Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

Meditations_AureliusMarcus Aurelius‘ writings are often cited as among the most influential thoughts within the leadership space. As a result, I’m taking my time reading through a translation of his Meditations. He started right off by thanking a group of people who have helped make him the man and emperor that he was by telling the reader what he learned from said person. Here’s what he had to say that he learned his mother:

From my mother, piety and beneficence, and abstinence, not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts; and further simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich.

Aurelius indicated that living simply, unlike the rich patrons he saw around himself, was something worthy of pursuing. This flies in the face of the way we see so many celebrities in our world today living. I’m sure it flew in the face of what was generally believed by the Roman society or Aurelius’ day, which is likely why Aurelius called it out. Actually, everything he said there flies in the face of what is portrayed as “having it made.” His list, broken down:

  • Faith (piety)
  • Being charitable (beneficence)
  • avoiding evil deeds
  • avoiding evil thoughts
  • living simply / plainly

This certainly runs counter to the goal of “partying like a rock star,” doesn’t it? As an emperor he surely could have lived the opposite of all of these points. Other emperors did, both before and after. But that wasn’t Marcus Aurelius’ style. He didn’t need that excess / debauchery. He didn’t see how that allowed him to accomplish what he really wanted out of life and allowed him to live a fulfilled life.

By the way, this isn’t the only reference to living simply and avoiding the trappings of the rich that he gives in the “thank you list.” So if you want to “live like an emperor,” give some thought to Marcus Aurelius’ words.

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He had at least one learning disability. It didn’t matter what language he used, Spanish (which he spoke at home) or English, he mixed up words when he read. It was a disability his father also had and self-trained himself to handle, though the father worked into his adult years to do it. For the son, it took several years to get the public school system to acknowledge that he needed to be tested, despite repeated pleas from his teachers who saw a hard-working, enthusiastic kid who wanted to do well but obviously had an issue. Despite the difficulty, despite the lack of engagement from school administration, despite the lack of proper help, the young man never quit trying and he never got down. He was determined to do what other kids his age did. He wouldn’t use his learning disability as an excuse.

I had him in one of my children’s ministries. One of our programs required a lot of Scripture memorization. For someone who would interchange words upon reading, this was probably the hardest programs in existence for him. But every week he was there, having worked hard all week and he’d work harder than anyone else in the room. While other children his age with no learning disability were not finishing their books for the year, he was pushing ahead. He wouldn’t give up. And he wouldn’t get down. He would just keep trying, keep fighting his learning disability, and he would win. He finished that book.

All the leaders in the program celebrated that night. We were big fans. We saw a kid who wouldn’t settle for less because of a setback in life. We saw a kid who wouldn’t be defined by his learning disability. We saw a kid who was a fighter. And we saw this kid come joyfully every Wednesday night and give it his all. If he didn’t get the Bible verse right, he just worked harder. He never got down, he never stopped smiling, and he definitely never quit.

How’s your determination? Do you have a story like this young man? Determination means you keep putting one foot in front of the other even when you’re dog-tired and needing a break. It means you don’t give up on your goals and dreams because of a setback. If they are important to you, you just get back to work, determined to do better the next time. Sometimes this means re-thinking your approach. Sometimes it means putting more into it. Sometimes it means ignoring the naysayers and pushing forward regardless of the doubt. Without determination, harder goals are impossible. Without determination, big change won’t happen. Find your determination. For a lot of what I do the girl pictured here and her siblings, my children, are one of several sources for my determination. Who or what is yours?

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Mouse with Sword and CapeI used to be the kind of guy who was interested in doing things bigger and better than anyone I came across. This was the way I was in junior high school, high school, and about halfway through college. One of the things about going to a place like The Citadel is it’s humbling. For instance, when we went to play for the Washington Light Infantry, we came face-to-face with Congressional Medal of Honor winners. That’s humbling. They stood out and made you look, and then you saw all the folks wearing Navy Crosses, Silver and Bronze Stars, and Purple Hearts. Those were the times I found myself asking, “What have I done? I’m just some Air Force ROTC cadet. These guys have faced combat and showed great valor in the face of it.”

You don’t do things bigger and better than a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. It’s the highest award we give. The truth of the matter is that the majority of recipients would rather not have had to be in the situation which put them in line for the medal. They’d rather have their comrades back. They’d rather not have the memories. They didn’t earn the award because they were looking for it. Rather, they were just looking to stay alive and keep their fellow brothers and sisters-in-arms alive, too. They weren’t fighting for glory. They were fighting for their fellow airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines.

“It matters not what you fight, but what you fight for.” – David Petersen, Mouse Guard

I found this quote from the graphic novel series, Mouse Guard. Life isn’t about trophies and fame and glory and riches. Or at least, it’s not supposed to be. Rather, it’s supposed to be the why and the who. I work hard for my family, not for me. So when I have enough for my family, I go be with my family. I give of my time to help those around me for them, not for me. I write the check to a charity not for a tax break, not to be recognized as some great philanthropist, but simply because I believe in the case of the charity and want to see it succeed. Folks that do it for ulterior motives miss the point, as this graduation speaker pointed out:

Think about what you are fighting for. You’ve got goals and dreams. Do they fit with what you’re fighting for? Or do they sacrifice what you are fighting for? Make sure your goals and dreams, as well as your efforts and work, all of it – align with what you are fighting for. To do otherwise will likely mean you’ll accomplish that which you’ve set out to do, but you’ll look around and see that you’ll have compromised or lost what you were fighting for.

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A Tribute to One of My Heroes

Saturday evening, one of my heroes passed away. SSgt. Everette Stanley McDonald, USMC, Ret., was the uncle of my beautiful wife. He was a Marine, a fire fighter, and a police officer. He was a Vietnam veteran, a drill instructor, and a leader of men. He was also simply, “Uncle Stanley.” The first time I met him, we were attending a family wedding. I was dating my wife at the time and I was at The Citadel. I had my dress whites, which has a lot of brass on it that needs to be shined up every time it’s worn. I also had my formation leathers, which I put a touch-up polish on to be ready to attend the wedding. Working on my uniform on his porch, we had time to talk to get to know each other. And from that day on, I always looked forward to spending time with him. When we found out that he was slipping away, I wrote this poem:

Fall In, Marine

I think back to the first time we met;
On your porch I was shining shoes and brass.
Black glass and bronze mirrors were my standard,
For I knew the eyes of a former D.I. were upon me.

My girlfriend, your niece, said everyone listened to you.
If I received your approval that would mean everything.
I knew the drill: honor, integrity, duty, excellence, sacrifice.
Would I live by those words towards her, and her alone?

On that day and in the days to come I strove to show you,
To stand before you at inspection with my best.
For the joy of my life so loved and respected you.
After that first day, I understood and I did, too.

On the day of our wedding you drove on to The Citadel.
You opened the door and began to step onto its grounds.
When your foot touched down, the piper began to play.
A fitting way to welcome a Scotsman and Marine.

The night of the wedding we came back to hang out.
Being with family then and now seemed the right thing.
You were so proud of us and glad we had wed.
And I knew I had done it right to have your approval.

As the years have passed we’ve come back to visit you.
We made our winter holidays in your Blackville backyard
Because we felt it important the kids got to know you.
They did and they loved you like we knew they would.

But now, Marine, you’ve got your orders and it’s time.
There’s a new unit in need of a grizzled Staff Sergeant.
There’s a final battle to be fought and it’s for everything.
Once again it’s time to honor those famous words.

But this time your Commanding Officer will be like no other.
He’s the living example of “Semper Fidelis,” always faithful.
For His faithfulness led Him to the ultimate sacrifice for us all.
So it’s time, MacDonald, to snap to as He orders, “Fall in, Marine.”

Semper Fi, Uncle Stanley. We will see each other again.

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It was in the movie I’m Gonna Git You Sucka that I first heard a quote about every hero needing theme music. Given that the movie was a parody, it mocked the fact that previous movies would do just that. However, a lot of us have a song or two that gets us going. For instance, a lot of couples have their song, which was usually a song playing at a memorable time early in their relationship. As individuals we usually have a song that picks us up, lifts our spirits, and makes us feel better. Or we have a song or two that motivates and gets us back at attacking life. I was reminded of this in a post at Small Notebook. Music is powerful. It can completely change our mood. It can invigorate us with new purpose. Have you identified the music which does this for you? Have you found your theme music?

Earlier in life mine was Basil Poledouris’ Riddle of Steel / Riders of Doom from the original Conan the Barbarian movie, starting at the 3:30 mark. It actually came about as a joke, as my cousins and I were sitting around playing Shadowrun and I was playing a throwback dwarf character who had “learned” of the dwarven heritage by reading old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books. One of my cousins said, “Hey, I know what would be the perfect song for this character!” He proceeded to order the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack and thus this song became attached to me. So much so that it made an appearance on my marriage day. My wife and I were walked over from the chapel to the reception hall by a bagpiper (a Citadel tradition) and as we stepped into the reception hall, my cousins had cued up this song.

But we all change and my “theme song” has changed to Last Impression from Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz.

A few of my friends groan because I chose an anime song. But It more reflects my attitude as I’ve matured and as I’ve come to understand the need for the love of Christ to be foremost in my life. I love it musically because it is is made up of three clear movements which reflect how I often operate: slow as I build up to action, frenetic as I am engaged, and then slow again as I reflect upon and verify what has been done. The song isn’t a Christian one and the love talked about is between two people (as described by a kiss), however, the overarching themes point to some of the things I hope for as applied to my faith:

  • There is great strength in love, not only God’s love for us, but our love towards Him and each other.
  • Love will overcome our faults, especially as God’s loving work in us through the Holy Spirit makes us more like His Son.
  • God’s love will heal our wounds, both physical and emotional.
  • War, strife, and shows of force will eventually end. Yes, they are sometimes the only means in our messed up world and God will use these in the end to bring about lasting peace (see Revelation), but once Christ fights that final battle, that’s it. We will only have peace.
  • Jesus went to the Cross in a moment of great sorrow, but it is because of the “dream” of sinners forgiven through His sacrifice. I am one of them, though I do not deserve His grace.

And also, the relevance of the song to the movie Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz has meaning. It is the closing theme. It comes as the Gundam pilots have fought a desperate battle against those who would once again bring about a state of war. They’ve intentionally pulled their punches, using their skills and their equipment to disable instead of kill. When all looks lost, a Gundam pilot reappears with a badly damaged Gundam, Heero Yuy in Gundam Wing, and fires a shot to end it all, knowing that his blast could very well kill the love of his life, who is a prisoner in the HQ he fires upon. It carries the very same idea as the Father sending His Son to die on the Cross, to complete a mission only He could do. And thus this song also reflects upon my greatest hope, especially given my military roots and background:

He shall judge between the nations,
   and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
   and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war anymore.

– Isaiah 2:4, ESV

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There are various versions of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer out there. It’s a rather lengthy one to remember if one chooses to memorize it. However, contained within is a fairly short stanza that is this:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, and in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Even this version has some variants, for instance, “Christ in quiet, and in danger” is sometimes written “Christ in quiet, Christ in danger” but the idea is the same. I like this excerpt because it reminds us of several things if we’re Christians:

  • Christ is always with us. There isn’t anywhere He is not.
  • Christ must live through us and overcome our sinful nature (“Christ within me” and “Christ to win me”)
  • Christ promises to give us rest, to grant us comfort, to help us when we need it.
  • Christ is there for every situation, whether good (quiet) or bad (danger).

This prayer is a petition for several things:

  • For Christ to always be near us.
  • For us to yield our lives and give Him control.
  • For us to depend on Him regardless of the situation.
  • For all of our interactions with people to be filled with Christ.



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Perusing Facebook this morning I was reading about things like the following:

  • Co-worker passed away after fighting severe burns, leaving small children behind.
  • Grandfather diagnosed with lymphoma and has begun chemotherapy.
  • Little daughter diagnosed again with a tumor.

It is a reminder of something Gretchen Rubin (blog | twitter) says, “The days are long but the years are short.” Quite simply, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or if we will have the opportunity to greet tomorrow. The advice has always been to live each day to the fullest and news like what I’ve posted above are a strong reminder to do so.

Are there friends and family you haven’t spoken to or contacted in a while? Drop them a line or pick up the phone and make that call. It doesn’t have to be much, just something to reconnect and share your love.

Is there something you always wanted to do with your spouse and/or your children? If it is something you can do on the spur of the moment, why not now? If it isn’t, what can you accomplish today towards doing it?

Is there something you find fulfilling or a dream you’ve had that you’ve not acted upon? What’s stopping you from doing so today? Again, if it is long term, what can you start on?

Pack life into every day and you won’t miss out as time flies by.

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