Pastor Brown Goes to Hell

Not that long ago, in a city near you, Pastor Jake Brown was in a car wreck. Before medics could save him, Jake died.

To his surprise, Jake woke up in a beautiful meadow covered in green grass, with fruit trees of every kind as far as the eye could see. The ripe, juicy fruit covered the ground. There were apples, oranges, pears, and figs. Any fruit Jake could imagine was there.

Heaven or Hell?

Walking around the charming forest, Jake discovered that the meadow was full of people from around the world. Every size, race and religion were well represented. Seeing all the people, Jake thought “This must be Heaven. After all, it truly is a land of beauty and abundance.” Although, Jake noticed something very odd. Thinking to himself, “if this was Heaven why does everyone look so sad and grumpy?”

Then, Jake observed that all the people in the meadow had no elbows. “How peculiar” he thought. Then, he saw that no one could pick up the fruit to eat it. “No wonder they are so grumpy. I’d be grumpy too!”

Walking up to one of the men in the meadow, Jake asked, “Excuse me sir, is this Heaven?” “Hell!” the man grouched. “Well, there’s no reason to swear at me, it was just a question.” Jake said in bewilderment. “No! this is not Heaven, this is Hell!” the man snapped. “How awful,” Jake thought. “Hell is spending eternity wanting and craving something you cannot have.”

At that very moment, a blinding white light flashed. In the blink of an eye, Jake was swept away to another meadow. This meadow was lush and green with trees full of all kinds of fruit. Fruit covered the ground, just like the last meadow. Looking around Jake noticed that there was a big difference. Everyone in this meadow was exceedingly happy and joyful.

All were singing and worshipping as they walked through the tall green grass. “This must be Heaven!” Jake exclaimed. With that, another blinding light flashed, and Jake heard a woman’s voice… “Pastor Brown, Pastor Brown, are you with us?”

Suddenly, Jake was surrounded by noise and commotion and flashing lights above him. Blinded by the lights, Jake realized that he was on a gurney in a hospital rolling down the hallway. Nurses, Doctors and Paramedics were rushing him to emergency surgery.

Waking up in a hospital bed the next day, Jake wondered if the meadow was just a dream? A few weeks later, Jake was telling his best friend Barney about what had happened in the meadows.

Jake asked, “if one was Hell, the other must certainly be heaven, right?” Curiously, Barney answered, “So in this Heaven, all the people must have elbows, right?” to Barney’s dismay, Jake answered “The people were all the same, except for their overflowing joy. No one had elbows in Heaven either.” Barney blurted out, “How can that be? Everyone had to be hungry too?!”  “That’s just it Barney.” Jake replied, “No one seemed hungry in Heaven at all. Everyone was picking up the fruit and feeding each other.”

The Moral of the Story….

TRUST – A Reason to Believe

When we are surrounded by people we trust, people who are looking out for our needs and not their own, we are blessed to flourish and grow without fear, doubt and want; bringing God’s Joy, Peace and Love to All.

© 2019 LOL-Ministries, LLC http://www.lol-ministries.com

Based on the Allegory of the Long Spoons, attributed to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok, as well as other sources.

Happy 45th Anniversary Kayleen!

The Love of My Life!

Here are my memories of that wonderful day 45 years ago today.

Throughout our marriage, music has been a big part of our lives. As you read the story and look at the pictures. Please “click” on the songs to hear some of the songs that were the “Soundtrack” of our blessed marriage.

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Way back in the 70’s, working at one of my first jobs; I was scurrying to get some mission accomplished, when I collided head-on into this girl going the opposite direction. When I looked up to see if I had killed her, I saw the most beautiful greenish-brown eyes. Their beauty was only equaled by the most wonderfully warm and welcoming smile I’d ever seen. This was the first time that I ever truly looked at the love of my life, Kayleen. Sure, I’d seen her before, but I never really looked into those eyes, felt that smile. To this day, I have no clue what we said. Since that collision, I have never been able to get her out of my head, nor my heart. Not that I’ve tried. Those eyes, and that smile are as infectious and loving today as ever. On that day, God truly answered my prayers, blessing me with the love of my life.

We Were Always Sweethearts, Boz Scaggs:

After that “accidental” meeting. We have been, for the most part, inseparable. Sure, we have spent lots of time apart, physically. But for me, I carry her with me always. If I’m down, if I’m missing her, all I need do is think of those eyes, that smile. Then, all’s good.

4

After that impromptu meeting at work, it still took a while to get things moving in our relationship. I believe the hallway crash happened in June-July and we didn’t really start dating until September of the same year. We’ll always remember that first weekend together thanks to Jerry Lewis. It was Labor Day weekend and no matter what time we turned on the TV. There was the MDA Labor Day Telethon with Jerry and a host of celebrities.

Dinah-Flo, Boz Scaggs:

We were destined to be together. God was not only ordering our steps. He also had placed so many people in our lives that literally were pushing the two of us together.

3

Starting with a wonderful friend at work named Donny. A gregarious Irishman in his early 50’s, late 40’s; Donny was just about the happiest guy I’ve ever met. No more than 5 ½ feet tall, with peppered black hair and bright shiny eyes. Donny was all smiles, all the time. Every time that I would see Donny when Kayleen wasn’t around, he would say something like … “That Kayleen sure is a Keeper”, or, “That Kayleen sure likes you!”. If by chance Kayleen and I were together, Donny would always comment. “What a Great looking Couple you two are!”. Truly, Donny was a fan. Kayleen has told me about a lady that she worked with named Noreen who was a huge fan as well. It seemed God had enlisted everyone in the place to ensure that Kayleen and I got together.

Near You, Boz Scaggs

Still, with all the matchmaking it wasn’t quite enough. I as shy and so was Kayleen. Or so I thought.

Earlier that summer, I decided to buy a car. Keeping up with my lifelong quest to be different, I chose not to buy a “Guys” car. Muscle cars were all the rage back then, and we all worked on each other’s cars to make them as loud and fast as we could. So, if I wanted to tool around in a “muscle” car, all I had to do was call a friend.

I’m Not Like Everybody Else, The Kinks
1

Then, one day I saw it. The perfect car for me. A 4 door, 1965 Mercedes Benz 190E. Leather seats and that Huge Chrome Grill. Perfect! Even better. It was only $2,000 and I qualified for payments. This car taught me that you usually get what you pay for … While it was beautiful, it didn’t run well and struggled to make it up some minor hills. Who cared. It looked great. The car served its purpose getting me back and forth to work. Especially since going to work was mostly downhill. Little did I know it would be that car that ultimately brought Kayleen and me together.

The way I remember the story. Kayleen had a good friend that worked in the office, Shari. As Kayleen has told me, Shari would always bug Kayleen to ask me out. Being shy, like me, she didn’t.

Then, one day Shari bumped into me as I was heading home. She smiled and said … “You know Kayleen really likes your car, you should give her a ride in it sometime.” I said something like “sure”. The next thing I knew we had “scheduled” a ride. 😊

My Time, Boz Scaggs

While I remember Kayleen riding with me a lot in that car, I really don’t remember that specific ride. Well, one thing led to another and we started going to lunch together nearly every day. Our favorite gourmet restaurant was the “Red Barn”. A hamburger place about ten minutes away from work. That was the fall we fell in love.

Over the next couple of years our love grew deeper and included a lot of great times. Those are stories for another time.

9

On this day, June 21st, in 1975, Kayleen and I were married. While we had been dating a while, I was 20 and she was 21. Babies by today’s standards.

If you recognize the day June 21st, it might be because it’s the “Summer Solstice”. The longest day of the year.

On this Balmy Saturday it was around 90˚ with 74% humidity. While it was supposed to be a sunny day, there was a slight chance for rain. The weather report was vital information for us as we were to be married in a Rose Garden in a park close to my house. Scheduled for 1:00 p.m. it was sure to be a hot one. During the summer in Iowa, the clocks are moved forward an hour for daylight savings time. That’s right, we were getting married outside, when the Sun was in it’s most direct position in the sky for the solstice, at 12:00 noon. What were we thinking?

Lost In Your Love, The Bee Gees
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Preparation for our wedding was a wonderful time, as I remember it. My Mom and Kayleen were deep in plans and arrangements for months. It was wonderful to see those two work so closely together. My Mom made Kayleen’s wedding dress as well as vests for my brother Mike and me. We were young, had no money, so plans were simple. Rose Garden, Shelter House reception in the park, with Cake and a Keg. The perfect wedding for 1975. It would have been a shame to miss it. I almost did…

Since we were planning to only do this once, I didn’t want to mess it up for Kayleen. With that in mind I decided to forgo the traditional Bachelor party the night before the wedding. Instead, I asked my Best Man; my brother Mike and my best friend, Tom, to plan to have the party on Wednesday night before the wedding. They went about setting it up.

8

A Wednesday night bachelor party probably wasn’t a great idea. We had a good time, but I think everyone was home in bed by Eleven that night. Then, on Friday night before the wedding, my two best friends, Tom and Bob, show up on my doorstep pleading… “Let’s go out for one last drink before you take the big step.” “Just one drink, we promise.”

Chances Are, Ben Sidran

Well after an extended discussion about how important Saturday was to me and Kayleen. I caved, agreeing to “One Drink”. So off to the Alpine Room for these three musketeers (or stooges).

Since meeting Kayleen I hadn’t really spent much time with Tom and Bob, so I thought this would be a great way to catch up. They were so excited to take me to this new place they had found, the Alpine Room. Nothing to spectacular. Just another Iowa bar to me.

7

I reiterated, “Just One Drink Guys”. They eagerly agreed ordering a round of “Alpine Coolers” for the three of us. “What’s that?” I asked. In unison, they exclaimed… “You’ll Love it!” Right then, right there I should have left. I knew something was up. I didn’t leave. We toasted the wedding with the Alpine Coolers. That’s the last thing I remember. Until…

The sun burning warm on the back of my head, wind blowing through my hair. Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” blaring in my ears, I forced my eyes to open.

Tom and Bob were in the front seat of Bob’s Jeep with me strapped in the back. Top off, both were singing at the top of their lungs while flying down the Interstate heading west towards Omaha. I yelled “WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING?”

Space Truckin’, Deep Purple

Almost in beat with the melody of the Deep Purple song they responded… “We’re Kidnapping You. No Wedding for you Today!!! Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!”

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Obviously, we hadn’t stopped with just one “Alpine Cooler”. While I was instantly sober at the thought of missing my wedding. Tom and Bob were still in FULL party mode.

I’m not sure how I convinced them to turn around, but they did. If I remember right, we got back home around 10 that morning to get ready for the big day. While I don’t think I saw Kayleen until the wedding, I had heard she was concerned.

12

Thinking about it now brings back memories of one of my dad’s favorite scenes, from one of his favorite movies, My Fair Lady. He truly loved the part where Eliza Doolittle’s Dad sang the night before his wedding… “Get Me to the Church on Time”.

Get Me To The Church on Time! – My Fair Lady

With very foggy memories of the night before all I could think about was how awful I felt. Not so much about being late; but my head was throbbing, and my gut was churning. Not the blissful day I was planning on. Off to the Rose Garden, none the less.

5

Did I mention that it was 90˚ with 74% humidity that day? Standing in the noon sun for about an hour I felt every drop of “Alpine Cooler” ooze out through my sweat glands.

Still, I wouldn’t trade that day for any other day of my life. Now, 45 years later, we’re the proud parents of four, with a new crop of grand kids.

Heart of Mine, Boz Scaggs
6
“And in the End, the Love You Take, is Equal to the Love, You Make!”
The End, The Beatles

Thank you Kayleen for putting up with me through all the years. I thank God everyday for blessing my life with you, those eyes and that smile!

All My Love, All Ways!

Trust, a Reason to Believe!

Family, Friends and Loved Ones,

We sincerely hope this letter finds you all joyful and living in peace. These months have certainly tested us all, challenging everything we thought to be reality. It is our sincere hope that you are all well, and that you see better things ahead. Always know that you are in our thoughts and prayers throughout each day.

No one knows what the future holds for us, we can only take stock in today. Thankfully, today looks better than yesterday did.

For me, the lessons learned throughout this time of worldwide pestilence, fear and torment are summarized in one word. Trust. Like most people, it is when my reality is shaken, trust weakens. In this case, trust in the systems, information and individuals that we have empowered to protect and serve us in times of trouble.

Going through this fearful time brings back memories of my experiences following brain surgery. Leaving Mayo hospital for rehab was just about the scariest thing of my life. Gone was the fear of dying. Having knocked on death’s door a couple of times in the previous year, the thought of moving forward was more of a comfort than a fear. Instead, the fear that gripped every part of my being was the fear of loss. The loss of my normal life.

Instead of walking out of the hospital, getting in a car and riding to the rehab center. This day saw me going by ambulance from one facility to the next. Not because of convenience, nor some bureaucratic benefit for the hospital and workers. They were transporting me by ambulance because of my inability to walk or use my hands. All throughout that short trip, my thoughts were stuck on my new life as an invalid. Fear had consumed every bit of my existence. Looking back, it is now easy to understand that my fear was rooted in a lack of trust.

Trust is one of those words that stands alone. Like describing a color or a beautiful sunrise, words alone cannot explain what trust is. Isn’t Trust something we just know or feel; our “gut” feeling? Is that gnawing in our gut simply about trust? Explaining words like trust is like trying to describe something green. While there is a myriad of variations, green is green, but we can’t explain it without a comparison to another color or something green. That’s where my angst was, the uncertainty, doubt and lack of trust gnawing in my gut.

My experience with doctors and medical providers has always been pretty good. Sure, there were a few that dropped the ball, but for the most part, it is my belief that we are blessed to be in a country, and living in a time, where our health and well-being are considered most important by those who take care of us. So, it was not a question of trust in the systems or personnel that drove my fear and lack of trust. Instead, it was my lack of trust in myself and my body that filled me with fear. It was only when faced with a vision of what my world could become, that my strength of faith took over and led me to rebuild my trust again.

My fears had given me a clear view of what my world could look like if my legs and arms continued to fail me. On the other hand, it was my strength of faith that showed me a future that included walking on my own, and even being able to type again with fingers that could barely pick up a penny from the table. Then, remembering the words of my dad ringing in my head brought a smile, “Billy, how do you eat an elephant?”, with laughing eyes he said, “One bite at a time. One small bite at a time!”

It was in thinking about what’s next, what does the world look like after a pandemic, that led me to hear my dad’s wise words again. This is the understanding that gives me peace and comfort in that every action we take for good, big or small, will only make things better. Likewise, all actions that speak of hatred, bitterness and doubt, will only serve to make things worse.

Going forward, it is my belief that it is not our job to rebuild the trust in the world. That is a very big job. Trust only comes from the small actions that each of us takes to make our world better. When combined with the trusting, good intentions of others, our world is a better place for all. Trust is part of who we are, and while we all hope that governments and organizations do the right thing, it is up to us as individuals to make the right decision. Sadly, we cannot control another’s actions, only our own.

When we band together in groups, seeking comfort in conformity, we often sacrifice our individual decisions in alignment with the group. This is the core of my disdain for “group thinking” throughout all sides of the political spectrum. Top down, collective rationalization, has led to the demise and destruction of so much life throughout history. You would think we would have learned our lesson by now.

After all, how often are we told the group is more important than the individual? If the group survives it can only be good for the individual. Right? It might surprise most to know of my emphatic agreement with that statement. Throughout my life, it has been my sincere desire to put the needs of others in front of my needs. To always lead with love. This is the second great commandment that Christ taught, to love one another.

My dilemma is who makes the choice? The group, or the individual? Are we to fall “lock-step” in line with what the majority tells us is best? How is that working for you?

Whenever these thoughts come to mind, it takes me back to the Star Trek movie where Spock died. Looking Captain Kirk in the eyes, while sacrificing himself to save the Enterprise, Spock whispers, “the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few.” Truly a supreme sacrifice to protect the entire crew. Who made the sacrifice? Mr. Spock, the crew or Starfleet?

For me, that is the difference. Where the decision is made. If Starfleet headquarters had ordered Spock to do what he did, would it be a sacrifice? Ultimately, who paid the price? History is full of groups directing individuals to “take one for the team”. From the horrendous blood sacrifices of ancient times to the “for the good of all” directives of the holocaust. All, terrible decisions that were the result of “top-down” group thinking.

It is with this understanding that it is on my heart to caution all about forthcoming decisions and directives in reaction to our recovery from the pandemic. Humanity has an opportunity to reset the reality of how we live, how we treat and encourage one another. Hopefully, as individuals, we’ll each take the time to fully examine how we got here. Not to lay blame on one another, holding this group or person accountable for mistakes. Truth be known, mistakes on all sides are rampant, and ripe for criticism. Instead, it is my hope and prayer that we all investigate where our trust is, and how best to rebuild trust in our systems, governments and most importantly each other.

It was my lessons in rehab that taught me not to rely on others to rebuild my trust. It was completely up to me. Before any growth, it was up to me to trust first. No matter what the therapists did, if my heart wasn’t in it, trust would never come. However, it was the encouragement from the therapists, loved ones and friends that empowered me to take those first (frightful) small steps of trust. With each step, while realizing each small victory, my trust grew.

So, as we all come out of these horrific experiences of the last few months, hopefully, we can all start with small steps of trust. Not in governments, systems and organizations. But trust in each other while surrounded by trusting individuals that will encourage us all to do the right thing.

Love God, Love People!

Mark & Kayleen

Feeling Vulnerable?

Throughout my career, there was always a huge chip on my shoulder. It went everywhere with me, and anyone who would notice it, or dare comment on it, would get an earful in response. My entrance into the corporate world was different than most. So much so, that the theme song for most of my life was “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” by my favorite band, The Kinks.

The chip on my shoulder set me apart from everyone else; making me more confident the further my career advanced. Most of my peers had acquired an achievement that eluded me. They had a high school diploma.  My high school dropout chip was initially covered in shame. Then, by God’s favor, my career exploded. With my new-found success, the shame of my chip transformed into pride. The farther up the corporate ladder, and the more education my peers had, the more boasting about my lack of a formal education. Until God’s plan introduced me to Chuck.

Chuck was the CEO of a small technology company in the Graphic Arts field. With Chuck’s guidance, a handful of the best scientists and engineers in the Graphic Arts community carved out a unique slice in the industry. They were the pioneers that introduced Computer Generated Graphics to most of the world: Built on technology originally created to produce 35mm slides for business presentations (Remember the “slide carousel”?An essential tool in any business presentation before PowerPoint!). As often happens, someone with a keen, innovative eye saw a different use for their technology. How about using the same expertise to convert computer graphics to the 16mm film used in Hollywood? Boom! Mass-market Computer-Generated Imaging (CGI) was born. The idea soon found its way to Hollywood and was used in the second TERMINATOR movie. If you know the movie, there were a few seconds of liquid silver used to morph the next-gen Terminator back into shape. Well this little technology company, and a very deserving engineer, won an Academy Award for that few seconds of 16mm film. Not long after the T-1000 regenerated itself, Hollywood became enamored with CGI, introducing Toy Story and a host of 100%-created CGI movies. Straight from the computer to the Silver Screen. … and as they say, the rest is history!

My meeting with Chuck was after all the hoopla of the Academy Awards. Imagine my feelings of inadequacy when walking into that unassuming office for the first time. There, as you walked in the front door, was a huge glass display case. Almost floor to ceiling shelves, full of awards and photographs, displaying the accolades of this little company’s accomplishments. Other than this one impressive shrine, the company looked more like an office in a rural Iowa town, than a breakthrough tech company. Then Chuck walked out of his office.

My first thought was, “This is Chuck?!” Not your typical tech guru. No splash, flash, or excitement. He extended his hand for a feeble handshake with eyes that did everything they could to not look at me. For a minute, he reminded me of “Corporal LeBeau,” played by Holocaust survivor Robert Clary, on the TV series Hogan’s Heroes. True to his French ancestry as small in stature, Chuck was as unassuming as his office. In a faint voice fitting his disposition, he invited me in to talk.

After meeting the company’s Vice President of Marketing at a trade show, Chuck agreed to interview me for a job. Recently jobless due to the failure of a startup; it was imperative for me to find work. Especially with a wife and four little mouths to feed.

While the VP told me that the interview was more of a formality than anything and that the job was mine, Chuck had other ideas. Sitting down to talk, this unpretentious man seemed overly nervous. His demeanor confused me.

As the meeting progressed it became clear that Chuck had misgivings about hiring me. However, the more we talked, the easier it got, and our discourse culminated into his proud recall of the company’s Academy Award triumphs. Emboldened by his success story, Chuck finally looks me in the eye, he says, “I can’t hire you.” Working to regain my composure, images of my wife and kids bouncing around in my head leading me to ask, “Why Not?”

Chuck’s retort was quick. “Because of your lack of education.” He said it like it was an obvious answer. Fighting the temptation to let the chip on my shoulder and its vitriol take over while biting my lip and asking, “Why? What do you mean?”

Chuck explained to me how everyone in the company – from the receptionist to the shipping guys – had college degrees. Referring to the scientists and PhD’s on staff, he quietly said, “How could I do that to them? What would they think?” Then his eyes widened, like he just discovered gold. “Besides, what can you do for me, that someone with a college degree can’t do?”

Well, with that, the chip on my shoulder took over. What came out of my mouth was, “Well Chuck, thirty days from today, this high school dropout will have the Senior Vice President of Technology for a Forty-Billion Dollar, Fortune 500 Company sitting right here in your office. They don’t teach that in college!” Surprisingly, he was not impressed. He got up from his desk and escorted me out the door. On my ride home, realizing that it was time to look for something else to do. Thanks to my chip, this sure thing didn’t look to be so sure.

Long story short, the VP of Marketing compelled Chuck to bring me on board, anyway. Together, without a lot of support from the boss, we reinvented the company, rocking the printing industry with technology that is still used today.

It was at that job, working with all those talented people in Chuck’s company, that my chip finally found respect for the brilliance that can be nurtured and guided through academics. Some of the fondest memories of my career are those brainstorming sessions and passionate debates over technology, marketing, and strategies with all the Brainiacs.

For the first few years, the VP of Marketing was my colleague, my mentor and at times a protégé. We seemed inseparable. He taught me so much about marketing strategy. Thinking of him always gives me pause to thank God for bringing him into my life. On the other hand, Chuck did all he could to avoid me. Except for giving me an office across the hall from his – albeit an office that had been converted out of a closet. While Chuck probably got a chuckle seeing me in the Five-foot-wide, twelve-foot-deep office, it was plenty big for me and my chip!

My relationship with Chuck was tenuous at best. Eventually, we found ourselves in a contentious discussion, resulting in me getting fired or quitting. Neither of us knows who did or said what, but it was the end of my time with Chuck.

On that particular day, we were embroiled in a passionate debate over the direction of the company. My chip was full of passion and dedication to my beliefs. For once, Chuck was showing fervent passion as well.

Up to this point, we had never seen eye to eye on anything. His academic bigotry always seemed to infuriate my chip. Not this day. Chuck’s passion was fueled by something different. Gone were the vague references to the significance of the educated. Spilling out of Chuck’s office and into the hallway, the argument could be heard throughout the office. Now nose-to-nose, Chuck yelled in my face, “If I make a mistake it will hurt everyone in this company!” With that, and seeing Chuck’s eyes tear up, it hit me. Chuck’s passion was centered in caring for the people of his company. Money and my lack of education had nothing to do with it. That was the day the chip on my shoulder was put to rest.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.    

Proverbs 16:18

Walking back to my office to pack up my stuff was emotional. Knowing it was the end and filled with sadness and disappointment. This project had been such a big part of my life, and now it would be born without me. Still, Chuck’s last words bounced back and forth between my heart and my head. Never had the CEO of a company showed so much love and caring for the people in their charge. My previous discussions with Chuck always centered on how much revenue our project would bring to his company. Until now, he had never shown his strong commitment to those who worked for him.

Throughout my career, when working with owners or CEO/Presidents of companies, my experience always taught me to talk with them about increased revenue or reduced expenses, nothing else.

It was now clear to me why the two of us never “clicked,” nor got along. That one comment showed me a side of my former boss as a leader who was radically different. Chuck loved his employees like a father loves his family; like any father, he would never hurt them for money.

Looking back, that event was one of God’s pivot points in my life. What seemed disastrous to me, turned out to be a powerful blessing masked in chaos, turmoil and doubt. Like so many other times, the pain heralded God’s impending Grace, Favor, and Promise to come.

From that day forward, the chip on my shoulder was no longer a badge of pride. It was just another bump in the road of my life that God used to strengthen me and my resolve. To this day, my heart overflows with thankfulness that God used my time with Chuck to knock that chip off my shoulder. Without my Un-Educated prejudice, it became easy for me to accept people for who they were, educated or not.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

Philippians 2:3

Building on my new recognition of people for who they were, empowered me for the rest of my career. Starting a position at a classic “Silicon Valley” tech company. It was my pleasure to work with a group of people who impressed me as some of the brightest technologists on the planet. You know those smartest guys in the room types? In this case, my team was filled with a couple dozen smartest guys in the room, including PhDs, scientists, inventors, and a collection of engineers that Steve Jobs would envy.

Often, sitting in brainstorming sessions, my mind would wander off to my tussles with Chuck and my struggles in school, leading me to ponder how these Brainiac’s endured decades in school. Over lunch they would tell me how much they enjoyed the academic environment and often talked about dreams of teaching someday. Their appreciation and dreams were as foreign to me as my stories of growing up in Iowa were to them. Still, our love for creation and innovation bonded us together in the universe of possibilities, which eventually led me to getting a patent for our innovation.

My time with Chuck taught me that kindness is an act of love. An act that is born in understanding and unconditional love. We are all human and most use our impressions of others to shape our beliefs, ultimately holding others accountable for thoughts they never had.

Renowned bestselling author and social psychologist, Dr. Amy Cuddy, refers to this as “Imprinting” in her bestselling book, “PRESENCE.” Simply stated, “Imprinting” is when we create a thought or belief in our head that we believe someone else thinks about us. Then we hold that person accountable for a thought or belief they never had. It is only when we take time to fully understand their beliefs or thoughts, that we can begin to truly be kind to them.

“A truly confident person does not require arrogance, which is nothing more than a smoke screen for insecurity.”

Amy Cuddy

In my relationship with Chuck, the chip on my shoulder was a brick wall that stood between us. A wall that was put in place by my insecurities and not his thoughts.

It was only when understanding Chuck’s beliefs and the loving kindness that he demonstrated with extraordinary and extreme passion, that his purpose-driven motivation became crystal clear to me.

How often is our relationship with God thwarted by a brick wall that we put between us? In Christ, we let our pride, our shame, and perceived inadequacies stand as obstacles between the One who created us, and our understanding of the beautiful creation He made. Like the chip on my shoulder, everything we are is God’s design. It is only in our perception that we see strength or weakness in who we are.

Chuck’s passionate caring for those in his charge, along with my shame of a lack of a college degree were viewed by both of us as vulnerabilities, weaknesses, not strengths. All the while, these experiences were powerful assets that God designed in us both before time began. It is only when we become aware of the strength these traits give us, and no longer conceal our vulnerabilities, can we tear down the walls and fully, genuinely communicate.

So, Let Go! Let God build and empower the person that He sees in you!

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

When we let go of the perception of our ability, and how others view us, we understand who we truly are in Christ. Letting go of all things of the world, you realize that every part of your life on Earth is fueled by God’s Supernatural Power. It is in this belief we find the Passion that comes from a peace that passes all understanding.

Always Love!

The Rock

“For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.”

2 Corinthians 8:21

What would you say is the most important trait of the people in your life? How would you describe the people closest to you? Does loving, kind and generous come to mind? Is that enough? What about integrity and trust? If you are like most of us, trust is at the top of the list for those true, deep relationships.

Without trust, is there really a relationship?

How would you describe Trust? Is there a word you can you think of to replace the word trust? How about confidence? Faith or hope? Would caring or reliability explain how we trust each other? Trust is one of those words that stands alone. Like describing a color or a beautiful sunrise, words alone cannot explain what trust is. Isn’t Trust something we just know or feel; our “gut” feeling? Is that gnawing in our gut, really about trust? Describing words like trust is like trying to describe something green. While there is a myriad of variations, green is green, but we can’t explain it without a comparison to another color or something green.

The two words that seem to fit trust for me are relationship and love. Not the friendship kinda’ love, but the unconditional love that a parent has for a child. More than just friendship or acquaintance, but the deep, best friend kind of a relationship we reserve for those special few. Hopefully we all have those friends we would trust with our lives, or the lives of our families. That’s the kind of relationship scripture tells us Jesus wants to have with us.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

 Proverbs 3:5

Aren’t all great relationships built on trust? Trust cannot happen without a relationship, and relationships only exists through empathy, love and compassion for one another. It is when we take our focus off ourselves and concentrate on others, we find their trust. We are all vulnerable at times; helping others when they are vulnerable, builds trust with one another. Without trust, there is only friendship or acquaintance.

When we first meet someone, we don’t automatically find trust. It takes time and devotion to build history and understanding with one another. While most of us have some trust when we meet someone new; typically, it is not that “Lay Down My Life for You!” kind of trust. Most of us have faith others will do “the right Thing.” It is only when we to see our new acquaintance earn our trust over time, our relationship grows strong. Trust is not about one big event, instead, we develop trust in small actions added to one another over time. When our trust is broken, it’s next to impossible to revive, if it can be rebuilt at all.

In my early twenties, with the prospect of a growing family and little mouths to feed. We made the decision to change jobs. Leaving my beloved music industry to become a representative for a regional home appliance distributor. It was a dramatic change; leaving an industry that was second nature to me, for a job calling on refrigerator and TV dealers in southern Iowa and Illinois. After my first year, the company made a change in territory management and added the “river cities” in southern Iowa and Illinois to my territory.

Change never caused anxiety for me, the new business would be a welcomed and exciting addition. No longer would my territory consist of the smaller “Mom & Pop” dealers in towns like Ottumwa, Oskaloosa and Grinnell. Finally, there were sprawling metro areas like Burlington, Keokuk and Muscatine. Probably not considered cities by most, for this Iowa boy, these sprawling towns were almost as exciting as my hometown, Des Moines.

With the bigger cities, came BIG dealers! Well that’s what everyone told me. The part they left out was BIG dealers carry “tier one” brands like Zenith, RCA, Maytag and Amana. While my products, Quasar, Panasonic and Gibson were great, they were “tier two”. It was almost an insult for a tier two guy to call on a tier one dealer. Added to my frustration, was finding out the owners of those BIG dealerships, were all exceptionally busy. Keeping up with their hordes of customers made them hard to pin down. That’s who Bob was, a BIG, busy, Tier One Dealer.

Owner of a huge appliance and furniture store in one of the bigger river cities, Bob was a third-generation proprietor of an entrenched merchant family. His store was so big, it even had an elevator, something almost unheard of in any store in his town, or most others in Iowa.

Bob’s family had started the business decades earlier with an extreme focus on serving customer needs as a “Pay as You Go” sales company. Everything in the store could be bought with weekly payments; no credit required. Truly, trusting strangers was their unique value-add in the small community. “A happy customer always shops here first!” Bob would constantly proclaim with a huge smile. It always impressed me that Bob’s dealership was such a benefactor for the area. If your refrigerator broke, you could get the latest greatest model with no money down and weekly payments.

Meeting with the sales rep who had the territory before me, we talked about all the dealers and all the towns. When we got to Bob, the rep made it clear it would be a waste of time and energy to even call on Bob once. “That guy’s a jerk! No time for anyone, he takes pleasure in belittling anyone he talks to.” The rep continued, “besides, he doesn’t need anything we sell, and you’ll NEVER sell him anything!” The rep might as well have just smacked me with a glove and challenged me to a duel at sunrise. The game was now afoot!

Planning my next week’s travel, Bob was at the top of the list. Arriving in town the night before. After checking into my hotel, it was time to cruise by Bob’s store and get the “lay of the land” before my cold call the next day.

Driving by the closed store a little after 9 p.m., it looked dark and deserted. The store was a classic small-town storefront on main street, all brick, five stories tall and it seemed as deep as it was tall. Looking in through the storefront window it was pitch black; except for a single light leaking onto the showroom floor from a room hidden to the street. Thinking that the store didn’t seem so huge, it was back to the hotel to prepare for the big day.

Early morning breakfasts in Iowa were the best. Farm fresh everything; eggs, cheese, hash browns, pancakes and all the trimmings. Small town hotel restaurants were superb people observation venues. Watching regulars, travelers and visitors intermingling in a festival of morning ritual. A travel tradition when preparing my strategies for the day. This day had no strategy, just resolve. Resolve to knock this big bird off his perch. With a deep breath and a full stomach, it was off to meet the day!

Walking in the front door of the store, there was the loud clang of a bell hanging atop the door. With that, everyone in the store turned to give me the once over. No customers were in the store this early, just a gaggle of hungry salesmen by a coffee machine; coffee cup in one hand and cigarette in the other. Making my way through the long showroom with refrigerators lined up both sides, most of the salesmen turned away, figuring out that they weren’t going to sell me anything. Except for that one eager guy that squeezed through the crowd. With a nervous smile, voice trembling, saying “Welcome, are you looking for a white refrigerator or is our new Avocado more to your liking?” Shaking hands, his nerves were made more obvious with the dampness of his palm. Asking, “Is Bob in,” my question seemed to increase his anxiety.

Almost whispering, he quivered back, “Mr. Hettinger is in his office, but he’s not seeing anyone today.” With that, a short stout man appeared from the back office where the light was the night before. “Tommy, who the hell is that?” he grumbled, walking closer, sporting a Charlie Chaplin mustache, the charred remains of a cigarette hanging off his lower lip. Refilling a paper coffee cup, ashes falling in the cup he continued yelling… “Tell that !#&#! to get the hell out of here! We don’t need any of his crap!” Slamming the door as he swaggered back into the office.

“That’s Bob,” Tommy said with a humiliated smile. Spending the next hour talking to Tommy, he told me that Bob was his uncle. It seemed Tommy’s dad couldn’t work with Bob and sent Tommy in to learn the family business.

It’s still not clear to me why; walking out the door and hearing myself shout back, “thanks Tommy, see you in two weeks!” made me think … “What was that?” Possibly some deep seeded competitive ambition? Looking back today, it seems it was more divine intervention. Spending the rest of the week in my territory, staring at the windshield of my car between stops, Tommy’s puzzled face looking back at me, always brought a smile.

Two weeks on the dot, that bell above the door clanged, as it did twice a month, for the next year. Always the same scene, a gaggle of salesmen, Tommy always emerging to greet me. As time went on, Tommy looked happy to see me. We would share stories about selling appliances. Tommy would spice up our talks with tales of his uncle and his latest victims of vitriol. When, and where possible, it became my mission to teach Tommy whatever possible. Occasionally, Bob would pop out onto the floor shouting some disparagement at me like, “how are sales?!” or “we sold thirty refrigerators yesterday, about you!?” Realizing that this one dealer was selling more in one day than my whole territory did in a week, was frustrating. Bob knew my sales numbers and truly enjoyed the provocation, seeming to feed off the cheap shots and my unwillingness to push back. Bob would spend more time on the floor when it was my day to show up. Like a peacock, strutting around, showing off this and that, while relentlessly teasing me. As we got to know each other, it was easy to see that he really knew his stuff. It wasn’t just hot air he was blowing; Bob clearly knew the cold hard facts of the appliance world.

One day walking in the door, with the clanging of the bell, starting out just like the rest. Except on this day, Bob was on the floor waiting for me. “Come back to my office, I gotta’ ask you something.” Bewildered, feeling like a peasant going into the King’s court; or a pig going to slaughter, wondering what prank Bob had up his sleeve. Walking into the dimly lit, smokey room, bookcases lining the walls; each one overstuffed with three ring binders crammed in every nook and cranny. Sitting behind a huge desk covered in newspapers, a massive ash tray off to one side, looking as if it had never been emptied. A green banker’s lamp shedding light on Bob’s latest ad. Brushing away cigarette ash he asked, “what do you think of this week’s ad?” Full of doubt, my first thought was, what’s the joke, where’s the trap? After looking things over it seemed legit, it was a great ad.

Bob didn’t know that as a kid, my Dad taught me ad composition as part of my job helping with his business. Like Bob, my skills were strong. Pointing out a few flow issues with his layout seemed to impress Bob.

Well, from that day forward my visits at Bob’s store always started in his office, we became close friends as he always sought my advice. It was my pleasure and honor to help. Little steps that built a strong, trusting relationship.

A year and half after hearing that bell clang the first time, sitting in Bob’s office, going over the latest ad. He reclined in his chair, looking me in the eye questioning “What the Hell do you do this for?” Shaking his head in confusion, “You come here like clockwork; helping with my ads. Why?” You might think that question was expected, it wasn’t. Looking for words to say, my mouth just started moving, saying, “Well, I want you to know what kind of service and support you’ll get when you’re my dealer.” Pushing back the humiliation of my sappy comment and surprised to see a small tear in Bob’s eye. He barked, “I think you’re nuts! But I’m glad you started coming in.”

You’ve probably already guessed, Bob continued to be a great friend and a revered mentor. In the following year, Bob became one of my biggest dealers and my favorite success story.

Like my relationship with Bob, Trust is built one small step at a time. When we build our relationships on a rock of trust; the foundation will support you through every storm in life. The rock of Bob’s and my relationship was built in trust, it was only after building that relationship, Bob could trust me. He knew that my focus was on him, his business, and most important; his customers. Bob had comfort knowing he could trust me with the business his family had entrusted to him.

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock …”

 Matthew 7:24-25

The rock that Jesus taught us to stand on, to build our house on, is that rock of trust. We are not to build our house on our confidence, our faith or our hope in Him or in each other. We are to build our relationships on Trust. Trust in each other and Trust in Him.

Always Love!

You Can’t Sit Here!

“Never let go of loyalty and faithfulness. Tie them around your neck; write them on your heart. If you do this, both God and people will be pleased with you.”

Proverbs 3:3-4 GNT

Would your friends, family and loved ones describe you as Devoted? How would you define Devotion in others? Is it only about love, friendship and relationships?

Can we be Devoted to someone we have never met?

According to the dictionary, Devotion is all about being loyal, faithful, true, staunch, steadfast, constant, committed, and dedicated. We can add to this the emotionally driven Devotion of someone who is loving, affectionate, caring, attentive, warm and passionate. So, technically, a Devoted person is loving with commitment. Makes me think of the “Boy Scouts” pledge. All that’s missing is being joyful. Can we be Devoted without Joy?

In my research, it surprised me to find that a root word for Devotion is vow. Makes perfect sense. After all, aren’t our marriage vows all about love and commitment -Devotion? Hopefully with a little bit of Joy sprinkled on top! Sadly, it seems, commitment has been eliminated from the practice of our marriage vows, leaving only a contract that can be broken at the first sign of trouble. Recently celebrating our forty-fourth wedding anniversary, my bride would probably tell you there were plenty of troubled times that tested our marriage and our commitment. It was only our Devotion to each other, and to God, that carried us through the storms.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Proverbs 4:23

When we decided to get married, it was important to both of us to not follow the burgeoning divorce trends that have dominated our world today. With that in mind, we decided to make our marriage vows a covenant with God. The covenant made us both accountable to God, positioning Him as the ultimate arbitrator for all our impasses. When our Devotion to each other would wain in the sight of trouble, our Devotion to God would give us strength to persevere. He always showed us a clear path forward.

So, it seems to me that Devotion has another characteristic: Accountability. Not so much being held accountable, as just knowing that someone is watching.

Throughout my career, it has been my joy and my honor to work with some very Devoted people. These experiences have bolstered my belief that Devotion to a cause, idea, or group of people is a cornerstone of all success in business, organizations or relationships. Without Devotion, it is simply too easy to bail out and move on to something new.

“Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation.”

Proverbs 3:3-4

In one of my first roles working for a Fortune 500 Company, it was my pleasure to work with two of these leaders in a small division that had recently been acquired by a Global company with annual revenues of $40-$50 Billion. These two leaders were the entrepreneurial team that built the company that had been acquired. Formerly the CEO and COO of their own company, they were now Executive Vice Presidents of the division that was created out of their former company. Like most successful acquisitions, the parent company had worked hard to keep the management team together, along with most of the employees.

While now a small division in a huge company, the day to day operations were still very independent of the home office. The separation from the corporate offices of over two thousand miles seemed to strengthen the entrepreneurial spirit. Instead of dissolving it as many believed might happen; the strength and resolve of these two leaders kept the division intact and growing as a mostly independent entity. Well, at least in the beginning.

When faced with an insurmountable force growing up, my father would always say “Where does an Elephant sit? Anywhere he wants to”, he would chuckle. After years of contemplation, my Dad’s comment always served to remind me of the sheer power of size, making me cautious of Elephants and Gorillas in my path. Well, it wasn’t long before the corporate elephant came to sit on our little division.

Complaining about difficulties in communication, and the maverick operations of the division and its leaders, Corporate had decided to shut down the operation and move the business to the corporate headquarters where it would be simpler to manage (control). Truth be known, it was more about the power of adding forty plus jobs to the Senior VP’s direct reports at corporate, giving her more power and clout amongst her peers. Sadly, elephants can be people; with a lot of reports as well.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:21

All of us were shocked and confused, especially our two leaders. After all, we were not only meeting milestones, we were blowing them away at every step. As entrepreneurs oft times do, our leaders looked at the irrational decision of corporate as a huge mistake. It was. However, the bigger the elephant, the more times it seems to sit down in its own dung heap.

Our two leaders had already “cashed in” when selling the business. Both could have sat by and watched headquarters shut down the division. Both had been paid well for their parts of the company and the move would free them to pursue other interests. Not these two. Instead, their devotion to the people that helped them build the company, fueled their passion to fight back and stop the demise of the business they had all built together.

“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Acts 20:35

A call was made to corporate that resulted in a one-shot attempt to make our case to the powers that be. The next few weeks taught me so much about leadership, business and Devotion, that it probably warrants an article, or possibly even a book, of its own. The only word that describes the two leaders is Devotion. Clearly driven by their love and commitment for a group of employees that had worked together as a team, elbow to elbow to build the company. Quietly, everyone watched in clear anxiousness  as the management team worked sequestered in a conference room day after day until the corporate heads showed up to render their decision. A decision that, quite frankly, had probably already been made.

Prior to the day of decision, the time in the conference room (9-5 every day for weeks) was spent analyzing, arguing, dreaming and planning. One PowerPoint after another, spreadsheets stacked to the ceiling exposing every miniscule aspect of past, present and projected business. Each night the team would go home, say hi to their family, eat dinner, and then jump right back into planning for the discussion the next day. Looking back, it always reminds me of what it must have been like to be in the “War Room” with Patton or Churchill. Our leader’s passion and Devotion drove all of us to deliver our absolute best.

Well, we won. Not a timid victory, but a victory that is still talked about today. This little group of entrepreneurs took on the $40 Billion Elephant. Standing under the looming shadow of that huge pachyderm’s posterior we shouted…

“You Can’t Sit Here!”

An unexpected result from the weeks in the conference room was the unshakable unity and resolve of the management team. Armed with all the knowledge and understanding forged in the planning sessions, our team had the facts and were overflowing with passion full of Devotion to push back any doubts or argument. This victory was realized not through strength or power.

It was won only by sheer Devotion. Devotion of the leaders and the Devotion of the people working with them.

Loyalty to a fault? Well, maybe in the eyes of an Elephant.

“God blesses us, not for ourselves, …

 …He blesses us so that we may bless others”.

Always Love!