“He Just Kept Going!”

11169918_10206751378810895_8385502505395207127_nThis past weekend was the 79th Annual National Trout Festival here in our little town.  I often joke that it is the time of year when everyone climbs out of their winter dens to show off their new tattoos (present company excluded).  It’s your typical display of small town flavor with parades, a carnival, flea market, and a lot of other stuff too.  I haven’t been to any of the festivities over the last few years due to scheduling conflicts, but this year I was able to make a long overdue appearance.

This year I got to experience a part of the Festival I had never seen before.  Every year, the Rotary Club of Kalkaska puts on a race called the Trout Run.  It is a 1 mile fun-run combined with a 5k and a 10k race for those people who feel a need to have their heart pound hard (I don’t understand such things).  This year my schedule was different, and for the first time as a Rotarian, I was able to be there at the race to help out.  I had a blast!  It was  fun seeing all the different people who came out to run for the fun of running!  We even had one guy who ran the 5k in waders!

It was a beautiful morning Saturday.  Clear skies and a good bit of sunshine made the 30 degree temperature during set-up feel tolerable.  By the time the first race race began we were looking at a balmy 40 and a lot of sun with just a bit of wind that would be in the racers face as they headed out, but would be a nice benefit on the way back.

After the 1 mile run was completed, everyone was ready to go on the 5k and 10k races.  They all lined up together for the start, we counted it down, and the siren went off for the start.  After that it was a lot of milling around for us non-racers, but it gave us the opportunity to talk to the crowd a bit and just enjoy a good morning of community fellowship as we caught up with old friends, met people from town,  or from as far away as Kentucky!10653394_10206499225830453_4074547252641429684_n

After the 5k runners had been coming in for awhile and the 10k runners had started showing up as well, we started hearing a bit of concern regarding one of our contestants.  The parents of a young runner, I heard someone say he was 5 years old, were starting to ask runners if they had seen their son on the course.  He had set out to run the 5k, and they thought he should be back by then.

After a few minutes, a report was given that he had been spotted on the course safe and sound – WELL PAST the 5k turnaround point.  He was running the 10k!  I can tell you that there were a lot of people waiting there at the finish line to cheer this young man on as he crossed with a smile on his face. (With no hint of jealousy in my voice I can tell you he wasn’t even really out of breath!)

After he had a chance to reunite with Mom and Dad and all the questions got answered we found out what had happened.  Apparently in the past, there has been a cone on the course to mark the turnaround point for the 5 and 10k runners, but this year the cones were not put out.  When he reached the turnaround for his race, as one person said, “He just kept going!”

11174764_10153334467509047_3988499782460960483_nWhen all the racers were in and the awards were given out, there was an extra award given to that little guy.  He was given a gold medal for being the first runner in his age group to finish a race he didn’t set out to run!  His parents were understandably proud.  Who wouldn’t be? As I thought about this kid who went the distance, I was reminded of a verse:

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

– Matthew 5:41

I can assure you that if you saw me on that course, you can safely assume that someone forced me into it.  If I had to do it, I would do it, but I can tell you that I would not have done a single step more than I was forced to do.  Running is not a fun activity for me, and I would definitely consider that the least amount of effort required would be more than enough.

Some days I get that way in other aspects of life too.  I know that there is always room to do better.  There is always room to improve.  The thing is, it’s too easy to say, “I’m a good enough…

  • Husband – After all, I come home every night and I don’t fool around on my wife.  I tell her I love her.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Dad – I keep a roof over their heads.  I never beat them.  They have clothes to wear and food to eat.  I tell them I love them.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Employee – I show up for work.  I put in my time.  Everything is getting done that needs to be getting done.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Friend – I talk to my buddies from time to time.  I try not to take advantage of them.  I follow them on Facebook.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Christian – I go to church.  I read my Bible.  I put money in the offering plate.  Isn’t that enough?

By the standards of some people I know, these are all acceptable levels of performance in different areas.  They would look at results like this and be happy with them.  They did what was required of them.  They did “Enough.”  But is it really enough?  Is that the kind of memory you want to leave in the minds of others?

Imagine your funeral:

“We are gathered here today in this place to remember the life of (insert your name here).  He was an adequate man in most things.  Always managed to do the minimum that was required of him.  He is survived by his wife who says she will now be able to watch her television shows, but does admit that she will need to kill the occasional spider in the house.  His children say that they will appreciate the extra car left behind, but will miss having him put gas in it.  

Today he will be carried to his final resting place by 6 day laborers as his friends in attendance said that while it is good to see him off, he is not worth pulling a muscle.  His employer has sent this lovely vase of flowers this morning after realizing he had not been at work the last three days as his work was being taken care of by two of the people in his department and somebody finally realized he was gone when it was his turn to bring in the donuts and they weren’t there.”

That’s not what I want.  That is not a life that screams Relentless Growth!  Relentless living is the kind of living that just breezes right past the turn around and keeps going.  Now this little guys didn’t know he was about do a 10k, but he knew that there was a race to run, and that was what he was there to do!  I have a race to run too!  I’m  not sure what the half-way point is of my life either, but I know that I don’t want to live in a way that is looking for the turn around.  I want people to say, “He just kept going.”

How about you?  Are you living an “adequate life”?  Do you aspire for more?  If you are, here are a few things I would suggest you do to make a positive change:

  • Take a good, hard look at who you are.  If you want to be really bold, ask your spouse or siblings evaluate you honestly.  Get ready for the feedback and take it not as a criticism, but as a baseline to work against.
  • Find a mentor.  When you see a weakness in yourself, look for someone that is strong in that area and ask them for help to improve!  A good mentor will always love to share what they know.
  • Set a goal.  Make it small at first.  Taste a victory or two in an area.  If you like to eat entire pies at a sitting, set a goal for 3/4 of a pie.  Baby steps!
  • Accountability is key.  You need someone that can talk to you without dancing around the issues.  Someone that can say, “Tom, 3/4 of a pie is not a goal that is going to help you no matter how you try to rationalize it.”  Let them help you with your goals.
  • Talk to God about it.  Honestly, if you are going to try and make any lasting change in your life in an area that you are really struggling to grow in, you need help that is stronger than you.  You need to know God and allow Him to be the strength in your decisions.

We all have a race ahead of us.  We don’t know our half-way point, and we can’t see the finish line.  Do you want to be the guy that ran a little while and said, “Enough.”  or do you want to be that guy that just kept going?  Go big.  Be Relentless!

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From The Toilet To The Light

Home repairs.  They are never done!  As soon as you get your list ready and start working on something, you find two more things to add to the list.  By the time you’re done with that project, you will add another five!  Such is the life of a home owner.  Being home for the back half of last week I had several opportunities to walk around the property and think about things that needed some attention.  The more I looked, the more I saw that needed doing!  Of course, that makes a trip to the Hardware store a necessity.

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My new fence! I think the ray of sunshine is God’s approval!

I had good reasons to go to the hardware store.  I needed some screw for the fence I had been building on the side of my house that separates the front and back yards.  It was a great project, and with the help of my kids, I was able to see it through to completion!  I’m pretty proud of how it turned out.  I also had a lamp post that needed a new light bulb, a shed that needed a new light bulb, and a toilet that needed a new tank flapper.

So, Saturday morning I got the toilet fixed.  Not much of a task.  A $4 fix that takes about 2.5 minutes and that includes letting the tank fill a few times to make sure the little flapper seats properly.  I crossed that one off, tossed the trash and moved on.  I wanted to get the lamp bulb swapped out before I went back to work on the fence.

I pulled the top off the lamp and make the quick bulb replacement.  Before buttoning things up, I decided to go ahead and clean the glass so my new bulb could shine as intended.  Once I had everything clean, polished, and back in place I went to turn on the switch.

Nothing.  No Light. At all.  Hmmmm…

So, I pulled everything back apart and gave everything a cursory glance to make sure that there was nothing in the socket affecting the light bulb.  Then I tested the lightbulb to make sure it worked.  Then I checked to be sure that I had the bulb inserted properly and not cross-threaded.  Everything led me to the belief that I had done things properly.  Still, no light.  This was going to take longer than I had planned.

So, I pulled the socket out and there was the problem. It was an old lamp, and the socket had corroded so the juice was no longer flowing!  Now I face a dilemma.  Back to the hardware store or apply my skills of “adapting” things to my needs?  Well, I knew I had some of the parts necessary to make the lamp work, but the sticky part was going to be getting the new socket to stay put in the lamp base.  I needed a nice, flexible piece of rubber that would fit around the socket but still fit in the hole at the lamp’s base.

replacement-toilet-flapper-wchain-930003-2I couldn’t think of any way I was going to avoid a trip back to town, and then it hit me.  I had just thrown a toilet flapper in the trash, and that might be the exact thing I needed.  So, I did some digging through the trash and found my prize.  A little work with a knife and we were in business.  If you didn’t know I had been playing in the trash to find parts, you would think it was the real deal!  What was once a piece of trash that didn’t even have a purpose in a toilet anymore was now serving a whole new purpose.

Sometimes we are the same way.  There are things in our lives that didn’t go the way they should have.  We made mistakes and were left damaged.  We might even have felt like we were not good for anything anymore – just something to throw in the trash.  But we’re not!

No matter the choices we might have made in the past, we have a potential to be something.  We might not be able to do it in ourselves, and it might take a little refining or trimming, but if we allow ourselves to be taken and worked on by the One who knows us and sees a bigger, better plan, we can be given a new opportunity!  We can go from a dark place to a new one where we can shine in a way we never dreamed!10530767_10206445028595556_53115382904636385_n  I’m not trying to make this little toilet flapper sound like a Disney success movie or anything, but I am trying to point out that there are always things that we might feel leave us disqualified for God’s service.  There might be things we can’t do, but our past doesn’t mean we can’t do SOMETHING!  God will take what we bring Him, and if we are willing, He will use it and restore our joy in serving Him.

I’ve thought in the past that I have messed things up to the point that God might be done with me, but the more I read His Word, I see His love for me and His desire to see me improve my reliance on Him.  Through honest assessment of myself and a willingness to be remade by Him, I see new opportunities, and I have been given a stronger, Relentless desire to know Him and to point others to Him.  I want people to see God as I see Him, and to feel the joy of knowing Him not only as Savior and Lord, but also as Sustainer and Friend.

Relentless Growth is the result of my being taken from the toilet of my own making and being repurposed for the task of sharing His light with others!

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How To Take Down An Elf – My Journey to Unemployment & Relentless Living

KeeblerLast week I shared a story about golf. In it I shared a glimpse into the early days in my last job and a glimpse into my lack of character at that time in my life.  Well, today I want to share one of the hardest days I ever had to go through.  Why?  Because this is the fifth anniversary!  A cause to celebrate!

So, if you want to catch up on the story of how golf nearly took my job, go ahead and click the link above and we will wait for you here.

You’re back?  Good.  Let’s get rolling!

So, at the end of my golf career I had a face to face encounter with a boss’ boss who came to check up on my progress as I was nearly killing myself to dig out of the hole that I had created with my lack of discipline.  He dropped in on a store and went through my shelves to see if the conditions had improved.  I had overhauled that store just the week before and felt every confidence that I would pass the test.  Well, I missed one thing – just one thing.  I looked him in the face and knew what was coming.

To say I was dressed down would be an understatement.  I had a very hard time holding it together as he stood IN THE GROCERY STORE AISLE and yelled and cursed at me.  Eventually I went outside as he followed me screaming at me to turn around.  When we reached my van I did turn around.  That was when things got a little dicey.

The specifics of what I said escape me, but the gist of it was that I would not tolerate that out of him in front of my customers again.  That elicited a response inquiring something like what I thought I would do about it which got an answer that may have included a rearrangement of his teeth or something like that.  Then there was something about how I might need to look for a job which got a reply that we would be doing it together because after a call to Human Resources I was pretty sure he would be doing the same.  What can I say?  I knew how to make friends.

At that point he looked me in the eye and asked if I was serious.  I could not have been more serious in that moment – or scared!  He then asked me if I thought threatening him was a good idea.  I stood my ground and asked if he was more afraid of the punch in the mouth or Human Resources.  He then put his hand out to shake mine and said that we would just move forward.  I shook it.

I sometimes wonder what might have happened if he hadn’t said what he said next.  He was not a nice man, and he did not have a nice smile, but he looked at me and with a large, scary smile said, “That’s quite a grip you have.  If you had wanted to, you probably could have kicked my *___*!  I’ll remember that threat the next time I yell at you!”

Was he joking?  He might have been trying to, but he failed.  I saw and heard nothing but a veiled threat in his face and voice.  I’m older and wiser now, and I don’t think I would respond the same way today as I did back then, but I looked him in the eye and said, “Please don’t think that I threatened you.  I made you a promise.  Here’s another one.  I am going to show you that I have learned my lesson and I will be one of your best salesmen from this point on, but I will never let you talk to me like that in front of my customers again.”  Like I said,  I was good at making friends.

Over the next few years I made good on my promise.  I went above and beyond on my territory and saw consistent growth in my sales volume, profit margins, and customer relationships.  Things were really looking good!  I was given awards and company accolades that brought me opportunities to do meet and greets with some important people.  At one of the meetings that boss’ boss mentioned to me that he was surprised that I was still with the company and I told him that I had made him a promise.

I’m not sure if that reminded him of the OTHER promise I had made, but within a few months my route was changed.  I lost some of my best accounts and my volume dropped like a rock.  I went to work and rebuilt only to have the route changed again and the volume to drop again.  As I built that back it was changed again, adding huge amounts of drive time between stops.  What was going on?

Well, by this time I had a new boss, and when that boss came in, he told me that his boss had told him during his interview that he would give him the job if he would fire me.  It all became clear.  I’d made a promise and I was making good on it, and this drove the boss’ boss crazy.  Before long the route changed yet again to something that was completely unmanageable during my normal 55+ hour week. I was driving over 1,200 miles a week and conditions in my stores began to suffer again as I worked to get as much done as quickly as possible without making my family feel the burden of me being gone even more.

Eventually I was put on probation.  I went home and told Tammi that I was going to beat this, but it was going to be hard.  For the next 90 days I worked 16 hours most days  Monday through Friday, and threw in quite a few Saturdays, too.  The result?  My stores were top notch, I was seeing double digit increases in volume and profit margins.  I did it!  I turned it around again.

April 14, 2010 was a beautiful morning.  I was at the Speedway in Grayling filling my car up before heading to Lewiston and Mio when I got a phone call from my boss asking me to meet him at a restaurant later in the day to go over some things.  I don’t know how I knew it, but I knew it was over.  I called Tammi and told her I was getting fired that afternoon.  She told me that was ridiculous.  I had done everything I had been asked and I had nothing to worry about.  I knew she was wrong, but I told her I loved her and thanked her for believing in me.

After I hung up I had a little battle take place in my head as I debated whether or not I should even bother finishing out the work I had planned to do that day.  Why should I?  What good what it do?  I was ready to pack it in and go home to wait for the appointment and then I heard a voice in my head that said,

“Finish well.”

So, I got back in the car and went out and finished my stores with every bit of the attention I had given them over the last 90 days.  Then I went to my meeting, met my boss, signed some papers, cleaned out my car, put my stuff in a cardboard box, got in a cab and rode home to tell my wife that I was unemployed.

It was a rough night, but rougher nights were yet to come over the next few weeks.  I had a lot of doubts about myself and how I had handled things.  I spent a lot of time crying and praying as I tried to pull things together.  Tammi and the kids were great to me, and I would have been absolutely miserable without their love and support.  Besides my family, there were two other things that I had to hang on to:

1. My belief that I had finished well.  I had risen to every request, and at the end I had gone above what I knew I needed to do.  They didn’t even replace me on the territory.  They chopped it up and gave it to other salesmen and said they just didn’t need me anymore.  I know from talking to one of the guys that covered for me that of all the routes out there, I had the one that was impossible to do anyway.  That was by design.

2. God was ever with me.  I spent so much time talking to Him and leaning on Him.  I saw Him provide through family and friends.  Through this time He showed me the importance of friends as I made my first real and best friend. I saw Him open doors to opportunities to re-discover myself and develop new skills and passions.  I saw His goodness all around me.  It gave me a new perspective.

You see, I was an elf.  I was a darn good one too, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.  The mistakes I had made years ago and had learned from came back in the end, and it was enough to take a good elf down even though I had made the changes and had surpassed the expectations.

But I’m not down.  I realized that I was not an elf.  I had let my job define me.  Through losing that job I was forced into a new life.  A life that would force me to grow in a way that an elf never could.  You see, the elf lived in a hollow tree.  A hollow tree is destined for death anyway.  That’s no place for a Relentless Life to grow.

I now live a life that brings me joy.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect, and neither are all the aspects of my life!  I work, and I have rough days, but that isn’t where I find joy.  Joy comes from sharing God’s grace with people, engaging them where they are, feeling what they feel, encouraging them through the hard times.  A Relentless Life that is dedicated to Relentless Growth in Christ for myself and for others!

As a boss, now I have a keen awareness of how I can impact the people I work with.  I want to be the kind of boss that lifts people to their potential rather than drives them toward frustration.  I want to promote people to positions that will allow them to reach their potential.  I want to share in their successes and be there to help them in their failures. I want to live a Relentless Life!

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Golf, Pomegranates, & Ownership

Publication1Back in the Fall of 2000 I allowed myself to be taken somewhere to do something I swore I would never do.  I went golfing.  My brother-in-law talked me into going out for a round of golf just to have some fun.  As many of my friends know, I like a good joke, and I was pretty sure that for this day, the joke would be me.  I was fine with that.  I figured if nothing else, I would have the opportunity to make him lose a bunch of golfballs, so that was okay too – joke would be on him!

Well, two things happened that day that neither of us were expecting.  While we were both pretty sure I would lose, I think he was very surprised to only beat me by single digits.  The other big surprise was that I loved it.  I had a great time, and before I knew it, I was looking for clubs and a bag of my own.  Got in quite a few rounds before we had to close out that season.

When Spring came I bought a membership and was at the course as much as possible.  I started getting up early and hitting the course before the sun was up.  I figured if I could see the ball, I could hit it.  If I hit it, well then I just had to figure out which direction it went. (Lost a lot of balls those mornings)  I was able to get 9 holes in before going to work in the morning!

I was very aware of the fact that I did not want this new hobby to take time from my family.  That is why I golfed so early.  They didn’t even miss me!  Then I could golf on the weekend too without them feeling like they were missing out on my free time.  It worked pretty well.  Then I started to want to golf in the evenings too, but that was going to cut into my family time.  Here is where things started to go wrong.

I decided to take a couple of my afternoons and work shorter days so I could play 18 holes after work and still be home on time.  This was awesome!  I was getting in about 99 holes a week and my family didn’t feel neglected!  I was a master of time management! Or was I?

By late August I was starting my workdays by 7am after playing 9 holes, but was on the golf course by 1pm.  I worked a commission sales job at the time, so my hours were pretty flexible. Before long, it started to catch up with me.  Conditions in my stores started to suffer, and several little things began to pile up and show that I was not devoting the time I should be to my job.  Family was still feeling no real loss, but work was definitely feeling it.

Bad things always seem to eventually get found out, and this was no exception.  I narrowly escaped with my job, and for the next 9 years I fought with trying to keep the mistake of that summer from taking my livelihood.  Elephants and Zone Managers never forget…

Reading my Bible yesterday I was in Numbers 20.  The Israelites have started their new careers as wilderness wanderers, and the complaining has really ramped up.  God has told the people that their doubt is going to keep them out of the Promised Land, He squashed a major rebellion that resulted in thousands being killed, and He had to make sure that everyone understands that when Moses and Aaron talk, it is time of the people to be quiet.  But, they entered a particularly dry spot in the region and they started to complain again.

And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.”    – Numbers 20:3-5

So, basically they are saying that it would have been better if God had killed them all when He squashed that rebellion.  Then they go on to blame Moses for not taking them into the Promised Land like he said he would when they left Egypt.  They even took it so far as to point out the very obvious lack of fresh produce!  They forgot that it was their disbelief in God’s ability to give them the Promised Land that put them EXACTLY where they were.  It had nothing at all to do with what Moses said or did.

When my golf game got the best of my work performance I could have blamed my family.  If I had been able to play 18-27 holes of golf every night  then I would have had more time to spend at work.  If work had paid me more and made my route small enough to sufficiently do my job in 30 hours then I could have golfed and still had time to spend with my family.  If my brother-in-law hadn’t asked me to go golfing in the first place… The thing is, it wasn’t the fault of anyone but me.  I messed up.

Today the culturally accepted way of doing things is to find someone you can blame for your current situation if it is bad.  You can give yourself credit if it is good, but you must have someone to blame if it is bad.  Well, I guess it isn’t exactly a new concept. The Israelites did it a long time ago, and Adam and Eve played the first recorded Blame Game in the Garden of Eden.  I guess it is how we just tend to default.

What we are missing is Ownership.  Being willing to stand up and say, “Yep!  That was me.  I’m the one that put in more time each week golfing than working.”  “I’m the one that didn’t believe God when we could have just walked right into the Promised Land.” “I’m the one that didn’t (fill in the blank for yourself).”  None of us want the blame, but there are times that we know exactly who should be taking it.  I find that I can identify those times most easily by analyzing just how hard I am trying to find someone else to blame the problem on!

As a believer, I live under grace.  As a Relentless believer, I am called to own my mess as I cling to grace.  Grace allows me to admit where I am wrong without fear of being cast away from God, but I am not exempt from the consequences of my wrong-doing, and I will not learn anything unless I own my mess!  That is key in spiritual growth!  Make mistakes, admit mistakes, ask forgiveness for mistakes, learn from mistakes and then go make a new mistake!  It is a process!  When you stop making them then you are done! (That won’t happen while you are alive, so just stick to the process.)

So, what mistakes have you made lately that you need to own?  I’ve recently watched somebody own one, and I was very impressed in how he handled it.  He sought forgiveness with humble spirit, and he received it.  Time will tell if a lesson was learned, but at least the first step was taken.  It was OWNED!

By the way,  I pretty much gave up golf after that.  I’ll still play, but I will probably never have a membership again.  It owned me.  Now I own it!

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