Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Story: Kicking the Bucket List

Sorry, Wachowski Brothers: reality is prettier than the virtual world.

Like literally every blog post I have read from people who attended Story this past week, I'm still in the process of unpacking it all, trying to balance my heart and my head with what the presenters said to challenge, inspire, motivate, and validate me. And to be honest, this is my fifth attempt to write down my thoughts and feelings about the conference. That's how much the darn thing has messed me up (but in a good way).

And while the ways my head has been transformed are important, it's the people I hugged who are etched indelibly onto my heart that stand out more. And in the spirit of this transformation, I want to share this motley cast of characters - and then live out the story of my life instead of just writing it about it.

After all, my lawyer told me love does. It acts. So expect some action soon.

Although Alise thinks I'm the second coming of Michael Landon, the reality is I'm just her friend. And friends do. Whatever, whenever, we simply do. I was more than paid back in hugs, smiles, and snarky jokes (as a "burnus") for whatever minor act of kindness I performed.

As always, Darrel is like the Kevin Bacon of these meetings: he's always less than six degrees of connection from everyone. The fact he deigns my writings to be of value is humbling, inspiring and challenging to me to be better, and he honors me by calling me friend. Add into the mix that Ally is almost always by his side, supporting his words while standing firm in the strength of her own, and you've got the picture of an ideal, equal partnership in every iteration of the term. It's obvious they're still newlyweds. (Just kidding, guys...)

Had I known Tony Alicia when I was living in Miami, he would have been the single reason I would have driven to Ft. Lauderdale on a regular basis. Genuinely warm, ridiculously gifted as a speaker and writer, and married to the funniest person in Florida (hi, Katie), he's like me. If I had hair. And an iota of his abilities. And was mature. And not the color of styrofoam. So basically, we're nothing alike, but he's someone I hope to get to know better in the coming weeks.

Ed is a brother-in-arms on three fronts: he's a writer, a stay-at-home dad, and one of only about half a dozen people whom I have ever allowed the use of my iPhone out of my direct line of sight. Ed possesses the single most gentle, warm, and inviting personality I have ever encountered at a quasi-Christian conference. Ed's the kind of guy I need in my life: he's friendly, but not afraid to ask the hard, direct questions - the ones designed to challenge and build you up, not deflate you and tear you down. And since we have each others' cell numbers, my dream is that we can exchange valued information between us: he gives me writing advice, and I help him navigate the murky waters of not completely losing your marbles as a stay at home parent.

There's Kristen, whom I want - no; NEED - to speak to more. Whose story (and age) parallels parts of my own, and whose idea of a "Bible study" made me do a full-on fist pump in the air when I heard about it.

There's Addie, whose gentle voice and enlightening smile gave me strength to stay awake when all I wanted to at times was sleep. I wanted to hear the words behind that smile, and learn from what she would share.

There's Tammy, my sister Whovian, who was literally everywhere over the course of these days. Everywhere. I couldn't turn around without seeing her, and the times when I didn't, I regretted missing another opportunity to laugh with her.

There's Katie. My fellow quipper and dropper of dry wit. We probably came darn close to bugging people by how snarky we were (with situations, with each other...) but we bonded so tight and so fast, it was as if we'd known each other for years already. That, my friends, is the essence of friendship. - oh, and "tag."

There's Emily.  She's apparently trying to relocate me and Ashley to Chicago. And if I were able to hang around with her and her husband, I would gladly make the migration north and into another time zone. I could not have imagined a better dinner companion.

There's Bethany and Matthew, the Dynamic Duo of Awesomeness. And hospitality. And cab rides. Maybe it was the fact I knew where Judson University is, but I've never gotten a warmer embrace and a warmer welcome from "strangers" before. Double date. Soon.

There's Caris. Elora. Jennifer. Danielle. Leanne. Krisi. Dianna (dare you to ask her about "manly milk"). Kristin.

People who, when they used to show up on my Twitter feed, I wondered what deep insights they had to share that I could scan, snicker at, and then get on with doing whatever it was I was doing.

Now?

Now they're family, one and all, and their words don't just make me make smirk, they help me to heal. They help me smile with a smile that gladly creates laugh lines on my face. A smile that speaks to a bond, a love, a moment of beauty captured in a blink of an eye. A smile that is more joyful than social.

And the story, as they say, isn't over yet...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Be Still and Nap

The other day, I did something I rarely - if ever - do. In fact, I think in the past three years, I've maybe done it half a dozen times.

I took a nap in the afternoon while Kai was asleep.

Not Actual Photo of Me Napping.
Now, many of my fellow stay at home parents (as well as Ashley) think I'm a bit nuts for not taking advantage of this daily downtime. To be fair, the Rule of Thumb when taking care of an infant is "Sleep when they sleep," and I probably nodded off for around 10 minutes or so every so often while he was still small enough to be swaddled. That's not the "nap" I'm talking about. This nap in question I took was a full on lay-down-grab-a-blanket-and-intentionally-snore nap.


The main reason I don't nap during the afternoon isn't that I don't want to. This hour(ish) every day is sacred to me. It's my ME time, when I get to read. Watch MST3K. Write. Procrastinate from writing. And so on.

But this day? I decided to just let it go. Kai had slept for crap the night before, which meant I had slept for crap as well. I was in a stellar foul mood, and I was probably unfit to operate a motor vehicle. So for his safety as well as my own well-being, I decided to listen to my body for once and honor what it was asking me to do.

I decided that it wasn't that vital to do laundry.

I decided that it wasn't the most important thing to wash dishes. Again.

I decided that it wasn't imperative that I get dinner prepped in time for it to be served at 6:00.

I decided that whatever words I wanted or needed to put down would better be served marinating in my head a little longer.

Because I knew that if I'm not the best me that I can be emotionally, physically, psychologically, or spiritually, I'm not able to be the best husband, dad, caregiver, or provider that I am supposed to be and called to be. And if just letting go for one afternoon of what I think are either real or self-imposed requirements for me to do as a stay-at-home parent was what needed to happen, then that was what was going to happen.

Amazingly...the world did not end because the towels weren't folded and put away. The world didn't end because dishes stayed dirty a little while longer. The world didn't end because we had to eat out that night. The world didn't end because I didn't Tweet out some deep, profound or ultimately witty insight.

What did happen was this: Kai woke up from his nap, walked out of his room and over to the couch (where I was snoozing), woke me up, and asked me to cuddle him. And after climbing up to lay down next to me, he let out a deep sigh, said "I love you, daddy," and drifted off back to sleep. For about ten minutes, before waking up to see if SUPER HERO SQUAD was on TV.

Shh! Don't Wake Him!
But this blissful moment would not have happened had I not been willing. Had I not been willing to decrease - my blood pressure, my stress level, and my sense of everything in the house balancing on the fulcrum of my taking car of it - so that he - Kai, as well as Ashley - might increase. In importance and priority to me.

Not that I'm going to make this a REGULAR habit of napping, you understand.

It's just that every so often, actually living up to that "be still and know" idea turns out to be a healthy practice.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Story Bucket List (now with added geekdom!)

On September 19, I will be traveling to Chicago for a few days. No, not because I am craving the best pizza in the known world (...although...). I'm going to the Story Conference. This will be my second such conference this year with the word "Story" in the title, although this is going to be a tad different from Donald Miller's Storyline Conference. This - Story - is for creatives. By creatives. Writers. Bloggers. Artists. And unlike when I went to Nashville, this time out - I have a bucket list. A bucket list of people I want to meet and activities I want to undertake.

I want to NOT turn into a completely gushing fanboy in front of Rachel Held Evans.

I want to NOT sound like a complete blithering idiot in front of Ed Cyzewski.

I want to find Matthew Paul Turner, if for no other reason than to see if for once, he and I can occupy the same space at the same point in time. Otherwise, we will have no choice but to determine that we are the exact same white guy with a shaved head and facial hair, simply from two divergent timelines. At least, that's my theory.

I want to see who "gets" the DOCTOR WHO tshirt I will wear one day during the conference, and then declare them my brother or sister in geekdom. (First official geekdom family member claimed: Tammy Perlmutter. Woot!)

I want to cultivate a minimum of three (3) potentially borderline inappropriate in-jokes with Alise Wright.

I want to come up with a totally non-sequitur question to ask Tracee Persiko during her Q&A session. 

I want to yell something out loud to Darrell Vesterfelt to see if I can embarrass him. Out of love and friendship, you understand.

I want to play "Tag" with Bob Goff (and if he reads this, odds are, he probably will play with me).

I want to get KT to explain "Bibles and Beer" to me. Over beers. Plural.

I want to convince Ryan Haack that he and I should dress up like "Jay and Silent Bob" at some point. Or to be more accurate, "Silent Bob and Silent Bob."

I want to buy Katie Axelson coffee. Actually, I think I owe her some coffee.

I want to take a photo of Alece Ronzino. A photo of her smirking. Because those are so amazingly hard to come by. (Just joking, friend...)

I have a list of about two dozen people I want to hug. Every person (except maybe Darrell) listed above is on that list.

I want to be challenged.

I want to be humbled.

I want to be given focus and clarity.

I want to love - and will love - the fact that a number of people will have no clue who I am, and I can make new friends.

I want to be able to accept any words of praise that come my way. I want to accept them as the blessing they are, and not internally swat them down thinking I'm not worthy for someone whom I may look up to and admire to tell me "Hey, I like your stuff."

I want to not be scared to introduce myself as a writer.

I want to come back with a few dreams and ideas for the near future.

And as long as I'm dreaming, I'd like to come back with a few leads, critiques, and hopes...and somehow wind up about 25 pounds lighter, and have hair.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Faith and Politics: Who Do You Say That I Am?


I’m sharing this story as part of a synchroblog connected with Andi Cumbo and Shawn Smucker about the appropriate intersection between these faith and politics. Because that's such an easy, light, and calm topic. Check out more about the project by visiting this website

Atheist. Christian. Democrat. Republican. Liberal. Moderate. Libertarian. Methodist. Baptist. Southern Baptist. Non-denominational. Traditional. Emergent.

From a grammatical standpoint, these words can be used as either adjectives or nouns. They can also either be coupled one with another or stand alone as descriptors. When we self-select to use one of the these terms to help label and identify ourselves, we do so to primarily identify as something set apart. We hope when we reveal our pole that there is another magnet of the same political or faith attraction in the vicinity so that we might snap to them, bonding tightly in union. But if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes these words are used intentionally as weapons: to cut; to divide; to segregate.

To polarize.

All these names, all these terms, carry some form of baggage with them, both positive and negative. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with labeling or identifying with any of the words listed above, we need to do so with the keen awareness of the history of these names to some people. That history may not be what you as an individual believe or act on, but just as we carry the reputation of our families through our surnames, we carry the past - and present - actions of the affiliations we stand with when we say "I am a ______."

We may treat one with arrogance and divisiveness another over the most petty of squabbles, but we may also reveal the beauty and true issues of justice to be found when we stop fighting. There is no need to be ashamed of who and what you are. Of what you believe. Of what you stand for. Just be aware of the fact that when you name yourself by one of these terms, you shouldn't automatically expect or presume for everyone to respect you or flock to you.  

You may see nothing wrong with your name, where others may see everything wrong that has happened to them and multiple ways in which they have been wounded in it.

And this presents an opportunity for you to redeem, reclaim, and redefine the perception that someone may have over your name. Your faith. Your beliefs. Your political leanings.

Everything down to what you think the best athletic division is (for the record: it's the SEC).

You should, however, be prepared to be challenged on what you believe, what you stand for, and why. To give an answer and an accounting.

Just try to have a better answer that simply "It's right" or "It's what the country needs."

What are your labels? And how do you help to make sure what defines you doesn't divide you from others? Share your story. Share your thoughts. Link up with others here


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Inciting Incidents: Tongue Pierced

Note: I’m sharing my story as part of a synchroblog connected with the release of the book Inciting Incidents (of which my friend Tracee Persiko is a contributing author). Check out more about the project by visiting their website

It was a simple playground taunt that shattered my dreams and set my life on a course I could never have predicted. It altered my self-perception, my life's ambitions, and caused me to question everything I thought I believed.

Of course, keep in mind that I was 36 when this happened.

So, y'know, don't get too sad.

I had recently accepted a position at the University of Georgia in the Department of Residence Life. I moved to Athens leaving behind my state of origin (Mississippi), as well as every friend I knew and family member I had. I was looking for a new beginning both professionally and personally, and I figured a fresh start in a new geographic, physical and emotional state where I barely knew a soul would be a fantastic way to begin this journey. One of my professors from my Master's program was now teaching at UGA, and so I made plans. Big plans. Massively, huge, phenomenal plans. Plans to apply to (and get accepted into; duh) the Ph.D. program in Higher Education, work on my doctorate while employed full-time, and then land a teaching position at the graduate level while conducting research, publishing papers, and being sought out as a guest speaker or presenter at conferences. All of which were completely humble, selfless, and noble ambitions, of course.

Yet all it took was approximately two seconds to lead to the derailment of each and every one of these.

Once every two weeks, all the Residential Area Coordinators, Hall Directors and essential personnel (my position included) would meet together in a large conference room to discuss matters pertaining to the department: safety issues, programmatic ideas, and the like. The day that my paradigm shift in reality came was on the first - let me state that again: THE FIRST - such meeting of the semester. We convened at a large oak table in a room with no windows, halogen lighting, and with two and a half dozen people in attendance in this intimate setting. As the initial order of business, we were to go around the table and introduce ourselves, primarily so the new people (me included) could get to know everyone seated at the table. This way, we could begin to learn our colleagues' names, discover a bit about where they came from professionally, and find out what their educational background was.

It was the first person who spoke to introduce herself.

She did it.

It wasn't so much that from the moment I heard her voice my heart leapt in my chest. It wasn't so much that I was captivated by her beauty when she walked in the room. It wasn't so much that some ethereal naked demi-god shot arrows at us both, inciting us to passion and desire from the get-go. Actually, to be fair, we had met once before socially, although there was not a great deal of interaction between during this meeting. And it wasn't the way in which she introduced herself in this large meeting that did me in.

It was the action that came immediately afterwards.

As is the case, when one is meeting and greeting in a large, professional setting, etiquette demands that a series of silent smiles, head nods and greetings be exchanged upon the conclusion of introductions. This woman - let's call her "Ashley" - was sitting almost directly across from me at the table. We exchanged the briefest of glances, the slightest of smiles, and then...then...

She crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out at me.

It was all I could do to contain the giggles that rose up in me, as I realized that I had clearly met the one and only person in this room who was apparently as random, off-the-cuff and willing to smirk in the face of such an austere, stark situation as I was (and remain). I remember circling her name on the top of the printed agenda we had, and I hand-wrote the message "Will be friends with this one" to myself. And we did become friends. Fast friends.

And later, we started to become so much more.

Three years later, in fact, we got married.

What was (at the time) unsettling about meeting and falling in love with her was that I thought I had it all figured out. I had everything planned, laid out, and my timeline looked incredible. Perfect, actually. I was taking care of me first for a change. I was coming off a string of bad dating experiences, so I swore off romance. I was still nursing a broken soul from a previous broken relationship, so I thought ultimately no one would care to be with me long-term. I was coming away from the previous institution I was employed by where I let my professional development slide to the point of making some really poor choices. I thought I was personally and professionally damaged to the point of being undesirable. I was going to let nothing and no one stand in the way of what was going to be my priorities to get myself back to where I "needed" to be.

I apparently neglected to ask God about any of this.

Because this one incident incited a full domino effect of changes and refocusing of priorities in my life.

Professionally, I rose to the top of my game. Not because I wanted to be seen as the best but because I was with someone who challenged me to be a better person who served others. Seeking to add three letters to the end of my name went from being motivated by a desire to promote myself to going back to a journey of education and bettering of myself. Letting someone in to my life, showing them all the dirty laundry, telling them the secrets about myself I swore I would never share, and letting me be vulnerable once again transformed me. It took me from the dark, jaded, angry place I had let myself go to and catapulted me into - or rather, BACK into - the light of life and joy I had run from.

Had I simply thought Ashley's gesture was funny and not one to follow up on? I shudder to think about what all has happened in the last seven years that I would have been different: the friends I have made; the places I have lived; the opportunity to let the dream of being a writer die on the vine; dealing with the death of my father by myself; the birth of my son; the opening and rebirth of my heart with her; and so, so, so much more.

Thankfully, she still sticks her tongue out at me every so often.

And I still giggle.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Oh, You Know. Nothing Big. Just Publishing News.

I have some friends who are about ready to slap me upside the head because - well - I haven't taken, in their opinion, the time to pause. To reflect. To celebrate. And to shout to the heavens about me being in not one book...but three. 

And actually, there's more to come, but here's what I can go ahead and tell:

Back in November of 2011, I was published in the anthology series The Myth of Mr. Mom: Real Stories By Real Stay-at-Home Dads. And the book has been kicking butt in sales in both Kindle and paperback since publication...yeah. I'm a proud poppa.  

What makes this so special to me is that this was not only the first time I had submitted something for possible publication (and it was accepted - thus, was the watermark set INSANELY high), but it is a book about me. My family. My passion. And on a number of levels, the acclaim and support it has received validates my choice to stay home with Kai. 

Also, because Jeremy (the editor), in a fit of insanity, has me as the lead-out author in the book, when you read a sample chapter online at one of the major retailers, mine is the chapter that is offered for people to read. Somehow, after reading it, people still opt to buy copies. What a strange world we live in.

Armed with a "hey, I can do this writing thing" mentality, I opted to submit two more chapters to two separate publications - and they were both accepted. And they will be published by the year's end.

First off is Not Afraid: Stories of Finding Significance, coming soon from Civitas Press. Not Afraid explores stories of people who have overcome fears and found their significance in the process.
Fear binds us up. It keeps us from fully immersing ourselves in our relationships, in our professions, in our faith and in our lives. It tells us that we are not good enough, that we will be rejected, that we will fail. When we listen to these fears, we lose our sense of our value and significance.
What is both hilarious and ironic is that my chapter in this book is quite possibly one of the most frightening things I have ever written. "Unfit" (the title of my chapter) is such a personal, revealing and soul-exposing essay that I still can't believe on some levels that I wrote it. Alise (the editor) has become a fast friend and trusted confidant. And she's a Doctor Who fan. So, win-win.

And my final (...book...) for the year is Finding Church, coming soon from Civitas Press. Finding Church explores stories of people and their relation to church. The church is currently experiencing seismic shifts in how people think of church and get involved with church.
On the one hand, the number of mega churches in existence continues to increase every year. People are returning to church who have not attended in years, and more often than not, when they return to church, it is to a mega church where they get the best sermons, the best music, and the best programming. In a culture where excellence is required, mega churches are often seeing substantial increases in size and influence.
But at the same time, millions of people “leave church” every year. This is not because they are abandoning God, ignoring Scripture, or giving up on Jesus. While a few do leave for such reasons, the vast majority report that they leave church to better follow Jesus, obey God, and live out their faith in meaningful and relational ways. They stop attending church to pursue something more intimate and personal.
Behind each and every person who has returned to church or stopped attending church, there is a story filled with doubt, fear, and judgment, as well as faith, freedom, and redemption. And though millions of people have similar stories, many feel alone on their journey back to or away from church. It also does not help that those people who are returning to church often condemn and criticize those who are leaving, and those who are leaving sometimes judge and denounce those who return.
My chapter - "The Red Truck Contingency Plan" - is probably going to make a few people I know and have served in church with before raise an eyebrow or two, because while it doesn't paint anyone in a negative light, it is honest. Brutally honest. Jeremy (the editor) managed to take my chapter and help me edit it into a story that is both personal in nature and universal in application. 

So...keep your eyes peeled for more news to come. And for more hyperlinks so you can buy the darn things when they go on sale.