Almost four years ago my wife and I were in China to adopt and bring our son home. There are a lot of fun, funny and sad memories from that trip. It was amazing and life changing in so many ways. One of the funnier moments was when I was trying to order my eggs. We were staying at a nice hotel that had an amazing breakfast. A part of that breakfast featured the ability to go up to a cook and ask for eggs cooked the way you wanted them. So, I went up and asked for fried eggs, no runny yoke. The only thing is, the idea of breaking the egg yoke seemed foreign to this chef. So there he was, cooking the eggs sunny side up like always, not understanding that I didn’t want a runny yoke.
Realizing that his English and my English weren’t exactly meshing, I gave up on verbal communication and settled for hand motions. How do you make the hand motion for “break the yoke?” Maybe a stabbing motion or a flattening motion? But then he might think I wanted pancakes rather than eggs… At any rate, eventually, I made him understand that I didn’t want runny eggs, and with a look that was part bewilderment and part disdain he broke the yoke and cooked the egg for me. It was an amusing incident that makes me smile today. He had his assumptions on how eggs must be cooked and now my assumptions had gone against his.
It makes me wonder where I’m doing that in my life. What am I doing daily that I can’t conceive of being done another way, possibly a better way, or just a different way? I want to make sure my eyes are open to new possibilities, even with something as simple as how to cook an egg.
Lately, I have been thinking about my greatest fear and how it motivates and shapes my life. My greatest fear is a lack of significance. I’m terrified by the idea of one day leaving this world having not made a significant impact on others, improving their lives and shaping their future. If I’m honest, a part of this fear is selfish, I want to be remembered when I’m gone, but another part of this fear is a desire to leave things better than I found them.
I feel like my life has always been and will always be about finding ways to serve and love people in some capacity. When I was in high school this took the form of starting a nonprofit and serving the homeless in Little Five Points. Then as a young man it took the form of church ministry and church planting. Now it takes the form of running a company and seeking to improve the lives of my team and clients, and starting a nonprofit to serve nonprofits.
I think this fear is also one of the reasons that I love having a large family. There is no better impact I can make on this world than to raise and shape my children, teaching them to care about and love others well. I fully recognize that the greatest thing I will do in my lifetime will be what I impart to my children and how it shapes them as they step out into the world to make an impact of their own.
As I think about this, what I realize is that I want to make an impact in two ways, deep and wide. I want to impact my immediate family and closest friends at a very deep level, helping them to be the people they dream of being. I want to help them grow and thrive and enjoy the gift that is life. I also want a wide impact, being a thought leader for a larger group of people. Part of this desire is selfish, who doesn’t want people to read their blog or listen to their podcast? But, the bigger part of the desire for wide impact is to help shape and sharpen the thinking of people that want to grow and lead. My hope is to guide a wider audience into greater roles of leadership that will make our world a better place.
One day, when I finish this thing called life, I hope to have served people well. I hope that I’m missed and remembered. When I look back, I know I won’t regret that this fear has motivated me in the way that it has. It has made me a better man, business leader, father and husband. I’m thankful for that.
It was the fall of 2008, and my dream of being a Church Planter was winding down quickly. I had been on a journey to start up my dream church in my dream town, Decatur Georgia, but the dreams weren’t working out. So, as the church wound down with little hope of winding back up, I was scrambling to keep my family afloat. At that time the church paid me $2,000 per month, and the tiny house that we had rented so we could live in the community was costing us $1,500 per month (how we got into that house situation is another story for another time).
To say things were tight would be an understatement. I was coping with the loss of a dream and had to figure out how my family would make it. That is when I ramped up my website work, and that work would later turn into Sideways8. But, doing side website projects still wasn’t cutting it at the time. So I also took a job as a long-term middle school substitute teacher at a school that was about a 45-minute drive from our home. I was a teacher, freelance website designer, pastor, father, and husband, and I was drowning. I learned a lot.
There is a poem by Anis Mojgani called “Shake the Dust.” One of the stanzas reads:
This is for the benches and the people sitting upon them.
This is for the bus drivers driving a million broken hymns
And for the men who have to hold down 3 jobs,
Simply to hold up their children.
For the nighttime schoolers
And for the midnight bike riders trying to fly
Shake the dust.
There is something about that moment in the poem that says, “for the men who have to hold down 3 jobs, simply to hold up their children” that brings tears to my eyes every time. That was a short time in my life, but it may have been the most challenging I have ever had.
The main thing I learned during that time is at the end of the stanza; I learned to “shake the dust.” I learned that, though my situation seemed impossible, it was only for a time. I learned that I could endure working insane hours for the sake of my family, but more than that, I learned that hardship is temporary. Hardship is temporary, it will shake off sooner or later. I learned to shake the dust from my failures, from my shattered dreams, from my tired mornings and endless nights. I learned to shake the dust from my disappointments and my delights. I learned to shake the dust from this moment, recognizing that the next will come and will bring unlimited possibility.
When things are tough, remember to shake the dust, a new day is already near.
If you want to check out the full poem, you can see if performed here. It is worth 4 minutes of your time.
When we were planning the first 48in48, I was convinced that our volunteers needed to have a great experience. After all, the volunteers are giving up an entire weekend to benefit nonprofits, so their experience should be top notch and a little fun. So I came up with the idea of giving them “moments of delight” during the event. That first event we created “moments of delight” by having a give away every three hours, serving surprise deserts (and BBQ) during late hours, and bringing in a famous former Atlanta Falcon to give a pep talk. The volunteer team loved it. Since then, each 48in48 has it’s own “moments of delight, ” and we remain committed to being sure the volunteers love their time with us.
Since starting 48in48, have been thinking more and more about creating moments of delight. How can I create moments of delight for my employees? How can I create moments of design for my kids and my wife?
A moment of delight can be simple, an unexpected moment of fun or a small gift. For my kids, it’s as simple as a tickle fight or bodyslam onto the sofa. For my wife, it might be buying her a new pack of gum, chapstick, or home decor item. For my employees, it might be an afternoon at Top Golf, or a goofy meme shared on slack. I think creating moments of delight can be simple and fun. I think everyone should smile at unexpected moments, and I hope to help provide some smiling opportunities to the people around me.
There is a church with a large parking lot across the street from my kids’ school. To make drop off easier, each morning many parents will opt to park there and walk their kids to the door rather than going through the long carpool line. The parking lot is directly across the street from the sidewalk to the school, and when standing at the entrance to the parking lot looking at the school, there is a crosswalk less than 50 yards to the right. The crosswalk is complete with yellow flashing lights and the stripy (yes I’m making that a word) crossing lines that indicate a walkway. What is fascinating to me is how few people use the crosswalk (did I mention it’s less than 50 yards away)!
Instead of using the safety of the crosswalk every morning I see parents (usually dads) dart across a busy street with a ton of traffic (and buses) going back and forth, holding tightly to their child’s hand and coming closer to getting hit than I would like. Every time I am amazed. I often yell at them (as if they can hear me with my windows rolled up) and genuinely wish that would value their child’s safety and the lessons that they are teaching their children more than they do in that moment.
But, here’s the thing, I think these are good parents. They are good parents making a bad decision because it’s the easy thing to do. No parent would put their kid in danger on purpose, but because of the allure of getting across the street more easily, they do. No parent would be a bad example of their kid on purpose, but because of the ease of just running across in between cars they do.
I don’t do this; I cross at the crosswalk. However, with that said, I am self-aware enough to recognize that I do this in a hundred other ways. I may drive too fast with my kids in the car. Or I may be tempted to glance at a vibrating cell phone at moments when my attention should be fully engaged elsewhere.
A great example of this was on our recent trip to Universal Studios. We parked in the bottom lot and with all five kids and a loaded down stroller in tow proceeded to head to the park. We had to go up an escalator, and even though there was a sign that showed no strollers were allowed on the escalator, for convenience I took the empty stroller on it anyway. That little breaking of the rules didn’t go unnoticed. Weeks later, my six-year-old drew a picture of my rule breaking and wrote a comment about it in her homework. I set a bad example when I took the easy way out. Fail.
Often the easy way seems better but isn’t worth it in the end.
I often think about “the last time.” As in, the last time I rocked my now 11-year-old as a baby, or the last time I can pick up my 9-year-old and flip him over before he is too heavy to lift like that anymore. Sometimes I look back at my kids and regret that I didn’t recognize the last time that I fed them a bottle or sat them in a highchair. I feel like if I had recognized that last time I would have cherished it, intentionally made it into a memory I could re-live as they got older.
So now I try to look forward. I wonder, is this the last time I’ll be able to give her a piggyback ride? Or, is this the last time he will be willing to hold my hand in public without being embarrassed? I want to be on the look out for that last time, and I want to remember it, cherish it.
I want to be more present, more cognisant of my reality and more aware that every day I may be doing something with my children for the last time. I believe if I’m watchful, I’m less likely to miss the precious moments that make up a wonderful lifetime.