There are a couple of things right now that Julia and I are begging God for. Sometimes I imagine how great it would be if God were more like a vending machine. I approach with my good deeds and cash a few of them in for an answer to a prayer. Sadly, that’s exactly how I used to think God worked.

But that’s not how He works at all.

This morning, I came downstairs and found Julia in tears. She was worried that God might not answer these things we’re begging Him for now. Or worse, that He might answer them by giving us something that wasn’t what we wanted.

When our young boys ask for juice to drink and we give them milk, the reaction is often filled with drama and many tears. I’m sure they think it’s either the result of incompetence or malice that we wouldn’t give them juice. Or maybe they feel it’s just not in our nature as parents to comply with their requests.

Photo Credit: coba via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: coba via Compfight cc

But those boys don’t yet understand how deep our love is for them. They have no idea what we’ve gladly given up for them or what a pleasure it is to provide for them and watch them grow. They don’t understand why they need milk or that Julia is keeping track of their calcium vs sugar intake. All they know is they wanted sweet juice and they got milk instead.

Ironically, I too often assume the worst about how my Father provides for me–that maybe He is incompetent or unwilling to listen. Or that maybe it’s just in His nature to give me something He likes instead of something I’d enjoy. I struggle to believe He’s not that aunt that always gives socks and hand-knit beanies for Christmas.

I’m guessing that Julia and I are not alone here. I need to hear some truth this morning, so I’m going to write this post. I hope it encourages you as you beg God for that impossible thing in your own life.

Regardless of what I believe in my childish ignorance, here are the real too-good-to-be-true things about God that give me deep, deep hope that He will answer me–and answer well.

He’s Compelled by His Nature to Answer

Julia and I had a good discussion about this a few minutes ago. We were discussing whether God can simply choose to ignore us or choose to give us something bad when we asked for something good. The prevailing fear being that He may have His own callous agenda instead of our best interest at heart. Julia posed that question to me, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“No, He can’t ignore us,” I said.

She pressed, “But why? God can do anything He wants because He’s God.”

“True,” I said. “He is God. But there are some things even God can’t do.”

She looked at me puzzled, thinking I might be on the verge of heresy.

“He can choose to do anything He wants, but He can’t go against His own nature,” I explained.

I drew the distinction between voluntary choices we make and involuntary designs and wiring that we must obey. As much as a mother would vow that they would never hurt their own children or a pastor would vow he’d never cheat on his wife, there are circumstances that could arise that would cause those otherwise well-intentioned people to make a terrible choice. Maybe it’s the zombie apocalypse or maybe it’s one glass of wine too many, but circumstances can shape the voluntary choices we make.

On the other hand, no one can voluntarily choose to lower their own cholesterol or make their heart skip a beat. Those are not choices–they are the product of design. So, I asked Julia to recall when the boys were helpless newborns.

Photo Credit: storyvillegirl via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: storyvillegirl via Compfight cc

“When a newborn is in a crib and the mother hears them crying out for her to feed them, what happens?”

“Her milk comes down,” she answered.

“Exactly. Does the mother have any choice about that, or is it a natural response because of their nature as a mother?”

“She can’t help it. It just happens,” she answered.

Not only is it in His nature to answer, but He also knows how to give good things to us. Luke 11:11-13 says:

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

When we cry out to God, His nature compels Him to answer, and because he loves us, He will answer with love to provide what we need.

His Answer is Always Either “Yes” or “Better”

My spiritual mentor and great friend, Randy, has enjoyed saying this to me over the years:

When you ask God for something, He can only answer one of two ways: “Yes” or “I have something even better in mind.”

This is an incredible way of summarizing what Scripture promises everywhere, and it presents a situation where we as His children can’t lose. The challenge is to believe this incredible promise is actually true. When we beg God for something, and we don’t get what we expected, what is our response? We believe that we heard God say “no.” But the challenge is believing His promise that He must have something even better in mind.

When I find this promise too good to believe (as I often do), I beg Him for the faith to believe His promises and that His love for me could actually be this great.

By the way, Randy just wrote a great Christmas season devotional book called All is Calm that you can find here or on your Kindle. Julia and I are reading it now, and he shares his thoughts on “yes or better” there.

Nothing is Outside His Power

Sometimes I think what I ask God for is unlikely or even next to impossible. But the Bible is full of examples of the impossible. He made animals speak. He parked the sun and moon in the sky for a full day. And when God decided to make a teenaged virgin a mother, she became pregnant. As she questioned the biological impossibility of this announcement to the angel who had given her the news, the angel told her:

The God who is not bound by logic, reason, or laws of the universe has demonstrated that He would even stop the planet He made from spinning. He’s listening, and nothing is outside His power.

The Waiting is More About Your Need for Him Than Your Need

So even with all this said, when I lay my head on my pillow tonight, I still may not have what I’ve begged Him for today. Even if all His promises are true, where’s an answer? Why hasn’t He shown up? Why does it seem He isn’t answering? Why the apparent silence?

Imagine a fly that lands on a painting on the wall. That fly can only see what’s immediately in front of it. There is limited perspective. Meanwhile, as you sit across the room, observing the painting and the fly, you can literally see the big picture.

Photo Credit: zachstern via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: zachstern via Compfight cc

This gets a bit technical, but in this life, we are bound by time and space. God, who is not bound by these things, sees the big picture and has already answered in the same way that the painting is already painted. The time for the answers has simply not come yet, from our limited perspective. (This raises the question of free will, but I will not get into that here other than to say God’s sovereignty and man’s free will coexist both wonderfully and mysteriously.)

So the question becomes about what to do in the waiting, and that’s where I’ve seen over and over that the waiting is so much more about my relationship with Him than it is about my need. When I see my need, I’m compelled to run to Him to fill it. The trials of waiting produce character, perseverance, and hope.

So my battle is learning to enjoy the silence, and in it, rest in Him. Like a child resting on His father’s chest, I want to enjoy the safety of His plan and trust that the answers will come as I lean in and just rest to the sound of His heartbeat.

Nobody Said It Was Easy

Yeah. Begging God to answer day after day and waiting for Him to answer is hard. I’m there–believe me. All I can say is that I have found His promises to be true, and I have to make the deliberate decision to trust Him. So when He says:

“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31

I have made a choice to believe Him because He’s not proven to be unfaithful yet.

And for today, that is enough for me.

Dear Jesus, thank you for this wonderful day and thank you for Nani and Pops and The Polar Express. And thank you for our ears and all the noses and all the eyes. And thank you for our bunk bed and fan. And I pray that you would put a baby in Mommy’s tummy. In Jesus’ holy name, Amen.

My 3 Year Old Son’s Prayer Last Night

Give Yourself Away

November 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

At church yesterday, a woman came up to me to tell me how thankful she was for my wife. I had been sitting near the back of the auditorium while Julia sang on stage with the band. After the service ended, the lady–the mother of one of Julia’s voice students–stopped me to say how thankful she was for how Julia is investing in the life of her daughter. I was quick to tell the mom that Julia felt equally blessed by her daughter.

She continued to express her gratitude, explaining that there is a gap sometimes with teenagers where the parents don’t have sway for a season. She was so grateful that Julia was able to come in and fill that gap for her daughter and be a godly woman for her daughter to look to.

Photo Credit: Daniele Zanni via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Daniele Zanni via Compfight cc

“I understand completely,” I said, as I pointed to my two boys, who were sitting at our feet, engaged in some sort of game on Julia’s iPad. “We’re happy to be that for her now, and you can join us in praying that someone is able to come stand in the gap for our boys when that season comes for us.”

She smiled and nodded in agreement, and we left feeling mutually encouraged.

Follow the Leader

I’m thankful to have had people over the years who have invested time and energy in me. If I can draw the analogy between people and software, I’d point out that both are always in the process of iteration and improvement, with the earliest versions being the most buggy, featureless, and crash-prone. I’m incredibly grateful for the friends and mentors who put up with a lot of bugs and crashes to stay with me and see me through to better iterations of myself.

To the degree that I am thankful for their investment in me, I want to always be intentional about seeking out opportunities to mentor and positively impact the lives of those who are just a little ways behind me in life. I also want to be faithful to encourage Julia to do the same. Obviously, Jesus had his own Disciples, and Paul did, too. He puts it so well in 1 Corinthians 11:1:

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

That is what biblical mentorship is all about.

Short Time, Eternal Impact

When I think of my life on this earth and consider how short 80 years really is, it makes me realize a couple of things:

  1. At this point, my time on earth is close to half way over.
  2. I need to make good use of the time I have left.

What will my legacy be? Where will I invest my effort while I’m here? Which strings will continue to resonate after I’m gone? I love the quote from the movie, Gladiator:

I will leave a few echoes, I’m sure. Some of them will die out faster than others. But the ones that will reverberate the longest are the ones that echo down through the generations. When I spend time over lunch with some young guy trying to figure out if he should ask his girlfriend to marry him, God willing, I’m talking to someone’s future husband. When Julia invests her time in a high school-aged girl, God willing, that’s someone’s future mother–or grandmother. These people will undoubtedly go on to influence and lead many others, so the investment in them has the great potential for a return.

It can be difficult to see past the mundane routines of life, but I want to see every opportunity through a spiritual lens and ask myself, “will this have value in eternity?” and focus intently on the things where I can say “yes.” I often fail miserably at this, so I am thankful for God’s grace.

Whose World Are You Rocking?

So that’s the real question, right? Who are you impacting? How are you making your life count beyond these 80 or so years you might have? If you aren’t sure, I have a few tips for you:

  • Live in community. If you only crawl out of your shell in the morning, then crawl back in each night, you’ll find it hard to build relationships and invest yourself in others. You’ll also miss out on giving others opportunities to invest in you. (Hint: This is what the Church is for.)
  • Look for targets. I don’t mean to objectify people by using that word, but look for people around you that you can impact. (Hint: Teenagers and kids are a great place to start, and younger kids will think you are cool just for showing up. They are also very forgiving of mistakes.)
  • Give yourself away. I prefer life on my terms. We all do. But giving yourself away means sacrificing time and schedules to serve others. If you have a family of your own, always make sure you give yourself away to them first. Otherwise, volunteer at a local charity or co-op. Mentor or tutor kids after school. Opportunities are everywhere.

Are you sacrificially giving your time and energy away to others? Feel free to share your story in the comments!

Last month, Julia and I were in the carpool line to drop the boys off at preschool. As we were waiting to drop them off, the firstborn, who is 4 and a half years old, was reviewing the new school rules out loud.

“‘Be kind to others.’ That’s the Yellow Rule, but some people call it the Golden one,” he announced.

“That’s right buddy,” I said proudly.

Not wanting to waste a teachable moment, I asked him, “Do you know who made up the Golden Rule?”

“Ummmm…no,” he replied.

I spoke slowly and deliberately, “His name is Jesus Christ.”

“Jesus Christ?!” he said quickly, furrowing his eyebrows. His tone was thick with playful surprise, pretending as though he’d never heard that name before. Then his face contorted in thought as he looked away, apparently in deep thought.

“Daddy, our peanut butter and jelly sandwich has Christ on it,” he observed.

For a moment, I thought, “huh?” Then I realized what he meant.

“That’s crust buddy. Your peanut butter and jelly sandwich has crust.”

I lost Ed Truck, and it feels like somebody took my heart and dropped it into a bucket of boiling tears. And at the same time, somebody else is hitting my soul in the crotch with a frozen sledgehammer. And then a third guy walks in and starts punching me in the grief bone. And I’m crying, and nobody can hear me because I’m terribly, terribly, terribly alone.

-Michael Scott, The Office

Best (and Funniest) Quote on Sadness, Ever

My wife and I are coming up on ten years of marriage in a few months. People used to warn me that the first year of marriage is the hardest. Looking back, I’d probably agree with that, but it wasn’t because we argued a lot. It’s just that early in marriage, you’re forced to think for someone besides yourself all the time.

And quarter-century-old habits like that can be very hard to break.

I remember the first big post-marriage argument we ever got in. It was over something dumb, as most arguments always are. We were aggressively paying off the nearly $50,000 in debt and student loans that we married with. We had an aggressive plan that involved a lot of skipping “wants” in favor of “needs.”

Photo Credit: yezi9713 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: yezi9713 via Compfight cc

That day, Julia had gone to the grocery store and come home with a 12-pack of Gatorade. This bothered me for two reasons–both of them stupid:

  1. As a Georgia Bulldog, I’ve always chosen to avoid the sports drink named for and developed by one of our most hated sports rivals, opting for Powerade instead.
  2. I’ve never been one to reach for sports drinks anyway. Water is free, and while we were paying off these loans, I saw sports drinks as a luxury, not something to be brought home en masse.

Being the sophomoric groom I was, I chose to say something instead of carefully choosing my battle. It started innocently enough, but there was menace in the question that she immediately detected.

“What’s up with all the Gatorade?” I asked.

“It was on sale, so I bought it,” she answered.

“Do we drink that much Gatorade?” I asked, knowing the answer.

She did not appreciate the obvious question, and the conversation quickly deteriorated. Not wanting to back down, I continued to press until she became very upset. She slammed the refrigerator door and retreated to our bedroom as ice began to form on the walls of our apartment.

I don’t remember how long we let the tension sit, but I remember thinking that was our first real argument. I felt like I was right. I kept justifying my actions to myself. She should be more careful with our money. She should have thought before she bought that. She should just agree with me.

You should just drop your guns.

The words rang out in my head like a megaphone in a library. The thought was so piercing, so resonant, and so foreign to my line of thinking in the moment that it couldn’t have come from my own head. God was telling me to shut up. He was telling me to go win back the bride that I had wounded.

I battled with the idea of walking in our bedroom and just telling her I was sorry. It was so counterintuitive. It’s the worst part of any argument: admitting you were wrong. In the moment, I began to question why it seemed so painful to just tell this beautiful girl that I was sorry for how I’d treated her. Then, I realized the answer.

It was just my own selfish pride.

 Photo Credit: Christopher Chan via Compfight cc


Photo Credit: Christopher Chan via Compfight cc

Pride. What a scaly, fire-breathing beast. It growls and stomps its feet, unapologetically demanding respect while giving it back disproportionately. It wrecks the house with its own special, grandiose kind of bullishness. It poisons the air with its putrid breath until it suffocates life. My pride had just taken a bite out of my wife, and I was letting it make its den for the night in our apartment.

What does it cost me to just walk in there and apologize to her and tell her I’m sorry? I questioned to myself. The answer was clear: I had to sacrifice the beast, my pride. I had to take a sword and stab my pride between its scales, right in the heart. So the question became “is my pride worth it?” Did I value preserving my pride more than I valued my wife’s feelings?

I love my wife. I knew the answer was easy: No.

I walked into the bedroom, over to her side of the bed and knelt down where she lay on top of the covers. She looked tired and wary, unsure if I was there for round two. I looked her in the eyes and, as sincerely as I could, said, “I’m sorry, baby. I shouldn’t have made a big deal about that Gatorade. It was so dumb and not worth making you upset. Will you please forgive me?”

As she always is, she was quick and gracious to forgive me.

Since then, we’ve had a standing pact to never go to bed angry with each other. In ten years, we’ve never done the sleep-on-the-couch thing because it’s not how we operate. We like to take Ephesians 4:26 rather literally:

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,”

And you know what? It’s made a big difference in how we argue, when we do. But most of all, it has taught me to be willing to sacrifice my pride quickly; to not value it over her.

My pride betrays me. It makes me think I’m more important than I really am. It inflates my sense of ego and distorts how I see the world. It’s like a fisheye lens with me standing front and center. It skews my heart toward entitlement rather than sacrifice, love of self rather than love of others, and toward valuing the temporal over the eternal. My pride lies to me.

Photo Credit: YanivG via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: YanivG via Compfight cc

So when the storm comes and it’s time to start pitching things over the side of the boat, I want to be spiritually well-conditioned enough to have my pride start to shake nervously, knowing it will be the first thing I’ll point to angrily and demand, “YOU!

I’m not there yet, but by God’s grace, I’m getting there.

Over the weekend, I received a Facebook message from a friend that I had not seen or spoken to since 1993. That was early high school for me. Back then, he and I were pretty good friends. We played a lot of back yard tackle football, and hung out in classes a good bit with the other friends in our peer group. So we were good friends until I moved away, but twenty years is quite a long gap.

A year or so ago, we found each other on Facebook. Neither of us reached out to catch up, so you can imagine that I was a bit surprised to get this message (complete with grammatical errors) from him over the weekend:

Hayden I have something you got to check out.. My wife joined a few months back and I will admit it took me a few times to really get it and believe it but its legit. check out this video it explains a lot and if you have questions at all call me or message me(cell [phone number redacted]) [website redacted].

Photo Credit: visualpanic via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: visualpanic via Compfight cc

Immediately, I think, This is spam. He’s been hacked. I mean, only the most legitimate organizations begin by defending themselves with, “We’re legit.” Right?

“Hi, you should check out this company called Costco. My wife joined them a few months back and I will admit it took me a few times to really get it and believe it, but it’s legit.”

“Hi, you should check out this company called The Georgia Aquarium. My wife joined them a few months back and I will admit it took me a few times to really get it and believe it, but it’s legit.”

So, I figured I’d do him a favor and inform him of the hack, lest his unintentional spam hit anyone else.

facebook message

I got this reply back.

Lol it was really me the link is [company name]

So the spam was intentional. Oh my. I felt an initial rush of embarrassment for assuming his personal message was spam. But that lasted about four nanoseconds before changing into embarrassment for him for having intentionally spammed me. “Now this is awkward,” I thought. Immediately, my mind went to Michael Scott in the garage of his condo, trying to convince Jim and Andy to invest in Serenity by Jan.

Unsure of what to do, but not wanting to simply ignore him, I replied.

HA! What is it?

His reply only confirmed my initial gut reaction.

It a way to travel and make money at the same time watch the video it’s only 14 minutes long

“Did he move to Nigeria?” I wondered aloud. And to assume that 14 minutes is a short video is a bit presumptuous. Doesn’t he know I have kids running around, college football games to watch, shoes to re-lace, paint to watch as it dries…

The list of more things more important than watching a 14 minute video for a scam is virtually endless. So, not wanting to burst his bubble, I decided to let this conversation slip away into the ether.

But 24 hours later, he messaged me again.

Hey man did you ever get a chance to watch that video? This company has changed my wife in so many positive ways I had to really give it a closer look and it is probably the most positive people I have ever been around

Really. Hmm. Well, passengers on the Titanic were positive even after the ship had struck an iceberg and was taking on water, but I digress. Since when does positivity equal legitimacy? I’m positive, too–positive this is a conversation about a scam. Still, I now felt obligated to let him know I was not interested since my silence had apparently not communicated that.

facebook message

Short. Simple. Honest, but also rather blunt–with a hint that he should also be careful if he chooses to move forward. I thought that would be the last I heard from him about it. His reply came back.

Understand if its not for you its just not. I wish you would have checked the video out first but that’s ok. I can google anything and find negative info even Jesus.

I see. Maybe I don’t understand the opportunity because I didn’t watch the video. And did he just indirectly compare this vacation club to Jesus?!

Unfortunately, I had watched the video. I even Googled them. What I found wasn’t good, not that I was optimistic. Now, I felt I needed to just level with him.

I watched the video. I felt suspicious when they started talking about the “viral” blue sign that I’d never seen before. About 5 minutes in, it started to sound like one of those high-pressure membership clubs. About 8 minutes in, it started to sound like a pyramid scheme.

That’s when I Googled the name of the company. I typed the name, and the first live search result that came up was accompanied by the word “scam” and the next one was accompanied by the words “pyramid scheme”. There were lots of results for both. The only place I found any positive comments was in the video you sent.

I’m guessing you reached out because you get some kind of return for recruiting others. That’s also a red flag for me, because it is further symptomatic of a classic pyramid scheme, where under the surface, the focus is more on the recruitment to membership than the product, itself.

You are right that you can find lots of negative info on the internet, including negative info about Jesus. When this vacation club has been radically transforming people’s lives for thousands of years as Jesus has, they will probably still have their dissenters. But maybe by then the positive testimony on the Internet will outweigh the negative. That does not currently seem to be the case.

We are extremely judicious about our finances. We are from the Dave Ramsey school of thought. We keep a budget. We live beneath our means. We are big savers, and we’ve learned to carefully vet anything we buy, from cars all the way down to our deodorant. So any kind of monthly recurring membership with up front fees is not something I would be interested in anyway, even if they offered trips to space (which I would at least be tempted by). This is even more true when the goal of the program is to get money from me now on the promise of later benefits. Red lights and alarms are going off everywhere in my head, man. The video only made me more suspicious.

We were always great friends in our much younger days, and it really is great to hear from you. I will say it is difficult to communicate how much anyone selling this type of product is barking up the wrong tree by trying to sell it to me. All the same, if it works for you, I hope you enjoy it, but even more so, I hope you don’t get taken for a ride or cause anyone else to. I would hate to see any friendships ruined that way.

Regardless, I hope you and the family are well. Just know that I’m not a good target for this type of thing. At all. Best to you, bro.

His reply was understanding and appreciative, but also still a bit defensive of the opportunity. We politely moved on to exchange other pleasantries about work and family. For my part, I at least felt good about warning him about the company, but if someone decides to swim with sharks in the water, that is their business.

Just don’t expect me to come swim, too.

Photo Credit: WIlly Volk via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: WIlly Volk via Compfight cc

 

This is part 2 of a two-part series, continued from yesterday’s post.

———

briefcase

5. That I Am An Entrepreneur

entrepreneur |ˌäntrəprəˈno͝or, -ˈnər|noun: a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.

Six months ago, I left a good-paying, salaried job for a role on commission that demanded experience I had no proven track record for. I was crazy and so were they. But it was a calculated risk. I took other calculated risks several times during the last six months.

One could argue that the risks ultimately failed, but I would beg to differ. I learned that I would do it again and again. What do you know? I am an entrepreneur.
trust derrick

4. The Power of Trust

In my own life, I’m blessed to have many friends, but there are only a few that I allow in deep enough to trust implicitly. You are probably the same way. Why is this? It’s because trust in a relationship is like drilling for oil: it’s a precious resource that you can only gain by digging down deep.

In the last six months, I saw my team trust me more deeply than any team I have ever been a part of. The fact that I am 1,500 miles away from them had some to do with this, as does the fact that I was filling a sales role with no sales experience. But mainly, because they knew me, they knew I was a Linchpin.

They knew that I am someone who leads, inspires, creates, and connects people in such a way as to be indispensable and thereby turn each day at work into a kind of art. Once you feel that way about someone, your role becomes about how you can best set them free to work their magic. To me, this was incredibly freeing.

I was also blessed enough to be able to come alongside some pretty great clients who trusted me to help them improve what they do on the web. The result is a lot of work that I am pretty proud of and a deeply renewed appreciation for the value of trust.

3. To Trust Myself More

Speaking of trust, the last six months have taught me much about trusting my own instincts, experience, and intuition. This is especially true when it comes to reading people. Whether it’s about relationships, a client’s mindset, or a product, I have found that my gut is right more often than not, and this is a huge confidence builder that I did not anticipate. Best of all, it gives me tremendous confidence, moving forward.

2. To Trust God Most

God promises that He will work all things together for my good (Romans 8:28). Even when things appear dark, He is not only in control, but He ordains the darkness and uses it to accomplish His purpose. As my pastor, Randy Pope, put it last week, there’s not a thing that can happen to me that does not first pass through His loving, powerful hands.

The last six months has been a hairy, wild ride, but it has given me more reason to trust God than I have ever had. I am so grateful for that.

1. That I Don’t Have to Be Afraid to Fail

I don’t think there is any more powerful negative motivator in my life than the fear of failure. Many things in my life can be traced back to this. I don’t want to let people down. I don’t want people to think I am dumb. Or needy. Or weak. Or…whatever.

But there is something very powerful behind the idea of not being afraid to fail. These last six months have pushed me far outside my comfort zones, and the result–– every time––has been a reduction in my fear of failure.

In fact, one thing I have seen demonstrated is a willingness to fail in order to become better. The christian life is so much like this. I have seen so many times that I learn most from the times I fail. And it seems that the times I fail the hardest produce the best, most enduring lessons. I love how God meets me in those dark moments and lovingly restores my life.

What that teaches me is that while I never have to like a failed venture or a social blunder or poor decision, I don’t have to fear it. I don’t have to spend so much energy avoiding anything that resembles failure. Instead, I can look forward to the incredible opportunity to learn from those mistakes.

Six months ago, I was working in a role that had quickly begun to demand too much from me. After 18 months at the best job I’d ever had, my boss bought a large retail bookstore chain and began a new startup venture that suddenly demanded all my time. Like a ravenous beast, it engorged itself on my time and energy, and the family time I coveted so much took the hit.

With the foot on the corporate gas pedal and with no signs of letting up or slowing down, I prayed much and consulted with Godly mentors and friends. Then I made what I felt was both God’s will and the best decision for my family: I chose my family over a salary, insurance, and security. I gave my notice, and walked away.

In the middle of that transition, I got a couple of job offers. One of them was from the web development firm who had helped me build the website for my now-previous employer. It was too good to pass up, and I became the newest member of their team on May 1st, 2013, the day after I left my old job.

The last six months have had ups and downs, but has been an incredibly educational and worthwhile experience. I’d do it all over again tomorrow because of what I’ve learned. I’ve come to view this time as God giving me a mini boot camp as I was on my way (as He knew the case to be) to something better.

Six months feels like a lifetime ago, and in some ways it was. I’ve learned so much, but here are 10 of the most salient principles and personal revelations I’ve learned on this ride.

ship it

10. Ship It Now

This one comes directly out of the Seth Godin playbook. We tend to take an idea and sit on it. Or, we take an idea, work on it, then tweak until we think it is perfect before we release it. This creates two problems:

  1. It propagates the fallacious belief that anything can ever be “perfect.”
  2. It prevents many good ideas from ever seeing the light of day because we’re too afraid to ship them.

The last six months have taught me to err on the side of shipping as opposed to endless tweaking. Mind you, this doesn’t give anyone permission to put crap out there. Rather, this principle means that you set a goal and then focus fully on accomplishing it. You get an idea, validate it, set a timeline, rally your team, and then go and make that idea a reality by shipping a minimum viable product. You can iterate later on what you shipped to bring it closer to the finished vision.

I am committed to being a shipper.

book worm

9. Readers Lead and Leaders Read

I have often said that I am not a big reader. What I mean is that I don’t like to read. I just have a hard time enjoying books, and that is to my shame. I love reading articles and blog posts that interest me, but I have a difficult time committing to a book.

In the last six months, I’ve been surrounded by prolific readers, and it has shown me that “readers lead and leaders read.” I’ve read a couple of books during the last six months, and it reminded me that every time I read, I learn an incredible amount of new things that really sticks with me and shapes my thinking.

My wife’s grandfather, now in his mid-90′s, took college classes in his 80′s. He’s stressed to my wife over the years about how important it is to never stop learning, even if it is informal. My experience over the past 6 months has backed that wisdom up.

8. Iterate, Iterate, Iterate (Then, Iterate Some More)

I once had a boss who was a serial tweaker. She didn’t understand the value of iteration and errantly (or arrogantly) assumed that what she released on launch day would be so great as to never need further work. It was amazing in all the wrong ways.

The result was that as I was leaving a year and a half later, they were still working on the project they began when I first arrived. It was an exercise in frustration. Ultimately, she was scorned for inefficiency and the project was abandoned.

In the last six months, I have learned that as I approach a project, I must discover what the minimum viable product release is, then focus on shipping that. Then, the journey of iteration can begin to work its magic. Iteration is as much a part of the process as the building, itself. I have always believed in iteration––not just for products, but even for my personal development––but now, I am completely sold on it.

7. That Working From Home is Powerful

I’ve done the office cubicle thing, and now I’ve done the work from home thing. Not everyone is good working from home because it takes a lot of discipline and focus. I, however, have found that I excel when working from home for three reasons.

  1. There’s none of the office distractions that so often affected my productivity.
  2. There’s none of the politics or drama that so often affected my productivity.
  3. There’s no commute to suck down 1 to 2 hours of each day of my life.

With the freedom of working from home, I can focus like a laser on getting things done. I can work from where I’m most creative and most productive, and I can work whenever I feel inspired, which is rarely in an 8-9 hour straight spurt. I type these words at 1am.

Working remotely has been an incredible experience that I plan to keep up.

6. That I Can Sell Stuff

I once had a college friend, with all sincerity, say this line from Tommy Boy to me: “Hayden, you could sell a ketchup popsicle to a girl in white gloves.” He saw something in me that I hadn’t yet. Amazingly, it would take another 13 years or so before I figured out what he saw in me.

When I accepted the job offer six months ago, I couldn’t have been more unsure about my ability to convince people that the websites we built were good enough to trade money for. Mind you, it wasn’t the product I doubted––it was myself.

I had sales goals. I even had a personal goal: I told my team I wanted to bring them enough business that it caused a panic. I met my goal and they met mine. They even had to hire some temporary help to handle the work I brought in. It was a sales boom that validated my friend’s comments years earlier and made me realize that I had found a Happy Gilmore skill. Happy Gilmore was a longball driver disguised as a hockey player. I was a sales and people person disguised as a graphic designer.

My sales ability was probably the most surprising revelation, and it was an incredible boost of confidence. I began to realize that people weren’t buying our services as much as they were actually buying me. They were buying based on the trust they had in me.

I think that kind of success is something I can replicate in my next adventure. So I plan to––starting today.

–––––

You can read Part 2 of this post here.

One Sunday morning a few years ago, our band met backstage just before the worship service to pray. As we ended the prayer, I walked out on stage with the rest of our team, strapped on my guitar, and looked out into the audience.

On this particular Sunday, as I casually scanned the audience, one face stood out to me. I recognized him immediately, and there was no mistaking who he was. It was Ed Roland, from the rock band, Collective Soul.

edRoland

Ed Roland. Photo Credit: Darla Vaughan via Compfight cc

Immediately, my distracted mind began racing. It flashed back to Collective Soul music videos I’d seen on MTV and to the Collective Soul albums I’ve owned. Then, I thought to myself, “As many times as Ed has made music for me, now I’m about to make music for him.

I wish I could say that I immediately caught my errant thinking, but I didn’t realize how I’d lost perspective until later. The rest of the set, I just tried to focus on not playing any wrong chords or hitting any wrong notes. Heaven forbid I should miss a note while Ed Roland was watching.

After the service was over, I kind of hoped to see him in the crowd and maybe shake his hand or have him validate me somehow by saying something like, “Cool! Nice job, man!” (Because all rock stars say “cool” and “man”), but as soon as the service let out, he was gone. It was for the best because I’m sure I would have said something dumb anyway.

Now, lest you think my struggle with this way of thinking is relegated to my past, I should also mention another incident that happened just this weekend. Saturday night, I was at the home of an active Major League Baseball player for a mutual friend’s engagement shower. Julia and I were talking with him and learned that he goes to our church.

Photo Credit: Hello Turkey Toe via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Hello Turkey Toe via Compfight cc

As we chatted, we mentioned that we play on the worship team, and that I would be leading in one of the venues the next morning. He replied, “Oh yeah? I’ll be sure to come in there, then!” We finished chatting, and as Julia and I left the party, I caught myself feeling a bit the way I did when I had seen Ed several years before. But this time, I caught myself. I repented.

When I say that I caught myself and repented, here is what I mean.

Keeping Things in Perspective

When Thomas Edison invented the first commercially practical light bulb in 1879, it changed everything. Soon, light bulbs would dot landscapes and light homes worldwide. Eventually, astronauts would be able to see entire cities lit up at night as they orbited the earth hundreds of miles above in space. The lightbulb is an amazing invention that’s hard to imagine living without.

I like to think of fame in this way: imagine Thomas Edison standing in front of a room full of people. I am standing beside him. From the audience, you ask both of us who we are and what we’ve done.

Thomas Edison straightens his tie, looks to the floor and back to you and humbly says, “Well, I invented the first commercial lightbulb and helped make it practical for everyone to use. Then, I started an electric company to begin distributing electricity to the people of New York. It kinda took off from there, I guess.” He finishes with a smile and tip of this hat.

Thomas Edison in the electric car he invented. Photo Credit: aldenjewell via Compfight cc

Thomas Edison in the electric car he invented. Photo Credit: aldenjewell via Compfight cc

Then you look to me and say, “And what about you?”

I step forward, and in grandiose––almost comical––fashion, announce to the room, “I flipped a switch on the wall at my house, and thereby turned on a light bulb!”

Upon hearing that, everyone in the room bursts into applause, pulls out their camera phone, and begins taking pictures––of me. The crowd swarms in, asking for my autograph and wanting pictures with me. Mr. Edison makes his way to a quiet corner of the room, watching the scene unfold, somewhat amazed.

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Athletes, musicians, supermodels, and anyone else––famous or not––are all just using the talents or skills God has given them, whether they recognize it or not. So a rock star plays music. God invented music. So the great athlete plays sports. God designed the athletic human body. Praising the wrong thing there is a lot like rushing past Thomas Edison to applaud me for turning on his light bulb.

Now, don’t think, “Oh, poor Jesus. We forgot about Him!” Let me be clear: Jesus doesn’t need your applause. But if you give your praise to the things He’s made and not to him, that just makes no sense.

Performing for an Audience of One

So when I take the stage to help lead people in worship as I did yesterday, I have to remember that I am there to perform for an audience of One. No matter how many people are in the room or what their names are or what they’ve done in life, we are all there for one purpose: to make a big deal out of Jesus and what He did for us.

Not only do I perform for an audience of a One, but that One did more than just make a cool album or a game-winning catch. He made stuff like…oh, you know…supernovas, nebulae, mitochondria, cute little babies, lightning, and the double-helix DNA molecule. Minor things you may have heard of, to name a few.

Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc

Having thought about this, it was incredible to take the stage yesterday with that perspective. It’s also incredibly humbling to know that anywhere I am and anytime I want to, I can talk to Him and meet with Him right there. I don’t have to get dressed in a suit and tie. I don’t have to use fancy language. I don’t even have to be politically correct.

It would be a privilege to serve anyone with humility and open availability like that, but that is all the more true when that person is Jesus, who not only made Himself available to me, He made Himself nothing for me. That’s why Philippians 2:7-8 says:

rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

And what happened as the result of His unbelievable, improbable humility? Verses 9-11 give the answer.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I still like Collective Soul, and my new baseball playing friend is a neat guy, but these experiences were gut-checks for me. My prayer is that when I take the stage, and even when I’m off it, that I will always remember I do what I do for an Audience of One.