Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What Would You Not Do?

Not too long ago a little girl who is very near and dear to my heart whispered to me what she really, really wanted for her birthday: "a pair of blue binoculars with white snowflakes on them. I don't want a toy one; I want a really real one that I can use to see things far away. I want to see princes and caribou and snow monsters far away from me."

Being very much in love with this little girl I set out on a quest to find "really real," blue binoculars with white snowflakes on them.

Needless to say, there are not many choices for such items. So I did what any guy would do when faced with a challenge: I improvised.

An inexpensive pair of black binoculars, some blue paint, and a sticker book, along with hours of detailing were all that were needed to fulfill this precious girl's wish. That's what guys do.

I can't think of much I wouldn't do for those I love and those who love me.

I have been known to give up watching football to sit for hours and hours at a dance recital -- just to glimpse three minutes of a little angel dressed in pink gauze flit across the stage.

I have given up working in the yard to sit in a crowded schoolroom to witness a nervous boy take his turn spelling words in the classroom spelling bee.

I have forfeited a night out with the boys to take my wife to the latest must-see (hers, not mine) romantic comedy. (I must confess the lack of car chases put me on the nods, and the only "body count" was how many women's hearts the male lead had broken.)

But, of course, these examples pale against a display of the truest kind of love.

It may have been in a Sunday school class or a Bible study where we first encountered this love. It may have been grasped in a heart-to-heart conversation with a friend or through the inspired teaching of a godly man. Then again, it may have taken all these connections and more for God's love to break through.

But when He did, we knew there wasn't a thing He would not do for us.

Confirming this fact once more will be the victorious words you'll hear this coming Easter Sunday in church. As you celebrate this awesome day, take time to reflect on the Resurrection story; it's a story about new beginnings for each of us.

A blessed Easter to you from the Men's NetWork!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

So What?

Over the years I have become fairly cynical about what I read, watch and hear. I do not believe there is such a thing as "unbiased" media. In today's world most media conveys a specific point of view, agenda, or call to action. The same "news" story reported on five different channels will offer five different conclusions. Corporations and governments alike employ a cadre of media specialists to provide "spin," so their point of view is portrayed as fact.

Over the years I have looked for the "So what?" in what I hear, see or read, especially in the media.

I define the "So what?" as an action or attitude that the author wishes me to adopt.

For example, when watching a car commercial, the "So what?" is that I be moved to purchase that vehicle. Those "So whats?" are easy to spot.

When I watch a movie or TV show, the "So what?" may be a little harder to find, but it's still there. For example, any TV show that involves "ordinary" people singing, dancing or performing has the "So what?" that each of us are talented, capable and have an opportunity to win millions of dollars.

Ads promoting the lottery offer the "So what?" that you will be a hero to school kids as you spend your money on the lottery, which funds education. Some of these ads leave me feeling as if I am a terrible person who hates kids if I don't plunk down my dollars for them -- at least once in a while.

Now some of you may be saying to yourself, "So what?"

The "So what?" I want you to think about is to become a critical consumer of media. Too often we accept everything we hear or read without thinking objectively about it. We buy into the adage that "If it's on the Internet, on the national news, or in the newspaper, then it must be true ... at least mostly." This also applies to hearing it from "live" sources as when we wholesale accept something because we heard it from a friend or family member. Suffice it to say, critical thinking should accompany us wherever we go.

As for me, I read the fine print, look for the angles, and will not send money to Africa because someone died and named me in his will.

This whole critical-thinking thing is something worthwhile to pass along to the next generation too. The world's awash in hyperbole and trivial nonsense, and it's targeted (as it has been for years) at the very young as well. For impressionable, young minds the world is full of choices like never before. Some are of value; many are not, and it's a huge help if by our input and experience we can help them see the difference.

As any guy knows, one priceless benefit that comes with age are the lessons gained from our hard-won experience. But let's not let these life-changing gems remain with us. Be sure to pass them on when you get a chance, but do so tactfully, in small, steady doses. As we all know, it's good medicine for those who hear it, but for some it may be hard to swallow.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Archery Contest

The other day I was with 30 guys at a day-long seminar dedicated to giving men info, tips and inspiration on being a strong male influence in the lives of those around them: family, friends, peers, co-workers, neighbors, and the like. The speaker challenged us to be spiritual fathers, to find a band of brothers, and to love the church. He showed video clips, used humor, and challenged us to do one thing different the next day, based on the teachings we heard.

Now all of that was well and good but, for me the best learning occurred during the archery contest. We all went to a large building that had an indoor archery range set up with five targets at one end and a rack of compound bows and quivers of arrows at the other.

We divided into teams and each man had the opportunity to hear some instruction and then draw back and let fly with some "practice" arrows. It was fun being the "arrow spotter" (no, not catcher) and then tell the shooter where on the target his arrow hit. This would allow him to adjust his stance, grip, sight, and zero in on the bull's eye.

Most of the spotters had an easy time as we called out, "Hit the floor, 20 feet short!" "Missed target, 15 feet high!" And then there was my favorite: "I never saw anyone hit the ceiling before!"

Once we practiced, we began our competition in earnest. Each man's competitive spirit kicked in, and out of the 31 guys shooting arrows I placed in the top five. Well, I was fifth.

The two hours we spent shooting arrows bonded us together. Those who weren't shooting made fun of those who were; those who did shoot took pride in how they competed but, more importantly, we were able to talk to each other about issues, as we stood and watched the arrows fly.

We talked about careers, kids, sports, money, politics and, most of all, our faith. We talked about how we can be a better man in today's world through the camaraderie we experienced as a special band of brothers. One man put it this way: "We may not be the best, but we are a merry band of brothers."

I think for me the best takeaway from this event was that a little, friendly competition may be just the ticket to cross generational and occupational lines and to bond with some brothers who will "have your back."

Now I may not be in a bow-and-arrow fight anytime soon, but when it comes to somebody having my back, I'm going for the guy who put the arrow in the bull (bull's eye) -- three times!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What Defines a Man?

From television shows and movies, to magazine and newspaper articles, to songs and commercial jingles, the way men are characterized varies widely. Some portray man as one who is found outdoors, more comfortable communing with nature than with someone else. Others paint him as the tireless adventure seeker, living on the edge, weekend after weekend, pursuing the next do-or-die exploit. Still others see him as refined and suave, a man for all seasons, fluent in Romance languages, Mediterranean liqueurs, and exotic ladies.

It's my opinion manhood is not defined by whether or not a guy can shoot, field dress, and spit roast his dinner or if he appreciates the nuance between a salad fork and a tuning fork. Nor is knowledge or physical prowess sufficient in themselves to pass muster into true manliness.

For me a man is defined by strength -- not the power of his muscles, but the quality of his character.

This comes through in many ways. One way is that he will speak for those without a voice. History, both ancient and modern, has had its fill of brutes that have oppressed and bullied people without cause. In these instances, true men have often stood tall, giving voice to the tormented and maligned. Today a man can stand strong and give voice to those without one.

A man is one whose word is his bond. That word is not lightly given, but when it is, it can be counted on. It's also, on closer inspection, offered sincerely and with an eye to its fairness in respect to all involved. Legion are those who have filled their coffers at the expense of others, ignoring both contract and conscience to get what they want -- no matter who gets bulldozed in the process. In these instances, it's easy -- when covering one's derriere -- to shift blame, deflect responsibility, and spin statements. A man who does not keep his word is, in my opinion, not a man. A man is a person whose words and actions are one and the same.

A man takes responsibility. If mistakes were made, a man steps up and says, "I did it. How can I make it right?" A man is not ashamed to show and share his emotions. When a friend dies, he weeps. When his daughter is born, he can't help but be enthusiastic.

Being a man is many things, but many of those things are not what the world would have us believe. Millions of boys and young men are adrift in a stew of popular culture that thrives on diluting godly characterizations of men for any squirrely substitute or mass-marketable image it can come up with. And, sad to say, when the men in their lives abandon them -- as is all too frequent the case -- the images of popular culture are often all those left behind are left with.

Boys need men who are secure in what it means to be a man. They need role models, mentors, teachers, guides -- call it what you want -- boys need men to learn how to be one.

Can you be that man for someone else?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Madness of March

March Madness kicks off with the first round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship Tournament today in Dayton, Ohio. Sixty-eight college teams will begin the tournament with the goal of playing in Arlington, Texas, for the Championship on April 7. March Madness is not just a time for players and coaches; it's a time for everyone to become an expert as they fill out their brackets.

From boardrooms to break rooms, grade schools to colleges and beyond, people will be watching the results of each game as they compete in their bracket challenges. With players from 68 teams, coaches, cheerleaders, support staff, and fans, there are thousands of people involved in the annual "Big Dance." The air is electric in these games, as a spirit of intense competition mixes with heartfelt university pride. Together they produce a high-octane enthusiasm that ignites stadiums, restaurants, pubs and living rooms across America.

Bracket challenges have taught me a few lessons I can take forward in life:

1. Anything's possible. Underdog teams have won the Championship before. Said another way, even something highly unlikely can occur. To me that's encouraging. It means no matter what I'm attempting, there's a chance I just might succeed.

2. Sometimes sentiment can get in the way. I have a friend who once picked the winners in every game, except for the Championship. He chose the team from his own state, and then lost. His brain said one thing; his heart said another. Sometimes I need to listen to my brain.

3. There is no perfect system. Some complete their brackets by grinding over stats; some choose schools by their mascots; others decide by the color of players' uniforms. There have been times (probably many) when those choosing teams based on criteria not involving stats have outperformed their stat-conscious rivals. There are times I must follow instincts.

All of this is to say 1) shoot for the moon; you just might hit it. When you're heading there, 2) keep your head in the game. If you actually do hit it, 3) see if it was your calculations or your instincts that got you there.

Good luck and God bless!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lessons Learned on Long Car Trips

Maybe it was a four-state junket to attend college, or packing up the kids on a 15-hour journey to grandma's house, or just a bunch of friends in search of spring break beaches, but we all have our memories of long car trips. The longest I've travelled in one stretch was a 20-hour marathon from Flint, Michigan, to Denver, stopping only for gas and rest stops.

Sometimes the length of the trip has nothing to do with the time it takes to get there. I once sat in a traffic jam for more than 14 hours behind two large trucks that had collided on a snow-covered bridge. We had to wait until crews could clear the wreckage before we could move. I ended up driving 150 miles in just under 18 hours -- not a good rate of speed.

Miles and time are only two determinants that make for a long car trip. Others factors include number of kids in the car, inconvenient bathroom requests, travelers prone to car sickness, backed-up traffic, and unexpected breakdowns -- all these can lead to road trips we'd like to forget.

But no matter what the reason for a long trip, I have learned a few lessons along the way:

1. Go with the flow. Whether it's traffic or life, if I keep up with those around me and don't stress about getting ahead, the road is made easier.

2. Accept the inevitable. There will always be two trucks passing each other on a long, uphill grade that slows down traffic, and there will always be those obstacles in life we can't control. It's just better to lay off the horn, slow down, and enjoy the ride.

3. If you gotta go, you better stop. No matter how close the next rest stop is, it's better to stop sooner than later. This is especially true when travelling with children and pets. On the road of life I've learned it's better to take a break than press onward unnecessarily. Your car's brakes are there for a reason.

4. Slow down in hazardous conditions. Ice, sleet, snow, rain, fog and smoke all make driving hazardous. It's better to slow down than rush forward into an accident. In life it is inevitable a little rain will fall, so consider slowing down and not rushing into bad decisions.

5. Turn down the volume. There are times on a trip I want to drive in silence. This quiet time gives me pause to think and pray. Sometimes in life I need to unplug and tune out too, so I can settle my mind and think or pray.

Long road trips are like life in general. They're full of things to see, filled with unexpected twists and turns, and reminders that, sooner or later, we're all going to run out of gas.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Camouflaged Wisdom

We've all heard them and may have even vowed to never say them. It's even possible we promised if anyone around us said them we'd likely disavow their friendship. Yet, each of us in a moment of frustration or weakness has probably professed them, at least once or twice. And what are these things we have sought to avoid uttering at all costs? They're those clichéd words of homespun wisdom we unwittingly inherited from our parents and others.

One version of a fairly commonplace saying handed down from generation to generation is this: "If your buddy jumped off a cliff, does that mean you would too?" Now if in days gone by you answered in the affirmative to this query (either because yeah, you would jump off a cliff or because you wanted to be a smart aleck), you probably found out such a reply wasn't in your best interest.

On the other hand, such a question did get you to thinking about 1) seeing something from a different angle and 2) whether it was just dumb allegiance that led you to blindly follow the herd.

It should come as no surprise then that these timeworn phrases have a ring of truth to them, a hidden gem of real wisdom. The fact they're handed down shows they still possess some punch (i.e. educational value). I didn't appreciate that nuance much growing up, but since I've entered adulthood -- and have found myself using a few of these nuggets on occasion -- I better understand they're staying power.

The point here is that wisdom, however it presents itself to us, makes good building blocks for constructing a practical and sensible life. I found this out again not too long ago when wisdom arrived -- from of all places - the mouth of my mechanic. You see, I told him I thought I could save a few bucks by holding off on the new brake pads he recommended, at least for a while. Upon dispensing this pearl of spending restraint, he told me I could indeed wait a while, adding that to do so might require additional work and expense on the brake drum. "You can pay me now, or you can pay me double later. It's up to you."

As my car was rising on the lift I again appreciated the presence of wisdom in its many forms.