Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What I'm Thankful For...

I love revisiting my old elementary school essays. It's always fun to try and remember what little Paul was thinking of when he sat down to write (with a pencil and paper!) those incredibly superfluous essays on summer vacation, Christmas, and of course Thanksgiving.

The question was always posed: what are you thankful for? And the answer was always as unsatisfying as the question: my mom and dad, my siblings, going to Grandma's house. The things we were drilled to be thankful for since the beginning. The essays we wrote were drier than cardboard cereal and more vague than a politician's lie. It wasn't our fault, the truth is a child's life experience boils down to those things. The true measure of that question, drilled into our minds, is how thankfulness plays out in our lives today. 

My life cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered hard. I grew up in a stable household, I always went to the best schools, and returned home to a square meal and the luxuries many kids around the world only can dream about. Life growing up wasn't fancy, but it was more than enough to be thankful for. The challenges I faced and the problems I had to solve were mainly self-inflicted (here's looking at your last semester of undergrad). So while part of me feels absolutely like I shouldn't write this for the sake of feeling self-righteous and bloated, another part of me really wants to let this next paragraph out. 

It wasn't until last year I began to truly believe in God's plan for my life. There really is a plan. All throughout my schooling I relied on talent to get by and deep down I really felt God was my safety blanket, someone who was there for me when I fell but who I really never needed. He had blessed me with intelligence and charisma. I saw not graduating on time as a hiccup in my world, a nudge in the right direction. But then I was put in a situation I had no control over. In Braithwaite I was completely helpless, a rookie thrown into the deep end of an assignment I dreaded at first. Rumors about my job security swirled while the hours grew longer and I didn't know where to turn. 

That's when it hit me. 

This wasn't a roadblock. This was a test. A test to see if I really did believe in God. God isn't a safety blanket in your life. He's the car and He's driving, but sometimes He lets us steer like a proud father does with his children. One night before I went to bed after finishing a twelve-hour shift I asked God for forgiveness. To let me see His plan. To let me steer. Carrie Underwood knew what she was talking about in "Jesus, Take The Wheel." A day later the storms began to clear. I was excited about my job again, excited about my future again. I found WinForever and began to apply those lessons to my life. I left Braithwaite ecstatically, with a plan and a future. I resolved three things to God when I returned to Baton Rouge: 

It was never about the money. Nothing is ever about the money. 
I had never been living up to my potential. It's time to change that. 
It's the hardest things in life you should be the most thankful for. When everything is taken away, only then can you begin to appreciate the things that mean the most to you. 

A year later I'm the happiest I've ever been since I sat down to write that first essay all those years ago. My childlike joy and faith has been restored and it is that for which I am most thankful. From that I can continue to change the world the way God intends me to do so. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Outside My Own Little World...

*Author's note: I wrote this in 2008. 

I met a homeless guy on Sunday. Big deal, right? Well, it was...for me anyway. I was going to church for play practice when he stops me and asks for some change saying he was down on his luck and from New Orleans. I was already going to give him the money but when he said he was from New Orleans the conversation shifted from have/have nots to "Where you from?" and "Who Dat?" Ten minutes later, I had a new friend if you could believe it. Don't know his name but I know he sleeps on the steps of the Baptist church downtown and is getting his life back together slowly. 

You see, he used to race on the Eastbank. 5K, 10K, and by the sound of it he was pretty damn good. He had a guy on the Westbank who I probably saw at the mall or the movie theatre and thought was a thug or something and he used to race too. I don't know what drove him to Baton Rouge (probably begins with a K and ends with a rina) but he had been trying to get his life back together. He has a job interview for the night shift at a factory across town and already has applied for food stamps and has an apartment complex lined up. The biggest perk? The landlord was giving him a 32-inch TV to help him get back on his feet. Flat screen and all. I guess sometimes you only need the Saints to cheer you up. 

Of course all the good can't outweigh the bad. He had just finished one job for a contractor, putting a tile floor down in an office. The contractor remarked that it was the best work he had ever seen, then his buddy stole the glory and the paycheck. "It was messed up man, messed up," he told me. So there he was, skilled no doubt, athletic no doubt, smart no doubt. Yet he was just another bum we steer clear of and force our kids to look the other way when we pass them on the street. We only see the present: the dirtiness, the tattered clothes, and the lost hope. We don't see a former 5K champion, a guy with real drive who'd do just about anything for a shot at a good life, frills be damned. That's where it's truly messed up. When I saw this guy, I didn't see a homeless guy begging for my change. I saw a fellow New Orleanian, and if you know anything about us (or me for that matter) you know we'd do anything to help each other out, in any city that wasn't ours from Berlin to Baton Rouge. That's the pride I have in New Orleans; in our city, our people, and our culture. That's why I don't want to leave, because I'd never fit in anywhere else. I'm quirky like that, a catfish out of his filthy, dirty Mississippi River water...but I wouldn't want it any other way. 

I'll be downtown on Friday, with some McDonald's and an open ear. I just feel bad right now. It's 45 degrees out and I have three comforters I'm currently not using. Suddenly, having all these luxuries and amenities is trivial. I'm grateful for everything I have: a loving family, a steady income, and an education but it just doesn't feel right going to a boutique and spending that extra cash when it could be spent brightening someone else's day. I won't miss that six dollars I gave to him. Heck, I didn't want nothing in return. Well, maybe one thing: thirty minutes or so of his life story because when you take away every comfort, every frill, and every material possession you're left with hope and faith. Hope that one day you'll live without the constant worries of life and faith in God knowing that whatever you believe in and pray for He will deliver. I left him with a "God bless you" and a "take care of yourself." Something tells me his life is about to make that turn and I'll be blessed if I was only just a minute part of it. 

I chose to post this because of Matthew West, more specifically his song "My Own Little World." The song, and specifically the lyrics below, struck a chord with me that brought me back to this piece. The lyrics below are a prayer I try to say everyday.

Father, break my heart for what breaks Yours
Give me open hands and open doors
Put Your light in my eyes and let me see
That my own little world is not about me

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chaotic Resolve

I watched Johnny Manziel dance around and over the Alabama defense on Saturday. He turned in a brilliant performance but lost to a Nick Saban defense that was invariably drilled to stop him. Alabama is the best team in the country by many measures and the secret to Saban's "process" has been widely celebrated and lauded as the reason why. The offense and defense are machined to a finer detail than a luxury supercar and run more precisely than a Rolex. Saban plans for every possible outcome in a game and is seemingly never caught off guard. 

I promise I'm not an Alabama fan, but it is interesting how Manziel was able to defeat Alabama once and come within 15 seconds of another upset. His playing style is chaotic, improvisational. It leads to situations that cause a well-proven and rehearsed process to break down. His two signature plays in the past two years have been broken, lucky, crazy, dumb, stupid, and any other adjective-you-can-use-to-describe-it impossibilities. His play has been described as grown-up playground football. And isn't that the story of life? Chaos almost always defeats a process. No plan can stand the test of real world application. And that got me to thinking...

I work with kids. I spend an hour here and an hour there subbing in at recess, teaching lessons, babysitting, whatever. Most of the time, it's pure chaos. Just maddening craziness. But it's the most amazing thing in the world. Why? Because those children are making something out of nothing. They are using their intrinsic talent to create a structure. And maybe it doesn't make sense to us, but it makes total sense to them. Why can't we do that? I'm on record as saying uncertainty is the solution to solving problems. It lends us intuitive innovation and a perspective we would not normally have thought of in our own worlds. It's an adult's wake-up call but a child's playplace. But what if a child's uncertainty is our chaos? What if we flipped chaos on our heads and used it to innovate? 

I think the best illustration of this point is how Pete Carroll coaches defense. His number one belief is that "it's all about the ball." He instructs his players on defense to play for turnovers, that is, force the other team's offense into making mistakes. Create chaos, as it were. His players are expected to play smart and with great enthusiasm, effort, and toughness. There is not an onus on assignments per se. Make a play, get the ball, and give the offense a chance to score. This wins games. This is not to say there isn't a process. Coach Carroll's fundamental pillar of coaching is practice. His players practice until there is a focus honed in confidence and trust which leads to victory. 

So what am I trying to advocate here? For one, I am certainly not advocating you skimp on preparation and let chaos carry you to victory. Johnny Football ultimately lost to the process. We all will at some point. But if you are faced with a seemingly insurmountable task and have exhausted all of your process options, think about including chaos. Think about blowing a hole in the process and taking a new direction. Think about using that intuitive, intrinsic motivation we all have latent inside of us since childhood and turning the problem upside-down and inside out. Humans do not accomplish anything productive with a lack of structure and rarely do better when adhered to a rigid one. If used correctly, chaos makes us unstoppable. Haven't you seen children at recess?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The World They Saved Has Changed, You Know.

It's the beginning of a new decade. Hope abounds as the country climbs out of an abysmal depression thanks to a new President, who, albeit stricken with polio, has given enough of his energy and resolve to fix the broken systems and tanking economy. Somewhere far away, the metallic pangs of war and frenzied shouts of an autocrat resonate but not close enough for you to hear them. Life is good as the calendar turns to the first year. You have a house, a car, and a family. Then, it happens. The singular event that will forever change your life.

You will forever know where you were when you heard the news. Whether it was driving to work, eating breakfast, or even hearing it over your child's clock radio. Two planes. 3,000 dead. But, but, it's inconcievable! This is America, not the Middle East! Bombers just don't come and fly planes into our towers. It wasn't any place either. It was New York, New York. The city of Sinatra and the Yankees. Where everyone can make it big. Simply put, the center of America. The heart. And we couldn't do a damn thing about it. Those crazy...

...bastards! An American naval base. Pearl Harbor? But, but, that's paradise! Palm trees and pineapples. As far away from that crazy SOB Hitler as you can get! What? The Japanese? Yamamoto? Hirohito? Who are they, villians from a bad ninja movie? A surprise attack. 2,500 dead. Our Pacific Fleet, crippled by some paper airplanes from a country of rice and fish. Why didn't we hear about China and the Philippines, Malay and Australaisa? This is an outrage! The New York Times, in all caps: JAPAN DECLARES WAR ON US. War? Does that mean? 

We're going? Operation Enduring Freedom. Can three words take revenge for 3,000 souls? That Osama bin Laden fellow better know what kind of hole he dug himself into. We have the world's best military and the support of every free nation behind us. Whoever did this just pissed off a lot of firepower. I wonder what the President's going to say. I mean, he was reading to some grade schoolers when this happened. Talk about your bad news days. Wait, he's coming on...

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy..." My head is still spinning. Today they were talking about a draft. Selective Service they called it. Already got me and my son, he was a freshman up the road at LSU. Hope this war ends before it drags in my other boy and, God forbid, my daughter. We're being shipped off to Georgia in a few days for flight school. I don't want to go. I ain't never fired a daggone gun in my life! Now they want me to kill Krauts? I don't think I can do it. But if Uncle Sam wants me, I guess I have to go. Time for two blue stars to hang up in the window...

"...America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world." The President seems together. That's a good sign but man, what a day. I wonder how it was when my paw paw heard of Pearl Harbor. He most likely didn't have a television. Naw, only radios; I remember hearing him tell me about FDR's "Fireside Chats." No Internet either. Good thing though, because I can't stand to see those videos anymore anyways. He said my dad was nineteen, a freshman at LSU, when they called him up. Wonder if they'll call my son up too? He doesn't seem like a person who wants to be in a foxhole anyway. He also told me about the sacrifices they had to make: the Victory Gardens, rationing, recycling. "Make it do or do without" the posters said. He didn't even tell me my mamaw and aunt had to work in a factory making Higgins boats. Heck, my wife would go berserk if I told her we had to trade in the Ford lest send her to work on a production line. 

It's funny how things have changed but then again, they haven't: Americans will always fight for their country, go to church on Sundays to pray for the troops, and support them in every way they can. It just seems like it hasn't been a priority. Sure, 9/11 might change this but you know those anti-war wackos will revert back to picketing and harassing our troops. I remember paw paw saw one of those protesters outside of his VFW and asked him to thank a soldier for the defending the right to run his mouth. Funny man, but that Bronze Star he got in Saipan says otherwise. Still, I wonder sometimes if he looked into the clear night sky all those years ago, in Lafayette or Leyte , and said...

...Japs got my friend today but MacArthur says we're making progress. Even got the island on lockdown. Gotta thank the boys in the skies for that one. Not just the ones flying the Wildcats, the ones with more...heavenly...accouterments. Dugout Doug said he'd be back and here we are in the Philippines. It's been a tough road but thank God I have my Bible. Sure, it got some blood on it back at Guadal and a bullet hole at Rabaul but that one verse is intact. That one verse that'll get me back home. 

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me." 

That was his favorite verse. Said he dog-eared the hell out of it when he was in the Pacific. I guess that's what we need now. A little hope and a lot of faith. If they did it, we can too. Just gotta learn a little from the past to help us out in the present. Well, the prayer service is about to start and they have a blood drive after. Guess I got to pick up the plants for our Victory Garden tomorrow...

Monday, September 2, 2013

How to WinForever

Always Compete. 

It's the easiest way to describe my life philosophy. Everything is a game to me and the best way to get my best is to challenge me in something. Even if it's entirely insignificant, I'll work like hell to beat you at it. Now this doesn't mean I'm a terrible, obsessive person. I love to help others and make everyone around me better. I just love to work at something until I get it right. Until I do at a level it's never been done before.

I was glad to stumble across WinForever by Pete Carroll. In Coach Carroll I found a kindred spirit. A person who lived to compete. Now some people don't like him. That's understandable. Some people don't like me. I don't turn it down a notch. I don't have an off button. It's how people like us survive. Toning down the competition means losing focus on the race we're running. I tried that in college. It didn't work. That actualization is what's fueling me right now. Along with a lot of caffeine. Coach Carroll outlined his philosophy in three rules and three beliefs:

3 Rules to WinForever

1. Always Protect The Team - This one is easy. Protect the ones closest to you. Make your first priority the team. Not yourself. 
2. No Whining, No Complaining, No Excuses - Shut up and do your job. Stick to the assignments. The only thing you're doing while whining is making the task at hand harder. If you put your nose down and finish the job, there simply won't be anything left for you to complain about. 
3. Be Early - I've been following this one my entire life. Show initiative. Set the example. 

3 Beliefs to WinForever

1. It's All About The Ball - To paraphrase Joe Vitt, "When you have the ball, the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of every team member is in your hands." If that's not enough pressure, everyone else that doesn't like is punching like crazy hoping you'll fumble. Don't drop the ball.
2. Everything Counts - There is nothing insignificant about you or your life. Everyone has a God-given talent and the ability to be great. Will you be great?
3. Respect Everyone - I've gotten in trouble with this one. The best thing you can be is humble. You may hate the guy in front of you, but he's there for a reason. Work hard to beat him, but pick up and realize what he's doing to be better than you. That way you gain the respect of your peers and gain a competitive advantage. 

After you figure out the base to your philosophy, it's time to actualize it. Make it happen. Every thing you do outside of your game or job or whatever you do is practice. Practice doesn't make perfect. It makes you realize your strengths and weaknesses and gives you an arena in which to fix them and get better. Nobody's perfect, but that's the joy of competition. You can get as close as humanly possible when you're performing at your best. Also, I don't believe in luck. I believe in practice (talking to you Allen Iverson). Practice is your luck laboratory. If you're getting better, those breaks that always happen to other people will start to happen to you. Don't trick yourself into thinking that clutch manifests itself only in the fourth quarter. Every goal you score leads to that moment. Clutch recognizes clutch. 

When you step into that competition, I want you to think of the final result. Have confidence in yourself and trust in you and your teammates abilities. Get into your own zone. Get the opponent throwed off. I can't guarantee you a victory but I can guarantee you'll play better than you ever have. 


Now play is a key to me as well. In fact, it's my raison d'etre. Take these five things from neuroscientist Beau Lotto, his definition of play:
  • Celebrating uncertainty.
  • Adaptable to change.
  • Open to possibility.
  • Cooperative.
  • Intrinsically motivated.
I love the first bullet. It was hard to come around to but I have learned to embrace uncertainty. If you really believe that God has a plan for your life, why aren't you excited about the unknown? Sure there will be good and there will be bad but God sees you through the bad and to the good. I can't wait for the rest of my life, wherever it takes me.

Play is God's way of celebrating uncertainty, and the best way for us as humans to grow is to step into the unknown. This is where the innovations and imaginations that fuel modern humanity are. And it's as simple as a child's laugh to find. Kids are the most innovative, imaginative humans on the planet. They create something literally out of nothing. That's why I love to work with kids. They teach me more than I teach them. As adults we need to think like children. We are far too wired into our existence to create anything exciting. We love to drone to work, drone to home, drone to the TV. Don't be a drone! We have enough people like that. Be something uncertain. Be something joyous. Be play. And that's my philosophy.

Play + Competition = Paulie. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

We Don't Take Nothing From Nobody: Leadership Rebooted For My Generation

*An ironic note is that as I was writing this, Miley Cyrus managed to twerk her way through at least half of these tenets. Read this if you need faith restored in my generation...

Leadership is one of the most ancient practices in civilization. A complex and expansive paradigm, it must be rigid enough to be applied in any situation, situationally or theoretically, yet fluid enough to allow itself to mold to the generation wielding the "Big Stick," as put forward by Teddy Roosevelt. In this context, I would like to reboot my earlier writings on leadership from college in order to incorporate my experiences since then. As frivolous as this exercise may be, I fear a leadership vacuum in my generation as we struggle to manage the monster of social media we have grown up with. We may be on-deck to be leaders, but our paradigm of leadership has not quite set in its mold. Only the next few years will tell how we will approach the problems of a now truly global humanity. 

(The questions below were taken from an essay contest for junior officers presented by the United States Naval Institute, one of the key pillars in my leadership continuum.)

What does leadership look like to the ledfrom below? from beside?

Leadership should look the same to all who participate in or are influenced by it. I believe the first and last word of leadership is sacrifice. A selfless ethos and grateful pathos from a leader will do wonders for morale and begin to create an atmosphere of results, not salutes. The led should see their leader as separate, but equal: a person like themselves but in an extraordinary position of command. Someone who is willing to do all the work it takes to succeed, but also be able to provide guidance when it is called for. From below, a leader should be a paragon of ethics and humility and a role model to aspire to, regardless of age, race, or rank. From beside, a leader should be a calming example to their peers and one who has complete situational and theoretical awareness, even when they are not on watch. 

What qualities and characteristics define leadership for those who are themselves young leaders who aspire to command?

Leadership is no longer about intimidation. It has been realized that building a crew through positive encouragement is the best way to realize results. A leader in the contemporary sense of the word and one entering command in today's world should understand their every move will be dissected to the masses and filleted by the media if they happen to pull the short straw that day. With this unsavory thought in mind, a leader must be compassionate to his team's needs and understand the underlying causes of a poor performance. It is not enough to preach "the process." Many leaders are very good at this and their victories come in a singular fashion, with no development from their team's secondary and tertiary skill sets. A great leader focuses on a holistic education of their team and attacks even the most menial parts of training with a zeal and enthusiasm not matched by anyone else. A great leader is competitive, encouraging, ethical, humble, and selfless. 

Can leadership be defined … or only recognized?

As leadership is such a fluid paradigm, it can only be defined in the terms and context of every leader's situation. What worked in Colonial times may not necessarily work in the digital age. The recognition of great leadership characteristics, however, may lead to the definition of a great leader in any age or era. 

Can leadership be taught … or only learned?

Leadership can be taught. It must be taught. However, like all battle plans, the depth and scope of the commitment of command cannot fully be realized until that commitment comes under fire. To paraphrase Shakespeare, all the world's a laboratory, and all the men and women are leaders. This leadership laboratory we live in serves as a real world applicator for the lessons taught to us through our mentors and the stories and shanties we grow up with. There is never a terminal level of leadership education. We are continuously learning and leading, especially when we do not feel like we are. 

How can leadership be nurtured?

Leadership can be nurtured through study and practice. I wrote earlier on theoretical awareness. Much like a fantasy sport season where we extrapolate real life conditions onto a virtual contest, one is able to prepare a myriad of tests and gauntlets for their newfound knowledge and test themselves and others. As training is the lifeblood of the workforce, it is a critical pillar in the development and nurturing of an organic leadership. 

What does character have to do with leadership?

Exceptional character is the be all and end all of leadership. Quite simply, a team emulates their leader and if their leader values egotism and selfishness above all else, a leadership vacuum will emerge. New members of the team will become disillusioned with the paradigm that leader is creating and the relentless pursuit of self-promotion will turn a cohesive group of individuals into a confederation of loosely related self-seekers who will eventually hang separately. 

What is the role of mentors?

Mentors come in every shape and size and their impact on a leader is immeasurable. It is with a mentor one begins to see the microcosm of their own leadership. In every success, a small lesson is learned and filed away for recollection. In every failure, an even larger lesson is committed to rote. One does not need to be a clone of their mentor, that would be a mistake as no one is a perfect person or leader. However, the true value of a mentor or teacher does not lie in the empirical facts or lessons learned. It lies in the intangible value they have unknowingly impacted you with. The marks on your soul that you carry until the next person in line needs them. A truly great leader will know these marks innately and strive to seek those mentors who will impart such wisdom and do it without ego and with a purpose. 

This is a sliver of what I'm thinking right now and it will change. Stay tuned. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

We on fire but we don't mind passin' the torch...

Author's Note: I wrote this in 2008 after my mentor and friend Nathan Woods was killed in a car crash. He was and still is a tremendous source of inspiration to me and the reason why I love education outreach so much. RIP Bionik. Know you are missed. 

Recently I lost one of my closest friends and the best mentor anyone could hope to have. His name was Nathan Woods but many knew him by his on-stage moniker, Bionik Brown. An accomplished rapper and educator, Mr. Nathan awakened a side of me I had never known. Somewhere between the trips to the Ninth Ward and the richest parts of New Orleans, I found a calling: education. These kids weren't all that different. Take away the socioeconomic barriers and a kid from the Ninth Ward could rival a kid from Uptown intellectually. It didn't matter whether the kids were rich or poor, black or white, from broken or separated families. No, what mattered was their desire to learn. Mr. Nathan summed it up with only a few words, "You see, these kids need a chance but they ain't got none. That's why we go here, to give those kids a chance." 

From that point, I knew what I wanted to do. I want to give those kids a chance. It may sound corny, but sometimes corny works. I'll never forget the time we pulled up to the Louis Armstrong library in the lower Ninth. It was my first time in the Ninth Ward and obviously I was nervous having had all the stories about homicides and robberies pounded into my head. We unpacked, set up our presentation, and began to talk about World War II. Immediately, the notion of these kids not knowing two from three vanished. Here were articulate, smart kids who asked smart questions. Hell, the questions they asked were better than the coddled Uptowners we had the day before. It didn't make sense in my brain. It was supposed to be the other way around. They were supposed to be the immature brats we catered to before, but they weren't. Walking out, I made a comment about how great our group was and Mr. Nathan began talking about the broken school system and how the kids in there were never going to live up to their full potential. They had the brains, they just didn't have the drive, not after seeing their friends and family driven off the straight and narrow by the bastions of poverty. 

I sat there silent until we got over the bridge and made up my mind right then and there. This wasn't just a cause I was fighting for. It was a ministry I was being called to. In middle school, I was the know-it-all showoff, always shunning other people for myself. God, I acted so aloof back then. Was it grade school preteniousness? Maybe. Was it to please my parents? Probably. I think it stemmed from the constant message that my parents always said to me, "Paul, you have to be the best," only I added, "and leave everybody in awe of you." This act continued into a good part of eighth grade until I started on those Red Ball Express trips. After that, it was a complete 180. Mr. Nathan saw a chance in me and took it. For that, I will forever be grateful. He taught me how to be humble by being humble himself. He never told me he was a rapper. I just knew him as an education coordinator at the D-Day Museum. He laughed whenever I showered praise on him, brushing it off with a quick comment. I soon learned to emulate that, and before I knew it I was who I wanted to be. I started looking at children as more than crying annoyances I had to babysit. I saw my own childhood in them, all that time I left behind trying to press forward. 

It started like that. Before you knew it, I was volunteering at VBS and getting more involved with Sunday School. The more time I spent around kids, the more of my childhood I was getting back. I know I can't get it all back, but the three or so hours I put in during VBS were always the best times of the year. I could let all of my grown-up worries evaporate and celebrate what a wonderful and awesome God we had that was letting me do all this. Before, when people told me I acted like a child I put on a straight face and stiffened up, trying to act more like an adult. Now, all I do is laugh and invite them to join in. Everyone has a little bit of their childhood left in them, and all I want to do is let that piece out and make this world a better place. In all of the worrying about gas prices, hurricanes, and stocks it sure feels good to run around and play tag for an hour or two, don'tcha think?

Mr. Nathan, you taught me to be a more humble and open minded person. You always felt I had promise and I'll be damned if I don't let you see that side of me. It hurts not having you around anymore, but I'm sure you love the collaborations with Jesus. Just make sure I get the first cut, OK?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ten Thousand Hours

Nobody is perfect but EVERYONE will have moments of "inspired brilliance." Every shot will go in, every ball will be hit, everything will be wonderful.

But it doesn't mean you won't suck sometimes. No matter how hard you try to prevent it, we all will have off days. And you'll feel like crap. You'll think you have let your team down. You'll think you have let yourself down.

The great thing about performance is that it's not static. There is always room for improvement. If you compete at your highest level, there is no "working harder" after a loss, because you'd have worked that hard every day before that. That's where you want to be: at the height of your peak performance. This way, when the inevitable valley comes, you'll be prepared to fight like hell to get back to the top. And it'll be easy.

Don't be dismayed and discouraged because it comes easier to other people. "It" is different for everyone. Their talents are different than yours. God made you into a unique, special person and He wants you to find your individual talents and make them your own. He also gave us the ability to be great at anything.

But when someone says you have "it," they know. Be that person. 

Sometimes, it just takes a little bit more work. Ok, a lot more work. But every rep, every shot, every little thing you do is making you better. Either you're getting better or going nowhere. Don't make excuses. If you preface everything you do with, "Oh, I wasn't trying," guess what, you'll never win.

Practice! It'll pay off before you know it. And have fun, no one likes a sourpuss. Dance. Laugh. Smile. It makes those grueling hours in the gym a little easier to stomach.

Inspired brilliance is the side effect of believing in yourself. Luck is the side effect of skills honed to perfection in practice. Train until there are no contingencies, no defenses, and nobody who can stand in your way. WinForever.

Monday, July 15, 2013

And if this life doesn't give you the love you expect, there's always the next.

For so many memories we've yet to make...

She leaned over the balcony, a winter wind whipping her scarf around. It wasn't uncommon to see girls like her, Northern socialites come to escape their frosted domiciles in New York or Montauk; but she wasn't like the other Daisy Buchanan types. Now she was stunning, there was no doubt about that. Her face radiated a soft smile, the kind you wanted to come home to, especially in this Blue Star world we had finally fallen into. Her eyes were cobalt, a twinning, amorous call to the sky above that bared just as much of her soul as her sadness I was leaving. She often teased me before I left for the war that she could keep me home just by staring at me. I was half-inclined to say she was right. The dirty blonde halo of hair around those eyes roiled with her scarf in the wind, and I knew the moment she saw me that pouty, farmhouse smile was coming.

It kills me to leave her. Ironic given the circumstances, I know, but watching those eyes fill with tears upon my annoucement was the darkest moment of my life. I couldn't bear to watch her collapse in my arms, cursing epithets at the war, at Hitler, at my luck. She was not an innocent in this fight anymore, and nothing could change that. She has friends that now wear their engagement rings as a memory, no longer as a promise. She didn't want that for us. New Orleans lends itself to a peculiar version of love between the banquettes and beignets, she believed. It was my favorite story of hers, and one her mother used to tell her before bed. The city wasn't built to last, not in this delta, but years of celebrating nothing more than survival became a covenant between the citizenry and their city. In every heart that passes through New Orleans, she would tell me, a love mightier than the Mississippi's current would resonate forever and in very special cases, it would manifest itself in two souls. Their love would be stronger than coffee with chicory, sweeter than the sweet olive trees, and deeper than the roots of an oak tree. She always giggled when she told me this, but our last night together she fell asleep without even a recollection. The next morning she awoke under an oak tree, delicate petals of sweet olive in her hair, with a note wrapped around a solitary diamond ring and an Army Air Corps patch ripped from my flight suit, 


If you are reading this I am gone. And I am sorry. I long to see you again, but you won't have to worry about me. Your love found me, fixed me, and sent me off to war. It shall return me and when it does, I will make you my bride under this very oak. I love you. More than you will ever know."

I kept a copy of that letter. It's in my breast pocket as I fly another sortie against the Luftwaffe. I celebrate nothing more than fact that one day here is one day less until I can see her again. Survival, if you must call it that. 

And all the smiles that are ever gonna haunt me...

I felt the aileron being sheared off. A sudden bang flashed in cabin and the thud of my port wing against the fuselage indicated the death of my Mustang. My stick was useless, my instruments smashed. I frantically looked out of my cockpit for the Kraut who most certainly destined me for a grave in the English Channel. Nothing. Damn. I tried the attitude controls one last time as the smell of petrol and hydraulic fluid filled the cockpit. At 5,000 feet I felt my stallion lurch and begin her slow roll into ignominy. I had twenty seconds to egress, otherwise Addy was doomed to wear a gold star on her heart forever.


The sky...it was the color of her eyes. She wouldn't. No, she couldn't be.

Another violent roll pinned me back to my seat. Fifteen seconds. I grabbed my chute and tried bashing the cockpit cover open. Dammit, it's not opening. Ten seconds. 500 feet. The English Channel beckoned to me, destined to be my steel coffin unless...

I pried the cover open and jumped out without my chute. Five seconds. The water rushed up to meet me and...

"Darling, come home! Darling, I love..."


The last thing I remember seeing was the name of my Mustang. I named her Audacious Addy after our first date. We spent the night under that oak tree, soaked from the squalls of a tropical storm. It was after a USO dance. I took her on a carriage ride and then the storm picked up. We ran for shade under that tree, Addy giggling the entire way. I sat her down at the base of the oak and told her I loved her. We had known each other for a whole three hours. She didn't hesitate, leaning in and pecking me on the lips. When I went to release, she rolled me over and finished the kiss. Then came the smile. "Darling, I love you," she declared, throwing away every promise she made to her parents to marry someone of stature and class. I was nothing more than a farmhand, drafted to serve for reasons I didn't want to understand. But she knew, and that memory kept me alive.

Et mon coeur, il ce débat tout seul...

I awoke to giggling. 

It was short and sweet, high-pitched. Definitely that of a little girl. I looked around the room and a sharp pain erupted from my shoulder blade. Is this what Heaven is like? I know I didn't survive that crash. The giggling got louder. Instinctively, I reached for my firearm but grabbed flesh. Where was I? It was sunset and the dying rays of light illuminated a small room with exposed beams and a fire in the fireplace. I grew up in a house like this on our farm down the river. I longed to hear my mother calling my siblings and I down for dinner, the smell of gumbo in the air, and Addy in my arms. But if I really was in Heaven, why did Addy sound like she was five?

The door creaked and I jumped behind the bed, immediately crashing down onto my lame shoulder. I howled as I rolled over and up, using the bed as cover, and as I emerged from the floor my vision caught hers and suddenly I was peering into a pair of beautiful emerald eyes. They were tinged with the same sadness I had seen from Addy's eyes before I left, but as soon as I straightened up the sadness disappeared and I was wrapped in an adoring hug. Which sent another major jolt of pain through my body. 

"Qui êtes-vous? Who are you?" the little girl implored. It was one of the few phrases we learned over in England. "Je m'appelle Timothy," I replied, "Je suis un...American." That reply sent the girl into shrill giggles as a man walked in. He shooed her away and closed the door. "My name is Henri and I see you've met my daughter Adorlee." Henri motioned me back into bed and told me he was a member of the Free French Forces. If he hadn't been, he explained to me, I probably would've woken up in a concentration camp or not at all.

At that moment Adorlee burst into my room with a bowl of soup, sloshing it around and spilling drops on the floor. When her father calmy chided her, those emerald eyes flashed of joy and mischief and she ran out the door again, happier than when she initially came in. Henri excused her behavior. He told me Adorlee came into my room every morning and night and read to me from her school books. She was learning English and she figured the best way to study was with an unconscious American. It helped one of her favorite fairy tales was Blanche-Neige, or Snow White. She had grown to love me, Henri said, and her English had improved tremendously. I asked him how I ended up in... Asnelles, he replied. Asnelles, France. 

He was fishing in his trawler about two weeks ago. It was one of the personal liberties allowed the Nazi commander of Normandy. The area was under heavy German occupation but the commander was an Alsatian and sympathetic to the French citizenry. It was over open waters that he witnessed my dogfight. I then calculated my flight had veered hundreds of miles off course. Had my plane survived, there was no way I would've gotten home. He saw the flash and heard the bang then saw my plane disintegrate. He watched as I punched out of the cockpit and hit the water and immediately began sailing to my location. Henri pulled me out of the water as the tide threatened to pull me under and brought me back to safety. I had stayed in a coma for two weeks, with the world not knowing the better of what happened to me. Henri knew I was an American from my flight jacket and garb and he profusely thanked me for my courage. My jacket and sidearm were unretrievable, unfortunately, so I was in France with borrowed clothes and perhaps on borrowed time. I thanked Henri for saving my life and for his interminable generosity. As a member of the Allied fighting forces, I promised him I would do everything in my power to help the Free French Forces liberate Europe. The date was December 27, 1943. 

I stayed with Henri and his family for the next six months. I became the big brother of the family and trained Free French soldiers and guerillas in basic combat maneuvers. Adorlee and I became inseparable, of course. I walked her to school everyday and helped her with homework. At five years old, her English had become good enough to where she was translating my notes on combat into French for her father's soldiers. I felt at home in Asnelles but the memory of Addy kept me awake every night. Adorlee did a lot to soothe the loss I felt but nothing would replace that smile, those eyes, the silliest things about her that made Addy unforgettable to me. Little did I know her parents had sent her to college in New York and she didn't yet know I was declared as missing in action. Yet, every day, Addy wore my ring to her classes and disregarded the advance of every suitor. When her parents prodded and pressed, she told them she was waiting for me and I would be home soon. I couldn't write letters or send telegrams, it was too risky. The night of June 5, 1944, I settled into bed with the windows open and a tired Adorlee resting on my chest. My thoughts conflicted openly as Adorlee snuggled up to me. Perhaps I was in heaven, the kind where the worries of the world don't affect you and life is as perfect as it could be. Or maybe I was in hell, not being able to see the one girl I truly cared about in this world. Well, one of two. An adoring little sister can do innumerable wonders to a shattered soul. 

Make me think that maybe heaven is where you are...

I always keep my promises. 

Timothy's ring dug into my wrist, waking me from another night of restless sleep. How was he doing? What was he doing? Where was he? The questions I couldn't answer haunted me the most. My parents were moneyed and relentless in their pursuit of a suitor for me. Bankers, lawyers, football players; they all tripped over themselves to make me feel like their princess. It made me laugh sometimes. I went to New York's finest restaurants with them and none of those dates felt right at all. I'm a simple girl, my parents are loathe to understand that. I was happiest in New Orleans with him. Those long, moonlit walks on the levee. The way he would chase me arounds tombs in the cemeteries only to end up kissing under our oak. I miss those moments together with him the most.

My parents wouldn't have any of our marriage. I returned the morning after Timothy left with his ring on my finger and a smile on my heart. I had come to New Orleans every summer since I was a little girl and the city spoke to me in ways New York couldn't. It was a prettier city, devoid of the dreariness and dread of the piercing skyscrapers and downtrodden slums. The air was sweeter, especially at night. Over the years, the melody of a single saxophone player or far-off jazz band became my personal lullaby. I missed New Orleans more and more as the years progressed and I became aware of the tawdry state of affairs in my family. It was nothing more than lies, cheating, and deceit. The trips to New Orleans stopped and it became my green light as my boat flailed against the current. When my mother offered a short vacation before the factory assignments began, I leaped at it, eager to escape my family's affairs and the fake refuge New York never offered me. 

When my parents saw the ring, the accosting began. My mother called me a whore. My father said he was better off not knowing me. It was a bitter taste of irony from those two, whose words cut deeper than their black books and pockets. I was kicked out of the house and left to wander the streets alone. Without a family. Without my fiance. It's better Timothy doesn't know this, but I ended up the one place I knew how to get to by heart. I longed for the clock to rewind, that he would be here with me. I cried the entire day as the city of New Orleans watched one of her own adopted flowers wilt. I finally left him at our oak and slept on a bench by the river. My father found me the next morning and dragged me home, cursing my being the entire way. The next day, I was on a train bound for Stony Brook, where I would unceremoniously begin classes as a freshman. 

I lie awake every night openly conflicted by my dreams. Timothy doesn't know I'm starting to show. I guess that one night was more than magical. It feels like a girl. He wouldn't like that. The soft sheets and twirling fan do nothing to distract me. I want Timothy more than anything. It's the night of June 5, 1944. The New York skyline is lit up like a thousand stars. But I don't want to see those stars, twinkling because of greed and money. I want to see the night, the purest expressions of our love. The stars made to shine when two lovers find a single pinprick in the sky and fixate upon in, wherever they are. Oh Timothy, wherever you are, I hope you see those stars and think of me. I love...

And all the wounds that are ever gonna scar me...

The shells whistled overhead, giving Asnelles mere moments of warning before death rained down on the Norman town. I heard the first impact across the street and then the familiar whistling from my training exercises in the States. I grabbed Adorlee and rolled under the bed as an explosion crumpled the house. What the hell was going on? Shouting in German and French erupted as the whistling continued. I attempted to get up but another wave of debris pinned me to Adorlee under our bed and I felt my forearm snap like a twig. Howling in pain, I rolled over and saw Adorlee. I thought she was still asleep until I saw her eyes, her beautiful emerald eyes glazed over in a permanent fear. She couldn't be. I wasn't going to let the other part of my heart go. I grabbed her and somehow pushed my way out of the rubble. The house was decimated, her parents and siblings long dead. I don't remember much after that, I awoke the next day in an Army hospital under a heavy morphine drip as my story was recanted to me by the medic. 

"Lieutenant? Lieutentant? My name is Corporal Spearing, I have been assigned to this wing. We thought...we thought you had been killed in action months ago. Sir, you're a hero."

I'm a what? 

"Sir, one of the Canadian troops witnessed you carrying a small child from the ruins of a building. You engaged multiple German soldiers and then passed out on the beach. Lord knows where you were going. You were transferred here with multiple broken bones and fractures. Frankly sir, it's a miracle you're still alive."

Wait, broken bones? Fractures? A small child...Adorlee!

I asked the medic where the child was. He replied she was clinging to life in the other tent. She had lost a lot of blood in the bombing. Too much blood. She would be another innocent lost to the mindless cruelty of a world she never had the chance to understand. I pleaded with the medic to bring me to her. She was under my care. He denied me. Until I stood up and felt a crack as the morphine did nothing to dull the pain of a freshly broken femur. I undid the IV and walked to the civilian tent, collapsing upon reaching her. 

I was issued a bed right next to Adorlee and for the next few hours I prayed she would awake one last time. I spoke to her in French and English, telling her how much I loved walking her to school and the beach, planning jokes on her sisters, and sleeping with her knowing tomorrow would be the best day in the world when she woke up. I called her by my pet name for her, Pipsqueak. A few hours later, with my tears exhausted and every word in my French dictionary spent, I held her hand and asked to see her eyes one more time. She obliged. 

"Mon frère," she replied weakly as I saw her eyes light up one more time. "Where am I," she inquired. With me, I told her with a breaking heart. Forever with me. She smiled and grasped my hand. I took the rosary Addy had given me before I left and wrapped it around her tiny wrist and kissed her on the forehead as I felt the warmth running from her body. With one last embrace I bid the brightest part of my heart farewell. My heart would never be whole again, not as long as my petite little Pipsqueak was on the other side of a Heavenly gate. 

Adorlee died a few hours later and was buried with her family in a beautiful cemetery overlooking Juno Beach. I later found out the shelling was from Allied ships in advance of D-Day. My nightmare had been caused not by the Axis, but by my own brothers-in-arms. I was declared a war hero after my exploits with the Free French Forces had been found out. It earned me a ticket back to the States. Back to New Orleans. Back to Addy. But before I left, I stopped by the house I had lived in for six months, now a smouldering pile of rubble. I managed to extricate a necklace from the remains of Adorlee's room. It was a solitary gold cross that she wore every day. The day before our world ended, she took it off for the first time in forever. When I asked her why, she giggled in that angelic voice and told me she didn't want to upset the other children at school who couldn't afford such things. My little Pipsqueak, I told myself...

I placed the cross around my neck and walked to the beach. Without Adorlee. And with a tear in my heart no one could mend. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

My Summer of Pirates and Persia (Life WithOut Limits)

"One day baby we'll be old. Oh baby, we'll be old. Think of all the stories that we could've told..."

 - "Reckoning Song" by Asaf Avidan

My summer began in January. I was working through day eighty-something of a placement at a chemical terminal in Braithwaite. The work had long since ceased to be tedious, but the hours hadn't. Twelve-hour shifts with monitoring and sampling every hour on the hour. We were essentially separated from the outside world. The nearest food store was ten minutes away, the nearest McDonalds was not even worth the drive. Braithwaite had been devastated by Hurricane Isaac, a forgotten storm that flooded this part of Plaquemines Parish with over fifteen feet of water. Yeah, I had been through Isaac. In fact, I watched this exact terminal get flooded in real-time and wondered who the fortunate people would be to assist in the clean-up. Well, if there was any proof the world has a sense of humor, this was it. I was atrophying on a per diem. This wasn't what I had signed up for in the least. The days dragged on, levied only by the crew I was working with. It was there my summer started to come to fruition.

The ideas started to appear slowly but surely. I wanted to do more than log meter readings. I wanted to have fun again, be part of something that fed my soul, not my pocketbook. I thought of my undergraduate summers, how summer camp alleviated the pressure that kept me wound up during the school year and how VBS had always been the best week of my year. By January the longings became a plan. I would leave my job in May and cut myself adrift in the seas of change, free to wander with the tides. It wouldn't be easy. There were grave concerns about my future, but interestingly enough, they came from everyone else, but not from me. I knew God has planned this and he was preparing me to take a very literal leap of faith. I would leave just in time to have an unfettered summer vacation and walk into graduate school with a clear conscience, joyful heart, and renewed belief in myself and that plan.

Over the next the few months I revealed my plan to a select few of my friends and family. No one really recoiled, but I could tell from their tone and expressions that they were racked with doubt. This was a crazy plan: quit your job in a questionable economy and land on your feet. They saw through the thousand-watt smiles and confident demeanor when I laid everything out, but through that they only saw...more enthusiasm. I'm sure a lot of people think I'm crazy for doing this but at every level I questioned myself at, it just kept making more sense and I'll tell you why.

My summer truly didn't begin until Vacation Bible Camp. Sure I went to Europe for two weeks but I was so excited about the prospect of having VBC and summer camp back that everything I did in Europe was like one big, long appetizer. Every church I visited reminded me of home. Every museum I visited contained teaching points and tools I could use in my own lessons. It was an incredible trip because I had a purpose and the stories I created added to the wonderful journey I was on. When I returned the preparation became unbearable. I had literally waited six months for this. I had walked to the cliff and jumped off of it for this moment, when I would stride through the doors of First Pres as a tribe leader. My summer of Pirates and Persia was about to commence.

If there was ever a testimony of how God validates your faith in His plan, the last two weeks of my life would be it. Every part of my leadership experience was tested and to be completely honest, at the end of the second week I was spent. Just completely knocked out. But it was the greatest feeling in the world. I knew I had given everything I had to make VBC and summer camp the best I could make it and I knew the kids had responded in kind. It was so amazing to see the smiles every morning and receive the hugs knowing you were a huge part of their day, if only for a few hours.

Working with kids always resets my core values. Growing up is a painful process and we all have to suffer through the iniquities of a culture that worships at the twin pillars of fortune and fame. We live in a poisoned world and the antidote sometimes is just simply to see that world through the innocence of a child. Complex problems shrouded by deceit and vain ambition become child's play when the patina of adulthood is scrubbed off. Sure, children will test your humility and patience, but those are necessary tests in becoming an adult. I can't say I'm there yet but as every camp year passes I understand more that the best way to grow up is not to puff your chest and call yourself a grownup. Nay, growing up is to retreat into your childhood and see that the childish things you once discarded are brought into your present and that those are the truest markers on the road map of your life.

I always wanted to be a grownup when I was kid, so it's only natural God saw fit to bless me with these (sometimes) summers of Pirates and Persia. It always feels like when my spirit needs a re-calibration, I'm chasing after someone playing tag or dealing with a myriad of sprained ankles. And that's ok. I know to dial the big boy act back a bit and do a little bit of growing up in reverse. And it's true. I'll enter graduate school with a soul that is joyful and a song in my heart. I'm truly happy now even though those two weeks are gone to the seas of change. My life is back where I need it to be and frankly, I can't wait for that next leap.

I Never Wanted Nothing More.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Clowning with the SPESSialist

That girl must be a Christian/
Looks like heaven in those Louboutins/
Praying to Yves Saint Laurent/
I don't look crimson 'cause she's a ten.

Girl, tonight I'm on my Drake and on one/
Why don't we do some math and get the total done/
You wearing that Hermès dressed to the nines/
And you got me saying you a dime and you so fine.

Girl you look fresher than an Easter Lilly/
Your flair could write a novel in that Pulitzer/
And here's a new idea, pardon me for being silly/
But let's Van Gogh this and head where the tulips are.

En na Den Haag, oui, et ça va merci/
Première Arrondissement, et le Galeries/
And let me show you, baby, Louis is overrated/
While we fall in love letting Paris narrate it.