“To Woodward Park, With Love”

“The time has come,
For closing books and long last looks must end”

Last Thursday around 8:30pm, I flew into Fresno after four weeks in Austin, Texas. It was the end of a long day of flight delays, rushing through airports, hurrying and waiting. It was also the end of four weeks in which I drove from Fresno to Austin, set up our next temporary home, started my new job, and began the next chapter of our lives. Flying into Fresno was….comforting. Flying in really felt like coming home.

As we approached I looked out the window of the plane and saw a well lit Fresno on a Friday night. The night lights of a city- any city- always mesmerize me from above. I soaked in the view when to my surprise I recognized what I was seeing- the neon lights of Edwards Theater in River Park. I was excited to see something I knew; excited to have my bearings from above.

Knowing where I was, I let my eyes move down Nees Avenue…to Fresno St…to Save Mart at First St….to the isolated lit building on Millbrook. My church.

“But how do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?
It isn’t easy, but I’ll try”

“My church.” That was the exact phrase that went through my head- “there’s my church”. I was excited to see it; excited in ways that continue surprise me in the depths in which I love this church. My church.

I first came to Woodward Park alone on September 13, 2009. I knew no one; no one knew me. I was a very lost sheep- a believer who chose his own path for 18 years and who was in need of a church home. I had researched many churches before that day and knew the Church of Christ was where I needed to be. I also knew that Woodward Park was where I wanted to be. I couldn’t have dreamed what awaited.

Some have heard my story before- my first day there was a memorable one for the church. Jim Gardner gave a wonderful lesson on family and responsibility and taking care of ones parents and…tendered his resignation. Day one and the preacher quits. This really shouldn’t be the affirming entry into a new home, and yet what I saw was a church body that was unified in purpose, dedicated to why they exist, and greater than the voice on Sunday morning. Over the next months, from when Jim left and before Tim arrived, I saw the church thrive and grow. A church that would continue to grow. A church that has a solidity of faith, stability of leadership, and certainty of purpose. A church of which I am proud to be a part.

“The time has come,
For closing books and long last looks must end,
And as I leave,
I know that I am leaving my best friend”

I started this journey alone, but soon I had my traveling companion on my journey- my son. It was easy to come on my own; when I brought Ian I became committed to a much more important journey. I became committed to his education and conviction. There was nothing harder on my journey than leaving my son in class- him sitting there not knowing anyone. But he was never alone. In class he was embraced, loved, and taught by some of the most wonderful women I have ever known.

I cannot stress this point enough- without the love and affection shown by the teachers in his class when he started coming, we would not be here today.

They didn’t minister to only him- they ministered to me as well. To paraphrase scripture- the actions that were done for my little boy were done for me. I vividly remember the day Shelley Lane brought Ian out of class crying because he forgot to give me a hug. Such a simple gesture, but yet one that means the world to me years later. This church family has cared for my family, nurtured them, and welcomed us without reservation.

“A friend who taught me right from wrong,
And weak from strong,
That’s a lot to learn,
What, what can I give you in return?”

When I showed up I knew no one. As I leave for new frontiers I leave a multitude of people that I love dearly. People who have lifted me in fellowship, strengthened me in faith, and redefined me in purpose. I’m a better man for knowing all of you. I’m a blessed man for learning from and worshiping with you. I’m a grateful man that our lives have crossed.

One cannot say goodbye to one’s home. Your home is always your home; your family will forever be your family. All of you are still a part of me- guiding, encouraging, challenging, reminding. I have no doubt we will see each other again.

So fare thee well everyone until we meet again.

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Reflections on Phoenix

Random thoughts on Phoenix:

Sky Harbor is the best name for an airport ever

Cactuses are real. And they really look like that

They need to hold a telethon to get this city some trees

Fresno’s air hasn’t looked as bad as the air here in a long time

Mapquest gets quite snippy when I stray from the path they want me on

650 miles down; 950 to go

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America

True story:

When I worked at The Wherehouse many ages ago, there was once a new hire employee who did not speak English. She spoke a little English maybe and tried her best to fake it. But she didn’t understand most of what was said. While it was a good idea to incorporate a Spanish speaking employee to assist our Spanish speaking customers, it probably would have helped if she could speak with us. And really, that was the second problem.

See, the first problem was that her name was America. No…. that’s not right. Her first problem was that she worked with me, and her name was America. Because when I was 24, I wasn’t the refined gentleman you now see before you. You can stop laughing now. Let me rephrase that- look at me today, and then subtract 19 years of wisdom, experience, and charisma. That’s me at 24.

When I worked with America, I would show up to work each morning and as I walked up to her I would sing, “Good morning America, how are ya’?” And since this was from an Arlo Guthrie song, I sang it with all the nasally joy I could muster. And I would sing it with a good amount of volume- not a mumbled whisper. This was a hearty, “Good morning America, how are ya’?”

If I stopped there, she would have been properly traumatized. After the first line I could see that look in her eyes. That look that says “this guys pretty bizarre”. Someone signing your name as “Good morning” would traumatize even the most steadfast of souls, and if I stopped there my task would be complete.

I couldn’t stop there though. The next line is so beautiful. It’s so patriotic. Stopping there would be like leaving the last crumb of pie on the Thanksgiving dinner plate. It’s got the rhythm and cadence of a good ol’ fashioned southern song, and you can’t do the call without the response. You just can’t.

So I’d sing to her every morning, “Good morning America how are ya’? Don’t you know me, I’m your native son”…..and walk away. Didn’t say anything else. Didn’t talk to her the rest of the day. She didn’t understand much English and I was too busy trying to describe the difference between Van Halen and Van Morrison to my English speaking compadres. I’d sing my two lines and walk away.

Maybe I should have continued singing so that she knew that I was a train called The City of New Orleans. Maybe she needed to know that I’d be gone 500 miles when the day is done. Maybe I should have played the song for her. Maybe I should have done so much more.

She quit. After a couple weeks of “good mornings”, America was gone. And typing this next line makes me saddest of all- America left me and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I had a dream that I would spend the rest of my career saying every morning that simple refrain of salutation. But alas, as we all find out at some point in our lives, there was to be no America dream.

The reason I share this with you is because someday you may be walking along and meet someone named America. They may be a colleague, they may a church goer, they may be a clerk at a retail establishment. They may serve you food, drive your bus, watch your kids. They could be your boss, your banker, or your real estate broker. They may be shy and quiet or the may be weird as all get out. And when that day comes and you meet America, there’s one thing you need to do. You have a duty- an obligation- to all that is good and righteous in the world. You have an obligation of liberty and freedom. Because deep down, you are a native son. You have a civic duty as a proud citizen of the Rockin’ States on America to stand up proud, look America right in the eyes- right in the eyes- and sing….

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Surrender part 2

I just noticed there is a word limit on blog posts, and the end of my Surrender post was cut off. So it concludes:

The hard part about leaving is you. You are a part of my life, my family. You have invested in me and my family, and that is a strong and powerful thing. You are not someone I take lightly, and it is not easy leaving Fresno. I was born here, Randi was born here. We had our first house in Selma, Ian was born in Selma. Fresno is our home; Fresno will always be our home. We don’t always get to choose everything on our path, but I know that the path is the one we are supposed to be on. There are new adventures, new challenges, new loves, and new joys ahead for us, but we will always treasure those left behind.

Peace and grace.

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Surrender

“Thy will be done…..” – Matthew 6:10

I began 2012 with some goals. Some personal (read 40 books, teach again at church), some professional (inject my values in my work life, work more selflessly), and there was one thing I wanted to learn. What I wanted to learn this year was “surrender”.

Surrender isn’t easy. It means giving you what I want for where He wants me to be. It means that I accept every setback, every hardship, every difficulty as part of what I need to learn to be the man I need to be. It means that I prepare for the unexpected because His plans trump my plans. True surrender is a living faith, not just living in faith. But surrender is hard. Surrender sometimes, for lack of a better word, sucks.

I have been on an interesting professional journey the past few years. I work in a competitive environment- competing for jobs, competing for opportunities, competing to advance one’s career. It’s a difficult environment; it’s one where you can lose yourself and your values very quickly in order to advance. It’s an environment where gossip and innuendo have equal weight with accomplishments and achievements. It’s an environment where “who you know” trumps “what you do” with great frequency. It’s easy to sacrifice values to gain friendships, separate from what’s right in order to pursue what’s wanted.

I have been guilty of this at times. I am not proud, but I have been caught in the undertow of this environment. Fortunately I have the ability to learn, evolve, and build upon mistakes. I am stronger from my shortcomings because I have learned from them and improved. I will never be perfect though. I will always be challenged by the trap of becoming the caught up in the negative side of work. I must always “beware the undertoad”, to quote John Irving.

And all this is a precursor to “surrender”. This year I decided I would surrender my career dreams and goals to God. I would continue to apply for jobs, but instead of trying to pursue my will I would leave it up to God. My prayer was that I would do my best to put myself out there, and I will let him determine which door I would walk through. I surrender to Him, and asked Him to put me on the path He wants me to be on.

Surrender is hard. I have applied for many positions here at work. There was one where I was told that I had the best interview, but I was not selected. I interviewed for a job where I was overqualified and was not considered. I applied for the job I have been doing temporarily on and off for four years, and the two people selected had different experience but less time in the position. And there were other disappointments as well. Each disappointment is humbling; each humbling in a different way. Disappointment has its own callous, and each job passed was one step closer to the door I am meant to walk through. I continued to pray that God place me on the path He wants me on. I wasn’t happy all the time, but I strengthened my faith that He would place me where He wants me to be.

I applied for a job in June. It was a higher manager position than the job I’ve been doing for 4 years; it was the position that had been my boss. I applied because I wanted feedback from the ranking process, to find out how close I was to moving up to the senior manager ranks. I wanted to get feedback on what I was lacking and then spend the next year adding the experience I needed. I was not optimistic, but as with every application I did two things: I discussed it with Randi regarding how getting the job would impact us, and secondly I prayed that God gave me peace with the outcome.

I forgot about the job. Actually, I got an email saying I didn’t qualify for another job, and I thought it was in reference to this specific job. I’ve sent so many applications that this one just slipped my mind…. until August 29. I got a phone call that morning that I was selected to interview. I was shocked. I didn’t expect an interview. But I applied and would be interviewing, though my dreams did not include getting the job. My hope was the same as the application process- get feedback on what I was lacking and then spend the next year adding the experience I needed. And I did the two things- discussed with Randi, and prayed for God’s peace. I prayed that at the end of the interview I would feel good about how I presented myself. I didn’t pray to get selected- I wanted to be at peace with the how I did. I did not expect to get selected, but I prayed that if God wanted me in that direction that it would be His will.

I’ve interviewed six times this year- this would be the seventh. You get comfortable in the process; you get good at it. I’ve done the practice; I’ve received feedback from the interviews. I’ve taken notes, applied learning, and was very prepared to sell myself and my skills. At the risk of sounding boastful, I’m good at the interview. I like the moment, the nervousness. It’s a rush, it’s a game, and it’s a challenge. It’s story telling, and the main character in the story is me. While I don’t feel comfortable talking about myself, at least I’m familiar with the subject matter. But I also tell people when preparing for interviews that it’s fun. If you go in having fun, them your enthusiasm and personality will show through. This interview was going to be fun because I was prepared, but also because I did not expect to get selected. This was to be a litmus test on my experience; I did not expect selection. There was no stress because there was nothing to lose.

The interview was fun. It was a phone interview in a conference room. Just me and a conference phone. I was in a room that I knew- the conference room that I held meetings in for over three years. It was the most comfortable space for me to have an interview. And I did well. Very well. I knew I did well. I was relaxed, prepared, answered every question with examples, focusing on actions and results. My stories were polished, succinct, and I felt good. One of the worst feelings after an interview is the “oh, I should have said that” feeling. I didn’t have that this time. I left it all on the playing field, felt I did my very best, and was looking forward to the feedback because I wanted what I could ADD to what I already gave in the interview.

You all know where this is going.

God has plans for all of us. He has a plan for me. Who I am, what I do, what my family does- it’s all intertwined in His plan. Since the day I got the call about being interviewed, I have seen His work in preparing me for this transition.

Last week I was expecting a call regarding the job. I knew I was being seriously considered for the job, which was very flattering. But still, I’ve been disappointed many times and was not going to get my hopes up. Waiting was difficult to the point that I started praying for a decision- not a specific decision, just any decision. But I also laughed when praying, because I know God will reveal things in his time, not mine.

Last Friday I wanted the call. My day came to an end, and yet no call once again. My day ends at 2:45, and that 2:45 I was standing at my desk, computer off, bag on my shoulder, and looking at the phone. And I said, “well, maybe Monday”. I turned around and at that exact moment the phone rang. Life changed forever.

I was offered the Operation Manager position for the IRS in Austin, Texas. The service center has 6 operations- I will be responsible for one. I’m supervising 4 Department Managers, up to 40 front line managers, and approximately 1,000 employees. I’ll lead teams in both Austin and San Antonio. There is a big responsibility to my employees, to my managers, and mostly to the taxpayers. While the position has my name on it, my responsibility is those I serve. I am a big proponent of that “S” on IRS. My responsibility is that those working for me remember that “S” and give their best each day. It’s not any more complicated than that.

So surrender has led to surrender. Ian, Randi, and I will be moving to Austin. I don’t know what date exactly, but by the end of the year. I believe this is the path God has laid out for me. If I had been chosen for any of the previous jobs, I never would have received this. I have felt His hand guiding me, and I willingly accept what lies ahead. I look forward to how He wants to use me. I know there is a plan.

The hard part is you. You are a part of my life, my family. You have invested in me and my family, and that is a strong

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A 7 Up birthday

One of my favorite movie series is the Up series.  Produced by BBC and directed by Michael Apted, the Up series comprises documentary films that have followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old.  Every seven years a new documentary is filmed in which their lives are updated, and the evolution of each of the 14 is viewed.  Not every person returns- some go years in-between installments.  But 10 of them have been in every episode, through last year’s “56 Up” and it is an interesting character story to watch real people evolve in seven year increments.

The premise of the first episode, and the entire series, was the Jesuit maxim “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” The belief is that fate is decided by what you are born into, but more importantly that what type of adult you will be can be observed by the personality by age seven.  Much of one’s character, habits, and emotional make-up can be seen in the child at seven.

The series demonstrates this is a limited way; I am aware that some of this can be predetermined by how the documentary is shot and edited.  My opinions and observations are manipulated by the director and editor- I know that.  But in watching the movies I see an underlying ray of truth- you can see personality elements of the child in the participants as they age.  Life leaves them wearied, weathered, and worse for wear, but the inherent traits are there. A flicker of the seven year old self continues to show up on screen.

My boy turns 7 today. I think of these films, especially the first of the series, and look at the youthful joy and naïveté in his face.  His life is ahead- his loves and passions, work and worries- it’s all in front of him.  But I wonder how much of who he is now is who he will be.  He is a boy with a generous heart.  When running a race, he stops to check on the person who falls.  When given a handful of coins, he puts a few aside for charity and the rest in his bank. He is funny, and loves to be funny.  He is smarter than his age and confident in what he knows.  He is stubborn even when wrong and needs to be proven he is wrong. He gets frustrated by practice, but learns fast. He likes to explore the margins (how clean is a clean room?).  He likes to negotiate with persistence and reason and logic.  He has a good memory of things that interest him, but minimal interest in details. He’s not afraid to walk alone, but he does not want to be alone. He respects authority and genuinely wants to please others. He likes to read, likes music, and has taste in what is good and bad art.  He knows what he likes, and isn’t ashamed to like what he likes.  He likes to create and takes pride in his creations. And he likes to play- oh how I wish he never loses his love of play.

To know me is to know I love my son. I know without a doubt that everyone I work with knows I love my boy and they’ve never seen the two of us together.  But the greatest thing I can say about him today is that I like him.  I like who he is- his personality, his playfulness, his laughter.  I like Ian the person as much as I love Ian my son.  It is a pleasure to know him, and I am proud to be a part of him. His road will not be easy- life isn’t supposed to be easy.  He has a lifetime of tears and heartbreak ahead, but I know that they will pale greatly to the amount of joy and love and success he will see. He is a boy who will love life as a man.  He will be a man who is loved by life.  I’m proud of him on this day and I pray that every day he always has the wisdom and opportunity to appreciate all that life avails to him. 

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What I’m Doing

I’ve mentioned in passing that my job has been in transition lately. I just finished my latest Department Manager assignment of leading 10 managers and over 300 employees, and I learned today what exactly is in store for me. I will be on a four month detail, and I learned some specifics today.

I’ll be working for the Office Of Servicewide Policy in the Penalty Policy function. I will be based out of Fresno but reporting to a Senior Manager in Maryland. They have a number of projects in motion to add me on, mostly to do with cross organizational communication and improving internal feedback procedures.

As it was described, this is opportunity for me to learn and gain new experiences. The conversation I had with the Director was focused more on what he could give me than on what I would give him or what was expected from me. There surely will be expectations, but it was clear to me that there will be long term benefits for my contributions, and that in itself is comforting.

The opportunity sounds challenging, and that’s good. But it’s also got a scary fun kinda vibe too, which is great.

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