Below are different versions of my story. Hopefully, they all match up. As I learn more about myself, I update them. If you have anything to add or modify or want to know more, or want to share your story, then please let me know.
Looking back, I feel like I was either Opie Taylor in the Andy Griffith Show or Mark McCain in The Rifleman (two of my favorite TV shows of all time). Opie and Mark were like the brothers I never had. Older generations lived vicariously through Huck Finn. For me, it was Opie and Mark (and maybe the Three Stooges). Life seemed pretty simple. I didn't have to worry like kids do today. I didn't have to have a big resume filled with extra activities just to get into college. I didn't have to play every sport and be driven all over town all afternoon. I don't think I was too lazy, but maybe that was it. One morning I woke up in December of 1986 and I had a Computer Science degree. Awesome! Whatever.
I spent the first 10 years of my career doing mostly data and voice network design and management. I worked for a university, a hospital system, a semiconductor manufacturer, a huge financial management firm, and probably something else I'm forgetting. It paid great. I had sweet trucks and jeeps and nice houses and great friends. But I realized it wasn't fulfilling.
I got some awesome advice to move from a cost center to a profit center - meaning moving from being in an IT department where I'm considered overhead to being in a sales/consulting department where I bring in the money - and get nice big expense accounts and bonuses. Yeah! I finally moved to Austin. It paid even better. I had even sweeter jeeps and houses - and I even travelled the world and spent money so fast it could make you dizzy - meeting with some of the world's top executives - even hanging out in some of the most expensive penthouses and hotels in Vegas, New York, Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago. But I realized it wasn't fulfilling. Seemed like it at the time, but the hangovers should have given it away. Hmmm. I've been here before, I thought.
I had always had a creative streak - playing piano, saxophone, and guitar - even doing some pencil drawings - and for some reason, I love making boxes out of wood. I thought I was destined to be the next James Taylor and even pursued becoming a singer/songwriter. But then I started helping other artists and realized that fired me up even more. Hmmm. Helping others instead of myself. Maybe I was starting to get somewhere.
In March 2003, things began to pick up. I started working with young high school and college aged rock bands. Call it a mid-life crisis if you want, but it was the most fun I've ever had. It led me to start a record label, learn video production, learn web development, and learn all about connecting creative people to their fans. I thought I'd finally figured it all out. I quit the high paying day job and jumped in with both feet. It awoke a passion in me to mentor, serve, and care about high school and college aged men. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Then, to top it off, I went broke and found Jesus.
I thought success was supposed to make me happy. I had a ton of money. I lived in a ridiculously cool house in one of the coolest neighborhoods in Austin. I flew all over the world. I had lots of friends. We had a ridiculous amount of fun. But it was never enough. I was never good enough or successful enough. Then I finally realized that I was defining success all wrong. Most of us are taught that success is about your car, your house, your clothes, and how pretty and white your family's teeth are. I found out that defining success is one of the most important things any of us can ever do and if we don't do it right, we might wake up at 40 or 50 or even 80 and realize we screwed up and had it all wrong all that time. But it's never too late.
I realized that Jesus wasn't a bunch of lies or some made up concept for weak people. I was fortunate enough to get some very close friends who taught me that following Christ - really following Christ (not just going through the motions) - is one of the most adventurous, fun, exciting, and challenging things anyone can do. It has intense long-term pay-off that worldly success can't even come close to on a good day.
We all want a purpose in life. We all want to be successful. We want adventure and excitement. We all want to love and be loved. Jesus now dumps more of that on me for free every hour of every day than I could ever buy with all of the money in the world. I can't wait to see what He's got in store for me next...
I love to learn. I love to teach what I've learned. I love to learn about people and what makes them tick. I love high school and college students and being someone who cares deeply about them and values them. They are obviously the ones who will define the future - and I'm pumped about that because this generation is awesome and will make great things happen. I love learning terms and phrases specific to an industry or people - their slang, lexicon, jargon, and abbreviations. I love technology - especially digital and interactive stuff like video, audio, photos, and websites. I love live music you can scream along to and the arts that cause you to think of new questions. I love to write and diagram or document things. I love creative people. I love connecting people. I love connecting people to art and helping artists grow fanbases. I love marketing - as long as it's not manipulation or misleading. I love developing strategies, planning, and organizing. I love Jesus.
I don't make great first impressions, but if you get to know me, we'll be very close forever. Some mistake my quiet nature for arrogance. It's just that I prefer to observe and listen and understand. I'm a recovering perfectionist who lived a life of not thinking I was ever good enough. Having never had a biological brother, I now have many who I consider brothers - real brothers. I also collect drummers. They just keep showing up. I don't know what to do with them yet though. I do my best work in the morning, but I don't mind staying up late. One of my biggest flaws is that I will often use email when a personal conversation was necessary - and it never works - with email only making things worse.
I spent 40 years considering myself a Christian believer - but mostly just as an insurance policy in case it mattered, and I never really knew Jesus. He was like an older brother who was always better than me and likely disappointed in me or frustrated with me. Now I know it matters and I try to get to know Jesus better each week and I know He loves me. Now I'm a messed up and flawed disciple who wants to make more disciples. If you are curious about Jesus, I'd love to hash through it, argue about it, or celebrate it with you over coffee, ice cream, or mexican food.
I've never been married, but I expect to be someday. I'm extremely thankful that I never got married before now because I would have screwed it up royally and been on my second or third round - having contributed to many broken lives along my path. I view being single as a gift, so I'm trying to use it as best I can while it's here. I don't plan on growing up. I remember the strangest little details forever, but I sometimes forget big stuff. I hate birthdays - especially mine. I want to celebrate every day I'm alive - not just once a year. I love hanging out at coffee houses and talking with friends, but if there's more than 4 or 5 of us, I crawl in a hole. I love road trips - to anywhere - I mainly just love the trip - the journey - the random stories that come out of nowhere along the way. I prefer cold over hot and mountains over beaches. My addictions are magazines, books, anything Mac, and chips and salsa. I love the TV show Dirty Jobs. The people on there accomplish something tangible every day and its never easy. I admire them. I love the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I don't know why. I was addicted. I'm still getting over it, but it is starting to be very liberating to watch it less and I no longer miss it and I have tons of time. I love time.
I was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1964 on July 4th. It was on a street named Wessex in a neighborhood called Wedgewood. I have two older sisters. My first dog was named Otto. He was a miniature schnauzer. My grandfather used to call me Otto. It was the beginning of many nicknames in my life. I only lived there until I was 5, but I remember a lot about it. I remember my parents being fascinated each evening by what this guy named Walter was always saying during dinner on our black and white TV - something about landing on the moon, leaders getting assassinated, some sort of "war going on over there". We tie-died shirts and wore peace signs - sometimes. My dad was a professor of Philosophy at TCU and an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ church. My mom ran my grandfather's doctor's office (which I thought meant she was a nurse - and that she could always easily heal me). I remember grandparents, great aunts, great uncles, aunts, uncles, cousins, and others coming over each 4th of July to celebrate my birthday. Or at least that's why I thought they were celebrating. I walked to kindergarden at J.T. Stephens which was several miles away. I guess that can't happen anymore due to kidnappers. That sucks because I remember how adventurous and fun it was - and how it made me feel responsible not to have my sisters towing me along with them. We didn't have video games, but we had lots of Hot Wheels and Legos and Light Brites and Etch-a-Sketches. My sisters had this cool thing called a record player. But mainly we had something called "outdoors" and creativity.
We moved to a new neighborhood called Westcliff and I started going to Westcliff Elementary School around 1970. It was just across Overton Park from my house with nothing but a creek and a street between us. I fell in the creek a lot. I drank from it once and it didn't hurt me. I thought it came from a mountain somewhere. I suppose now it would kill me. We used to spend hours and hours in that park doing everything from nothing to catching crawdads in the creek. A guy shot at me with some sort of gun once through his back yard fence while I was in the park. We ran. No big deal. Today, I imagine it would make a lead story on CNN. I remember discovering porn for the first time in the park in a magazine tucked under a rotted tree. It seemed cool at the time, but I wish it had never happened. Another time, while walking home from school, a big guy tried to catch me and beat me with a big stick. I ran and got my neighbor who was bigger than him. He ran. No big deal. I wonder if things were as scary back then as they are now - with the only difference being that we now see it all 24/7 on cable news. The thing I remember most about growing up was that I always had time. I had plenty of time. Time for anything I wanted to do.
I could play in the creek all day with friends. I could build a huge train set in my room. I could wash and wax my dad's truck. I could ride my bike to friends' houses and just hang out. I could even spend hours every day learning to ride a unicycle (and not mind my bloody knees in the process). I could watch every episode of the Three Stooges and the Roadrunner Bugs Bunny Hour without blinking an eye. I hung on every word from Lucas McCain in The Rifleman. I would have died for his son Mark who was the brother I always wanted. I had time. No one seems to have time anymore. Technology has been the biggest lie of this generation. It was supposed to buy time, but it robbed us blind. Plus, today parents force their kids to work harder than ever in school so they can work harder than ever in college so they can get a job where they work harder than ever to make a lot of money so they can work harder than ever to pay off debt as they spend more than they make to keep up with everyone else - while they then have no time for their family - if they stopped long enough to have a family. No time. No time at the dinner table to talk about life and things that matter. No dinner table. This is one of the main reasons I try to spend my time with teenagers. Maybe if I give them some of my time and we spend it hanging out and talking about stuff that matters, it will help.
I grew up in a Christian home and attended church regularly where I was baptized in the 6th grade, played the low C in the handbell choir, sang in the church choir, turned pages for the organist on Sunday mornings, and went to youth group every Sunday night. I stopped going somewhere around the 10th grade when I decided it wasn't cool anymore, but still considered myself a believer in case it mattered - sort of an insurance policy. But nothing seemed to matter. Religous people seemed full of themselves and never seemed able to practice what they preach. For me it was mostly a social thing - a place to make friends, go on cool ski trips, and get in trouble together. Don't get me wrong though. The ski trips were awesome - and even though I went for the girls and friends, I imagine God was at work on me in one way or another. Our church was a bit unique in that we had kissing contests on retreats and once had a youth pastor get fired for buying us beer - or something like that.
From college all the way to about age 40, it was a blur. I moved from Fort Worth to Austin in 1995. Since my first concert experience was at age 5 with Jerry Jeff Walker and I had always been a Willie Nelson fan, moving to Austin had been something I always wanted to do. The move marked a career change from doing network management for over 10 years to doing consulting for big Fortune 100 companies for the next 12. Me and some hunting buddies from college used to listen to cassette tapes from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department that had hunting stories on them. In between stories there were these amazing guitar instrumentals. It was a guy named Robert Earl Keen Jr. who was just releasing his first album soon. I had started playing guitar and singing around 1987 (because I had time) - and later made a half-hearted quest to be the next Robert Earl Keen meets James Taylor. James has got some serious words. So does another favorite - Jackson Browne. That all peaked after playing an opening set for the songwriter's songwriter, Stephen Fromholz, at the White Tail Deer Museum in Pampa, Texas. He taught me how to mix Jornitos Tequila and Godiva Chocolate Liqueur into what he called a Jordiva. The progressive country cow-jazz movement of Austin in the 1970s was mecca to me - although I still love my 80's anthem rock and 90's grunge.
I look back and laugh. From one perspective I had it made. I always had great high-paying jobs, tons of promotions, lots of friends, lots of parties, cool apartments, cool houses, lots of road trips, penthouse hotel rooms in Vegas, with fine dining from Miami to New York City to Chicago to San Franciso and even Germany - along with the associated frequent flyer benefits and heavy metal credit cards - and oh, how I loved those credit cards. Other than not having a wife and 2.5 kids and having a beer gut, I was a picture of success. But looking back, I realize how much of an empty success it was. A little more money, a little bigger house, a little nicer car, etc. Each step made promises of fulfillment and prosperity only to either leave me empty or wanting more. A huge part of that time was also spent in bars and pretty drunk. Unfortunately, I was an extremely functional drunk, so it never occured to me to stop or to spend time on something better. Somewhere in my mid-to-late 30's I got engaged, but it fell apart. I thought it would be the icing on the cake to a perfect life. It was a tough time, but I'm thankful for it. That's when I started feeling the tug that somehow someone had different plans for me.
In February 2003, I was at a ridiculously cool hotel in Denver about to meet up with an awesome girl (I met at a folk music festival) to go skiing together when I got the call that my grandmother on my mom's side had died. It hit me pretty hard even though her health had been failing for a while. I so badly wanted her approval and wanted her to see me with the perfect storybook life of a wife and kids. Around the funeral, I met my cousin's son who was and is an awesome musician and songwriter. I started hanging out with him and his friends (who were mostly between 14 and 16). I thought I was starting to really love the music business after helping him with his music career driving all over the country to perform. But I later realized that the real draw for me was getting the opportunity to understand them and be a role model and mentor. Hey, don't laugh. Paul was one of the most messed up people in the Bible and he became one of the best role models of all time! I'm sure I've done a horrible job at times, but it is always my best.
When I was around 40, an acquaintence of mine (who is now one of my best friends) started a bar on 6th Street in Austin and one day asked me to check out her church. It caught me off guard. She didn't seem fake like most religious people (she even taught me not to use the word 'religious' because it was offensive). I went and quickly got connected to the church, began serving in various ways - including their high school student ministry. Their sermons were great and contained tons of awesome real life advice, but making close friends with radically cool and regular guys who were avid Christ followers quickly moved me from believer to follower. It was the first church I've ever seen where people are truly encouraged to come as they are with all of their baggage and not be judged or have to hide anything - free to ask questions until you're blue in the face.
At age 44, something finally clicked. I became passionately in love with Christ and wanted to know Him and wanted others to know Him. I went from follower or disciple to wanting to make more disciples. I started getting much closer to learning what it means to put Christ and God first before everything else. I realized that it is really a big deal - a life or death deal. It matters. Poverty and social injustices are wrong. I'm on a massive quest now to figure out more about my spiritual gifts so that I can do more of my part to bring God's Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. I block off hours at a time at local coffee houses to study the Bible and books about the Bible. I don't tell you that to brag, although I'm guilty of that too, but say it because I'd probably love to hang out with you there to talk about it. I love Richard Foster and N.T. Wright books. I wish I were as radical as Shane Claibourne. I'm scared to death that I will become like one of the people I used to despise who wore their faith on their sleaves in what seemed like total hippocracy. But I badly want a tattoo on my arm that says, "Emanuel" meaning "God With Us" - not to show off - but to start questions. He doesn't ask us to do a lot of "stuff" or follow a lot of rules. He just wants a relationship with us. When that happens, the rest seems to start falling in place.