, about how to motivate others, questions delving into self-worth, and comments about what each person took away from the talk we had just given.

The most impactful thing though wasn’t any single question or comment, it wasn’t the joy and energy that filled the room; it was something that simmered just under the surface of so many personalities. The part of this incredible evening that struck me the most was the zest for life each young man and woman seemed to possess. There was a vigor, a strength in each face that filled me with joy and a little bit of shame. Joy because in the face of that kind of young, vibrant power, I was filled with hope for our future. Shame because somewhere along the way I, like so many others I know, have lost the “I can change the world” attitude.

These future change makers reminded me of something incredibly important. To sum it up best I want to use the words of one young man I met that night:

Whether one or a thousand follow us, the most important thing we can do is lead well. Numbers don’t matter.

I am thankful for the reminder that we all have the power to change the world one person, one relationship, one moment at a time.