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There is an old saying that goes something like, “I wish I knew back then what I know now”.  And as I look back to my own graduation, here are some of those things I wish I had understood.

 

  1. Life is not a ride, it’s a journey.  A ride is simply being carried along to wherever the vehicle happens to be going, while a journey has an ultimate destination, which requires some navigation and effort to complete.  Unless we purpose in our heart to be someone, or to do something, we are likely to live life like a pinball; propelled by gravity and bouncing from one obstacle to another.  Anything worthwhile in life will require some investment on our part. Those who are unwilling to make such an investment will generally be pushed along by the winds of circumstance to some uncertain end.

 

  1. Not everyone who agrees with you is for you, and not everyone who disagrees with you is against you. In this era of political correctness openly disagreeing with someone is often viewed as being “intolerant” of their beliefs (i.e. a hater).  But there are times when caring for a person dictates that we confront and contradict them.  Conversely, there are those who are perfectly willing to allow you to drive headlong into disaster, as long as it serves their own selfish agenda.

 

  1. Misery not only loves company, it wants to settle down and have children too.  I’ve noticed that miserable people not only seek out other miserable people to bond with, but that they’ll often unconsciously sabotage anything that has the potential to pull them from their misery.  There are few emotions that are as debilitating and self-sustaining as self-pity. Generally, the only way to remain free of such feelings is through a dogged determination not to live that way.  As long as we are willing to blame other people, and circumstances, for our condition, we will remain powerless to change it.

 

  1. What other people believe about you isn’t as important as what you believe about yourself. Only the things which we genuinely believe have the ability to impact how we live.  Therefore, the only words (positive or negative) that have the power to move us are those which we accept as truth.  If a man concludes that he is a failure, no amount of praise or encouragement can bring him to victory; and if a man concludes that he is an over-comer, no amount of criticism can hold him back.  While we are generally powerless to keep others from speaking about us, we possess the ultimate responsibility for what we are willing to accept as truth.

 

  1. Planting apple seeds won’t get you an orange tree. Just as dependable as the law of gravity is the concept that we will reap (i.e. harvest) what we sow (i.e. plant).  Though this phrase is immediately recognizable to most people, there are few who actually live as though it were true.  Our human nature will often cause us to be unforgiving with other people, while expecting generosity in return; to be deceptive about our motivations, while expecting others to deal with us honestly; and to be selfish about our desires, while expecting others to be considerate of us.  We must always remain conscious of the fact that the cup we use to dispense blessing is the cup that we will eventually drink our blessings from.

 

  1. For everything there is a season and it’s important not to despise the season that you’re in.  If you live long enough you notice that there is a sort of pattern that life follows and that things come and go in seasons.  While we have a natural tendency to like some seasons better than others, I’ve found that every season comes with both challenges and blessings.  If we focus on the challenges of the season we’re in, we’ll often miss the blessings, and spend our time pining away for the season to change.  Conversely, if we focus on the blessings of each season, it makes the challenges easier to endure, and brings a sense of variety to the journey.

 

  1. It’s doubtful that anyone is really “out to get you”. Generally, a person has to be of significant consequence before someone is willing to invest the time and energy it takes to conspire against them.  I would suggest that we are more often damaged because people aren’t considerate of our position than we are because people have made a conscious effort to hurt us.  Though this knowledge doesn’t necessarily dampen the pain, it should aid in our endeavor to forgive.

 

  1. When you keep your own score, you always feel as though you’re losing. The problem with keeping score is that we naturally tend to under-appreciate our blessings, and to have an exaggerated sense of our hardships.  Because of that, people who keep score in life generally feel as though they’re never quite being given their due.  Ultimately, it’s better to just give our best in any given situation and to let someone else maintain the scorecard.

 

  1. The path of least resistance is rarely a road worth taking.  Often what causes something to be valuable is that it cannot be easily attained.  It follows then that the most valuable things in life normally require some perseverance to apprehend.  While everyone may sincerely want these kinds of things for their life (e.g. a healthy body, a strong marriage, a successful career…), few are willing to endure the process it takes to secure them.  Unfortunately, we live in a culture that increasingly values convenience above quality, and in which many of our children have grown up with an expectation of the instant gratification of their desires. Many a parent has worked hard to ensure that their kids get a great education, so that these children won’t have to struggle like they did.  But this ignores the fact that it is in the midst of the struggle that we tend to develop our character and work ethic; and that without this development we are generally ill equipped to handle adversity.  I’ve found that you can teach someone with character and work ethic just about anything, but without those qualities, an education becomes of little value.  I’ve also come to believe that giving my children everything that I didn’t have when I grew up will likely handicap them for life.

 

  1. There are few jobs easier than being a critic and few that are more taxing than being a builder. I’m ashamed to admit that there have been times in my life when I’ve been like the guy who sits in the back of the classroom, ridiculing the person who’s teaching the class.  Playing the role of critic, while someone sincerely tries to have a positive influence on the people around them.  While I might try to rationalize that their efforts were less than perfect, or maybe even in vain, life has taught me how little that criticism helps anyone.  It takes a tremendous amount of effort and patience to bring unity where there has only been division, or to stir a group to battle, when they’ve only known defeat, or to restore a sense of hope to a place of desolation…  The builder must make a concerted effort to create, while the critic can bring destruction with little effort.  As a witness to, and a participant in, both of these processes, I’ve committed myself to spending the rest of my days being engaged in the building up and not the tearing down.

 

  1. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.  Experience teaches us that the road to victory is generally paved with some amount of defeat; and that how we respond to those defeats will generally determine whether or not we ever come to the place of victory.   While victory tends to be the goal of every player, I’ve found that what we remember is how they played the game.  It is not necessarily the player with the highest winning percentage that captures our imagination, it is the player who played unselfishly, or with integrity, or who overcame the biggest odds…  Even for those who taste great victory, it is always in a moment that quickly passes into a lifetime of other moments.  At the moment we pass from this life, it won’t be that moment of glory that matters most; it will be how we lived all the other moments that ultimately defines us.

 

  1. It’s hard to be Clint Eastwood if you’re really Mr. Rogers. As I was growing up my conception of what a man was came largely from my father, who was a big fan of men like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.   Throughout my adolescence there were other icons (e.g. John Travolta – Saturday Night Fever, Sly Stallone – Rambo, Don Johnson – Miami Vice…) who seemed to collectively shape the culture’s conception of manhood, and who I unconsciously graded myself against.  Since I was nothing like these men I assumed that I just wasn’t much of a man, and in subtle ways I let their image affect how I walked, talked, dressed…  But as I got older I began to notice that there weren’t many things less attractive than someone trying to be something that they’re not (e.g. a middle aged woman dressed like teenager; a suburban white kid acting as though he grew up in the ghetto; a man with a bad toupee, acting as though it is his natural hair…).  I eventually came to peace with the understanding that regardless of the fact that I bear little or no resemblance to the trendy cultural images of manhood, the best thing I could do was to be myself.  That catharsis has  allowed me to do things like wear the clothes that I feel comfortable in; to act silly in public, just to make my kids laugh; to say “I love you too honey” when I hang up the phone in front of someone; to cry at sad movies…, all without feeling self-conscious.  I highly recommend it.

 

  1. Love grows over time. We live in a society that seems affixed on the idea of trading in and up, on an almost constant basis (e.g. cellphones, computers, cars, houses…); and that basic philosophy carries into our relationships as well.  Most of our cultural allusions toward love seem centered on initial attraction and the titillation of something new; but that is ultimately the shallow end of the relationship pool.  It isn’t until you’ve experienced a love that lasts for years that you come to understand the depth and profound fulfillment that accompanies it.  This same aesthetic applies to friendships as well (i.e. I wouldn’t trade a few old friends for 500 “friends” on Facebook).

 

  1. No person or thing can “make you happy”.  People can support us, love us, inspire us, and even enhance the quality of our life. But unless we determine within ourselves to find the joy, the beauty and the hope within our given circumstance, we will never be “happy”. The idea that it is someone else’s role to bring happiness into our life places tremendous pressure on our relationships, often causing them to fail (e.g. they just don’t make me happy anymore…).  Similarly, material things do not have the ability to bring satisfaction to our souls.  I’ve noticed that people, who can be grateful for what they have today, will generally be that way regardless of what they have.  And that people, who crave something more, will normally continue to crave regardless of what they get.

 

  1. The best things in life cannot be held in our hands or necessarily even be seen. A young person’s dreams are often rooted in tangible gains, like a mate, income, a career, a family, a home…  But as a person attains those kinds of things, values seem to shift from the tangible to the transcendent.  At the end of a long life, it is things like friendship, faith, love and hope that are ultimately treasured.

 

  1. No regrets. I’ve often heard people speak of having “no regrets”, both when looking back on their lives, or in the context of their hopes for the future.  I’ve even heard some say things like, “if I could live my life over again, I wouldn’t change a thing”.  And while those sorts of bold proclamations may sound good as T-shirt slogans or on sports drink ads, they don’t actually play out well in real life.  The truth is that we all make mistakes, and if we have any conscience at all, that is bound to stir up some feelings of regret.  Though unpleasant, it is often those feelings that provide the incentive to grow and change.  A wise man doesn’t pretend that he’s never done things that he wishes he hadn’t; he simply owns up to his failures, learns from those mistakes, changes his mind/direction and leaves those regrets on the side of the road (where they belong).

 

  1. Look out for that curve dead ahead. Growing up can often be a disappointing process.  When you’re 10, you imagine that becoming a “teenager” will change everything.  But a few days after your 13th birthday, you realize that things are pretty much the same.  Then you start dreaming about turning 16, and getting your license, which is cool; but again, you quickly recognize that it doesn’t make as much difference as you thought.  Even 18 is that way.  Yeah, you’re legally an adult now, yet you still have to turn in your homework and get up for school the next day.  But finishing High School is different.  Though you may not sense it immediately, the rules change dramatically.  Up to this point, there was a system specifically designed to carry you along.  There was a whole panel of adults (e.g. parents, grandparents, pastors, youth group leaders, teachers, coaches, counselors…) assigned to provide guidance, boundaries, bedtimes, wake-ups, rides, resources, and incentives to stay on the right track.  There were organized activities intended specifically for you, like sports teams, school plays, dances, and 4H club.  And there was an education system built to pretty much ensure your success.  As long as you cooperated (i.e. showed up with a decent attitude) with these processes, you were almost guaranteed to make it through.  But now, that all changes.  Adulthood is very much a give and take proposition.  Generally, you get out of it what you put into it.  Even staying in school changes.  Colleges and Universities are businesses.  You pay to take their classes.  If you don’t show up, the teacher isn’t going to come looking for you.  If you don’t turn in your work, they will not scold you, or even ask about it.  If you fail the class, they will happily allow you to pay them to take the course over again next semester.  The workplace, and relationships, and almost every other facet of life works similarly.  If you want to have a great marriage, a successful career, or even to live in an exceptional community, you need to invest yourself (i.e. time, energy, passion…) in it.  Simply showing up, empty handed, will no longer get it done.  Ultimately, life was never meant to be a spectator sport – so I’d highly recommend that you dive in.     
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psp5Eighteen years ago, I remember driving through an ice storm during a Level 3 Snow Emergency, in the middle of night. Your mom was in labor, and Mamaw was clinging to Katelyn in the backseat. Looking back, I had no real concept of how much our lives were about to change, and then you arrived.

I was amazed by the beautiful complexity of your being, and am even more so all these years later. From the beginning, you were anything but typical, and I knew that God had something special in mind when He created you. Even in your childhood, I’ve seen Him use the special gifts He’s given you, and I believe that they will only get stronger.

I know that the world has not always been kind to you, but never forget that this is not your home. I wish I could promise you that things will get easier, but it’s doubtful they will. Just know that God has made you strong, and that with HIm there isn’t anything that you cannot overcome.

You were always in a big hurry to grow up, and as of today, the world recognizes you as an adult. But remember what I told you, “You’ll know that you’re grown up when you can take care of yourself, and you’ll know that you’re a man when you can take care of someone else; because God never made a man to simply take care of himself”.

It’s hard to know that you’ll be leaving in just a matter of months, but you were born to fly, and I would never want to hold you back. Please know that wherever the road takes you, my prayers will go before you and that my heart will be with you.

You’ve never taken the easy road, so it’s not surprising that you’d become a Marine. I believe that you’re up to that challenge, and I’m proud of your strong desire to serve.

Though I was given the great privilege of being your dad, never forget that you have a Father that is greater than I. He loved you first, and He loves you best, and long after I’m gone, He will remain. Let His voice be loud in your ears, let His light illuminate your path, and let His heart beat in your chest. He will never leave you, nor forsake you.

I always knew that it was my job to guide you towards manhood, but I guess I hoped I might have a little more time. I’m so proud of the man you’ve become, and I believe that you are ready for what lies ahead. .

Happy Birthday Patrick! Know that I am here for you, and that I will always love you – Dad

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Last Friday evening was Senior Night for the football team, and we parents were encouraged to write a letter to our Senior player.  I’ve pasted a copy of that letter below.  Though his mother is just as proud of him (and he knows it), we agreed that some things need to be said in a father’s voice, and so I wrote it from that perspective.

 

Dear Son

 

Well, here we are closing another chapter from your childhood.  I feel like we’re going to do a lot of that this year.  It seems like you’ve been playing football forever, but I remember the beginning as though it were yesterday.  As much as I was surprised by your brother sticking with the game, it was a no-brainer that this would be a part of your journey.  From your first day on this earth, you were long on passion and short on fear.

 

I remember you playing on the line during Pee-Wee ball.  You were really undersized for your position, but that never stopped you from taking on the biggest guys on the opposing team.  I specifically recall a Unioto scrimmage, where you got low and lifted a kid, who outweighed you by at least 50 pounds, off the ground.  It was just one of those pictures that will forever be etched in my memory, because it helped me to understand who you are.

 

I remember the year when you decided not to play because some of your teammates made you feel like you didn’t belong; but when Coach Bonner called and said the team needed you, you stepped right up.  I remember the year, when the team only had 13 players, and everyone had to play both ways.  Somehow you guys still managed to have a winning season.  And I remember last year, when your arm was shattered in the Clinton-Massie game.  Though people on the sidelines and in the stands were horrified at the sight of it, you never made a sound, and wanted to stay until the game was over.

 

As much as I love football, your participation in the sport has never really been about the game itself.  It was about getting stronger and pushing yourself beyond what you thought you could do.  It was about sticking to a commitment, even when it was hard, and overcoming adversity.  It was about being a part of a team, and making sacrifices for something bigger than yourself.  Ultimately, it was about preparing you for life, and from that standpoint it has been an unmitigated success.

 

Even though we place a huge emphasis on education, life isn’t much like a classroom.  In truth, it’s a lot more like a football field.  The classroom is a controlled environment, with a set script and a seat for every student.  But life is not something we can control, and it cannot be scripted.  It comes with bad field conditions, and injuries, and adversaries who hope to stand in the way of our victory.  It comes with dropped passes, and interceptions, and blindside hits.  In the end, it is our ability to deal with these hardships that sets the stage for our victory.

 

I know that in some ways the final chapter of your football career has been a disappointment.  I know that you never envisioned spending your senior season on the sideline in a cast, but as I’ve watched you cheer on your teammates, and lift your younger brother up, I want you to know that I’m not disappointed.  It takes a far bigger man to celebrate other people having the success they hoped would be their own than it does to make tackles or to catch passes.  I can’t help but admire a man who can set aside his own disappointment and lift up the people around him.  From where I sit, that is the sort of man that you’re becoming.

 

Tonight, as your mother and I walk across the field with you, I will surely shed a few tears (because that’s how I am), but I won’t be sad.  I will be grateful for the years you’ve played, and the teammates and coaches you’ve played with, and the things you’ve learned, and the strength you’ve gained.  I will be thankful for the injuries that never happened, for the care you received for the ones that did; for all the wins, and even for some of the losses.  But most of all, I will be humbled by the privilege of being your dad, and for the man God made you to be.  I love you son, and I couldn’t be more proud of you. 

 

Love Always – Dadsenior-night-16

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  1. Every child is their own story. What works with one doesn’t necessarily work with another.  Different things inspire them, motivate them, scare them, and hurt them.  Though there may be some broad tenets that apply to all, each one requires a unique approach.
  2. Perfection cannot be the goal. No matter how hard we try, we will not be perfect parents; and demanding perfection from our kids simply makes them feel as though nothing they do is ever good enough.
  3. Boundaries are meant to keep kids safe, not to keep them from the “good stuff”. Though, as children, we all tested our limits; as parents, we cannot ignore the benefit of hindsight.
  4. Fear is a lousy teacher.  Consistently playing on a child’s fear ultimately destroys their ability to function effectively.
  5. Our children’s perception of themselves is powerfully impacted by what we say to and about them.  Giving voice to our fears, frustrations and disappointments can scar them for life.
  6. Consistently yelling at kids makes them hard of hearing. For survival sake, they simply begin to tune us out.
  7. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work. We cannot hope to hold our kids to a standard that we ourselves do not adhere to.
  8. Though we naturally want to protect our children, it is also our job to prepare them for life without us. Finding the balance between those two things is a long and demanding process.
  9. No matter how doting, diligent and devoted we are as parents, our kids will face adversity, and they will make mistakes.  We cannot be shocked when it happens, and we need to prepare them for those moments.
  10. Love covers a multitude of sins (yours and theirs). When combined with faith, it forms the only wild card that we have in our parenting deck.

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Many parents teach their children that, “fighting never solves anything”; but that always seemed a bit narrow to me.  A child could easily, and understandably interpret that to mean that there was never a time to fight, and from my perspective, that is not true.  Though I’ve taught my kids that fighting is almost never the answer, I’ve balanced that with the understanding that there are times when it is absolutely necessary to take a stand.  As my son now stands at the threshold of military service, I offer this context for the battle that lies ahead.

 

Our battle is not with flesh and blood

But with the spiritual forces of darkness

We do not fight to show ourselves strong

We fight in order to defend the weak

We do not fight to enslave our adversaries

We fight so that all men can be free

We do not fight to obtain what does not belong to us

We fight to preserve our God given rights

We do not fight because we hate our enemies

We fight to protect the one’s we love

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Our son Patrick made what promises to be a life-changing commitment yesterday, as he signed a contract with the United States Marine Corps. Under the terms of this agreement, he pledged to become a member of the active duty service upon the completion of high school, and within the next 12 months. As such, he was sworn into the Inactive Reserve component of the Marines and will work with the Recruiting Command for the interim period, in preparation for his service. If the schedule holds, he will be leaving for Parris Island within a few weeks of graduation. It was a serious step and one that I believe he was ready to make.

There are some who would question the wisdom of allowing our 17 year old son to make such a commitment, and to be sure, it wasn’t something we came to suddenly or lightly. In fact, this was really the culmination of a journey that began the moment he was born. On that day, I wrote him a letter, which I’ve linked to this article (go tohttps://bryancorbin.com/2010/02/15/letter-to-my-newborn/ ). Within it, I acknowledge that the season of our influence would be relatively short, and I express my desire for him to become the person he was created to be. Ever since then I’ve been looking for clues as to who that might be. From day one, he was a high energy action figure. Climbing, jumping, talking, singing, dancing, laughing… he was always ready to charge up the hill, even when no one was willing to follow. He started in soccer at age 5, and through the years he’s continued with basketball, football, baseball, and wrestling. And for him, it has never been about winning games, it has always been about going into battle alongside his brothers.

The military tradition is strong on both sides of our family. My wife’s grandfather was in the Army during World War II, her brother enlisted in the Air Force, and my kids were old enough to remember when her cousin was in Iraq. My father and his brother were both career military men and Vietnam vets. My dad did 26 years in the Air Force, and my Uncle did 29 years in the Marines. My brother and I joined the Navy together, and I eventually did 12 years of service. From a young age, Patrick loved Veteran’s Day, and beamed when I’d come to the school programs. Years ago, as we visited some old mothballed ships in Charleston, he bought a US Marine flag that hangs over his bed to this day.

As he grew, many other gifts emerged, and we pondered whether these other things (e.g. acting, singing, dancing, drawing) might be a pathway to a different future. For the last couple of years we’ve talked a lot about potential careers and colleges, but it all seemed to have an unsettling effect on him. The further we went down those avenues, the more confused he seemed to become. At times, he even wondered aloud at who he was supposed to be. Eventually, I realized that he was simply afraid of disappointing us and that these things weren’t really what he was after. As we revisited the idea of the military, he seemed to come alive. As I prayed about how best to guide him, God seemed to remind me of who Patrick is at his core, and I began to feel the momentum building toward this end. Even though he’s grown up in a time when these things are not especially valued, he passionately believes in the concepts of duty, faithfulness, honor, accountability, courage, and valor. The fact that things are hard or dangerous doesn’t seem to hinder him. And in the end, I concluded that what we wanted for Patrick wasn’t nearly as important as helping him discover who he was made to be, and encouraging him down that path.

Again, there are those who might question the idea of embracing what could be a dangerous road for our son to go down, but I would submit that there is no pathway forward that is without risk. Indeed, one need only watch the news to see that peril can appear anywhere and without warning. Our world needs brave men (like Pat), who are willing to step into the unknown, and to make a stand for the things that truly matter. Though we clearly recognize what is at stake, how can we justify trying to inhibit him from answering that call. No parent wants to ponder the possibilities, and Lord knows that we will be praying fervently, but if this is who he was created to be, we’ll have to fight the Creator in order to make him something else.

We did require him to look at all four branches of the service, and he did like them all to some degree. But everything about the Marines seemed to fit; heck, even his recruiter is named Staff-Sgt. Corbin. None of us knows the future. This could simply be a necessary step in Pat’s preparation for something else, or maybe this will be the place that Pat shines his light for years to come. I firmly believe that the steps of a righteous man are ordered by God, and that He works all things to the good of those who love Him and who are trying to fulfill His purposes in their lives. I believe that Patrick is that kind of man.

As a parent, our strong impulse is to protect our kids; but just as important is the need to prepare them to make a life of their own. Though we will always love them, they were never meant to remain our children (i.e. be dependent on us). I’m proud of Patrick’s decision to jump into adulthood with both feet. It is typical of the way he’s always done things. He is full of passion and low on fear. I’m proud that in an age of entitlement, he embraces the values of service, and sacrifice. I’m proud that he’s not tempted by the path of least resistance, which I’ve come to view as the road to hell.

Just like the night he was born, I’ll struggle to let him go. But I will. I always knew that the day would come when I’d have to put him back in the hands of the One who handed him to me.

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There is an old saying that goes something like, “I wish I knew back then what I know now”.  And as I look back to my own graduation, here are some of those things I wish I had understood.

 

  1. Life is not a ride, it’s a journey.  A ride is simply being carried along to wherever the vehicle happens to be going, while a journey has an ultimate destination, which requires some navigation and effort to complete.  Unless we purpose in our heart to be someone, or to do something, we are likely to live life like a pinball; propelled by gravity and bouncing from one obstacle to another.  Anything worthwhile in life will require some investment on our part.  Those who are unwilling to make such an investment will generally be pushed along by the winds of circumstance to some uncertain end.

  1. Not everyone who agrees with you is for you, and not everyone who disagrees with you is against you. In this era of political correctness openly disagreeing with someone is often viewed as being “intolerant” of their beliefs (i.e. a hater).  But there are times when caring for a person dictates that we confront and contradict them.  Conversely, there are those who are perfectly willing to allow you to drive headlong into disaster, as long as it serves their own selfish agenda.

  1. Misery not only loves company, it wants to settle down and have children too.  I’ve noticed that miserable people not only seek out other miserable people to bond with, but that they’ll often unconsciously sabotage anything that has the potential to pull them from their misery.  There are few emotions that are as debilitating and self-sustaining as self-pity.  Generally, the only way to remain free of such feelings is through a dogged determination not to live that way.  As long as we are willing to blame other people, and circumstances, for our condition, we will remain powerless to change it.

  1. What other people believe about you isn’t as important as what you believe about yourself. Only the things which we genuinely believe have the ability to impact how we live.  Therefore, the only words (positive or negative) that have the power to move us are those which we accept as truth.  If a man concludes that he is a failure, no amount of praise or encouragement can bring him to victory; and if a man concludes that he is an over-comer, no amount of criticism can hold him back.  While we are generally powerless to keep others from speaking about us, we possess the ultimate responsibility for what we are willing to accept as truth.

  1. Planting apple seeds won’t get you an orange tree. Just as dependable as the law of gravity is the concept that we will reap (i.e. harvest) what we sow (i.e. plant).  Though this phrase is immediately recognizable to most people, there are few who actually live as though it were true.  Our human nature will often cause us to be unforgiving with other people, while expecting generosity in return; to be deceptive about our motivations, while expecting others to deal with us honestly; and to be selfish about our desires, while expecting others to be considerate of us.  We must always remain conscious of the fact that the cup we use to dispense blessing is the cup that we will eventually drink our blessings from.

  1. For everything there is a season and it’s important not to despise the season that you’re in.  If you live long enough you notice that there is a sort of pattern that life follows and that things come and go in seasons.  While we have a natural tendency to like some seasons better than others, I’ve found that every season comes with both challenges and blessings.  If we focus on the challenges of the season we’re in, we’ll often miss the blessings, and spend our time pining away for the season to change.  Conversely, if we focus on the blessings of each season, it makes the challenges easier to endure, and brings a sense of variety to the journey.

  1. It’s doubtful that anyone is really “out to get you”. Generally, a person has to be of significant consequence before someone is willing to invest the time and energy it takes to conspire against them.  I would suggest that we are more often damaged because people aren’t considerate of our position than we are because people have made a conscious effort to hurt us.  Though this knowledge doesn’t necessarily dampen the pain, it should aid in our endeavor to forgive.

  1. When you keep your own score, you always feel as though you’re losing. The problem with keeping score is that we naturally tend to under-appreciate our blessings, and to have an exaggerated sense of our hardships.  Because of that, people who keep score in life generally feel as though they’re never quite being given their due.  Ultimately, it’s better to just give our best in any given situation and to let someone else maintain the scorecard.

  1. The path of least resistance is rarely a road worth taking.  Often what causes something to be valuable is that it cannot be easily attained.  It follows then that the most valuable things in life normally require some perseverance to apprehend.  While everyone may sincerely want these kinds of things for their life (e.g. a healthy body, a strong marriage, a successful career…), few are willing to endure the process it takes to secure them.  Unfortunately, we live in a culture that increasingly values convenience above quality, and in which many of our children have grown up with an expectation of the instant gratification of their desires. Many a parent has worked hard to ensure that their kids get a great education, so that these children won’t have to struggle like they did.  But this ignores the fact that it is in the midst of the struggle that we tend to develop our character and work ethic; and that without this development we are generally ill equipped to handle adversity.  I’ve found that you can teach someone with character and work ethic just about anything, but without those qualities, an education becomes of little value.  I’ve also come to believe that giving my children everything that I didn’t have when I grew up will likely handicap them for life.

  1. There are few jobs easier than being a critic and few that are more taxing than being a builder. I’m ashamed to admit that there have been times in my life when I’ve been like the guy who sits in the back of the classroom, ridiculing the person who’s teaching the class.  Playing the role of critic, while someone sincerely tries to have a positive influence on the people around them.  While I might try to rationalize that their efforts were less than perfect, or maybe even in vain, life has taught me how little that criticism helps anyone.  It takes a tremendous amount of effort and patience to bring unity where there has only been division, or to stir a group to battle, when they’ve only known defeat, or to restore a sense of hope to a place of desolation…  The builder must make a concerted effort to create, while the critic can bring destruction with little effort.  As a witness to, and a participant in, both of these processes, I’ve committed myself to spending the rest of my days being engaged in the building up and not the tearing down.

  1. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.  Experience teaches us that the road to victory is generally paved with some amount of defeat; and that how we respond to those defeats will generally determine whether or not we ever come to the place of victory.   While victory tends to be the goal of every player, I’ve found that what we remember is how they played the game.  It is not necessarily the player with the highest winning percentage that captures our imagination, it is the player who played unselfishly, or with integrity, or who overcame the biggest odds…  Even for those who taste great victory, it is always in a moment that quickly passes into a lifetime of other moments.  At the moment we pass from this life, it won’t be that moment of glory that matters most; it will be how we lived all the other moments that ultimately defines us.

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  1. It’s hard to be Clint Eastwood if you’re really Mr. Rogers. As I was growing up my conception of what a man was came largely from my father, who was a big fan of men like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.   Throughout my adolescence there were other icons (e.g. John Travolta – Saturday Night Fever, Sly Stallone – Rambo, Don Johnson – Miami Vice…) who seemed to collectively shape the culture’s conception of manhood, and who I unconsciously graded myself against.  Since I was nothing like these men I assumed that I just wasn’t much of a man, and in subtle ways I let their image affect how I walked, talked, dressed…  But as I got older I began to notice that there weren’t many things less attractive than someone trying to be something that they’re not (e.g. a middle aged woman dressed like teenager; a suburban white kid acting as though he grew up in the ghetto; a man with a bad toupee, acting as though it is his natural hair…).  I eventually came to peace with the understanding that regardless of the fact that I bear little or no resemblance to the trendy cultural images of manhood, the best thing I could do was to be myself.  That catharsis has  allowed me to do things like wear the clothes that I feel comfortable in; to act silly in public, just to make my kids laugh; to say “I love you too honey” when I hang up the phone in front of someone; to cry at sad movies…, all without feeling self-conscious.  I highly recommend it.

  1. Love grows over time. We live in a society that seems affixed on the idea of trading in and up, on an almost constant basis (e.g. cellphones, computers, cars, houses…); and that basic philosophy carries into our relationships as well.  Most of our cultural allusions toward love seem centered on initial attraction and the titillation of something new; but that is ultimately the shallow end of the relationship pool.  It isn’t until you’ve experienced a love that lasts for years that you come to understand the depth and profound fulfillment that accompanies it.  This same aesthetic applies to friendships as well (i.e. I wouldn’t trade a few old friends for 500 “friends” on Facebook).

  1. No person or thing can “make you happy”.  People can support us, love us, inspire us, and even enhance the quality of our life.  But unless we determine within ourselves to find the joy, the beauty and the hope within our given circumstance, we will never be “happy”. The idea that it is someone else’s role to bring happiness into our life places tremendous pressure on our relationships, often causing them to fail (e.g. they just don’t make me happy anymore…).  Similarly, material things do not have the ability to bring satisfaction to our souls.  I’ve noticed that people, who can be grateful for what they have today, will generally be that way regardless of what they have.  And that people, who crave something more, will normally continue to crave regardless of what they get.

  1. The best things in life cannot be held in our hands or necessarily even be seen. A young person’s dreams are often rooted in tangible gains, like a mate, income, a career, a family, a home…  But as a person attains those kinds of things, values seem to shift from the tangible to the transcendent.  At the end of a long life, it is things like friendship, faith, love and hope that are ultimately treasured.

  1. Look out for that curve dead ahead. Growing up can often be a disappointing process.  When you’re 10, you imagine that becoming a “teenager” will change everything.  But a few days after your 13th birthday, you realize that things are pretty much the same.  Then you start dreaming about turning 16, and getting your license, which is cool; but again, you quickly recognize that it doesn’t make as much difference as you thought.  Even 18 is that way.  Yeah, you’re legally an adult now, yet you still have to turn in your homework and get up for school the next day.  But finishing High School is different.  Though you may not sense it immediately, the rules change dramatically.  Up to this point, there was a system specifically designed to carry you along.  There was a whole panel of adults (e.g. parents, grandparents, pastors, youth group leaders, teachers, coaches, counselors…) assigned to provide guidance, boundaries, bedtimes, wake-ups, rides, resources, and incentives to stay on the right track.  There were organized activities intended specifically for you, like sports teams, school plays, dances, and 4H club.  And there was an education system built to pretty much ensure your success.  As long as you cooperated (i.e. showed up with a decent attitude) with these processes, you were almost guaranteed to make it through.  But now, that all changes.  Adulthood is very much a give and take proposition.  Generally, you get out of it what you put into it.  Even staying in school changes.  Colleges and Universities are businesses.  You pay to take their classes.  If you don’t show up, the teacher isn’t going to come looking for you.  If you don’t turn in your work, they will not scold you, or even ask about it.  If you fail the class, they will happily allow you to pay them to take the course over again next semester.  The workplace, and relationships, and almost every other facet of life works similarly.  If you want to have a great marriage, a successful career, or even to live in an exceptional community, you need to invest yourself (i.e. time, energy, passion…) in it.  Simply showing up, empty handed, will no longer get it done.  Ultimately, life was never meant to be a spectator sport – so I’d highly recommend that you dive in.

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