I get asked to be a part of a lot of things. My inclination used to be to say yes to all of them. Then I ended up with a schedule that left me halfheartedly servicing a bunch of yeses and very little time and passion tending to the things that mean the most to me. So I started saying no. And life got better.
After coaching both of our boys' football teams last fall, I said no to coaching basketball this winter. I love coaching. I love being around the kids - both mine and yours - but sometimes you just know when you need a breather. So I said no.
Then came the call. The all too common call: Keith, we don't have enough coaches.
Let me pause to editorialize for a minute. In Elliott's age group there were over 50 kids. When the call came to ask me to coach there were 4 coaches committed for the 6 teams. Four. And the four of them were the same folks who'd coached year after year after year for all the years we've been a part of the league. I don't know why that is. Plenty of good reasons, I'm sure. But my guess is while I'm working on saying no at least a few folks might work on saying yes? Maybe there's a comfort zone issue, but our kids need us outside our comfort zone not in it. And if it's an "I don't know enough about basketball deal" - you're talking to the wrong guy. Thank God for YouTube!!
So I said yes. Mainly after our dear friend and fellow coach Mary Chris Luck agreed to share the responsibilities with me. She's awesome with the kids and shares my competitive fire.
At the beginning of the year we started with one simple philosophy. Guys, we're going to outwork everybody we play. I don't know if we'll beat any of them, but we're going to outwork them. That means we're going to get more steals and rebounds than everyone else. And because we're going to get more steals and rebounds, we're going to take more shots than everyone else. I don't care if you make them, just shoot them. On the days more of those shots go in than others, we're going to win. It's that simple boys.
Like I suggested above. When it comes to basketball I'm not smart enough to out-strategize anyone. I'm also a believer at this young age of teaching the boys things that are useful in all sports and all areas of life. Hard work and hustle aren't skills, they are attitudes. Attitudes that say you might beat me today, but it won't be because you worked harder than me.
I'm not sure I've ever had a team cling to that attitude better than this group of kids. Because they did, we won a bunch of games. We also lost some.
Our season closed last Saturday against one of the better teams in the league. The game came down to the final possession. I called a time-out. One of the boys in the huddle looked at me and said, "my heart is racing." I thought, be thankful you're not 53, son. I'm living on the edge of cardiac arrest right now. But I loved that. 10 and 11 year old boys with racing hearts. Sitting on the outer edges of hard work and hustle and on the verge of feeling it translate into a victory.
When they came running off the court with their arms raised, fist bumping and chest bumping each other, I knew "yes" is still the right answer from time to time. Especially when it comes to spending time with kids. They keep me young. They keep my heart racing. They keep me reminded that in a society that places a lot of emphasis on education and learning, there's still a lot of value in hard work and hustle.
Coach Mary Chris told the boys after the game that even if we'd lost that still would have been a great game and we'd have been proud of them. That is the absolute truth. Win or lose, I think we'd both be happy to hang with these hard working guys any day of the week.
OK, so maybe I do have some skills!!
The First Sunday of Advent - Hope
I love the advent season. My love is most rooted in this first Sunday. The Sunday of that first candle. The candle of hope.
I learned a lot about hope years ago working with at-risk kids. I decided what made most of them “at-risk” was the reality they were growing up in situations short on hope. Those kids helped me come to define hope as the answer to the question we all ask every day:
How does this story end?
Many of those kids were growing up in traumatic situations filled with abuse, addiction, abandonment, poverty and more. Day after day they had to ask themselves, “how does this story end?” I don’t blame them for the less than happy ending outcomes they projected for their lives.
Here’s the thing – once you begin projecting a negative conclusion for your life – when you’ve lost hope – the chances drastically increase that you’ll start making personal decisions that fall in line with that conclusion. I saw first hand what happens when a group of people without hope gather together. They can convince themselves some destructive ideas aren’t bad ideas at all.
And I completely understood that.
That’s because even though my situation in life has been less traumatic than many of those young kids, I still ask on a daily basis “how does this story end?” There was a period in my life when I was very non-committal about my answer to that question. My hope was rooted in making it through the day happy and not on how I saw my life concluding. As a result – some pretty bad ideas didn’t sound so bad in my life.
But that was before I decided ALL my hope is found in the Christmas story. The story of a savior coming to earth to bring hope to every story. For every single person asking how does this story end, Christ came to say, “with me.” More importantly, he came to offer a hope that is more than a thought or an idea we can cling to as an answer in desperate times, he offers a hope we can invite into our lives to reshape the questions we ask every day.
These days I find myself asking how can I best live my life in preparation for the day I meet that baby in a manger face to face. Whether it’s a good day or a bad one, whether my circumstances are ideal or less than that, I try to ask myself less frequently “how does this story end” and more “how in this moment can I best prepare for the day that baby in a manger comes again?”
The beauty of my newfound hope is Christ always answers that question for me. He guides me and fills me with the strength to move in the direction of a conclusion with him. Oh, I screw it up. Daily. But that no longer changes the ending to the story. It doesn't mean there's a new script. With Christ as my hope the ending stays the same.
There’s great hope in knowing how the story ends. There’s great joy in filling your heart with that hope. There’s no better time of the year to share it with others.
Happy first Sunday of Advent.
The Second Sunday of Advent - Preparation
Last week I wrote about the advent week one theme of hope. I said hope was tied to answering the question: "how does this story end?" My hope is tied to the Christmas story, and the promise my earthly story ends with an eternal home with Christ.
The week two theme is preparation. I believe preparation has a direction connection to hope.
We live each day one of three ways; we're either running from something, preparing for something, or simply trying to make the best out of the day at hand and get to the next one.
As I've grown older, and my hope has grown stronger in the reality my story ends with the Christ in Christmas, I've also come to realize I have work to do preparing for that ending. The absolute best days of my life have come when I've abandoned running from my past, decided living day to day wasn't enough, and got truly focused on preparing for how my story ends.
When your story ends with the promise of Christmas, how do you live your days preparing for that ending? Christ answered that question clearly in Matthew 22:37-38 when he said "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself."
That is how God has commanded us to live each and every day. It's not a commandment that helps us get through the day or to heal from our past, it's a commandment that prepares us for an eternity with him.
Last week I said ask the question "how do I think my story ends?" I said that will tell you where your hope lies. This week I'll ask you to ask yourself "what am I preparing for?" I think that will tell you just how strong your hope really is.
This week I'm challenged with those words: heart and soul and mind. If my hope truly rests in the Christmas story, then my days should be filled with preparation for it. Not just for December 25th, but for the eternal Christmas. My days should be filled with a heart that pours out with love for God and the people around me, they should be filled with my mind absorbing God's word and reshaping it away from the distractions of this world and toward the ending of my story with him, and my soul should be handed over to God's direction and not my daily whims.
So today, what are your preparing for? It's a powerful question, especially in this season of advent.
Have a great week.
The Third Sunday of Advent - Love
Last week I said the second advent candle represented preparation – our personal preparation for the arrival of the baby in a manger. I suggested that our preparation is done through loving God and loving one another. And so it probably comes as no surprise that this week’s advent candle represents love.
Do you know God often compares his relationship with us to marriage? Given that, I wonder what God thinks about the fact that roughly 50% of all of our marriages don’t work out. My guess is he’d tell us they don’t work out because we don’t have a great grasp on love.
If you think about it, a lot of people go into marriages believing the happily ever after fairy tale painted about marriage in books and movies. The problem is, many folks believe it’s the act of marriage itself that delivers the happiness and it doesn’t require much of the married. When they ultimately realize happily ever requires a lot more than saying I do, it’s often too late.
I think we often overlook this reality about love: Love is not a beautiful emotion, it’s a beautiful act.
Think about God’s love for us – a love that is triggered by the baby in the manger.
Let’s start with that manger. If you know the Christmas story you’re aware of all the incredible details God had to orchestrate to pull it off. And if so, you know, then, Christ being born in a manger was a very scripted detail of the story. I think God had his son born in a manger, a manger the cattle had just finished eating from, to tell us love is humble. A marriage doesn’t work out if one partner puts themselves above the other – if they think they are above some of the struggles and low places a marriage often takes us. A marriage works best when both partners are servant minded and not “being served” minded.
The other piece of Christ’s story is the cross. Christ came in that manger to ultimately die on a cross at Easter. And again – of all the ways God could have scripted his son’s death – a tortuous death on a cross? But that was God’s best way of telling us love is sacrificial. How many marriages fail because one partner is unwilling to sacrifice? Think about it. How meaningful would God’s love for us be if he’d said, I’ve been in this marriage with you all and everything, but it’s starting to look like I might have to sacrifice a bit, so I think I’m going to have to call it quits.
But that’s not what God said at all. In fact, he took sacrifice to the most sacrificial level possible to give us the ultimate example of love.
So, the question on this 3rd Sunday of advent is - what does your love look like? Does you love serve others or does it prefer to be served. And - does your love rise to the call of sacrifice or run from it?
Next week, when we read the story of the baby in the manger, maybe give just a little extra attention to the manger, as beautiful as that baby is. And be reminded, that baby will rise from the manger and climb onto a cross. All to say this is how you truly love one another.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent - Joy
The fourth Advent candle reflects joy. It might seem like joy is just another candle in this 4-part Advent series, but, everything has been building up to joy.
HOPE for joy.
PREPARE for joy.
LOVE one another with joy.
Luke 2:8-14 says:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Have you ever thought deeply about that piece of the Christmas story? I have this year.
Why does THE Christmas story make this pit stop in a field of sheep to put on what is possibly the first Christmas pageant ever – real-life heavenly angels and all – for a bunch of shepherds?
I’ve focused on two parts of that pit stop for the answer: shepherds and joy.
There was a day – many of them really - when I was the shepherd. I spent a lot of time alone wondering if this is as good as life gets. Am I going to spend my whole life dirty and poor and hanging out with a bunch of sheep? Unsatisfied with the answers, I chased joy in a lot of different places. Many of them were unhealthy places. And even when I chased joy in relatively healthier places, I’d get there only to find a sign pointing to another more satisfying level of joy: one promotion pointed me to the next promotion, one relationship pointed me to another that looked better, the rented house pointed me to the one I could own.
Through it all, through all the chasing, I never found a joy that stuck. Joy was always a moving and slippery target. I’d get my hands on it for a moment then it would slip away. The chase would be on again.
Then one day I discovered something. While I was chasing joy, God was chasing me. No matter where I went he remained in relentless pursuit. One day I stopped chasing joy long enough to turn around, to face Him, to listen to what he had to say. And he said:
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Do you know that is what Christmas is all about? It is about stopping us in our tracks, turning us around long enough to discover God is pursuing us. As far as we’re willing to go to chase a false sense of joy God’s willing to chase us to deliver good news of a GREAT joy.
He stopped the shepherds in their tracks to say, even you guys, regarded as one of the lowest forms of life, I’m chasing you fellas. You have a lifetime role in the original Christmas story. He stopped the shepherds to let US know, no matter how low a life form we get to feeling we are, He’s chasing us down with that Christmas story.
So maybe this Christmas season, ask yourself – where am I chasing joy? Maybe consider stopping right where you are and letting God catch you.
The greatest joy of my life came the day I stopped and turned around and saw a persistent God still standing there, after all I’d done, hardly out of breath from His pursuit, looking at me with love and not judgment, busting at the seems to tell me, I bring you good news of great joy.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas. I hope you experience this great joy. I hope you believe it’s not a joy we chase, but a joy we get chased with. Let it catch you this Christmas.
I'm not completely sure what brave looks like. But I recognize getting braver when I see it.
Several years ago when I worked with at-risk youth we'd take them on week-long trips to challenge courses. It was part of the plan to make them more self-confident.
The culminating event of those trips was the zip line. I remember standing with young boys and teens beneath the towering platform they'd climb to get attached to a cable, step off the edge of the platform and zip a couple hundred yards through the sky to a platform at the other end. I'd like to have a buck for every kid who stood there, looking up with fear in their eyes and said "I will never do that."
A few even quite angrily called me creative names while considering the possibility I might try to "make" them do that.
While we're talking about bucks, though, I'd also like to have one for every one of those kids who at the end of the week abandoned never and climbed up that platform. I'm not sure there's a greater event to witness than a young kid overcoming his fear and screaming with joy as he zips across a southern sky. It's like watching the most useful of prison breaks.
It was a thrill to relive some of those memories this week with my own kids. Especially my Elliott.
Elliott has always been less apt than his younger brother Ian to take a step on the wild side. When some of the riskier opportunities have come his way he's politely stepped away and said "no thank you." Even as he's watched his younger brother take some of those opportunities on he's rather confidently stood on the sidelines and said good for him.
So when Ian AND Elliott declared they wanted to do the zip line while we were at Massanutten this week I was caught off guard. I said let's go take a look at it first before we decide we really want to do this thing. We did. We looked. Way up the hill at that platform seemingly sitting in the lower levels of the clouds and they said, yes, we want to do it.
I'll be honest. Even after they were harnessed up I kept waiting for the change of mind.
As I watched them rise together, brothers, side by side up the mountainside on a conveyor, I kept waiting for them to look back with "get us out of here" eyes.
But they never looked back.
Then I watched the two of them climb up on that platform. From where Katie and I stood they were a couple of specks really, but they were our boys so I knew exactly what those specks were. And then, before I could see them racing across the sky I could hear cable against cable above me as they flew toward us. The emotions welled up in me as I watched Elliott fly above me onto the landing platform - and then Ian.
I knew I'd just watched them take giant steps toward bravery. There faces up above us were all the evidence I needed. I couldn't help but recall the life changing steps those steps turned out to be for so many young kids I'd worked with years ago. I'm sure my face projected my pride in those kids on my own.
The last several years I've personally discovered just how much better life is outside of our comfort zone than it is trapped inside it. What a thrill to watch our boys leap outside of theirs and experience just that.
And they are already asking, when can we go back?
Two Brave Boys Fying Through The Virginia Sky
And Dad Wasn't Going To Miss Out On The Fun
Labor Day weekend always comes with mixed emotions. There's the high of the return of college football season. The high of the cooler temperatures and changing leaves.
But then there's the low. The low of the boys headed back to school. The hectic schedule that comes with it. The low of homework and "how many days til summer, dad."
There were no big Cartwrights Go West summer vacations this year. Mainly because we did that gig back in February when we went to Arizona. But it was a busy summer nonetheless. There was swim team, basketball, camps for every sport imaginable, a week in Ohio, an eclipse - how can I forget the eclipse - and too much more to write about.
It was appropriate then that we gave the summer one final big goodbye yesterday with a trip to Westmoreland State Park with our friends Chuck and Mary Chris and her son and one of Elliott's best buddies Jack. We squeezed a few miles of hiking, a picnic lunch, sharks teeth hunting and some swimming/water fighting all in a few hours window. That seemed to capture the pace of our summer pretty well.
So it's off to catch the school bus now. Until next summer, everyone have a great year.
I have one monument, one memorial, one statue from my heritage that means anything to me. It's a wooden cross at Calvary, violently erected with my creator nailed deep into its face on a hill outside of Jerusalem. It can never be toppled. Even after the wood from that cross has long rotted and disappeared beneath centuries of rock and soil, that monument stands tall in my heart, and in my mind and in my soul. It lives on with a constant reminder, a commandment, to love the God on that cross and every human being the monument lives on for.
That's why when others are angered, saddened, or anxious about the idea of bringing down a Robert E Lee statue, I am not. I'll go on fighting for the cross on Calvary, but for worldly symbols and statues, count me out. Over and over the bible reminds me this is not my home. I believe those reminders are precisely for moments like this.
They are especially for moments like this when the fights over worldly statues come at the expense of the commandment to love every human. Moments that really challenge me to think and reflect.
I don't know how well I've listened, how well I could possibly ever understand, just how much hurt pours from my African American brothers and sisters when they say that, to them, these symbols we fight for are constant reminders of the days they were owned, the days they were the subjects of wars fought and lives sacrificed in the name of keeping them owned.
I don't know and can't possibly understand because I have the privilege of being white. I don't apologize for the privilege, that was God delivered not me designed. But it does mean I can't possibly understand what it feels like to be black instead of white when walking or driving past a statue of Robert E Lee. All I can do is listen. And when my brothers and sisters who are equally loved by that monument on Calgary say that statue hurts them and saddens them and angers them, I have a decision to make. Do I stand by Calgary or Confederacy? And do I understand in that moment, looking in their eyes and feeling their hurt, I can't possibly stand by both.
I think I've tried to minimize that hurt throughout my life: That was then, this is now. Look how far we've come. I don't see color when I look at people. I have plenty of black friends.
But what I can't minimize is this:
If my mom and dad were black, when I was raised on my great-grandfather's farm, instead of my parents using that experience to teach me the value of hard work they would have been haunted by the memories of the days when their great-grandparents were enslaved to do that hard work. If my mom and dad were black, instead of celebrating the day they sent me off to elementary school they would have been haunted by their own school days when they were shipped off to be educated with people of their own color, hidden away from their previous owners. When I was old enough to vote, instead of my white parents talking to me about the privilege I had to cast a vote my black parents would have been reminded that the day I was born their color wasn't afforded that same priviledge. When my black parents took me off to college they would have been overwhelmed with pride. Not because I was getting a college education, but because I was part of a generation of blacks who were finally getting the opportunity to have what white people had been getting for a couple of centuries before then.
Sure, those are old ideals, old practices, old ways of looking at things. But the consequences are still very real. Our government leaders are largely white. Our major corporations and businesses and national media are run by white people. The largest influences of our current culture are reflections of voting, economic and education practices of our not as distant as we like to believe past. I believe this is so, for the most part, not because white people are exercising their white privilege, but mostly because white people like me have had the privilege of being white.
It's a privilege that has set an entire people group back centuries in the pursuits of all things we call American. When this group argues taking down statues allows them to catch up, I suppose I could say the statues are inconsequential to those efforts. But that would be coming from someone who's never experienced the consequences of being forced to start that desperately far behind.
Yesterday, when talking about the violence that erupted in Charlottesville last weekend when white supremists came to town to protest the removal of a Robert E Lee statue, President Trump said this: "So this week, it is Robert E Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"
That's a good question, I suppose. I guess I would answer where it stops being the loving thing to do. I wish we could have more civil conversations about where that is, but when it comes to arguing about worldly symbols, that gets tough. I suppose that's why the bible warned us repeatedly to keep our affections for idols and symbols in check.
I know this, though. The one monument I worship, the only one I love - it is never coming down. There's a sense of peace in that. And no matter what your stance is with the Robert E Lee statue, it's a peace you can find too. Not only is it a monument that will survive the times, no matter how ugly the protests get, I will spend eternity at the feet of that monument. That's a claim I just can't make about the others.
I really thought our boys' swimming team days were over. Elliott had never been on the team. Ian swam two summers ago and seemed to like it but decided last summer he didn't want to do it anymore. So I was a bit surprised when I came home from work one evening this past spring and discovered the boys were thinking about joining the team this summer.
Katie's always been big on the boys swimming. Because the boys swimming means she's hanging with the other swim moms each morning. And swim team moms put soccer moms to shame when it comes to creating a social gathering. They meet at the pool every summer morning, turn the kids over to coach, drink mimosas and talk about the challenges of motherhood - and likely wifehood - until the final whistle blows and they remember they actually brought kids to the party. So my immediate thought was Katie bribed them with video games or a playmate for Fritz to join the team.
At dinner that night I asked the boys, all a part of the investigation I'd suddenly launched, so tell me boys, what are the reasons you do and don't want to be on the swim team. I was sure this would stump them. Especially Ian, my younger one. I fully expected him to say he didn't want Fritz to grow up an only dog. That wasn't his answer though. He said he liked swimming, he wanted to hang out with his friends, but the meets were too long and that was the reason he didn't want to join the team. (Exactly. Long meets pal. You should really focus hard on that point).
Elliott had a similar plus list. Hang out with the friends and swim a lot. His negative was a bit different, and one I wish he hadn't told me. He said he didn't want to swim because it would be embarassing if he finished last in the races.
Wrong answer, because now I was fully committed to getting Katie to her summer social. Many things have come easy to Elliott, so I knew the fact that he was hesitating to join the team because he was worried about not doing well was the exact reason he had to be on the team. Shoot, now I was ready to rescue a dog if that's what was required.
I spent the next few days subtly encouraging the boys to join. I'm sure Katie was far less subtle - cleaning the house in her swimsuit while drinking those mimosas likely sent a strong message. So the heat was on. Especially on Elliott. I may have been whispering "swim team" in his ear while he slept at night.
In the end, both boys said "we're in."
Over the next couple of weeks he got some extra coaching attention to help him get more comfortable in the water. This week he earned his first ribbon at a meet and got personal best times in both events he swam in. It's clear, though, swimming doesn't come easy to him, which is great. We talk all the time that the secret to greatness is getting great at overcoming adversity. And believe me, swimming has presented Elliott adversity.
The other good piece of that equation is what it does for Ian. Ian the little brother. Always trying to keep up with big brother and always coming up just a step short. Swimming gives Ian a chance to shine in the sibling rivalry. He already has a collection of ribbons. And he's not so sly in his willingness to give his brother some pointers on how to improve. Ian's enjoyed turning the table and taking a seat at the victor's throne for a spell.
I don't know what they'll say when it's time to register next year. But for now they're enjoying time in the water with friends, and mama's enjoying the poolside social with the swim moms club.
I used to think Mark Zuckerberg wanted to take over the world.
Now I know he does.
And I, for one, will be cheering him on and helping him any way I can.
Last week I participated in Facebook's first Communities Summit. I got to see and listen to Zuckerberg up close and personal. I walked away believing it's impossible to be near him or anyone that works with him without feeling like these Facebook folks truly believe there's value in every human life. It fuels their obsession for connecting us. They get high off of helping us discover our own personal value grows exponentially when we multiply it by the value of togetherness.
It's an obsession they wear on their faces. It pours out of every interaction with them.
Why on earth are they all so bent on us connecting?
This is what Zuckerberg told us at the summit:
“Connecting friends and family has been pretty positive, but I think there is just this collective feeling that we have a responsibility to do more than that and also help build communities and help people get exposed to new perspectives and meet new people -- not just give people a voice, but also help build common ground so people can actually move forward together.”
I'm not sure there was one person sitting at the summit, I'm not sure there's one person reading those words right now, who doesn't love the sound of moving forward. Especially if you reflect too long on the current stagnate state of our divisiveness.
Wouldn't it be nice to wake up one day from our unending arguments about what direction the world should go and discover we're actually moving in a common direction?
Several years ago I would have been thinking what you might be thinking right now. This Zuckerberg guy's a dreamer. Maybe even a bit whacked out. We live in a world of disunity and no amount of "likes" and "shares" is going to change that. You can Facebook live that little let's get connected speech to every world peace loving group on Facebook, Mark, and we're still going to be hopelessly devoted to telling one another how we should be living instead of finding the common good in the way we are living.
But that was several years ago.
I was actually at the summit representing about 16,000 people in the Meg's Miles Supporters Facebook group. The group formed when a young woman in my community, Meg Cross Menzies, was hit and killed by a drunk driver back in 2014. Shortly after, 100,000 people joined together on Facebook to run and pledge their miles in Meg's memory. They ran a million or so miles in every state in our country and in countless other countries around the world. And that was all in response to one-single-Facebook post by one of Meg's grieving friends.
I've seen responses to tragedy like this before. Heartbreaks going viral isn't anything new. A mass inclination to do something - anything at all to bring comfort - we've been there. But you know what I haven't seen? I haven't seen heartbreak branch into a thousand runaway vines of togetherness.
I now have more best friends than I've ever had in my life. A majority of them I met online as a result of that first post, many of whom I've since met in person. They help me out when I need them and they know I stand ready to return the favor. I've become attached to their families. I donate to their kids' fundraisers - we've had to build a room addition to house girl scout cookies. In fact, the size of my family has grown so that I'd need to rent out Madison Square Garden for a true family reunion.
Here's the beauty of my growing family. It includes people who've never been a part of my family before: gay people, atheists, people of all sorts of colors, horse and dog and cat lovers, runners, movie addicts, far left democrats and far right republicans and some very middle ground variations of something quite different in between. And on and on and on it goes. My family is now filled with diversity. I suppose you can see that as a knock against me and my shallow past. I own that knock. But I see it as overwhelming evidence of the power of Facebook.
What Facebook has always understood is the power of story. By creating a platform for us to share our stories with one another they've managed to educate us about the often tragic difference between acceptance and connected. Acceptance says I hear your story and I promise not to let in stand in my way of getting where I want to go. Connected, however, is I hear your story and it's a beautiful reason for us to navigate this world together.
I've seen that education take root in the Meg's Miles group I belong to. I've seen it grow from a single post about a single relatively simple human being into a group of thousands of diverse people running together, step for step, on a mission to spread goodness into the world. I've seen it work better than any other goodness strategy I've seen in my 53 years on earth.
Facebook's brilliance actually comes in their ability to weave their complex technological platform together with their understanding of the human need to love and be loved. They removed all religious and cultural overtones in their masterpiece so we can simply focus on each other. Because left to our own devices, those overtones often distract us away from the beautiful human stories we tend to bury beneath worldly stereotypes and misunderstandings.
I think that's Mark Zuckerberg's platform when it comes to his campaign for taking over the world. And maybe it's not so much taking over as it is taking out. Taking out all the hateful noise that keeps us from discovering the beauty in each other. He's not been perfect in his campaign, for sure. You can find hate anywhere. But he's done it better than anyone I've ever seen.
So if Mark Zuckerber is truly trying to take over the world, for what it's worth, I have his back.
So I've just used a multi-billionaire's image to trick you into reading a minimum wage blog post. That's only partly true. I am headed to Chicago tomorrow. I've been invited there to take part in a 2-day Facebook summit. And Mark Zuckerberg will be there. He's delivering the day one keynote address. But whether he and I actually sit down on a couch and chat billionaire to dreamer extraordinaire is still up in the air. Probably more up in the air of my imagination than his, but air is air, right?
It's such a long story. Most good ones are.. I'll spare you the details and give you the bedtime version.
Just over 3 years ago, Meg Cross Menzies, a young mother of 3 beautiful little kids, was struck and killed by a drunk driver while running on a rural road in our tiny community just outside of Richmond, Virginia. In response, one of Meg's heartbroken friends sent out a call for everyone to "run for Meg" the Saturday after Meg died. With a huge assist from Facebook, over 100,000 people from all over the world ran a collective million or so miles in Meg's memory. Most of them never knew Meg - including me.
In the wake of that run, a Facebook group formed: Meg's Miles Supporters. Today, I am one of the administrators for that group. The group has over 16,000 members who walk, run and pray each other through life and running challenges, and celebrate each other's life and running victories.
Recently an add popped up on my personal Facebook page asking group administrators to apply to attend the first ever Facebook Communities Summit in Chicago. The Summit is part of Facebook's goal to bring people closer together and build common understanding. Ads like this don't usually catch my attention, but for some reason this one did. I applied, interviewed, and long story made bedtime version short - tomorrow I'm headed to Chicago.
I'm fired up about the trip. Mainly because I love Facebook.
I know Facebook has it's detractors. I'm just not one of them. I've watched Facebook do far more to bring people together than tear them apart. In a world that some days seems hell bent on ripping itself into global shreds of hate and intolerance, all sources of unity are enticing to me. Especially one like Facebook that has nearly 2 billion active users.
Here's the thing about unity the world often gets wrong but Facebook gets largely right. Unity is about extending ourselves to others, not sitting back waiting to receive what others can extend to us. And through my work in the Meg's Miles group I've come to believe Facebook may be the most powerful human extension tool in the world right. I used to think the command of my Christian faith to go to all the ends of the earth with God's love was biblical hyperbole of biblical proportions. That was before the bible found a seat at the Facebook table.
I've seen Facebook extend hundreds of high fives across thousands of miles to a runner (me) finishing his first marathon, something he never thought he could do. High fives that made an ordinary struggling runner feel like an Olympic champion. Enthusiasm extended to make a dream come true.
I've seen Facebook extend love, care and support from hundreds of complete strangers to an online friend who lost his dad. An extension that didn't bring his dad back, but delivered him an extended family he never would have had without it.
I recently saw a friend use Facebook to seek and match donations for the town he grew up in. The small Missouri town was devestated by flooding. He extended himself on behalf of his roots and in return hundreds of us got to extend ourselves into a piece of his childhood and into the lives of people who played a role in it.
Last year our Megsmiles group collected shoes for refugees living in a camp in Greece. Thousands of shoes were mailed in and collected at local churches, businesses and schools. Then we got to see pictures of the shoes on the feet of desperate children thousands of miles and an ocean away. A mere decade ago that kind of immediate extension and response to crisis was impossible.
I've always known the world is filled with loving and caring people. So has Facebook. Only they've found a way to mass produce and mass extend their impact.
Here's the other thing. And maybe the most powerful and miraculous thing of all. Facebook extends lives.
I am awed every day that the influence of Meg Cross Menzies is still impacting and changing lives. Meg has been dead for over three years, but still her life is extending into mine and this week into Chicago and last year onto the feet and into the hearts of little Syrian children in Greece. Facebook has certainly been the tool for that. A powerful one. But here's the bigger lesson I take away from it:
Meg's life is extendable because she lived a life of extension.
Meg volunteered in her church and in her kids' schools and at her family's vegetable farm. Meg treasured a life of sacrifice because her sacrifice always meant more love and abundance for others. Meg lived her entire life extending herself to others which has made it possible to not only keep her influence alive, but extend it to people she never in her most sacrificial dreams imagined it would reach.
Meg's life, and Facebook, have led me to consider my own legacy in ways I never had before. The things I do today truly have the power to shape my kids and their kids for generations to come. Facebook is a tool that can help extend the impact of that legacy well beyond me, but it's up to me to give Facebook loving and caring and sacrificial material to work with.
So when I sit on the couch with Mark this week - come on, work with me here, let a guy dream - I'll thank him for what he's built. The opportunity he's given us all to extend ourselves in meaningful and life-changing ways. I'll let him know the kind of pressue he's put on this dad who wants to leave an influential and eternal influence on his boys.
And, yes, I may just ask him for the opportunity to extend a selfie of the billionaire and the dreamer extraordinaire to the Facebook feeds of my friends and his!
I'll be in touch from Chicago!
One of our dear family friends, Angie, who taught Elliott for two years and is currently a teacher at Ian's school, recently sent Katie and I the photos below. And photo credits to Angie Hoggan for all of them.
Obviously the pictures aren't of Ian performing in the classroom. It's field day (Ian's favorite subject). Still, I'm going to say this might be the best school report any of our boys' teachers have ever sent home. It probably shouldn't fire me up more than straight A's or spelling bee victories or science fair success, but it does.
A lot more.
Maybe that's because that's how I see life. It's a tug of war. One minute the momentum is absolutely going your way - I can't be beat! Then out of nowhere life starts dragging you through the mud, face first and feet wildly flopping in the air behind you. In that moment, you can begin thinking yourself through the protocol of what to do next, or you can instinctively jump to your feet and start fighting back.
Or at least pulling back.
No, I'm convinced, make me choose between a picture of a straight A report card or any of the pictures above and I'll take any one of the pictures above.
Don't get me wrong. It's not like I don't value education - don't want our boys to apply grit to their grades. I do. But I've seen too many people who know everything there is to know about the world only to have no idea how to respond when the world doesn't treat them the way they've been taught it will or should.
Of course, the obvious benefit to my philosophy, especially given it's Fathers Day, is there are many limitations on just how smart I can teach our boys to be. My smarts reach a dead end quicker than most dads. But make no mistake, there's no limit to how much grit I can pour into them. So maybe I'm just playing to my fatherhood strength, but that's exactly how I'm going to keep playing.
Happy Fathers Day to all my dad friends out there.
My wife, Katie, is a great mom. I know that. But not often enough do I show that.
As I sit here on Mother's Day morning, it's a simple task itemizing the ways my wife is a good mom.
As I sit here on Mother's Day morning, it's hard for me to look at that list and confess how infrequently I show my wife I truly understand the difficulty of her job. But I do confess it. Making a list is one thing. Appreciating it is quite another. I'm afraid I'm good at list-building, not so good at the other.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not confessing to being the world's worst husband and dad. (Although I'm sure there are moments when my wife wants to confess to that).
I do believe, though, in reflecting on areas where others are great we can always examine where we can be better. I don't believe there's a better Mothers Day gift I can give my wife than saying I know you're a better mom than I give you credit for and I'm going to work harder to show that. Gratitude is a much better gift offered out of the blue than right on cue.
For all you moms out there - for the reasons I've just pointed out in my wife - you are all my heroes. I know you tackle the challenges above and many more. And you so often do it while embracing the blessing of motherhood for what it is: the opportunity to make a beautiful, life-changing, world-impacting difference in your home and on eternity.
I know my own mom made that difference in me. I know my wife is making that difference through our boys. And I pray for the difference all of you are making.
Dads and husbands - remember, gratitude is better out of the blue than right on cue. Work on it with me between now and next Mothers Day.