Category Archives: Introspection

Crap Week

Last week was a crap week.

Being a writer, I process through writing. But I’ve had a hard time processing this week. I’ve wanted to talk about it, but I’m not sure how. It’s actually made me withdraw from social media (which is probably an OK thing).

But sometimes I’ve learned it’s just easier to get things off your chest, even if you don’t have the right words to say.

So yeah, crap week:

  • Last Monday night, my cousin injured two police officers, killed my uncle, and then took his own life. I traveled to attend my uncle’s funeral, offering what little support I could to my parents, grandparents, cousins, and extended family. It was an emotionally overwhelming few days, and I’m just the out-of-town nephew. My uncle, Tom Madden, was quiet, liked the simple life, and did right by people. He served on the school board for over 20 years, an inspiring example of public service. As his son wrote, “He was always there no matter what.” There’s a lot more to say about Tom, but I just haven’t had the time and space to fully process it.
  • Saturday morning I heard the news that progressive Christian writer Rachel Held Evans had died suddenly after a series of seizures and a medically induced coma. While I didn’t personally know Rachel (though I think we emailed at some point), I’ve read all her books. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again was one of my favorite books so far this year. The Why Christian conference she co-organized was incredibly inspiring to me. Her voice will be deeply missed.
  • In the midst of all that, I heard the news that Tessie Sylvester died. Her story gained national attention in 2017 when her husband died from complications of ALS the same day she was diagnosed with inoperable stage four cancer. She leaves behind two boys and a mountain of caring family. I didn’t directly know Tessie either, but her sister served as the mayor of West St. Paul, and her strength and resolve during this trying time was a sight to behold. After a funeral later this week, there will be a celebration of Tessie’s life at an arcade on Saturday (she said to “make it fun!”). You can support the family through this memorial fund.

So like I said, a crap week.

I don’t know what to say in the face of all that.

I keep coming back to these words from the Book of Common Prayer. They’ve often struck me in a certain way, and I shared them with my mom on Monday night when no one knew whether my uncle was alive or not:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

I’m Committed to Commitment

Last year I read Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life by Jeff Goins and found the section on commitment curious. Jeff was challenging our commitment-averse generation to stick it out when things got tough. When a job becomes difficult or challenging or boring, instead of quitting and moving on to the next thing, Jeff challenged his readers to make a commitment and see it through. His point was that only by sticking through the difficult times would we make it to the rewarding times.

It’s a good lesson, especially these days when it seems like no one can commit to anything. Nobody works for a single employer their entire life anymore, let alone for more than a handful of years. People can’t commit to each other, as our divorce rate shows. We can’t commit in politics, getting tired of our candidates before they’ve even run (how many front runners did the GOP have before the 2012 primaries? Expect more of the same from both parties in 2016). Our athletes can’t commit to a team and our teams can’t commit to a city (unless we build them a shiny new stadium).

I think Jeff makes a good point. But I think I have the opposite problem. Instead of being commitment-averse, I love commitment. I want to marry commitment (and that is just a Barney Stinson line to score a one night stand, I think it fits).

  • I’ve been doing the same job for nearly 10 years. OK, I’m self-employed so that doesn’t really count. But as a freelancer, I’m all about commitment.
  • I’ve been the editor of Church Marketing Sucks since 2004.
  • I’ve been working with iThemes since 2008.
  • Come to think of it, most of my best clients I’ve been working with since the beginning.
  • I’ve been going to the same church since 2001.
  • I’ve been married since 2000.
  • I’ve been blogging since 1998.
  • I’ve been living in the Twin Cities since 1997.

I like commitment. What this probably means is that I like things to stay the same. I like comfort and safety (though not too much—we do have kids after all).

The danger for me, as opposed to bouncing around and never sticking with anything long enough to reap the rewards, is that I’ve got a lot of inertia. I’m wary of new things. I don’t exactly like change. I’m too likely to sit back and get comfortable instead of pushing ahead to forge new ground.

Hopefully I’m combating that the best I can, trying new things and not getting too stuck in my ways.

What about you? How do you feel about commitment?

Crackpot or Genius?

It’s the essential question of life: Crackpot or genius?

So this Ph.D. in economics, Mark White, has this idea that museums could sell shares in their artwork to raise money. It’s this bizarre, crazy idea to somehow monetize the holdings of museums and give them new access to capital without selling everything off. The idea was being discussed because the Detroit Institute of Arts might be desperate enough to try it.

At the end of the article, White has the best quote ever:

Innovators, he points out, are frequently wrong. “I could be a crackpot,” he said, in a telephone call. “But I think I’m a genius.”

Don’t we all? How often do we have these ideas that are either brilliant or horrible? Maybe they’re both, depending on who you ask (one person’s crackpot is another person’s genius). And maybe when you ask. It’s such a great sentiment, acknowledging the reality of ourselves: Yeah, I could be a little nuts. But I prefer to think of myself as brilliant.

And perhaps that’s what separates the crackpots from the geniuses. If you never push your idea, if you never pursue it, if you never put in the hardwork to make it a reality, then you’re just a crackpot. But if you put in the time, the sweat, the energy—then maybe you are a genius.

I could be a crackpot. But I think I’m a genius.

My Summer Has Evaporated

I didn’t know it, but my summer evaporated as soon as I went on that impromptu trip to Dallas for the Echo conference. The next week we had to travel out of town for a funeral. Then Abby had an all-week conference while making final preparations for our church’s VBS. This week is that VBS, which goes all morning (it’s 4 in the afternoon and I’m the only one awake). And next week Abby goes back to work.

Summer over.

Life has been slipping by lately and it’s all I can do to hold on. In a span of a few days I attended a funeral and a baptism (oddly enough in that order, which I’m choosing to see as hopeful).

Great Grandma and the neighbor’s dog both died within a week and a half of each other, which prompted all kinds of odd conversations: “Why did Domino die?” “Because he was old and sick.” “And why did Great Grandma die?” “Um, because she was old and sick.”

And for once the frustration and right answer actually matched up: “But how does Grandma get to heaven? She can’t just fly, she’s dead!” “I don’t know, Lexi.”

The other day I was half lamenting, half apologizing to my neighbor for not keeping up with the yard work. “You’re not raising grass, you’re raising kids,” she told me.

It’s a small comfort, but I’ll take it.

Head-Spinning Changes

I tweeted yesterday about a big, hairy, life-changing phone call (in a good way). The details are still confidential, so I can’t share anything.

But a few days back I was talking to a reporter for a story about Addition by Adoption (yes, a real live reporter—the publicity machine continues, though again I won’t divulge my sources, don’t count your chickens and all that) and we were talking about this very blog. I bragged that I’d been blogging since 1998, but then had to fess up to how awful it was back then. Full of diary-type yearning that were completely incomprehensible to anybody but me. Rather than being up front and clear about what I was writing about, I was vague and obtuse. Occasionally I think it worked (of course my blog posts didn’t have titles back then). But mostly it was weird. I’m glad I stopped.

But considering the confidential nature of this potential life changing deal, it seems like being vague and obtuse might be just the thing… or not. I tried some of that, and it felt just as pretentious as it did back then. Bubbles floating on air and all that.

So you’re left with one of those obnoxious, I-have-a-secret-na-na-na-boo-boo blog posts. It may come to nothing. And it may change everything. And wow, focusing on any kind of productivity is impossible.

The Difference Between Dreams & Reality is Hard Work

If you go back to the very beginnings of this blog I write a lot of self-indulgent tripe about wanting to change the world and be different and throw off the status quo. You’ll have to forgive me–I was an idealistic 19-year-old at the time.

In some ways, I still agree with some of those sentiments. I don’t like the idea of working eight hours a day 40 hours a week for the man. I don’t like the idea of owning a big house in the suburbs with a big lawn and a big mortgage and spending my precious hours off mowning the lawn to an exact length. I don’t like the idea of owning a house full of possessions, just like all my neighbors. I don’t want my life to center on work, soccer games with the kids and watching TV as a family. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with those things, but sometimes I wonder how much right there is in those things. Kids are starving in the world and we’re too busy to care—there’s nothing right about that.

I work for myself and set my own hours so I can watch my kids instead of paying someone else to do it (though that’s more necessity than plan). I own a big house, but a tiny lawn which I mow as infrequently as possible with a reel mower. I try (and fail) to minimize my possessions. I dream of sharing with my neighbors. I like the idea of only needing one snowblower on the block (growing up, that was my Dad—he had a massive snowblower on the garden tractor and would snowblow our driveway and then every other driveway around us that hadn’t been cleared yet). And I hope from time to time my efforts and time are centered on more than TV and work and I’m doing something to stop those starving kids from starving.

Maybe I am still that annoying 19-year-old. Though I think my dreams were grander back then.

Continue reading The Difference Between Dreams & Reality is Hard Work

New Year’s Fuddy-Duddy

I’m kind of a New Year’s fuddy duddy. Last night on Twitter I made this comment:

I can never get that excited about New Year’s. It’s like watching an arbitrary cosmic odometer rollover. Woohoo?

And it’s a sentiment I shared 11 years ago. That about sums it up. Last night we sat in bed watching The Office until we got tired and went to bed. We grunted happy new year at each other as we drifted off to sleep.

I think in 2008 we were in bed by 10:30.

In 2007 I was actually in California ringing in the New Year with a few thousand teenagers, though it was part of my job and not necessarily my choice. I also had to get up at 3 a.m. to catch my flight home, so I wasn’t so thrilled about staying up until midnight.

Apparently in 2004 I watched Star Wars.

I remember a short-lived fondue party New Year’s trend we did for a few years, but I think when kids came along the boiling oil and midnight party didn’t seem like a good combination.

In 2000 I was on my honeymoon. I remember ordering take out and watching “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Pop-Up Video Edition.”

In 1999 my then soon-to-be fiance and I were babysitting for a couple that came home early, woke up the kids we’d been working half the night to get to bed, and rang in the New Year at 10:00 p.m. We ended up back at Abby’s parents’ house watching replays of the Millennium celebrations on TV because no one bothers with a live countdown for the Central Time Zone. Yes, New Year’s in the Central Time Zone is kind of lame.

In high school I remember staying up with my girlfriend’s family to ring in the New Year and being surprised at all the finger-food appetizers that seemed to be their tradition. I don’t think my family had a New Year’s tradition.

I vaguely remember my youth group having New Year’s Eve lock-ins, but I don’t remember actually counting down to midnight. I do remember playing laser tag one year and they announced in the middle of the game that it was midnight. But c’mon—you don’t interrupt laser tag. I do remember sleeping all day on New Year’s Day and waking up in the late afternoon to go see the Insyderz and Five Iron Frenzy. A snowstorm struck and the show got moved from Clutch Cargo in Pontiac to some random church or school in Livonia, but we still made it and rocked out.

I remember another high school New Year’s when we aimlessly turned on the TV to watch the countdown because we couldn’t find anything better to do.

Yeah, I know how to party.

I’m not too big on New Year’s resolutions either.

You Have To Be Obsessive To Be Successful

I’ve been reminded lately that in order to be successful you have to be a little obsessive. There are examples like Thomas Edison’s 10,000 failed prototypes for the light bulb (according to the legend) or this story of a family raking in $1,000 in change since 2005 (they blog their daily take) or this story of a guy making a living as a dumpster-diver. OK, so maybe you have to be a lot obsessive.

The point is that success is never easy. You don’t make $1,000 by picking up a few pennies. You have to be obsessed with picking up change. You don’t bankroll your own business ideas by trash picking on the weekend. You have to know what’s worth something and what isn’t, be relentless and methodical, and stick to it even in a Canadian blizzard. In short, you have to be obsessed.

That’s how novels are written, amazing albums created, great works of art brought to life. That’s how professional bloggers make money, how techies build incredible applications, how an evangelist can speak to more people in live audiences than anyone in history. Persistence trumps talent.

My question then becomes am I obsessive enough?

Sometimes I think I’m obsessed with too many different things, I dabble too broadly to truly be obsessively successful. And I guess that’s the hard part. You can’t hedge your bets by dabbling, you have to dive in. It’s kind of scary. And that’s what makes it worthwhile.

My Pilgrimage to Chicago

Driving KevinEarlier this week I had a CFCC meeting in Chicago, so I left the wife and child carless and drove 400 miles to Chicago (gas may be expensive, but it was still cheaper than planes or trains). I used to drive that stretch of Interstate between St. Paul and Detroit all the time in college (at least six times per year?), so it was just like old times. I also realized that I haven’t taken a long road trip by myself in a long time. I think 2005 was the most recent, and before that it was probably 2001. I guess marriage does that to you.

I also realized the last time I spent any considerable amount of time in Chicago was 1999 when I lived there for a summer. Welcome to nostalgia land.

Continue reading My Pilgrimage to Chicago