Saturday, June 29, 2013

Twitter: Do Not Throw Out The Baby With The Bath Water

(image source: http://www.spring.org.uk/)

Earlier this week,  I was a part of a conversation regarding Twitter and how it seemed to be getting saturated with promotion and advertising while quality conversations were diminishing. I had been thinking this for a few months, but had been so busy finishing all of the work for graduate school and dealing with the needs of our nonprofit, I had not give it much attention. But the conversation gave me pause to consider that over the last several months I had begun to scroll through what was in my Twitter conversation stream trying to glean out anything of value and skipping the rest. It had gotten to where I was just scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and finding it quite annoying. What had changed? Was Twitter simply not of value anymore? As I began to consider the situation, I began to consider why I had originally begun to use Twitter and what value I had found in it.

As I considered this, I started recalling conversations from Twitter that called me to action. Conversations with people like Kenworth Reeves, Jr. who's motto is "Use your powers for good", Jeff Goins who constantly encourages writers to keep writing, John Crist who's comedy keeps me smiling when days are less than fun, and of course Jen Hatmaker whose transparency and honesty is contagious. I clearly did not want to eliminate these and countless other conversations. I just wanted to shut down some of the noise that my Twitter stream had developed. So, I took a look, and it dawned on me. I was following over 1,100 people and businesses on Twitter. The mere bulk of it had become more than I could digest and the overall quality of what it was providing to me had significantly diminished.

What to do? Run in circles, scream and yell? No. I simply elected to prune the constant stream of conversation back to something manageable. I set a goal of trimming it down to something in the neighborhood of 300 as opposed to 1,100. No, I did not manage to do that much pruning in one setting. But once I had the goal in mind, I then could develop a criteria for the pruning process. If the bulk of a twitter account's was trying to convince me to sign up for a paid service of some sort or one of the dreadful twitter based daily newspapers, I would prune it. If I communicated with a specific twitter user and they would not respond to me, that account could be pruned as well. In a nutshell, I spent a few days evaluating the postings that were flowing through my Twitter stream every time I opened it. If there was not significant value being returned from it, then it was just adding noise to the conversations that I valued.

As of today, I have it whittled down to just over 475 accounts that I am following. And you know what I have found? The quality of the conversations in the Twitter stream has increased dramatically. Twitter is just the medium. We control what it displays to us when we open it. Actively managing the conversation flow is our responsibility.

Are you overwhelmed by your Twitter stream? Try pruning it down and see what happens. Hopefully, I will still be in your conversation flow, but if not, no hard feelings.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

When You Least Expect it


9 years ago, this woman came walking into my life. After two failed marriages and a failed engagement, I was done with marriage or the thought of it. I had lost almost everything emotionally and the two divorces had cleaned me out financially. I was living hand to mouth working a fulltime job, performing computer consulting on the side, and performing electronics recycling to make ends meet. I was drowning in credit card debt, struggling to make child support, driving a car that the A/C had died on and I could not afford to have repaired, and worried I was going to lose the mobile home where I lived. The light of hope at the end of the tunnel was extinguished. I was simply surviving as best as I knew how.

The only real love I knew in life was the relationship I had with my daughter who visited two weekends a month. I remember lying in bed at night staring at the ceiling listening to the words replay in my mind from the exs in my life. It was a grocery list of all my failures. I wondered how my daughter could love me like she did, and I wondered if it too would end one day when she grew up and realized what a failure I truly was.

I continued dating, but it seemed pointless and amounted to a means to fill my time on the weekends when I did not have my daughter. And then, Allison showed up. We had chatted online for a while and then began talking on the phone occassionally. One Sunday night, I dropped my daughter off at her mom's house and began the lonely one-hour drive back home. I decided to call Allison just to pass the time on the return trip. She asked me where I was, and I told her. She seemed suprised, and at first I did not understand why. But then she explained that she lived near where I was. She directed me to a local Ruby Tuesday's and told me to meet her there in 30 minutes. I did not think anything of it, but the thought of dinner with pleasant company was a welcomed proposal so I agreed.

Promptly 30 minutes later, she appeared. I would later learn that promptness was one of her hallmarks. We talked non-stop right up until the waitress brought our check and said they were closing. I looked around and realized we were the only remaining customers. We had been there from 3 hours. So, we did what any sane individuals would do. That is right. We drove across the street to the Waffle House and resumed our conversation. Finally at 2am, we departed.

After that we saw each other every night. One night I would drive an hour to her house. The next night she would drive an hour to mine. I fondly remember walking into work dead tired the mornings after driving to her house. But, I did not mind. The relationship was very different than anything I had ever been involved in before. Instead of judging my financial struggles like most of the women I had dated, she understood and offered to take me to dinner at times. Instead of complaining about the broken A/C in my car during the hot and humid Georgia Summer, she offered her car when we went somewhere.

As much as I was enjoying the relationship, marriage was not on my radar. I would not let myself even entertain the thought. I had failed miserably at it twice. After the first one ended, I had read every book on relationships and marriage I could find. And the second marriage was a bigger failure than the first. I was not marriage material, and I refused to consider it any more.

To make matters worse, when I was dating someone, my daughter would get attached to them. Then I would have problems with the person I was dating and elect to end the relationship, and I would see the sadness in my daughter's face when she got the news. I was tired of breaking her heart too. So it was a while before I even let Allison meet my precious little girl. When I did, Allison loved her. I still remember going to the World of Coca-Cola. When the tour was over, we ended up in the gift shop. Funny how most attractions utilize that marketing scheme. While gazing at T-shirts and such, I looked up to see Allison give Lindsey some cash so she could buy herself a souvenir. It struck me as sweet and selfless. My daughter took the money and bought Allison a gift. I set in amazement watching the two of them and thinking I could learn a lot from both of them.

One night, I was cooking dinner and waiting Allison's arrival. She walked in the door wearing this ankle-length skirt She stopped just inside the door and begin pulling the skirt up towards her knees. I could not figure out what in the world the woman was trying to do. Then she dropped to one knee and proposed to me. I felt all of the air in my lungs escape. I felt paralized in my chest. My mind raced 100mph. All of the books I had read said that you should date for a year before considering marriage. We had been dating two months. I thought about my second marriage that I had rushed into and how it failed. I also knew if I said, "No" that I could provoke the rath of a Southern woman. And I knew all about the rath of a Southern woman scorned. So, I answered, "Yes, but not right now."
Allison was undetered. Six weeks later we were married with my daughter standing by our sides. That was nine years ago.

Over the last nine years, we have endured a great deal together. She has been that quiet steady encouraging voice. She has stood beside me when it seemed no one else was on my side. She has restored my faith in marriage and has demonstrated what love is over and over. We have served side by side building Habitat homes and on mission trips in other countries. We even launched a nonprofit to reduce hunger in our community. She was the encouragement that convinced me to go to Grad school at 47 years old. When I struggled with the workload for accounting classes, she quietly say by while I spent 4 hours a night buried in a spreadsheet. When I became discouraged and overwhelmed, she was the steady voice that kept saying, "You can do this."

Today, this amazing woman celebrates her birthday. I cannot think of anything I could buy that would remotely honor her at the level she deserves. So, I thought I would share with you, her story. This is the woman that walked into my life 9 years ago and restored my belief in marriage and my hope in life. I am grateful for the blessing of having her in my life.

Happy Birthday, Allison.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Headache! - A Father's Day Story



Growing up, my Dad worked construction. One of the jobs he performed was erecting a three-story fertilizer blending plant. This structure would arrive on three semi's with each level lifted into place by a hydraulic crane. Having gone on-site with Pop over the years during any school holiday, I knew that on his work site, one did not holler "Look Out!", because the natural reaction would be to look up. Looking up would expose your unprotected face to a falling object and present an open invitation for an injury. Instead, if you saw something falling, you were to holler "Headache!" which indicated something was falling. Without looking up, you should then run away from the general area around the structure being lifted.

One Thursday afternoon, we received a phone call at the house. From my Mom's general face expressions during the conversation, I knew something bad had happened. Pop's crew had been erecting a blend plant. While lifting the third and final story, a C-Clamp had broken and fell. A new guy on the crew saw it and shouted, "Look out!" Pop looked up just in time for the broken piece of the steel clamp to hit him in the face. It broke his nose, and when he arrived home late that night, both of his eyes were swollen shut. It was almost sickening to see this big bull of a man having to be led around by his hand because he could not see.

I volunteered to be his personal assistant and chauffeur on Friday. One of the errands on his list was to deposit his paycheck at the bank. At the time we lived in a little town in South Georgia population 5,000. And in a small town, the newspaper is published two days a week, Wednesdays and Fridays. But the newspaper was always the second best source of community news. The best source of news was the break room at the two banks. Farmers and retired men would make their way to one or both of these break rooms, drink a free cup of coffee or a cold Coke and share the latest news of the day. Some of them would even sit at one a while and then go over to the other to pass on what they had learned at the first site.

We walked into the bank lobby with me leading Pop by the arm and quietly speaking in his ear. We were standing in a teller line waiting to make his deposit when the bank President spotted us. He made a bee-line for us. Took one look at Pop and said, "Dick, what in the world happened to you?"

Pop did not change the expression on his face or take a moment to consider his response. He turned towards the bank President's voice and replied flatly, "My wife. My firewood. My business." Without any response, the bank President turned and hurried back to his office. Pop turned to me and quietly said, "That will be all over this town in 10 minutes."

I chuckled to myself and the thought of all of the flapping jaws in both bank break rooms as soon as they caught wind of the story. Pop made his bank deposit with me guiding his hand where to sign the deposit slip. He had me write a couple checks to pay bills with me again guiding his hand where to sign them.

When we arrived home, my Mom was standing in the driveway awaiting our arrival. As soon as Pop emerged from the truck, I could hear her question, "What on earth did you say at the bank?" We both busted out laughing. His 10-minute estimate has been pretty accurate. The story had gotten around town and a couple well meaning individuals had called the house to inquire with my Mom what was going on between her and Pop.

When people ask me where I acquired my sense of humor. I tell them I got it honest.

Happy Father's Day, Pop!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Sometimes It Requires Some Heartbreak


Growing up with idols like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, you get the image that a man is rough and tough and does not show weakness. And that worked great for me for years. But when I turned 30, my wife delivered a beautiful little girl. Little did I know that night as I held that small shrieking little bundle of flesh, that this little girl would completely change my heart and my overall disposition.

One night she was sitting in her high chair and her mother was feeding her when she became choked and stopped breathing. To this day, I cannot tell you how I got past her mom to get her out of the high chair. But before I knew what had happened, I had her across my knee and was applying the infant airway maneuver that I had been taught in EMT school. She coughed, her airway cleared, and she began to cry. I held her in a delicate hug and cried like a school child.

Soon she was walking, then running. I cherished the time each evening when the backdoor of our farm house would swing open. And I would hear, "DADDY!" followed by little small tennis shoes running across the linoleum floor in our kitchen as she ran to my office to fling herself in my arms. Several times over the last 10 years, I pull out an old VHS tape to see her smacking a small palm on the glass doors saying, "Dah Dah" as she saw me walking across the backyard.

And then one of the hardest days of my life came. Her mom announced she could not live with me anymore because I was treated her like she was stupid and was too demanding. My little daughter was too young to understand what was happening that night. All she new was that she and her mom was packing a suite case to go to Pop and NeeNee's house. she asked me several times if I wanted to go with them. I told her I did, but her mom did not want me to go. It broke my heart, and I could not help her understand. I stood in the driveway and watched my daughter being driven out of my life. I stood there for almost an hour after they were gone, crying like I had never cried before in my life. Not really mourning the loss of a broken marriage, but the loss of my daughter being in my life daily.
I prayed intently that God would build a hedge of protection around my precious little girl and protect her. I had to trust Him to protect her since I was not around to be able to be her protector.

After the separation and divorce, my precious little girl called me every night before she went to bed. Most of the phone calls began with, "I cried for you tonight Daddy." It would just kill me. And who could I blame but myself for driving her mom away. She would come to spend the weekend with me every other weekend, and I always tried to make it fun. I would see to it that her Barbie Jeep was plugged into the charger before going to bed on Friday nights.

I did my best to make all of her school events no matter what had to be pushed aside. Even after her and her mom moved two hours away, I tried to be there for as much as possible and keep up the weekend visits. I always looked forward to the Summer when she would spend 6 weeks with me. I always wished the Summer would never end. I always loved the beach and the water, and we grew to share that love. I taught her to swim, and after I moved to an apartment in Atlanta she spent several Summers swimming in the pool everyday.

She was my biggest fan when I was racing short track. She would stand on the top of the racecar trailer and walk circles when I was on the track with her eyes glued on me. It killed me that I was never able to win a race for her, because I knew she wanted that so badly. When I finally retired from racing, she did not take the news well. She told me so quite clearly.

When I bought my first Harley. She was so excited and made it clear she wanted to ride it with me. And ride it she did. She listened carefully to what I told her she needed to do as a motorcycle passenger, and fell in love with it. It was a wonderful thing to take her out on the bike. It was our time. The rest of the world could melt away as time stood still and all seemed perfect.

First the nightly phone calls began to stop. They became once a week. Then occasional. Then the every other weekend visits began to be replaced by weekend with friends and concerts she wanted to attend. Then the Summers became a week visit instead of six. Then they stopped. It was not anything personal, she was becoming a teenager and there were more exciting things to do. And I understood.

The tears never did stop. I would see a movie or TV story about a father and daughter and I would be melted into a sobbing mess. I missed my little girl and nothing could change that no matter how hard I tried.

Memorial Day she came over to our house with her boyfriend of to years who was home fresh out of Army boot camp. He sat down to talk with me while my daughter and my wife sorted through the things that remained in the room of our house that has been her for the last 7 years. Despite her infrequent visits of the last couple of years, we had kept it and her belongings just in case she ever decided to spend a weekend. Her boyfriend began a speech he had carefully prepared in his head requesting my permission to marry my daughter and detailing how he would take care of her. I knew it was coming. My wife and I had discussed it for months, but it still did not seem real. He is a fine young man, and I am sure he will do his best to provid and protect her.

My daughter has lived with her mom and step dad and hour away for the last 10 years. But now she will be marrying this young man and moving 11 hours away. I again have to trust God to be her protector because I will be even further out of her life.

I have walked around numb for the last several days. As I have tried to identify what I was feeling, I have realized that it felt and tasted very familiar. And then I realized what that feeling was. I closed my eyes. I could see myself 16 years ago standing at the edge of a brick farm house on a gravel driveway watching the taillights of a suburban fading into the distance with the words of a small precious little girl strapped in her car seat ringing in my ears, "Daddy, don't you want to go with us?"

God blessed me with a precious, sweet, kind hearted, soft spoken little girl to break my heart and make me a kinder and gentler man. I sincerely regret it took this kind of heartache to make me more into His image.