I’m a slow learner. I struggle with focus. I was tested for learning issues at a young age. After four decades in the education system in some form or fashion, I learned how to get A’s. It wasn’t always that way. I failed a number of classes in high-school. I even failed gym class.
I’ve recently run across more and more angry people. People that on the outside you wouldn’t think struggle with it. Our society is trying deal with an increasing level of domestic violence. I have a history of anger that kind of ambushed me. There were times when I would be going along just fine and then BAM! Someone would do or say something that would trigger an angry outburst. After I settled down I asked myself, “Where did that come from?” Years later, I’ve learned where it came from and how to deal with it so it doesn’t control my life and motivate me to do things I will regret later. Here’s what I’ve learned.
I recently met with twenty-two-year-old Jordan to coach him in some life decisions. He had found himself in a pit through the accumulation of his decisions over the last five years of his life. Jordan is a healthy, bright, talented, and hard-working young man.
It was nearly 29 years ago to the day at my high-school football banquet. The coach – Coach Buckel – went through each player on the team and shared some glowing remarks about each of them. Anticipating the shower of compliments with both of my divorced parents in the room he got to the very last player and…and…nothing. He skipped right over me! I shrunk down into my seat hoping the earth would swallow me up. My friends spoke up and told the coach he forgot about me. So he sheepishly brought me up and made up a few words and quickly moved on. Now I wasn’t his star player for sure, but I never missed a practice and regularly took beatings at the hands of the first team all year.
Thirty years later, I’ve learned a few things about life. I know what it means to be picked last. I’ve learned how to overcome life’s little injustices. Here are some insights for you if you’ve ever been forgotten, overlooked, or picked last.
- Realize not all gifts are handed out equally. This is the cold, hard reality. Some people will excel at things you struggle with. Some have great athletic ability. Some excel at music and theater. Some can sing like birds and run like deer. Some people can do all of them! We cannot control the gifts God gave us, but we can control what we do with them. While on the football field, I couldn’t run as fast as others nor could I generate the force of someone twice my size. It is what it is.
- Find what you’re good at. While gifts are not handed out equally, you did get some natural ability. Part of the fun of life is searching for these seeds of greatness. What types of things come easier to you than your peers? Where do find endurance with joy? When others want to quit, you want to keep going. What things do you enjoy reading about? What interests do you have? What gifts do others see in you that you may not even notice? I may not have been a great football player, but I could fly an airplane soon after I received my driver’s license. It wasn’t long and I was taking my friends up into my world.
- Work harder than your peers. Those players on the team that the coach didn’t forget worked all year on their strength and their skills. I didn’t. I procrastinated and didn’t get everything I could have from my talent. Champions are made in the off season. You’re gifts do not come to you fully developed. You must put in the time to see them blossom. Experts tell us that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. I don’t think it takes that long to blossom a gift, but you get the point. There is no shortcut to anyplace worth going. No matter your talent, you must endure being bad at something long enough to be good at it.
- Your value is not rooted in your performance. When I stunk at football, it didn’t make me less of a person. It didn’t make me less valuable as a human (a team-mate maybe, but not a person). Your value is rooted in the fact that God created you and invested his glory and image in you. He purchased and redeemed you at the cost of His son on a Roman cross. You carry the value of Christ, regardless of your performance. This truth liberates you to try and sometimes fail at different things. When picked last, you can simply admit, “I’m not so good at this game, I’ll do my best and keep a positive attitude throughout the experience.” There will be a time when your talent will save the day. Perhaps it is not this day, but your value doesn’t hinge on your performance.
- Be a good cheerleader and find a way to serve. When my daughter’s first grade class built a float for our city parade, each parent needed to help. I showed up ready to contribute, but a number of alpha males with their cordless drills and nail guns took over. Building things was their thing. Me, not so much. Not picked again. After a few minutes, I realized the team didn’t need another person building. I stepped back and looked for another way to serve. I slipped away (no one noticed) and bought some pizza and drinks. Everyone appreciated my contribution. Instead of sulking when picked last, be a good cheerleader and find a way to serve. Jesus told us the path to greatness runs through servant hood.
Life will present many opportunities for you to forgotten and left out. How you handle these situations will make a great difference in the trajectory of your life. You can grow bitter or better. Find your gifts, grow them, work hard, serve and cheer others, and you will find a lot of people will want you for their team!
I’ve recently been working as a tutor and self-defense instructor for a group of junior-high and high- school boys through the Joseph Center. The Joseph Center is a ministry devoted to helping boys mature into men who know who they are as sons (adopted by their heavenly Father), leaders, lovers, protectors and providers. More than once I’ve come home grieved at where they are as young men. (Not all of them for sure. But enough to spot a trend.)
It comes down to this: There is no pill for “can’t.”
My partners and I do our best to challenge and call them up to the level of their potential but more often than not we are thwarted by a blockage in their mind of “can’t.” One day after class, one of our leaders said of one boy, “It’s my goal this entire semester to get (boys name) to stop making excuses. Every time I ask him to do something, he has an excuse why he can’t.”
Winners find a way, losers find an excuse.
Somewhere along the line for these boys, “can’t” became convenient. “I’m not a good test taker.” “I’m not good at math.” “I have ADD.” “I’m not a good reader.” One after another, the excuses flow from their mouths like well-rehearsed lines of some kind of mantra.
While each of these boys deal with complex situations at home, somewhere early in their life, the adults stopped expending the energy to expect excellence and started tolerating excuses for poor performance. Yes, it takes energy to expect and even more energy to inspect. But the adults in a child’s life — starting with the PARENTS — must create a culture where “can’t” is a dirty word. God has given each of these boys incredible potential. Many will graduate below grade level in every subject because somewhere in their life people stopped expecting and they started tolerating mediocrity and worse.
We have found ways to medicate and pacify our young men but I have news – you can’t medicate “can’t”. You can only lay out healthy, high expectations and strong, real consequences for not meeting them. Many of these boys struggle with basic math – addition, multiplication, and so forth. Most of these boys suffer not from ADD but from “Lazy Brain Syndrome.” They do not struggle because they are mentally impaired, they struggle because somebody gave up on them and allowed them to settle for “can’t” because “smart” is hard.
If your son cannot read and perform basic skills then you have the power to stop their life until they get it right. It is not the teacher’s fault. They don’t go home with your son. Pull out their pacifier (television, the internet and video games) and pull out the old-fashioned flash cards and get busy. I don’t care if they’re bored. I don’t care if they whine. No dinner before we drill the 12-multiplication family! You control the food supply! Their room has a door and a circuit breaker, doesn’t it? The door can come off and the breaker can be switched off! Switch off the breaker and switch on their brain! They will need it! And we need them to bring forth their talents to bless the world!
A young man walked in today for the tutoring session with a comic book. I said, “What’s this?” “Homework,” he said. “They let you read a comic book for literature class?” came my astounded reply. “Yup, because the other books bore me.” Somewhere along the line, a teacher and a parent said that this boy’s entertainment is more important than his education. We have lowered the bar.
Last week during my mentoring session with a third-grade boy, the teacher suggested we play the “calculator game.” I asked, “What’s the calculator game?” “You get a dry erase board, the student gets a calculator and he calls out math problems and you race to see who can get the answer faster.” I questioned, “You mean, I get the calculator and he gets the dry-erase board?” “No, he gets the calculator and you get the dry-erase board.” My reply, “I already passed the third grade.” I took the dry-erase board and left the room grieved as the young man used the calculator to solve 10 + 3.
I realize not everyone has the same academic capacity. I recognize the classroom is not suited for all learning styles, but no learning, no achievement, no success will come with “can’t” in the way.
A generation ago, men rode on the end of a missile all the way to the moon using a slide-rule and some guts. Now, too many of our children have people in their lives that have fooled them into thinking that a productive, healthy life can be carved out on this rock without, blood, sweat, and tears. And the students have trained the adults in their life to lower the bar so they can step over it without straining themselves — they just say the magic words, “I can’t.”
I’m pretty sure this prayer is not theologically correct but knowing you have never been afraid of misguided, but honest seekers, I am daring this prayer. Please, God, I want a Bat-phone. Yes, you heard right…a Bat-Phone.
You see, as a pastor, I am privileged to be the point person for many people at the end of their rope. And after listening to their stories, I often have mixed reactions. On one hand, I am moved with compassion by their plight. And I am ashamed to say that sometimes, I just want to give people beatings. I know this prayer just took a bad turn but I shall continue. So many people crawl into my church whipped and wounded by the selfishness of others. I am seeing an exponential increase in the stories of abuse, neglect, and devaluing of the image of God in people.
There were times, Lord, when you just had to break out the whip and start turning over tables. I bet that felt good. Your sense of justice rose up and you took care of business. Sometimes I feel that if each church could call Batman, things would be better. Batman doesn’t ever intend to permanently harm people, but he’s really good at delivering those necessary “lessons.” If I had a Bat-phone, I promise not to misuse it. But consider these scenarios…
Scenario 1. A poor, disheveled young lady walks into my church asking for the pastor. “Will you please help me?” “How can I help?” I answer. “I just got back from the hospital where I just took a pregnancy test. And I will not make it home, can you give me gas money?” she pleads. “Please come in and sit and tell me your story.” I offer her a seat. She explains, “I’m with this guy and I’m pregnant with his baby and I need gas to get home. Please pastor, I have no-one.” My response, “You have the father of this baby.” “He won’t help me, and he has a real anger problem.” comes her reply. “Why do you stay with him?” Her answer, “I love him.” “Uhhh, wait here.” On my new phone, “Batman, yes, I have an assignment….”
Scenario 2. I receive a late-night call from a distraught mother looking for a place to house her children. Her husband is going off the charts drunk, angry, and she fears for their safety. We go to secret meeting spot to collect the children. On the way, I call Batman.
Scenario 3. I receive a call from a distraught parent whose daughter has snuck out to rendezvous with a man nearly twice her age. My call, “Batman, stay home, I’d like to take care of this one myself.”
God, I have noticed a tragic shift in society. We have devalued our children and left them unprotected. All the while, our society has fed a dangerous predatory instinct into a generation of males that synergizes with a sense of entitlement. Their masculine energy is spent destructively, instead of constructively. Somewhere along the way we have failed to teach them that our girls deserve respect, honor, and protection. Equally, we have failed to teach our girls to that they deserve respect, and they are worthy of dignity, honor and protection from these same men. We seem to be reaping a whirlwind.
Lord, remember when a young lady walked into my office distraught that a married man at her work was constantly making sexual advances toward her? I sent a signed postcard to his work-place that read, “Larry, if you don’t stop making sexual advances towards ________, I’m going to tell your wife.” It stopped.
Dear God, please send us a generation of protectors. Men who know you and love you. Men who are known by what they stand for in public and stand against in private. Men who will channel their masculine power to push back the darkness of our day and live out the truth in love. And give us a generation of men who will hold each other accountable, and if needed, to deliver a few healthy, constructive, loving, table-turning lessons to the boys of this generation.
A fed up pastor
I am hesitant to write you this letter. I know I need to but there is a part of me that likes having you ignorant. I enjoy the freedom your distracted indifference provides me but I also see a different kind of prison forming around me and well… I need your help.
I need you to please unplug me. Do it quick. I know when I was young, the T.V., video games, and internet provided you a convenient pacifier for a rambunctious child, but now that I am growing up, they are hindering me from becoming a man.
I now spend between 7 and 9 hours per day looking at a screen. I realize we live in a technological age, but please unplug me. My developing brain needs to grow the ability to concentrate, to focus, and to rest.
The digital juice you have allowed me to drink has had an effect on me.
It has trained me to expect easy success. I have learned to be a guitar hero, but the guitar you gave me for Christmas two years ago lies buried in my closet. I won’t be able to play it at the next camp fire. Had I devoted the time I spent plugged into the game to the real instrument, I most definitely could. But when I picked up the guitar, it hurt my fingers. I felt clumsy, I couldn’t come close to my virtual virtuosity. So I took the easy road. Now I’m beginning to realize, there are no short-cuts to anyplace worth going. In real life, success doesn’t come through a few hours and some cheat codes. It takes 10,000 hours to master a real skill. I’ve mastered some skills, but I’m finding the world needs real heroes, not just guitar heroes. Please unplug me.
The digital juice has trained me to consume rather than produce. I’ve spent my childhood enjoying the hard labor of other people but I have not learned to produce anything of value. I have enjoyed the production of other programmers, producers, animators, and writers. But I have not learned any of those skills. A sure sign of maturity is the ability to produce more than I consume. In a globally competitive world, I have little to offer because I haven’t found that job yet that will pay me to watch You-Tube. I suggest you teach me the difference between a consumptive technology and a productive technology. Then make me earn my consumptive technology time by spending time learning productive technology like video and audio editing, programming, web development, and graphic design. And don’t forget to help me learn to write because the element of story is woven into everything.
Staying plugged in has trained my appetites to crave the counterfeit. I feel like I want to conquer something. I want to be a hero. That’s why the battle games appeal to me. However, my life must be lived in the real world. I have shunted my masculine energy into airbrushed girls and virtual battles and I have little left to conquer in the real world. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to care for and steward a real person. I have traded ruling in the real for conquering the counterfeit. Sadly, the world needs my positive masculine energy to push back evil and carve out a place for my family. But it’s scary to me because life doesn’t have a reset button. Unplug me and help me learn where I fit into the real story, not just the virtual one.
So much access to the internet has stained my imagination. I know you think I’m a good kid – and I am. But you have left me in over my head. The internet is like a big city – with all the good and bad a big city has to offer. And from a young age, you have left me to wander around unguarded. I know you told me there was bad stuff out there, but I’m curious, now I’m stained. You left me to walk around Detroit at night and now I struggle to get those images out of my mind. It has influenced how I look at girls, sex, and family. It has fed appetites in me that I need to control in order to live a healthy life. I realize now that you were too preoccupied in your own world to know that YouTube, Vine, and other popular websites give me access to images that stain my imagination. But I appeal to you now, please unplug me.
I know I will throw a fit. I’ll be angry. I’ll most certainly be bored. But let me be bored, it is a signal that my soul is starting to detox and my mind is plowing the soil to grow a healthy imagination. After awhile, I may go outside and discover things like sticks, rocks , and fish. Help me. Unplug me, the world will thank you.
Post Script: I have worked with boys and men now for over 20 years. The above post reflects my observations and objective research. I have watched the digital world shunt the best of our boys’ masculinity. In response, I have launched a ministry called the Joseph Center designed to train the next generation of godly men to be sons, leaders, lovers, protectors, and providers. I would also recommend the article below by a pediatric occupational therapist Chris Brown below.
In working to help marriages stay healthy and men to become better men, and also having 46 years experience actually being a man, I want to speak to a long-standing trend that must be addressed and fought – I call it “Man Creep.”
“Man Creep” is the phenomenon where men commonly pursue a girl passionately and lovingly, and then after marriage, they get romantically lazy and vision-less. They settle into a blob on the couch, become intimately familiar with the remote control, sports-pages, game-consoles, or worse, the bodies of exploited and pretending females that happen to be someone else’s daughters, mothers, and wives. We start well, but over time, we “creep” into lethargy. The passion and vision that attracted our wives to us has vanished like a sandcastle in the tide.
God programmed men to hunt. We love the thrill of the chase. But we also have a tendency – rooted in our selfish nature — to stop the hunt when we’ve bagged our quarry. This tendency must be fought within a marriage. Here are three practices that help fight “Man Creep.”
1. Cultivate your love of God and your vision for God. This must come first before all else. You must find yourself as a son toward your Heavenly Father before you find yourself as a husband, boyfriend, employee, or anything else. Your primary identity is that of God’s adopted child. (If you haven’t turned away from sin and placed your life in God’s hands, you will always be chasing this true identity with counterfeits.) When your love for God flourishes, you keep a clear vision of where you fit into His redemption plan. When you have a clear and compelling vision, the couch loses its appeal. And you want to take people along your journey to that heavenly city. When you lead your home in this way, things don’t get old.
2. See the complexities of the women in your life as a challenge, not a burden. When I talk to young men about the specter of spending the rest of your life with one woman they seem to think that will be boring. I gently lean close and tell them that the woman on your wedding day may be the same person ten years later, but I guarantee, she is not the same WOMAN. Her passions, turn-ons/offs, ideas, moods, wardrobe, pursuits, and many more things will change during her lifetime. If you spend your energy continually pursuing this moving target (then add to the mix winning your daughter’s heart), you will not have time, energy, or money to entertain the thought of another.
3. Own the responsibility to blossom your wife. When a woman trusts herself to you, she places herself in a vulnerable position. If you allow her to plant herself into the soil of your heart then you must accept the responsibility to help her become all that God made her to be. If you lead her well, she will blossom into the most beautiful thing you could imagine. If you don’t, she may very well shrivel and die inside. Women have two questions continually rolling around in their head: 1) am I worthy to be loved? and 2) will I be ok? If, by your words and actions, you reassure her that she is lovely and she is safe, she will have the confidence to blossom under the sovereign care of God and the delegated authority of your leadership. If, however, you create uncertainty in her mind regarding her beauty and/or security through pornography, harshness, aloofness, indifference to her presence, financial carelessness, and a controlling/jealous attitude, she will shrivel and grow hardened or numb. A good measure of a man’s leadership is the blossoming of his wife. You cannot control everything about her, but you can cultivate healthy soil for her heart to grow.
Keep in mind that females aren’t trophies to win and place on a shelf. When one places her trust in you as a daughter or a wife, you have not won them but have earned the opportunity of knowing them. If you fight the tendency toward “Man Creep”, your home will be filled with bright, glorious, and sweet-smelling treasures.
(By the way, there is such a thing as “female creep,” I’ll let my wife write about that.)
As a pastor for the last couple of decades, I have worked with hundreds of families. I have learned from great men and women who gave great examples of leadership in their homes. I have also had a front row seat to the pain and generational chaos resulting from poor leadership.
Few of us have had training in living as a godly leader. Let me share with you a few insights that I’ve learned along the way.
When I teach on family leadership, I explain a few foundational truths. First, I explain that leading a home is the second most difficult job in America (the first is being a girl in junior high). Second, I don’t tell men to be leaders. I explain they already are leaders. The question really is where and how are they leading?
Anyone who follows a leader knows that having confidence in that leader inspires us to follow better. If I could give you one primary reason why our marriage works it is this: my wife trusts me and I trust her. Trust is one of the primary assets in any relationship. So how do you cultivate confidence and trust in your leadership within the home?
1. Integrity. Integrity is doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. One of the challenges of leading a home is that the people you lead live with you. They see your best and worst days. When I keep my commitments, especially in the small things, this inspires trust and confidence. How we handle decisions relating to money often tells others the state of our integrity. If we drain family funds for our toys, if we rob God of His tithe, if we look to cheat on taxes or rationalize away decisions that shade the truth, we will still be the leader but people will not follow with confidence.
2. Connection with God through prayer and an understanding of the Word. I have been a part of trying to help families heal after someone in the family caught the leader doing something he shouldn’t. It is far better to have your wife catch you on your knees before God or pouring over the Scriptures. Your kids should see you praying, they should hear you sneak in on them at night and pray for them. Too many kids have memories of their parents fighting as they cower in their rooms. We need to imprint memories of parents praying together regularly and over large family decisions.
When a wife sees a man regularly open the Bible (not just in church), she grows confident in his leadership because he is demonstrating his willingness to follow his heavenly Father. He may not get it right all the time. But God will protect that family because the leader has a heart that fears the Lord. Learn what God is saying to you through what He has said to those who have gone before you.
3. Live as the lead lover. God is unfolding a story of redemption. He has written you and your family into the script. His story is both a love story and a war story. In order for you and your family to take their full place in His story, we must direct our passions to the right loves and the right fight. Our calendar and our bank accounts leave a trail of our loves and battles. We fully realize our love when we express it through actions, words, and songs. You are the leader. Your family already knows your greatest loves. When the youth pastor asks, “What does your dad love the most?” Will they instinctively say, “God?” When they ask, “How do you know?” They should be able to point to your acts of devotion, music collection, tithing records and how you treat them when no one is looking.
4. Be the lead warrior. What battles have you chosen? Too many men conquer the counterfeit rather than rule in the real. We live out our battle dreams through video games and vicarious sporting events when the world is desperate for real heroes. Pick a fight! Adopt a cause as a family. One year I was looking for a fight. I had two teenage boys, and a forest full of trees on my land. I contacted the local senior center and asked them if they knew of a senior citizen that needed wood for the winter. They connected me with someone and together we cut, split, and stacked a pile of wood that heated a man’s house for the winter. Assess your strengths as a family, then deploy them to make a difference in God’s world. Show them what a real warrior looks like! Be the lead lover and lead warrior!
In honor of the twenty year anniversary of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, I share with you how to do life without a lead pipe. If you recall, at the U.S. figure skating championships in – of all places – Detroit, MI, Nancy Kerrigan was walking off the practice ice when a goon, hired by rival skater Tonya Harding’s husband, whacked her in the knee with a pipe hoping to derail her Olympic dream while giving her rival a leg up.
For a large portion of my life I could relate to Harding because I was a cheater. I cheated my way through school. I invented new ways to cheat. I cheated in math, in English, physics, gym, I cheated in every subject. I used a lead pipe to get ahead. I broke into classrooms to fill in scores that I had never completed. I would sneak looks on other papers. I forged report cards. I had a lead pipe and I wasn’t afraid to use it. Then one day I went to flight school.
Problem. You can’t cheat your way through flight school. At that time, God was working in my heart to live with integrity and my flight instructors were working on my brain to establish discipline. Would you want to ride in a plane flown by a guy who cheated his way through flight school? To become a commercial pilot, you must pass a minimum of three written exams, three 2 hour oral exams and three flying tests. No way to cheat here. Either you know it or you don’t.
When they took my lead pipe away, I learned a few things that may benefit you. Cheating isn’t going away, in fact, we have seen a dramatic increase. Recently, the Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. The survey found that 35 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls – 30 percent overall – acknowledged stealing from a store within the past year. One-fifth said they stole something from a friend; 23 percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative. 64 percent said they have cheated on a test.
I cheated because I wanted the easy way to performance. I used the lead pipe to get ahead. Had I known what I lost in the process I never would have done it.
First, I lost money. I spent four years in high-school under caring, dedicated teachers, many of whom I could name today. But, instead of taking advantage of the free learning opportunities provided in high-school, I had to pay college instructors and sit in remedial classrooms. I also missed out on thousands of dollars of need-based scholarships because I scored poorly on the ACT.
Second, I lost a good reputation. I realized that what people think of you really matters. Favor travels through people. If people think you’re a cheater, liar, or thief, they won’t take chances on you. Your reputation precedes you. Now that I make hiring and firing decisions, I understand how much people judge your character.
Third, I lost character. While cheating gives you quick shortcut to apparent success, it cost you the key character traits it takes to truly succeed. Cheating cost me the ability to think and solve problems. It cost me the ability to persevere and delay gratification.
Fourth, cheating cost me freedom – ironically the very thing I was looking for. Sin is like that. It steals the very thing you’re looking for. In reality, only discipline brings freedom. It’s the disciplined athlete that has the freedom to perform at a high level. Only the disciplined musician has the ability to play skillfully. Only the disciplined student has the freedom a scholarship brings. If you want freedom, gain discipline, taking shortcuts robs you of freedom. And there are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going.
So how do you succeed without a lead pipe? Do the hard work. Develop your talents. Do your best in every situation. Resolve that it’s better to be poor and honest than rich and a cheater (Proverbs 19:1). Discipline is the currency by which we purchase our dreams. Tonya Harding was a terrific figure skater. She won six national class competitions, including the U.S. championships. Now she’s a punch-line. Cheating stole from her the spoils of her hard work and talent. Don’t rob the world through a mediocre you. And, don’t rob yourself of the joys and freedom discipline brings. Happy skating!