The YouTube ad that made me cry

Last week, we were watching a video when the greatest YouTube ad I had ever seen appeared. We couldn’t stop watching it. The skip ad button turned on and I ignored it. The ad went on for seconds then minutes. Until it ended nineteen minutes later. (I know, it might feel weird reading about a YouTube ad, but it’s just as weird or weirder writing about one.)

What was the ad? It was a Charity Water video.

Charity Water is a nonprofit started by a guy named Scott Harris. And in the ad he told his story from his challenging childhood in the suburbs to becoming a nightclub promoter in New York City. He got paid to throw huge parties and be around beautiful people and drink. It was fun until wasn’t. Eventually he discovered he wanted something more. That led him to abandoning that thrilling life and paying a nonprofit so that he can go with them to third world countries to take pictures for them as they did humanitarian work. When he was there, he discovered people drinking the most heinous water. It was dirty, muddy, diseased, bug infested water. And they (mostly the women in those villages) would walk miles to bring it home even though it was unclean enough to kill and carrying it was backbreaking work. That’s when Scott found his calling and started Charity Water which has a mission to bring clean water to the 780 million people who don’t have access to clean water.

Huddled around our computer screen with us was our first born. He loves YouTube videos. We’re Dude Perfect subscribers. These days we’ve been watching ones with deep sea fishing on BlacktipH. But this YouTube ad did something different to our boy. He saw people’s pain and had compassion. He saw for the first time that too many children didn’t have something he took for granted ever day—clean water to drink. And that was not the only story in the video that moved him.

There was a 9 year old girl, Rachel, who gave up her birthday in hopes to raise $300 for the nonprofit. She didn’t reach her goal: she raised $220. But weeks later she died in a car accident. It was tragic. But from the ashes of tragedy arose a phoenix of hope. As news traveled about Rachel’s death, people and media noted how while she was alive she offered up her birthday to give clean water to others—and many were inspired. They gave hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, eventually more than a million dollars for the cause she sacrificed for just before she died.

I was crying. And my son says, “I want to give up my birthday. I want to give money.” And he ran off to get his piggy bank and wanted to give right then.

“Buddy we can’t jam dollars through the screen,” I said gently to him.

“Why not? I want to give right now,” he said adamantly.

It was beautiful.

In times like these, when brokenness and sadness reigns, there are still stories that can shift our paradigm and remind us how rich we are. We have clean water. I still have my child. We are alive.

We are richer than we know.

If you have a chance check out Charity Water.

It’ll make you want to jam your money through the screen.

Most of all it will help you see the world afresh.


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Savoring life

Life is short; enjoy today.

This week an old friend’s wife died. It was sudden—tragic. She was young, around my age, too young to die. They likely had dreams of growing gray together, wrinkled, swinging on a creaky porch swing, talking about their grown kids and grandkids. Now that’s gone.

See, life can sucker punch you in the face. It can knock the wind out of you, and make you feel like you’re dying.

But that’s not my point. The point is to enjoy—no, savor—each day.

And I don’t mean to party hard and do something thrilling. I mean sip and take in the moments and the mundane things like embracing your spouse, telling your loved ones that you love them, eating a home cooked meal with family—the things we get to do everyday, but often take for granted because they are so normal. When placed against the finality of death, those are the things that matter most.

So let your palate of life absorb each and every flavor. Relish them. Feel satiated.

For life’s a delicious gift.

Give thanks.


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One of the best ways to deal with uncertainty

Uncertainty is everywhere. And the best thing we can do isn’t fight it, try to force things to happen—control. No.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is just do this—surrender.

That’s not the same as giving up. You’re not quitting. Absolutely not!

Surrendering is different. It’s not giving up; it’s giving in. And that’s an important distinction, especially in times like these.

It’s like quicksand. When you get stuck in it it’s terrifying and your temptation is to just fight and flail and twist and turn and writhe. The fear grips you and you want to gain control, but that only saps your strength and weakens you until you don’t have any energy to actually solve your problem.

Instead, when you’re in that situation, you need to relax. Make yourself light, and then you make slow and deliberate moves to get yourself out. It takes time, patience, and persistence.

We’re all in quicksand now.

We feel it. With a crazy political world, incredible divisions, an election year—a pandemic—looming possible school openings, quarantines, lockdowns, financial stress, and the list can go on, there’s just more to make us want to fight and flail and twist and turn and writhe, isn’t there? We want control but can never really get it, can we?

And we’re tired. We’re stressed, fatigued.

Stop trying to control and fight.

Instead, surrender. Don’t give up. Give in. Let your mind and body relax. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Think about today. Make a plan. Take deliberate and slow steps. Feed yourself. Feed your family. Find time to laugh and play. Create. Work. Find a way to survive.

Remember, you can’t control the quicksand: the political mayhem, people’s comments on Facebook, their ideologies, the economy. You can control yourself, your mindset, your prayer-life, your meditation practice, your routine, your actions.

Slow down. Let the future unfold. Persist. Go with the flow.

And, when you do, I believe, you’ll be free to find freedom.

You’ll even grow.

Love,

John


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When things get bad, go long

These days it’s easy to think that everything’s crap. But that’s wrong.

You need to go long.

See, the short-term is crappy. Yes, the pandemic is still here. It’s swelling. There’s a second wave. It’s looking ugly, uglier every day.

But, that’s shortsighted. You’ve got to look yonder. Over the horizon. Set your sights on the vista, farther ahead, further still.

I don’t mean distance, but time. Don’t measure life in days, or even months. Do it in years, far beyond the boundaries of immediate gratification.

We need to go long.

To “go long” is often a phrase used in investing. It means to buy an asset like a stock or index fund or something that appreciates—and you do this.

You hold on.

You don’t get out. You don’t sell. You don’t liquidate. You grip it tightly, knuckles whitened, even if life and fear and market gyrations and recessions scream at you to pull out. But no, you hunker down. Maybe you even double down. You’re in it to win it.

That’s what we need to do right now. We need to go long on life.

You need to invest yourself in something that will appreciate. And then, hold on. No matter what happens.

It can be in relationships, or a business, or your health, or spiritual wellbeing, or investing your money. Whatever it is, make sure it’s worthwhile and appreciates and pays dividends in joy and laughter and blessings and hope in the future.

And then, be patient and consistent, and you will see amazing payouts. Your investment will compound.

And you will be rich.


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Why we started a cookie business

Sometimes when things are terrible it’s necessary to start something delightful.

So last month my wife and I started a cookie business.

It’s an online store that sells gourmet gluten-free and vegan freshly baked cookies. They are made from incredible ingredients: organic this and organic that. And they are delicious. I’m the taste tester, so I should know.

But bragging aside, the main point of making something tasty is to spread just a little bit of joy to overcome the daily pains that seem to be mounting every day.

We get it. Kids are cooped up. The future is uncertain. The economy is struggling. News is the news, always negative. Schools are thinking about opening and we don’t know what to do. The second wave is swelling to who knows how high. And all of us are getting swept up into it and we are going for a ride to who knows where. It’s terrifying. All of it.

But taking a bite into a chocolate chip cookie floods us with memories of childhood, simpler times, summer bake sales, laughter, mom—home. It’s just love, baked.

That’s what we wanted to make, except in our fashion.

Our family has crazy dietary restrictions. We can’t eat gluten since we have major intolerances, and we have all kinds of sensitivities. My wife has been eating essentially the same limited foods every day, for every meal—literally. Our eldest can’t eat gluten and a whole host of other foods. And I find most meats make me feel badly and eat vegan most of the time, but for those rare occasions where I scarf down a ribeye. In other words, we eat crazy clean. No processed foods, refined sugar, etc. here. Don’t get me wrong. I want to eat Doritos, Krispy Kream donuts, Oreos. But I know I will feel terrible afterwards. Maybe you know what I’m talking about.

So we wanted to create something we and all of our friends and humans could feel good eating. Because, there’s enough feeling bad these days. And this is not just about feeling better emotionally, but good physically. That’s why we use the ingredients that we do. They’re great so we can feel good, in every way.

But if you want to know the truth, my wife has never even tasted our cookies. Not one. It’s because her food restrictions are so tight she can’t even try them, right now. She bakes them. She loves baking. But she can’t enjoy them. We are hoping that eventually she’ll be able to bite into the slightly-crunchy-with-a-gooey-center-packed-with-chocolate-chips beauts of a treat, someday, soon.

Nonetheless, she does take great pleasure in others enjoying her little creations. She delights in the knowledge that her joy inducing circles of chocolaty bliss brings others delight. That’s joy for her, for our family.

We started this venture at the end of May and we’ve been working out the kinks. It’s been fun. It began as an experiment, us playing around. Then orders came in. Not too many at first. But these, too, acted like waves. For the first week or so, most days were quiet with little activity. Then we’d get a sale here, a delivery there. Then one day in early June we had a large swell crash on us. Things went bonkers. And we started to wonder if we had something, something real.

Yesterday we posted on social media to our friends unsure what kind of reception we would get. And it was amazing. We had our biggest day of sales to date. We were astonished at the response and generosity. I mean, our cookies aren’t cheap. But people bought. Some kept buying. And they were gifting to this person and that person who lived on the west coast and out east and to a neighbor down the road or across the street. It was incredible.

To any of you who were a part of yesterday’s frenzy and are reading this, we love you, and we can’t wait for you to get a mouthful of this goodness.

So, friends, neighbors, and fellow humans, I’ll give more details of our journey and lessons and failures going forward, as well as other non-cookie related thoughts.

But for now, I’ll be delivering your cookies and sending them to USPS, with nothing but deliciously joyful thoughts and prayers and love that will show up at your doorstep. It’s not a hug, but it might be better.

Because, you know, when times are bitter, sometimes all you need is something sweet.

If you want to check us out, you can find us at www.cleancookieco.com and @cleancookieco on Facebook and Instagram.

Lots of love,
John and Rachel


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You’re rich

Do you feel like you have something to prove? I do sometimes.

I feel that urge to let people know that I’m doing ok; I’m successful; I’ve done something; I’m special. But why?

Comparing ourselves to others is a killer. It kills our joys, our happiness, our richness.

But I hope you free yourself from that, friends. I hope you see that life is more than how much crap you can put into your homes, more than your titles, net worth and where you lie on the imaginary comparison chart you place yourself and others.

Just because you have a lot of money, homes, wealth, doesn’t mean you’re rich. Having a lot doesn’t mean you have healthy relationships, wellbeing, wellness, character. Often the best of life gets eroded by the pursuit of more.

See, the secret to happiness is contentment.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have dreams, or try to do better, or succeed. You should.

But when you start looking around and comparing yourself, or scrolling down your newsfeed and wondering what it would be like to be so and so, that’s the problem. You’re always one scroll away from feeling life poor.

You might have reached great heights and attained riches, but still feel poor. And the act of comparison is the fastest way to dive into that dingy hole of feeling impoverished.

Because there will alway be someone doing “better” than you. Whatever “better” means.

Instead you need to focus on your life and enjoy what you have. More than that, you can be grateful, or, even, celebrate where you are.

You decide how rich you feel. And when you know that, you won’t need to prove anything.

Your contentment is proof of how good you have it.


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Things got weirder

These past few days things just got weirder.

An image of a married couple brandishing firearms and pointing them at people who were peacefully protesting shocked me.

They live in my city. They’re not far from me, which only added to the weirdness.

These people, who are basically my neighbors, looked like some strange mash up of Rambo and James Bond. And I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘What would cause someone to do something like that?’

And the only thing I could think of was this.

Fear—naked and unadulterated terror.

It distorts reality, dements our thinking, bends our minds away from facts into a terrible fiction. It makes peaceful protestors into “terrorists.” It can make something uncomfortable into a nightmarish scene that came from a movie like The Ring.

But the fact is that we all live with fear. They just lived it in public, captured on video, shared on public media.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending them. What they did was absolutely wrong. They could have killed someone. Their actions were reckless, foolish, and terrible.

But, I am trying to understand why someone in my city would do something so outrageous. What would cause someone to think, “You know what? I’m going to grab my semiautomatic rifle and take it out to the lawn and hold the line,” and then I say, “Hey, Honey! Grab your pistol and meet me out there!” I mean, you don’t do that unless you thought it’s a good idea, or felt compelled somehow.

And that’s the issue isn’t it? What made them think it was a good idea?

Any rational human would have known it would get filmed and splashed on social media. Anyone who would have taken a second and breathed in and out and asked themselves, “Is pulling out firearms in public the right move?” would have realized how idiotic it was.

Yet they didn’t. And they stood their ground, holding the line, imagining they were defending their hill to the death even though death never came for them.

St. Louis is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve live in other parts of the country (New York City and San Diego). I’ve traveled. But St. Louis is great. It has amazing amenities, it has rolling hills, lakes and rivers, bursts with color with the autumnal foliage, and the nicest people. (They usually don’t wave their guns around.) Really.

They will smile and wave at you. That’s right. Complete strangers look at you in the eyes, acknowledge your humanity and then greet you warmly. Let me tell you something, that didn’t happen in NYC. I love that place but it isn’t known for its friendliness. But St. Louis is friendly, exceedingly so.

Now you juxtapose that with these two gun slingers. It’s strange. But in a way it’s not.

St. Louis has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation for a reason. We love our 2nd amendment here in Missouri. And it doesn’t take much to see it. When I scroll down my Facebook feed, I’ll see friends holding their AR15 or a family member talking about this new “easy conceal and carry” that they bought for the missus.

And the city’s love for guns is largely due to the fact that we are a very conservative (I’m not using the term in the political sense, although that’s true, too) city. We love safety, comfort, ease of living. I mean, there’s a reason why this is one of the most affordable cities to live in and pays some of the highest wages. We love to be fat and happy here, quietly living in our fiefdoms in fly-over country, unbothered, unmolested, eating pasta, toasted ravioli, custard, and thin crust pizza until we are rub-your-belly full.

But then you have barbarians “breaking down” the gate terrorizing a private street, invading their land, penetrating their border and ransacking their village of a city block.

That broke up the tranquility of this couple’s existence and disturbed their daily life, the safety they felt. It’s likely they’ve been feeling uneasy for months, not just from the pandemic but the “riots.” Tensions within in their home might have been high, as it has been for many of us.

And seeing strangers barging into their neighborhood was the last straw, and their frayed nerves were exposed for the world to see, witness, jeer at, and ridicule.

They are the butt end of a national joke.

And yet, they’re not. There are many in our nation who believe them right and good, righteous even. More said, “Good for them,” than I ever thought would have, as if what they were doing was their God-given right and the best idea to execute. People even seemed to envy their behavior and saw it as something to aspire to, as if waving a gun at innocent people was an act one should do.

It’s disturbing.

The most ironic part of this whole situation was that the couple said that they believed in the Black Lives Matter movement. They didn’t want people to think that they didn’t believe in it they said in an interview after the incident. That was the weirdest thing I’ve heard in a long time. And that caught me off guard the most.

And I thought, ‘How could a couple who believes in Black Lives Matter point weapons at protestors who were for Black Lives Matter?’

We humans are frail creatures. Empathy isn’t just needed for some people, but for all people. I know what these people did was completely wrong and stupid. But if I’m honest with myself, I’ve been idiotic, brash, harsh, foolish. I don’t own a firearm but I’ve thought about it.

So, in all of this weirdness, I’ll end with this weird thought.

It’s easy to point the finger and wag our heads and say what is off with those people. But I wonder if we shouldn’t be grateful that we’ve been spared from doing something like that and acknowledge that if we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, that could be us. We could be caught doing the dumbest things we’ve ever done on video.

And if we think like that, maybe, just maybe, our world could be a little kinder, and generous, and gracious, even to those who are having the worst day of their life.


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You can survive this time

Sometimes authority is wrong. In America, it’s woefully wrong about the pandemic.

Everything is not ok. It’s not safe.

I’m not trying to be a fear-monger. I’m just telling you the truth.

I don’t want you to get sick. I don’t want you to spread this disease to your loved ones.

Look, our leaders are failing us. When leadership fails, we must lead ourselves.

When governments fail to use reason, data, wisdom, we must self-regulate.

We must stay informed and help, encourage, challenge, and bless each other.

I’m not saying this time is easy. No, it’s terrible. It kick-you-in-the-face challenging. It’s “unprecedented.”

We must use our minds, stay calm, and not rush into a world that no longer exists. It’s not safe.

But I have hope. I believe this will pass. It will be safe again. But it’s just not now.

In the meantime, practice caution, call friends and family, eat delicious food, read books, binge a show, learn a new skill, occupy your time with healthy, socially distanced activities.

And when you get through this, you’ll be stronger than ever.

Stay well, friends.

Love,

John


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Heal your wounds

The key to healing a wound is to move toward the pain.

You know the relational or financial or emotional problems that happen in life. They hurt us.

We’re wounded.

But if you don’t face the uncomfortable, even agonizing conversations you don’t want to have with your partner, friend, mother, it only makes the relationship harder, unhealthier.

Or if you don’t look at your finances as they are and really dig into them, that will only make your financial future grimmer, darker.

Maybe something in your past is haunting you. Some act you did or was done to you sits on your mind, heart, burdening you. And you want to ignore it, but it only weighs you down, like an anchor, drowning you.

The only way to heal is to move toward our fears, what pains us.

It’s like a cut.

My son runs around and often get scrapes and bleeds. When that happens, he knows the next thing we are going to do. We bring him into the bathroom and clean off the wound with soap and water. He screams, cries, hates it—all of it. But if we didn’t do that, he would only have bigger problems later, get an infection, or worse.

Likewise you need to push into the pain. Even after you grimace, maybe scream, you must press into the difficult conversation, make the terrible spreadsheet, talk to a therapist. You need to face the things that scare you.

And it will be like a surgeon taking a scalpel to an infection, cleansing you, healing you. It will keep you from greater pain.

It cuts, but it heals.

You’ll feel whole.


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You are not an imposter

You’re not an imposter; you’re just in-process.

You might be a father learning to parent, an employee who is progressing in your career, an entrepreneur hustling to survive, or a couple trying to forge a healthy marriage. That’s good; that’s great.

Life is a process.

Anytime you try something, do something, go somewhere, you’re not going to be an expert, specialist, authority, master.

And it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong, like you’re “faking it.” But you’re not.

For anyone to become a master, you have to be a beginner. You have to muddle through, practice, attempt, fail, then try again and improve.

You’re in-process.

There’s nothing more real than that.

Even experts still need to learn and feel like imposters, because we’re all continuing to learn, grow, and become.

See, to do anything, everyone is an “imposter.” Everyone is between a beginner and expert, student and teacher, birth and death.

And that’s a great place to be. That’s where the adventure is, learnings are found, discoveries are made—life is lived.

So just because you don’t know as much as you want to or feel out of your depth or lack clarity on the future, that doesn’t make you lesser.

It just means you’re on a great journey to better things.

The key is to keep moving forward.


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