Thank You Notes

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A simple thank you note has been on my mind a lot lately. So I’ll write a word or two here in support of this ‘old fashioned’ tradition.

After the new year, we forced (and I do mean forced) our 9 and 6 year old to write thank you notes for Christmas gifts and Christmas hosts. While extremely painful in the moment, it was well worth it when I got a text message from my aunt acknowledging that she had received my son’s thank you note and added…”You’re raising your kids right.”

I’m raising my kids right because my mom and dad raised me right and forced (and I do mean forced) me to write thank you notes. So I shouldn’t be surprised that my mom recently reminded me that I should send someone a thank you note. And I will, because thank you notes matter.

In a world of instant communication and instant gratification, the simple, hand-written thank you note perhaps carries more weight than ever before. Take a minute to think about the last one you received…they’ve probably been few and far between. Sure, we’ll tap out a “thank you email” in a heartbeat and that is certainly appropriate. But how many of us sit down and hand write a note to the people who really matter; to whom we are truly thankful? I don’t do it often enough.

So here’s your challenge for the day: take the 5-10 minutes it will require today and hand write someone a thank you note. And take the additional 30 seconds to put a stamp on it and put it in the mail. Thank a teacher who made an impact on you. Thank someone who interviewed you for a job. Thank a long time friend for all they’ve meant to you over the years. Thank your spouse for all the little things they do to make your family work. Thank a small business owner who always goes the extra mile. Thank a coach whose instruction you didn’t appreciate until you were older. Thank a mentor who has always listened during tough times. Thank a pastor who was a comfort in the midst of a storm. Or just thank your parents for raising you right.

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A Thank you to Marriott

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I’ve been in jobs in Sales, Marketing, Coaching, and Administration my whole life that have required interaction on a regular basis with hotels and hotel brands. Because of this engagement, I don’t pass out compliments lightly. However, I feel like I owe Marriott a “thank you” for 2015.

I made Platinum level in the Marriott Rewards program for the first time in 2015 and that was nice, although not necessarily mind-blowing. I appreciated the upgrades and the welcome gifts, but they didn’t vastly change my experience. What did change my experience was the bonus points I received with each stay, which allowed me to amass points in 2015 at a whole new level. And having this mass of points is what I’m thanking Marriott for the most because they allowed me to…

  • Give a good friend a week’s stay in Cleveland, OH while her father was in the Cleveland Clinic having a heart procedure. It felt great to know that her and her mother didn’t have to worry about how they were going to pay for a hotel or if they were going to have a nice place to stay while they were going through this stressful time.
  • Take a trip of a lifetime with my wife for my 40th birthday. Our long weekend in Rome, Italy at the Marriott Boscolo Exedra was an experience I’ll never forget and one I wouldn’t have been able to afford without all of those points.
  • Provide a place for my mother-in-law and wife to stay in Knoxville, TN over Christmas when my father-in-law had to be rushed to the hospital on their way to visit us for the Holidays. Having points to share on these hotel rooms kept my family from having to sleep in a hospital room for over 3 weeks; while it was a difficult time, a nice place to sleep and a smiling face in the concierge lounge every morning made life bearable during this tough time for our family.

I was a committed Marriott Rewards member before this year, but the ability to make these things happen with my points not only made me feel good personally, but showed me the value in loyalty.

Any of us to travel a lot know that not every location of our favorite hotel chain is perfect. We run into problems from time to time and get frustrated. But my experience with the Marriott properties I stayed at in 2015 was fantastic and I’m particularly thankful for the Courtyard Cleveland Independence, the Boscolo Exedra Roma, and the Knoxville Marriott for making my family and friends feel welcome and cared for on our points stays. You’ve increased my loyalty for 2016 and beyond.

THANK YOU.

Teachers

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It’s the first day of school and while I’m excited for my fourth and first grade children to kick the year off, I’m praying especially for their teachers today.

Teachers are perhaps the most important adults in our children’s lives after their parents (and in some cases more than their parents). Teachers definitely deserve more than they get in so many ways. And teachers have a HARD job.

I cannot imagine the difficulty teachers face everyday in dealing with all of the different backgrounds and circumstances that show up in their classrooms every morning. Most of us spend the majority of our day with adults. While the adults in our lives certainly bring baggage to the workplace that affects who they are and their performance, they are ADULTS, and most of them are able to put those things aside long enough to get their work done. But a teacher is dealing with kids who have all manner of challenges in their lives and aren’t emotionally mature enough to know how to deal yet.

Can you imagine having a classroom of 25 9 year olds? Now, how about if half of them have parents living in different houses? What if 4-5 of them didn’t eat much for dinner last night or didn’t get breakfast before school because money is tight at home? What if another 3-4 are sexually or physically abused by an older sibling, neighbor, or uncle? How about the 8 or so that have learning disabilities but are ashamed of it so they try to hide it? Not to mention the 15-20 that are so insecure and nervous most days that just getting on the bus is a challenge to overcome.

I don’t want to think about the baggage that I pile on my fourth grader when I lose my patience with him in the morning about getting his shoes on or getting his teeth brushed. What kind of challenge am I handing his teacher by dismissively telling him he won’t have any trouble making friends this year when I know that it is one of his biggest fears? I can only imagine what state some of our kids show up in emotionally every morning.

So this morning, I’m praying for teachers. I’m praying that they have patience beyond any reasonable human allotment. I’m praying that they can discern the difference between struggling and troubled. I’m praying that they are flexible enough to provide all of those different kids the space to learn in their own unique way. I’m praying that they are firm enough to instill discipline and boundaries because kids are longing for it. I’m praying that they will inspire my kids and all of the kids they teach the way many of my teachers inspired me.

And this morning, I’m thankful for teachers. Thankful for Mrs. Kaveney, my third grade teacher who had the courage to tell my parents she thought I should be held back even when my academic numbers said differently. Thankful for a group of junior high teachers at Metcalf School who didn’t let me coast by when they saw I had academic potential but cared more about sports. Thankful for Coach Hubbard who modeled for me how to treating kids with respect on the court earned their respect on and off. Thankful for Ms. Scott, the best teacher I ever had, the one who instilled a passion for history in me, and the most influential adult in my life who I don’t share a last name with. And thankful for Tim Dillon, my Milligan College American History professor and mentor who not only taught from a place of passion, but cared for his students from a place of passion.

Today will be a great day for my kids because of the caring of their teachers and I am who I am today because of the teachers who cared for me. Pray for your teachers and the teachers of others today and every day.

Companions on the Journey

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Disclaimer: If you’ve never had a dog this may not be a meaningful post to read. If you have I apologize if it makes you sad.

“He who travels alone can leave today; but he who travels with another must wait ’til that other is ready.”
                                                                                                  – Henry David Thoreau

My wife and I recite this to one another before just about every trip when we’re trying to get out the door to go off on whatever our next family adventure will be and we are endlessly waiting for the kids or each other. It is one of the most true statements about travel. Except when it comes to dogs.

For the past 14 years, Jessi and Lincoln have been my companions on the journey of life. The picture above was taken just before our first anniversary (when Lincoln would have been a little over a year old), as we set off for a new adventure in Colorado. Lincoln rode all the way to Colorado Springs from Cookeville, TN in the cab of that U Haul truck with us and continued to ride along for every twist and turn of life after. All along, we never had to wait on him as a companion, he was always ready to leave today!

Lincoln went to the top of 14,000 foot mountains with us and he slept in canyons with us. He tolerated us bringing another dog home to join him for awhile, and he was the one that stuck around when Landon went to live at the farm. He was there when we brought both of our children home, loving them with the same kindness and gentleness that he loved us.  He was wagging his tail and greeting us at the door nearly every day, and he was lying by our side consoling us during some tough times. He’s lived with us on a farm where he could chase cows, in an RV where he was the “camp dog,” in a 750 sq ft shack that we called home base, and in every house we’ve ever owned. He’s snuggled up with us in a tent and in the car when the tent got too cold. He’s been on 10 mile hikes and mountain bike rides and was still up for a slow walk around the block on his last day.

We got Lincoln from the Putnam Co. (TN) Animal Shelter in March of 2001, just a few months before we were married. In the first few months of his life he did what puppies do – chewed everything in sight, had accidents all over the house, ran away every time we opened the door, jumped out the window of a moving car, and generally taught us that raising a puppy was not a task to be taken lightly. And he went everywhere with us. We were young and adventurous and he was our companion on the journey.

No matter what changes life has thrown at us, Lincoln was up for them all. He taught us the skills we needed to continue the journey with children, that’s for sure. We didn’t know it at the time, but walking a lab through the woods is pretty much the same thing as walking a child through the woods. Sometimes they run ahead and sometimes they lag behind. Occasionally they’ll walk right beside you and you feel like all is right with the world. And you’d better have plenty of water with you at all times, because they get thirsty. If only we could get our kids to hike ceaselessly without complaining like Lincoln!

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our old friend. Time had taken its toll on Lincoln. His old legs weren’t up for any hikes and his eyes and ears couldn’t see and hear anymore to find things to chase and bark at. Although his body had started to deteriorate, our buddy stayed on the journey with us. He was still at the door wagging his tail and laying at our feet for a pet when things got tough. He loved his family and we loved him to the very end.

As I sit at my desk and write this, sadness washes over me. I know that my four legged companion on this journey won’t ever wander into my office and lay down next to my chair again. His company was always nice, and it will be lonely without him around; he was such a good listener. But my sadness is soothed just a bit by knowing that his pain is over. It had been a long time since he had been up for chasing cows and running on trails, and I know that was as hard on him as it was on us. He was a fantastic companion to Jessi and I for our journey together thus far and for that we are grateful. Yesterday, as he drifted off to sleep, he whispered a few low growls. I whispered “I love you buddy” in his ear and he whispered back. I’m pretty sure he said “thanks, I love you too.”

Reflections on 2014

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As the year comes to a close, I feel obliged to reflect a bit on 2014. I’ve linked some of my favorite blog posts throughout this summary to illustrate my thinking throughout the year. And since no post would be complete without an accompanying picture, I’ve selected one with each of my 3 favorite people from the end of the year – my beautiful wife and I headed out to her company’s Christmas party, my daughter Josie (5) and I at a Gardner-Webb University basketball game, and my son Jack (8) and I at Thanksmas (what our family calls the exchanging of gifts at Thanksgiving instead of Christmas) after we finished assembling his rocket and were heading out to launch it. I love all three of these pics with the most important people in my life.

So on to some reflection on the year…my college English Education teacher taught me once that when you are critiquing a student’s work you should start by telling them something they did well, then be critical of the things you want them to improve, and then finish with a positive comment about the overall work. She called it the “Sandwich Method.” I think it would be appropriate to apply the Sandwich Method to my year.

2014 was a breakthrough year for me in the understanding and practice of mindfulness and awareness. I would not say I’ve perfected the discipline, but as the year went on I became more and more consistent with spending time just being quiet, meditating and reflecting, and observing my thinking. This mindfulness allowed me to feel calmer and at peace more often and had a great impact on my relationships – strengthening many, clarifying a need to eliminate others, and opening doors to new ones. My accountability partner in this endeavor has been Dr. Jason Pittser and to him I am greatly indebted for his reminders to stick with it.

Professionally, 2014 was the year of breaking waves. My first full year with a new company, I finally started to see some of the work that I had put in come to fruition in the form of contracts. I am excited to see this trend continue in 2015 as we have many positive relationships developing that could lead to more fantastic projects for our team. I traveled to some new places for work in 2014 – Sacramento, Kansas City, and London among others and I look forward to some more new cities next year.

Our family had a year of maturity and development as well. Our first big family vacation (2 weeks to the West Coast) was a fun and exciting learning experience for all of us. The real result, however, was a renewed desire to explore in Jessi and I along with a realization that we could do this exploring with our kids. We had some great trips with friends this year as well. We closed 2014 with a nearly 2 week trek to the Midwest to see family and friends for the holidays that found us sleeping in 5 different states in 11 days and re-connecting with some of the most important people in our lives. We have big plans for 2015, so I am excited to continue our family adventures.

2014 left some areas for improvement for me as well. 2013 was the year of running for me as I completed 2 half marathons and my first marathon through a very regimented training plan. I wouldn’t say I ‘fell off the wagon’ in 2014, but I didn’t work as hard as the year before. My weight, body image, and overall feeling of being healthy suffered from my lack of commitment in 2014. I realized that I need goals to work towards, so 2015 will again find me choosing some races to train for so that I can stay on track with my running.

I also had poor sleep habits and gave in to television too much in 2014. Early in the year we dropped our cable to the very basic plan and I had intentions to spend more evenings reading and less in front of the tv. That was good for awhile, but when college football and basketball rolled around I gave in and added the sports channels back on to the cable. The result was too many late nights watching games which cost me both precious sleep and valuable reading time. I love basketball, and I love watching college basketball, so I don’t want to give that up, but I’m going to try to be more disciplined about a consistent, and earlier bedtime in 2015. I know my body will feel better and it will make that running commitment easier as well.

2014 was a pretty good year. I’ve enjoyed blogging here about the various ups and downs of the year. I look forward to continuing to work out my thoughts in writing in 2015 as I have realized how powerful and valuable the working out of the words can be for me. The coming year is sure to have its good times and bad, but I know that if I continue to focus on being in the moment, aware of the people and things around me, mindful of my own thinking and open to the world, the health of my soul will continue to improve. When our souls are healthy, our bodies and relationships follow. Here’s to a healthful and mindful 2015.

Thankful for Friends

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I don’t see them as much as I’d like, but today I’m especially thankful for my friends. These are the guys that I’d still be friends with even if there were no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. The ones that make time for me and who get priority in the scheduling of the hallowed ‘guys weekends.’

Thank you Jason Pittser, Eric Richardson, Brad Mitchell, Chad Plageman, and Judd Blau. Doesn’t matter how long it has been, the conversation picks up like we just had coffee yesterday because we don’t have to start with the unimportant, bullshit small talk. That’s how I know we’re friends. You are as interested in me and my life as I am in yours. That’s how I know we’re friends. We talk about the painful stuff because we know it helps and we can trust each other with those things. That’s how I know we’re friends. We could have a guys weekend in a hotel in Dubuque and it would be just as fun as some of the awesome places we’ve been together because it is the being together that is important. That’s how I know we’re friends.

I love you guys and appreciate your friendship. Can’t wait to see you again.

A Week of Thankfulness

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This picture pretty much sums up my daughter’s personality. She loves life and lives it at full speed. This morning, as my wife and I waited at the bus stop with our kids and Josie spent the entire time making up new games and races for everyone while we waited, I was reminded about how thankful I am that I have two healthy children, who love each other and each other’s company, and who are curious and sensitive.

In a week that calls all of us to stop and be thankful, I’m going to try to reflect each day on a small thing in my life that I’m thankful for and today it is the smiles of my children.