Sometimes You Have to Say No

Have you ever been around that person who does everything? He sits on this board, is a member of this club, is speaking at the next big conference, is traveling to see a friend. He is always doing something and often times lets you know it! He is always tired and needs a break, but just can’t take one because he already committed to something else.

I don’t remember where I heard it or read it, so I can’t give appropriate credit, but “when you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else.”

Think about this. We all have the exact same amount of time: 24 hours in each day. So, when we commit our time to something, we are taking time away from something else. It may be small, inconsequential things like mowing the grass or watching our favorite television show. But, if we aren’t careful it can quickly turn into bigger, much more important things like dinner with our wife, or our kids soccer game, or reviewing a budget.

This is something I have really been paying attention to lately as I technically have three different jobs: two private practices and the Air Force Reserve. It is very hard to juggle all three of these, my family, and the different requests to do things that are constantly coming in. I often feel guilty saying no to people and will likely do everything I can to accommodate them. I have decided that this must change. I am no longer going to say yes to others if it puts the priorities in my life on the back burner. This means church and my family will come first.

So, if you ask me to do something and I tell you “no”, please don’t take it personally. It’s not that I don’t like you and don’t want to help you. It’s that God and my family are more important.

Book Review: The Long Run

I have decided that I am going to start reviewing some of the books I read. My plan is not to review every book, but the books I find to be really good or really bad. There are so many books out there now that I always find it helpful when other people can strongly recommend a book or strongly discourage me from wasting my time on a book. Hopefully, you will find my book reviews helpful in deciding whether to buy, open, and read a book you have heard about! So, here is my first review.

The Long Run by Matt Long with Charles Butler

It takes a lot to bring tears to my eyes. As my wife likes to say to me, “you don’t like the way your emotions make you feel.” She is right of course and over the years I have learned to control my emotions. Therefore, it has to be very powerful to make me tear up. That is exactly what Matt Long’s story did to me. On more than one occasion my eyes welled up with tears and the words became blurry for a second or two.

In The Long Run, Matt Long does a wonderful job telling his story of being an elite athlete with a finely tuned body who meets utter devastation one day only to have his friends, family, doctors, and therapists help him recover and learn to run again.

The story starts in 2005 with Long successfully running the New York City Marathon. So successfully, in fact, that he qualified to run in the Boston Marathon. As many of you know, this is no small feat as the only way to qualify for Boston is to run faster than a specific time for your age and gender. The fact that Long did this shows what a great athlete and how well-trained he was.

Long was also a firefighter, a member of Ladder 43 with the FDNY. He had also completed an Ironman. That’s right, he swam 2.4 miles, then rode a bike 112 miles, then ran a marathon (26.2 miles). As Long tells it, he loved to run and work out. It was something he tried to do everyday.

All of this changed on Dec. 22, 2005. It was the third day of a public transit workers strike and Long had to get to work. It was cold and he had a long way to go, so he jumped on his bike to ride to work. It was on the way that his life was literally changed forever. A chartered bus that was rented to get people to work during the transit strike made an illegal right hand turn. Long never saw the bus and the bus didn’t see him as it ran him over and trapped him underneath it.

The injuries were extensive and can be read about in much greater detail in the book, but they included a shattered pelvis, multiple broken leg bones, a broken shoulder, and a rectum that was all but obliterated by the bicycle seat that impaled Matt and split him in half. The story of the emergency crew and trauma teams saving his life is a story all by itself and a miracle too. Doctors told Long’s family he had a 5% chance to survive.

Even with the terrible odds and 69 units of blood, Long managed to survive. He underwent multiple surgeries and reconstructions. He was told he might not ever walk again. But people didn’t give up on him and Long decided he wanted to do more than walk. He wanted to run! What started as a goal of completing a 6 mile loop in Central Park turned into a goal to become the athlete he once was and complete another marathon.

That’s exactly what Matt Long did. He learned to run and completed another New York City Marathon and then went on to once again complete an Ironman Triathlon. Amazing, truly amazing!

While the story in and of itself is remarkable, what makes this a great book to read is the way it is told. Matt Long and Charles Butler do a wonderful job interweaving the events of Long’s disaster with stories from his past. They give the reader so much more than a story about a man recovering from terrible injuries. They open up the world of Long’s supportive family, his “live life to the fullest” attitude, his wonderful friendships, entrepreneurial spirit (owning several bars), and wonderful job as firefighter. As you reader you connect with Long and cannot help but continue reading this book so you can find out how he made it back.

The reader gets a picture of all the things Long did before his accident and then goes on a journey with him to overcome his injuries and get his life back. Bitterness and depression most definitely find Long. He even asks the question, “Why would God do this to me?” But, his family and friends help him to recover and get his joy in life back. It was not only Matt running a marathon after his injuries that brought tears to my eyes, but also the people who helped him do it. This is a true comeback story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. Anyone who enjoys comeback stories, especially those involving athletes will love this book. It is not only motivational, but it is a reminder of how important family and friendships are both physically and mentally. If you are looking for a good book to read, pick up The Long Run and you won’t be disappointed.

One Proud Dad!

Noah had his first soccer game of the season this past Saturday. He did great! In fact, he scored the team’s first goal. While seeing him score made me proud, I was more proud by how much he has improved from last season to this season.

Last season was often hard for me to watch. Noah just didn’t ever seem to get what he was supposed to do. He hardly ever kicked the ball. Most of the time he would just run next to the ball and next to the other team, but he would never try to kick it. I think the only time he touched the ball last season was if there was no one around him at all and he had no other choice!

This season has been very different. Noah has finally gotten that he is supposed to go after the ball and try to take it away from the other team. After our last practice, I asked him what he learned. He said, “If I take the ball away, I will score!” That is exactly what he did in the first game. He took the ball away from the other team and dribbled straight toward the goal and kicked it right it!

So, like I said, I am proud that he scored, but I am more proud that he is finally figuring out the concept of soccer. I understand it is very hard to teach a kid his first four years of life to not take things and that he must share, but when playing soccer you are supposed to take it away. Hard to understand, I know.

As a parent, I am often proud of my boys. I have come to realize that when I am most proud is not when they do something better than others, but when they improve and do something better than they used to do it. This is what Noah has done this season in soccer and it makes me very proud!

Resilience: a Crucial Characteristic

This past weekend was my monthly Air Force Reserve weekend. One of the things I really enjoy about the Air Force is that there is a constant effort to develop better Airmen. One way this is done is through Wingman Days. These are days that focus on training Airmen to take care of each other and learn about ways to have each others back. With two wars going on and countless humanitarian missions taking place, tempo is fast and stress is high. Unfortunately, this is not always a good combination and people or families get hurt. Wingman days are designed to decrease bad incidents and better equip Airmen to help each other.

This past weekend we had a Wingman Day that focused on the attribute or character of resilience. It was intriguing and I have spent the last few days thinking about what it means to be resilient and why good leaders tend to have this characteristic. I have thought of people like George Washington, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Jordan. All, at one time in their career, had terrible setbacks that easily could have made them give up on their dreams, but instead they bounced back to not only succeed but be viewed as icons or heroes.

I have thought a lot about what it means to be resilient and the best definition I can come up with is the ability to rebound or bounce back after an unfortunate incident. One source I looked at defined resilience as “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation”. I believe a good leader must be resilient or nobody will want to follow him! Every bad incident or unforeseen circumstance will batter and weaken someone who is not resilient and they may not be able to recover at all.

I have thought about three ways I believe people can get better at being resilient or become more resilient.

  1. Have a plan or a goal. It is crucial to have a vision of where one is trying to go. When something comes along and throws a wrinkle in the plan it is much easier to pick back up and move on if there is a bigger goal in sight. Therefore, when something bad happens, a good leader will look at the plan or the goal and realize the bad circumstance cannot stop the organization from moving forward. Bouncing back is much easier!
  2. Ignore the negative. Inevitably, when something bad happens there will be people who doubt and become very negative and say discouraging things. I think a good leader is able to ignore the doubters and get things back on track.
  3. Rely on faith. For me personally, I know that there is a God and He is in control. This fact is so freeing to me. It allows me to know that even when “bad things” happen, God is in charge and there is a reason. Perhaps, it is to get me to quit relying on myself and look to God for help. Perhaps, it is a way to get me to focus more on what path I need to be taking. Time to rebound and get going again!

Without resilience, we will stumble and never be able to reach our goals and dreams. There are many great qualities of a good leader, but the more I have thought about it the more I believe resilience is key. We are not all born with Gumby like traits of being able to recover our shape after being pulled and twisted in different directions. But, I do believe we can develop and become more resilient over time. I believe this will help us to become much more successful in our relationships and life, allowing us to lead others and achieve great things.

How have you become more resilient or how has resilience helped you to become a better leader?

Our Trip to Riverbanks Zoo

As I mentioned in my previous post, last Saturday we took a family trip to the zoo! We had a wonderful time! Noah has been asking for a while if we could go and when I suddenly had a weekend open and free we decided it was time to take the trip. We got the boys up,  loaded the car, and made a stop at Dunkin Donuts on our way out of Charleston to Columbia to visit the Riverbanks Zoo.

It was a great day to go. The weather was mostly cloudy so we didn’t have to deal with the sun beating down on our pasty white skin! The temperature was great at around 65 degrees most of the time. This meant we got to dress normally and didn’t have to haul around a ton of extra jackets. It also meant that the awful, festering stinch that you normally have at the zoo during the hot summer months was not there yet!

I thought I would mostly put pictures in this post so I am not going to say too much more. I will encourage you to read my wife’s blog, The Story of Us, as she has already blogged about our trip.

I did want to leave you with two quotes from the day:

Kelly: “God has the coolest imagination!”

Noah: “The bear is my favorite animal because it eats all the predators!”

A Reminder I am Not in Control

This past week was one filled with frustration and one fill with great joy. I was supposed to be out of town most of the week at a continuing education (CE) conference, SECO International, LLC. Part of my being in the Air Force Reserve is that once a year they will pay to send me to get CE. This year I turned in my paperwork very early and received approval to go to the Armed Forces Optometric Society (AFOS) meeting and SECO. I was scheduled to leave this past Tuesday and come back later today.

In order to go to these conferences you have to register early and make hotel reservations very early to get the best deal (this is important when the government is paying for your trip). So, once I had received approval from my unit saying money was available, I registered and paid for the AFOS meeting and SECO and I made a registration at the hotel that had the government rate. All set and ready to go!

My frustration started last Friday (four days before I was supposed to leave) when I found out that all money for my unit had been frozen. What this meant was that instead of paying for my conference, hotel, per diem, and daily pay, I was going to get NOTHING! I am not exactly sure why the money was frozen, but am pretty sure it has to do with the looming government shutdown and inability of our elected legislators to approve a budget. Anyway, as a self-employed optometrist, I do not get paid days off from my employer. This left me in a situation where I was going to lose out on three work days of pay, going to have to pay for the conferences, hotel, gas, and all meals. There was no way I could afford to do this.

I spoke with my boss in the AF Reserve and we both decided to cancel our trip and try to schedule patients to recoup some of the money we would possibly lose. So, I contacted AFOS and they immediately refunded my registration fee! I also cancelled my hotel reservation and attempted to contact SECO. Attempted is the key word!! I called and have e-mailed them multiple times only to not get any response at all. This is my main frustration. My boss also sent them an e-mail and they refunded his money immediately. As of today, I have heard nothing back. I will be somewhat understanding if they cannot refund all my money, but I will not be understanding at all if they do not at least return my phone call and e-mails. If I don’t hear from them, I guarantee they will never see me at their meeting again. Considering I have at least another 30 years to attend CE, this may not be something they want. I will also make sure I tell all my colleagues to attend a different meeting!

But, despite this frustration, the week ended up being great. When I decided to reschedule patients I knew it would be hard to schedule three full days in one week with only two days notice, so I decided to take Wednesday off. It was a great day! Kelly and I took Noah to school and then we headed downtown where we spent the morning wandering up and down King Street! We love going downtown and it was a gorgeous day. Liam rode in his stroller and we had a great time together. In the afternoon, I got to do some much needed yard work!

My Thursday and Friday schedule filled up nicely. It is always a blessing and relief to not have to stress over losing 3 days of pay! I even finished a little early on Friday and was able to complete the yard work I started on Wednesday.

Yesterday was the greatest day! Instead of being way from my family and sitting in a classroom listening to lectures, we loaded both kids in the car and drove to Columbia and went to the zoo! Noah has been asking to go for a while now so we decided to it! It was a blast! The weather was wonderful, being not too hot or cold and slightly overcast. The kids were great! I will post more about the zoo later with some great pictures.

So, what could have been a very bad week, ended up being one of the best I have had in a long time. It was a great reminder to me that while I like to be in control of things, I am not. God is in control of all situations and He knew I needed to be with my family this week and not away from them. He knew I needed to see He would provide for us financially. He knew I needed a reminder that He is in control of everything and that I need to trust less in myself and more in Him.

I definitely learned more this week by not going to CE lectures than I would have in the 28 hours of classes I was supposed to attend!

I am getting a little bit excited…

Who am I kidding? I am very excited because tonight Noah starts his second soccer season. I am excited for him, but I am more excited for me. I am not just going to be a parent sitting on the sideline. I am going to be the assistant coach!

I played sports my entire childhood. I still love sports! I can’t remember playing sports without my dad being there. He coached me in everything I played…soccer, basketball, tennis, track. He had and still has a great understanding of sports and gave me lots of wonderful advice. He got to share wonderful high’s with me and the terrible low’s, but he was always there and that is what I remember to this day.

Tonight will be the first time I get to coach my own son and I am so excited about it. I can’t be a head coach because games are played on Saturday’s and one weekend a month I have my Air Force Reserve duty. Being the assistant is ok with me because it means I will get to be there and coach him and mentor him into not only being a better soccer player, but being a better boy and down the road a better man.

I will keep you posted on how it goes!

One-on-One Time

Before we left for the show!

I am a little behind, but last Thursday I took the afternoon off from work so spend it with Noah. It was great! I took him to see “Thomas and Friends Live” at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. He had a blast. It was so much fun to see him get so excited. You see, Thomas has been a big part of our lives for several years now. I think we own almost every single Thomas train ever made. We have the little metal trains, the solid wood trains, and the large plastic trains. It has gotten to the point that when we go to Target we don’t even look for trains anymore because they “never have any new ones”. Translation, we have them all!

The show was very good. There were three big trains:  Thomas, Percy, and Diesel. I was amazed at the trains. They are large enough to fit a real person in them and their mouths actually move. Very cool! If you have a kid who likes Thomas, then I highly recommend you find a Live show and take him/her to see it.

Thomas on stage!

All three trains: Percy, Thomas, Diesel. (from left to right)

We got there early enough to grab both of us a bucket of popcorn. I love popcorn and it seems Noah has taken to liking it as well. I have not problem eating it right away, even if the show has not started. Evidently, this is not allowed. Noah yelled at me every time I took a bite because I was “going to eat it all before the show”. Needless to say, I had to wait until the show started to enjoy my popcorn. We both thought it was so good that we got another bucket at intermission!

Noah enjoying his popcorn!

One of the cool things was they sang a lot of the songs from the television show. Noah loves to sing! He jumped right in and was clapping and singing as loud as he could. It was awesome to see!

When the show was over, we went to the sales stand to try to find something. It didn’t take long and Noah spotted a Thomas watch and had to have it. He has really gotten into the time lately and is starting to figure it out. Now he can tell us the time with his own watch!

I wanted it to be a special afternoon, so we went from the show to one of Noah’s favorite places: Dunkin’ Donuts! He absolutely loves to get chocolate frosted donuts, so that’s what we got. We sat there and ate them together before we headed home for the night.

I really don’t know which one of us had a better time, me or Noah. He really enjoyed the show and the popcorn and the donut, but I enjoyed getting to spend time with just him. We don’t get to do it very often now and it really was good for me. So I offer this to other dads out there: take some time off and just enjoy your kids.  You will be glad you did!

Giving a Nondenominational Church a Try

I ran across this article and found it to be very interesting. It discusses the fact that nondenominational churches are growing and denominational churches are shrinking. I find this interesting because my wife and I are seriously considering attending a nondenominational church after having attended a specific denomination for over 10 years and 3 different churches.

This is not something we are considering lightly and half-heartedly. It is a huge decision. We believe the denomination we have been attending is very good. (I am not naming the denomination because I greatly respect it, but those of you who know me, are aware of which denomination I am speaking.) It believes in the Bible and teaches reformed theology. This is a must for us and for our family. It believes that we are all sinners and can do nothing on our own to get into heaven. Jesus is the only way and we must believe in him if we want to spend eternity in heaven. The denomination, in my opinion, has the best and most biblical form of church government. It’s emphasis on scripture makes it one of the strongest in terms of theology.

But, with all the wonderful things about the denomination, there are issues pushing us away. With its emphasis on theology comes a pride that I have not experienced from nondenominational churches. People in this denomination are so convinced they have the best theology that they have become arrogant and disrespectful toward other denominations and other believers. If someone looks different or has different political opinions, then they are judged and looked down on. With the emphasis on head knowledge, this denomination, in my opinion and experience, has forgotten how to love people. Building community and getting to know and love each other is not something that takes place in this denomination like it should.

I have found there is a lot of talk about community, but it never really happens. Groups of people do get together and they have bible studies where wonderful discussions of theology take place. The problem, in my experience, is that this is where it ends. The people don’t get to know each other and they don’t take care of each other. Time spent praying for each other never happens. When people need support, it is always a strain for people to stop their lives for just a little while and help out. If they are truly living out the gospel then this would not be the case. My wife and I have come to realize that people in our neighborhood do a much better job taking care of us and loving us than our church does. We realize this is a problem and have begun looking to fix it. This has led us on a journey to find a new church home and is leading us away from the denomination we have been a part of for so many years.  

Please don’t get me wrong. Not every church in this denomination is this way, but we have had too many of these experiences to continue with the same patterns.

We have found ourselves attending a nondenominational church that people in our denomination have always talked about in a very negative way. (I wonder if they have ever even attending a worship service at this church!)  The preaching has been very biblical and the people have been warm and inviting. We have never been left standing there looking around at others talking amongst ourselves feeling like we must have a third arm. Their nursery is very organized and has a program in place to educate the children until they are old enough to attend church with their parents. The worship style is not our favorite, but we don’t find it to be distracting like we have at some other churches we tried. Next we are going to look into their community groups which also appear to be very organized and much more geared toward developing relationships to help each other grow in faith.

Like the above mentioned article discusses, many people are leaving denominational churches for nondenominational churches. I never expected to be one of those people, but it looks like that is where we are headed. We don’t know for sure yet where we will be attending church, but odds are it will be at a nondenominational church. Perhaps one day we will be back at a denominational church, but for now we need a break. We need the gospel and we need other believers in our life.

For My OD Friends

Have you been keeping up with what’s going on in the blogosphere? If not, you are really missing out. I have recently found several great blogs related to optometry and specifically vision therapy. If you have not seen the VisionHelp Blog, it is a must read.

I have also found several blogs written by parents and actual patients.  I found these from the above, The VisionHelp Blog. I believe these are fascinating and think every optometrist with any interest in vision therapy should read them.

Hope you enjoy these!  If you know of any good blogs related to optometry, please let me know so I can follow them as well!