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That time I was in Guideposts for Teens

I can’t believe it’s been 14 years since this article came out.

We were in a meeting with our management and somebody was talking about pitching stories to magazines and asked if anybody had any stories with heart in them because that’s what magazines were looking for. I just stared forward into space. I try to get involved in meetings, I really do. But they always seem to run long and my enthusiasm seems to wane before other people’s and I kind of zone out. Just send me an email instead.

But when I left that meeting I felt a tug on my spirit. The kind of tug that usually has God in the middle of it. I knew I had a story. I didn’t know if it had heart in it, but It definitely had pain. I figured if I could share it then it might encourage somebody else who’s going through pain. So I got out my cell phone and called my manager. This was 15 years ago so remember cell phones were enormous then and didn’t have color screens or internet or Twitter or games or anything but that’s another story.

I proceeded to tell my manager about all the stuff I went through in high school. About how I was hit by a truck my freshman year and my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer my sophomore year and then he died my junior year. I didn’t really remember my senior year too much.

Next thing I knew somebody from a magazine came out to our show in Rome, Georgia and did an extended interview. A story was written, and then they sent a photographer to our show in Chicago. I ended up being on the cover of Guideposts for Teens. I remember hating that picture – they wanted me to smile and if you know me you know that I’m not a smiler.

At the time it had been almost ten years since my dad died. What’s crazy to me is it’s now been almost 15 years since that article came out. Reading it now is hard because of the high school tone (remember it was written for that audience) but shining through was the fresh, raw, feeling of losing my dad. Nowadays I’ve kind of lost that feeling. Which is a good and a bad thing.

It’s good because most of that pain has faded. Not gone, just faded. For a while after I lost my dad it just felt kind of numb. And for a few years it was like a scab – everything was cool but if I bumped it things would get hurt and raw and bloody. Now it’s become part of my story, part of who I am.

But it’s bad because as that pain has faded, so have the memories. Memories that I had just thought I’d always carry with me. Now that I have kids of my own, I wish I could tell them more about their grandfather. They probably wouldn’t care so much now but one day they’ll want to know. So I just try to write down everything I can remember.

Which is why it’s good to hold on to articles like these.

The Horse, This Boy, and This Blog

“You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it.” ~ Austin Kleon

The last time I left you, it was last year, and I was reading to my daughter. We’ve done a lot of reading since then. We finished The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, then dove into The Chronicles of Narnia. Last night we started The Horse and His Boy. It seems Abbie is intent on finishing all seven of the Narnia books before we move on to anything else (as you can probably imagine, I’m totally OK with that!).

I’m sure entire books have been written about the benefits of reading with your kids, so I’ll spare the attempt here. But It’s been so fun reading with Abbie. Especially since we’re reading some of the classics that influenced me so much as a kid. And she actually wants to read them. All of them. I can’t begin to tell you how proud it makes me that Abbie is excited about these stories that have been a lifelong passion of mine.

And it hasn’t just been inspiring for Abbie. Something about great art makes me want to make art. Just as hearing a great band makes me want to “get the boys together”, great writing makes me want to write myself. Last night I felt like writing online for the first time in months, so I decided to tentatively dip my toe back into the blogging world. This post marks that first fledgling step. I won’t be as prolific as I was last year, I can assure you. And that’s probably for the best since I was probably writing at a faster pace than you guys were interested in consuming.

That lack of inspiration was one reason for my departure for sure. I think the other, for want of a better word, was that I lost my voice. It’s like I was trying to write what a blogger was supposed to write about. It felt forced and seemed a little too didactic, maybe even a bit preachy. Whatever it was, it definitely wasn’t me. So I quit. Not the best tactic if you’re interested in blog traffic, but if you’ve followed me for any length of time you know that’s beside the point anyway.

So look for some regular posting here. No promises on the frequency but posting nonetheless. And it should be fun, as I experiment around and find a voice I’m comfortable with. I’m going to start, of course, with talking about some books and influences – basically what’s been rattling around in my head these last few months.

Thanks for reading, and for putting up with my zaniness!

-Mark

A book a day: some thoughts on procrastination and productivity

There’s a saying somewhere about the sins of the father catching up with the children. I would tell you about it, but I put off looking it up…

I am a procrastinator. There, I said it. But if you’ve been around these parts long at all, you already know this.

There are times when having a “just go with it” mentality pays off. For example, my family has a blast on vacations, and I think a lot of that comes from just letting the day come as it will. I love seeking out little adventures when I am on tour, and a lot of these happen because I “just go with it”. Hey, it works.

But then there are times like now. It is a week before Christmas, and like everybody, I am ridiculously busy. Between Christmas parties and shopping and finishing up with the kids’ school, there’s not really any room for error. But added to that mix, I’m reading a book every day this week. Yup. That’s probably worth an explanation.

My daughter Abbie came home from school the other day upset. She had a project where she was supposed to read 5 books and do a report. I was ready to give my Anne Lamott “bird by bird” speech. But then I did a little math in my head. Her project is due Thursday, and with her fourth grade reading speed, there is NO WAY she can read all these books in time and write a report.

Then, like Adam West era Batman, it came to me.

I’ve…got…a…plan.

“Abbie, do you have to read all of them yourself, or can you read them with your parents?”

“The teacher said we could read them with our parents.”

“OK sit down. Let’s go.”

Abbie and I sat down. I got some firewood off the porch and got a fire going in the fireplace. We reclined on a bunch of pillows as the fire began crackling in the background.

I cleared my throat.

Then I began to read aloud “The Secret Seven” by Enid Blyton at absolute breakneck speed. We started the book at about 8 PM. I only paused once to get a glass of water. By 9:30 I crossed the book’s finish line.

It was really strange. But a good strange. It felt really fast for me to read it out loud, but it was just right for the listener. Abbie got it. She actually loved the book. And I did too. Last night we repeated the process with a Nancy Drew book. It was actually a little tougher reading. I liked this one a little more, but Abbie didn’t track quite as much with this one. it was a “newer” Nancy Drew book and a little more YA than the classic ones. But we still really enjoyed it.

Tonight we’re going to read a third book. Combined with one that she had already read and another that we had recently finished together, she will get her five books in.

And the funniest thing happened in the process.

We had a blast.

“So, Jo Jo, what did you learn today?”*

  • I learned that procrastination is neither good nor bad. It is a work habit. If that’s the way you operate, and you still get things done, accept it. You can certainly change it, but if it works, it’s a starting point.
  • I learned that memories are made when you do things out of the ordinary. Even though this was crazy, I know Abbie and I will remember this and talk about it for a long time. And it’s going to be a fun memory!
  • I learned that kids have to take ownership of their own habits. Through this process, Abbie learned that she probably could plan ahead next time. I helped her with the reading, but she’s doing the report. We can help her, but it’s up to her to own it.
  • Most of all, I was reminded that the important thing is not how it gets done, but THAT IT GETS DONE. In my line of work, it’s fun to do the interviews and talk about how the songs got written and the album got recorded. But you can’t do that if you don’t DO THE WORK**.
  • Moving forward from this experience, I think I’m going to set a blogging schedule. I will post to this blog on certain days, every week NO MATTER WHAT.

Bottom line: DO THE WORK.

* If you have children of a certain age, you will remember Jo Jo’ Circus. At the end of every episode they asked that question…

** There’s a great Steven Pressfield book with that title. Definitely worth a read!

 

The tiny, yet major, problem I have with The War of Art

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, has been buzzing around internet circles for several years. It was never a bestseller, but has become quite popular through little more than word of mouth. And rightfully so – it is a really good book. But I have a tiny problem with Pressfield’s book. My issue is small, but I think it cuts to the core of my failed attempts at motivation. And unless you’re one of the fortunate few blessed with Olympic levels of willpower, I bet it has something to do with your motivation problems as well.

Before I get too far, let me start by saying that The War of Art is one of the books that has had the deepest impact on me over the last decade. It has literally changed my relationship to my work as a musician and writer. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it. Pressfield’s message goes way beyond art – it could easily apply to a business or weight loss or any endeavor in which you’re trying to step out of your comfort zone.

The War of Art is split into three sections. The first section talks about Resistance, the force that fights for the status quo and prevents us from doing the things that we know we need to do. This is the part of the book that gets talked about the most, and it is definitely the section that spoke to me. My experience as a musician and fledgling writer bears out the fact that whenever we try to better ourselves, there is a mighty power that is working against us. In calling it Resistance, Pressfield did a bang-up job in putting a name to something that we all face on a daily basis. He also goes to great lengths to accurately describe how this powerful and destructive force manifests itself.

The next section talks about “going pro”. Pressfield asserts that a subtle shift in how we approach our work will be all the answer we need to defeat Resistance. We should look at our creative and self-improvement pursuits the same way as we do our day jobs. Punch the clock and get to work. In doing so, we will get everything done whether we feel like it or not. I think this solution misses the point just a bit. I’ll come back to that in a second.

The final section of the book talks about the spiritual side of creative work, Pressfield rightly points out that all creators of great art have acknowledged this spiritual dimension. In describing it, he talks about invoking angels and Greek muses. I imagine he probably got a lot of flak about this section of the book. While I don’t personally ascribe to his brand of spirituality, this section didn’t really bother me.

What did bother me, then? I think the book does a wonderful job of describing Resistance, but stops just short of calling it a spiritual issue. And by putting the spiritual dimension last, the idea of “turning pro” simply becomes good old-fashioned human striving under a new name.

Put the spiritual first. Because it’s a spiritual issue.

You see, here’s what I think. I think God made us in his image. God created. It’s the very first thing he’s recorded as doing. Creating is a beautiful thing, and we’re all – yes, that means you – meant to do it. But we humans went and screwed it up. One bad apple spoiled the whole lot of us.

And that is the core of the problem.

Call it Resistance. Call it the devil. Call it whatever you like, but the fact that we don’t create is a deeply spiritual issue. While there are a tiny fraction of us who are able to accomplish a lot through sheer force of will, we will all – yes, that means you – fail at some point and in some way.

The only way to confront a spiritual problem is through spiritual means.

And God has an interesting way of going about this. It’s not through a full-frontal assault on our spiritual enemy. Human striving and willpower come into play very little, if at all. I absolutely believe God cares about what we care about, big and small. And he wants to help us. But while God wants us to succeed, he wants something else first. He wants us.

He wants us to spend time with him. He wants us to pray. He wants us to read his word. He wants us to care about what he cares about. Make this your top priority, and everything else will fall into its proper place. And God will, in a very literal sense, make his home in your heart. I don’t know about you, but I think this gives me a motivation that far exceeds anything I could ever gain through human willpower.

If you want to try the human striving route, by all means. Set some goals and make some lists. Try harder. Grit your teeth a little tighter and grimace a little more. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s probably not going to work. When that happens, come back and read this post again in a few weeks. It will still be here.

Try this instead. Try something different. Try something truly radical. Make your relationship with God the number one thing in your life.

Try it for a few months and see where he takes you.

I dare you.

If you’ve ever read The War of Art, I’d love to hear how this post hits you. It’s been stirring in my heart for a LONG time. If you’ve never read the book, I recommend it! Either way, I hope this post encourages you to dig into God a little more.

Review: All In, by Mark Batterson

I was on vacation with my family the other week. We were out driving and my girls saw a Christian bookstore. Hey, you don’t have to ask me twice. So we stopped. One of the books on the bestsellers shelf was a title called All In by Mark Batterson. I was intrigued. I had never read anything by Mark Batterson before, but was vaguely aware of him. I’ve seen his book “The Circle Maker” quoted in a few places online, so figured I’d give this one a whirl. I own a lot of books, many of them unread, so I try to practice a little patience when it comes to buying books. But something felt a little different this time. It’s almost like the Holy Spirit was telling me to buy this one. And I’m so glad I did.

All In is one of those books where you can almost figure out what the book’s going to be about just from reading the title. In this case, it’s about making the decision to go “all in” with your faith, just like pushing all your chips onto the table in a game of cards. Once you go “all in”, you will want to go “all out” by living a life of radical faith in the “all in all”. You stop holding back and start giving your all for God, living a life that will impact the world for his kingdom and his purposes.

While the general message of the book is pretty straightforward, Batterson has a practical down-to-earth, everyman sort of writing style. It is easy to read, but don’t let that fool you. This book is loaded with wisdom that can only come from a faith that has been lived and tested in the real world. But most of all, Batterson’s passion for his faith is contagious. I don’t know how anyone could read this book and not get fired up.

The book has several great illustrations from the Bible as well as from the author’s own life. Faith is not a thing of mere theory to Batterson. Rather, he lives out his faith in the day-to-day. And that is very refreshing to read. The concept of “rim huggers” and “cliff climbers”, taken from the story of Jonathan in the Bible and Batterson’s experience hiking in the Grand Canyon, is an image I will carry with me for a long time. I was also inspired by the stories of radical giving, including stories from Mark’s own life, as well as businessmen who literally gave God everything they had.

Now there is one tiny little “grain of salt” I would have to add about the book. Batterson is a preacher, and that shines through, mostly to good effect. He is a master at one-liners, such as “If Jesus isn’t Lord of all, he isn’t Lord at all.” But at times, it feels a bit formulaic, kind of like a sermon series. And most of the faith examples in the book revolve around Batterson’s church. That is to be expected, but for someone not part of that particular church it makes for a hard storyline to follow.

Overall, this is a wonderful book. This would be a great read for a new believer wanting to take the next step. I would also suggest this book to anyone who feels a little stale in their faith and wants to reignite their passion for God. A recommended read for sure.

What I’ve been up to, and what’s coming up

So I missed a couple of weeks of blogging, and was a little bit torn about how to handle it. There are basically two routes, and both are equally valid.

Route one would be to just pick right up with another post and not acknowledge the “gap”. This would work great for an impersonal and informative type of site. While I hope that what you find here is informative, I intend to be anything but impersonal. My goal here, borrowing an idea from Red Smith, is to sit down at a typewriter, open up a vein, and bleed. So if I’m not being personal, I’m not doing my job.

Route 2 is the “apology”. I am a fan of several podcasts, and also read several blogs. It is generally understood that most people who maintain these types of sites are busy people with families and day jobs and lives. So it is not uncommon for “breaks in the action” to happen. I still find it a bit comical, though, when a podcaster doesn’t post a new episode for a few weeks and then feels compelled to apologize and explain what they’ve been up to. (I listen to one podcast in particular that starts almost every episode with an apology!) But then I go and miss a few weeks of blogging and I see where they’re coming from. I don’t even know where to start, so I feel strangely moved to apologize and tell you what I’ve been up to.

How about a “secret option C”? How about I don’t apologize, but still tell you what I’ve been up to?

I like that route. So here goes nothing:

What I’ve been up to

  • I went vacationing with my family over Thanksgiving. We took our camper to the Florida panhandle for one last hurrah before it gets too cold. Speaking of too cold, it was a little too chilly for swimming, but we got in a good amount of beach time. We also did some geocaching and saw Frozen (great film, btw!).
  • I did the Black Friday thing for the first time in forever. We bought a TV on the cheap. I think I finally (sort of) get it.
  • I’ve watched a ton of college football. I try to be very diligent about not watching too much TV, but I usually kind of let it go during the month of December. Georgia Tech played Georgia valiantly and came up just a hair short. And then Auburn (my wife’s team) goes and beats Alabama and gets themselves into another championship game. So football fever is in full effect at the Lees’.
  • Third Day did a short run of Christmas shows with Michael W. Smith. We were in the Upper Midwest. The weather was cold, but the concerts were HOT (I just rolled my eyes at myself). Seriously, it was a blast touring with Michael and meeting some great fans in the Dakotas and Minnesota. Go here to read my blog updates on the Third Day website.
  • Beyond the above, I’ve been practicing a lot of guitar (brushing up on Christmas songs!) and gearing up for Winter Xtreme as well as The Roadshow in January. We’ll have a short break for Christmas, but then it gets just as hectic as ever!

So there’s what I’ve been up to. But why stop there? Here’s sort of where I’m headed with the blog over the next few weeks:

What’s coming up

  • Let’s face it – Christmas is a busy season. For me to try to post fast and furious like I did earlier in the fall would be unrealistic for me as the blogger as well as you the reader. Look for about three blog posts a week until at least the second week in January.
  • With New Year’s around the corner I have a couple of posts about motivation in the works. I’ve also been working on a post to coincide with the release of The Hobbit this weekend.
  • I was surprised and delighted with the response I got from the Bible reading challenge. I have thought about formalizing that into some kind of email series. It might be as involved as 21 posts to encourage people for every day of the challenge. If something like that interests you, please let me know.

With all of that, things should be pretty busy around these parts in the foreseeable future. If there are any other topics you’d like to see, feel free to let me know by sending an email or leaving a comment.

Thanks so much for reading, and I look forward to what the future will bring!

Book of John challenge

They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. There are 21 chapters in the Book of John.

Coincidence? I think not.

We all have things we want to change in our lives. But I can’t think of anything that could be more life-changing than the simple habit of reading the Bible every day.

So I’ve issued this little challenge. To start today and read the first chapter of John. To get up tomorrow and read chapter two. And over the next 21 days, read a single chapter of John. By the end of the month, you will have read the entire book. And hopefully in the process, you will have begun a lifetime Bible reading habit.

It will feel very small at first. Don’t over think it. Don’t try to do more. Just a chapter a day. Remember God said that with the faith the size of a mustard seed you can move a mountain. This is mustard seed kind of stuff right here.

Take this small step and see what amazing things God can do in your life. 

If you decide to do the challenge, use the comments section to tell us about your progress, or encourage others in their journey. You can do it!

 

The power of habit, part 3: a little challenge

“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” ~ Psalm 34:8

I think I was about 5 years old the first time I tried coffee. I was at my Granddaddy’s house. We were having a big family breakfast, and all the grownups were drinking coffee. Wanting to be a grownup myself, I asked if I could have some. Surprisingly the answer was yes. I poured some coffee in my cup, then added a little cream and sugar on the top. It tasted horrible. The grownups all laughed in that knowing grownup kind of way. And I’ll never forget what happened next.

Somebody said: “It’s ok. Coffee is an acquired taste.”

Over time, I learned. The next time I had the chance to try coffee, I put just a little bit of coffee in there, along with a bunch of cream and a bunch of sugar. It didn’t taste great, but it was better. As I grew a little older I began putting less cream and sugar in there. And somewhere along the way I switched to artificial sweeteners. But my coffee habit stayed pretty much the same for a couple of decades.

Then our second daughter was born. Now to be fair, it wasn’t her, it was me. She was born right around the time our Revelation album came out. We played a bunch of promo shows on the West Coast, and I got used to the time change. I came home and wanted to do nothing but sleep until noon. My infant daughter, on the other hand, really loved being up in the morning. Come to think of it, she really loved being up all the time. So I responded like any new dad. I consumed large amounts of caffeine.

The goal of my coffee drinking now became one of survival. Taste was sacrificed in the name of sheer volume. This was before the Keurig days, so I wasn’t counting my coffee drinking by the cup. It was more by the pot. I didn’t have time to fool with the cream and sweeteners and what not. I wanted it straight. The stronger the better. After doing this a few months, I realized I actually liked black coffee.

It only took 30 years, but I had acquired a taste for coffee.

It’s funny the amount of effort we’ll put into something we don’t like. Tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine all taste pretty much awful the first time. It’s as if our bodies know better. But we go ahead and push past it until we like it.

How many vices in our lives seem to require this strange phenomenon called “an acquired taste”? How many meaningless things will we suspend our belief in the name of going along with the crowd? Doesn’t it seem kind of pointless?

Why can’t we do that with things that are good for us?

If we’re going to acquire a taste for something, why not let it be something beneficial to ourselves? To others?

How different would your life be if you acquired a taste for exercise? For healthy foods?

I’ll go you one better:

How different would the world be if you acquired a taste for the things of God?  

I’ve got a little challenge for you. Read your Bible for the next 21 days. Now this isn’t a go big or go home kind of thing. I’m not asking you to sit down and read the whole thing in one sitting. I’m asking you to approach it as starting a habit. Take it easy at first.

Start small. Start with the book of John. Read one chapter a day. And suspend your judgement of the process. Pray and ask God to give you a desire for his word.

At the end of 21 days, I guarantee you will be a different person than you are today.

They say that 21 days makes a habit. Coincidentally, there are 21 chapters in the Book of John. What have you got to lose?

Let’s do this. Pick your favorite Bible translation and start reading the book of John today. Only one chapter. Share your thoughts on the experience in the comments below! 

(NOTE: To be fair, I really do not think reading the Bible is an acquired taste. It is awesome. It is life-changing. But it is just so easy to put other things first!)

Results of our interview (and your chance to introduce yourself!)

Last week I ran a little interview on the blog with the hopes of getting to know you a little bit better. Also, I want to make sure that what I wanted to write lines up with what you guys are wanting to read.

While the answers themselves didn’t necessarily surprise me, they weren’t even close.

What especially encourages me is the level to which you and I seem to be on the same page.

  • By overwhelming majority, you guys are on Facebook more than Twitter.
  • By a landslide, Max Lucado is your favorite author, with C.S. Lewis coming in at a distant but significant second.
  • By a mile, you read traditional books more than electronic books.
  • And by a wide margin, you read nonfiction more than fiction.

There seemed to be quite a few requests for more reviews and music-related posts. Specifically, there were requests for more behind-the-scenes Third Day content. I will try to offer some more reviews of books and movies. Music will be a good jumping off point for talking about other topics, so duly noted.

For those who are wanting more Third Day content, be sure to check out the band tour page. I write most of the show blogs there! Also, we have an exciting new endeavor we’re about to unfurl that will provide loads of behind-the-scenes content. Details to come!

Finally, I had a few responses from the Mark Lee 101 post. Many wanted the opportunity to do a list of their own. I think that’s a GREAT idea. So here goes:

Use the comments section to list 21 things about yourself. Or if that’s too long, do a list of 10. Or 8. Or 1. However involved you want to get. Just make a list that you think will help others get to know you.

The power of habit, part 2: Building on success

My most successful year as a songwriter, at least in terms of sheer volume, was 1998. It didn’t start with a New Year’s resolution, or even with a plan. It started with a book my father-in-law let me borrow, and then with a whole lot of exercise.

The book was See You at the Top, by Zig Ziglar. Now, I’ve got to be honest. I’ve always had sort of a love/hate relationship with self-help books. I want to make fun of them, but then I walk into a bookstore and see a big display that says “Learn this one thing.” I can’t find the “one thing” in a quick glance at the book, so I spend $27.95 and several hours of my time to figure it out. Most self-help books are sheer garbage in that way, but a few have been really helpful. Zig’s was definitely one of them.

In this particular book, Zig talked about making changes, and that often the first thing we should change is our diet and exercise. These changes will then translate into other areas*.

So I did just that. I started running. I hated it at first, but did my best to stick with it. I told a bunch of people that I was running the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta so that if I didn’t do it I would have people asking me about it. I will do about anything to avoid an awkward conversation!

I gradually found that I loved running. I ran the Peachtree Road Race that year, and  have run several races since, including the Disney Marathon in 2003. While I don’t run as much now as I did a few years back, I still enjoy it and try to do it regularly.

The most interesting thing about my running experiment had nothing to do with running. It was the way the discipline carried over into so many other areas. I found myself wanting to eat better. I procrastinated less.

Most importantly, I wrote a bunch of songs that year. Something about the discipline of getting up and running most every day carried straight into songwriting.

Lately the same thing has happened with writing. Just as I used to sit down and write songs, I sit down and write these blog posts most every morning.

I attribute this to 2 things:

  1. Going back to school – Through doing online school for two years, I got used to the habit of sitting down at my computer and “cranking it out” for a couple hours every day. After I finished school, I leveraged this habit into blogging.
  2. Giving up diet sodas – Back in the summer when it became apparent that I had all but conquered my soda habit, I decided to focus that attention on cultivating a new, positive habit. Rather than having a specific result as a  goal, I placed all my attention on the process. I just tried to sit down every day and write. And so far, it’s worked.

When you achieve a success in one area of your life, see if you can channel that energy directly into something else you want to improve. You just might surprise yourself at what you can do!

Have you ever had a success that has led directly to another success? Do you think I’m completely off my rocker? Do tell! Share in the comments section…