Monday, May 18, 2009

Where are you

A friend recently posted on my blog asking where I was. I responded by asking him if he had a map. It's been one of those months. I'm blessed by my job and the opportunity to be a voice for those that have no voice. But the travel does wear on you. I've been in so many meetings I just could not find the strength to blog when I got to the hotel. To be honest, I'm really not blogging today. I've even considered taking my blog off. However, I don't want to just yet. At least not until I give my wife props one more time.

Earlier today I was taking a short break between thank you notes to let my pen cool off. During this time I decided to read Kacee's blog. She doesn't give herself enough credit but she's a great communicator. Honestly, she conveys the message much better than I do. For that reason, I hope you will read her latest blog (May 11). Not only is it inspiring, it really is my life mission. She just says it better than me!

I'm not going to promise I will blog any time soon. I'm not even going to promise I won't just take this thing off. Who knows where tomorrow will lead! Blessings. Aspire to new heights.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I'm your Huckleberry

One of my all time favorite movies is Tombstone. Val Kilmer makes this movie. I guess that is why I'm so stoked about visiting Tombstone, Arizona tomorrow (yes it is work related). So, consider this a teazer for more to come (hopefully with pics). But, until then I thought it would be cool to hear from you in regards to your favorite Tombstone quote. Here is a video to give you some inspiration. More to come soon. Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Show me results

When we lived in Romania it amazed me to discover that most stores did not open until 9 or 10 and most people didn’t really go to work until 10ish. Culturally Romanians focused first on relationships and events while efficiency was not that high on the priority list. I learned this the hard way when I tried to teach a time management class. I even went so far as to give my students a day planner. I think it is safe to assume most did not use it! Fair enough. We can write off these differences as cultural differences and as I’ve said I don’t think all these differences were bad (I even miss many of them). After all how many of us work a solid 9 to 5 anyhow? But if culture is their excuse, what’s our excuse for poor productivity? I think it’s safe to say they may accomplish as much in a work day as we do anyhow.

As I said in my last blog, I’m reading a book called It’s Called Work for a Reason, by Larry Winget. Winget’s no nonsense approach to work has really captured my attention. Many would frown at other cultures for their "work ethic" while standing on our pedestal as though we were the "working force that makes the world go round." Winget on the other hand would disagree. He says, "What difference does it really make what people are doing as long as what needs to get done really gets done?" He goes on to add, "Don’t measure busywork. Don’t measure activity. Measure accomplishment. It doesn’t matter what people do as much as it matters what they get done."

This reminds me of a good friend I had in college that would cram the night before an exam and make the same grade if not better than I would after studying for two weeks. It drove me crazy but in the end the teacher didn’t care how much we studied. He just wanted to see how well we knew the information. The same is true in the workplace. We are not measured on how hard we work each day, we are measured by what we accomplish. Like it or not, there will always be those that can put in little effort and have great results, while some will put forth lots of effort to show the same results. I guess we just have to know our abilities and our limits.

After reading my last blog I realized I might be putting myself under a microscope. I’ve taken the risk of being known as the biggest hypocrite in the world by blogging on work if I don’t let my actions speak for themselves. Fortunately my wife is the only one that reads my blogs. Unfortunately she knows my work ethic around the house! It’s the end result honey, not the effort! So I guess that is my disclaimer. I’m not blogging on work in an effort to even attempt to sing my own praises but rather to just plant a few thoughts in the one or two minds that read this blog. But, more than anything maybe I’m just planting thoughts in my own mind. If nothing else, maybe I’ll think about all this the next time I try to skate by with little or no effort at work or attempt to just look busy! After all, the great John Wooden even said, "Never mistake activity for achievement."

I better get back to result producing work! Aspire to new heights.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Get to Work

A friend and colleague gave me a book she said “I had to read!” The book is titled It’s Called Work for a Reason. If I didn’t know my colleague so well I would think she was trying to send me a message (so RG are you?). After reading more about the author, she may be trying to tell me something. You see, the author, Larry Winget and I have a lot in common, most notably we tend to, “let our mouths overload our butts,” as my high school football coach called it. In this book Winget tells it like it is. Not only do Winget and I both shave our heads, we obviously don’t mind sticking our costly boots in our mouth!

I’ve just started reading this book and I can’t put it down. Winget’s fluff cutting antics inspire me. Right off the bat he strikes a cord with me when he fires, “The bottom-line answer to every problem in business is this: People aren’t working!!” Preach on brother.

I’m a worker. I’ve always been a worker. My father instilled this mentality in me. I don’t know very many people that work any harder than my father and his brothers. They grew-up in a day and age on a small West Texas farm when you worked to make a living. You milked the cows before school and you drove the tractor until dark (while getting an education in-between). I know my life was far from difficult like theirs, but one thing my dad did expect was hard work. From nine to five he worked at a bank. So we primarily worked on the farm and ranch on the weekends and any time the bank was closed (Labor Day had an entirely different meaning in my family). In the summer we either got a job or we worked on the farm. Vacations pretty much amounted to a long weekend trip to Dallas to watch the Ranger’s play and a day at Six Flags.

I guess this is why Winget’s book really hits home with me. I love to read and I’ve read multiple leadership books, all of which have been somewhat helpful but they also contain hundreds of ideas (or fads) on how to be successful. It’s kind of like the diet craze. Each time a new book comes out containing a fad diet, millions buy it. Everyone is looking for the quick fix whether it relates to work or health. The last thing we want to hear is that we have to work for success.

The nice thing about hard work is that you don’t have to be the smartest man on the block, you don’t have to be the most educated, and you don’t have to be the most experienced. You can cover miles and miles of “resume red flags” with good old solid nine to five labor. Just don’t get discouraged by the occasional floater that rises to the top via other means. After all, even turds float! (look for my book on this leadership phenomenon in the future).

I can’t wait to read more of this book. I hope you don’t mind me sharing with you some of Winget’s rantings, and a few of mine. If nothing else I’m sure you’ve grown to expect it from me! Sorry again for the lapse in blogs. Hope to at least have one a week in the future. Work before blog, right?!! Aspire to new heights.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Humble, Radiant Hogg (Pig)

I apologize for my recent hiatus. This has been an eventful month both at home and at work filled with sickness and increased workload. I could do without the sickness, but I’m enjoying the busy schedule. To be honest I poured myself into this blog during a time when I needed the therapy. Now I find myself rolling again, but I don’t want to neglect the joy I’ve found in writing my thoughts; just probably not as often as before. With that said, here goes nothing!


When my daughter Brynlee gets hooked on a movie she watches it until the DVD no longer functions. Right now she is on Barbie princess movies. Before that she was consumed by CARS. But before all the other movies there was Charlotte’s Web. Lucky for me this was during the time when we drove back-and-fourth from Lubbock to Houston for the holidays. I think I can quote this movie verbatim and I’ve never actually visibly seen the movie. You know you can learn a lot from a spider. After all she’s the one that said, “People are very gullible. They'll believe anything they see in print.” That’s why I blog!

In her search for words to describe Wilbur, and save him from ending up on a plate at the breakfast table, Charlotte tabs Wilbur as “humble.” Charlotte says, “Humble has two meanings. It means ‘not proud’ and ‘close to the ground.’ That's Wilbur all over.”

That’s who I want to be, a radiant, humble, Hogg! (Can you be radiant and humble?)

I’ve been reading a book by Stephen M.R. Covey called The Speed of Trust where he describes a humble person as someone that “is more concerned about what is right than about being right, about acting on good ideas than having the ideas, about embracing new truth than defending outdated position, about building the team than exalting self, about recognizing contribution than being recognized for making it.” Wow, what a mouthful, but what a statement to live by. Covey goes on to say,
Being humble does not mean being weak, reticent, or self-effacing. It means recognizing principle and putting ahead of self. It means standing firmly for principle, even in the face of opposition. Humble people can negotiate intensely. They can drive hard bargains. They can express themselves firmly and clearly in intense situations in close personal relationships. But they do not get caught up in arrogance, bravado, manipulation, or win-lose power plays….Humble people also realize clearly that they do not stand alone, but rather on the shoulders of those who have gone before, and that they move upward only with the help of others.

Man I have a lot to learn and a long ways to go! I know who a few, and I mean a few, of my faithful readers are and I know they ALL agree with me, especially when it comes to being right (even though I’ve never been wrong!). To be honest I’m not sure I’m not everything negative in Covey’s first statement. I like to be right. I like to have good ideas. I like to stand by my beliefs. I like to be recognized. Ouch. The scary thing is we will all be humbled at some point in time. As Jesus said in Luke 14:11, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

So, starting today, I’m going to strive to be “more concerned about what is right rather than being right.” I’m going to focus more on action rather than ideas. I’m going to be open to new ideas. I’m determined to be more about “we” than “I”. And I’m going to recognize contribution from others and not worry about personal recognition.

I hope you will join me. Aspire to new heights!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Write Way

What do you think is the most popular form of communication today? I read somewhere that an overwhelming majority of Americans (90%) prefer to use email as their primary form of communication. I must admit I did not, and really do not, believe the percentage is that high. However, there is no doubt email and text messaging are growing in popularity. Don’t believe me? Take a look at those around you. Don’t have a smart phone? You are definitely in the minority.

But what does this mean about the new generation? What is the world coming to when a text message or email can replace a simple phone call, or better yet, a face-to-face conversation? As much as I would like to take the high road, I cannot. I’m not completely innocent. I was just as excited as the next guy when I got a smart phone. My wife says I will get up in the middle of the night to read an email! If you can’t beat them, join them! So, instead of changing I decided to get her a Blackberry! Now I’m the one telling her to put down the phone!

To be honest, I look at this modern day form of communication as a good thing, if you choose to be different. The best way to rise above those around you is to just be different. That’s what Peyton Manning has decided to do. Last week I was watching an Outside the Lines special on ESPN about Manning. Since his entry to the NFL, Manning has hand wrote letters of appreciation to players he respected that are retiring from the league. During the show, a number of them commented on how much they appreciated the hand written note. The “hand written note.” There’s a concept; a lost art if you will.

Like I said, I’m not above reproach here. However, I’m smart enough to know that if you truly want to show someone you care and that you are different than every other emailing, text messaging, techno freak out there, you have to put it on paper! I probably have the worst handwriting in the world. Man my penmanship is horrific. It’s so bad I actually have to print. However, it’s the thought that counts! Right? I hope. None-the-less, I try every chance I get to show my appreciation for those I’m involved with, both personally and professionally, with a handwritten note. I guess I learned from the best. Every time I returned to school after a visit I would open my bag to find a note or two from my mother. The trend still continues through my wife. Every time I go on a mission trip she leaves me notes to let me know she is praying for me and that she is proud of me.

Peyton Manning is one of those guys, like Kurt Warner that I talked about last week. In this world of media scrutiny I honestly cannot remember ever hearing a negative story about Manning. He’s another example we should all try to follow. So the next time you want to show someone they mean something to you, don’t take it from me, take it from Manning and drop them a note, on paper! Aspire to new heights.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Thunder Rolls

I was sure by now,God, that You would have reached down
and wiped our tears away,
stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
and it's still raining
as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain,
"I'm with you"
and as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
the God who gives and takes away.

And I'll praise you in this storm
and I will lift my hands
for You are who You are
no matter where I am
and every tear I've cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
and though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I remember when I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to You
and raised me up again
my strength is almost gone how can I carry on
if I can't find You
and as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
and as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
the God who gives and takes away


I lift my eyes onto the hills
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth
I lift my eyes onto the hills
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth

Praise You in the Storm by Casting Crowns

Have you ever had a week when a song just speaks to you? This past weeks was one of those for me and this song says it best. I’ve cried out to God and the thunder continues to roll but I can hear His voice in the distance and I know He is by my side. You see, as I write this blog I find myself wide awake at 3:00 a.m. (or at least awake). Every once in a while you have one of those days, or weeks, where it just seems like things could not get any worse. Over the past 10 days we have had a plethora of sickness in the Hogg home. Brynlee is on the down hill stretch of a cold that was accompanied by a massive cough that kept her up several nights in a row. Last week Becton had the stomach bug and was kind enough to give it to me. Now Kacee is on her fourth day of a bacterial infection that has major side effects like nausea, high fever, and chills. After recovering from his stomach bug Becton picked up Brynlee’s cold and cough and he still has a ways to go before he recovers.

I’m so thankful that we live in Lubbock and that grandparents are nearby. I don’t know any way I could survive without them. Kacee is locked up in her parent’s house and the rest of us rotate kids so that we can sleep every other night. Now you see why this Casting Crowns song speaks to me in this moment. It’s moments like this that we draw close to God, many times to make accusations. Heck, I’ll be the first to admit I rarely look a trial in the face and say, “God thank you for making me stronger!” No, usually I’m the first to say, “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?”

I’m reminded of Paul, and the “thorn in his side.”

2 Corinthinas 11:23-27 “…I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I could not have said it any better. I know in my weakness comes greater faith. That doesn’t make it any easier. However, one does not have to look far to see that their “thorn” is far less severe than the “thorn” in the side of others. And it is for that very reason that “I will praise You in the storm.” Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A 30th worth remembering

If I told you we were all work and no play while living in Romania, I would be lying. Kacee and I both agreed that this was a chance of a lifetime on many fronts and we were not going to miss a one of them. So we sat aside a portion of our savings to make sure we saw as much of Europe as we could. One of my favorite trips was snow skiing in Davos, Switzerland. It was actually my 30th birthday (four years ago today) and Kacee decided this was a great way to celebrate. It was only about 12 hours drive from Timisoara and we had a team meeting in Budapest to attend a few days before. This only left eight hours on the road. The drive was picturesque. It was crazy but we actually spent as much time driving in tunnels through the mountains as we did on the road.

It’s a good thing the sights were worth seeing because the skiing was more than this flatlander could handle. Let’s put it this way; the Alps made Ruidoso look like a hill in the Texas Hill Country. The skiing was so, so hard. A green was as hard as any black I’ve gone down. Consequently, we asked for a reimbursement on our three day rental and just used one day! None-the-less we truly enjoyed walking around this skiing village. It is a trip I will not soon forget. Who knows, 40 is not that far away! Enjoy the pics. Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Role Model

Who did you look up to growing up? Was it an athlete? How about a movie star? Maybe it was just a common, down-to-earth person from your home town. Were they a positive role model or a negative role model? Did your perception change about them as you grew up? I must confess I’ve changed my opinion about a number of my role models as I’ve grown up and matured. Unfortunately sometimes they give us no choice.

Dr. Robyn Silverman describes role models as “people who others imitate, emulate or look to for guidance. There are good role models who inspire greatness in others and bad role models who are what we call ‘bad influences.’” defines a role model as “a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, esp. by younger people.”

So who do you think is a better modern day role model, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Phelps, or Kurt Warner? All three are a success in their sport. All three are examples, one positive and two negative. So who would you want your kids to look up to?

As a Texas Rangers fan I was somewhat an A-Rod fan (thought I though he was grossly over paid. With all the scandal surrounding Barry Bonds I had hoped A-Rod would break all his homerun records. Now, he’s no better than Bonds other than the fact that he admitted his use and chalked it up to being young and stupid.

I must also admit I rooted for Phelps to win all eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics. It was definitely the “feel good” story America needed this summer. Imagine the dejection millions of people are now feeling after seeing the pictures of Phelps smoking a marijuana pipe on YouTube.

Kurt Warner on the other hand has always been above reproach. Known for his rise from grocery store stock boy to Super Bowl MVP, Warner has always professed his faith in Christ and his actions prove what he believes. Whether he is stocking shelves or confusing defenses Warner has served as the perfect role model. I was so disappointed that Warner was not able to win another Super Bowl.

Honestly super star athletes serving as bad role models is nothing new to the industry. Long before my time, athletes were having inappropriate relationships on the road, consuming mass quantities of alcohol and drugs, and attempting to win at all cost (don’t believe me, check out the MLB steroid scandal). What seems to be more disappointing than anything is the attention media provides for the “bad” role models and how little press the “good” role models get (again, check out ESPN for proof). A portion of my doctoral dissertation was on perception verse reality. I don’t want to bore you with my findings and I would have to find my dissertation to do so (I think it is a door stop somewhere in our house), but, in a nutshell, perception is rarely equal to reality. Sure our country has serious moral issues, but we rarely hear of those living above reproach like Kurt Warner and Tim Tebow.

I’m not sure what we can do to change this. I’m not even sure what I’m writing about. Isn’t that what blogging is all about? Providing me with a platform to rave on and on about something I have little if any knowledge of? Maybe not, but that seems to be what others do!

Honestly I just wanted to give a shout out to Kurt Warner. He’s a good example of someone “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” In this day and age with all of the negativity maybe we can learn something from him. Aspire to new heights.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mother’s Day Out

I once made the mistake of saying I was babysitting for Kacee. Notice I said once! I’m certain I’ve made a million mistakes and I have a million more ahead of me. However, you won’t catch me saying I’m babysitting my own kids again. And I definitely will not refer to it as “my wife’s day off!” Regardless of my poor choice of words, I did take care of Brynlee and Becton this weekend. It is days like this that help me understand what a sweet, patient wife I have!

Brynlee and Becton have booth been under the weather. Becton has had the stomach bug and Brynlee woke Saturday with a terrible cold. It just so happens this coincided with a baby shower and funeral Kacee needed to attend. With that “deer in the headlights look” we waved good bye to Kacee as she drove down the drive. It was not until the end of the day that I realized how brave she was to return. This must be what unconditional love is! I do not attribute this to high maintenance children (and if they are, I made them this way). No, the greatest problem is definitely my lack of patience.

Please know I’m not writing to criticize my children, my wife, or even myself (though I probably need it). My true reasoning is to sing the praises of my wife. I’m as guilty as the next person for not giving credit where credit is due for a stay at home mom. All too often we (speaking of myself) look at this as their job. I’ve even made the mistake of saying she does not need a “day off!” I was right, she doesn’t deserve a day off, she deserves a month!

I’ve always wondered why we tab one day a year to celebrate Mother’s Day. Our mothers are so instrumental in who we are and who we will become. They deserve more than one day’s recognition. There is no way I could do what I do every day if I did not have mothers and grandmothers doing what they do to help raise my children. So the next chance you get, thank your wife and you’re your mother for what they have done in your life. I know I don’t thank mine near enough. Thank you MeeMaw. Thank you MeeMee. Thank you Mommy! Aspire to new heights. I know I will because of these ladies.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Snipe Hunt Goes International

I’m sure most of you, especially those from the South, remember your introduction to snipe hunting. For many of us this was a ritual or orientation to high school. The best thing about a snipe hunt was the anticipation of taking the next group on their hunt. But what exactly is a snipe? According to Wilkepedia,

A snipe hunt is one of a class of practical jokes that involves experienced people making fun of newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task. The origin of the term is a practical joke where inexperienced campers are told about a bird or animal called the snipe as well as a usually ridiculous method of catching it, such as running around the woods carrying a bag or making strange noises. In the most popular version of the snipe hunt, especially in the American South, a newcomer is taken deep into the woods late at night and told to make a clucking noise while holding a large sack. The others, who are in on the joke, say that they will go around the snipes and push them back toward the hunter. The frightened snipes, they say, will be attracted to the clucking noise and easily caught in the bag. The newcomer is then simply left in the dark forest, eventually to realize his gullibility and find his way home or back to camp.
My good friend Todd Long had developed a great student ministry in Timisoara. Occasionally I would join them for events or retreats. Being from the South as well, Todd and I decided we would take the boys to a local village for fun and games, hot dogs, and smores. Some how we even decided the boys needed to be introduced to the tradition of snipe hunting. For weeks Todd and I talked and talked about the great snipe hunt. After a while this story grew legs of its own. The snipe slowly took shape and they had a visual image in their mind of the “thing” they were going to catch. Funny enough, Raol, the team leader, was probably more excited than all the others put together.

Finally the day of the great hunt came. We had a wonderful day of playing soccer, trying to teach flag football, and eating. As the sun began to set we passed out the yellow plastic Billa shopping bags (as if it would hold a bird). Each boy was given a flashlight and sent on their way. We even offered a $100 reward for the first snipe. This just added fuel to the fire. They ran all over that village looking for the birds. They were kicking over mounds of dirt, looking under logs, climbing trees, all in an effort to win the prize.

Unfortunately the sun sat without a single snipe being caught. We gathered the boys around the camp fire to cook smores. They were so dejected, but not near as dejected as they were once I told them the truth! You would have thought we had kissed their sister they were so mad! We did share with them a Bible passage on being deceived and we tried to make a lesson of it. However, it was not until we told them that they could carry on the tradition of snipe hunting by doing it to others that they forgave us.

Everyone seemed to let this event go after a few days; everyone except Raol that is. He was determined to prove us wrong and save face. After all, he was their leader and he had been duped. Much to my amazement he shows up one day for lunch with an article from ESPN on an actual snipe bird. Apparently a snipe is a member of the shorebird family. It is difficult to catch for experienced hunters and the word “sniper” is derived from it to refer to anyone skilled enough to shoot one!

I’m not sure if these boys have continued the snipe hunting tradition, and unfortunately we lost Raol last year in a terrible car accident. But this is one day that will go down in my book of memories forever.

Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hold You

Kids say the cutest things. Living with a 2 ½ year old is never dull. Oh how often I wonder what is going through her thought process. There is no greater reward than returning home after a long day to the welcoming arms of a child, especially after a long trip. Earlier this week I returned home from a long-weekend trip to Honduras. As she always does, my daughter greeted me at the door with a hug and a kiss and an immediate request of “hold you.” Whenever she wants me to hold her she asks in a sweet, innocent voice, “Hold you.” As if she could actually hold me! None-the-less I always comply.

My daughter and son are both lucky. Not because they have me as a father, but rather because they have someone to hold them. I was reminded of this blessing during my time in Honduras. It was our first stop at Nueva Esperanza that we were introduced to 20 plus infants (0-4) with two caregivers. All ten of us did our best to comply with the cries to be held. Many of us held two at a time. Unfortunately this was only temporary. After 20 minutes we had to place the kids back in their cribs and leave. There was not a dry eye in the group, including the children.

There are 150 million orphans in the world, each with a name, each with a longing to be held. For those of you that are parents and grandparents, the thought of a child with anyone to hold them is heartbreaking. My love and passion for the orphans of the world came long before I was a parent. However, my broken heart came on my first trip after becoming a father. On that very day your perception is completely changed. We’ve had a rough year in the Hogg home. My daughter had tubes put in her ears and my son had RSV and spent a week in the hospital. The doctors and nurses provided excellent care, but the greatest medicine seemed to be the love of a mother or father as we held them tight and kissed them on the head.

Don’t you think every child has the right to be held? I do. And I think Jesus did as well. In the book of Matthew he actually placed his hands on a child and mandated "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (19:14)

I’m reminded of a week I spent in Latvia. This trip was especially special because we actually stayed in the orphanage. Each night we would read a book to the kids and join them in prayer time before tucking them into bed. One would think a child would grow out of wanting to be held. But for one that has never been held that desire never goes away. Every night for a week I actually held a 15 year old boy by the name of Janis and rocked him to sleep as we told stories and sang songs.

So how do we fulfill this desire? One child at a time. At Nueva Esperanza Buckner is attempting to raise support to pay women from the local church to spend a few hours a day in the orphanage holding children. We already have a similar ministry in Russia. What an amazing ministry. Not only are you providing supplemental income for women in need, but you are providing loving arms to hold a child. Father Buckner would be proud. If you have any interest in supporting this program or personally going to hold a child, shoot me an email at As a former colleague of mine once said, “All you need to go on a mission trip is two arms to hold.”

Holding on for Him. JH

Aspire to new heights.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Word Search Continued

As I said in my blog entitled Flyin’ High (January 11, 2009), my wife inspired me with her blog on selecting one word to describe yourself for the year. Unfortunately I’m very indecisive and have had a hard time narrowing down my selection. I started with a list of several hundred. I think I’m down to 20 or so (but the list keeps growing). To help me pick I’ve decided to blog on those that seem relevant (what else would I blog on). Maybe that will help me narrow my selection.


We all (or most of us) remember the book by Bruce Wikinson titled The Prayer of Jabez. The entire short book focuses on 1 Chronicles 4:10, “Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.”

I’m not writing to debate the validity of this book, but I was reminded of Jabez and his prayer this weekend while traveling to Honduras with Buckner and a group from the Midland Christian festival Rock the Desert.

Over the past four years God has done wonders to broaden the horizon of this small town farm boy. As a matter of fact, my growth really began 10 plus years ago when my dad took me on my first mission trip to Romania and Russia. Until that time the biggest stretch I had experienced was moving to College Station (no Aggie jokes). What followed were short stints to Kenya, Guatemala, and numerous visits to Romania. On top of that we lived in Romania for a year and covered most of Europe during that time. I was even able to ski the Swiss Alps on my 30th birthday.

Since my employment with Buckner I have been blessed to visit Russia, Romania, Latvia, Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya, and now Honduras. Strange enough I probably read The Prayer of Jabez, and more than likely prayed the very same prayer, in 2000. Man how my territory has expanded since then.

For the first time in my life I’ve begun to look at “expansion” in an entirely different way. Sure my experiences have expanded the past 10 years by visiting a number of countries. Without a doubt my family has expanded the last four years with the addition of two little ones. My thought process has even expanded as I have been exposed to so many wonderful Buckner ministries. But is there more to this expansion thing? I’m starting to think there is.

To me, expansion should also mean getting out of our comfort zone. Visualize an old worn out sweatshirt. I have this yellow sweatshirt that is two sizes too big. I’ve owned it for over 10 years. I’m not sure why I bought it. It is so very ugly. I don’t think I ever wore it out of the house. However, I put it on every evening when I get home from work. Kacee hates it. I call it Ole’ Yeller. I even wore it when Becton was born (I was sick, cold, and I had it in my bag). If Kacee believed she could get away with it I know she would throw it away. Anyhow, I digress. Over time this shirt has stretched and stretched to the point that it is a lot bigger than it once was. However, I’ve never noticed (maybe because I’m a lot bigger than I used to be as well). None-the-less it is still the same shirt. Our comfort zone is somewhat the same way. It slowly stretches with a few little things here and there, but we really never realize it is expanding. That is good. A little stretching does us all some good. As we grow, so grows our comfort zone.

As good as a little stretching is for our personal development an occasional expansion beyond just a little stretch will do us all some good. As Brennan Manning once said, “If we are going to keep on growing, we must keep on risking failure throughout our lives.” Why not take a risk? Do something you would never do in a million years. Follow a dream you’ve had for ever. Take that leap of faith.

Expansion may be my favorite “word of the year” yet. Unlike Ole’ Yeller it just seems to fit for the place I find myself today. Maybe you should join me. If we all wore ugly yellow sweatshirts no one would think anything of it.

Stretch on! Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

In the Dark defines culture shock as “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment.” During our time in Romania, Kacee and I both had our share of bewilderment and distress! As I’ve said before, “if we had a dollar for every time we asked ‘why,’ then we would have been able to stay a second year for free.” Probably the greatest advice we received prior to our departure was from our friend and mentor Teri McCarthy; “When something seems odd or different than you are accustomed to, just remember, it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just different.”

I’m sure I could blog on a weekly basis for at least a year on our culture shock. Where to begin? I guess the logical place would be the first case we (Kacee) came down with. She has been begging me for weeks to blog on her first case of culture shock anyhow. For those of you that know me, you know that I would never attempt to get a laugh at someone else’s expense, especially my wife! However, she has just begged and begged. So to make her happy I will share it with you guys.

After living in Romania for about three weeks the wheels came off a bit. To set the stage let me tell you a bit about our first apartment. It was a one bedroom, one bath apartment with a small kitchen and living area. It was furnished with aged furniture (putting it nicely). I still remember watching the Olympics on our 15 inch black and white T.V. with rabbit ears. Now Kacee and I are not needy, needy people, but the floors were not quiet up to our standard to say the least. They were wood and you could almost grow vegetables in the cracks. We were on the first floor so we really didn’t want to open our windows because they were eye level to those on the sidewalk. Did I mention we did not have AC? We also did not have a washing machine, so we washed clothes in the bathtub. Got the picture yet?

To make things worse, we were beginning to discover the true cost of living in Romania. We had based our budget on general assumptions from other professors living in Romania. However, Timisoara is further west and apparently the cost of living was a bit more that our colleagues. Out of a complete lack of judgment and sensitivity I shared my concerns with Kacee. So really I’m to blame for this culture shock. Mater of fact, I’m pretty sure I felt to blame for everything, including the relocation.

Looking back I’m not quiet sure why I was shocked to return home to a completely dark apartment. As mentioned above, we lived on the bottom floor so we usually kept our windows shut. Since we lived on the bottom floor our windows also had security shades that blocked out 100% of the light. It was no surprise the windows were closed, but I was a bit caught off guard that all the lights were off. “Why are you sitting in the dark?” I asked. “Because we don’t have any money to use the electricity,” Kacee said! (Ask a stupid question…) To know me and Kacee is to know that I sometimes (okay always) exaggerate things and Kacee sometimes (okay always) reacts accordingly. She calls this “adding spice to the story.” I obviously “added spice” to the fact that we had no money, and that things were going to be tight going forward. I can admit that today!

Looking back, we can have a big laugh (unfortunately at her expense). Funny thing is Kacee has always feared Teri would use her as an example when training new professors! Let me just say (covering my tale now) that I have the sweetest, most supportive wife in the world. Had I chose to move to some African village and live in a grass hut, Kacee would be by my side. We’ve been to Romania, Houston, and back and forth to Lubbock a number of times. She’s always been by my side as my biggest fan and supporter.

The truth of the matter is that Kacee and I both believe God never calls one member of a family without calling the entire family. When He called me to Romania, He called Kacee as well. That’s why we made such a good team. Thanks honey for your support (and the laugh)!

Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Interest of Others

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:1-8

Wilkepedia defines humility as “the defining characteristic of an unpretentious and modest person, someone who does not think that he or she is better or more important than others.” In this day and age (dog eat dog world) it has become human nature to be the best (at all cost). Every day we see someone climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder via the knife in someone else’s back. This goes against the very nature of humility and the advice Paul gave the Church in Philippi; “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

According to the Roman Catholic theologian, poet, and writer, François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon, (François Fénelon), “Humility is good in every situation, because it produces that teachable spirit which makes everything easy.” To be honest, if I had a name like him I would be humble as well! But he does make a good point. How much more likely are we to learn from an experience if we are humble? Experience has taught me that if I’m not humble God is good to humble me. There is such a fine line between arrogance, confidence, and humility; as there should be (at least the later two). We probably need a healthy, Christian mix of confidence and humility. Arrogance; however, we can probably do without. Seth Godin put it this way, “Confidence is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, particularly in marketing or investing. Arrogance, on the other hand, is hard to reward. My favorite combination is the quiet confidence of knowledge, combined with the humility that comes from realizing that you're pretty lucky and that you have no idea at all what's guaranteed to work tomorrow.”

So how do we find this healthy mix that will allow us to “look out for our own interests, while looking out for the interests of others?” Wilkepedia explained that legitimate Christian humility is comprised of the following behaviors and attitudes:

  1. Submission to God and legitimate authority;
  2. Recognition of the virtues and talents that others possess, particularly those which surpass one's own, and giving due honor and, when required, obeisance;
  3. Recognition of the limits of one's talents, ability, or authority; and, not reaching for that which is beyond one's grasp.

So, as I continue my journey into 2009 in pursuit of the perfect word for the year, I cannot help but think (know) I have a long ways to go to become the humble person God designed me to be. Loosing all my hair was a good start! Living in a country where I didn’t speak the language was a big help as well. Having two kids is just icing on the cake! Just last night I got to paint my three year old daughter’s toe nails. God obviously has a sense of humor! Glad He is patient with me.

Aspire to new heights. Humbly yours, JH.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Just ANOTHER Word!

As I said in my blog entitled Flyin’ High (January 11, 2009), my wife inspired me with her blog on selecting one word to describe yourself for the year. Unfortunately I’m very indecisive and have had a hard time narrowing down my selection. I started with a list of several hundred. I think I’m down to 20 or so. To help me pick I’ve decided to blog on those that seem relevant (what else would I blog on). Maybe that will help me narrow my selection.


Have you ever heard the old saying, “I’m just getting my ducks in a row”? What exactly does that mean? The best explanation I could find online is the process of preparing for something; like lining up ducks for target practice. Personally I prefer to look at this statement to mean: 1) I can’t make up my mind, 2) I’m stalling, or 3) I’m very particular! This is obviously a very famous phrase. I Googled the phrase and found 20 plus blogs on the topic and several blog sites by this title.

For some reason I just can’t get beyond the notion that it is indicative of a lack of action. Man I just wish people would get off the couch already! Knowing that I’m a man of little patience helps explain why I have very little tolerance for lazy people. I’m a man of action and I like to see things happen and I like to make things happen. One of my all time favorite quotes is by author Seth Godin. He says, “Getting your ducks in a row is not nearly as powerful as actually doing something with your duck.”

All too often we spend so much time trying to make things exactly perfect that we miss out on the opportunity. Sure the temptation is to make sure that whatever we do is done the best way possible (and rightfully so). But what if this “strive for perfection” results in no action at all? John F. Kennedy observed, “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

This year I want to be much better at seizing the moment when there is a window of opportunity. Nike was right on the money when they coined the phrase “Just Do It.” That phrase has remained at the forefront of their marketing strategy for years. Last year Buckner came up with “Go.Be.Do.” in an effort to encourage people to “Go Somewhere, Be a Voice, and Do Something.” God has blessed each one of us with the ability to do something. The question is “are we willing to do it?”

With the recent economical crisis the theme for most companies and families is “Do more with less.” Doing more is a good start. Doing anything is an even better start. That’s my goal for 2009. Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My “Own” Office

Last week I told you my struggle to get prep time for the first day of class. I had hoped to be settled in my new office and working on lesson plans weeks before class started. Unfortunately, that was not reality. Fortunately, I did get an office the first day of class. Man was I excited to have a new office. So what if it was on the fifth floor of a five story building. And who cares if you don’t have an elevator. I need my exercise anyhow. And do you really need electricity or the internet? Not in this day and age. I will just charge my laptop at home during lunch (and climb the stairs again)! And I love those smoke filled internet cafés. What was important was the fact that I had my own desk.

That first morning, my friend Cosmin took me to my office. He made sure my key worked before wishing me well. I remember his final words as he left, “Looks like someone decorated for you! Enjoy.” At that point it did not register with me that I might be sharing an office. Guess I overlooked the fact that there were two desks in my office. Immediately I began to make myself at home. After all, I had lesson plans to prepare! In less than an hour I was able to clean out the “big desk” that for some strange reason was full of paper, pens, pencils, etc. I wonder why? By this time it was approaching lunch. Though we had been in Romania a month I was unable to muster up the courage to find the university cafeteria. Baby steps!

About an hour later (maybe two, it is Romania) I returned to “my office.” Now what happened next probably would have captured the attention of a normal person. However, I was so consumed with my new office and the hours of work I had ahead of me that I totally overlooked the fact that all of my stuff had been moved to the small desk. “Strange. Who would have done that? Oh well, might as well move it back!” Looking back I’m dumbfounded that it took meeting my office partner a few hours later for it to dawn on me that I was sharing this office! You know, that small desk wasn’t that bad after all.

Now the story would be funny if it ended here. However, it gets better! For weeks I went about my business working from the small desk. I would work in the morning, return home to charge my computer, teach class in the evening, and then return to my office to do more work. Now the office was a bit small so I didn’t leave a lot of things overnight. After all, I had to charge my computer at night! Now I’ve already labeled myself as a “less than observant person.” So it probably doesn’t strike you as strange that I didn’t realize things being moved around on my small desk. Sure I noticed a pencil moved occasionally; sometimes my books would be moved as well. However, I did have an office partner. Maybe he moved them. Wrong again!

Weeks into the semester I opened “our” office door only to find a small Romanian man sitting at “my desk.” How dare he? Maybe he was just waiting on my office partner. Wrong again. After several minutes of pointing, grunting, and broken English, and horrific Romanian, I discovered he was a part time professor. So it wasn’t that crazy that I didn’t notice his subtle changes to “our desk.” He only worked two days a week. I wonder what he thought about my stuff being there. Assuming he was more observant than me.

The great thing was he and I developed a neat relationship over time. It was great to learn about Romania, Timisoara, and the university from someone that had been there long before Communism fell. I’m glad I shared an office with both of my office partners. Think how boring and lonely it would have been otherwise! Life’s too short to spend it alone. Aspire to new heights. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What's in a word?

As I said in my blog entitled Flyin’ High (January 11, 2009), my wife inspired me with her blog on selecting one word to describe yourself for the year. Unfortunately I’m a terrible picker. Sure I can pick my nose but I’ve never been able to pick a winning team (evident by my Ags), a career (evident by my resume), or my clothes (evident by my wife’s control of my wardrobe). Really the only thing I ever got right was picking a wife (I hope she agrees). From that point on she has done all the picking for me! Since she is not picking my “word of the year,” I’ve decided to pick several. I started with a list of several hundred. I think I’m down to 20 or so. To help me pick I’ve decided to blog on those that seem relevant for the day. Forgive me if I ramble. Maybe you can help me narrow them down.


WAIT! Another four letter word for Christians. In a world where time is consumed like a prairie wildfire, waiting on the Lord can be excruciating. King David tells us, “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes wait for the Lord.”

I have always struggled with patience. I was ready to pack my bags and move to Romania after my first visit in 1999. However, God made me patiently wait until fulfilling this calling in 2004. When I asked Kacee to marry me I was ready that day. I couldn’t believe it could take a year to plan a wedding. Guess I should have asked a year earlier. And when Brynlee was born I was ready to get down on the floor and play with her. It took me weeks to resolve that she was just going to take a bottle, sleep, and go to the bathroom for months.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t pray for patience. God might grow you into a patient person.” I’ll be honest, I never prayed for patience, but my mother or wife or someone must have. Kacee would be the first to admit that the year we lived in Romania made me into the semi-patient man I am today.

If you were to ask me the greatest lesson I learned while living in Romania I would tell you that patience would be in my top three (remember I can’t pick). One would think this might be a jab in the face of my adopted Romanian family. On the contrary; I consider this one of the best things Romania has to offer and often long for the pace of life we lived in Romania.

When I think about waiting, as it relates to my life today, I think about God and his power. As I have said several times the last few weeks, I truly feel God stirring in my gut to do something awesome. The hard part is waiting to see what that is. Sure we all hope and long for God to do something great in our lives and there is no greater time to anticipate this than at the beginning of another year. So maybe I’m just one of “those people” waiting on God to do something amazing. Or even better; maybe I should always anticipate God doing something amazing. After all, He’s yet to disappoint.

So until He reveals His plans, or He comes back first, I will be waitin’ on the Lord. And, aspiring to new heights! Peace out.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

To Change a Nation…

Think of the three most influential people in your life. More than likely one of those three was an educator. Henry Adams once said “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” If this is true then how can we truly measure the value an educator has on a student? After all, lessons learned from an educational institution will determine who a person becomes. It is estimated that over 90 percent of world leaders and heads of state attended a university or an institution of higher learning. Imagine the difference in our world if these leaders had been taught by Christians presenting their disciplines from a biblical worldview. It was for this very reason that I chose to teach college in Romania. And it is why I continue to serve with the International Institute for Christian Studies as a member of the board.

I just returned from a wonderful weekend spent with my fellow IICS Board Members. It is always so refreshing to spend a few days with my friends and fellow servants. As always my favorite part of our time is reflecting upon the stories of lives changed the previous semester. Currently, more than 41 IICS professors from a broad range of disciplines teach in 18 nations around the world. As Dr. Charles Malik said, “The university is a clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world. Change the university and you change the world.” To my knowledge IICS is the only organization in the world dedicated to using Christian professors in secular universities to shape these future leaders of the world.

The Vision of IICS
The IICS vision is that someday every university student in the world will have at least one instructor who will articulate and demonstrate the love and lordship of Jesus Christ for them.

The Mission of IICS - Develop Godly Leaders
The Mission of International Institute for Christian Studies is to bring glory to God and impact the world by developing godly leaders for every sector of society - government, business, home, church, the arts, law, the sciences, education - as we provide key universities and academic institutions with educational services and Christian faculty who teach and live in such a way as to draw others to faith and transformation in Christ.

The Method - Thinking Outside the Box
In a nutshell, IICS places college professors in secular universities (outside the U.S. and Canada) to teach in their discipline with the hopes that they will impact the future leaders of that country by leading them to Christ. In this world of “post denominational missions,” IICS is a mixture of “outside the box” missions that empowers future leaders of the world to have an impact on their own country via professors serving as career missionaries. To my knowledge there are no other agencies doing missions this way. According to Os Guinness, “The IICS work is one of the most extraordinary mission movements in the world today. It is costly, and often it will not see huge immediate returns, but it is a rare, farsighted and remarkable work that is sowing seeds of unimaginable significance.”

No doubt the harvest of the future is contingent upon the seeds we plant today. Thank you IICS and my 41 plus friends for doing your part. Is God calling you to be a seed planter?

To Change a Nation, Teach the Leaders.
To Teach the Leaders, Go to the Universities.

Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Think Backwards

“Think Backwards!” At first glance it probably makes you think of someone that “beats to a different drum” or has a strange way of thinking. Though that may be true and I may have a “backwards” way of thinking, I’m speaking more in literal terms, more like the saying “hindsight is 20/20.”

As I continue to travel down memory lane and reflect upon our time in Romania I find myself discovering something about this experience, and life in general. Life is comprised of multiple parts (experiences); taken individually they may be meaningless; taken as a whole (our life) and they have a completely different meaning. For example, if you were to read my journal you would probably think our year in Romania had a lot of ups and downs. However, as I reflect upon individual experiences with the knowledge of our entire experience I realize how fulfilling that year was. I would not change a thing about that year and in many ways miss our time in Romania (I have my days where I want to be there)! I guess hindsight is 20/20!

One experience that jumped out at me today was our first day of class on October 1. Kacee and I took a giant leap of faith moving to Romania. We didn’t have a place to live, I didn’t know exactly what classes I would teach, and we didn’t even have a ticket home! Being the “western thinker” that I am, on top of my teaching experience, I had hoped to know my classes, know my students names, and know where I would teach the class weeks in advance. Unfortunately, October 1 arrived and I new nothing. I didn’t even have an office. So much for being prepared! My translator and contact at the university told me not to worry because the students usually did not arrive for the first few weeks of the semester anyhow!

Finally, after several days I discovered what classes I would teach and where they would be held. I even received my own office (a great story for another day). I spent several days working on my material, mostly at the internet café down the road. When the first day of class arrived I was prepared; somewhat.

What I had lost sight of was my true reason for being in Romania. Yes it was to teach agriculture. That was a huge priority. However, job number one was to build relationships with my students. I guess God figured the best way to do this was to take all of my plans and “file 13” (trash) them.

Looking back now I realize that the students that did attend (not mandatory) my class attended much for the same reason I moved to Romania; to get to know me. Consequently our classes took an entirely different approach. We spent as much time talking about America and Romania as we did agriculture. Now I know all of you have had that teacher or professor that you can just push one or two buttons and they will go off chasing rabbits for the entire allotted class time. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, that was me. Granted I had a responsibility to the university to teach my agriculture class, and I did teach. My hope is that all of my students would admit that they learned a lot about agriculture, education, and leadership. However, I hope many of them will admit they learned a lot about life, me, and for a handful, Jesus.

This is the great thing about God. All the planning in the world is worthless if it is not His plan. I guess I can see that now. At the time, Kacee would tell you I was a bit frustrated. Thank you God for always knowing the right plans.

Trust Him with your plans. Looking back you will be glad you did. Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rate of Return: A new year, a new beginning.

Have you ever found that God will use any and all means to speak to us when He wants to get his message across? Sometimes He even uses a preacher! I have to give props to my pastor Bruce Venable for drawing my attention to a story in the Seattle Times about Leon McLaughlin. McLaughlin’s story is amazing.

After a trip to Mexico, and an unlikely incident with a bathtub full of water, McLaughlin committed his life to providing fresh water to every person in the world. Surprisingly, he has had great success. Now partnering with World Vision he is on task to install his water filtration system in all 59 countries where World Vision works.

This is no doubt a feat that anyone would be proud to accomplish, especially while holding down a nine-to-five job. But even more amazing is that McLaughlin’s nine-to-five job is shining shoes! His downtown Seattle shoe shine stand serves as the corporate headquarters for his ministry; evident by the pictures from around the world above his stand.

The beginning of the year is no doubt a time to refocus our lives on that which is important to us and some things not so important that we feel necessary. Close to 50% of all Americans will make some sort of New Year’s resolution. Many will quit smoking on January 1. Even more will commit to exercising and loosing weight. Others recommit to reading their Bible or following a tight budget.

My New Year’s resolution is to increase the rate of return on one investment. The investment – me. The investor – God. The return – what I do with that investment. God has blessed all of us (or invested in us) with the ability to make a difference. For me personally I yearn, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “to leave the world a bit better.” I’m sure I’ve used this quote before so you will have to forgive me. However, I feel it is still relevant. In his book The Call, Os Guinness says, “Deep in our hearts, we all want to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves…For each of us the real purpose is personal and passionate: to know what we are here to do, and why. But, nothing short of God’s call can ground and fulfill the truest human desire for purpose…Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.

I’m inspired by our shoe shining friend (I may even try to get a shine from him one day and pick his brain). Here is a guy that could be content shining shoes for $5 and boots for $8. Instead he shines shoes so that he can change the souls of others (I know, cheesy!). He has obviously found his true calling and in doing so he lives it out with a “special devotion and dynamism” evident by his “summons and service.”

Thank you Bruce and Leon for showing me what it means to follow His call. Now if I can just do the same. I know it will be a challenge. Only 60% of Americans keep their resolution past the first month. Close to 45% keep them six months. However, as my wife has tried to impress upon me, “this is not a ‘diet’ but rather a ‘lifestyle’ change!”

Blessings to you as you seek to make a lifestyle change. Aspire to new heights.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Flyin' High

I’m so proud of my wife. Though she never gives herself enough credit, she is actually a pretty good writer, as evident by her most recent blog on her "word for the year." Apparently you select one word to describe yourself for the upcoming year. You can go to her blog to read the entire post and learn more about this process. But is was her word and reasoning that truly inspired me. Kacee picked FLY as her word for 2009. To you and me this is just another word. Maybe it is the act of levitating or maybe it is that pesky little thing that won’t get off your food. But to Kacee it means much more.

She explains, “Where I grew up will always be home. It will always be where my heart is. It is where I find comfort. Where I find family. And friends. And security. I had never moved away, not even for college, but in 2004, Jon and I made a huge leap and moved to Romania…I learned more about myself than I had ever learned before. Now please don't get me wrong, you do not have to move anywhere to open your eyes and have a world view, but for me that is what it took. I want to be home,” she goes on to clarify. “This is where my roots are. I want to live here. But no matter where I live I have such a deep desire to also have wings and FLY…I do not want to be close minded about things. I want to learn. I want adventure. I want to be positive. I want to take chances and explore. I want to try new things and do the things I have said I would do for years.”

Kacee’s blog truly made me begin my search for 2009, not only for my word of the year (still have 10 plus to narrow down from), but even more, how I would make this my best year ever. To me, flying means much more than just leaving the comforts of “home” and traveling the world. Flying means leaving the comforts of our life and taking risks. This is something I’m not always that good at doing. Even when we moved to Romania I had a T.V., Playstation, car, computer, cell phone, and so much more. I’m not sure I left my comfort zone or if I just took my comfort zone with me!

I have the privilege of talking (or listening!) to Kacee each day so I have an even greater understanding of what her intentions were in her blog. Therefore, I must give her credit for inspiring me, both from her blog and from our conversations. A wise man once told me that you will never be any better than your wife inspires you to be. I’m so blessed to have a wife that inspires me to be a better father, husband, and all around person.

I do not know what 2009 holds for me or my family. I can honestly say I feel God stirring deep in my gut. Because of that I truly believe great things are yet to come for me, my career, and my family. I cannot wait to see what He has in store for us this year. I’m sure I could put Him in a “box” and put parameters on what He can do this year. That’s the temptation. However, until I know His exact will I’m going to make every effort to “fly” a little bit more in everything I do. Anything less and I would be selling myself short, and God.

Aspire to new “flying” heights! Blessings.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Fork

As I was thinking about my Romanian adventure blog for this week it dawned on me that I probably never shared our story as to why we even moved to Romania. Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” My life has been full of forks. There have been so many forks in our life we almost have an entire place setting. Maybe I should start by taking a few steps pack, to set the stage.

After graduating with my master’s degree I decided to try my hand at the family business. So I moved home, bought a trailer house (no jokes) and prepared for my future in banking. It didn’t take long for me to realize that a small town was not the place for a recent college graduate with a girlfriend miles away. After one year I decided to return to school and work on my doctorate. But before I could leave, God planted a seed in my life that continues to grow to fruition. My father and a group of men invited me to travel with them to Romania and Russia on a fact finding mission. This trip changed my life forever. I knew God was calling me to live in Romania; I just didn’t know when or how. Each semester break I would return to Romania to do mission work.

However, after finishing my doctorate I had a momentary lapse of sanity and decided to try my hand at banking again. Things went much better for three years but I knew something was missing. Finally, after months of deliberation we sold the family business. I was completely at a loss. What was I going to do with a degree in animal science and two degrees in agricultural education, plus four years of banking experience and a love for Romania? Enter the International Institute for Christian Studies. One day I received a call from an acquaintance asking for the contact information of a mutual friend that lived in Romania. It seems the acquaintance had a family friend that was moving to Romania to teach college. Come again? By the end of the conversation I learned of IICS that sends college professors to third world countries to teach in their discipline in an effort to reach the future leaders of said country.

It was at this point that God was so in control of every minor detail that Kacee and I could not question His call. We stormed through the application process. We even flew through the fundraising process in less than six months. Even more amazing was the fact that our house sold “for sale by owner” in two days, for a profit! After a week long check out trip to Romania I signed a contract with the University of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences Banat Timisoara in Timisoara, Romania. A few months later we put everything we owned into storage and boarded a plane with way too much luggage and moved to Romania.

What did I learn from this adventure? Guess you will have to tune in next Friday to fin out! Until then, aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Was the Grinch onto something?

As I said in my last blog; “I can be a bit of a Grinch when it comes to Christmas.” Fortunately the addition of kids has made me much better, but I have a ways to go! This year, as I paused to reflect upon what Christmas meant to me, I discovered my heart had become somewhat cold and callous. My obsession with the commercialism of Christmas had caused me to overlook the joy that can still come from giving a gift from the heart. This was never more apparent than this year as my daughter Brynlee celebrated her third Christmas.

More than ever before I anticipated Christmas morning, not for the gifts I would receive, but rather the look on Brynlee’s face when she saw her new kitchen delivered straight from the North Pole. But, much to my dismay, the harder we tried to impress her with presents the more impressed she became with the wrapped presents under the tree, or “my present” as she so affectionately refereed to them! She stormed right through her gifts and moved right on to her little brothers! Kind of makes you wonder whether the emphasis should truly be on the physical gift itself or just the act of giving (or receiving for Brynlee). After all, the central theme to Christmas is both receiving and giving. How often do we lose sight of this?

Perfecting the art of giving should be a top priority in our lives. However, developing a giving heart seems to be secondary to greed and the lust for more. In this world of excess, today’s role models like Britney Spears, Adam “Pacman” Jones, Lindsey Lohan, and Michael Vick give more to the Department of Justice than they do to UNICEF. Just once you would like to find a positive role model that gives out of the kindness of their heart rather than obligation. But if we truly value what has been given to us one would believe we would want to give something in return. Jesus did say, “To whom much is given, much will be expected.”

Giving to others as a result of the fullness we feel from receipt of a gift is true generosity, not obligation giving. It's the natural process of recognizing what we have been given and then sharing it. The Christian knows to serve the weak not because they deserve it but because God extended his love to us when we deserved the opposite. In his second book to the Church in Corinth Paul explained, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (v. 7). He goes on to say “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (v. 12).

For me one of the greatest gifts I ever received was from someone that I did not even know. After speaking at a local church during one of my visits to Romania a generous couple invited me to their home for lunch. Knowing that Romanians are notorious for their hospitality and that they will sacrifice a month’s wages just to make sure you have a quality meal while visiting their home I kindly accepted their invitation. For almost two hours this Romanian family treated me like a king, feeding me more than I would normally eat in an entire day. With each bite my heart would break a little more knowing the sacrifices that were made. Though this gift of hospitality was far less valuable financially than many gifts I have received, the true value was worth more than a month’s salary to me.

In honor of this sweet Romanian couple I’m going to resolve to give more from the heart in 2009. This year I want to prove that I do believe that it is better to give than to receive. And why not? Even the Grinch realized this, right before his heart grew three sizes: “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”

Here’s to a productive 2009. Blessings to you and your family. Aspire to new heights!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Holiday Hangover

Consider this good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it; it’s only 355 days until Christmas! We are almost two weeks removed from the most anticipated and lived for holiday of the year and many are already making plans for next year (Yes Kacee I’m talking about you!). For me, however, I cannot begin to think about next Christmas. How could I? I still have a severe pain in my lower back from taking down lights, storing the tree, and making 20 plus trips to storage. Monday is my first official day of work in 2009 and we still have Christmas presents stacked in every corner of the house. With so much to play with Brynlee still insists on pushing the same button over and over on her toy computer (which causes the monkey to make the same sound over and over!). Pardon me for not thinking about Christmas 2009; I’m having a hard time getting over this year!

You will have to forgive my negative attitude. Kacee has accused me of being the Grinch himself on more than one occasion. There’s just something about the commercialism of Christmas that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s one too many “black Fridays.” Or maybe it’s the overemphasis of the “Holiday Season” and a lack of emphasis on the true meaning of Christmas. Whatever the reason I occasionally have to check the mirror to make sure I’m not turning green and growing long hair all over my body.

I’m reminded of a story I once heard about two ladies who were walking through the mall a few weeks before Christmas. As they peered into the window of a store garnered with nativity scenes, one friend said to the other, “I’m so sick of religion trying to horn in on my Christmas!” As funny as this story may sound, it may be closer to the truth than we want to admit. Consider this, since 1997, Holiday retail sales have increased an average of 15 million dollars a year. In 2007 record sales neared 470 billion dollars. That means on average, most consumers spent 816 dollars on holiday-related shopping this season. Compare these numbers to the estimated 275 billion dollars Americans gave to charity last year. That’s almost half as much as we spent on Christmas alone.

Regardless of my “poor” Christmas spirit, I have to be honest; I love presents (Don’t tell Kacee, I have a reputation to protect). But who doesn’t like getting presents? Not a single one of us, not even the Grinch himself, would want to get rid of presents. This year marked my 33rd Christmas and I still receive the same warmth in my heart when my mom passes out presents that I did 20 years ago.

But what about giving presents? At what point in our life do we feel this same warmth in our heart from giving a present that we have when we receive a present? Jesus, after all, did say "It is more blessed to give than to receive." However, faced with a holiday season that's too often fraught with chaos, stress, waste, and debt, it's easy to lose track of the pleasure and meaning of giving. At its core, the exchange of gifts should be a joyous ritual. Those neck ties, iPods, and tennis bracelets we bestow upon loved ones should serve as an acknowledgment of admiration and appreciation. Unfortunately, to many, gift giving has grown to represent the headache accompanied with the chore of finding something for someone that already has everything.

Most people would agree that when they feel gratitude for what they have received, they have an experience of fullness. From that fullness, you naturally want to give back. Based upon the one “true gift” God gave us, do we not have a responsibility to give to others? Or, to put it boldly, if we do not honor our Giver by giving to others, then maybe we never truly accepted His gift. As a believer, if we truly comprehend what Christ has done for us, then surely out of gratitude we will strive to show that same love to others.

More on this in a few days. Until then, welcome to 2009. Aspire to new heights!