Let’s Make It Personal

So here’s the deal. You can buy my book, Becoming Oaks, through Amazon.com and get a pretty copy of the book. Or you can buy it directly from me.
It might take a little longer, but I like the personal connection of sending you a signed copy of my book with a personalized thank you note attached. Also, buying from me costs you less, saves you a shipping cost and creates more value.

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The Book, “Becoming Oaks: Sharing Stories of Perseverance” Almost Available!



October 4, 2016.



The pdf version of my book, “Becoming Oaks: Sharing Stories of Perseverance” will be available for $8.00. (click this link: https://payhip.com/b/AiLb)



I haven’t figured out all the details yet.

The Kindle and paperback versions will both be available on Tuesday, November 1 for $9.99 and $12.99 respectively.

The audio version… well, if you are interested in an audio version, let me know and we will record one especially for you.

I’m horrible as self-promotion, but if you can help me sell 5 copies of any version of the book, you can receive a signed paperback copy for free! I will even throw in a free acorn!

Here is the place to buy the pdf: http://payhip.com/b/AiLb
You can pre-order on Kindle here: https://amzn.com/B01M0MYLY8

Top Ten Favorite Books

“What is your favorite book?”

My daughter asks this fairly frequently. Usually, I don’t have an answer. People who read for fun as well as for improvement, insight, and inspiration generally have a hard time answering this.

Last night, at a Wednesday night bible study, our associate pastor asked the group this same question. Most of us struggled with a definitive answer.
What adds to this difficulty is the fact that I, along with many others, have a tendency to follow authors more so than particular books.

For example, hands down my favorite author is Stanley Hauerwas. In the context of books, articles, journals, seminars, sermons, and even two personal conversations – I have a good sense of who he is and his train of thought. I sometimes get his books mixed up in the way that I might mix up a couple different seasons of a sports team. To name a favorite book from him is difficult for me. His collection of thought expressed through primarily printed works would win favorite and most influential hands down. But none of his books are my favorite.

My favorite fiction author is easily Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Unfortunately, his collection of Sherlock Holmes was never meant to be one volume and to count that as a favorite book is a cop out!

This brings up another issue: what does favorite mean in this context? Even though my cheering for sports teams has almost come to a halt, I still have favorite teams. Most were donated to me from my family or from geographical location.

Favorite books were never really donated to me. Other than the Bible (i.e. The Holy Bible – Christian book of faith), my family read all over the landscape of fiction and nonfiction. We also watched a lot of television. But we all read a lot. From being a toddler through my teenage years, we probably averaged going to the library about 3 times a week – and that’s not counting school libraries for my parents’ college!

For the purposes of this blog post, my algorithm of favorite is this: to qualify as a favorite book, the book has to be memorable, challenge my way of thinking, change or expand my thinking, and be enjoyable. I don’t have an exact way to quantify those variables, but that is the criteria.

Today, I will just post the books in chronological order to when I read them. At least once a month over the next eleven months giving what these books have meant to me. Why eleven and not ten? Because I will include the honorable mentions that almost made the list. Remember, this is a list in chronological order!

The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein

Ecclesiastes – Qoheleth

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger – Ronald J. Sider

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

A Royal Waste of Time – Marva J. Dawn

Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig

Watership Down – Richard Adams

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership – Ruth Haley Barton

World of Warcraft: Chronicle Volume 1 – Blizzard Entertainment

Get Rich Quick!

Back in 2000, I worked in Jackson, Mississippi. While working at Office Depot, I experienced a formative event that taught me how to get rich quick.

 I was the victim of a very basic, but effective con.  The entrance was undergoing construction which led to lots of chaos.  The craziness led to me working the register, which was amazingly uncommon at that location.  A man walked to my station and bought a $1.07 bottle of water with a $100 bill. 
I knew right then that something was up. But I thought I was smarter than this guy. I might have been. But he had experience to fall back on.  He had a goal.  He knew how to accomplish his goal and, possibly most importantly, he was smooth. It is my most embarrassing work experience. 
Being conned is a horrible experience. Knowing that you are being conned without being able to stop it is much, much worse.

Fortunately, he only got away with $20. 

That experience made me appreciate the art of con.

What is it about scammers and con-artists? I hate that I love watching them work.

This past Friday at my 8-5, a guy came in and tried to get his CDL without proper documentation. He worked it really well. He complained that it was too much work. He had a sob story. He even told us that the information was private and none of our business.  He didn’t succeed. We informed him that if he wanted a CDL, it was our business and that documentation was necessary.  That being said, it was fun watching him try.

I had another person try to work my travel agency this morning. He demanded compensation and had some pretty interesting evidence… Except that he admitted that he broke contract with us in his complaint. It didn’t help that my agent knows how to document well. The client had an experience of cutting corners to save money. But in doing so, he hurt his own chances at getting his goal.
Here is something that I have learned when dealing with businesses. If you ask for something extra, there is a better chance of getting it. Be prepared to pay for it, but you never know, they might give it to you for free. Most employees want to satisfy their customers/clients. However, trying to rig the system to never pay for anything… Well, that’s not good. But it is a way to get rich quick.

A Medicated Homeless Lady Named Carol

Tonight, I was a part of something bigger than myself.

Actually, that is misguided.  I have been a part of this something for just about a year.  Tonight was the payoff.

Monday evenings are my Toastmaster nights.  The club usually ends at 8:30pm while a few of us get out closer to 9:00pm to clean up.  I got to talking to a couple of other members afterwards and a lady walked up to us.  Immediately, the three of us could tell that something was a little bit off about her.  She asked if we could provide a ride to a local McDonalds.  She had just walked a couple of miles from Deaconess Hospital and confused us as members of the church that we met.  Carol was very honest from the beginning – she was homeless and on medication.  But she needed a ride.

Rich and I worked out a situation for our safety to make it work out.  Together, we took Carol to the McDonald’s while Sue would meet us after we dropped her off.  Carol explained how tough life had been since they lost their previous house.  She and her family were to move into a new house next month.  For now they were living among the trees.  On the ground.  No tent or tarp.  She said they had to sleep in their regular clothes while it was storming and raining last night.

I won’t lie.  I was scared.  I know that most people aren’t going to do anything.  Even most crazy people aren’t going to do anything.  However, the internet makes things scary.  There was a time when I was 18 that I stopped anytime I saw a car on the side of road to see if I could help.  But that was 19 years ago.  Now I have a family.  I wanted to call my wife and tell her that I loved her.  I wanted to hug my daughter one more time… just in case.

We arrived to the McDonald’s and Carol got out.  I wanted to give her some money, but I don’t carry any cash.  We told her to be safe and then Rich and I met Sue.  Nothing bad happened.  Rich and I were safe.  Life went on.


One year ago, I put my name in a hat to be the Vice President of Education (VPE) for my local club and was confirmed.  I went to training and understood very little.  Another VPE gave me a leadership handbook and I felt like I got myself in over my head.  The VPE is considered the most time consuming job of the local club officers.  However, I found a goal to work towards – the President’s Distinguished award for our local club.  To be President’s Distinguished, our club has to meet certain criteria.  It is not necessarily hard, but it is difficult.  It is the highest award a club can receive, beyond Select Distinguished and Distinguished.  I set my eyes on the goal and started finding ways to put our club in position.

To make a long story short, six month membership dues are in October and April.  On April 1, we had 14 active members.  We started the year (July 1) with 22 members.  We had over 12 people join between July 1 and April 1, but we were down 8 members.  We had met the requirements to be Distinguished in January and were well on track to be President’s Distinguished by the middle of April.  But to be distinguished, a club needs 20 members.  We were also facing smaller club meetings because of life events and did not know what was going to happen.


The club officers decided to make a concentrated effort on not only bring in new members but do a better job of retention.  There is 40% attrition across Toastmasters International.  Our club had as many as 34 memberships and were down to 14.  That is 59% attrition for our club.  Most of our attrition was to experienced members moving on in life.  Only a few of the 20 had joined during the Toastmaster year (July 1-June 30).  Several of our officers started working through the Successful Club Series.  A new member joined here.  Another there.  A couple of members who had life events happen renewed.  Another joined.  We have had several visitors over the past 3 months and we have a really positive club environment.  It was frustrating when we accomplished the final goal to be President’s Distinguished in the middle of May and were still 3 members short.

Going into the meeting tonight, we had 19 members.  A few other Toastmasters offered paper memberships – membership where they would join on paper if no one else did, but they would not take on any of the duties of being a member.  These members have no longstanding ties to the club.  I have a problem with this.  We worked our butts off to get to a place that would have been cheapened if we accepted a paper membership.  I would rather have 19 and no award than 20 with a paper membership.

When the meeting started, we had 3 guests.  None seemed inclined to join at that moment.  We had a great meeting.  Again, none of the guests showed any interest of joining tonight.  Our club started to wrestle with accepting a paper membership or sponsoring a honorary member.  It was a bit tense.  Then, one by one, each guest asked if they could join tonight.

We will have 22 members on June 30, 2016.  Our club reached a goal that looked impossible at times this past year.

I believe in the mission of Toastmasters.  It is to help make leaders and communicators more effective.  It is relatively inexpensive – about $6/month and provides more training and education than you will find in many other programs.  It is a nonprofit organization.  This is what makes paper memberships so frustrating.  The practice does not help anyone in the long run.  Sure, we can pump up numbers, but why would you pay money to join a club and never participate?  Especially when you already have a club you do participate?  This doesn’t teach leadership.  I could only come up with one answer… pride.

Look, I struggle with pride as much as many do.  But pumping numbers to receive an award will be costly in the future.  Eventually, the numbers will catch up with a group of leadership that is doing nothing wrong and reflect badly on their reputation.  We could have reached our goal in April if we went the paper membership route, but we would still struggle having enough people fill our weekly roles.  But we want members that want to be there, that will show up and learn to be better leaders and communicators.  There is a good chance we would have stayed at 19 through July 1.

Tonight, I was able to share with my friends and fellow members the payoff of something bigger than myself.  Our club is Presidents Distinguished.  A medicated homeless lady named Carol got a ride.  Next month, she is moving into her home.  Next year, we will work towards Presidents Distinguished and 30 members with no paper memberships.

“They” say…

“They” say that people compete on FB. They only post things that make them look good and feel pressure to look just as good. I guess I find that funny because humanity in general wants to be seen in a positive light to most people. Very few of us share our darkness with just anyone, and there is a reason for that. I try to post positive things because there is always so much good that I don’t celebrate in life. There are days that suck, but even then, there is usually a silver lining in retrospect.

Today was a good, but tiring day. The kids I taught at church were well behaved, I had a great lunch and conversation with a friend and I am sore as anything playing basketball. I scored points in both games I played! My heels, elbows, knees are bruised and my back is in tremendous pain. I love it! 

My family is a little bit weird. For the first several years of my daughter’s life, we rarely spend more than a night apart. These past few months have been intense as I am busy four nights a weeks and have had several appointments on Saturdays. So 2016 has had us spend more evenings apart as a family than any other period in our life together so far. This coming week I will only have Tuesday evening to spend with them both. 

Because of this, we spent the whole day yesterday together going mall walking. You have to understand, I hate going to malls. But it is a way for me to see how out of step I am with culture. We went to 4 malls and explored the ins and outs. 

Tonight, when I was about to leave to play basketball, she hugged me long. It crushes me to leave her. She threatens to never let me go. My heart breaks. My daughter is a super sensitive person. In this particular way, she is just like me when I was growing up. I had the thinnest skin around. I would cry because of about anything.  

The last time I remember doing it publicly was after a junior varsity football game. My mouth had been pretty foul when I was on the field and we got penalties for it. The next day, I apologized to my teammates and all of a sudden, a floodgate of tears run through my eyes and I am a slobbery, sobbing mess.  My coaches and teammates felt very awkward. That was the last time I allowed myself to cry in front of my schoolmates. There are a few other instances that I cried in front of my church after that, but that was the day I started shutting my emotions down.

My daughter has developed this same condition, but it goes even beyond me. Her empathy for others is astounding. She literally feels their pain.  Until yesterday, I never connected the dots. I thought she just needed to develop thicker skin like I supposedly had done. But my thick skin has only led to more heartache that gets pent up so deep inside me that I am passive depressive. I don’t want that for my beautiful girl.

I told her that something on the ride home and she was surprised. I told her that “Most people are not going to understand why you cry. They will make fun of you and call you names. But there will be a day that others will come to you because they know you will care. They will trust you. It might not happen until you are college age or older but it will happen.”

Maybe this seems trivial to you. But this is the behind the scenes of my “perfect” life. Of course I am going to post pictures of me that I feel good about. It is my Facebook page! I don’t want to post something I don’t like! Good things are happening in my life. As I seek to accomplish these tasks in front of me, the reality is that my daughter loves me and never wants to let me go….

….Excuse me as I go cry.

How To Win at Church Basketball

I apologize.  Some of you are looking for strategies to win at church basketball games.  That is not what this post is about.

For those of you still reading, church basketball leagues are known to bring out the worst of humanity.  Really this is not limited to basketball or even church leagues.  These are simple ways to make life better.  Having played in several over the years, here are some handy tips at #winning:

  1. Greet every single player on all teams before the games start.
  2. Thank the refs for coming out.  If you hate refs, just thank them and move on.
  3. Thank the score keepers.
  4. Give it your best.
  5. Don’t question foul calls.  They aren’t going to change them anyways.
  6. Figure out how to overcome your disadvantages.
  7. After the game, let all the players on both teams know that you appreciated sharing the court with them.

These 7 simple things can set the tone and make the games more fun for all involved.

Until next time.