My Mom Was My First Best Friend

I went to Houston this past January to celebrate my grandfather’s 96th birthday with my family. I arrived on a Thursday and my grandfather’s party was on that Sunday, which was the same day I was headed back home to Nashville. We sang “Happy Birthday”, my grandfather whispered a prayer and blew out his candles, and we all had too much cake. It was an amazing afternoon. After the party was over, my Dad asked me, “When do I need to take you to the airport?” I replied, “2 hours.” My Mom then looked down and walked in the other room. The silence began and all you could hear was the “tick tock” coming from the grandfather clock in the living room.

I’m a Mama’s Boy. I always have been. My Mom and I have never had a problem having too much fun. The problem we have is having to say goodbye to each other after the fun is over. Unfortunately, it will never get any easier because she was my first best friend.

Raising me, my Dad was always more concerned with me doing what I was told than he was being a friend. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s what made him such an incredible Dad. My twin brother and I were doing what brothers do as kids, testing each other’s patience until our parents had to break it up. My sister and I really didn’t find any common ground growing up because she was 5 years older than me. Then there was my Mom… George Strait Super Fan #1. When I hear people say that music brings people together, I say, “Amen”.

I remember listening to George Strait’s very first album “Strait Country” with my Mom when I was little and being so confused when the song “Blame It On Mexico” came on. “Mom, what is George blaming on Mexico?” I can’t remember her response, but I can only imagine the creativity that she had to come up with to answer my question. As a parent myself now, I can really appreciate the creativity that’s required to answer your kids’ questions. I get bombarded with questions on a daily basis from my four-year-old son and I probably only know twenty percent of the answers (most likely less than twenty percent). By the way, it wasn’t until my first shot of tequila that I fully understood why George was blaming Mexico.

Over 30 George Strait albums later and counting, I have some of the best memories with my Mom that a son could ever ask for. Each one of those albums representing a chapter in our lives that we will cherish forever and never forget. Some of the albums are harder for us to listen to than others as we get older due to such good memories, especially his Christmas albums for me. George Strait recently released a box set called, “Strait Out of the Box: Part 2”, which is a compilation of 56 of his greatest hits ranging from the years 1996 to 2016. There are three CD’s in the box set and the first CD has hits from 1996-2000, the second CD has hits from 2001-2008, and the third CD has hits from 2009-2016. When the album came out, I called my Mom to ask her if she had listened to it yet and her response back to me was, “Yeah, I’ve listened to the third CD, but I can’t listen to the first two.” I knew exactly what she meant when she said that. I stuck with listening to the third CD as well. I wasn’t ready to walk down memory lane on the first two CD’s either.

When it was time for me to go back home to Nashville, I went and told my grandfather that I loved him and Happy Birthday once again. My Dad then asked me, “Hey John, are you ready to go to the airport?”, and I started to tear up before I even looked over at my Mom. I could hear her starting to cry too. The fun was over and it was time for us to say goodbye. The one thing that we both hated to do the most. I gave her a hug and we didn’t say much. We didn’t have to. The tears covering both sides of our faces said it all. I can’t wait to see my Mom again, my first best friend. However, I’m already dreading having to tell her goodbye. I hate telling her goodbye.

I love you Mom… IFLY. Happy Mother’s Day.

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My Most Recent Regret: Not asking the question, “Would you like some company?”

One of my favorite parts in Dr. Kevin Elko’s book “Touchdown”, is when he explains how everybody goes through different seasons of their lives. For example, you have “the high-school season; then, the four-years-in-college season; the dating season; the starting-out-on-your-own season; the just-married season; and on and on. Each season of your life calls you to make something of it.” Well, I am currently and forever will be in the helping others season of my life and just like all of the other seasons, you learn from your mistakes. My latest mistake is also my most recent regret.

A few months ago, my daughter was in the Pediatric ICU at the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. It was starting to get late, so I told my son it was time for us to leave and I asked him to go give his mother and sister a hug and a kiss. Before we left, my wife asked me if I could go get her a Dr. Pepper out of the vending machine. I made sure I had some money and I was on my way. As I opened the door that lead to the vending machine, the first thing I saw was a man sitting on a bench right across from the vending machine. I gave him a nod without saying a word and I turned my back towards him to buy the drink. My natural response when I run into someone I don’t know has always been to ask them, “How are you doing today?” However, I couldn’t ask that question this time because I already knew the answer. I could tell by the pain I saw in his eyes when I opened the door that he was not doing well. I knew that look. It was the same look I had every time I saw my reflection anywhere on the Pediatric ICU floor. It’s the look that says, “Lord, help me. I’m down on both knees.” As I inserted the dollar bill in the vending machine, I kept searching for something to say to him. However, I couldn’t find the words. I then reached down for the Dr. Pepper and I left, without saying a thing.

I was caught off guard. I got back to our room, kissed my wife and daughter goodbye, and my son and I went home. I started the car and as soon as the radio came on, I turned it off. I decided to drive home in silence because I wanted to make sure I could hear the words of what I was supposed to say to that man if they came to me. Twenty minutes later driving down I-65, they did. “Would you like some company?” That’s all I had to say. A very simple, yes or no, non-intrusive, polite question that could have made all the difference in the world for the both of us.

Regret is a tough thing, but it’s a great teacher. If we could all go back and change some things from our past and handle certain situations differently, I’m sure we would all jump at the chance to do so. Kenny Chesney recorded a song written by Dean Dillon and Bill Anderson called “A Lot of Things Different” and it talks about doing just that. Some of the most powerful lyrics in the song are:

“I wish I woulda spent more time with my Dad when he was alive, now I don’t have the chance. I wish I had told my brother how much I loved him before he went off to war, but I just shook his hand. And I wish I had gone to church on Sunday morning when my Grandma begged me to, but I was afraid of God. And I wish I would’ve listened when they said ‘Boy, you’re gonna wish you hadn’t’, but I wouldn’t. Oh I, I’d done a lot of things different. People say they wouldn’t change a thing, even if they could. Oh, but I would.”

I would too. One of the many great lessons my Dad taught me was that when life rings the bell, you answer it. I regret that I couldn’t answer the bell this time, but… Never again.

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The Bad Wolf: “Don’t get out of bed yet… Hit the snooze button.”

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

A friend of mine recently sent me a nice comment saying that she remembered when I told her about the parable of the Two Wolves. This meant a lot to me because I didn’t know it had such a positive impact on her. I’m so thankful for her kind words and that’s why I chose to share the story of the two wolves with all of you.

It’s a fight. Every waking minute, it’s a fight. For me, my fight with the bad wolf begins as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. It’s the first voice I hear, “Don’t get out of bed yet… hit the snooze button. You exercised yesterday, you don’t need to run today. Sleep longer, you don’t need to eat breakfast. Who likes oatmeal with blueberries anyway? There’s a McDonald’s right by your office. You can get an Egg White Delight (with cheese) and a large coffee. The coffee there is much better than the coffee you make here at home in the Keurig. I know McDonald’s is not part of the budget, but who cares? Dave Ramsey doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

All of this happens in the first minute of me being awake, and for the record, Dave Ramsey does know what he’s talking about. The bad wolf is relentless and no matter how motivated and inspired you are, he’s always there. His goal is to make sure that you don’t reach your goals. He wants you to surrender every day and his favorite words to hear you say are, “I’ll just start tomorrow.”

You have to starve him. If you are going to close the gap from where you currently are versus where you want to be, you have to feed the good wolf and not the bad one. So each morning when my alarm clock goes off, I make the decision to feed the good wolf, “Get up, don’t hit the snooze button. You are going to feel great after you finish running. Man, I actually like oatmeal with blueberries and this Keurig Folgers Classic Roast coffee is awesome. You are dominating your budget this month. Keep it up. Dave would be proud.”

Two totally different mindsets, two totally different results. All within the first minute of a brand new day. The choices made in that very first minute will set the tone for the next 16 hours and it doesn’t get any easier. You can silence the bad wolf before you get to work, but once you get to work… it just so happens that someone put some doughnuts in the break room. He’s back.

“John, go ahead and grab a doughnut. You deserve it. You ran 3 miles this morning.”

He’s got all day. You haven’t even sat down at your desk yet. So as the Cherokee taught his grandson, the wolf you feed is going to win… Feed the good wolf.

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“Milk”: I Know What I’m Fighting For… What Are You Fighting For?

“Milk, Milk, Milk, Milk, Milk, Milk, Milk, Milk…” That’s what my 17-month-old daughter Katherine kept repeating in my left ear as I held her close and paced up and down the hallway of the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. She was on NPO, which comes from a Latin term meaning “nothing by mouth”, and she had not had anything to eat or drink because she was supposed to have multiple procedures done that day at 12:00PM. However, we were experiencing a delay and it was almost 1:30PM. My little girl was thirsty.

We took a small break from the pacing, so my wife and I could sign what turned out to be the last consent form… this one coming from the anesthesiologist. Just like the previous doctors that stopped by to see us, we were informed of all the risks associated with our daughter’s procedures. We once again signed the form and gave our consent. My eyes were starting to tear up, so I tried to look for a different hallway to take my daughter where my wife couldn’t see us. I didn’t want her to see the tears that were starting to fill up my eyes, fall down on my cheeks. You’re supposed to be strong in the hospital (at least that’s what I tell myself) and I wanted to show strength, but the consent forms broke me. I wish they would just do the procedures and not tell you all of the risks involved. I wanted to protect my daughter from those risks, but I couldn’t. All I could do was pray, so I prayed and I whispered in her ear “everything is going to be alright” and her response back to me was “Milk”.

I then thought back to one of my favorite movies, Cinderella Man. It’s based on a true story about boxing champion, Jim J. Braddock. Braddock was an incredible fighter and life was good for him and his family until the Great Depression hit. Jim was able to score some fights during the depression, but due to a broken hand, he got booed out of the ring. The boxing commission then revoked his boxing license for being such an embarrassment to the sport. This led to Jim not being able to pay the electricity bill and keep the heat on for his family, which caused his children to start getting sick due to the cold weather. They were also running low on food and could not afford to buy any more milk.

Now comes the second chance. The challenger who was supposed to fight the #2 heavyweight contender in the world, Corn Griffin, got hurt the day before their scheduled bout and had to back out. No boxer out there would fill in for the injured challenger and take on Corn Griffin with only one day’s notice, except for Jim Braddock. Since Braddock was willing to take the match, the boxing commission agreed to let him fight again. He was expected to lose badly and not make it past the first round. With an empty stomach, Jim showed up to the fight a day later and knocked Corn Griffin out in the third round. This stunning upset gave Jim the opportunity to continue fighting and he ended up getting a shot at the title. Prior to winning the heavyweight championship, a reporter asked Jim, “What’s changed, Jimmy? I mean, you couldn’t win a fight for love or money, right? How do you explain your comeback?” Jim goes on to answer the question and sums up his response with,

Jim: “And this time around, I know what I’m fighting for.”

Reporter: “Yeah? What’s that, Jimmy?”

Jim: “Milk”.

I think it makes all the difference in the world when we know what we’re fighting for. Simon Sinek is great at teaching this and he says that everyone has a ‘Why’, which is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires people to do what they do. My ‘Why’ has changed through the different seasons of my life and I always get a little lost when this happens. However, it always tracks me back down. I know when my ‘Why’ finds me because it wakes me up in the morning and sometimes in the middle of the night before my alarm clock has the chance to. It’s the fire in my belly that makes me think I can run through a brick wall. I’m obviously physically not able to do that, but in my mind, I feel like it’s possible and that’s all that matters. When life starts to get tough, I can still hear my daughter asking me for “Milk” in my left ear and I start fighting back because I know what I’m fighting for. That was the worst feeling in my life not being able to give my daughter something she wanted and that’s what milk represents to me. It represents being able to give my family everything they want and need to make all of their hopes and dreams come true. And it also means to actually give my kids milk when they ask for it. Especially my daughter, I hate telling her no.

After her procedures were done that day, she quickly asked again for “Milk” and we didn’t have to say no this time. I don’t know who was happier… my wife and I, or Katherine.

What are you fighting for?

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How My Daughter’s Rare Blood Disease Taught Me What Rocky Balboa Taught His Son

My life changed forever when my daughter was diagnosed with Plasminogen Deficiency at 4 months old. Plasminogen Deficiency is a very rare blood disorder that can lead (and has led) to the formation of severe fibrous depositions on mucous membranes throughout the body. The day I learned that my daughter would have this blood disease forever was the day I learned what it really meant to have a bad day. I also finally understood what Rocky Balboa meant when he told his son,

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

Well life hit me with a haymaker and it beat me to my knees. I was knocked out for a long time, but I didn’t want to be down permanently. Abraham Lincoln once said, “To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.” So, I took Honest Abe’s advice and I decided to go try and help someone else.

I met a gentleman who was hurting and I started to help him. After a few months, we were having breakfast one morning and he looked at me and said, “John, before you came along, I was in the deepest, darkest, blackest hole and you pulled me out of it. I thank you for it, my wife thanks you for it, and my kids thank you for it.” I then looked at him and said, “Before you came along, I was in the deepest, darkest, blackest hole and you just now pulled me out it because of what you just told me.” Out of all the success I’ve had in my career, that was the most significant moment in my life. We were two people that were wounded who helped each other get back on their feet.

That’s why I’m starting a blog. I want all of us to help each other through life’s journey and help each other take the hits. Leadership is one of my biggest passions and I would love to share with you what I know and what I’ve learned up to this point in my life on leadership. I’ve been through a lot and I’ve worked with some great leaders and I’ve worked with some not so great leaders who all taught me very valuable lessons. I plan on sharing those stories with you and I know that they will add value to what you are going through in your own lives. If my blogs help even one person out there, it will be well worth it for me. I know I can help you, so please follow me down the Green Brick Road.

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