The “Larry Crowne” Effect

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Remember the movie, “Larry Crowne” starring Tom Hanks as a middle-aged college student? It’s one of my favorite contemporary films. I love the fact that Larry made the decision (at his age) to start over. Forget the house, the mortgage and the SUV. Larry trimmed the fat and started a whole new life as a student of higher learning. Sure, he didn’t really have much of a choice, but he made the most of his situation and circumstances.

Believe it or not, Larry Crowne was a deciding factor in my choice to return to college. That’s right; I’ve decided to make it public. In the fall of 2018, I have officially returned to go after my elusive degree in Construction Management. Wanna know what’s funny about the return? My core classes were all closed, so I decided to complete a course that would fulfill my ART requirement. I enrolled in Creative Writing 201. For the first time in my life, I’m learning writing skills in a class setting! How cool is that?!

Like Larry, I am the old guy in class. It was a bit intimidating to be surrounded by so many young and hip undergraduate students, on day one. I honestly doubted whether or not I actually possess the writing skills and talent to be able to keep up with the younger generation of future professional Wordsmiths. I sat in the back of the class at a lone table and simply listened to the their interactions with our vibrant and passionate young professor, Mr. Jesse Eagle. While some students are  more vocal and eager to participate than others, I slowly settled into my newfound roll of creative writing student.

Here comes my public announcement segment. You’re never too old to restart, or continue. Did you start a task early in life and somewhere along the journey, you lost focus? Find that focus again. Reignite the fire, and get back into the saddle. Finish what you started.

 

Sheer Will

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I spoke with a thunder cat today–millennial for you old people–who told me a story of how he’d decided to give up on a pursuit because it proved to be “just too hard to accomplish”. I tried to talk him into giving his dream one more chance, citing his youthful age, the technological wonders of today’s culture and the promise of a fulfilled future once his dream was realized. After all, at 22 years old, adulting was surely just beginning.

Nope. He wasn’t buying my particular brand of encouragement. Maybe I should have packaged it in skinny jeans and served it over a trap beat. At least then he might have given it a serious listen. I left the young man, discouraged at his lack of self confidence, his apathetic attitude and (most of all) his lack of stamina.

I remember my grandfather telling me, he fought hard for civil rights so that one day his grandchildren and great grandchildren would have the equal freedom to pursue whatever they desired. He said we’d have to work hard for the goal, but the opportunity would be there for the taking. All we would need is focus and sheer will.

Sheer will’s got me up at 12:13AM tapping away at my computer. Sheer will keeps me glued to my piano and drum machines on a regular basis. Sheer will keeps me grinding on the job, making it possible to complete every task I’m assigned. It’s an unstoppable tenacity, that keeps the feet moving forward.

Funny side note: today I pulled up on my job, hopped out of the truck and was greeted by Jerry–the site foreman.

“There he is,” Jerry says, to no one in particular. “I need to shake your hand.”

Jerry starts walking my way, pulling a worn leather glove from his arthritic right hand. We meet with genuine smiles and as strong a handshake as the old man can muster.

“What’d I do,” I ask.

“That’s just it. I can’t explain it. I knew there was something about you, from the first moment I met you on Tuesday. In all of my years working projects for *AJAX Company, I’ve never seen a problem get resolved as fast as you getting involved. I mean never! You’ve got something special, son. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s there. I see it.”

I smile and say, “It’s Jesus, Jerry. All honor is given to Him. I can’t do anything without Him.”

Jerry’s face went blank for a split second, before he flashed an embarrassed smile. “Well, I don’t know much about that…but you’ve got something!”

Sheer will, says “Go another route, but make it to the destination”. When you’re ready to give up, sheer will says, “Try one more time”. It pushes you further, when you have nothing left.

Why do I continue to do what I do? Simple. I don’t know how to stop. Even when I want to quit, I can’t turn it off.

Finish that book you started.

Go back to school and finish.

Complete the song you started writing some time ago.

Try one more time to learn that new skill.

Fight against that cancer until you have nothing left to fight with. I believe in you.

Whatever it is, don’t give up.

 

* AJAX Company is, in fact, a fictional name to protect the identity of the actual company *

To You, Lord

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Just…listen  *

It’s a funny thing, living as a creative. It’s like a double-edged sword at times. On the one hand, I’m constantly dreaming. Ideas on top of ideas seem to stack up so fast I can barely get them written down or recorded. On the other hand, I’m constantly dreaming. Sometimes, the realities of ever-day life make it hard to nurture ideas. I have to constantly choose the battle: chase the dream or focus on reality. I spend a lot of late nights at a computer, when I should probably being sleeping in preparation for the next day’s professional demands. But somehow, I manage to cater to both lives.

Just once, I’d like to see what it’s like to devote every ounce of myself toward something I love, and to see that effort benefit my family. Just once.

I took a small break from writing, to put some new music out on Spotify, iTunes and YouTube. Deep House music has always held a special place in my heart since I was a kid. Back then, it was just called HOUSE. Now, the culture’s grown so big, there are different genres and sub-genres of the music. One can hardly keep up. All I know is, I know my genre when I hear it. King David danced all the way back into the city when he returned the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. That brings me comfort, because I still love to dance…even if it is in private…or in the front row of my church, on Sunday morning. So I figured God would be okay with me praising Him in my own way.

I wrote a song to you, Lord. I hope you like it. I hope it makes you dance up there. I can’t wait to party with you, Jesus.

My Second Half

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I’m not much of a sports fanatic. Occasionally, I’ll watch a basketball game (haven’t been interested in my Pistons since the 2004 squad disbanded); maybe even a football game (my Lions–nevermind). The second half is usually the turning point for a lot of teams who find themselves falling behind. It’s the time to refocus on the mission; to rally the individual players into a single unit, with the singular purpose of winning the game.

If we look at life as the ultimate game, then why shouldn’t we treat the second half the same way? Six months after my 45th birthday, I’m really looking back on the first half of my life, and taking stock of where I am. I’m also regrouping to plan on the second half.

For discussion purposes, we’re going to assume that I’ll live to be 90 years old. If I live longer than that…we’ll say I was granted that “1UP” life. You gamers know what I’m talking about. Anyway, I digress.

Did you know that many people deal with bouts of depression right around age 45? Of course you did. That’s where the term “Midlife Crisis” comes into play. Instead of replaying self-appointed shortcomings and failures in my personal game, I’d like to look at the lessons learned and accomplishments achieved. Successes and failures in life really boil down to perspective. It’s all in the way you look at things, that determine your attitude.

In my first half, I saw my wife and kids grow; wrote and published a book; wrote, produced and published music; and (most importantly) gained a relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately, I found myself running life’s hamster wheel for more years than I care to count. Because of that, there are regrets of experiences I wish I could have given my family. But, I’m a firm believer in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

I have been called, according to his purpose. I have faith in that knowledge, so I know that the good and bad plays of my first half will only strengthen my gameplay in the second half. Someone might ask, “Enn, how do you plan to play your second half? What are you going to do different than the first two quarters of the game? Some might think your play pattern is set.” Well, that’s a great question.

If I take up the mantle of “coach” for a second, let’s pretend we’re in the locker room regrouping. My personal talents, attributes and dreams represent my offense, defense and special-teams factions of the squad. These are some things I might say to my team.

  1. In the second half, we need to go out there and gel. I can replay moments (during the first half) when offense and defense worked independently of one another, and each totally ignored special teams. Sometimes, my talents operated without the use of my attributes. I can’t follow my dreams if talents and attributes aren’t lining up. People who continue to fall prey to this, often look back on life with regret.
  2. We’ve got to execute. I’ve got all of these ideas in my head. My problem is putting action to those ideas. I’ll give you a prime example: A few years ago, I put together an instrumental album on Bandcamp and Noisetrade called, “Takin’ It Back To The Oldschool“. Now, if you know me personally, you know I love old school hip hop and actually produce my own music. I had the great idea of producing instrumentals incorporating that old school hip hop sound. Then I would reach out to old school artists like Will Smith, MC Lyte, Rakim, KRS-One, etc. to get them to flow new rhymes over these tracks. The problem was…I executed as far as producing the instrumentals and never reached out to the artists. Flash forward to 2017: Will Smith, DJ Jazzy Jeff ft. Biz Markie and Slick Rick drop a video for Will’s song, “So Fresh“. Jeff and Will executed their idea fully. I only partially executed. Partial execution doesn’t score points in a game.
  3. We’ve got to defend. Listen, the older I grow, the louder the voice of doubt screams in my head. It reminds me that other people have the same ideas and better resources. It reminds me that I’m not as young and adventurous as I once was. It wants me to doubt God’s ultimate plan for my life. It reminds me that I don’t even know what that plan looks like! I can gel as a team, and execute to score all the points in the world. But, if I can’t defend against the opposing team’s attacks, I still lose the game. In my personal game, Satan is the coach of the opposing team. He has no problem with trying to thwart my plans and frustrate my faith. He’s frustrated my writing in the past. He’s frustrated my dreaming. He’s kept me running that hamster wheel for far too long, under the guise of “This is just how life works. Accept it and keep running“. As a Christian, I know he’s a liar. That truth doesn’t make his attacks any easier to block. So, in the second half of the game–my game–I need to step up my defense. My relationship with the Lord has to continue to grow. His word; His time; my prayers; His will for my life. This is my defense against the opposing team. At the end of the game, I want to be able to say what the Apostle Paul said to Timothy:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Gel, execute, defend. These are the tactics for my second half. Maybe you’re in a season of life when you’re looking backward instead of moving forward. Maybe midlife has you questioning where you go from here. Maybe you just need to take a breather and refocus, friend. It’s never too late to refocus your efforts, or repurpose your God-given gifts. Make your second half count.

 

 

 

Only One of Perfection

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Romans 3:23 (NIV)“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

Do you know how much pressure we impose on ourselves by trying to live a life of perfection? Oh c’mon. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about, you uber Christian, you. Everyday, we struggle against the earthly desires we crave, while trying to uphold our Christian duties. Duties; as in works. You’re not convinced you’re one of them? Fine. Let me give some examples of what we tend to do. Check out my fancy-shmancy color coding:

“Christians should really stay away from ‘Harry Potter’ movies, because they promote demon worship and witchcraft. We can finish this conversation later, after I return from watching “Solo”.

Yep: an actual statement made by one of God’s children. Here’s another one.

“You let your kid listen to that ‘Kendrick Lamar’ crap? My kid only listens to ‘Bizzle’ and ‘Sevin’. Yeah, they drop ‘Nigga’ in their lyrics too, but they’re promoting Jesus by speaking the language of their folks.”

Yes, actual statement. I really can’t make this stuff up. Here’s one more for you.

“I give to the needy every chance I get. We have to give to the less fortunate. It’s in the bible, you know.”

“What about that homeless guy we saw Downtown?”

“Oh, he probably just wanted money for drugs or something.”

That was an actual conversation.

Sometimes I think we try too hard to adhere to rituals and rules, and forget that at the end of the day we’re all just people prone to fall short of God’s standard. In our quest to be perfect, we often come off as judgemental and hypocritical. If that’s the way we present ourselves in front of unbelievers, why would they want to follow us? 

I tend to get caught up in ritual practices, too. Sometimes, I cross the line between following the Lord and I going off the deep end, in my own quest to earn His favor. I reason to myself, “This is what God wants me to do, so I’ll do it and prove myself perfect in His eyes.” Now, no one is going to admit that’s what we do, but it’s the truth of who we are. We try to live super Holy lives despite partaking in straight-up pagan and carnal activities. 

Did you NOT know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th? Did you also NOT know that the December 25th celebration was originally a pagan feast, we Christians adopted? We need to cut out all the Pharisee acts, and just live life to the best of our abilities. Celebrate the birth of our Lord, absolutely. But don’t judge the family that doesn’t celebrate Christmas as being sacrilegious! That’s their choice. Let God sort that out, in His timing. 

Let me say this: God knows our hearts and He knows our flaws. It was because of His love for us, despite our failed nature, that He sent the only one of perfection–that’s His son, Jesus–to die sacrificially for our sins. We can’t earn Salvation through any acts of super Christianity. Salvation is a free gift of God, through faith in His son Jesus Christ. 

I am a God fearing, flawed man. Everyday–every single day–I mess up one of God’s Old Testament laws. There is no way I could ever live up to any of them. That’s why I love Jesus. He knew me before I was born. He knew what kind of a failure Christian I would become. In that knowledge, He still said, “Father, I’ll go down and take one for the team. Ennis is going to be out there someday. I need to do this for him.” 

In His perfection, Jesus chose to become a living sacrifice so that I personally would be set free to live my life for Him, complete with my everyday failures. I could never repay Him for that! I can’t mimic His perfection!

I see Christians get mad over Donald Trump tweets. I see Christians hate on each other, over clothing. I see Christians judging other Christians who show love to Muslims. I see Christians judging others over music, food, even the type of car one drives. 

I think (and this is just my opinion) we ought to get on with the business of focusing on our own personal relationships with Jesus, as opposed to following rituals and judging others who may not live up to our standards. That’s why I like Romans 3:23. It reminds me that we all fall short of God’s Holy standards. Who am I to judge someone else, as I’m enjoying Sevin lyrics,on my way to watch a Star Wars flick and eat cheese Ballpark Franks with my gay cousin. Did I mention I was wearing my anti-Trump T-Shirt to the movie theater? 

You hate me right now, don’t you uber Christian conservative?

Jesus loves you.   

The Folly of Greed

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Proverbs 1:19 (NKJV) – “So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; It takes away the life of its owners.”

The year 1987 gave us an Oliver Stone classic that did an amazing job of capturing the psyche of corporate America, that still rings true even today. Gordon Gekko, while a purely fictitious character in the film Wallstreet, delivered an immortal mantra still standing firm within our culture.

“Greed…is good.”

We see it everyday, everywhere we look. The Smiths down the street buy a new car and suddenly we begin to question our own seven-year old minivan. Mr. Jones was given a promotion for the successful completion of a project, and suddenly Mr. Ivy decides he needs to work more overtime to keep up. The Drake family plans to embark on a 5-day cruise, and suddenly Mrs. Banks resents having to pinch and spend every dime on her large family, just to make ends meet.

People will literally work themselves to death, in the pursuit of more stuff. Sometimes we never seem to have enough. The chase for more can, and often does, take a toll on a person’s Spiritual well-being. We choose to work more hours to get ahead, and in the process lower our personal standards on the time we spend with God. Maybe we cut God out of our lives completely in an effort to chase riches and comfort.

King Solomon knew this was folly, even back in his own time. In the context of the verse, Solomon was speaking a warning against partnering with shady characters. But, he knew enough about the dangers of greed to pray for wisdom and understanding of God’s law, without asking for material securities. As a result of the condition of his heart, God rewarded him with the very riches and securities Solomon didn’t ask for. The king put God first in his own heart. Often, this is just not so with the rich.

Greed is like an unquenchable fire. One has to keep stoking the flames to keep the fire burning because it’s never satisfied. Millionaires, superstar athletes, entertainers, businessmen die unhappy and broken people every day. Their wealth does not equate to happiness. In many cases, the wealth equates to short lives. It must be an enormous amount of pressure to be able to juggle and sustain the type of lifestyle that continuously chases after more than yesterday; last week; last month; last year. The quest to fulfill greed sucks the life right out of people.

Jesus taught we cannot serve both God and manna (money). We will either serve one or the other. I’m learning to be content with whatever roll or situation the Lord keeps me in, and to trust that His ways and guidance are for my ultimate good. Contrary to popular belief, greed is bad.