What Memorial Day Means to Me

Memorial Day, for most of us, is a day of joy – parades, barbecues, family, and friends.  We celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great nation, our way of life, and our freedom.  There was a time in my life where Memorial Day made me uncomfortable.  Celebrating death felt odd.  Throw in the hot dogs, the drunk Uncle, and the background swimming pools and the odd feeling becoming a disturbing one. I see things differently now.

Before, I explain how I see things differently now, all me to explain, as I see it, the realities of the sacrifices we honor on Memorial Day.

About 1.1 million Americans have died fighting in uniform.  Statistics are literally mind numbing.  They utterly fail us in our ability to comprehend the sacrifices that we are celebrating.  We’ve each had (or will have had) a loved one pass away.  The pain, confusion, and grief caused by these losses are beyond description.  I pray that few of you have ever witnessed a person die in combat.  Of the 1.1 million sacrifices we honor today, let’s grab just one person out of that statistic.  Assume the actual number is 1,100,001 and we are going to grab that stray “1” and think about him for a moment.

Stay with me.

We’ll call him Tony.  Tony was a star high school football player in Des Moines, Iowa and an excellent guitarist thanks to his grandfather’s tutelage.  He enlisted in the Marines after High School to serve his country because Tony believed in America and he believed in the American Spirit — he was also tough as nails.  After his first tour of duty, Tony married his High School sweetheart, Juliette.  Juliette was a Middle School history teacher and a gifted painter.  Their two boys, Michael and Joseph — twins, were toddlers whose days were filled with reckless abandon.  Getting them to sit quietly through church each week was possible only through divine intervention.

One day, Tony had to leave home for a deployment.  He and Juliette cried softly as they said goodbye.  Michael and Joseph hugged their father goodbye and both were adamant in their one and only request – “Go get the bad guys, Daddy!”

Months later, Tony’s platoon was ambushed.  Tony never had a chance.  His wounds were fatal but his death was not immediate.  He screamed and  writhed in unspeakable pain as the black blood pooled out of his wounds.  Surviving members of his platoon held his hand tightly as Tony bled out.  His screams of pain softened into boyish cries for his mother, his wife, and his children . . . and then to whisper as he prayed to God as his mouth gushed blood.  In his final moments on Earth, there was no hospital bed, friendly nurse attendant, or family gathering.  He was thousands of miles away from his home, afraid, and alone save his brothers in arms who wept as they dutifully and delicately placed his corpse in a body bag.

War is hell.  I didn’t enjoy writing that and I know you didn’t enjoy reading it.  However, if you read the equivalent summary story of each unique 1.1 million sacrifices who we honor today, you would need 4 years without sleep to do so.  That’s more than our feeble minds can comprehend.

We cannot possibly honor our fallen brethren by attempting to process the details of 1.1 million deaths, but we can think of people like Tony.  Tony had hopes, dreams and a vision for his future.  On the day of his death, he had no warning that those dreams were already placed squarely in the crosshairs of the enemy.

If Tony, from the other side, was watching your Memorial Day, how would he want you to celebrate?  How would he want you to live?  The answers to these questions explain my change of heart about Memorial Day.  I don’t even know Tony because he’s a fictional character representative of the sacrifices we are honoring today, but I have a pretty good idea of what his answers would be.  He would ask us to celebrate with joy and love.  He would ask us to cherish every moment with our loved ones — along with each bite of our hot dogs and sips of our beer.

What is our obligation to Tony beyond today’s holiday?  When he enlisted in the Marine Corps, he handed a check to our country.  The check was written in the amount of “all I have, up to and including my life.”  Tony didn’t die in excruciating pain in a foreign land because he wanted to.  He died defending our nation and our way of life.  I suspect if you asked Tony to answer that question for us, he would respond as Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Saving Private Ryan did – “Earn it.”

We “earn it” by living free where we stand.  You don’t have to take up arms and fight the enemies that killed Tony.  But you do have to claim your responsibility of doing whatever you can, whenever you can, wherever you are to carry on the American traditions that Tony graciously sacrificed himself for.  What traditions?  The traditions of chasing your destiny, helping your neighbors, leading your community, raising your family with values of honor, respect, and faith.

Tony died defending America from the enemies without but today the greatest threat to America, as Thomas Jefferson predicted, is from within.  We are the defenders of freedom and liberty on the domestic front.  How do we fight this front?  Lead!  Lead your family, your neighborhood, your community, your church, your city, your county, your state, and your nation by helping, mentoring, and honoring each other.  The political stage cannot divide us, we need local leaders who recognize that we the people, with our God-given rights, hold the American Spirit in our hearts.  This spirit, which knows no surrender, perseveres through all and is the bedrock of our freedom and liberty.
Happy Memorial Day!  Have a cold one for Tony.


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The One Breath That Sabotages Your Conversations

Breathing — the most fundamental human function. We, rightly, emphasise our breathing when we are in the process of accomplishing something formidable.

Giving Birth – “breathe, breathe, breathe”
Trying not to lose your temper – “deep breaths, deep breaths”
Meditation – “breathe in, breathe out”
Lifting weights – “Don’t hold your breath. Breathe!”
Running – “Breath in through your nose, not your mouth”

What about in our conversations with one another?  You may have never thought about this, but I challenge you to. Most people listen to another person until they think of what they want to say. What do you do then? You take a deep breath and then hold that breath until the other person stops talking. Unfortunately, the moment you take that breath, the person you are talking to subconsciously knows that you’re listening less intently and waiting to speak.  The other person wraps up their thought.  And then you exhale with your words, and the other person does the same thing. Repeat — ad infinitum.

I present you two challenges.  First, observe this phenomenon in your conversation and others. Observe how that deep breath affects the speaker’s speech – their tone, their cadence, their pace. Notice how that breathe you take and hold puts the other person on notice – “I’m ready to speak now, wrap it up.” Notice how that process adds stress to the conversation.  That stress can be removed.

Secondly, I challenge you to stop this.  Try the following for even just one day.  Listen intently and patiently – continue to breathe in and out. When the other person is done talking. Wait for a fraction of a second.  Take a small breath – inhale and exhale . . and THEN begin your response. At first, the delay will feel like a lifetime. Trust me, it’s not. Actually, don’t trust me. Try it for yourself and watch how your interaction takes on a new feeling. The conversation will feel more meaningful and you will put the other person at ease. If the person you are speaking to feels at ease, even if they don’t know why, they will leave the conversation knowing that talking to you made them feel good.

Listen. Wait until the other person is done talking. Take a small breath – inhale and exhale. And THEN speak.

If breathing plays such a large role in every other challenging activity we engage in, is it unreasonable to think it would in our conversations as well?

I look forward to hearing your feedback.


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(Podcast) Leading with Vision

The week’s podcast is about leading with vision. What is vision? More importantly, how does a leader provide that vision not just FOR an organization, but TO an organization. Many leaders overlook the fact that an organization is nothing without its people; therefore, it is critical to discuss with the individuals you lead your vision for THEM within the organization and its future. The episode digresses down the path of politics due to callers’ comments and questions.

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Poem for the Soul

In these trying times sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the larger picture. This poem by Rudyard Kipling always helps me to do just that. Enjoy and share with a friend if you agree.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
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(Podcast) Leaders Needed. Today!

This week’s podcast discusses the disturbing trend of the inability of people with differing political opinions and ideologies to communication in civil fashion about these differences.  History is very clear on this.  When the conduit to communicate is severed, expect violence.  We are not immune to this consequence.

How do we reverse this trend?

We need leaders at the local level to step up.  I look forward to your feedback on the show.

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