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.

 

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.

 

 

Wisdom in the Tale

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Ted,

I think the mark of a truly gripping story is its ability to seamlessly graft its audience into the role of the protagonist. Sometimes, such stories mimic a heavy truck starting a decent down a gentle slope. It’s only a matter of time before that truck gains enough momentum to become an unstoppable force. At that point, you need to grab the wheel tight with both hands and hang on for dear life. The final-destination is a mystery, but the ride is the thrill. Great stories take us on a journey and cause us to ignore the destination for joy of the ride.

I’ve read through “The Circle: The Complete Volumes” edition three times, and with each read, my respect and admiration of Thomas Hunter grew. He doesn’t resemble me in the slightest. Yet…I watched him grow through the complete story—from a naïve young hustler, into a full fledged seasoned hero. Thomas is the kind of warrior I envision King David was. Heroic. Fearless. Human. I fell into the role of his character and lived out his journey with ease. Each time, I not only learned something new about the character, but learned something new about myself through Thomas’s experiences as well.

When I first learned you were writing a new book tethered to “The Circle” series, I was immediately stoked! The idea that Thomas’s adventures might continue filled me with great anticipation. I ventured to my local Barnes and Noble, walked straight for the Ted Dekker section and purchased my hardcover copy without hesitation; in and out in 5 minutes, man! No need to look for anything else. When the time was right and I had space to devote my full concentration toward beginning the new journey, I plowed right in and was immediately introduced to my new protagonist. Not one to drop spoilers, I’ll stop right there. Needless to say, I was a bit…surprised…at the roll of the lead character. But like that ol’ truck spoken of earlier, I resolved to fasten my seat-belt and take my foot off the break peddle. And you know what? Roughly 160 pages in, we’re rolling, baby!

Ted, it’s been awhile since I’ve written anything of substance, I think. On my 45th birthday, I bought a nice blank journal to get back to putting pen to paper. Writing the old-fashioned way helps to get the creative juices flowing when I’m dealing with writing-draught. In addition this year I resolved to really focus on reading through the entire bible. Between the physical writing and the devoted time with God, He’s really been challenging me and my walk. Sometimes it’s frustrating seeing my broken way of thinking laid out in front of me. But, at the same time, I think God’s fixing my understanding. What’s all this got to do with “The 49th Mystic” you might ask. I’ll give you the answer by a single name: Talya.

By the time I realized Talya was speaking directly to me (with his teachings), I acknowledged my full immersion into the role of our protagonist. Once again, the transition was seamless. It wasn’t like, “We’re in first gear; shift to second; shift third; etc.” It was more like, “I’m reading a story; I’m in the story; the elder is speaking to me personally!”

Talya gave me 6 hours of silence to work on adjusting my perception by the truths contained in Romans 12:2. Ted, do you know how many times over 9 years I’ve read that particular Scripture? Yet, it never hit me as square in the face as it did while Talya took me through the first training lesson. Amazing! God can use anything to get to anyone.

I’ll tell you what I’m learning through the process of reading this story. I’m learning that I’m the Christian looking forward to the joys of the life after this one, but stuck trying to figure out how to enjoy this life. I’m learning that, though saved by grace by faith in Christ Jesus, I’m still struggling with judgment which keeps me from understanding what true love looks like. Perfect love cast out all fear. I’m struggling to understand how to live that out because fear binds up my writing.

Even now, I struggled to begin writing this…this…whatever you wanna call it…addressed to a specific author, because fear told me I’d be wasting my time in reaching for someone untouchable. Yet…you conquered your fears at some point in your career. You faced the same battles I struggle against. You pressed through. That much is clear because, as a fan, I’ve purchased the evidence of your triumphs.

Talya, rather God using the fictitious character Talya, is inviting me to go deeper into the waters of my walk with Christ. It’s uncomfortable, man! I can’t see what’s under the surface of those deep waters. I don’t even like to swim. But…I know He’s calling me into something greater. So, I’m forcing myself to keep moving forward. I can’t wait to see where this journey leads, both for me and for our protagonist. The journey is scary, but so far it’s a wild ride.

Ted, I want to thank you for your obedience. The story’s going to be another best seller for sure. But, even if it isn’t, you need to know that through your God gifted talents, you managed to reach through time and space to help a brother in need. I needed a helping hand to remember my purpose in Christ. Your story and your characters are helping me to Re-member.

God’s Creativity

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You see that photo up there? That’s my family. God took two different people, brought them together and produced two boys and two girls. What’s funny is, not one of them resemble any of the others. They each have different physical traits but, if you look close enough, you can see little hints of Ennis and Misty in each new creation.

I think that was God’s plan all along. Way back in the beginning, when He spoke the words, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,” clearly He wasn’t talking about making clone copies. I think He was speaking on giving us all His identity and distinguishing traits that would easily separate man from beasts. One would never confuse a boy for an ape, for example. Men look different, despite sharing opposable thumbs, two arms, two legs, two eyes and a mouth just like apes.

When I was young (really young), I used to wonder what it would be like to find out there was another kid running around the world who looked exactly like me, except his skin color was white. One day I held up a picture of myself at age 21 and simultaneously looked into the photographed eyes of my 21 year old son: Nate. Although he was gifted with his mother’s eyes, he’s the spitting image of his dad, at the same age. The only difference is his fair skin. How about that for creativity? God’s amazing. My son grew up to favor my physical image and my physical likeness, while also bearing the image and likeness of Jesus. And yet he is his own man, so very different from me despite sharing similar tastes. I’m in awe watching him and his siblings grow up into their own identities. I wonder what my grandchildren will look like someday?

I’ll bet God enjoys watching his children grow in His image and become independent adults, while still leaning on Him for guidance. Not all will make wise choices. In every family, there is that one kid who goes astray. But, I’d like to think He loves us all despite our flaws.

Precious

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Time is precious. Don’t waste it: not a second. Not a minute. Not an hour. Not a day. You may look up and find years gone, while you stand still.

  • If you love him, tell him so. Don’t worry about what he might say in return.
  • If you appreciate her, she needs to know now. We’re not promised a single day.
  • If you owe your son an apology, do it now while he still thinks the world of you.
  • If you haven’t spent time with your daughter, do so today. It’s not too late.

Whatever your dream was, chase it today. I think the greatest tragedy a person may face is looking back on a life of simple existence knowing you never dared to dream; knowing you should have lived, but chose not to. Life isn’t supposed to be simply existing. We’re meant to live it out loud until we’ve got nothing left.

I’m 45 years old, watching as the patriarchs of my family die off one by one. As I grow older, I’m becoming more aware of the importance of time. It’s truly precious. I don’t want to waste what’s left. Tomorrow’s not promised.

What would you do with your life, if you knew exactly how much time you had left? Where would you go? What would you finish? What would you say?