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10 Books Every Christian Should Read

Besides prayer and Bible study, few things help in spiritual growth like a good book. Now there are good books, and there are the classics. This list has been carefully selected. Each should help in a certain area of the Christian life. It contains the books I find myself recommending over and over again. If you haven’t read all of them, I encourage you to check them out. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What books would you recommend?

  1. The One Year Bible – “All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16. It almost goes without saying. The most important book that a Christian could ever read is that one overseen by God himself. Broken into manageable daily portions, The One Year Bible is a great way to read through all the Scriptures in a calendar year.
  2. Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods – “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” ~ James 1:22. Even more important than reading the Bible is learning how to apply it to your life. There are many good resources to read about Bible study techniques. Warren’s is probably the most readable and practical.
  3. Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis – This book winds up on many a “best of” list, and for good reason. Based on a series of radio talks, Lewis is able to unpack the inner workings of the Christian faith in a down to earth.
  4. Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster – While we can’t earn God’s love by our own works, we can place ourselves in a position where he can do his work in us. Foster presents several basic tools for living out the faith in both personal and corporate settings.
  5. The God You Can Know, by Dan DeHaan – Many books have been written about the attributes of God. Dan DeHaan had a heart for God like few others, and this book will make you want to love God like that.
  6. Roaring Lambs, by Bob Briner. One of the greatest commandments of the Christian faith is to share it with others. Briner makes a great case for shining a light of faith into the culture at large.
  7. Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning – At its heart, Christianity is all about grace. We say all the time that God loves us just the way we are. But do we really mean it? One can’t read this book and not come away with a sense of the incredible depth of God’s grace, mercy, and love for His people.
  8. My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers – Many great devotional books have been written through the years. Simple yet layered, this one has stood the test of time. You will discover a new gem every time you read it.
  9. Practicing His Presence, by Frank Laubach and Brother Lawrence – We are commanded to pray without ceasing, but what does that look like in everyday life? 15th century monk Brother Lawrence offered some radical ideas. Frank Laubach updated them for a modern audience while offering a few ideas of his own.
  10. Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle – One of the most beautiful things about being a Christian is realizing that not only are we created by God, but that he has invited us to create with him. Through her lyrical storytelling style, L’Engle offers a glimpse into what that kind of life might look like.

Who’s your favorite Star Wars character? The answer could reveal something about you.

“Mommy, who’s your favorite Star Wars character?”

“Chewbacca.”

Kitty and I had just finished seeing The Force Awakens in the theaters. Now we were meeting up with Mommy for dinner. This was Kitty’s second screening of the film. To say it’s her favorite movie would be a massive understatement. She’s pretty well obsessed with all things Star Wars.

“OK, who’s your second favorite Star Wars character?”

“Han Solo,” Stephanie answered with a smile. “I know you’re just trying to get me to say ‘Luke Skywalker’ so you can talk about him.”

Determined as ever, Kitty turned her attention to me. “Daddy, who’s your favorite Star Wars character?”

She doesn’t realize it, but Kitty is on to something. One of my favorite authors, John Eldredge, has an interesting exercise that’s based on this kind of conversation. Eldredge has talked at length about why we gravitate to certain characters over others:

“Quite often you’ll find that you identify with a certain character in a movie you love. The reason why is that their life is speaking to you about something written deep on your heart about your life!” ~ John and Stasi Eldredge, Captivating: A guided journal: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul

It’s a great exercise, and a great conversation starter, to talk about our favorite characters in a film. It’s easier when a new film comes out, especially one that most of us has seen like The Force Awakens. There’s a natural starting point.

Beyond the film’s ubiquitous nature, The Force Awakens is brimming with interesting characters and intriguing story lines. Poe is an amazing fighter pilot with a sarcastic wit to boot. Rey is is conflicted between the adventurous path she’s on and the need to stay home and wait on her family to return. Even old favorites like Han and Leia are given new character arcs.

Even with all these new characters to choose from, Kitty is still drawn to Luke Skywalker. And for good reason. Luke represents the unproven hero of a story thrust onto a big stage; our desire for the underdog to win; and the struggle for good to win over evil, even when those two forces are fighting within one’s own heart.

As for me, while Rey is my favorite character, I can relate to Finn the most. Finn starts out the movie as a stomtrooper, then suffers an identity crisis as he flees the dark side but isn’t ready to stand up and fight against it. I think for me it points out both worthy traits and potential weaknesses. Like Finn, I desire to fight injustice in the world. On the other hand, I have a strong desire to please others and not rock the boat, which sometimes shows up as wanting to avoid conflict.

Examine the characters in the film and search your own heart, and you can learn some things about yourself. Hey, if nothing else, it could give you an excuse to see the movie again.

Now you. What character in The Force Awakens do you relate to the most? Why?

What to do on the day after you didn’t win the lottery

To the three of you who won the lottery last night, congratulations! (If you happen to be a faithful reader of this blog, drop me a line. Maybe you can become a patron of the arts by a generous contribution.)

I’m being facetious, of course. For the rest of us, which is pretty much anybody reading this, you didn’t win the lottery. But it was exciting to dream for a little bit, wasn’t it? It’s fun to sit and think about what you’d do with $1.5 billion dollars.

My family had an interesting conversation about it, and I bet we weren’t the only ones. It seems that any talk of spending lottery winnings comes down to a few common themes:

  • Generosity – When most people talk about windfall income, the first thing they talk about is how to share it with others. They want to provide for family members. They want to support their favorite causes. And they want to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves. I think this shows that most people are generous at heart.
  • Adventure – We all want to live lives that are exceptional. And it seems that a cool billion will go a long way in that direction. Trips, vacation homes, and crazy experiences seem to be high on the list.
  • Luxury – We all want nice things. Fancy clothes, nice houses, exotic cars, maybe even a boat.
  • Relaxation – We want a break from the cares of the world. Let other people take care of the hard things so we can just chill by the pool.
  • Simplicity – We assume that life would be so much easier with a boatload of money. No more debt, no more bills to pay. Life sure would be simpler without the hassle of a job.

One of my all-time favorite movie scenes is in Office Space*, where the main characters discuss what they’d do if they won a million dollars. After some hilarious banter, they realize that what they’d do with a million dollars is an indicator of what you want to do with your life. If you remove money from the equation, your true desires are likely to come to the surface.

By thinking about your imaginary lottery winnings, perhaps you could figure out ways to incorporate those themes above into your life. If you’re creative about it, you could make it happen with little or no income.

  • You could be more generous. You may not have a lot of money, but you could donate your time or your talents. Help your friends and family in other ways. Volunteer. Teach others some of the skills you have.
  • You could be more adventurous. You may not be able to go to some faraway island, but you could go to the beach. Or a museum. Or try a restaurant in another part of town.
  • Yes, you really could be more luxurious. And yes, this can be done without any money. Julia Cameron has talked about how eating raspberries feels like a luxury.
  • Be more relaxed. It’s more of an attitude than anything else. Don’t let the little things drag you down. Take a few deep breaths. Make walking a part of your daily routine.
  • Finally, to quote Thoreau, you can simplify, simplify, simplify your life. This is an area that you can easily do without any lottery winnings. And besides, I’m pretty sure $1.5 billion would have complicated things more than we’d all care to admit.
  • Bottom line: spend a little time pondering on why you were fascinated by a big lottery jackpot, and I bet you can come up with some ways to live an extraordinary life without it.

*While it’s truly funny, this movie is rated ‘R’. Consider yourself warned :)

New Year, Same You (and that’s OK!)

I was at an office supply store the other day with my daughter looking for mechanical pencils*. We headed back through rows and rows of desks and office chairs. Right in the middle of this huge store, just before the pencil aisle, we rounded a corner and Abbie let out a squeal of delight.
In front of us was a huge, colorful display of 2016 calendars.

“Daddy – look at all the new calendars! Can I get one?”

I responded with a timeless gem of fatherly wisdom handed down through the generations. “Ask your mother.”

Abbie’s not the only one excited about the new year. There is something about this time that gets everybody all giddy. It’s a new year, so now we’re going to do all this new stuff. We’re going to set all these resolutions and run after them with this newfound resolve. We’re going to be nothing short of amazing.

We tear into the new year like people on a mission. But by the end of January, we revert back to how it was before. What went wrong?

I blame it on a little assumption we all make around this time. This assumption rears its head when people say little catch phrases like “New year, new you.”

All of a sudden, because a number on a calendar has changed by a single digit, that means we are we are somehow going to be completely different people. We really try to be different, and it works for a while, as we get up earlier and work harder. We may even eat a couple of salads.

But at some point we’re going to go back to being the same old us, the ones who like to hit the snooze button, like to watch TV, and definitely do not like salad. Meanwhile, our goals are unmet, and we are left right back where we started, only now we’re frustrated and nursing our egos.

Why do we assume that one day we are going to wake up and be different people? You know what you get for assuming, right?

I’ve got an idea. What if, instead of assuming you’re already a different person just because it’s a new year, you start with exactly where – and who – you are right now.

You have to start somewhere, right? Why not right here? Spend a little time pondering what “right here” means for you. Take an honest inventory of what’s gotten you to this starting point. Remember – you are where you are because of everything you’ve done up to now. And where you are is a reflection of who you are.

Instead of just assuming you’re going to be some kind of superhero this year, maybe try to figure out the kind of person who would accomplish all the goals you’re wanting to set. Maybe you need to be a morning person to be able to get up and exercise. Or maybe you need to be a little more assertive to make those sales calls. Add these traits to your list of goals. Work on making those traits a habit. Or maybe, just maybe, you are setting unrealistic goals. Make goals that line up with who you are, and you just might succeed.

You don’t have to be a different person to accomplish what you set out to do this year. You just have to be a better version of you. And that starts with looking at where you are now so you can figure out where you need to go.

Happy 2016. Here’s to actually achieving those goals this year.

* That might be one of the least rock and roll sentences I’ve ever written.

What do you want?

It was a miracle – we were actually running early for church. We got the kids to their respective Sunday School rooms, then made our way to the sanctuary. For once I had a little pep in my step. It’s nice to be early as opposed to my usual frantic frenzy of rolling in on two wheels at the last possible second.

After a couple of worship songs, the assistant pastor got up in front of the church. “It’s the first Sunday of the month. You guys know what that means?” As he began to explain to the audience, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I knew exactly where he was going with this.

You see, my church does this thing the first Sunday of every month. If you have a birthday that month, you get up in front of the congregation and tell everybody what you want for your birthday. Sometimes people say something silly like a car or a housecleaning service. But it’s often something deeper. People struggling with infertility want a baby. People out of work desperately want a job.

The idea is that we often don’t share with God our obvious wants and desires. Which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it, because God knows everything. Yet we have this innate tendency to say “No, I’m fine,” whenever it comes time to talk about ourselves. But just like the parent who loves talking about the little things going on at school because they just want to spend time with the child, God wants us to share what’s going on with us so that we’ll spend time with him.

When Jesus met the two followers of John who would become his first two disciples, he cut straight to the chase. “What do you want?”

In a sense, he is constantly holding out that question to us. And since he knows the depths of our being, we might as well tell him. And because he’s the King of Kings and all, it’s probably a good idea because he can probably do something about it. He can provide hope. He can provide answers. And in situations where those first two aren’t possible, he can provide comfort.

So tell him what you want.

Oh, you’re probably wondering what my answer was. It’s hard to articulate that deep seated musician’s fear that I carry around with me. The whole “this could end in a moment and I’m not qualified to do anything else” thing. I pretty much pray that one every day.

Since that one is so hard to explain, I said that I wanted my kids to figure out their giftings and their place in life. Which is true – if I can help my kids figure out their callings, I will have fulfilled a big part of mine. And hey, I will take any chance I can get to have people pray for my kids.

What about you? What do you want? Bring it before God – you just might be amazed at his answer!

Can you find God in the circumstances?

The other day we were playing at a church in Calgary that had a bookstore. I love finding bookstores when we’re on tour, but it’s a lot easier when the bookstore finds me. I came across a couple of books I had never seen before, and thought they were interesting. I didn’t really have a lot of time as we were leaving to drive to Banff, so I left, thinking it might be kind of cool to look for these books later.

About halfway back to the bus, I stopped dead in my tracks. I knew – I just knew – that I needed to go back and get these two books. So I walked back into the bookstore, got the books, and took them to the cash register. Lo and behold, the Canadian credit card machine didn’t like my American Express, or my debit card for that matter. Befuddled but determined, I walked back to the dressing room area and borrowed some cash. And came back and bought the books.

I just finished the first one and it was absolutely amazing. Probably the most influential book I’ve read so far this year. I dove into the second one, and it seems promising as well.

So here’s my question. When I felt that knowing that I needed to go back and get the books, was that from God? When I was having the trouble making the purchase, was everything going all Frank Peretti on me? Was it spiritual warfare, where forces of darkness were trying to prevent my purchase?

Or did my difficulties signify that I wasn’t supposed to buy the book? If this feeling was from God, shouldn’t he have paved the way for me to buy these books easily?

Or secret option 3: maybe none of it was from God. Maybe the feeling of knowing was in my head. Maybe the trouble with the credit card machine was just that, and would have happened whether I was buying spiritual books or peppermints.

What do you think?

A postcard from Canada

  

What’s up there? I hope this finds you doing well. Things are going great here. I have been on tour in Canada for the last couple of weeks. We’ve been having an absolute blast. I can now say I’ve seen the largest mall in North America since I did my Mother’s Day shopping at the West Edmonton Mall. I sure hope Stephanie likes hockey, because they have a BUNCH of hockey stuff up here. No, I think I’m going to get her something with a moose on it.

And the food! I had some ketchup potato chips and a maple doughnut form Tim Horton’s within the first couple of days and thought I was good. But then I went and had poutine, which consists of french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds – what’s not to love? And I’ve now discovered what has become one of my absolute favorite foods: the Montreal sandwich. If you ever get the chance, give it a try. You’re welcome.

I have learned a valuable lesson while up here. I need to put my phone down and live my life. Let me explain…

One thing that has been a little different is that I haven’t been able to get online much. International cell service is really expensive, so I’ve been relying on the old fashioned World Wide Web. And for some reason, that’s been hard to find. It has taken me some getting used to, but I think I’m OK without having to be on the Internet all the time.

I am so used to watching a baseball game and wondering what the score is and immediately being able to look it up. I am also used to being in the middle of a conversation and having a question come up, then instantly finding the answer on my phone. I have been forced to “wonder without Googling”, and while it was a little weird at first, I almost think I like that better.

I even think that when I get back to the States, I’m going to use my phone a little less. Just a little. Here are a few ideas. Maybe they’ll spur you to think of a few of your own:

1. When I’m in a conversation and somebody wonders something, I can just say “I don’t know”. We humans have been just fine with that up to this point. Why do I have to look it up instantly? I don’t. Instead, I can focus on the people I’m with.
2. When I’m waiting on somebody in a restaurant, I don’t have to take out my phone and look at Twitter. I really don’t. I can take in the environment. I can people watch. I can just sit there. It’s OK.
3. When I’m driving in my car and the song or the podcast ends, I don’t have to get my phone out and search for something else to listen to. This is how accidents happen. This is how people die. I can enjoy a few minutes of silence.
4. When I’m with my kids, I can be with my kids. Even if it’s in the middle of the Braves game. I can watch the end of the game later.
5. When I’m in the middle of something and the phone rings, I don’t have to pick it up. Oh wait – I got that one down. I don’t ever pick up my phone. EVER. Unless it’s my wife or daughter. It’s worked for me. You might want to try it!

Don’t get me wrong. The phone is a wonderful thing. The internet is a wonderful thing. We are able to do things that our predecessors only dreamed of. But we don’t have to do them all. the. time.

Canada, eh? Delightful people. Wonderful food. I’ve made some great memories. And I learned a great lesson about that whole internet thing.

See you soon!

 

Wisdom, Timely and Timeless

It’s not often that you get to read a new passage from a book that’s over 50 years old, and over 10 years since the author has been deceased. But for myself and other fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, we are getting that opportunity.

L’Engle’s granddaughter came across an unpublished passage from an early draft of the book and shared it with the Wall Street Journal this week. Reading the passage sounds as timely today as it would have been in 1962:

For the moment [Meg] felt completely safe and secure and it was the most beautiful feeling in the world. So she said, “But Father, what’s wrong with security? Everybody likes to be all cozy and safe.”
“Yes,” Mr. Murry said, grimly. “Security is a most seductive thing.”
“Well – but I want to be secure, Father. I hate feeling insecure.”
“But you don’t love security enough so that you guide your life by it, Meg.”

[After recapping with Meg and Calvin the children’s brave actions, he goes on]:

“I’ve come to the conclusion,” Mr. Murry said slowly, “that it’s the greatest evil there is. Suppose your great great grandmother, and all those like her, had worried about security? They’d never have gone across the land in flimsy covered wagons. Our country has been the greatest when it has been most insecure. This sick longing for security is a dangerous thing, Meg, as insidious as the strontium 90 from our nuclear explosions…”

(via WSJ.com. brackets indicate edits I made for space and relevance only.)

Now, obviously this passage has ramifications both for the Cold War of L’Engle’s day and today’s War on Terror. Looking beyond politics, this has major implications at the personal level.

I just finished reading Brené Brown‘s excellent book Daring Greatly. She talks about how everyone lives with shame, and how dealing with shame is one of the most difficult and brave things we can do in our lives. It involves a willingness to be vulnerable with other people. It involves leaning into shame.

And it involves a whole lot of discomfort.

God designed us in brilliant fashion. We are wired to protect ourselves, and we do a wonderful job of it. We keep up a level of comfort through all kinds of difficult situations. But our hearts are still left wondering. Is that all there is? Doesn’t God want us to grow?

The answer, according to Brown, seems to be leaning into discomfort to the point that we get used to it. Own all of our stuff. Have the difficult conversations. Say no to all of those little numbing tactics we use to get through the day.

Like L’Engle says above, security has its place. But don’t guide your life by it.
Instead, guide your life on a path of “daring greatly”. Make that difficult phone call. Stop and help the stranger, even if it might mean “getting involved”. Try to be an example of a good parent, a good spouse, a good boss, a good Christian.

And as much as we think that example is all about being strong, often it’s the opposite. It’s about admitting we don’t know everything. It’s owning our faults and imperfections, not in a celebrity tell-all kind of way, but in a way that feels natural and right with those who have earned the right to be a part of our lives.

This message means different things to different people. For me it means admitting to my kids that I’m not perfect. It means sharing with my wife all the tough things I’m going through. It means posting some not-so-perfect moments to Instagram and Facebook. It means going against the normal “dude” thing and sharing my weaknesses with other guys. It probably means something different to you.

Thinking back to Meg, she was able to save her father and brother by embracing discomfort. But in the end, she was able to defeat the enemy not by being someone she’s not, but by being exactly who she was. So maybe it’s time to let go of being who everybody else wants me to be. Maybe it’s time to be who I was made to be.

If we all quit trying to be so perfect, if we all quit trying to be so secure, and if we all lean into shame and hurt and not-perfect, we might be able to help each other just a little bit.

So let’s put down our security and get used to being uncomfortable. Let’s pick up our cross and try the higher road for a while. I think we would all be better for it.

Thanks, Brené, for a timely book. And thanks, Madeleine, for wisdom that is truly timeless.

Being a naysayer, or why I haven’t listened to Better Than Ezra in a decade

The 1997 version of me would be confused right about now.

If you had seen me at any point in early 1997, I was driving my pickup truck with the windows down, singing at the top of my lungs.”I remember running through the wet grass! Falling a step behind! Both of us never tiring! DESPERATELY WANTING!” Better Than Ezra was not just my favorite band. They were The Greatest Band in the History of the World. And their single “Desperately Wanting” encapsulated everything I loved about the band, nay, everything I loved about music, in 4 minutes 37 seconds of sheer bliss*.

If I wasn’t listening to it, I was evangelizing it. If one of my bandmates was listening to their Discman at the airport, I would shake my finger at them in that “tisk, tisk” kind of way, hand them my copy of “Friction, Baby” and tell them to cue up track 8**.

If you had asked me in 1997 what I’d be into in 2015, I would have been pretty sure that Better Than Ezra fit into the equation somewhere. But the 2015 version of me couldn’t tell you what they’ve been up to since they had that “Lifetime” song a couple years back. Oh wait, what? That was 10 years ago. So It’s been a decade since I’ve kept up with The Greatest Band in the History of the World.

Moving on, I did a post yesterday about naysayers and the idea of Bless Your Heart. Yes, I am here because I followed God’s path for me and didn’t listen to naysayers. But here’s the thing. I have been on the other side. Many, many, times.

1) I have a friend named Alex. Stephanie went to high school with his wife, and they remain close friends. We were staying at their house in the fall of 2002. We didn’t see much of Alex that weekend because he was working on a movie. I thought it was cool, but didn’t really think anything about it. Then he put the movie out and they played it in a bunch of Georgia theaters. A couple years later, he put out another film called Facing the Giants. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

2) I went to high school with two sisters named Chanda and Christa. A few years back, a friend of mine and Stephanie’s gave us a little elf that the sisters had made. The idea was that the elf would move around your house every night leading up to Christmas. Kids would see this and make the connection that the elf was checking in with Santa while they were asleep. I thought it was a neat idea, but didn’t think any more about it. Of course, that would be the Elf on the Shelf. Yup. That little elf was a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year.

3) Around the time we were recording our first worship album, a friend of ours gave us a demo of a song. I thought it was pleasant enough, but I didn’t really get it. I was adamant that we record another song instead. You’ve never heard of the other song we recorded, but I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of “God of Wonders”. At our studio we have a plaque commemorating that song being played in OUTER SPACE.

So if I tell a story about naysayers, it is only fair to point out that I’ve been one too.

But the thing is, I don’t even think “naysayer” is the right term here, or even fair.

Yes, there are the true naysayers – those trolls who see somebody trying to do something good and start throwing lawn darts at them. I’m not talking about that. Ignore them.

And I’m not talking about those well intentioned friends and family members who might have your best interest at heart or they might be reading your situation out of their playbook and making it harder for you both. That’s a tough one and probably a topic for another post.

I’m talking about a third category. The rest of us. You see, I liked all those things I mentioned above. I thought they were pretty good ideas. I just missed them. Why? I think it’s a question of time and space.

Back to Better Than Ezra. I kept up with those guys. Then Wilco came along, and now I gotta remember to buy the new Wilco album along with anything Better Than Ezra puts out and let’s don’t forget R.E.M. – I LOVED those guys in high school. And what about Oasis? What a great band – I liked them better than Blur but if you really like Britpop you better check out Kula Shaker. It’s hard being a music snob, but I sure tried. Every time something new came out, it got a little harder to keep up with it all. But I somehow managed.

I kept up the music snob thing right up until October 27, 2003. The next morning, my baby girl was born. When I made room in my heart and life for her, I had to give some other things up. One of those was keeping up with the newest, hippest music.

Also, at some point around that time, the radio dial in our car got turned to the country station and we forgot to change it back to the hip alternative channel (they still have that, right?). One day I heard a song by Kenny Chesney called “There Goes My Life” and it flat out KILLED ME. I have been on a constant quest ever since for those story songs that just tear you up. Unfortunately, they’ve been playing all this Florida Georgia mess so I’ll just have to wait a while longer…

But what does that have to do with the Elf on the Shelf and “God of Wonders” and the Facing the Giants guys? I wasn’t naysaying. I really wasn’t – I genuinely liked those things, and thought they were good ideas. I was just busy and distracted. It’s called Being a Dad.

I bristle when people claim that people are all jaded and bitter and don’t give new things a chance. I disagree. People love new things. Every year at the Oscars we embrace a new movie nobody’s heard of because it’s great. Bands like For King and Country come along and win everybody over. They just have to kick up some dust and get people’s attention. Because we’re all just busy and distracted. And tired. Because we’ve got these kids to get to school every morning.

Or maybe it’s just me. I just don’t have time to keep up with the latest and the greatest. And I don’t have the mental space to do it anyway.

You have a band or a blog and you want me to check it out. Here’s my $0.02. If you have something you want to do and you’re good at it, do it. Don’t listen to the naysayers. In fact, don’t listen to anyone. Well, listen to people in your field who know what they’re talking about. Listen to your friends and family if you’ve held their feet to the fire and know they genuinely want the best for you and not themselves. Other than that, don’t listen to anyone.

But keep it up – maybe one of these days you’ll kick up enough dust that busy and distracted people like me will notice it. Maybe you will come up with the next “God of Wonders” or “Facing the Giants” or Elf on the Shelf. Or maybe you won’t. But I guarantee that your life will be richer because you kept at it.

Or who knows? Maybe in 20 years somebody will write a blog post about how awesome you were and wonder whatever happened to you.

* Truth be told, “Desperately Wanting” was my second favorite song from that year. The first would be “Lovefool” by The Cardigans. But I didn’t need to own that record. They played that song everywhere. On the radio, at the grocery store, while you were waiting for food at Wendy’s, in the waiting room at the oil change place, you get the idea…

** Hey kids – they used to have these things called CD’s. It involved this round disc thingy. Kind of like a vinyl album but smaller. You would play it in a DiscMan. They sounded great but they skipped a lot and- never mind.

On Sugar Ray Marimon, and 10 Years of “Bless Your Heart”

I was at the Braves game last night. While I was still waiting in line for peanuts, the Marlins scored three runs. They added another before I got settled in my seat. So before I was officially ready to watch the game, it was probably over.

But there was a silver lining. The Braves took out the starting pitcher, and another guy trotted onto the field. The stadium emcee announced him as “Sugar Ray Marimon“. Sugar Ray? Really? I got out my trusty iPhone and did some research. The Braves just called him up from the minors on Monday, and this was his first major league appearance. He is a distant cousin of Braves pitcher Julio Teheran. And, most importantly, Sugar Ray is his real name.

What struck me most about Sugar Ray Merimon is that he has pitched in the minor leagues for years. He has over 500 innings of work under his belt, and if you average that out, that’s probably about 100 games he’s pitched. On a 5 day pitching rotation, we’re talking YEARS, all spent getting ready for this moment.

I’m sure the first couple of years were exciting. Sugar Ray would go home to Colombia and hang out at the family reunion, sharing stories about going to America and playing professional baseball. But after a couple of years I bet it took a different feel.

I don’t know about Colombia, but in the Southern U.S., we have a phrase for that situation. It’s called Bless Your Heart.

I know this because I lived it for 10 years. I started a band right out of high school, and people thought it was cute. Fast forward a couple of years, when it’s time for me to start getting serious about my career options, and cute is quickly replaced by Bless Your Heart.

I had a couple of family reunion conversations that went something like this:

“Mark, how are your studies coming along at Georgia Tech?”
“I put school down for awhile. I got too busy with the band.”
“Well bless your heart.”

Or at my wedding reception:
“Stephanie, what does Mark do for a living?”
“He plays guitar in a band.”
“Well bless your heart.”

Many times on airplanes as I was traveling to a show, it was like this:
“Oh, you’re in a band. Where are you playing? The arena downtown?”
“No, we’re playing at a church. We do Christian music.”
“Well bless your heart.”

You see, Bless Your Heart is kind of a catchall phrase that sounds nice, but underneath the nice is something akin to “what an idiot”.

I’ve heard it said that there really isn’t a noticeable difference between someone who is pursuing a dream and a literal, certifiable, lock-you-up crazy person. The only way to tell is to just live it out. I guess at some point you either meet success or you get a big enough dose of critical feedback and you move on to the next thing. Or maybe you get locked up somewhere. I’m not sure how it goes exactly.

But maybe, just maybe, you break through. You get called up to the majors. And you will appreciate all the blessings your heart got along the way. Because it doesn’t get any easier. It’s a tough road and you need all the help you can get.

All the best to my new favorite player, Sugar Ray Marimon. I mean, his name is Sugar Ray. What’s not to love?

You don’t like it? Well bless your heart.