Start Small

When I was in grade school, I had a babysitter that went to junior high who brought over her history textbook, presumably to do homework after I went to bed. But you and I both know the truth: She brought the book because her parents made her and then watched tv while eating all the good snacks after I was asleep.

I remember looking at that big book and thinking to myself, “I’ll never be smart enough to read books like that.”  Of course you don’t get from a grade school education to reading history textbooks overnight, you take it one step at a time. And a few years later, I turned into that same snack stealing babysitter who was assigned a big 900 page textbook that I never read. And just look at me now; an adult who mostly wants to read Calvin & Hobbes or Pearls before Swine above anything else. But that’s neither really here nor there, is it?

When I helped organize a group of people that would eventually adopt a school in 2013, all the school staff wanted was consistent classroom readers. They lamented the passing of  yet another year without readers for each of their classrooms. Fast forward a couple of years and we now do much more than simply read in classrooms. But we couldn’t be there without that small start.

I’m awfully good at running around in circles without ever making a coherent point, so here it is: Take it easy. If mentoring a student on an individual basis is intimidating to you, then don’t worry about it. Just pick your favorite book from growing up and find a group of kids to read to. Later this summer, when school starts back up, find a school near your home or work and ask if you can read to a classroom. You may find the spark to get more involved like I did and end up, as one trusted friend pointed out, “turn this into a small empire.”

But even if you only ever show up the one time and read to a classroom of kids, you have still done something great by making that first small step. You have left an indelible mark on a child’s life and affected lives positively in your community. That’s not a bad deal at all.

Soft Skills

I’ve been lucky in my life. I’ve been flat out given jobs that I was in no way qualified for. But at the same time, I have landed places that made other people jealous and asked me what my secrets were.

Those of us who have been gainfully employed for a while take this stuff as given, but to those who have never been taught how to get there, it really is complicated.

It’s getting to be close to retail season and it may be that you know someone who will be looking for a job in the near future. Here are a few tips from someone who’s got a lot of practice:

  • You have to be confident without being cocky. No one likes a know it all but at the same time you have to walk in there and let them know that they can stop interviewing because they’re hiring you.
  • You have to dress for the job. Last year, I watched a guy walk into Hobby Lobby and ask for a job application wearing a t-shirt and gym shorts. He didn’t get invited for an interview*.
  • You need to get to a decision maker. If you ask the girl or guy at the front desk for an application, follow up with a probing question like, “Is there someone here that I could talk to about a job opening?”
  • You have to be proactive. Don’t go into any old store and hem and haw around the question. Find somewhere you want to work and go get it.

What I have learned is that there are a lot of smart people out there who have absolutely no soft skills. They lack confidence, they lack the ability to communicate, they don’t know how to solve problems, they’re not able to read people’s emotions.

One of these days I may get around to offering a free course online for people teaching these skills. That’s how important they really are to success. How many times have you heard a CEO say something like, “We just can’t get any good help around here.”

But for now, I’m just throwing this out there for anyone who might see this and say, “This is EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for”. There’s gotta be at least one person out there in the universe, maybe 2.

If you’re reading this and you could use some help, please email. If you are local to the Houston area and would like more information, let’s meet in person. I feel passionately about this and here is why: Gainful employment is a blessing from The Lord. Nothing makes you feel better than believing you have everything you need to provide for yourself. Nothing makes you feel better than landing a job when you’ve been unemployed or under-employed for a long period of time.

*addendum: I felt so bad about what I saw that I deliberated for a good 5 minutes whether I should follow the guy out to his car and ask if I could help him find a job. By the time I figured out a way to approach him that didn’t seem psychotic, he was gone. Might have worked out for the best that time. Pretty sure it would have ended with me getting beat up. 

I call the big one Bitey

I think it might be time to stop looking at the news altogether. I tell myself I will miss out if I do, however, the truth is becoming more and more obvious that I won’t be missing out on anything at all. I’m just so tired of the negativity. Are we really so different that we must argue about every single thing on the planet? I haven’t researched it at all but I bet somewhere on the internet is a forum where people are arguing about the correct way to hang toilet paper. It is a very worthwhile discussion that we should all be having.

So, what should a guy like me do when I base many of my decisions on however it was handled when it was an episode of The Simpsons? Do I maybe stage a little rally and make Mr. Burns include a dental plan in our company benefits? No, that doesn’t apply. Do I make up a song about monorails until I find a possum which I name Bitey?

Yeah, that’s what I do. I laugh about it. Life is too short to be mad about everything.  And there is so much outside of our control, we just can’t live in fear of every single thing we see. You know what I really think?

I think Solomon had it all nailed down many, many years ago when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  The only thing I know to do is laugh about it and keep smiling. And maybe avoid the news telling me 9 things that I have to live in fear of tomorrow.

Christ Followers

It’s been said by several people, possibly even Gandhi, that people like Christ but not Christians. Meaning that if you were to read just the writings and teachings of Jesus, then you’d come to an expectation of how people within a church might behave that is completely different than what you would actually encounter.

What can I say? There’s no defending some of the dumb things we’ve done. We’re humans. If you ever looked at someone who attends church regularly and said, “They have it all figured out.” then you just need to look a little closer past the shiny veneer.

We’re all messed up. We yell at our kids and feel guilty about it later. We regularly lose our cool in traffic just like everyone else. We give in and feed our families fast food even though we know that it’s not the best meal for them. We use bad words and sometimes wish we had never learned any of them. Turns out you really can’t unlearn a bad word. We make poor financial choices, some of which cost us severely and for a very long time. Sometimes we actually do this as an entire church organization. We say things we don’t mean and we get confused about something we call “doctrine” that people who have PhD’s argue about.

We are flawed, we are broken and we are trying to get better. Even if it’s a very long term project that takes decades, we just want to follow every single word that Jesus spoke. Because we also like him too. We think he saved the world and we want to tell everyone about it.

So, please, give us a chance and visit us at the community church. And remember, if we offend you, it’s not Christ that did it, it’s all his hurt and broken followers just trying to do the best we can to follow him. We’d love if you would join us.

The Truth

I took a leave of absence from writing. Nobody seemed to really notice but I did. There’s no excuse  but the reason is I have really been trying to think about what it is I’m trying to say here.

I continue running into a wall when I think of what exactly I’m trying to communicate. And what exactly was my goal here from the beginning. I honestly don’t know. I mean, I know I had a goal to write and I sort of accomplished that. But what else was I hoping to achieve? I really couldn’t say.

Because some of what I have said feels preachy or life-coachy and I am neither one of those at all. At least I don’t intend to be. I mean, if you want to Costanza it up and do the opposite of everything I do, go right ahead, because you’re more likely to find success that way. Most of what I have done over the past (almost) 20 years is make a steady stream of dumb mistakes.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that mentoring is really a small part of the difference that I want to make in the world. Because what exactly was I hoping to accomplish with mentoring? I was hoping to guide young people through life and possibly avoid repeating the same dumb mistakes I’ve made. I was hoping to help turn someone into a productive member of society.

The truth is that I don’t want to seem fake or dishonest. I don’t want to feel like my message has been inconsistent. I can’t possibly make a recommendation to someone which I myself wouldn’t follow. And there seem to be a ton of people out there who will, I just can’t be another nincompoop adding to the noise.

I started almost 8 months ago and I basically had 2 points: Mentoring is important and so are churches. None of that has really changed.

But the problem is I have learned how intimidating mentoring is to other people. There is just so much risk in doing the work and most people can’t imagine being that generous and vulnerable, especially if no one ever did something like that for them. And at the same time, I think many are like me saying, “I’m too messed up to mentor someone else. What am I going to tell them? Don’t be like me?”

And as far as church goes, well that is just too audacious for one man to go for. I’ll just leave that to the Holy Spirit. Practically speaking, how crazy does church seem to someone who wasn’t raised attending one? And furthermore, how could I, as someone who was raised attending a church, ever understand the emotions of anyone who doesn’t really ‘get’ church?

The truth about me is simple: I like helping others. And church and mentoring have been a big help for me so I want to share that with others too.

And then I realized, there are other things I know a lot about that I’ve taken a little bit for granted. How about gainful employment? One of the things I have done a lot of through mentoring is help young people get placed into jobs. And also help them to understand how to get jobs they actually want.

What about stable relationships? I’m pretty fortunate to have a family that loves me and a wife of 13+ years that still thinks I’m pretty neat (News Flash: I am neat.) but I also get to be a part of her family that has always loved me like a brother and son. How cool is that?

And that has led me to understand that there are many, many ways I believe I can help others. I just need to figure out what that looks like and how I can best serve my neighbor by sharing that with which I have been blessed.  And I can help not just a handful of kids I can mentor, but anyone who has access to the internet.

So, how can I help you?

Sunday Night Devotional – Rahab

In the old testament, we learn the stories of many of God’s chosen people for the past 3000 years. In Joshua, we meet Rahab, a prostitute in the city of Jericho. In Joshua chapter 2, we see 2 spies enter the city of Jericho and Rahab welcomes them into her home. They receive shelter and protection from the king of Jericho in Rahab’s home and escape captivity.

Rahab has a brief conversation with the 2 spies but it would turn out to be the most important conversation she had, and likely ever would have, in her life. Her recorded words are brief and powerful:

“I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that  great fear has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear. … We have heard of your military victories in the desert and our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Joshua 2:9-11 (NIV,slightly paraphrased)

Rahab encounters a decision that we all will face in our lifetime. Will we acknowledge God and confess that he is LORD? Or will we ignore the facts and continue on with our lives?

Rahab faced this choice and confessed her belief in the almighty LORD. We know from reading the New Testament that Rahab actually played an extremely critical role in the birth of Jesus. Because of her offering of shelter and confession of the dominion of the LORD, she was spared the annihilation that everyone else in Jericho received. They all were conquered by the Israelite army and destroyed. Except for Rahab.

Rahab will later meet and marry an Israelite man named Salmon. (what a bold name by the way.) Together they had a son named Boaz, (an even better name!) who later appears in the Bible in the book of Ruth. Boaz and Ruth would then become the great grandparents of the future king of Israel, David. And many generations later, a little boy was born in a stable in Bethlehem and was named Jesus. All in the blood line of Rahab.

All because a prostitute in a foreign country acknowledged and confessed that the LORD is God.

I’m not here to argue semantics or theology or deities or Jewish history with anyone. I’m not a scholar. The point here, in case I’ve minced words, is that salvation is for EVERYONE. It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past, what mistakes you have made. You can be an unwanted prostitute from a doomed country and the salvation of the LORD is extended to you. The grace that we now have through Jesus Christ is available to everyone, even those that might be considered the scourge of society.

Wherever you are in your life, I hope that you feel loved by God. And know that when it feels like everyone hates you and you’re worthless, that it simply isn’t true. God loves you. And so do I.

It Starts With Love

Summer is winding down and school is around the corner. I’ve been thinking about my beloved mentor kids a lot recently. I have had the privilege of talking about mentoring to a couple of potential new mentors.

I’ve done some critical evaluation and attempted to understand why some mentoring relationships make it and some don’t and I’ve narrowed it down to something important:

It Starts With Love.

You can’t succeed at mentoring if your heart isn’t in it.

This isn’t the kind of deal where you can be punching a ticket, trying to fulfill a community service requirement, maybe seeing if you can’t impress someone, or just looking for something to fill an empty time slot.

If that’s what you need, find a food pantry to volunteer in or a community garden that needs to be cleaned. But don’t halfway commit to something as important as mentoring a fatherless child.

In other words, don’t be that guy. Don’t be that guy to these kids. Don’t be like the parent who comes and goes as they please in and out of a kid’s life and leaves them wondering whether or not Dad really loves them. Don’t be the uncle who shows up to have fun and then disappears for months sometimes years. Kids deserve better than that. They need consistency.

And if this relationship isn’t a labor of love for you, it’s just going to fail. I’ll go ahead and save everyone the time and energy now.

On the flip side, I will tell you that there are many ways that it can work out if you really do come from a position of love. You don’t have to sign up for a multi-year contract. Maybe you’re just the right person for the right period of time and then you both move on. Don’t get so caught up in worrying about how it will end that you never step out and try.

By all means, mentor kids and pour into communities. Our society needs compassionate individuals who genuinely care about others. The point here is that love is the answer. Love is always the answer.