The Symmetry of Life

The drool spot on my right shoulder got me thinking.

It’s there most days.

Some days it’s from my five month old grandson, Thomas. He’s our first. Before he was born, people kept saying, “Oh, being a grandparent is the best! There’s nothing like it!”

Because of the build-up, when people would ask me if I was excited to be a grandpa. I would always say yes. In my mind, I was thinking, “This better be good!”

And, of course, it is.

I get to see Thomas several days a week and I try to hold him as much as possible. When I do, he ends up drooling on my right shoulder. I’ve gotten used to checking to make sure if I need to clean off my shoulder, but sometimes I’ll get to the end of the day and there it is. It makes me smile.

Other days the drool spot comes from my father-in-law. He had a debilitating stroke three years ago that left his right side paralyzed, his speech unintelligible and left him with a condition called dysphagia, which is difficulty swallowing. We take part in his care and, because of the dysphagia, whenever I transfer him in and out of his wheelchair I usually get a drool spot on my right shoulder.

My father-in-law goes by Tom, and Thomas, his first great-grandchild, is his name’s sake.

Symmetry.

The drool spot got me thinking about how precious life is and how we shouldn’t take anything for granted. I’m sure this is not new to you. It’s not new to me. But thinking about Tom and Thomas has deepened my appreciation. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

Accept the things you can’t change.

Tom’s stroke came two months after his 78th birthday. He was in great shape. Just before his birthday, he and 11 buddies made a golf trip to Ireland. He played seven courses in seven days and walked every one of them. Tom coached high-school and college football in Delaware and it seems that he knows everyone in the state. The outpouring of love that came after his stroke was overwhelming, especially from his former players. He had made an impact on their lives.

The sentiment at the time was that it was tragic that this stroke had damaged his body so severely in his golden years.

I guess that’s still true, but three years with him has given me a different perspective. I believe everybody has their time to go be with God and it wasn’t Tom’s time. That doesn’t make it easy. And ours isn’t the only family that has to deal with challenging circumstances. In fact, I think most families have challenges that make life hard.

But as a camp staff member said this summer, just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s not good. Tom is still with us and I am grateful. It’s hard, but it is still good to have him.

The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr puts it best:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Being is more important than doing.

I’m not a Type A personality, but I am a doer. I like to keep things busy and to get things done. Once Jodi and I were on the planning team for a national camp & retreat event. We arrived at the venue two days before to get ready, helped run the four-day event, then spent a whole day afterward debriefing. It was non-stop activity for a week. We had decided to spend the weekend after the event to relax at a nearby hotel with a nice water view before traveling home.

The first day there I spent about six hours straight just sitting in an Adirondack chair on the deck, looking at the water. I didn’t read. I didn’t get my laptop out. I just sat. I was so whipped from the previous week that I just needed to do nothing. Jodi kept asking me if I was OK. She wasn’t used to seeing me do nothing and was worried. Like I said, I’m not Type A, but it made me laugh that she was concerned about my lack of activity.

When I see Thomas I just want to hold him. I don’t even talk to him that much. I probably should, to help develop his verbal skills. But I just like to hold him.

One day I was holding him and I realized how different this was than when I was parenting our four kids. I love them and loved holding them. But, I recognized the difference. As a parent, when I was holding my child, all I could think about were all the things that I had to get done. Work, household chores, etc. The classic conundrum was when a child went to sleep, should I take a nap because I was dead tired or should I get something done because I could. It was usually the latter.

Holding Thomas is different. When I’m holding him, I don’t think about what else I need to do. I enjoy the time we have. Perhaps this is age, wisdom, life experience or some combination of the three. But, I hadn’t learned this lesson until now. Being is more important than doing. We are human beings, not human doings.

There is something in me that says I could not have learned these lessons before now. Perhaps that’s true. And maybe the reason I share is so I can remind myself to be grateful for what Tom and Thomas have taught me. Thanks be to God.

How Crowd Publishing Helped My Book Dream Become a Reality

Photo by Jessica Ruscello

The idea to write a book was a dream. I’m not unique. Over 80% of Americans say they want to write a book.

A year ago, I started writing for 30 minutes a morning. Within a month, I knew that I could get the book written. Within four months, I had a manuscript.

But how would I get it published?

I knew that the traditional route is a needle in a haystack proposition. I could try to find a literary agent who could pitch my book to a publisher. Or I could try the direct submission route. Either way, I would need persistence, as it would require persistence to keep going through multiple rejections.

J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times before Harry Potter was published. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times. Stephen King had to go through 30 rejections with Carrie to get it published.

I had no idea if my book was any good, let alone a bestseller. I didn’t mind getting rejected. But, I have a day job and the amount of time I would have to spend to get through dozens of rejections was overwhelming.

Enter Publishizer.

I ran across this crowd-publishing platform as I was researching how to get published. With Publishizer, you can get the attention of publishers by proving that your book can sell. It’s a radical concept that is getting attention because publishers can less afford to put books out that don’t sell. I read every blog on their website.

But I was scared.

But then I read this blog post by Seth Godin. There’s a difference between “feels risky” and “IS risky.” I realized that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I knew that even if I got my book published, I would have to do the selling. Unless you are a top-tier author, you can’t really count on your publisher to provide much marketing support.

If I couldn’t get enough pre-orders for my book, then maybe it wasn’t meant to be published. But if I was successful, then instead of spending my time getting rejected, I could let Publishizer pitch my book to any of the over 180 publishers they work with, based on their proprietary algorithm.

The bottom line was this: Publishizer gave me the opportunity to see if I could sell my book BEFORE it was published. If the idea was attractive enough to get hundreds of pre-orders, then it had a good chance of getting published.

So I signed up. Here’s why it was worth it:

  • I got a step-by-step guide on what to do, including getting a book cover, producing a video, writing a book proposal and marketing through my own platform and network of contacts.
  • Publishizer provided a platform that was set up to load all these materials, could email my contacts and accept book pre-orders. It took no time at all to set things up.
  • I got personal support from Lee Constantine, Publishizer’s Director of Growth, throughout the process.

This meant I could focus my efforts on selling my book. I pretty much did exactly what the guide recommended. It’s not rocket science. In 30 days I sold 510 copies and raised $11,500.

I got inquiries from 12 publishers. I’ve ultimately decided to go the author-publisher route. But it wouldn’t have happened without Publishizer. I don’t think I am exceptional. Everything was laid out for me and all I had to do was put in the effort.

Are you one of the 80% who has a book in you? If so, email me. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have about how to make it a reality.

 

Anxious Church, Anxious People: How to Lead Change in an Age of Anxiety will be published in mid-2018.

Blunder, Bet and Boast Your Way to Significant Achievements

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You want to make a difference, do something significant, but you feel that you mostly do the same old, same old.

Maybe you have a book in you. Or an idea to start a ministry in your community. Or a way to help others improve their lives. Or you want to start a business.

But you’re going nowhere.

It’s human nature to want to know all the steps before getting started. It’s natural to want to have it all figured out before making the big move. And that’s what will keep you stuck.

I was discussing starting a training program for camp and retreat leaders recently. I said, we just need to try something. Perfect is the enemy of done.

Here are three strategies for getting started.

Blunder

Bonnie Blodgett calls herself the Blundering Gardener. She uses the term blunder because she will start a project without knowing how to do it. It requires learning along the way, which will inevitably lead to some blundering.

When you take on something new it will take longer than you expect. You’ll encounter obstacles. You’ll get stuck. But that’s part of the learning curve. Achievement nearly always includes learning. In the real world, that means blundering.

If you wait to become an expert at something, you’ll never get started. If you start something and learn along the way, then you’ll get something done. You won’t become an expert, at least not right away, but you WILL get better as you go. Blunder.

Bet

In his book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, Peter Sims makes the case that experimentation is the key to finding big ideas. This sounds obvious when I say it this way because when we think of scientific discoveries, we automatically think of experimentation. But how often do you think that way in ministry? Or in business?

If you’ve ever had to make a proposal to a church council or a board of directors, you’ve likely been pressed to have thought through every task and contingency. This takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. The reality is all that planning can’t prevent unforeseen challenges.

Sims argues that instead of having everything planned out in advance, you try “little bets” toward what you think might be a positive outcome. He cites high achievers such as comedian Chris Rock, Steve Jobs, Pixar Films and the Army Chief of Strategic Plans, as well as Ludwig van Beethoven and Thomas Edison, as having achieved great things through little bets.

If you’ve got an idea, don’t wait until you have the entire plan to get started, otherwise you never will. Instead run a pilot project and see what happens. Make adjustments and do it again. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can get to something significant.

Boast

Boast is not the correct term, but I love to alliterate.

What I mean is to put yourself out there. Tell others what you are doing. Not to boast, but to make your effort a reality. When you do this, you are much more likely to follow through.

When I started writing my book, the only person who knew about it was my wife. But I read that it helps to tell people, so I started sharing this when appropriate. It’s scary, but it works.

If you keep something to yourself, it’s no big deal if you don’t follow through. Although you’ll probably feel bad about it. When you share with others, you not only feel accountable to something beyond yourself, you also enlist the support and prayers of those who care about you. People will be pulling for you to succeed.

Which brings me to a final word about the life of faith. My experience is that when I feel God leading me to do something, I don’t get a clear picture. It’s usually a nudge or a glimpse of what’s possible. Then I know it’s time to take a small action. Sometimes it’s a bigger idea, but I have no idea how to get there. I know I’ll blunder. To me, that’s how faith works. If I knew everything at the outset, it wouldn’t be faith. The prayers of others make it more likely that I’ll discern what step, what action, God wants me to take next. It’s an exciting way to live.