Reunion

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I attended two different reunions this past weekend. We had our 40 year high school class reunion on Saturday, and our 81st family reunion (on my mothers side) on Sunday. They both took place in my hometown of Saginaw, Michigan.

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I like reunions. I like them because they make me think. They make me remember. They make me relive and understand better where it is I have come from. That’s not always a great picture, but it is a real picture. I truly believe that the person that I am today, right now, at this very moment, is the culmination of every event, interaction, and person that God has placed in my life, from the moment of inception until now.

Nothing happens by chance. God knew from the very beginning of time what family I was going to be born into. He knew who my friends and classmates were going to be. He knew Janet before I did, and brought us both together at just the right time. He knows every breath that I am ever going to take, and He certainly knows the last breath that I will ever draw.

reunion-inviteReunions are a way of remembering how our lives are sewn together. A patchwork of different people all thrown into the mix. It’s about cousins and Aunts and Uncles getting reacquainted with each other, and remembering those who are no longer with us. It’s about re-telling old stories and looking at all of the tattered photographs from years gone by. It’s about how it all began on some old farm that existed long ago.

Reunions are about walking into a room and seeing a bunch of your old classmates and immediately going back in time. The giggling, the laughing, and sometimes the blushing, at memories from way back when. It’s about how each person has touched your life in some way, shape, or form. From your best friend, to the classmate you barely knew, each interaction adding to the outcome of your life.

We all have the tendency to slide off of the path from time to time and to get full of ourselves. To think that we are where we are because of who we are. Because of what we have done. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are who we are, and have done what we have done, because God has allowed it to happen. He has molded, shaped, and designed us to be exactly who we are.

There are 7 billion people on this planet for a reason. We are not meant to be alone. Reunions remind me of that. They remind me that God has infused people into my life, just as He has extracted people out of my life. Each having varying degrees of impact as to who I am. This also reminds me, and in no subtle way, that every interaction that I have with someone else, however large or small, has an impact on their life as well.

family_hug.jpgMy hope is that as I reunited with some of my cousins and Aunts and Uncles and old high school classmates this past weekend, that I was able to interact with them in a way that was God honoring. That I was able to get out of the way of myself and to show them the love, and the respect, and the kindness that they all deserve.

Reunions are one of Gods ways of reminding us of where we have come from. They are also His way of letting us know where we should be headed.

 

What a great weekend it was! God bless all of you!

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John

 

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WHEW! That was quite an experience! Nothing like having a few hundred volts of electricity sent coursing through your heart to bring your purpose, or actually God’s purpose for you, clearly back into focus.

I am a stubborn man by nature, as my wife, Janet, has all too often had to point out to me, and of which I cannot deny. This became very clear back in the early part of March. I will not bore you with all of the details, but let’s just say that I woke up one morning with a little heart fluctuation issue. Now most people, after an hour or so of this, would probably call a doctor or go to the hospital. Me being the manly man that I am (stubborn), thought I would tough it out for a bit and it would eventually just go away.

THREE DAYS LATER (very stubborn, and not that bright), Janet and our daughter insisted on taking me to the emergency room. I was so exhausted that I could no longer conceal what was going on. I walked into the emergency room and told the very nice lady at the check in desk that I was having a heart fluctuation issue. She right away directed me into a room where there was a nurse waiting to check my vitals. She sat me down and calmly began to take my pulse. The next thing I know, she is on the phone calling what sounded like the medical equivalent of the swat team.

She walked me directly across the hall and opened a door to a room with no less than ten medical professionals just waiting for me. They of course laid me down on a table, started putting in I.V.’s, and began strapping electrodes all over my chest. The doctor asked how long my heart had been racing like this. It was now Wednesday afternoon, and I told him that it had been beating like this since Monday morning. Everyone in the room just kind of stopped and looked at each other. Then they all turned and looked directly at me.

Me, trying to lighten the tension in the room, said, “what seems to be the problem, doctor?” He, the doctor, was apparently not a lighthearted kind of guy. He quite directly and matter of factly told me that my heart rate was at 206, and had been in that range for the past three days. They had to get me out of that rhythm as quickly as possible. They started by injecting me a couple of times with a drug that was supposed to bring my heart rate back down to normal. That did not work. That is when they decided they needed to shock me back into normalcy. That did the trick.

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I ended up spending the night in the hospital for observation. They conducted some more tests and concluded that there was no damage to my heart. One of the attending medical professionals mentioned that I should have been wearing one of those fit bit’s. He said that it probably would have measured that I had run the equivalent of over ten marathons (I guess I can now check running a marathon off of my “bucket list”). All of the medical professionals that I did see during my stay did say the same thing: “Don’t be so stubborn and wait so long if this ever happens again”.

This was not one of my better moments and I realize now the risk that I was taking by doing nothing. Being stubborn is not one of my finer qualities and never has much of an upside to it. It also made me realize, once again, how fragile life is and that tomorrow is not promised to us.

This experience started to bring things back into focus for me. What is God’s purpose for me? Even if I don’t know exactly what that purpose is, I do know that doing nothing is not an option anymore. No more waiting. No more procrastinating. No more doing nothing. In James 2:17 it says: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

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I’m not going to continue to spend my days having faith and not doing anything about it. God has blessed me with a passion for writing. A passion for sharing my thoughts, my ideas, and my journey, with others. It gives me the chance to be an open book and to share my faith in a way that I might not be able to do otherwise. I stopped writing because I got “busy” with other things. Other things that I now know were not that important, but were just my way of putting off what God had been whispering in my ear for such a long time to do. I may just shine shoes for a living, but that does not define who I am. God has intended and created all of us to be more than what our day jobs are. He has created us and given us the opportunity to have faith and to take action that reflects that faith.

I am sharing all of this with you now for a couple of reasons. One is so that you will continue to know a little more about me and who I am. The other reason is so that you will help me to be held accountable. Accountable to take an action. We were not meant to take this journey by ourselves. I certainly know that I cannot do it alone. I need others to come alongside and help me on this rocky road we call life. Holding each other accountable is part of that journey.

God touched my heart in a very special way back in early March. Even if it did take a few hundred volts of electricity for me to really feel it.

God bless all of you and the actions you take today!

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John

Transparency

A follow up to the last blog that I wrote, dated January 20th, 2016, and titled, “Things will never be the same.” In that post I mentioned a talk that I was invited to give in Dallas, Texas on February 24th. It was at Park Cities Baptist Church during a luncheon for about 100 people made up of mostly baby boomers and seniors.

I was a bit nervous to say the least. Not only because this was the first big talk that I was giving since my book was published back in October of last year, but also because I was one of the younger people in the room. I was surrounded by people who were mostly older than me and much wiser than I felt at that moment. One of the participants who I met was 94 years old. I was thinking to myself, “what am I going to be able to say to these people that they haven’t already heard before.”

To my surprise, shock, amazement, and any other adjective that describes being completely blown away, this turned out to be one of the most awe inspiring and fulfilling moments of my life. For 40 minutes or so I was able to open up and share my life, and the story of my transformation, with a group of complete strangers.

As I was speaking and looking around the room, I could not help but see so many people wiping away their tears. I could see them nodding their heads as if to say, “I hear you. I’ve been there. I understand that.” I felt a bond and a connection that I had never felt before. As I told my wife, Janet, on our flight home that night, I felt moved by the Holy Spirit. It was as though I had opened up a big window into my soul and allowed them to take a look inside. I WAS BEING TRANSPARENT.

imageI had the opportunity to meet a lot of the people who attended the luncheon after my talk. Many of them shared similar stories of some of the pains, the hurts, the sorrows, and the dysfunctions that occurred at one time or another in their own lives. They all had different stories to tell, but each and every one of them said the same thing to me, “thank you for your transparency.”

Being transparent is not an easy thing to do, and by no means is it always completely necessary. Our lives do not need to be open books. Some things are meant not to be shared. But for the important things, the things that we keep inside of us that are real, that are serious, and that are authentic, more often than not these things need to be shared.

Sometimes it means being able to share with a good friend, or a close relative, or probably most importantly (for me anyway), with a spouse. Other times it can mean talking to a counselor or someone who is trained to listen to what it is that we have to say. And then sometimes it can mean, as thankfully it did for me, that we open up to a room full of complete strangers.

I have found that being transparent builds trust. It lets people know that you can be vulnerable. It lets them know that they are not the only ones with issues, or concerns, or problems. That we might all have a lot more in common than we would like to actually think.

My tendency for the better part of my life was not to be transparent. I had built up so many walls and barriers around me that it became almost impossible for anything or anyone to get through. I kept so much stuff inside and bottled up that when it did finally come out of me it was usually not a pretty or pleasant experience.

It’s like having a festering wound that never gets treated and continues to spread. The longer you let it go the worse it becomes. There are only a few ways to treat a wound that has gone on for so long and has become extremely infected. You can cut the part of the body off that is sick, or you can administer heavy doses of antibiotics and hope that they will kill the infection.

The problem is, with wounds that are not physical in nature but are emotional, there is nothing to cut off or to treat with antibiotics. One of the only ways to excise these emotional wounds is to acknowledge them and to talk about them. To start to become a little more transparent. I say this not as a psychologist or any type of expert in this field, but only from my own experience over the last eight years or so.

After accepting Christ into my life back on January 12, 2008, my walls did start to come down. The festering that had been going on inside of me for so long did start to break apart. I did not have to cut anything off or take massive doses of antibiotics, but I did need to become more transparent. Transparency was something that God allowed to happen in my life. It was Him who started opening up the doors and creating the opportunities for me to share my story.

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None of what has happened to me over the last few years has been by accident or was some kind of coincidence. I didn’t receive a phone call over a year ago from a book publisher by shear luck. I wasn’t asked by Dr. Nat Burns with Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas to come and talk to his group by mere chance. It wasn’t a coincidence that on the same day this past weekend, at different times but within a 60 minute span, that a Doctor of Psychology, a Pastor, and a college senior, all approached me and wanted to talk about my story for different reasons.

None of this stuff just happens. It does happen, however, because God took an individual who for the better part of his life (time wise, not quality of life wise) learned to keep everything bottled up inside of him and out of sight of everyone else. God took this individual and said, “John, it’s time to be a little more transparent.” It was time to share my story and God was the only one who could, and who can, open up the avenues and pathways in order to make that happen. He has changed my life in ways that I never would have thought were possible. He has not only allowed me, but He has constantly shown me, the importance of opening up my life to others. To share my story so that others may feel freer to share theirs. To be transparent.

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God bless,

John Early
John

The ShoeShine Guy

Things Will Never Be The Same

Happy New year to everyone! I hope that you are all looking forward to 2016 as much as I am. It has been a while since I have written anything. Actually, a little over three months now. This is not because I really didn’t have anything to say, but more so because of my very real tendency to procrastinate. Not the best of traits to have, and something that I am really going to try and work on for this year, starting tomorrow (just kidding).

A lot has happened since October. The most significant event being the birth of our imagenew granddaughter, Savannah, who was born on December 12th. She is happy and healthy and looks just like the baby pictures of her mother, and our daughter, Jennifer. Which means that she will grow up to be absolutely beautiful, just like her mother and her grandmother (brownie points in case you weren’t keeping track).

I have also, over the last few months, been writing down thoughts and ideas that have been popping into my head. I have notes and scribbles on scraps of paper all over the house. I write them down as I think of them so as not to forget what it is that I would like to talk about (my memory bank is not that big). My goal for 2016 is to spend a lot less time staring into that big black box that I have hanging on our family room wall, and a lot more time pursuing what it really is that God has called me to do. That calling is to share my story. My story of transformation, of total surrender. The story of doing life down the middle and to quit beating around the bush. To quit worrying about being so politically correct and to say what is truly on my heart.

I have come to realize that I need to be “all in” with my faith. I cannot be a 1/2 Christian or a 3/4 Christian. Being all in, all of the time, is not an easy thing to do. It was not easy for Abraham or for Moses. It was not easy for King David and certainly not easy for the apostle Peter, who actually had a front row seat to Jesus and all that He was and did. Being all in takes time, it takes discipline, it takes an extreme conscientious effort. But more than anything, it takes being totally surrendered to God.

imageBeing totally surrendered to anything is never easy. We are not conditioned that way. Especially as a man. We are built to be warriors. To win the battle. To defeat the enemy. To overcome any obstacle. We are brought up to be in control and to take charge and to lead. Who wants to ever surrender. But that is exactly what God calls us to do. And not just a little bit, some of the time, but completely surrendered, all of the time.

This does not make us weak. On the contrary, it can only strengthen us. It is not easy to be a complete follower of Christ. We were never told that it would be. In fact, in John 15:18 Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.” And in Matthew 10:22 He says this, “And you will be hated by all for my names sake.”

For a guy like me who has always wanted everyone to like him, this is not easy at all. I have had to come to terms with the fact that people will unsubscribe to my blog. That there are those who will not appreciate what I have to say. That people will actually not want to be around me because of what I believe. I have to be okay with all of that. I cannot own what others think or feel. I can only own who and what I am.

I have several speaking engagements coming up in February and March. A few in Texas and a couple in the Detroit area. These are talks in relation to “10 Bits Of Wisdom From The Shoe Shine Guy – A Transformed Life”. They are about my particular journey and how God has transformed my life. But also, they are about my struggle to be totally surrendered to God.

My natural tendency would be to put together a talk that is colorful and entertaining. Something that is much more at the surface, which is what I did when I started the process of writing “10 Bits Of Wisdom” over a year ago. Fortunately for me, and for the people who have had the opportunity to read the book, I have a wonderful wife who has never been about the surface and won’t allow me to keep going there. She has always challenged me to go deeper and to share what is deep down in my heart, and not what is only in my head. I am looking forward to sharing my story with people that I have never met before. To be able to possibly touch people’s lives and to be able to connect with them in a way that only God can make happen.

There is a song that is sung by David Crowder called, “Oh The Glory Of It All”. One of the verses that is repeated over and over is “Things will never be the same”. This refers to one’s life after accepting Jesus into it. This has resonated with me for over eight years now. My life has not been the same and will never be the same. God has called me to do things that I would never have imagined. He has stretched me beyond anything that I would have thought possible.

If you get the chance I would ask you to take just a moment, get to a quiet place, and close the door. Listen to this song and see if it doesn’t move you as much as it does me. See if it doesn’t stir up the feelings of peace, and of love, and of hope. Just see where it takes you.

I know that my life will never be the same. My hope is that you can get to that place too.

Have a blessed day!

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John
The Shoe Shine Guy

October 2, 1982

“And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all that I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-8

Something extraordinary happened to me back on October 2, 1982. I didn’t know it at the time, I had no clue whatsoever, but I was about to embark on a journey that would change the course of my life forever. On that beautiful fall day 33 years ago, I had the good fortune of getting married to someone who has been my rock, my confidant, and my best friend ever since, my wife, Janet.image

I am not just saying this as a way of scoring some brownie points with my wife. I am not telling you this to try and make you believe that we have had a fairytale marriage for all of these years. I am not even telling you this to say that marriage is for everybody and that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. No, I am telling you this for a very specific reason. I have come to believe over the last couple of years, as a man who has learned to open up his heart and share bits and pieces of his life with others, that this was a very important piece of my life that needed to be shared.

In both my blog and in my book I have opened up about many different events in my life. I have spoken of certain incidences or periods of time that had a profound effect on me and on those around me. I have done this because it has not only allowed me to come to terms with a lot of stuff that I was bottling up inside of me for so many years, but also with the hope that by sharing some of my life with others, that it would allow for them to do the same thing. To begin the process of letting go.

My marriage to Janet was the beginning of that process for me. But like any new process, there are usually many kinks that need to be worked out of the system. This was no exception. We had many bumps and bruises, plenty of nicks and scratches, and more than our share of broken bones along the way. There were times that we just plain thought that this was just not going to work. That we should just give up and call it quits.

But we never did. Love kept getting in the way. Love has a way of doing that to a relationship. As much as we let our own selfishness, and stubbornness, and hurtful natures take hold of our lives, we could never let go of our love for each other.

There is a reason that God tells us that love is the greatest gift of all. We can all have many different talents and be good, or even great, at so many different things. But if we don’t have love, we have nothing at all. It took me a very long time to truly understand this. It took God sending some young kid from Saginaw, MI all the way down to Corpus Christi, TX to meet the person who would show him what love really means. It took a 1300 mile journey and a chance meeting to open my eyes. Only God could do something like that.

imageAs Janet and I celebrate our 33 years together, we are of course much older, and certainly more aware of what it is that we have together. Much more so than those two young kids of long ago. We understand that even though life is a winding, twisting, up and down roller coaster ride, and that you often times have to hang on for dear life, that as long as we hold on to the deep love that we have for each other, nothing will be able to throw us off of this ride.

This was not, and is not, an easy concept to grasp. As a man, this was very difficult for me to understand for a very long time. I was a man! I was a warrior! I was not going to let an emotion like love weaken me. I would of course say the words “I love you” often and buy the obligatory flowers on all the right occasions. I was doing all of the “right” things that you are supposed to do when you love someone. But this was all of the surface stuff that I was so often guilty of falling into.

I had to see for myself and experience what real love was supposed to look like. I had to learn what love was all about and feel deep down what that particular emotion was. Love is not something that we are born with. It is an emotion, and like most of our emotions, it is learned through time and experience. I had hidden most of my true emotions for most of my early life. I didn’t want to be hurt, ridiculed, or be made fun of. As a natural introvert, this became easy for me to do. Until, by the grace of God, Janet came into my life.

Janet, as anyone who knows her will tell you, is the extrovert in our relationship. She holds nothing back and lets her emotions run freely. Janet has taught me many things over our 33 years together. One of her greatest gifts to me was showing me what the true meaning of love was. A deep, sincere, compassionate form of love. By her unselfish example of the love that she pours out to not only me, but to everyone she knows, I was able to start to grasp the gift that God gave to us all. The gift of love.

I also finally came to the realization that deep, true, meaningful love does not weaken a man. It only makes him stronger. Jesus, the greatest warrior who ever lived, had the weight of the world on his shoulders and yet loved like no other.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians about the awesome power of love. He states that love is the greatest of all human qualities. My hope is that I can continue to grow in my understanding of love. Also, that by sharing my thoughts and feelings with others that they too will be able to better understand what real love is all about.image

In the meantime, I want to say Happy Anniversary to my wife of 33 years, Janet. I want to say thank you for your unending love for me. For the example that you are of an unselfish, ever thoughtful, always caring child of God.

I love you always and this blog is for you.

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John Early
The Shoe Shine Guy

Let’s Go Below the Surface, Shall We

imageI decided about a week ago that it was time for me to write another blog. It had been about a month since my last post and I just thought that I should just hurry up and get something else out there. I did what I usually do when I get ready to write. I found a nice quiet place, got out my yellow legal pad and my favorite pen, grabbed the dictionary (which I use often), and sat there for a moment thinking about what might be a good topic. The word “passion” kept popping into my head. I decided that’s as good a topic as any, so let’s write about passion. And write I did!

I spent the next 5-6 hours writing about what I thought passion was all about, and about what it meant to me. I was passionate about this! I was passionate about that! I was passionate about a lot of things. I thought, WOW, I’m a very passionate kinda guy. I had several pages put together about all the things that I was passionate about . I wrapped the whole thing up with some nice quotes from some famous people, added some remarks on how we can all find our passion in life, and signed my name to it.

Boy, was I proud of myself. I had put together another blog that I could share with the world, and now I could go and sit down and relax and watch the football game.

Janet, my wife, my rock, my best friend and my biggest supporter, had just gotten home from running some errands with our good friend, Bre. I asked them if they would please read the blog before I posted it (which Janet always does). A mere formality because, of course, I was passionate about this blog.

Thirty minutes or so went by and I went into the kitchen where they were hanging out and said, “Well, ready to post?” The looks that they both gave me were not what I was expecting, looking for, or had anticipated.

One of the reasons why I love Janet so much is because she is brutally honest with me. Always! She always lets me know exactly how she feels. She pulls no punches with me, or with anyone else. And she punched me right in the gut on this one.

“John”, she said, “what is this about? What does it even mean? You listed off a bunch of things and activities imagethat you get excited about, but this is not passion. Everything that you just wrote on this paper is surface stuff. None of it comes from the heart. Passion is from the heart. You need to go below the surface. You need to share your heart, your feelings, your deepest thoughts with the reader. You need to drop a few layers of protection and get that ‘tough’ man in you out of the way.”

Okay then, I thought, that was brutally honest!!!

I thank God every day for Janet. I thank Him for putting someone in my life who is not afraid to speak the truth to me. Someone who doesn’t sugar coat everything just to make me feel good. I thank God that this woman has stood by me for 33 years through thick and thin, good and bad, happy and sad.

I grew up in a household where real feelings were not shared. Hugs were not commonplace, and the words, “I love you”, were seldom said. I grew up in an environment where we never went below the surface. Janet has taught me, and obviously continues to teach me, that I need to go below the surface. She has taught me what it looks like and what it means to open your heart, to bear ones soul. She has shown me how to peel away all of those layers that we put on to protect ourselves and to get down to the real self.

I spent the better part of last week thinking about what it was that I had written in my feeble attempt to describe passion.The more I thought about it, and continued to read it back to myself, the more it reminded me of a very bad Seinfeld episode. I said a lot of things about nothing really important, AND, none of it was even funny.

It became clearer to me as the week progressed as to what it was that Janet was talking about. She knows that when I do open up my heart, and bear my soul, that what I then write about is real, and not sugar coated.

I can’t sugar coat writing about the child that we lost years ago. I can’t sugar coat writing about the struggles that I’ve had in the relationship between my son, John Shay, and myself. I can’t paint a pretty picture about how Janet and I went through counseling on several occasions throughout our marriage and came close to calling it quits a few times.

Writing, I have come to realize, is a special gift that the Lord has given me. It is a gift that allows me to go below the surface. To be able to open up my heart and my soul and to share things which are important and meaningful in my life. It allows for the possibility that others might find some meaning, or connection, or insight into something that they may be going through as well.

When I sat down to write that blog post a week ago I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I was doing it just to get something out there. I was in a hurry and remained completely on the surface.

God, and my wife Janet, continue to remind me and to show me that it is completely okay to be a man AND to have feelings. These two things do not need to be mutually exclusive from each other. Men, just like women, do have tear ducts, and we do cry. We shouldn’t have to do it only when no one else is watching.

I have come to better understand over this past week what I am passionate about. I am passionate about my God. A God who grabbed ahold of my heart on that cold, crisp day back on January 12, 2008. A God who long ago brought a woman into my life who fueled a passion for what it means to have a meaningful relationship, a marriage, a true friendship. A God who allows me, and encourages me, to go below the surface and to share my heart, my soul, and my faith with others. To not be afraid of looking too meek or mild or being concerned that others may perceive you that way.

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As I continue to read through scripture, and try to understand the life of my savior, Jesus Christ, I find that not only was he a man that was very meek and mild, but also that he was at the same time the greatest warrior that mankind has ever known. I pray that I can continue to strive to be more like Him, and to be able to share my life and my story with others.

This is what I am passionate about, and I am only beginning to scratch below the surface.

Have a blessed day,

John EarlyJohn Early
The Shoe Shine Guy

Shepherd or Sheepherder?

What is your Leadership Style: Are you a Shepherd or a Sheepherder?

Think about this question for a moment. Are you a shepherd or a sheepherder? Many people might think that these two are the same; however, they are definitely not.

A shepherd is one who tends to the sheep; who leads from the front; who draws the sheep to himself. A sheepherder is someone who drives sheep; who herds from the back of the flock. These are two very different styles of managing sheep and two very different leadership styles of managing people.

Shepherding has been around for thousands of years and considered the Eastern way of taking care of sheep. The shepherd leads his flock in the direction they need to go. The sheep look to the shepherd as their leader. As the one who will take care of them and who always has their best interest in mind. The sheep feel protected, cared for, and know that the shepherd is always watching out for them.AJGM48-1680x1050

The western style of managing sheep is somewhat newer (hundreds of years). It involves driving the sheep, similar to a cattle drive. By driving from the back of the flock, this allows the sheepherder to handle many times more sheep than a shepherd would be able to do from the front of the flock. By driving sheep this way, the sheepherders know that there is going to be an attrition rate that they have to take into account – sometimes as high as 30% of the flock. If you consider some of the massive sheep ranches in Australia or even in the US, you begin to understand why they may drive thousands of sheep at a time. They need to start with this many because they know they are going to lose a significant number.

1917212_origThe shepherds from the Eastern parts of the world manage much fewer sheep. Their flocks are in the hundreds. Everyone in their flock is extremely important to them. They are all valuable and they don’t want to lose a single one.

The following is a story, which explains the difference between driven and led. Joe Batten is one of the grand old men of public speaking and a member of the national Speaker’s Association Hall of Fame. He wrote the best seller “Tough-minded Leadership”.  Some years ago, Joe was meeting with a group of 35 corporate CEO’s for a daylong seminar. Early in the presentation he asked how many were leaders in their company. Every hand in the room went up.

Joe smiled and said, “I’ll ask you the same question after I share this true story with you.”

“In the Middle East there are two countries separated only by a common border, which each have large sheep and mutton industries.  The cultures of the two countries are radically different, and they are hostile to each other. In fact, they have fought wars with each other and they are fighting as we speak.

In one country, the shepherds walk behind their flocks.

In the other country, the shepherds walk in front of their flocks.

In the country where the shepherds walk behind their flock, the quality of the mutton and the wool is poor, and it is not a profitable industry.  In the country where the shepherds walk in front of their flocks, the quality of the mutton and wool is excellent and the profitability is high.

In the flocks where the shepherds walk behind and drives and pushes, and corrects, and is always in charge, the young sheep grow up afraid to stray from the flock for fear of being rapped up-side the head by the shepherd’s staff, or having the dogs sent out to round them up.  They have no opportunity to explore for the better grass and water, or to play with other young lambs.  They simply become obedient, passive and apathetic.  By the time they are grown, they have lost all initiative. They are not really healthy.

In the country where the shepherds walk in front of their flocks, the young lambs have plenty of opportunity to stray, play, experiment, and then catch up to the flock. Instead of feeling overly controlled, compressed, repressed, depressed and suppressed, they feel free, empowered, enhanced, and stretched. They eat more, sleep better and grow up large and healthy.  They are truly led.

Joe Batten then asked the assembled executives once more, “How many of you truly lead in your company?” Not a hand was raised!

This story drives home the importance of leading from the front and by example.

Lt. Colonel Hal Moore, who led one of the first fighting forces into battle in Vietnam and co-authored the book “We were Soldiers”, which was later made into a movie, told this to his men before they left for their first encounter with the enemy: “I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God, that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off, and I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together. So help me, God.” This was a leader who not only led from the front but cared for each and every one of his men.

In John 10:11,14 it says:

“I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

ecfc9d2cd1e6353911818bf772e99fc8I always thought that I was a good leader. I realized a few years ago that I was wrong. I had the leadership style of a sheepherder. Whether at home or on the job, my style was to bark orders, give directions, and drive people. I drove people in order to get the job done. To achieve the end results that I was looking for. This had the effect that is a common result of sheepherding. There was a certain degree of attrition, and it drove a wedge between some very important and valuable relationships. I had to learn to move to the front and to lead by example. To give the people I was trying to lead the respect, dignity, and the compassion that they deserved.

Changing my leadership style after so many years has not been an easy task. It is not easy to change anything that we have done a certain way for the majority of our lives. However, sometimes change is called for. Change is needed for growth. Change is required for healing and redemption.

In Jeremiah 23:1, it says:

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”

The explanation for this verse in the NIV Bible is that, “leaders are held responsible for those entrusted to their care. Remember that you are accountable to God for those you influence and lead.”

We all have the ability to lead, and in fact are all called to lead in some form or fashion at different times in our lives. It may be as the stay at home parent raising our children, or at our place of work. It may be that we are called to lead in one of our social circles, or in some capacity at our church. Whatever the situation, and whenever you happen to be called to lead, think for a moment about what it means to be a good shepherd, and then what it looks like to be a sheepherder, and then go out and lead your people well.

Isaiah 40:11 – “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.”

God bless,

John Close-Up (498x700)

John Early
The Shoe Shine Guy

Exciting News!

It has been over six months since my last blog post. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t have anything to say or that nothing was on my mind (although I have been accused before of having nothing on my mind). There has been plenty on my mind and I have had plenty to say. The reason for no blog posts over that period of time is because I have been busy writing a book. Yes, a book!

I was contacted late last year by Waldorf Publishing out of Dallas, Texas, about the possibility of writing a book. They got my name from someone who I had never had the opportunity to meet, but was a Shoe Shine Guy customer and had been reading my blog. This had been something that I had thought about doing many times over the years, but because of my tendency to procrastinate I just never got around to pulling the trigger. The phone call from Waldorf was just the push that I needed.

It took me about four months to write the book and has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The book is titled: 10 BITS OF WISDOM FROM THE SHOE SHINE GUY – A TRANSFORMED LIFE. It incorporates some of what I have written about in my blog over the last several years, but delves much deeper into my experiences in the business world and my personal life, and how the two interacted over the years. It talks about priorities in life and how mine were misplaced for so long. It talks about how God changed my life forever on a cold, crisp January day back in 2008.

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The book will be released this October and can be ordered through Amazon as of the 19th of October. My hope is that by sharing my story and some of the pain that I went through, and a lot of the pain that I inflicted on others, that I will be able to touch some lives. That others will be able to see that no matter where we find ourselves that there is hope for us all. That we can all be transformed through Him.

In the meantime I will continue to be The Shoe Shine Guy. I will continue to shine, and to fix, and to take care of all your shoe and leather needs, just as I have been for the past four and a half years. I will continue to write my blogs on a more frequent basis now, and will continue to look forward to all of the nice comments and conversations that have come my way over that period of time.

Janet and I want to thank everyone; family, friends, and all of our customers, for all of your support over the last four and a half years. You have all made what we do an enjoyable and rewarding experience, and we could not be more blessed to have you all in our lives in some form or another.

We have put together a web page for the book, www.10bitsofwisdom.com, and we will continue to update and add to it as we get closer to the release date for the book in October. In the meantime, I have written a few words that have been on my mind lately and wanted to share them with you. Enjoy!

This week’s blog:

WORDS MATTER

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24

Have you ever stopped to think about the power of words? Their true meaning? Their inference? Their ramifications? Have you ever stopped to think about the effect that the words we use can have on others? Words are a powerful tool. They can be used to brighten someone’s day, or they can be used to tear someone down.

 words_matter

Our language and our words are an awesome responsibility that are not meant to be taken lightly. Words are a gift, and a gift is something that is to be treasured and taken care of. We were given this gift of language so that we could communicate well with others. To communicate in a positive, uplifting, and encouraging kind of way.

But that is not how we always use our words. Sometimes we are callous, demeaning, and down right hurtful with our words. We use words to get back at others, to put them in their place, to get even. We use words to start rumors and to talk about others behind their back. We use words that for a brief moment can make us feel good about ourselves, but can have a negative, lasting impact on others. We very often use words the wrong way.

For most of my life I was proud of the fact that I had a quick wit, a wit that I defined and explained away as being part of my “sense of humor”. I came to realize after about 50 years or so that this quick wit was often times more hurtful than helpful. It was more discouraging than encouraging. It was a defense mechanism that I had incorporated into my demeanor long ago to cover up for my insecurities and shortcomings. It was something that I often used to make me feel better about myself. The problem with that was that it more often than not came at the expense of making others feel worse about themselves.

I used the art of language and words the wrong way for a very long time. This is not something that I am at all proud of and is also not a very easy habit to change. Having a quick wit is not something that just easily goes away. Sometimes words just jump off of my tongue before I have the chance to reel them back in. And once they do get out into the open air, there is no getting them back.

I’ve had to learn to slow myself down. To be more conscious of the words coming out of my mouth. To think about what message I am trying to convey and what is the best, most positive and encouraging way to do that. I am trying to take my quick wit down to a medium wit (if that is at all possible). This does not mean that I have to lose my sense of humor. What it does mean is that I need to be more aware of each situation and to think more precisely about what it is that I am trying to convey to someone else. I need to choose my words more carefully and make sure that I am conveying words of respect, kindness, sincerity and affirmation.

 words matter

The right words can build a person up and set them on the right course for a lifetime. The wrong words can do just the opposite. Mother Teresa once said: “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” Think about the words that you speak today. Think about how it is that you would like to be spoken to and do the same to others. How we communicate and how we speak to others will echo for a very long time, and will send out a ripple effect that will touch peoples lives for longer than we can know.

Have a happy, productive, exciting and blessed day!

John EarlyJohn Early
The Shoe Shine Guy

Thanksgiving and Psalm 23

One of my favorite days of the year happens to be Thanksgiving, and one of my favorite passages from the Bible is Psalm 23. I thought I would reflect on both.

It’s Sunday night as I’m writing this, three days after Thanksgiving, and I’m still full from all the turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie that I consumed. Why do I eat so much on this one particular day of the year? I continue to tell myself (usually Thanksgiving night right before I go to bed and I’m about 8 pounds heavier and in some discomfort) that I won’t do that again. So much for will power or self control.image

I really do love Thanksgiving though. Not only the food and being able to get together with family and friends, but the whole idea of “Thanks Giving”. Taking the time on this one day to reflect and give thanks for everything that has been provided to me and my family. I appreciate the fact that we celebrate this day as a country as well. That we set aside one day a year to acknowledge what it is that we are all thankful for. I’m especially grateful that I have the opportunity to do this not only on Thanksgiving but everyday, to be able to thank God for everything, EVERYTHING, that He has given me.image

I’m thankful that THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD AND I SHALL NOT WANT. Even though there are times that I find myself wanting. That HE MAKES ME LIE DOWN IN GREEN PASTURES AND HE LEADS ME BESIDE QUIET WATERS. Always guiding me through life as long as I remember to keep my eyes focused on Him. That HE RESTORES MY SOUL and continues to bring me closer to Him.

I’m thankful that HE GUIDES ME IN PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR HIS NAMESAKE, and that even though I veer off that path way too often He always brings me back. I’m so thankful that EVEN THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL BECAUSE YOU ARE WITH ME; YOUR ROD AND YOUR STAFF GIVE ME COMFORT. How can I possibly be afraid when I know that God is with me, that He is always by my side. It says in Romans 8:31 – “If God is for us, who can be against us”? That gives me great comfort.

I’m thankful that YOU HAVE PREPARED A TABLE BEFORE ME IN THE PRESENCE OF MY ENEMIES, which assures me that you protect and watch over me at all times. YOU ANOINT MY HEAD WITH OIL AND MY CUP OVERFLOWS which means that I have an abundance of anything and everything that I could ever want.

I’m thankful that GOODNESS AND LOVE WILL BE WITH ME ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE, no matter what hardships, trials, or tribulations come my way, and that I WILL DWELL IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD FOREVER. FOREVER, not the eighty or so years (on average) that I have here on this earth, but FOREVER.

imageIt is so comforting to know, and something that I cannot possibly be thankful enough for, that for all that God has provided for and given to me in my lifetime, that so much more awaits in eternity with Christ. In Philippians 1:23 Paul reflects on this, stating that to be with Christ is much better by far than anything you could possibly have here on earth, but that as long as the good Lord keeps us here there must be a reason, and that we are to continue to search for that reason and make the most of the time that has been given to us. I am thankful for the time the Lord has given me, extremely thankful. God has provided me with so much that I could never begin to thank Him enough.

So another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Good food, good friends, good family time. Plenty to be thankful for. As Christmas fast approaches there will be a lot going on and plenty of distractions for all of us. My prayer is that we can all keep our eyes on what is really important, what really matters, what gives us our meaning in life. Keeping our eyes on Him.

God bless and have a wonderful holiday season!

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John Early
The Shoe Shine Guy

Autumn

How does one describe the perfect day? The perfect picture? The perfect landscape? How do you convey to someone else what real beauty means to you? How do you describe Autumn?

Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year.  That season that falls right between summer and winter.  It is usually void of too many extremes.  Not too hot, not too cold.  It’s a comfortable time. Pleasant. Relaxing.

imageBut the thing that strikes me most about Autumn is the beauty of it all.  I am hard pressed to come up with another time of the year that exudes so much natural beauty.  I truly believe and understand that every day is a gift from God, and that in itself makes it a beautiful day.  But for me, God turns it up a few notches in Autumn.

It’s as if you’re looking at a Van Gogh landscape bathed in neon lights.  In a matter of weeks, or even days, the trees, like a chameleon, change colors.  The most vibrant reds, the brightest oranges, and the almost translucent yellows.  It often looks as though someone has hit the switch and actually turned the trees on.  This time of the year, this landscape, this season, has always been special to me.  It has been my favorite for as long as I can remember.

imageThe thing about seasons is that they don’t last.  They are just that, seasons.  Here for a little while and then gone.  I think that is what makes them so special; they always give us something to look forward to.  This Autumn will be gone soon enough.  Then Winter will settle in for a bit (usually much longer than a bit).  Then Spring, then Summer, and then Autumn again.  Life is one big cycle.  One changing season after another.

I think that God does this for a number of reasons.  One is to let us know that nothing is constant, except for Him.  Seasons come and go, people come and go, but He never changes.  No matter what “season” we happen to be in at this time in our life, He is right there by our side.  Through the harshest winter, or the hottest summer; He is there.  Whether we are having a good season or a bad one, He is there.

That always gives me comfort.  Knowing that no matter what comes my way, good or bad, happy or sad, pleasant or not, that He is there.  He is my Autumn.  He illuminates my day for me.  He puts the color in my life.image

Seasons will come and go.  The leaves will fall off the trees and the snow will come.  Springtime will show up, summer will arrive, and then, we will be back at Autumn.  All of this happens for a reason, most of which is beyond our understanding.

Whatever your favorite season is, or your favorite day, or your favorite moment; Remember that it was created by God.  He alone gives us our moments, our time, our seasons, our Autumn.

I thank Him for that every day and I hope that everyone can find their “Autumn” in their life. Ask Him and He will show it to you.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…

God Bless,
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John Early
The ShoeShine Guy