Letters to your kids...

Letter to Sam…

Samantha-
Well here it is, your senior letter from Dad. I have enjoyed sharing wisdom with you the past 3 years. I was hoping to get this letter to you before you left for Argentina... a little late on the timing. Then I waited to see if we would hear about Medical School... well, it is January 29th, you leave for school in 7 days, I didn't want to wait any longer. So, here goes.....

I know this year is "just" another chapter in your life, an exciting chapter, some may say the most important chapter in your life. I would agree but would also add that your life is first a series of pages, then a series of chapters, and lastly a series of different stories. All your story should have a common thread that is uniquely Samantha Lee Storts. This thread should weave itself thru all the pages and all the chapters. From birth, you have had a huge heart for people and animals. I truly believe you put the interests of others in front of your own interests, never lose that quality! You are a natural conversationalist with young and old; you have what is called an "old soul". I can not tell you how many times that I heard from others that "Sam is so mature for her age" or "Sam can have a meaningful conversation with so many different types of people". Sam, you are known as a kind person. Some people associate kindness with weakness, I strongly disagree. Our best example of kindness is Jesus Christ. He was kind like no one else; He could also show mercy, love, justice, anger at the right time, with the right tone, to the right people. Sam, you are naturally intelligent, you see something and you remember it. I learned early to never question the validity of your memory. Sam, you understand the value of family... remember, it is not about things, it is about relationships & memories. The list goes on and on and on..

Well, what can I share with you that I have not already shared....

  1. Love God! Sam, If you could have seen my life before I had God I am not sure you would be proud to call me your Dad. To this day I credit a lot of people for my transformation but I point to one single event that radically changed my belief in God; that day was your birth. Sam, God brought me closer to Him through your birth. God was knocking on my heart for a while but it took something much bigger than knocking; it took a premature new-born baby to make me realize that I could not do life without help. That help came from God and still comes from God. Trusting God, trusting that His plan will always work out if I surrender to my own sinful heart to Him. People will disappoint you in life but God always has your back. He may have you go through some patches of disharmony (See #4 below), those patches are to strengthen your character.

  2. Love others! I think you got this one. I can not tell you how many times I have witnessed you doing acts of kindness for our family, your friends, people you babysit, strangers. Just yesterday, you called me and volunteered to pick up Noah at school. I didn't have to ask or even hint to you that deed was a huge help to me on a busy day. You sensed it, that is a gift of yours, keep using it! We all seek what is called the "good life": money, fame, kids, etc. Pretty simple, the "good life" is most easily attained when you choose to use your unique gifts and talents to serve others.

  3. Follow your passions! Sam, don't settle! If it is Medial School then do it with all your heart. Do Med School for the right reasons; to help people better their life. If it is something else, again do it with all your heart. Colossians 3:23, "Work hard and cheerfully in whatever you do, as you are doing it for the Lord and not for people." There are several elements to a healthy "well-being": relationships, physical, spiritual, financial, emotional, career, etc. Of all these elements, we spend a great amount of time dealing with our careers. Regardless of the profession you choose, there will be good and bad days, that is inevitable. If you choose to follow your passions (see #1-3 above) you know that happy moments or sad moments are fleeting, they are temporary, they will quickly pass. If you have joy, you have a meaning to your life, you have courage to face bad days as just as they are, just days. Joy supersedes all this, it is deep down in your heart, your soul, your meaning, your purpose. You know that you can Rise Up (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNKu1uNBVkU) over anything!

  4. Embrace adversity! You have had heard me reference Romans 5:3-5 many times. In addition to a few other verses, Roman 5:3-5 has become my life mantra. You will be handed some tough situations in your life, sometimes you may even ask, "Why me, Lord?" I encourage you not to ask "why?", instead challenge yourself to ask, "what?" What am I to learn from this experience? What can I use to help others as a result of me going thru this situation? When you are in the battle it may be the hardest thing to ask "why?". You do not have to do it alone, ask for help, seek the love and support of people that truly love you and will not judge you. Proverbs 27:17, "As irons sharpens iron, people sharpen people." Sam, I told you this before, I will run to you in times of trouble, I have your back in times of need. Mom will do the same. You have built an awesome relationship with your brother Noah, I am certain he would take a bullet for you. Libby has her own special way of showing you love. Use all of us!

  5. Have Fun! Be the person that others want to be around. Be the person you want to be around. You love to travel so travel a lot. Build memories instead of mansions.

Sam, in year's past I have shared 10 ideas for each year. Well, I am down to only 5 which means you have gotten twice as smart or I have become 1/2 as wise... I will go with the former!

I am so proud of you, I know that God has big plans for your life, and lastly, know that I love you deeply!

Letter to Libby…

Libby-

As my second child heads off to college I want to keep a tradition going that I started with Sam. This is hard for me to write as to me it really means that you are heading off to college. I think I have re-written this letter 100 times in my head and 5 times on paper so please accept my apology for bad grammar or random thinking. Just know a lot of tears were shed in writing this to you. I know you will only be 90 minutes away from home but you have been a fixture in our home for 18 years and that is now changing.

Here is YOUR first installment of your "College Letters from Dad".

I will start with a simple sentence to describe your past; I am proud of you! I do not want to spend a lot of time looking in the rearview mirror but you are a special kid. God has blessed you with many "talents" and like his parable in Matthew 25: 14-30, you did not bury your talents, you used and shared them with others. You are truly unique and one-of-a kind with your talents; smart, beautiful, handy with power tools, can make a dress in 30 minutes or less, have a killer fashion sense (after all you were named "Most Fashionable" by the yearbook)....the list is long. I believe you have an extremely high work ethic, that quality will take you far. Some kids shy away from work and providing funding for themselves while you actively seek out work. You started working early in your life, rarely did you ask for $, thank you!

Now, onto the future, this is the fun part. Libby, college is awesome on so many levels! You will have a wild range of experiences, emotions, successes, and failures; there are great lessons in all of them. Romans 5:3-5 says (I am paraphrasing a bit here), "you will suffer some (or a bunch), which will teach you to persevere or quit (I hope you choose to persevere), by persevering your true character will be tested, and by having strong character (solid foundation with God), you always have Hope of a greater future regardless of how bad things look at the present time".

I am not real smart person, did not do great grade-wise in college, but I did have an amazing four year college experience. Some of those experiences I would like to have a "do-over" but that is not possible so I am imparting my wisdom to you. Wisdom is based on experience; my wisdom comes from 53 years of doing, seeing, and listening.

  1. Friends...You will meet all sorts of people at Iowa. It is a great time to remember, "seek to understand not to be understood". Make it a goal to meet new and interesting people, and by meeting, really get to know them, buy them coffee, ask lots of questions. In doing so, you will find people that really want to get to know you. These are the true friends that you will cherish in college and beyond. Proverbs 27:17 says, "as irons sharpens iron, people sharpen people". Watch a blacksmith form a knife or sword, they pound tirelessly on the metal, heat it up, pound on the metal, repeat several times in order to make the tool sharp and strong. Find friends that will "pound" on you to make you stronger, sharper, and smarter. Surround yourself with good people!

  2. Professors.... You may not get to "know" all your college professors at a big campus like Iowa but you will resonate with some professors. I guarantee there will be one special professor that pushes you to excellence. I encourage you to ask lots of questions, create relationships with professors, seek their wisdom for your career.

  3. Social life...You are a social creature, no denying that fact. Iowa will present a lot of fun opportunities but also some potential pitfalls for you. If you can adopt a "work first, play second" mentality you will do great in all aspects of the college life. On the other hand, enjoy Iowa and all it has to offer from a social life. I would not be a good dad if I didn't say, "be safe, don't walk alone at night, never accept a drink from a stranger, and surround yourself with good friends who will watch your back at all times."

  4. Men.... I am one so I can share some good points in this category. You may or may not find dating in college the thing for you. You are extremely beautiful and pleasing to the eye for boys/men so I know they will be on the lookout for you. Your roommates and friends will have various beliefs on this topic, so you will have lots of outside influences and pressures. You will encounter mature men and not-so-mature "boys". Boys will be boys but men with strong fathers will respect you, treat you like a princess, love God, and value you for the beautiful creation that you are. Watch for "wolves in sheep clothing", they are everywhere, they have reputations on campus, their trickery comes in words you may not have heard before. Do not settle for a boy!

  5. Grades...As mentioned in the Matthew parable, this is one of your talents. You are so intelligent, that is a gift from God. Does that mean you need to keep a 4.0 GPA? Not in my eyes, it is more important that you learn, give your very best effort, and let the GPA be whatever it is. Are grades important? Of course, it will help you, and us, with future scholarships, grants, work study, and possibly graduate schools if you should choose to go on for a Masters degree. Embrace the challenge in your own special way. My special way was to have a higher GPA in college than high school, it was to be an Academic All-American. What will yours be?

  6. Drinking....Libby, alcohol will be all around you, your roommates will have different opinions and practices with alcohol. Remember, consumption of alcohol by minors is illegal, and if you choose to participate there can be life-changing consequences. Solomon (the wisest king ever) warns us about many things in the Book of Proverbs but the big four are; alcohol, money, greed, and sex. Pick a month that has 31 days (October, December, January, March), you should read one chapter of Proverbs each day, lots of wisdom that I wish I had in college.

  7. Sex....it will be everywhere around you, and your roommates and friends will have opinions and experiences. It is uncomfortable for me to even talk about this, all I can say here is do not settle.

  8. Parents...Know that we love, know that we are your biggest champions, know that we want to hear your college stories, know that want the very best for you, know that we know you are going to screw-up sometimes, know that we do not base our love off your performance, know that we want you to grow, know that we will run to you anytime you need us, know that we may not run to rescue you sometimes, know that you can come home anytime, know that we want you to call when you want to call, and know that we will miss you dearly.

  9. Health & wellness..Libby, eating well and exercising are critical to your overall health. Healthy body = healthy mind! Continue the great habits you have already formed in your life.

  10. Spiritual growth...Libby, find a campus church that you enjoy. Get involved, grow your faith. Believe it or not, God wants to come along on your college ride with you.

Libby, I love you so much! I look forward to seeing the woman you become these next 4 years.

Dad

Copy of Grit, part 4 of.....

Thank you for continuing to read….

My mom was loving, caring, supportive, and more concerned that we were all ok. I wish I could say the same for my dad. He dropped the hammer on me…after all, I did just total his new truck. Parents, you know what happens to your insurance rates when a 16 year old boy totals a brand new truck? My dad was wise, he already knew the answer to that question. It was 1981, police were more easily persuaded, and impressed with good old-fashion parental punishment than issuing tickets. I will always remember came next, “Son, you will do what I say, when I say it, and how I say it until you have made enough money to pay for this truck!” Learning to be gritty by choice is one thing, being forced to learn grit is not as enjoyable. For the next 18 months, I became free labor for anyone that needed help with all monetary proceeds going directly to my dad. To make things more interesting, to get to these hard labor jobs I was given three options; walk, run, or ride my bike. It became an act of work to get to work. I did some of the nastiest and hardest jobs know to man; bailing hay, walking bean fields, castrating pigs, detasseling corn, mowing yards, shoveling snow….

Again, my dad was brilliant! We discipline the ones we love…my dad must have really loved me! If you have read my previous posts, you know that I like to run. During the summer of 1981, I went from liking to run to loving to running. Farm labor is hard, farm labor is mentally taxing, farm labor tests you grit, farm labor makes you strong. Having to run or bike to all these jobs plus doing extreme manual labor had a direct positive impact on my running. I was getting faster and faster, winning more races, and getting recognized as a runner. Is it possible that a negative experience can lead to a positive experience? I began to like all the labor and running— I actually sought out hard manual labor and chose to run. I remember vividly the day my dad said, “debt paid in full.” I think my parents thought the running would stop but my running times continued to drop. I was addicted, I became the Forrest Gump of Clinton, IA from 1981-1983.

My love of running continued throughout college and into my early adult life. A genetic disorder in my right foot made me prone to stress fractures. In my running career, I have experienced 8 diagnosed stress fractures in my navicular bone. I have been in an out of running boots, and on crutches more than I like. In my mid-twenties all the running miles on my engine were causing more physical breakdowns. I still loved to compete but wearing a stress fracture boot to work got old quickly. Next up? Triathlons of course! It was a sport that had a swim and bike warm-up before the fun part, the run. That is another whole story in itself.

Why the long story and how does it apply to grit? My running career has slowly started to fizzle out, once you are considered a “fast” runner the most painful thing is to become slower and look like a “jogger”—ouch! I still do love running, it just has become more-and-more painful the past three years. Not the I am out-of-shape pain but painful as in my knees hurt when I run. I am coach, I should have known better, but I stopped doing the little things. I stopped doing the non-sexy daily consistent things that runners need to do to stay healthy. That’s a part of being gritty— doing the little things over and over again without any regard for instant gratification. It is said it takes 10 years or 10,000 hours to master an activity. I need to re-embrace delayed gratification. A big part of my 10,000 hours is the act of stretching. When I stretched regularly, I thrived as a runner.

Doing all this talking and writing about grit has re-ignited my running fire. I guess to teach grit one should model grit! Last week I ran 5 times for a total of 12 miles. More importantly, I did yoga six times last week. Guess what? My knees hurt less this week than last week. This week’s goal 5 runs for a total of 17 miles…plus 5-6 stretching sessions. Have you ever met a runner who really likes to stretch? I didn’t think so! Doing things that are hard develops grit. I do not necessarily want to become the Forrest Gump of Johnston, IA but I do believe there are some good miles left in this body.

There you go, my story. What is your story? Where do you need help, assistance , or encouragement getting over something that is hard?

Grit, part 3 of.....

If you have been following this page for awhile you have heard that I love to run, I love to tell stories, I love to coach, I love leisure time… On the flip-side, believe it or not, I hate to write. Why write when you can talk? This is just not a recent thing, I hated to write from my early days of elementary school. I have report cards to prove that writing was a struggle for me, my penmanship was poor (actually received “D’s” and “F’s”), and my grammar usage was just off. My ACT score in English was 17, ouch! I made it through high school by selecting classes that required little or no writing. Yet somehow I ended up being the Feature Editor for our school newspaper, how ironic. College was a lot of the same, choose courses that graded based off tests and not papers. Post-college, I landed a sales/management trainee position, whew, no writing required, just talk fast and talk confidently.

Fast forward thirty-two years….I decide to pursue a Masters Degree in Positive Coaching. To gain admittance into the program they did not require any tests, rather I had to write two papers on why I should be admitted. Rats! Somehow, I pull-off a Herculean effort and receive a letter saying “you are in”. My first class is entitled, “Positive Psychology”. Day one I receive the syllabus, much to my surprise there are no tests, instead 90% of the grade will be reflected in how well I write fifteen different papers. Not just papers, but papers written in APA format. If you are asking yourself what is APA format, join the club, I had no idea either fifteen weeks ago. Well, APA format includes a title page, author’s page, body of paper, a references page…and has to be written in 12 point Times New Roman font, single space, and use of citations. Yikes, this could get ugly quick. My mind went to the option of taking this class on a pass/fail basis, after all as my daddy told me, “C’s get degrees!”

On of the personality traits of grittiness that i knew would help me is the act of deliberate practice. I had to start to write, more often, and in various formats. Each week I had to set goals and timetables for events to happen. I knew that I had to:

1). have all my reading done by Tuesday afternoon

2). notes taken by Wednesday afternoon

3). outline of that week’s paper started by Thursday

4). rough draft done by Saturday morning

5). final paper written and submitted to my expert editor (thank you Samantha Storts) by Sunday morning

6). paper submitted by Monday night

7). Repeat step 1

Things started well with my first paper, so I believed that if I followed the process, good things would happen. Maybe it was that I had a lot of interest in the topics, maybe it was that I have gained mystical writing powers, or maybe it was that I set out a plan, followed the plan, and practiced regularly?

What I have learned…writing is still hard for me and it does not come naturally. The key to developing a gritty personality is to willingly encounter obstacles so that you can closely associate hard work with reward.

Next week I will discuss how this act of deliberate practice is re-igniting my love for running, stay tuned….

Grit, part 2 of 3

This is a continuation from last week’s post…..

Positive Psychology is considered to be the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive, and as in any field of scientific study, measurement is an integral part of this area. If we can measure it, then we have basis in which we can draw comparison and see improvement. I have always known that grit was an important piece of success as an athlete. Until recently, I believed that you either had it or you did not have it it. Grit was known by me, and referred to by me as the “it” factor, either you had “it” or you did not have “it”. On top of that, there certainly is no way to measure the level of “it” someone possesses. Oh, how wrong that thinking was! I have learned valuable insight into well-being, with grit being one topic that I would like to continue more research and training. What I have learned is that grit can be multiple things; grit can be defined, grit can be measured, grit can be trained, and grit can be improved.

As mentioned earlier, grit is defined as a non-cognitive trait based on an individual's perseverance of effort combined with passion for a particularly long term goal or end state. How gritty can someone be? And, more importantly, can use measure the level of grittiness? Angela Duckworth in her book Grit goes into great detail on her observations at West Point’s four year cadet program. Each year 14,000 apply, and of these applicants, only 4,000 are nominated, 2,500 meet West Point requirements, and 1,200 of 2,500 enroll. One in five cadets leave West Point before graduation, with the highest percentage dropping out during their first year. For years, scholars were debating what type of cadet makes it through the program. Duckworth’s research showed that cadets who displayed the ability to persevere in the face of obstacles had a higher success rate. Research establishes the predictive power of grit over talent for certain outcomes.

Grit is not just about hard work, it is about sticking with something until you develop the skill and then apply the skill. Truly, you must have passion, but there is a stronger emphasis on the commitment process of passion. Perseverance + Passion = Grit. Duckworth developed the Grit Scale that has been administered to thousands of people. Each individual receives a grit score by answering a series of questions, with half of the questions focusing on passion and the other half focusing on perseverance. Research shows that just as our brains can adapt and grow over time, so can our grit score. Grit can change as age increases--call it the maturation process. As we encounter more trial-and-error experiences we experience more opportunities to bounce back from failures. This allows us to continually reset and re-evaluate goals, becoming more perseverant, and ultimately, more committed to goals.

Knowing that grit can be defined, it can be measured, now the question arises as to how we can improve grit. Anders Ericcson has a top-selling book entitled Peak: Secrets From The New Science of Expertise states that hours of practice do not improve grit, but instead, learning the keys to deliberate practice will improve grit. Deliberate practice is used to assist in the rewiring of one’s neurology. Deliberate practice requires a whole new way of thinking; it requires constant feedback, establishing specific goals, working on both strengths and weaknesses, and expanding your comfort zone. Deliberate practice is more of a process, it is about preparation, it is most effective to growth when it becomes a behavior. Scheduling practice times increases the likelihood of following through, which in turn causes results to happen sooner. When we see results sooner, our confidence and our ability to persevere through obstacles increases.

As a parent, and as a coach of children, I am fascinated by kids and athletes that display grit. As I have taken a deeper dive into the subject of grit I am energized to learn more on this topic. There is so much research and information on the topic with authors like Angela Duckworth, Anders Ericcson, and Paddy Steinfort. If you missed last week’s post and want to get a sample of your grit Score, take this simple assessment. Already I am fascinated by the different levels of grit by age, gender, and background. As I learn more, I have burning questions in my head including, “how do I cultivate grit within my kids and athletes?” and, “how do I create a culture of grittiness?” Is it as easy as encountering enough obstacles early in life so that those that I come in contact with closely associate hard work and deliberate practice with reward? Is the best way to teach grit by modeling grit myself? Regardless, in our quest of the good life, grit has been closely tied to well-being. If I want to cultivate grit, I have to help those that I care about push through obstacles, continually encouraging them to seek purpose in their life, and model grit myself in everyday practice.


Grit, part 1 of 3.....

Positive Psychology is concerned essentially with the elements of and predictors of the good life. Components of the good life include those things that hold the greatest value in life. Individually, we may see the good life consisting of different things but in Positive psychology the good life is a connection to others, positive individual traits, and life regulation qualities. When we engage in these three things we are going beyond happiness and actually entering a state of flourishing. The ability to flourish is defined as the ability for a person to grow as a human being both through the good times as well as in the struggles of life. Growth needs to be in a direction established by goals in our lives. Goals are  simply our hopes and dreams for the coming years. To accomplish our goals we must have motivation, both intrinsically and extrinsically. A key ingredient to intrinsic motivation is a person’s grit. Angela Duckworth, who is considered to be an expert on the study of grit defines grit as a non-cognitive trait based on an individual's perseverance of effort combined with passion for a particularly long term goal or end state. This skill is the stick-to-itiveness that keeps us going, persevering, and not stopping in both good and bad times. This grit thing brings us all the way back to our definition of flourishing, we grow as human beings by enduring life.

Sports have existed for 1000’s of years. Our earliest Olympic Games date back to 760 BC with one event being competed, running. Sports have always been important to me. I have defined my life through the lessons learned in practice and competition. Research shows that sports contribute to the development of the good life or well-being of people; honesty, teamwork, relationships, respect for others, and adherence to rules are all learnings from sport. I can not lie, I have enjoyed, and been blessed with many victories in my life. I have also had my share of spirit-crushing losses. Early in my life I saw those losses as a blow to my well-being. As I have aged as an athlete, I can not say I love the losses but I have come to appreciate the value and life lessons that those losses can teach us is we choose to persevere. Positive psychology can help us with an inescapable reality: bad situations happen. Those that can rise above it are able to perform not by getting rid of bad feelings, but by doing what they do in the presence of negative thoughts/feelings without letting them get in the way of goals.

A path I chose ten years ago to be a coach was driven by a desire to add meaning to my life. Coaching allows me to use a platform to teach global attribution to children as well as adults. A key part to every season is the establishing of team and individual goals. In running, these goals are normally attached to times for various distances and individual/team placing at different competitions. As a coach I love to see my individuals and teams meet their goals, who doen’t? Witnessing hard work pay-off is extremely rewarding to the individual, the team, and ultimately to me as a coach. In sporting events and life, a lot of people compete but there is actually only one winner. There are 351 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams but only one team gets to hoist the championship trophy at the end of March Madness. Does that mean that the other 350 schools are losers? If so, why compete if ultimately you know you will be tagged as a loser. There is more to sport that winning: there is the drive to persevere, learn, lose, and display grit. I have referenced this in previous papers, my favorite bible verse is Romans 5:3-5. I am paraphrasing a bit but it goes something like this: you will have hardships in life, and to get the most out of life, you must persevere (a component of grit) through these hardships as they help develop strong character (passion), and people with strong character will always have hope. That word hope keeps us going towards our goals and that we will eventually meet our goal. People high in hope tend to anticipate greater well-being in the future.

I believe that ability to display grit is an import characteristic for success regardless of the activity: drama, school, sports, music, and careers all require a degree of grit. Looking back on my life, I believe I genetically inherited some grit from my parents. My mother and father died early in my life, that in itself required grit on my part to endure through probably the two worst days in my life, the days that I had to bury a parent. Long before their deaths I remember learning work ethic from my parents. Basically, they instilled in me to get the job done right, at the right time, at the right price, regardless of the situation and/or circumstances. Work ethic requires grit: the belief that bad events will not last forever and good events will recur. On top of the grit my parents instilled, I have fostered grit in the various seasons of my life. Just as neuroplasticity states that the brain can change over time, research also shows that grit can change behaviors as life experiences change. I have embraced that bad things will happen, to learn and grow requires a mental shift from asking “why did this bad thing happen to me?” and instead ask “what am I to learn from this situation and how do I apply it later in life?” My overall well-being has improved as a result of this way of thinking. I also believe that the well-being of others has improved when I utilize this way of thinking.

Next week, I will dive deeper into measuring and developing your level of grit…….


Life through stories....

I started last week with the statement “I love to run!” This week I will state that I also love to tell stories! Most stories are creative constructions from actual events that we take bits and pieces from, and with these bits and pieces we build a coherent narrative. Each night before bedtime my two oldest daughters had to hear the latest adventures of Ezekiel Gonzales. Ezekiel to my children was the ultimate superhero, adventurer, good and humble human being. If Ezekiel would take the VIA Character Assessment his primary character strength would be humility. Ezekiel’s crowning achievement is that he holds the most Guinness World Records but refuses to be named in the Guinness Book of World Records. After all, he is humble and likes his life outside of the spotlight. Each story had just enough truth combined with just enough fiction to make the story intriguing.

These stories continued for years with my own kids; eventually, the stories got to the point where my kids went on to tell other kids about Ezekiel. My kids loved having sleep-overs, each night before bedtime there had to be an Ezekiel story. For the longest time my daughters believed (or made me believe they believed) that Ezekiel was a real person. I told the stories with such conviction that there was no other option than to believe Ezekiel lived nearby in Urbandale, IA. Smart phones have become the demise to my storytelling—what used to be uncheckable pieces of the story are now heavily scrutinized with a simple Google search. I have had to take my storytelling to a whole new level of complexity to make them believable. Just last year, to break the world record for World’s Largest Goose, Ezekiel had to collect 32,789 goose feathers, glue those feathers to his body, and waddle around 100th Street & Hickman Road posing as a goose. It worked, check the Guinness Book of World Records. While you are doing that…did you now that Webster Dictionary removed the word “gullible” from its dictionary? There is now a next generation of kids, and adults that are now enjoying the latest adventures of Ezekiel.

I have truly enjoyed going back to school….I should not admit this but graduate work seems easier than undergraduate work. Although extremely interesting, a lot of what I am learning is stuff that I have experienced in life. I am old (at least chronologically), probably the oldest person in the class, so recalling life is not a hard task for me. Car accidents, bad jobs, good jobs, wise decisions, bad decisions, physical injuries, early death of parents, I have quite the experience playlist to choose from. Each week as a part of my class I am required to write a paper on that week’s material. Each week, my professor allows me, or at least has been entertained by me telling my leaning in story form. Unlike Ezekiel stories, I keep my stories fact-based. I truly believe that my own personal well-being increases when I tell my story to others. I hope you have enjoyed reading my stories on this blog page.


Doing the little things extremely well...

I love to run! As early as I can remember, my parents did not deliver me to school/athletic events; my choices were to either run, walk, or ride my bike to these events. In P.E. classes, I was possibly the only kid that did not mind when the other kids screwed-up, and the teacher would yell, “run a lap!” I had a paper route and a stopwatch, which meant everyday was a new opportunity to deliver papers to my clients faster than previously done. I pre-date the movie Forrest Gump; I was affectionately known as the Forrest Gump of Clinton, IA before there was a real Forrest Gump. My first opportunity to participate in track was eighth grade. Most kids went out for track to get the matching cotton hoodies and pants, I went out because I could not wait to compete in running. I wish I could say that I was a superstar on day one, but I was not. Like most activities, it takes ten years and/or 10,000 hours to master a craft--let the practice begin!

My parents recognized that I loved to run, they saw me steadily improve over two years, so they decided to add an accelerator to the process. For my 16th birthday, they purchased a week at the Jim Ryun Running Camp. In 1980, Jim Ryun was the LeBron James of the running world. Most notably, Jim will forever be known as the first high school boy in the world to break the four minute mile barrier. Jim was a three-time Olympian (he earned a silver medal at the 1968 Olympic Games), his American mile record stood for fourteen years, he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated three times, and since 1968, he is the only American to be ranked number one in the world for the mile.

I vividly remember the moment I met Jim Ryun; he was tall at 6’2”. I was 6’2”at the time, which was unfortunate as distance runners by nature are not tall. He was humble, I have always admired humility in athletes. He was a Midwest native from Kansas, I am an Iowan. He is a devout Christian not just in title, but in everyday practice. I quickly knew why of all the running camps my parents could have chosen, they chose Jim Ryun. Instantly I knew there was something different about this camp. Fast forward three years--I attended several other running camps throughout high school, and those camps taught running while the Jim Ryun camp also taught much more. Jim taught us about excellence, but not just about excellence in running, excellence in every area of your life. Jim taught us that there is a difference between what you are (runner) and who you are (Christian). Jim taught us that at some point in our life our running flame will flicker out while our Christian flame can still burn bright. What I witnessed in one week of camp with Jim is summarize as the three components to developing excellence; large knowledge base, commitment, and practice (consistency and deliberate).

Large Knowledge Base- Jim stressed the importance of learning your craft by reading as much as possible. It was 1980, so there was no internet. To gain knowledge meant to subscribing to every running magazine possible. Running Times, Runner’s World, and Track & Field News started to arrive monthly at my house. I eagerly awaited my magazines and I gobbled up all forms of running literature to be found.  Jim also stressed finding a running mentor, someone to learn from, someone who could teach the foundations of running. That person became Greg Dennis, my high school running coach. Greg invested his love for running into my life. Jim was more than just a runner, Jim was also a strong follower of Christ and he emphasized that the qualities that make a great runner can easily transfer over to our Christian walk. Those qualities included, but were not limited to, reading The Bible daily, involvement in FCA, attending church regularly, and finding quiet time to reflect on the day.

Commitment- Jim’s quote that resonates still in my head is “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” I was blessed to run for an extremely successful high school team, from 1979-1988 my high school won eight state titles, two runner-up finishes, and one third place finish. Our coaches had us believing that if you outwork everyone else before the State meet, that when it comes time to compete at the State, all that hard work will pay dividends--and it did. I believed I had endured some brutally tough workouts in high school. Workouts with the intention of breaking my spirit--until I heard of some Jim’s favorite workouts. There will be more on Jim’s actual workouts later, but what impressed me the most was how committed Jim was to his craft. Jim ran everyday regardless of the weather conditions. He ran for miles on ice-covered gravel roads. Jim’s running pre-dated tech fabrics and specialized running shoes; he ran in cotton tops and shorts, socks for gloves, and whatever shoes he could find in Wichita, KS. Jim was just as committed to his walk with Jesus. Jim did the work but he believed he was given the gift of running from God. He was fully committed to using that gift.

Practice- Under the guidance of legendary coach Bob Timmon’s, the intensity of Jim’s workouts were mind-blowing. As a high schooler, he was running twice per day, and as much as 90-100 miles per week. In comparison, the best high school runners today may reach 60-70 miles per week. Jim preferred a ratio of 70:30 quality:quantity running miles, while today that ratio is completely flipped to a 70:30 ratio of quantity:quality. Jim’s favorite workout was a lap of the track in 67 seconds (4:28 mile pace), followed by a rest of 90 seconds, and then repeated the run & rest fifty times. In my best running days I could do twenty laps of the track. His workouts were deliberate; train the body to train the mind, which ultimately helped train the mind for racing. At the ripe young age of seventeen, he was competing against the best runners from all over the world. He was the best runner in the United States, and no one could challenge him in workouts or in high school races; he could only get faster by finding new ways to challenge himself in practice.

To this day, I still follow the life and career of Jim Ryun. Jim served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1996-2007, and he still runs at the age of seventy three. But, the most important thing is that he has continued to hold the Jim Ryun Running Camp at various locations across the United States.  I am happy to say that many of the traits of excellence Jim shared with me as a sixteen year old are still in place in my life today. Thank you Jim for living a life of EXCELLENCE!


What and who is wise?

I have been blessed to have some extremely wise people in my life. My parents were wise in their striving for simplicity in life, I had coaches that taught wisdom through consistency and focus on details, I had bosses that displayed wisdom through caring, and I have friends that I consider as wise mentors. Wise people find meaning in both positive and negative life experiences; they also transform negative experiences into life affirming ones. Through this process, they may possess a sense of serenity that others lack. As part of a class I am taking, I knew I had to interview one person that I considered wise for this week’s assignment. After reflecting on the above statement, I knew the person to interview was going to be my spiritual mentor: Tom Allen.

In 1997, my family had relocated to Des Moines from Albuquerque, and our first order of business was to find a new home. Then a health club. Then a church. I know, I know, this should have had a somewhat different order but it is an important part of the story. Within a day we found an awesome house at a fair price, and just like that, task number one was done. Everyone in Des Moines said that “THE” health club to join in the city was 7 Flags Health Club. We visited, we signed up, and task number two was completed. As for a church, I grew up singing hymns from a pipe organ, and I knew that was something that I did not want. In Albuquerque, we attended our first “contemporary” church and we loved the worship music and the teaching format. We tried a few contemporary churches but none seemed to have the right feel for us. Task number three was proving to not be as easy as the first two. Now back to 7 Flags; one day after a workout I was standing at the urinal and low-and-behold there was an advertisement above the urinal for Point of Grace Church. Internal thought, “whoever thought of advertising a church above an urinal in a health club is brilliant.” More on that later. That next Sunday, we loaded up the family and tried Point of Grace Church. Two steps in the door an older gentleman approached me and gave me a handshake like a friend who had not seen a friend for years would do. “Hi, I am Tom Allen, welcome!” And there you have it, the story of how I met one of the wisest people alive.

After church, Tom hunted, yes, actually hunted me down to invite me and my wife to his house for dinner. I initially thought that the invitation was a bit odd, but a secondary thought occurred not soon after, that the invitation was pretty cool. We accepted, and my life was forever changed. Twenty years later, while chatting over a cup of coffee, I am still amazed and blessed by the amount of time and energy Tom Allen has poured into my life and the lives of hundreds of other men. I call Tom the Golden Retriever of pastors; he is always happy, he is loyal, he is caring, he is generous, he is humble, and he will do almost anything to help you with the right amount of non-enabling. Tom taught me to gain wisdom one needs to have 360 degree mentoring. Every person needs three types of mentors in their life: a person they are mentoring (younger), a person with whom they are walking through life at the same pace (equal age), and someone that is a little further down the path (older). Tom is my older mentor only in age; he is 76 years old, looks 56, and can play racquetball like someone who is 36. Tom takes care of the temple he was given, exemplifying wisdom in the physical form.

I have valued my relationship with Tom on many fronts but I truly admire his perspective on the developmental process of each individual. He sees the goodness and potential in everyone, allows them to use their past as a tool to teach, and continually encourages them to use their strengths. Tom speaks about the necessity of relationships, he uses Proverbs 27:17 quite often, which states “iron sharpens iron, and people sharpen people.” Tom highly encouraged me to participate in a three year, three-part study about authentic manhood. Each part of the study had large group, small group, and self-reflection time. I learned through this study the true definition of manhood, how to win at work and home, and ultimately my life quest for excellence. This process helped me take a huge leap of faith to fully pursue my passion in life, to be a coach. After going through the process, Tom saw growth in me that represented the qualities required to be a leader of the program. He encouraged me to take the step, he mentored me along the way, allowed me to succeed, allowed me to fail at times, and ultimately let me spread the wings that he knew I had within me. Lastly, Tom is a man of virtue. It may be that I view him so much as a Godly man or that I always see him say and do the right thing, at the right time, with the right tone. His vision for his life, and the life of others is always guided by what is good, honorable, and admirable.

After seeing this week’s assignment, I texted Tom that I would like to meet with him, and in true Tom fashion he responded, “tell me where and when and I will be there.” If I did not know better, I would think Tom does nothing all day except wait for text messages in anticipation of invitations to meet for coffee. In fact, that is kind of what he does. Tom openly meets and mentors with people all the time, that is his calling, listening and imparting wisdom on needy people. I had not seen Tom for a while so we had some cordial catching up to do, and again, Tom soon flipped the script on me and was interviewing me about life. He was genuinely interested on what was going on in my life and that of my family. Let the interview begin:

Wisest thing you ever heard or practiced: Reasonable people, equally informed, seldom disagree.

How do you gain wisdom: At age 16, I prayed to God for wisdom. I asked for six things: 1) Love God with all my heart, 2) Love others as God loves them, 3) Give me wisdom and knowledge beyond my age and ability, 4) Give me power with God, power with man, and power over sin in my life, 5) Continually remind me of Luke 2:52, favor with God and favor with man, and 6) Give me the faith to believe nothing is impossible.

Difference between wisdom and intelligence: Intelligence is a collection of head knowledge, we all have a certain amount. Wisdom is the application of head knowledge to daily life.

Who do you see as wise: Mike Householder, Senior Pastor at Lutheran Church of Hope.

Age and wisdom: Age is a chronological data point often filled with foolish decisions and not learning from those experiences. Wisdom is a great teacher if you are following truth.

Final parting comments: Read and understand the Prayer of Jabez, which broken down means the following: attempt something large enough that failure is guaranteed...unless God steps in!

Each time I meet with Tom, I walk out feeling inspired, energized, and important. To this day, I thank God for that brilliant man (Tom Allen) who placed an advertisement for a church over a bathroom urinal in a health club.