The Year the Saints Won the Super Bowl

Thoughts Faith, Family, and Fatherhood

The year the Saints won the Super Bowl is the year that my Dad went to heaven. He was a huge Saints fan, but died a few months before the season began. As the team was making their historic run through the regular season, I couldn’t help but feel it was coming one year too late. Maybe you have also experienced some things in your life that have come too late, did not happen at all or, maybe took an unexpected turn that left you with a future you don’t know what to do with.

You can probably already tell, but this post is not really about the Saints or the Super Bowl.

A Miraculous Conversion and a Cadillac

I would not be a Christian today if it were not for my Dad. The story of how he came to faith is pretty miraculous. As a teenager he was forced to leave his home. My grandfather was an alcoholic and abusive. One night, me Dad threatened him at gunpoint to keep him from hurting my grandmother. That night changed my Dad’s life forever. He dropped out of high school, left home, and began working as a manager at Sonic.

One day, the owner of the restaurant pulled into the Sonic my Dad worked at in his Cadillac. When my Dad came out, the man asked him if he would like to drive a car like his some day then handed him a leadership tape. “Listen to this.” From that point forward my Dad began to listen to leadership tapes and read whatever leadership books he could get his hands on as he continued to experience promotions.

Eventually he came across a book called, “The Happiest People on Earth.” He thought it was a leadership book, but it was actually about Christianity. After reading it, he started listening to the local Christian radio station. One night a DJ on the radio said that if the listeners wanted to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit he would pray for them if they called in. I bet you didn’t know DJ’s did that kind of thing, but I guess they do. My Dad called. He surrendered his life to Christ, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and began attending church.

My Dad taught me to pray. He modeled the importance of going to church and serving. He was not consistent in his own faith though. He continued to find success in work but eventually his second marriage quietly ended with a note left on the table.

A Change for the Better

Then one day things changed for the better. My Dad told me that he was going to put God first in his life from now on. He said that I should as well. I was 11 years old at the time. Although I didn’t pray a prayer at that moment, I decided I was going to follow Jesus that day; just like my Dad.

I started reading my Bible after that conversation with my Dad. I quickly became very passionate about my relationship with God. Although I lived with my Mom, and she didn’t attend church, I began going to church regularly and joined the FCA at my jr. high school. Loving God came easy to me. It was and is the most natural thing about life for me – having God be a regular part of it.

Years later I would be able to move in with my Dad for my high school years. He was very involved with church, but also very strict on me; even controlling. Most kids would probably have rebelled against the tight standards my Dad kept on me. Nothing was ever good enough for him. Although I was involved in church, and never got in trouble at school, there was always something I could be doing better. The constant badgering and unreasonable rules became overwhelming, but it never superseded my love for my Dad.

He Saved His Own Life

Eventually, my faith would grow to a point that my Dad was no longer leading me in that journey, although I still respected him as the most important man and person in my life. It became a source of tension in our relationship as I would begin attending church more regularly than the rest of my family and keep different standards than them. Things would change in my Dad’s relationship with his third wife, and she threatened to leave him. He responded by doing what I know is probably the biggest regret of his life. He overdosed on some prescription pills in an attempt to kill himself.

At some point after taking those pills he must of thought about his daughter, his two sons, or the fact that he was only 39 years old and had a lot of life to live. He saved his own life by calling 911. The paramedics arrived after he passed out and rushed him to the hospital.

I was not home when this happened. I was out of town on a prayer retreat right before the beginning of my second semester in college. I found out that something had happened when one of the pastors from our church opened the door to the room where I was sleeping at the retreat and told me I needed to leave right away and head to the hospital.

My Dad lived, but suffered multiple strokes. He was never the same man again. Embarrassed, he never wet back to our church. The disciplined, ordered person I had known my entire life was gone. In his place was a severely depressed shadow of my father that lived with extreme anxiety. He became verbally and physically abusive towards me. Although I did all I could to stay and help him, I had to leave his house to finish college. It was the most difficult decision I ever made up until that point, but I knew that I would never be free to become who God made me to be while staying under the control of my father. Wanting to have a good relationship with him wasn’t going to be enough for it to actually be a healthy place for me to live.

An Unexpected Accident

We stayed in touch, but my leaving hurt my Dad. He never treated me like a son again. Eventually, I was the only one of his kids in communication with him. Then there was an argument, and I didn’t speak to my Dad for over a year. I sent cards in the mail, but never received any contact from him. As painful as it was, I left him alone and continued my life as a new husband.

Then there was a car accident.

My dad hit a piece of concrete on the highway and lost control of his car. It spun in circles while the seatbelt pressed against his chest squeezing him tightly against the driver’s seat. He was rushed to the hospital and released the same day. When I heard what happened, I came over and brought him dinner.

Other family members were there when I arrived. We ate and talked. He told me about the accident, and his time at the hospital. When I started to get up to leave I noticed a bunch of picture albums on the floor near the T.V. Instead of rushing out, I asked my Dad if he would come sit next to me on the couch and look at the pictures with me.

I don’t remember how long we sat there together side by side on the coach, just me and him, but we looked at every one of those pictures from the time my Dad was a baby until he joined the Navy, and then married my mom, until the present time. He talked and told stories. That’s really what I always wanted more of from my Dad; more stories of what his life was like.

When we had looked at the last picture I didn’t know that would also be the last time I ever saw my Dad alive. Two days later a pulmonary embolism passed through his body, released as result of the wreck, and stopped his heart. He died in his sleep with his mom and sister, the two most faithful women to him throughout his life, there in his home with him.

The Year the Saints Won the Super Bowl

Accepting that my Dad died at 48 years old was extremely difficult for me. The relationship was abusive and dysfunctional. He is also the person that started me on my journey as a Christian. He relentlessly fought for me in custody battles, so I alway knew that I was wanted by him. On one hand he had hurt me more than any other person, and on the other was the most important man in my life. He started many great things in me, but didn’t finish his own race the way I think he would have wanted.

Then the Saints began to play football in the 2009 season. They won their first game, and then another. I couldn’t help but think of my father. Oh, how my he loved the Saints. He watched them no matter what. Cheered them through many losses. But now they weren’t losing. In fact, they went on a winning streak that was unlike anything I had ever seen. They clinched the playoffs with an undefeated record. Their only loses coming as they rested their starters in preparation for the playoffs.

They began to call those Saints a “Team of Destiny.” Visiting my Dad’s grave, I told him about the season they were having and how I knew he would have liked to have seen it.

How to Remember My Father

Against all odds, the Saints went on to win the Super Bowl. I couldn’t help but feel this was all very ironic. The Saints having such a memorable season, and my Dad not being able to see it. The man who was their constant fan missed their greatest moment, while I got to enjoy it never being nearly as invested in the journey as he was.

I wrestled with how to remember my Dad for many years after his death. How to talk about him. What would I say to my daughters one day when they could understand? There were many good things but complicated aspects as well.

Then one day recently an unexpected sense of peace came over me. There are some hills near our house that surround a pond. Trees are scattered along the edges of the water and I like to take my daughters there to walk and feed the ducks. While leaning back in the grass under the shade of the tree I watched my daughters run and laugh and play. I thought to myself, “I have never been happier than I am right in this moment.” And almost automatically the thought continued, “And I know that this could never be possible without you, Dad.”

You see my Dad will never see my girls grow up. He isn’t here to see them thriving in a godly family, safe and secure. But they would never have the stable loving home they know as regular life if it weren’t for the decision my Dad made to follow Jesus all those years ago.

Heritage and Legacy

There were some hurts my Dad was battling his entire life that were not his fault. He battled some things I will never have to face. He also found a way to keep going when most anyone else would have given up. There are decisions he made I know he would wish he could change if he had another chance, but those were not the only decisions he made.

There are things my Dad started that he won’t get to see finished that I’ll get to experience as I watch my daughters grow up. He began a godly heritage in me, and I am getting to expand and pass on that legacy on to my children.

So when I think of the year the Saints won the Super Bowl, I don’t think about what my Dad missed out on. I think of all the things that he started that I will get to see finished.

My Dad often told me about the irony of the first play in the history of the Saints. In their first game as a team, after the kickoff, the Saints returned it for a touchdown. He thought it was so ironic that the franchisee would go on from that play to have an overall losing record.

If you stop any story before it’s over, then it’s possible to believe that it’s too late, or never going to happen. But it’s possible that the story is much bigger than you and it’s just not over yet.

Everyone Has a Story

How Empathy Can Make Your World Bigger

I recently had an encounter with a tree that taught me a lot about empathy and influence. You can read about it my post “Lessons From A Tree.”

Shortly after this incident I was reminded of how far I still have to go when it comes to taking my eyes off myself and showing care and attention to others.

Friend of the year award

A friend of ours at work went home early on Friday because she wasn’t feeling well. On Monday she was back in the office and when I came home that day Amy asked me how she was doing. I didn’t know… because I didn’t ask.

I could have kicked myself! Way to show empathy Josh! I guess I am not getting that friend of the year award I had my eyes on.

I was so worried about my own day that I forgot to spread some love, care, and empathy in my friends life.

Everyone has a story

Truett Cathy said that “everyone person has a story if only we bother to read it.” You can learn more about this principle in the book, It’s My Pleasure, by Dee Ann Turner.

Learning other people’s stories in small ways doesn’t just make their lives better it makes our lives bigger as well. Listening to someone’s day or difficulty is an investment in relationship that has a 100 fold return. The best way to do this is to ask questions.

3 Questions That Uncover People’s Stories:

How are you doing?

This is so basic that it is almost not even worth mentioning but it is something I forgot to ask a friend at work that sites right next to me everyday. When there is a change in someone’s routine or schedule don’t just assume they are ok. They probably are, but checking in on them when they are absent lets them know you care.

How can I make you look like a rock star?

Jon Acuff talks about this in his book Do Over. When he goes to speaking events he always asks, “A week after the event, what can I have done that makes you look like a rock star to the people who matter at your job?”  He says we should ask our coworkers, clients, and others the same question if we want to win at relationships. “What can I do to make you look like a rock star to the people that matter most to you?”

What can I do to make that easier for you?

When someone is expressing a concern or complaining it is easy to get negative with them but that never helps anyone. The better thing to do is to invest in the relationship by asking, “What can I do to make that easier for you?” You not only turn a negative into a positive but also add value to the relationship.

 

Jon Acuff says that when we take time to know someone’s story we “make 2-D people 3-D.” What if this is the key to getting along with the difficult people in your life? What if you just need to make a 2-D person 3-D in order to have more influence with them? Asking questions, and reading people’s story, doesn’t just make your world bigger it makes our world better.

What stories are right in front of you that have yet to read? How can you take a step to make a 2-D person in your life a 3-D person with a story?

Here are a couple of books that have helped me grow in empathy and making others bigger:

Lessons From A Tree

How to Multiply Your Influence

Have you ever been extremely proud of something that no one else seemed to really care about? No? Are you not as vain as me? Well, good for you. I, on the other hand, have a tendency to become a little self-focused. This is especially evident with the tree that is in our front yard.

Tree obsession

I am very proud of our tree. Mostly because when we first moved in we didn’t think that our tree or most of our landscaping would survive. I am limited in the area of gardening but still set out to prove I could make our landscaping grow. And against all odds our little tree has done quite well.

In fact, whenever someone comes over to our house I always make it a point to talk about how amazing our tree is. Normally, they don’t seem to care. So to highlight my tree’s awesomeness I usually begin to point out how much better it is than other trees that aren’t growing as fast (I am a jerky arboriculturist I know). It is only when I have reached a point of complete awkwardness that causes my guests deep regret for ever coming over that I eventually let them into our home.

I guess you could say I don’t have the gift of “hospitality.”

Lessons from a tree

Anyway, this obsessiveness with my own tree recently changed when a couple of family friends came over to help us with our yard. While Mr. Ron was helping us build a deck, Mrs. Patti began working on our landscaping. I saw this as a great opportunity to talk about my crazy awesome tree with Mrs. Patti. When she wasn’t that impressed, like most people, I showed her how much better it was than another tree that was not doing so great. Then she looked even less impressed and asked me, “Well honey… She paused. Have you ever considered adding a little fertilizer to the tree that’s not growing as fast?”

“No, I don’t think I have.”

“Well, you know, your tree will always look better when the trees around it are growing as well.

Ouch. I immediately went over and added some fertilizer near the dying tree and shared some tips with its owner to help their tree shine as well.

I can be an idiot sometimes. This adventure in gardening reminded me of that. We shouldn’t just fertilize our own trees. Our tree looks better when we spread the fertilizer around and help others grow as well. You influence people more by giving than by getting.

Empathy multiples influence

One way we can do this is by showing empathy towards others. Being self-focused will cause us to not realize that someone near us is shriveling up and may need some encouragement to nourish their soul. We can get so focused on wondering why no one seems to care about us that we forget that the best way to receive that kind of attention is to be good at giving it away. If you want to look good then you need to do a great job of making others look good. If you want others to notice you then you need to do a great job of noticing others.

No one likes being around someone who only talks about their own tree/themselves. And when you point out how others are not doing well in order to make yourself look better you are the only one who ends up looking bad. The key to gaining influence is not found in getting people’s attention but in giving people attention. Don’t just fertilize your own tree.

How to get noticed

I’ve heard that there are more songs written about the moon then there are about the sun. This is interesting when you think about the fact that the moon doesn’t produce any light on its own. All it does is reflect the light it is given unto others. You always shine when you reflect praise and attention on others.

If you have ever wondered why people are not noticing you are giving the credit you deserve then you try to gain influence by giving away what you hope to receive from others. Who can you reflect some light on? Who is it that you can do a better job noticing? How can you help someone else’s tree grow a little stronger? What can you do to spread some empathy and encouragement?

I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment or share this post with someone else if it resonated with you!

Here are a couple of books that have helped me grow in empathy and making others bigger:

Lead Like Jesus

How to Lead Like Jesus

Jesus said that his purpose is to give a rich and satisfying life (John 10:10). There use to be a part of me that was full of false religion that would skim over a verse like that. I believed that it wasn’t godly to have a rich and satisfying life. I thought you had to be poor to be pious and to suffer to be spiritual. In reality the opposite is true. God desires to give us good things and is leading us to a more abundant life.

But how do we lead others in this same way? In John 10 Jesus gives us a few ways we can do this. I want take some of these principles and look at them in light of modern ministry leadership.

 

Make a personal investment.

To lead like a good shepherd we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for our sheep and not sacrifice our sheep for ourselves (John 10:11). Leadership is about rising in position to take more responsibility and not climbing the ranks so that you can push the work off on others. Too many leaders are seeking a higher position because they want less work and more credit. This is not the model Jesus gave us.

 

Be proactive in decision making.

A good shepherd does not run when he sees a wolf coming (John 10:12). A good ministry leader is proactive and not reactive. Waiting until there is a mess to clean up and then overreacting to prevent future messes instead of solving the real issue is not a sign of good leadership. A good ministry leader is uses prepares and/or avoids possible threats to the team by giving direction before there is a problem.

 

Confront internal issues even when it is uncomfortable.

A hired hand runs away from conflict (John 10:13). Good ministry leaders don’t avoid conflict. They walk through them with wisdom and grace. Having an environment of correction is not fun for anyone. Its discouraging and you people eventually give up. At the same time, not being willing to confront attitudes and conflict in the team will allow those that cannot self govern to run your team culture. As a leader you always get a combination of two things: What you enforce and what you allow (Dr. Henry Cloud).

 

Make relationship the priority and not just projects.

A good shepherd knows his sheep (John 10:14-15). A good ministry leader leads not just with position but also with relationship. Ministry is a business of people. When you put the project ahead of the people the project is designed to reach you are failing to lead like a good shepherd. People are the priority. Put relationship first and then those relationships will make your mission their first priority.

 

Create a culture that echoes your values.

The sheep know the voice of a good shepherd (John 10:16). Your culture echoes your voice when you are not around. What is yours saying? A good ministry leaders creates a culture that reinforces the values they want echoed even when they are not there. They model this in not just want they say but in their behavior and in what they celebrate and reward.

 

Leadership can be messy. It comes at a price of personal sacrifice. We have to be willing to build relationship but also to look ahead for future threats to our team and correct internal turmoil. It can be easy at times to avoid these things but doing so will not create the culture we want to echo throughout the organization.

What did I miss? How do you think ministry leaders can lead more like Jesus?

 

For more thoughts like these check out The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People.

 

Interruptions

The Most Important Ministry Lesson

In this post I want to share the most important lesson I have lever earned in ministry. I first became a leader in ministry when I started a small group at 15 years old. Two years later as a High School Senior I was speaking in high schools and on retreat. My freshmen year at LSU I started a student ministry and eventually was on a team that united all of the campus ministries together for an annual outreach event.

After graduating from college I went on to work on our youth staff where I had the opportunity to see thousands of young people come to Christ and be discipled. Now at ARC I have the pleasure of working with pastors to start new church across the country.

Although I learned a lot in the past 20 years, my most important lesson in ministry did not come while in any of these ministry roles. It wasn’t until I spent a season working outside of full-time vocational ministry before coming to ARC that I learned my most important ministry lesson.

No Time for Interruptions

While on staff in youth ministry we had an internship that eventually grew to over 100 students in the program each year. Many times after their classes some of these students would come up and hang out in our office space. As a task oriented person, this began to be bother me a little as it kept me from finishing my work. I loved those students, but also felt compelled to give my best to the projects I was working on that I knew would help our ministry reach more people. The students lounging in my office and asking me personal questions took time away from these important items. The result? After their classes I would shut the door to my office so that I would not be interrupted. Cold hearted I know!

Years later I would find myself at a different church and no longer working in ministry. Amy and I decided to take a course called L.I.F.E. for Marriage. The class teacher was old enough to be my grandfather and began the class right on time by closing the door and making a bold announcement.

“If you are late to this class, do not come through that door…”

I braced for impact as a I knew he was about to rail on us about the importance of being on time.

He continued, “Make sure you come through the door on the other side so that you can get some coffee before taking a seat. And remember that if you are late, you are not an interruption. I have learned that if you see people as interruptions, then soon you won’t have any interruptions, because you won’t have any people left to interrupt you!”

Boom! That was not what I was expecting. I began to tear up. A little because I was caught off guard by this unsuspected grace that was being extended, but also because of the healing power that comes with being valued.

I bet you can guess this, but I was never once late to this class. In fact, I don’t know that I have ever shown up early so consistently to something before in my life.

Learning My Lesson

When I look back on my ministry life my greatest regret is not something I didn’t do or an opportunity I was overlooked for. I regret not valuing people the way I was valued that day.

This lead me to realize that the biggest lesson that I needed to learn in ministry is that people are the priority.

Roy Stockstill said that his greatest lesson in ministry was that “people are not the enemy.” I love that and it was the beginning of what God would eventually show me is my ministry goal, “Make people the priority while pointing them to Jesus.”

In the Masterpiece, The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People, Leman and Pentak waste no time in telling leaders that “Your people are your greatest asset.” When we treat people this way we are modeling Jesus who, as demonstrated us in Philippians 2, left the comforts of heaven to comfort us. He valued us, and made us the priority.

People are not the enemy. People are not interruptions. People are our greatest competitive advantage. My goal is to make people the priority while pointing them to Jesus.

What is your greatest lesson from life or ministry? I’d love to hear about it! Add a comment of send me a message.

Scrapes

Yesterday both my daughters scraped their knees. In the morning our youngest fell while running down a sidewalk. Later that afternoon my oldest daughter scraped her knee on the playground. Knee scrapes are not rare in any home with young children. In our home they are not only commonplace but also a source of great joy – band-aids.

In my kids’ minds band-aids have a mystical healing property that goes beyond just their ability to cover wounds. The idea of a band-aid can stop tears right in their tracks and begin to turn the deepest frown back into a smile. Sometimes Gracie will point to places on her body to place the band-aid other than where the cut is because she just enjoys having this decorative sticker on her.

After our new band-aid routine this morning my oldest daughter (who has a flare for the dramatic) asked me, “Daddy, do you ever wonder how I can keep walking even with all these bobos?”

“No,” I said in my most interested but not really interested tone I could manage.

She replied, “I’ve just learned how to walk with with all my hurts.”

I paused.

“Sometimes, I can even run with them.”

Then she went back to watching youtube videos of people making slime on her iPad.

I didn’t move on so quickly. I felt the Holy Spirit pause me and begin to speak.

“Josh, have you learned to walk with your hurts, and sometimes even run with them?”

Is there anything more unhealthy than someone who has taught themselves how to build a life around avoiding their pain and even mask it with accomplishments?

Later that morning I begin to think about scrapes and band-aids and a healthy soul. Had I began to celebrate the things that mask the hurts, the band-aids, over the healing that is needed for the wounds of my heart? Are there areas of my soul that have been hurt that I have just learned to walk with? Even though sometimes I can run, despite the pain, excel in certain ways, have I overlooked the real healing that needs to take place?

We may live in a time where we celebrate band-aids but I want to be someone who celebrates healing and health. Band-aids are known for their illustration as a quick fix. One side may have a Disney princess, but the other side is a mess. I don’t like messes. I like Disney magic and perfection but that is not real life.

Faith, hope, and love are not for perfect people. Perfect people don’t need those things because they have fairy Godmothers, talking pets, and magic crickets. Faith, hope, and love are for those who may have learned to walk and even run wounded but want to be healed and healthy. They are for those that aren’t afraid to take off the cover up off and allow God to do the necessary work of touching our mess and doing only what He can do. It is for those who want to live an authentic Christian experience.

Let me ask you the same questions I felt God was challenging me with, “Have you learned to walk with your hurts, and sometimes even run with them?”

If this post has encouraged you, then I’d love to hear from you, and please share it. Thanks!