Category: Purpose

27 Nov 2017

It’s a Reflective Time of Year

This is a special time of year.  We’re in the final stretch and it’s a time that we begin to ponder our lives.  What kind of year has it been for you?  I believe it’s valuable to reflect and account for your life this time of year.  Enjoy the changing of the seasons, the decorations, the great food, and time spent with family and friends.  Cherish those you love and prepare to welcome in a new year.  But, take time to yourself and soak in what was this year and how it changed you, impacted you, hurt you, and uplifted you.

Looking back and reflecting on the past year can be encouraging and hurtful.  Life is edgy and sometimes cold and challenging.  In a moment, you’re on top of the world and in the next, you’re downright miserable.  No matter what happened this year, all of us are different than we were when this year started.

For me, I lost an uncle, I experienced extreme physical pain in a fire accident, and I failed to meet several goals.  I also experienced profound growth professionally and took my family on incredible vacations, and enjoyed financial success.  This was a year of new beginnings and a glimpse of what’s to come for me and my family.  It’s been an incredibly busy year with not much time to reflect; therefore, I’m determined to use my holiday season to slow down and ponder what’s important to me.  How about you?

I believe it’s healthy to reflect and if done right, can be a valuable exercise that will allow you to prepare for next year.  Here’s what I plan to do:

1. Mourn the losses:  Loss is a part of life.  Loss comes in many forms.  It could be the death of a loved one, losing money or an opportunity, loss of quality time with those that you love.  You feel those losses deep within you bones.  It’s healthy to acknowledge the loss and the effects of it.

 2. Celebrate the wins:  Thinking about the bad comes easy and it’s natural to account for what’s missing, but what about what you DO have in life?  How did you win this year?  It doesn’t have to be big wins, they can be small, but it’s important to acknowledge them and celebrate them.  Did you repair a fractured relationship?  Did you get a raise?  Did you lose 10 lbs.?  Let the happiness and satisfaction of those wins fill your soul and provide fuel for the momentum you will need going into the New Year.

 3. Acknowledge the hurts:  People hurt me this year.  It’s unavoidable and to be expected.  Relating with others is messy and it’s inevitable that you will get hurt.  Acknowledge those hurts and assess how it’s affecting you.  It is okay to feel hurt, but it’s not okay to hold onto that pain.  Forgive those that hurt you and let it go, don’t carry the frustration of challenging relationship into the New Year.

 4. Recognize the fears:  Fear has no place in your life.  Fear, if allowed to go unchecked, can dominate your decisions and stunt your growth.  Don’t allow it and bring it into the light and confess your fears to someone you trust.  What are you afraid of this year?  What’s holding you back?  What frightens you going into next year?  Acknowledge your fears and then ask, “Why do they scare me so much?”  Don’t worry about finding solutions for those fears, just bringing your fears out into the open will be enough to begin the process of healing.  Your solutions will come in time.

 5. Be grateful:  A key component of healthy reflection is to acknowledge gratitude and reflect on your blessings and on those in your life that are a gift and enhance your life.  It’s healthy to remember who’s blessed you and recount the wonderful things you have in your life.  It will provide perspective and push out the bad that’s developed in your heart.  Write down everything you’re thankful for and allow that spirit of gratitude to enter your heart and bring a smile to your face.  It feels good, doesn’t it?

 6. Dream of what’s to become:  Open your imagination and begin to dream about what you hope for in the New Year.  Don’t hold back and worry about resources, just dream and reflect on what is truly important to you and begin to ask, “what if?”  Allow your soul to explore the edges of your dreams and begin to expand your mind to the possibilities.  You only live once, don’t hold back.

 7. Give everything to God:  The final step, and most important, is to bring God into your plans, for without God, you have no plans.  There’s no doubt that God is in control of my life and when allowed into my life, He blesses exceedingly and abundantly more than I can ever imagine.  Once I reflect and take account of my life, I turn it over to the Lord and ask that He take control and guide me in a way that will honor Him the most.  I admit, this is the hardest step for me, because I often lean on my own understanding, but every time I submit my plans to the Lord, He never lets me down, without exception.  Get into the habit of giving your life back to the Lord and He will lead you down the right path.

Life is a beautiful adventure that gives so much and takes so much from us.  We all do our best and ultimately fall short of expectations, but never give up and continue to give your best.  Stop and reflect on what you accomplished this year and where you fell short.  Face your fears and don’t be afraid to dream big.  If you’re still breathing and your heart continues to beat life into your body, then you have purpose and people are blessed by you.

Reflect on your life, enjoy your life.  Take it all in, for it will soon become a distant memory and the world will move on and so should you.  Take a moment to yourself and acknowledge this year.  Take a deep breath and shed the necessary tears and smile on what you experienced.  Begin to dream for what is to come and don’t fear your next chapter, embrace your life, grab on and enjoy what your future holds.

Happy holidays to you and your family, I’m grateful for you!

03 Oct 2017

If You Could Do It Over Again, Would You?

There’s nothing more majestic than a crisp, fall, Saturday afternoon at West Point, nestled off the Hudson River, among the rocks, deciduous trees and the fall colored leaves welcoming the changing of the seasons.  The sights and sounds of a collegiate football game fill the air as I sit with my longtime friends and enjoy the pageantry that comes with a gridiron contest, a tradition nearly as old as West Point itself.

Jason Stewart, the Captain of the 1993 sixth place finishing NCAA national college men’s cross country team, is the reason I find myself reminiscing with some of my closest and dearest friends this afternoon.  We descend upon the Academy, 24 years after our journey began, to celebrate Jason for being inducted into the Army Collegiate Sports Hall-of-Fame, with five other well deserved former Army athletes that make up the Hall’s class of 2017.

It’s an emotional and inspiring weekend filled with hugs, smiles, and old stories that bring a flood of memories back to the surface, allowing me and my teammates to reconnect and rediscover our forgotten youth.

I find myself sitting with my longtime friend and teammate, Jack Swift, during the football game.  We share a bucket of popcorn and a bottle of water.  We cheer on the Army football team and catch up on our families, careers and lives.  As always, when I gather with this group of men and women, I reflect and take account of my life since I graduated from the Academy.  Jack and I engage in a genuine conversation about life and compare our thoughts on the world, our accomplishments, and our dreams.

I turn to Jack, during a pause in the action on the football field, “Jack, let me ask you something.”

He turns and smiles, “What is it?”

“If you could do it all over again, knowing what you know now, would you?”  I scan his face and wait for his response.

“Definitely.” Jack states with confidence and without hesitation.

“Why?” I ask, probing his answer.

“Because this is real.” Jack gestures to our friends and teammates talking and laughing with one another in the stands. “What we have is real.”

“What do you mean?”  I ask.

“So much of our world is fake and only surface deep.  A kid goes to Harvard, because of his dad’s money.  Some rich guy buys a nice place on the beach in Malibu, but there is no true value in it.  Not the kind of value we developed as a team, as brothers.”  He pauses and looks over at me.  “I’ll take what we have, our relationships and our experiences.  You can ask anyone of these guys for anything, and they’ll give it to you, because we love and support one another in any situation.  Yup, I would do it all over again, no doubt.”

Our group rented a house overlooking the beautiful Hudson River.  We gather each night in the living room around a roaring fire and share memories, discuss current events, and debate politics and social issues.  I cherish every moment of it and feel honored to be a part of such a great group of people.

Eventually, like all good things, the weekend comes to end and we hug one another and say our goodbyes. I head home inspired to know that I’m a part of something special, and yes, something real.

I ponder my conversation with Jack on my flight home.  He’s right, our group has a deep and meaningful connection that time nor controversy can destroy, but why?  What makes our connections real, what makes anything real?  I believe it’s because of four simple, but powerful elements that true friendship provides:

  1. Grace – Our group extends grace to one another. We come from all walks of life and have varying backgrounds and beliefs.  We respect each other’s opinions, although we may not agree, and we accept each other unconditionally, despite our flaws and past mistakes.
  2. Respect – We respect each other for who we are as people. We laugh and joke with one another, but there’s always an underlying respect for every person in the group.
  3. Unconditional Love – There’s a basic, simple, and foundational love we’ve built over the years that’s undeniable. We cheer for each other’s successes and we feel each other’s pain.  We don’t keep score nor do we manipulate each other.  We simply love one another and truly enjoy every interaction, every moment, and every memory we share.  We embrace each other as brothers and sisters, as a family.
  4. Servanthood – Above all, we serve each other. We approach our interactions with humility and search for ways to help others in our group.  Whether it’s tickets to a game, sharing reward miles for cheaper flights, lending money for business ventures, offering advice on life, or simply showing up and supporting each other in times of joy and sorrow, we continually serve one another without expecting anything in return.

I’m blessed to call my former Army teammates and classmates my friends.  I’m honored that they accept me for who I am and love me, despite my flaws.  Most important, I’m blessed to have something real in my life.  In the end, I’ve come to my own conclusion that if given the choice, I too, would do it all over again.  How about you?  Would you make the same decisions, or choose the same path if you could do it all over again?  If your answer is, no, then what do you need to change in your life to make it more real and worth choosing again at the end of it?

05 Sep 2017

The Day We Met an Angel in NYC

My family followed me down the steps into the busy underground enigma that is the New York City subway system.  The sounds, the smells, and the visuals are like no other experience on earth.  The mass of humanity and the stale air can be daunting to outsiders, like me and my family.

We wanted to see the Statue of Liberty that day, a must-see experience for every American.  I decided to lead my family underground and try my hand at NYC’s infamous mass transit system.  I stared at the signs and attempted to make sense of it all.  I was confused as I tried to decipher the signs and the colorful maps that seemed to mock me.  My wife, Alia, and my kids stood patiently behind me as I tried my best to put on a confident demeanor and hoped that they didn’t pick up on the fact that I was clueless.

“You need some help, Buddy?  Where are trying to go?” A determined voice interrupted my thoughts.  I looked up to find a man in his mid to late 40s standing a few feet away and staring at me with an impatient look on his face.

“Um, yeah, I’m trying to get to the Statue of Liberty.” I respond meekly.

“Follow me, I’ll take you where you need to go.” The mystery man responded and turned away and confidently motioned me to follow.  I paused and looked back at Alia.  She shrugged her shoulders.  I found myself following the man as he weaved around other travelers navigating the platform of the subway tunnel leading us to the train that would take us where we desired to go.

The stranger, an average sized man about my height, was casually dressed in flip-flop shoes, loose fitting designer shorts, a Tommy Hilfiger long sleeved blue collared shirt, and a white fedora hat with a colorful band wrapped around it just above the brim.  His hat was jammed on top of his disheveled peppered grey hair that playfully peeked out of the bottom and haphazardly laid over his ears.  He looked like a retired mob boss, and dressed like he should be betting dog races down in sunny Florida.  His playful smile and kind eyes drew me in, so I continued to engage with him.  He found a seating arrangement on the train for my family and proceeded to plop down next to me and engage in conversation.

He introduced himself as Matthew, or “Macky”, as most call him.  He’s a writer, a Vanderbilt University graduate, and a lifelong New Yorker.  He asked where we’re from and what we’re looking to see on this trip.  I explained all the sights we were attempting to take in that day, at which he enthusiastically responded, “Look, I’m off work and heading home.  If you like, I can show you around the city, from a New Yorker’s perspective, are you interested?”

Alia and I made eye contact and were skeptical, what did he want from us?  “Hey, I’m not here to scam you, friends.”  Macky smiled, as if he read our minds, “You seem like nice people, and I’ve got nothing else to do until about 5 pm, when I’m scheduled to meet up with the boys for a few drinks!” He peeked over at me and winked, then playfully jabbed me in my ribs.  I decided to give Macky a try and I agreed to allow him to escort us around the city. “Great!” Macky claps his hands and briefed us on his plans and the various stops he would like to show us.

We found ourselves in the heart of Chinatown with Macky explaining various facts and interesting tidbits about the area.  Macky was a congenial fellow and seemed to enjoy showing us his city.  He pointed out various landmarks and carefully explained where we were going next and why.  He slowly gained our trust as he shared more about himself, joked with my kids, and expertly navigated us through the various obstacles of the city.  He seemed to know exactly when to jump on the subway and which ferry to take and the best route that would maximize our tour.  He stopped and took pictures for us and found the best New York hotdog in town for us to feast on and keep up our strength.  At one point during the tour, my son, Adrian, puked due to over stimulation and low blood sugar.  Macky didn’t miss a beat.  He guided Adrian to the nearest bathroom and took care of him.  After he returned, he gleefully announced, “I think Uncle Chuckles is going to be ok!”  We all laughed at Adrian’s new nickname and continued our tour.

Eventually I asked Macky how we could compensate him or return the favor for his generosity.  Macky smiled, “No need, I’m happy to do it.”

“But, why?  Why would you take your time to show total strangers around town like this?” I asked.

“All ships rise in a high tide, my friend.”  Macky turned towards me and gently patted me on my back.  “Visitors, like you and your nice family, are critical to our city and it’s important to me that you have a good time.  I hope your kids will remember this and one day go out of their way to help those around them too!”

Macky took us through Chinatown, over the Brooklyn Bridge, past City Hall, and on a Ferry, that sailed us right next to the Statue of Liberty, allowing us to take great pictures along the way.  Whatever we wanted to see, he obliged us and took us on the best and most fun route he could find.  Over a four-hour period, Macky entertained us with jokes, educated us on fun facts about certain landmarks, humored us with our silly New York questions, and did it all with a joy and kindness that I was not expecting from a native New Yorker.

When it was time for us to head back to our hotel, Macky guided us back to the Subway and got on board with us and made sure we knew how to get back to our hotel.  When the subway car slowed, and stopped where Macky would depart us, he shook my hand, patted my kids on the head, and politely kissed my wife goodbye on her cheek.  He tipped his hat to me and my family, winked at us as he stepped out of the subway and yelled back, “Until next time!” and then he disappeared among the mass of humanity exiting the train.

My wife turned and smiled at me as our train car jerked back to life, “I miss Macky already!”  I nodded and agreed with her.  What an experience and a life lesson Macky taught us that beautiful day in the heart of one of the busiest places on earth.  Despite being busy and having his own life to lead, Macky chose to slow down and show up in our lives and extend a kindness that left an impact on my family.  I’m sure Macky had several things he could’ve done that day, but he spent his afternoon with us instead.  Hundreds of people passed us by in that Subway, but Macky chose to stop, to slow down for just a moment, and to sacrifice for us.

The ultimate expression of love is through sacrifice.  The most precious commodity we have on earth is our time and our health, both are perishable gifts that we must steward and carefully expend on things that matter.  What better way to spend one’s time than to spend it loving another human being.  Macky didn’t know my family and had no reason to stop and help us, but when he did and proceeded to give us four hours of his life, he showed us the greatest example of love and made a life-long impression on us.

The world can be very dark and there are indeed evil people that walk among us, but for every evil soul that occupies this world, there are dozens of Macky’s spreading love and kindness that will ultimately defeat all darkness.  New York is a better place because Macky lives in it, and my family and I are grateful we had the pleasure to experience true kindness and love from a lifelong New Yorker that we’ll never forget.  Thank you, Macky!

21 Aug 2017

Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life!

How often do you reflect on your life?  When you do reflect on your life, how do you do it?  Are you intentional about it?  Most important, what do you think about?  Do you think about the “how?” or the “why?”

According to Dr. John C. Maxwell, in his book, “Thinking for a Change”, most of us don’t know how to think.  Most don’t take the time to think and reflect on our lives.  We spend our days reacting and focusing on the wrong things, so much so, that we waste our prime years pursuing the wrong things.  Simply put, we waste our lives.

Why don’t we think?  Why don’t we reflect on our lives and make the necessary adjustments to achieve ultimate success?  Maxwell believes it’s because we’ve never been taught to think.  We think and we reflect, the problem is when we take time to think on our lives, we think and meditate on the wrong things.  We ponder the “how?” when we should reflect on the “why?”

Dr. Maxwell opens his book with one simple premise, “Change your thinking and change your life.”  Instead of constantly trying to figure out how you’re going to do something, step back and ask yourself, why?  Too often, we get caught up in the whirlwind of life and spend way too much time trying to figure out how we’re going to get through a project, or overcome an obstacle, or solve a problem.  We get so enamored with a project that we get distracted and off track, so much so, that we find ourselves mired in regret and become frustrated and disenfranchised with our lives.  Figuring out “how?” is wildly overrated, yet we spend most of our waking hours focused on “how?”.

What if you changed your thinking and began each thought with “why?”  Get in the habit of asking that critical question with every facet of your life, every project, every decision.  This simple change in thinking will change everything in your life.  When you get into the habit of asking “why?” you will constantly reset your thinking to ensure that you’re focused on the right things.  You will find yourself shedding projects and saying “no” to the wrong things and saying “yes” to the right things and focusing on what truly matters and will have the greatest impact on your life.

Dr. Maxwell states, “A person who knows how, may always have a job, but the person who knows why, will always be the boss.”  The bottom line, if you know your “why?” you will win at life, so start each day with discerning your “why?” and you will be well on your way to achieving significance.  What areas of your life do you need to begin to ask, why?

07 Aug 2017

Your Opinions Are Irrelevant, Your Actions Matter More

What do you believe?  What is your value system?  What drives your daily decisions and what are you most passionate about in your life?  Well, according to the Bible, when it comes to human interactions, as long as we approach one another with love and respect, it doesn’t matter what we believe.

My favorite disciple, from the Bible, is Paul.  He came late to the scene and was a harsh critic and persecutor of early Christians.  He converted after a supernatural encounter with Jesus Christ and became the catalyst for spreading the gospel beyond the Jewish people.  He was the “union representative” of the gentiles.

I love Paul’s insights and writings, especially in his letter to the Romans, about 30 years after Christ’s death.  In Romans 14:13-14, Paul writes, “Forget about deciding what’s right for each other.  Here’s what you need to be concerned about:  that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is.”

Life is difficult.  It’s hard and we struggle daily to balance our actions and beliefs.  We’re insecure, we’re fearful, and we’re hurting.  We develop our beliefs based on our experiences and relationships.  We struggle to understand one another as we view each other through a biased lens that is extremely narrow in scope and perspective.  I’ve dedicated my adult life trying to master human dynamics and to understand why people do and say the things they do.  So far, I’ve concluded that the common basic need for all humans is to be encouraged and loved.

Paul goes on to say in Romans 14:19-21, “So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other.  Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault.” It’s easy to find fault and criticize, but there is no power in it.  When we come together and relate with one another, why is it our focus to find fault in one another and to challenge another’s beliefs before we fully understanding the person’s journey?

What if we altered our approach and challenged less and accepted more?  What if we led our days with encouragement and ultimately love?  God commands it, Jesus Christ validated it, and Paul reminds us in his letter.

When you find yourself at odds with someone, is it important to be right or is it more important to build and strengthen the relationship?  Nobody wins when in perpetual conflict with others and no one has an endless supply of energy.  Why not focus your energy on building others up, instead of tearing others down?  Your opinion matters, but not as much as the relationship, for the strength of your relationships will determine your ultimate success.

If you want to be successful, then stop finding fault in others and encourage them instead.  With that said, I will be the first to say that I’m guilty of this.  It’s easy to find fault, especially when it justifies my own failures.  Blaming others is the easy road, but taking ownership is much harder.  I have strong opinions and I disagree with others on many occasions and it feels good to prove others wrong, but when I go that route, I ultimately lose and I damage the relationship.  I make conscious decisions to check myself every day and consider the relationship first, before I consider the argument.  It’s hard, but necessary if I want to ultimately achieve my goals and honor God along the way.

The next time you find yourself in conflict, consider the other person, consider the relationship, and consider keeping your opinions to yourself and you will find a greater joy and a stronger purpose along the way.  Who will you encourage today?