Summer Time

It’s here…. School is out which means kids are out of the confines of school.  The issue is that most parents still work during the summer.  Life still has to happen, right?

If we aren’t careful or intentional, another summer will go by and we’ll look back and wonder what we actually did.  There’s nothing wrong with relaxing parts of summer.  Kids will always enjoy watching endless hours of TV or gaming, but should it be the norm for their summer?  Probably not.  

So parents, what can we do during the summer that brings life and intentionality to the summer for our families?  

Vacation:

These are a must for each summer.  Vacation allows us to get away and disconnect from technology and our “work family” and pour our lives and attention to reconnecting as a family.  

To make these times memorable, it doesn’t need to take millions of dollars.  It could be just a few hundred dollars.

Road trip it!  

Several years in a row, my family and I vacationed in the Smoky Mountains. At the time, we lived in Battle Creek, MI and drove each year.  We loved the time on the road together.  My wife is an amazing woman and decided to help our budget by packing lunches.  We packed a soccer ball and frisbee in the back too.  We would find a rest area along the way, stop for an hour get out and stretch our legs and spend more time together as a family.  These are some of my favorite memories as a dad.  

We stayed in a cabin for a week and planned our meals so that majority of the time we ate at the cabin.  We used our weekly grocery budget to supply our food during our week of vacation. We budgeted so that we could also eat out a few times at local restaurants during our vacation.  We simply added that amount to our weekly grocery budget while on vacation.   

We gave our sons the honor of planning the recreation part of the vacation.  We gave them the budget and told them to stay within the budget.  They called all the places they wanted to go to and visit.  It was great watching them call the attractions and ask cost, if they had any specials and whether the prices were negotiable or not.  This gave our sons a real sense of ownership in our vacation.  

We found several free activities as well during our vacations.  

Weekend Getaways or Staycation

Take half a day on a Friday or Monday and extend your weekend.  Plan a movie night or bonfire night.  Find a drive in and take your family.  Don’t tell your kids you’re going to do this.  This will be a great surprise.  If you can afford it, book a hotel room for a night or two and get away to a close by city or attraction.  

These little surprise weekends display to your kids that they mean something to you!  Parents here’s a little secret, as your kids get older you don’t know as much as you used to. They have access to all the knowledge they can ever have with Google searches, social media access etc.  We must become intentional at investing in their lives so that when they need guidance during the middle school and high school years, they come to us first.  As we invest in their lives during these intentional moments of vacations or staycations and spend time with them, they will continue to look to us for guidance and trust us.  

One summer that was abnormally stressful we decided to make South Haven our place.  Each Friday (our day off) we spent on the beaches of South Haven, Michigan.  We ended each Friday with a cone of ice cream watching the sunset over Lake Michigan.  Find a place your family can make their own!

One of the tensions we hold is RE.THINK Church is in the very beginnings of organizational life.  We are doing our best to create a church unchurched people would actually want to attend and still keeping our focus on our family.  My wife has said this for years, we won’t sacrifice our family on the altar of our church.  So we need to find the balance in the early stages of this process.  We are planning some getaways and fun times with our sons this summer!

What are your ideas?  

How have you invested in your family this summer?

 

The Middle

Who likes the middle?  Let’s face it, no one really does. Men, if there are three urinals and you have your choice, which one are you avoiding?  The one in the middle, right?  I dare you to find a child who actually enjoyed sitting in the middle of the backseat between two siblings on long road trips.  I loathed sitting the middle! As a child who only knew “husky” jeans, the middle was not a comfortable place to sit!

No one really wants to spend a lot of time in the middle, but maybe we should.  Maybe it’s in the middle that we find ourselves exactly where God has placed us.

Think of a bridge. I know a bridge is an overused cliche thing, but picture it anyway. A bridge is stuck in the middle. It doesn’t choose sides. Its purpose is to stay in the middle of the two sides and make the connection possible.  We live in a polarizing era in history.  It seems that we are only given two sides to things, two options.  I’ve always been told that we must choose a side because by not choosing we are choosing.  I understand where people come from in this way of thinking.  I get it, but I’ve starting asking myself a question over the past few years…. What exactly am I accomplishing by doing this?

I’m blown away that when I actually read and study the Bible, I see Jesus not falling into a category.  He doesn’t seem to stay to one side. He is His own category.  Humanity attempted several times to make Him choose a side and He avoided it.  Maybe if I say I follow Him, I should follow in His footsteps?

Let’s look back into the Old Testament and realize that God doesn’t choose our sides as we might assume He does.  Joshua was stepping into a new leadership role after the death of his dear friend and mentor, Moses, who had recently passed.  Joshua was scouting out the territory that the Israelites were about to step into and hopefully conquer back… hopefully.  He finds a man standing with a drawn sword.  Joshua approaches the man and asks a simple question, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”  The man standing there responded, “Neither, but as the commander of the army of the Lord…..”  Joshua fell on his face and worshiped.  I agree with several scholars who hold the stance that the man standing there with a drawn sword was Jesus. There were a few times Jesus stepped out of Heaven for a moment during the Old Testament time period and into humanity.  

This might come as a surprise to some, but there are different views and sides within the same religions.  The religious setting Jesus grew up in was no different. One side was a very “conservative” religious side and there was another side that was more “progressive” side. There are times that Jesus, while He was on the earth for 33-ish years, made statements that might align Him with one religious side or another. If you keep reading,  you see him say something or do something that appears He is aligning himself with the other side. Jesus says in one breath that one letter of the law won’t pass away and in the next breath, He says, “you have heard it said…. But I tell you…..” Which is it, Jesus?  

Jesus calls his original twelve apostles from completely different political viewpoints and encourages them to look beyond their own political agenda for something so much greater.  Simon the Zealot has to work with Matthew the tax collector in order to help people see Jesus.

Growing up,  I have always been told that by not choosing a side, I stand for nothing. I get it.  But why do I have to choose a side that is presented?  Can’t I choose to stand in the middle at times?  Jesus isn’t a Republican.  Jesus isn’t a Democrat.  Nor is He a Libertarian.  Jesus is Jesus.  Political options might be easier, but I don’t think Jesus is asking us to find the easiest way.

Which Lives Matter?

Black lives matter and so do Blue lives.  I empathize with young African American people who struggle to be known and struggle with the concept that their lives don’t really matter.  The young man walking down the street matters.  I started connecting with a young man who walks up and down the street RE.THINK Church sits on.  As Cameron and I have connected, I’ve asked him this question “Can you explain the Black Lives matter issue?”  His insights have helped me come to a place to say “Yes, their message has validity”.  It has a place and it needs to be heard!  His concern is that the original message has been hijacked and might need to be revisited and reevaluated.  I have a brother-in-law who is a sheriff deputy.  I’ve heard his side of the story. I love and respect him as a man and an officer!  I know he is a fair law enforcement officer who wants the best for his community.  He also wants to come home safely at the end of the each day.  My desire is to stand in the middle of these polarizing messages and connect the two sides, my goal in connecting them is to have each side communicate with each other.  When we place people on sides, or in categories “You’re one of them…”  “You’re a….”  we objectify the person and remove their humanity.  I believe Christ-followers need to remove those obstacles and help our neighbors see each other as humans, and ultimately connect people to the God who loves humanity beyond any understanding.  

The Bible and humanity:

In this section, I want to be very clear.  I believe in orthodoxy, I believe that the Bible’s words give us the methods, paths, and examples of how to live our lives to the fullest as our relationship matures with Jesus.  The words found in the Bible, the teachings of our spiritual forefathers and foremothers, our ability to reason and our personal experience should guide us into truth, into the best life possible as we live in this world we live in.  I am not debating the truths, the grace, nor what Jesus calls sin or what Jesus calls good in the Bible.  

I honestly believe that the Bible was written for every human being and every human should read it!  It’s a collection of books that speak the loving message of God to humanity. I don’t view it as mine to protect and ensure that no one perverts it. God will do that.  It’s mine to read, grasp it’s meaning as much as I can and apply to my life.  As a pastor, it’s also mine to communicate and teach to others and give examples of how to apply these teachings to their own lives.     One of the most challenging parts of everyone reading the words of the Bible on their own or in a community is that they might read it differently than I would.  I think the benefit of having people reading the words of God on a regular basis are so much more than the downsides.  This issue is not a new issue, it’s been around since the beginning of the church.  

So, what do we do with people who have a sexual orientation and sexual lifestyle different than what is described in the Bible, and people misunderstanding what the Bible says?   I see Jesus stepping into the middle and leading with grace and truth.  He engages in a conversation with a lady who is caught in sexual sin.  He shows grace toward her and speaks truth to her at the same time.  He encourages her to leave her life of sin.  It is possible to stand in the middle as a church and as a Christ follower and to show grace and truth in their fullest capacity.

Connection Brings Tension:

In an era where people are desperate for connection, desperate for hope, and desperate for a voice; instead of choosing a side, maybe I should stand in the middle.  Maybe I need to make it possible for their voice to be heard, possible for them to have access to hope, and possible for them to connect with Jesus.  Jesus tells me that the world will know that I am His disciple by the way I love others, not by my ability to fix people or convince people.  So, maybe I should stand in the middle and love others the way Jesus loves me.  

Not choosing a side mean living with tension.  Pull a rubber band and where is the most tension…. In the middle.  Each side pulling whatever, or whoever is in the middle toward their side.  Standing my ground in the middle seems to bring the most tension, as well as the most opportunity to connect other humans to each other, and ultimately to Jesus.

 

 

 

Top 6 Books to check out in 2017

  1. Purple Cow and 2. Tribes by Seth Godin.  

I think these books should be read back to back.  To me, they are two sides to the same coin.  As I prepared to start RE.THINK Church, one thing our team desired was to not be just like every other church in NWI. Don’t get me wrong, we are FOR every church. We want to complete the Church, not compete with the Church.  In order to set ourselves aside, I started down this path of pursuing how to be different. I asked myself “ How does RE.THINK become the church that will get noticed the way a purple cow would standing in a field among black and white cows?”

“Purple Cow” and “Tribes” are a crucial read for anyone who wants to lead.  The author, Seth Godin, implores his readers to lead differently and be bold about it. The future will not be filled with people who simply settled for a paycheck. The future will be held by those of us who daringly pursue what is there for us?  What are you daringly pursuing?

I think these two books will help any leader who is attempting something new and daring.  I read these books and was so encouraged about the future, not only of my own adventure with RE.THINK Church, but also about what the future of business and marketing could be.

Don’t settle for what will be handed to you or what is presented to you. Challenge it. Pursue something else. There must be something better. I think Seth Godin is an amazing clear voice in this niche area to help this movement.

The book “Tribes” explains how to avoid the pitfall of over priced, over saturated marketing.  The author hints that people are becoming more and more tribal in the way we live. With such things as Crossfit, coffee, schools, places we live and work, society is starting to move toward informal tribes. The strange thing about tribes is that we still need people to lead.  Seth urges leaders to stand up and take their place.

I think the best method to reading these books is to read them as part of a group.  Find two or three other like minded people who are pursuing similar paths. Spend time reading and discussing each chapter in order to learn from each other.

3. The Power of the Other  by Dr. Henry Cloud

Dr. Henry Cloud does a great job laying out for us the types of relationships we have with others.  He also explains why we need the right kind of people in our corner encouraging us toward our goal. In those moments when we want to give up, having the right people in the right corner is so crucial.  

If you find yourself in the middle of a challenging season, read this book. If you find yourself in a time of ease, read this book and prepare yourself.  You won’t regret it.
4. Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment by Scott Sauls

I love this book.  I read through it quickly and now I am going back through this book a chapter a day.  I can’t get enough of the truths, insights and perfectly timed challenges.  

Scott is a pastor in Nashville, TN. He writes compassionately and challenges Christ followers like myself to befriend people groups that are outside my comfort zone.  I think any and every Christ follower who actually takes seriously the words of Jesus, “love your neighbor as yourself” should read this book.   

5. Essentialism by Greg McKeown

This. Book.  The words and insights go against everything I experienced working in the corporate world about becoming a commodity for everyone.  Attempting to be everything for all people will kill us, so don’t.  McKeown does a great job explaining that essentialism is about the disciplined pursuit of doing less, doing the essential thing.  In the end, we’ll see a deeper reward and more production. Isn’t that what every leader desires?  As I read through this book, I was challenged in so many ways to be in relentless pursuit of less, but better.  

The line that made me read this book through was the line about “most people want to make a millimeter of progress in a million directions”.  What would it look like if we did the opposite of that statement?  I believe this world would be better. I believe that we can do it as well!

6. George Washington’s Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger.

I love history. This book was a great book for me to read and simply absorb. I sat in awe as I read. How in the world did these individuals figure this whole espionage thing out?  How did they topple an empire?  Here we are centuries later living in the fruits of their sacrifice. As I write this blog, I’m sitting in a Starbucks drinking an Americano. That statement right there wouldn’t be possible if these individuals didn’t figure out the spying game. This book inspires me to figure something out now that seems impossible.  Not just for my own sake, but for the sake of the future generations.

I think these books have the potential of inspiring us to have the best year possible even though we’re four months into 2017.  I hope we can dig deep, get some wisdom and pursue a path that might not seem clear right now, but we know it’s the right path to go down.  The path that seems ‘easy’ might need to be avoided. It might lead us to mediocrity. It most likely will lead us down a path of repeating the same crap over and over again.  What seems impossible to us right now, might actually be what we need to head into.  In 2015, I had to repent of unbelief that God wanted me to start a church from scratch, that He could use me.  I thought I could, but honestly didn’t really believe that God wanted to or could use me.  These books, among others, inspired me to repent of my unbelief and to pursue the best path as RE.THINK Church matures who knows what is down this path of uncertainty and potential.  My hope is that we’ll become a tribe pursuing something bigger than ourselves and better than the paths that seem easy and convenient.  Chase after something better!

Continue reading Top 6 Books to check out in 2017

So, I have come across a guy who I believe is one of the most effective leaders in America.  I’ve read some of his books, listened to his podcasts, visited his church and have learned so much from him while going through his coaching program. Matt Keller is the Lead Pastor of Next Level Church in Ft. Meyers, Fl. It is a great place to visit, attend and be part of. I believe what God is doing in and through Next Level Church will change Southwest Florida and beyond.  

I’m going to give him credit for a majority of this blog. His leadership teaching about Trains, Tracks, and Future Cities has helped me immensely.   

One of my favorite things about past leadership positions has been clear guidelines of what I should be doing. When I worked at Denso, I knew exactly what to work on most of the time. The schedule dictated it. In previous churches, I knew pretty much what to work on because of the vision and business of church life. As great as those positions were, they didn’t offer me what I really wanted, the chance to lead the way God has wired me to lead.

If I had to be honest, since starting the process of launching RE.THINK Church in Merrillville, IN there have been days when I ‘go to work’ and realize “…umm, what should I be working on?”.  With the launch comes building renovations, creating a launch team, building the team, developing leaders and responding to emails and phone calls. I also have the task of completing all the necessary documents to start a church and not screw it up! I have felt overwhelmed and had no idea what I should do next. I have felt frozen.

I came across a teaching from Matt Keller about Trains, Tracks, and Future Cities. It is one of the most helpful teachings I’ve found for leadership.  

In Matt’s words, the “train” is working on our own business. It’s making sure things are running smoothly, bills are paid and events are taking place that is necessary for our business or church to be successful. The “tracks” are short term goals that are going to get us moving. The “future cities” are long term goals that we are on a journey to reach. I have spent a lot of time wondering what to be working on. This leadership teaching has helped shape me to know what to be working on.

RE.THINK Church launched weekly services Jan. 21st. Since that night, things have been crazy. It’s a good crazy, but still crazy. It is good to have a clear direction and certain things that I can focus on that have to be accomplished.  

It has been so helpful to be able to define what the “train” is, what my “tracks” are and what “future cities” we as an organization are headed towards. I love to dream and accomplish tasks, but Keller points out that it’s not enough to be working on Train, Tracks and Future Cities. We as leaders must work on a fourth task, “tracks back from the city”  in order to make sure the forward-moving tracks meet at the right destination. Reverse engineering is such a crucial part of dreaming and planning on any level.  

I’d encourage any leader in any capacity to spend time and determine what’s your “train”, what are your “tracks”, what “future cities” are you headed towards and how will you ensure you get there?

One of the most important groups of leaders that typically allow themselves to be overlooked is parents. I believe with everything in me that parents are some of the most important leaders out there.  Parents, we get to shape and influence the next generation in amazing ways!  What would it look like if we were to take the time and define our Train, Tracks and Future Cities and reversed engineered the tracks to ensure we arrived at the correct destination?

Leaders, take time and figure out where you’re headed. Where are you leading your organization, church or family? It would suck to get to the end of our leadership and realize we didn’t take our people anywhere or we lost all of our people because we never helped look for a future destination.

 

Sources:

 

Keller, M. (n.d.). Trains, Tracks, and Future Cities. Retrieved February 01, 2017, from https://mattkelleronline.com/trains-tracks-and-future-cities/

 

 

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?