Essentials…

It’s the Holiday Season once again.  If you’re like me, you simplify things by saying “Holiday Season”. It’s not an attempt to take Christ out of Christmas, it’s an effort to say more by only saying two words. The “Holiday Season” incorporates all of the things I love…Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and of course who could forget…college football bowl season?!

During this season we are all busy shopping for the perfect gift, throwing parties or attending parties. Does it have to be this way, though?  Isn’t the most important thing making family memories or starting a new tradition with those you love?  I often find myself wrapped up in moments with my wife and sons amazed that we have a priority on making memories as a family. This is a huge step in the right direction for my family tree.  Growing up, my mom did her best to make family traditions memories. I know this season had to be stressful for her. I’m so grateful for her sacrifice and what she provided for us!  One of my favorite Christmas memories is when my brother and sisters and I got the same Indiana University sweatshirts!  It was great to live in the Hoosier state and represent!  There are certain things that I find are necessary in order to make the Holiday Season successful. Creating lasting traditions or fun family memories are some of the essentials!

I love dreaming big of what my sons are going to pass on to their kids, not just during the Holiday Season, but in general.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own methods of survival during this season each year. We can allow our calendars to get swamped and we lose time space and margin for our Christmas Parties, activities, shopping, etc.  Is there a way to take back our calendars and breathe easily during this time to make meaningful memories that will be passed down to the next generation?  

I’m reading through Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism.  I love it so far. I wonder in our own family trees what would this would mean if we incorporated the concepts and lifestyle changes described in his book with our own families?  We are all on a journey on this thing called a “timeline”.  We don’t live isolated in our own generations.  Each generation passes traditions, habits, etc onto the next generation.

McKeown’s theory states that “most of us make a millimeter progress in a million directions instead of making the most effort in one or two essential directions”.  Someone who exercises Essentialism chooses to do what they want to.  Instead of life happening to them, they choose to live life on purpose by only doing what is essential for their family.  

I’m confident that most of us don’t wake up and think “I’m going to suck at life today, I hope my life falls apart or I hope people hate being around me”  No one makes an intended effort to do these things but if we had, to be honest, there have been days that we’ve lived these statements out.  We’ve sucked at life. We’ve experienced family dysfunction and people have hated being around us. Here is something I’ve had to learn. If I spend my life worried about making everyone happy, I’ll disappoint everyone in some way.  So, I’ve had to answer the question “What is essential for me succeed at this life?”  If we don’t live life on purpose, life will just happen to us and we’ll allow our calendars and schedules to fill in the margin we used to have.  

I want to create memories with my family that our boys will cherish and pass down to their children.  I hope they pass our traditions down and the Ulrich name is said proudly because our lifestyle and reputations go before us.  I hope my sons’ children never have to live a life of survival but that they will thrive because of what Shad and Carson do and how they live their lives.  This won’t be accomplished if we attempt to make a millimeter of progress in a million directions, though.  We need to make the biggest progress in one or two essential directions and make the biggest impact in life.  

What about your life?  Are you attempting to do it all?  Are you trying to please everyone?  Or maybe you are simply standing still not attempting to do anything positive. We must be purposeful in our endeavor to make things better. It won’t happen just because we want it to.  Find one or two essential areas in your life where you need to live more “on purpose”. Write them down, and commit to them. Allow yourself to say “no” to good opportunities in order to say “yes” to the BEST opportunities.

Have a purposeful and meaningful Holiday Season!  

Me…Part 2.

So the harsh reality of my life is that I don’t know much of my family history.  I’m on a journey to find as much out as possible.  I firmly believe that in order to make tomorrow better we must learn from the past.   I’ve collected some thoughts, facts, and other details below.

My mom’s parents lived on the southside of Chicago where they attended the Covenant Church.  They vacationed and spend the weekends in Northern Indiana.  At some point, he and my grandmother decided to move out of the city with the intentions of raising their family outside of the craziness of Chicago.  Who could blame them? This was the era of Al Capone and Dean O’Banion.    

They decided to move to North Central Indiana where they had previously spent vacations and weekends.  The purpose of this move was to start and raise their family somewhere safer than Chicago.  I’m not sure what a hard working couple living in Chicago saw in corn and bean fields, but my grandparents envisioned something beyond themselves for sure!  

After they moved, it would be several years before they had their first child. During this time they attended The Covenant Church of Donaldson, IN.  They led student ministries among other areas. They would drive around the surrounding area picking up teenagers to bring to church.  They invested in the next generation before their own children were born.  I’m amazed at adults who are willing to invest in the generations behind them.  I love the next generation and believe in them more than I can express!

My grandfather, Ephraim Nelson, started an electrical business in Plymouth, Indiana. Through his electrical shop, he was even able to help the town of Plymouth install some of the lighting needs.

My grandparents attended and  served in a church, invested in the next generation, started a successful business and eventually started their family. My Uncle Ken was born first.  My mom, Karen, was their second child. She was born on March 26, 1948.  Ken and Karen Nelson attended West School System in Marshall County.  By the time my mom attended high school, West School System was closed and became part of Plymouth School Corporation.  She rolled with the punches during that transition.  Karen had endured many other transitions by that time in her life, therefore, this wasn’t that big of a deal.  

My grandfather passed away from Leukemia when my mom was a toddler. My grandmother raised her two young children even though her own health issues took over her life.  She died when my mom was six years old.  My mom can still remember the day she died it’s actually her first vivid memory.  My great aunt and uncle moved to raise my mom and uncle in Plymouth, IN.  

My great Aunt Amy and Uncle Roy moved from Chicago to Crawfordsville to raise their own family.  After the death of my grandparents, they moved to Plymouth, IN where Uncle Roy found a job and acclimated to a new community. They raised my mom and uncle like they were their own children. My great aunt and uncle even experienced their niece and nephew’s teenage years with all of the hormones and joys of puberty. Their experience was as parents, not as aunt and uncle because Ken and Karen were their children now. All this after they had already raised their own children. I can’t even imagine what that would be like.  Uncle Roy Horner died when my mom was 16 years old.  

Before my grandfather’s death, one of those teenage boys he invested in promised my grandfather that he would do his part in helping his family because of what my grandfather meant to him and how he influenced his own life.  That investment would pay off in ways no one could even imagine or measure!  

My mom graduated from Plymouth High School in 1966. She attended a business college in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  She returned to Plymouth, IN where she found work in the hospital as a medical transcriptionist. This is where she retired from.  

She married my dad in 1971 they were divorced…. My mom’s Aunt Amy, who raised her and my uncle as their own, died when my older sister, Marie, was a year old. To recap my mom’s life: her biological parents died before she was six years old, her great aunt and uncle raise her, her uncle dies when she is 16, she married my dad who was going on his second marriage and the man and woman who raised her died shortly after her first daughter, Marie, is born.  My older brother and I were born.  While my mom was pregnant with my youngest sister she found out that my dad was having an affair.  Thanksgiving 1981 was our last meal as a family.

When my dad left my mom and his three children, she was pregnant with my younger sister, Stephanie. My dad did his best to avoid supporting us. That’s a nice way to put it.  My mom had to provide for four kids by working several jobs at a time. Growing up, my mom had some amazing friends Don and Evelyn Bottorff. They were around a lot. We would hang out with Don and Evelyn. Don took me to football and basketball games all the time while I was growing up.  He had a small farm with chickens, turkeys, parakeets and lots of land!  I would help him collect eggs, and in exchange, I was allowed to chase the birds for fun.

On a regular basis, Don would stop by the house to drop off milk, bread, eggs and other groceries. I never put two and two together that he did this even though we weren’t his responsibility. He had a family of his own to provide for.  Eventually, my mom ended up working a second part-time job for him. Don and Evelyn would attend my grandparents’ days at my school  since all of my biological grandparents were dead.  I can’t even put into words what my relationship with Don means to me!  

We spent every Christmas Eve with Don and Evelyn. Don came to visit me at college. He was there for me when I graduated high school and when I got married.  I remember him talking to me shortly before I got married. The thought never crossed my mind why he was telling me I needed to be responsible for Heather and that I needed to provide for her and the family that God would give us. His investment and influence into my own life were crucial in who I am today.  I know my life would be utterly different if it weren’t for Don!  

The teenage guy who stopped by to see my grandfather shortly before he died was Don.  Don kept his word and helped my grandfather’s family out until his dying day.  Shortly after Heather and I moved to Florida with our son Shad, Don passed away.  Financially speaking we couldn’t make it back for the funeral.  A few weeks before Don’s death, I talked to him on the phone.  My mom had told me he was sick, but honestly, I couldn’t tell while I talked to him.  Shortly after our phone conversation, Don passed away. To this day, I regret not attending his funeral and thanking his family for Don’s investment in my life.  

Here are some of the things I’ve come to realize while reflecting:  

Investing in the next generation will never be a bad thing!  No matter how old you are, there’s always “a next” generation to invest in.  What would it look like if we each found our next generation to invest in and actually did it with excellence?

Our payment may not be seen in this generation. It may take decades to see a return on investment.  My family’s heritage and trajectory will be completely different because my grandfather invested into a teenager decades ago.  Don kept his word and invested into my life and my siblings’ lives as our “stand-in grandfather”. I am forever grateful.  My sons will be as well.  

You may not be the beneficiary of your investment. That’s a risk you have to be willing to take. We shouldn’t invest in other people for our own good anyways. If we follow Christ, we invest in other people’s lives because of Jesus’ influence on our own life. We can’t really love God and love others without doing so. This hit me the other day.  My last name isn’t Nelson, it’s Ulrich.  The Ulrich line will benefit because of Ephraim Nelson’s investment into his children and a teenage guy named Don Bottorff. Ephraim’s investment was passed on through his children and Don to myself and my siblings’ lives.  My older brother and I will pass on our last name to our sons and daughters which will, in turn, be passed down to their children.  My dad’s lack of influence and investment in our lives can almost be ignored because of how great my grandfather’s investment was.  

Whose life or family line could you change based on your investment and influence?  Would you be that selfless to invest a few hours a week into the next generation?  Would you be willing to risk an investment that might not pay off until years down the road or even decades?  What if your investment benefited someone you didn’t even intend to?  Think about it. Whose life, family or community could benefit from your investment?    

Me…part 1

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Why am I telling my story again?  Simple, I want to communicate how I ended up where I am.  I also want to share the amazing story of how my family has endured our history and what the future looks like for my family.  

My dad grew up near Plymouth, IN. I know at some point he ended up in South Bend, IN where he graduated from high school in 1964. He held a track and field record that stood for quite some time.  He was married shortly after high school to his first wife.  They had two daughters, Amy and Jenny. Growing up I knew them as ‘my sisters’.  Amy and Jenny are part of my life, but I never really put the puzzle pieces together until later on in my life.  Our relationship might not be your normal brother/ sisters relationship, but I have always seen them as a part of my family.  I don’t know why, where or how the divorce took place, but my dad divorced his first wife.  

At some point, he married my mom, his second wife.  They had four children together, Marie, Mike, Marc (me), and Stephanie.  Marie and Mike know more about my dad than I do.  Shortly after I was born, it hit the fan.  I was born January 14th, 1981. Stephanie was born April 6th, 1982.  There were already tension and affairs, among other issues in my mom and dad’s marriage.  I don’t even know when the divorce was finalized. Needless to say, I really have few memories of my dad. Most of those memories are not pleasant. (Heres a tip dads…do your best to create more good memories with your children than negative ones. You will have a stronger relationship because of the positive effort.)  

My mom and dad divorced because of the affair.  My guess is that there was probably a shotgun wedding and my dad and his third wife have been married ever since.  They have one son together that I know of.  His name is Karl.  Unlike my relationship with Amy and Jenny, my relationship with Karl is non-existent. That’s not his fault. It’s a result of events that took place after he was born.  

Growing up the thought of an actual relationship with my dad was like riding a dragon, or unicorn.  Donald Miller describes it the best way in his book, “To Own a Dragon”.  I stopped dreaming of riding a unicorn over rainbows around the same time I gave up on the thought of a relationship with my dad.  I had seen great relationships between father and son on TV.  Bill Cosby and Theo had a great relationship Dr. Jason Seaver and Mike Seaver on Growing Pains.  That was the relationship I really wanted, though.  Mike ended up living in an apartment above the garage.  I quickly realized though that I would never have a relationship like those depicted on the TV prime time shows.  I also quickly realized I’d never take a trip over a rainbow while riding a unicorn!  Those two dreams were just too far fetched.  

Before I graduated from high school in 1999, my immediate siblings and I confronted my dad about some family issues. This resulted in a broken relationship between my dad and the four of us since that afternoon.  He continually lives in lies that he has told himself for decades and that has resulted in us basically not having any communication.  He knows I’m married and probably knows we have sons.  He’s never met my wife or his grandsons. He doesn’t really know what we are up to in our lives.  

The last time I saw him, we were in the Wal-Mart in Plymouth, IN in 2006.  I noticed him and his wife.  I let Heather and the boys walk on and went over to where my dad and his wife were standing.  I said  ‘Hey dad, it’s me Marc….your son.’  He stared right at me.  No response.  The thought went through my mind, “maybe I’ve got the wrong guy….”  So I said, ‘You’re Richard Ulrich, correct?”.  His response was simply, ‘yes’.  Ok, good, at least he’s the right guy, I thought.  “Dad, it’s me, Marc your son…’ He looked at his wife, mumbled something and walked on.  That’s it. I stood there, a 25-year-old man. crying my eyes out and shouting ‘Dad it’s me!’ I walked away from that moment knowing there probably wouldn’t be a relationship with my dad ever again.  

Why share all that?  

I carry his last name.  The Ulrich name will live on, but not because of what my dad has invested into my life, my brother’s life or even into our children’s lives.  It will carry on with any sense of positivity because of what my mom’s parents and other relatives instilled into my mom and what she instilled in us.  She did an amazing job raising four kids by herself with little to no support from my dad.  As I write these words, I’m reminded that I still need to honor my father and mother.  I do my best to share this story and still honor him.

I know almost nothing about my dad’s parents. From what I know, I don’t think they are pleased with my dad’s life decisions.  I do think they would be grateful and amazed at the story of how my mom raised us and how my siblings are raising their kids now.  

How are you raising your family?  Invest, spend time, have fun, create some great memories, understand what your kids are going through and believe in your kids.  Don’t disconnect with them, set them up for success!  I can’t wait to see how my sons live out their own lives.  I hope and pray that they will have a solid foundation while standing on their parents’ shoulders to do amazing things that I never even dreamed of!  What about you?

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My alarm went off. I stepped out of bed ready to start a new job in a completely different field. This wasn’t just a job, it might be a completely different career for me. It was May 2007 and we had moved to a new city in a new state for me to start this job.  So many emotions were flooding through me…excitement, nervousness, and some anxiety. It was during this emotional moment, that I looked down and realized something. I couldn’t see my feet. They weren’t missing, they were blocked.  I bent over to one side and then the other side just to make sure my feet were accounted for. They were!The object blocking the view of feet, however, was my stomach! I don’t know what happened. Apparently, the bowls of late night ice cream, Taco Bell meals and completely unhealthy choices all caught up with me. I was now at my highest weight…ever.

I prayed for my weight to shed. I hoped my weight would be fixed.  As a pastor, I even applied oil on my body and prayed the special ‘pastor’s prayer’ that had worked for others when I had visited them in the hospitals, but nothing worked.  I think I even gained more weight.  

I knew I gained a ‘few pounds’ since high school and college.  I had no idea just how much, though.  Later that day, when I started my new job, I had to get on the scale for my physical. My jaw dropped when I saw the actual number on the scale.  Luckily it didn’t drop too far because my other chins caught my jaw and ensured a safe landing.  298 lbs!  Yep, that was definitely a lot of weight after college!  

Something went off in my mind when I saw 298 lbs. I knew I had to change.  I set a goal to lose 100 lbs.  I didn’t set a time and date because I wanted to make sure I lost the weight in a healthy way.  I didn’t want a diet pill, shake or surgery.  

I knew in order to accomplish this goal, it wasn’t enough to hope for it or just set a goal.  I needed to give it attention and intentionality.  I decided to do just that and came up with a plan.  

The place I worked at had a gym that was open 24 hours.  I worked second shift, so that meant 4pm to 2:30 am most nights. I decided to workout after work most of the time.  I started by walking/ running on the treadmill. I would walk 90 seconds and run 30 seconds. My initial goal was to run a full 20 minutes without stopping. In a few months, I was able to accomplish that!  I remember my first night on the treadmill vividly. I was walking on the treadmill and the gym was full of  ‘pros’. These people knew what they were doing. The made lifting weights and running look so easy!  

Looking around, I thought  ‘Why am I here? I look like a fool. My stomach and legs won’t stop jiggling. My feet hurt, my knees hurt…”  I wanted to stop.  I was going to stop until the images of  Shad and Carson’s faces flashed in front of my mind. My sons. They kept me on the treadmill.  God spoke very clearly to me. If I was going to accomplish all that God had in store for me to accomplish, I was going to have to have the physical ability to do so. If I wanted to become the best dad that my sons deserve, if I wanted to be the dad that I never had, I had to stay on the treadmill.  

November 7th, 2014 my goal of losing 100 pounds was accomplished! I’ve floated up and down since that day, but that day stands out to me as a great memory. To see that goal realized took time, attention and intentionality. My diet changed and my workouts changed throughout those seven years.They still do. I’m currently doing an intense lifting regimen and trying to reign in my eating habits.  

Legacy and heritage…. strange words.  What are your goals?  What are you hoping for? Parents, have you ever thought of what your heritage and legacy will be for your children?  

There is a common idea in building and engineering, “Start with the end in mind”.  When we start with the end in mind, we look beyond just the initial needs.  The author of Proverbs mentions this in an infamous verse, Proverbs 22:6.  “…even when he’s old he won’t depart from it.”

We won’t improve anything by accident. It takes intention and attention in order to accomplish any set of goals.  I don’t care how talented you are, how rich or poor you are, goals can only be accomplished when we give them attention and intention.  If we don’t give them attention and intentionality, we won’t accomplish anything worth accomplishing.  

My goal of losing 100 lbs wasn’t accomplished by prayer alone. Prayer is absolutely necessary. It’s crucial. I’ve come to realize that prayer is not just me praying and asking God to grant my requests. I believe that God’s main concern is me becoming the man He created me to be, doing what He created me to do.

I believe prayer helps me find out where God is working and how God is working. Prayer helps me find the best possible path to accomplish the task He has for me.

Every January, I set a HUGE goal for my life. A few years ago, it was to smile more. Another goal was for me to genuinely communicate that I cared. This year my goal is to plant the gospel and have a church show up! This is a huge goal. I can’t wait to see RE.THINK Church reach our full potential in Merrillville, IN. I’m grateful to have an amazing team of people around me. Specifically my family!  My wife, Heather, is an amazing part of my team. I wouldn’t trade her for anything! My sons are also learning another element of legacy and heritage while we live out #ulrichadventures.  

Do you have a goal worth accomplishing?  If not, pray for God to help you identify something in your life to improve. When we do this, we add value to our heritage and legacy.  If you already have a goal, have you prayed for God to reveal the best path to accomplish it?  Have you given your goal attention and intentionality?  

Election

fullsizeoutput_850Let’s be honest. This election season has sucked the life out of America. Growing up, I loved the months leading up to a presidential election. Watching people find the candidates they believed in, sharing why they believed in them so much and attempting to spread their ideas of why others should vote for them intrigued me.  I’ve lived through the Reagan years, George Bush Sr. years, Bill Clinton years and George W’s years and most recently Obama. I watched America change through it all.  I’m thirty-five and can’t remember a time that America has seemed so divided.  

Looking back over the past several months, I’m blown away, however, that this is who we as a country have settled to be. A country that put a man on the moon and believed in Martin Luther King Jr’s dream.  I know there are some major improvements needed in regards to racial tension, but I for one grew up believing in his dream.  Reading posts from friends on social media, watching the news coverage, listening to people mourn their loss. I’m taken aback by their emotions, opinions, and sense of loss. I get it, though. This happens any time we put our hope, trust, and sense of purpose in a person or political party.  

I’m not in shock of the results that Trump won.  I am shocked at the sense of hopelessness. I think we have become so consumed with media. Do we really need twenty-four hours of media coverage?  How many times can we watch the same thing?  How many angles do we really need?  I think we’ve lost our sense of boundaries and the ability to think for ourselves.  What if we took the same amount of energy, time and resources and put them into something that matters?  I believe in an America that can withstand any political party.  I believe in a people that can use their energies and efforts to bring humanity back to being human.  I believe we can be a group of people that can solve problems that kill other humans like a disease, lack of clean water and food.  

I love my right to vote. I don’t believe it’s a God-given right, though.  If it were, then when God set up a society with the Israelites, He would have set up voting booths.  What God has set as a standard though is to love Him and love your neighbor as yourself.  Are you loving your neighbors on social media? It is possible to have a disagreement with a person and still love that person?  I don’t know if most of America still holds that ability, however.  

There are a ton of issues we are facing. I love social media for the cat videos, the epic race between the tortoise and the hare was finally solved on social media.  Who doesn’t enjoy a funny meme or video every now and then? Watching the social media feeds these past few weeks has been sickening to me.  I’ve kept my personal political view private for the most part. I cast my vote for people and platforms I believe in. I’ve kept my political views off social media for one reason.  I’d rather build bridges than burn them down.

I’m hopeful in Americans, not because we’re Americans but because all humanity was made in God’s image.  God didn’t make mistakes, but we live in a fallen world due to sin.  That issue was solved with the loving sacrifice of Jesus.  If we accept His gift of salvation, we can step into a life that God created us to live.   With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can live out His image and purpose.  

Remember everything we have accomplished together!  We are part of the best thing in God’s universe.  We are made in His image.  He set systems in place and let us govern and bring order to what He created.  He wants to us to bring order to ourselves. He wants to solve problems.

If we can put a man on the moon and if two noncollege graduates can beat a team of highly educated people to invent the airplane, we can accomplish much together.  If we can figure out the technology to put images on my smartphone and give computer technology to the ‘everyday’ guy instead of just the government or big business, we can accomplish much together. If we can watch the Chicago Cubs win the World Series after 108 years, imagine what we can accomplish together!

I’m hopeful that if we can accomplish all the above and everything done so far in human history, we can figure out some of the problems we now face.  We can figure out how to keep families together and simplify our immigration system.  I’m hopeful we can solve health care issues. I’m hopeful we can figure out the two drastic ends of the spectrum where we have obese Americans while people around the world are dying due to the lack of food. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to figure out ways to provide energy for our technology needs without jeopardizing our kids future or relying on other countries.  I’m hopeful we’ll figure out a fair tax system that provides revenue for our government and yet government representatives will steward the money well and stay within a budget.  

Above all, I’m hopeful that we as humans will realize that our relationships with each other are more important than the election decision.  I don’t care if you’re on the winning side or the losing side or if you’re like me and you’re hopeful that we’ll have a legitimate third party for a long term solution.  There are people in your lives that aren’t ok with the election results but don’t burn that bridge by getting caught up in political debate.  Pray for them, love them and be humane to them.  Treat them the way you’d want them to treat you if the roles were reversed.  Take twenty seconds of insane courage and offer hope to them in a meaningful manner!  

I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to not live so much in the moment on social media and engage in the reality around us.  Please think before you post anything on social media.  Don’t brag.  Don’t lash out.  Don’t be an idiot!  Those posts will stay with you longer than you’d think.  Take a few minutes and breathe.  Have someone you trust and that has your best interest in mind read the post before you actually post it.  

I trust that America will be great again.  We’ll be better, not because of a political leader, but because, we as Americans. I trust that we will realize that we are all human and we’ll bring humanity back to being human.  We are more than two parties and more than any label whether you are educated, uneducated, documented or undocumented.  We are humans made in the image of a loving God who pursues us and wants nothing more than to be in a genuine relationship with us.  He has wired each of us with amazing gifts and abilities. Why not use our gifts to solve problems and bring things into order?