Lesson’s Learned From A Cardboard Arcade

Today is the halfway point of my 28 day journey; day 14!  My first post was inspired my daughter. Coincidentally, today’s post is inspired by my son, David. It is nice to be reminded of how much I learn from my two children. A couple of days ago, David came home from school talking about Caine’s Arcade. He talked about it while he did his homework. He talked about it during dinner. He talked about it as he got ready for bed. Finally, he came to my room right before bedtime and asked if I would search the net for Caine’s Arcade. Needless to say, by this point, I was more than just a little curious. I pulled out my phone, tapped on the browser, and stepped into a beautiful example of innovation, imagination, and commitment to a vision.
The story of Caine and his cardboard arcade taught me a couple of very valuable lessons. First, while there are plenty of beautiful people, things, and acts in our world, beautiful may also exist in the form of ideas and visions that have yet to be realized. These things only become a reality when the dreamers are courageous enough to commit their time, energy, and resources to them. As I watched the story of Caine’s arcade, I realize that throughout my life I have had plenty of cardboard-arcade-like-ideas. Many times, I have decided against acting on them because I doubted that others would see the beauty in them.
That brings me to the second lesson from Caine. Simply put, it is important that you see the beautiful in your dreams, ideas, and visions. You must see the beautiful that exist in you. How else would you build a cardboard arcade and sit in your little chair in front of it day after day waiting for customers to come and share in your creation? Inevitably, Caine’s arcade was successful because he wholly believed that his creation, blue t-shirt and all, was a beautiful one.
Finally, Caine’s Arcade is also the story of a community acknowledging and celebrating an act of beautiful. It is true that the vision for the arcade was rooted firmly in a child’s imagination. However, the reach of Caine’s beautiful creation was extended when others decided to connect with Caine, play in his arcade, and share his vision with others around the world. As a result, Caine’s arcade has inspired millions and launched a movement to foster creativity and entrepreneurship in children (www.imagination.is/cardboard_challenge). David and his classmates have been inspired. They are working on their own cardboard arcade at school. And I have been inspired to continue to contribute acts of beautiful to our world, to trust in my own visions of beauty, and to celebrate the beautiful works of others. I hope that you have also found some inspiration in the simple (but beautiful) creation of Caine!

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I Accept Love

Yesterday was a tough day. I found myself facing challenges to which I saw no immediate solution. I received news throughout the day that was ripe with disappointment. I left work feeling mentally and physically exhausted and a bit defeated. It was just one of those days. On my drive home, I kept thinking to myself, “How in the world am I supposed to see beautiful in all of this?”  As I attempted to answer that question, my phone rang.  For a second, I considered ignoring the call.  After all, it was just one of those days. In the end, I decided to take a chance and roll the dice in hopes of landing on a bit of good news.  The voice on the other end of the phone was that of a long time friend and colleague.  For much of the day, she’d been trying to get in touch with me.  I explained to her that my day had been spent putting out fires and trying desperately not to start new ones.

“It’s been a tough day to See Beautiful,” I said.

“Well, let me help,” she responded.  “Today, I was reminded of something beautiful…thanks to you.”

Of course, I had no idea what she was talking about.  I hadn’t seen or talked to her all day.  With the mood I was in and the day I was having, I seriously doubted that I had aided anybody in seeing beautiful.  She went on to tell me that she’d been looking for my contact information on her phone when she came across the last text conversation we’d had…almost a year ago.  At that time, she was caring for her dog who had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  On the day of the text messages, she had traveled with her dog to see a specialist at a local university.  I’d sent her a text on that day to ask about the visit and the doctor’s prognosis.  She went on to say that she really appreciated the text messages on that day, and that it meant a lot to her that I thought about her and her pet.  She also mentioned that rereading the text messages brought back a host of beautiful memories of her dog and all the wonderful things he brought to her life.

I smiled as I listened to my friend describe this inadvertent brush with beautiful.  I smiled because I also remembered her wonderful dog with bright eyes who was always ready to play.  I smiled because her memory inspired memories of my own dog who I’d lost years before; the lovingly patient one with wise eyes who was always ready for a walk.  I smiled because I realized at that instance in time that beauty can be found everywhere…even in moments of pain, loss, confusion, and disappointment.  In other words, beautiful can be found on one of those days.

I went to bed last night thinking about this very important lesson.  I woke this morning, September 11, 2013, with a renewed commitment to see beautiful.  On my way into work, I listened to the local radio station’s rebroadcast of news clips from the attacks of September 11, 2001.  As I listened, I recalled the events of that day; the fear and sadness, the calls to loved ones, the anger and frustration.  Immediately, I found myself spinning in the same ball of confusion I’d been met with just the day before.  “Where is the beauty,” I wondered.  Immediately, I thought of the conversation with my friend.  I was immediately reminded of the acts of beautiful that grew out of the tragedy our world experienced on September 11th.  I was reminded of the acts of bravery and kindness enacted in support of community.  I was reminded of my own renewed appreciation for family and friends. I was reminded of the calls for peace, nonviolence, and cooperation that went out from communities around the world.

Recently, I came across footage from the ABC show, What Would You Do?  I believe it is a nice example of a beautiful act in the midst of struggle.  Given the players involved, I feel it is also especially relevant for today.  If you have some time, take a look at the clip.  I hope that it will remind you of the beauty that exist around you today; the smile of loved one, kind words from a stranger, an act of forgiveness, or a walk in the neighborhood with a furry, four-legged friend.

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Music Inspired By Beautiful


Yesterday was the end of my first seven days of this month’s See Beautiful challenge.  I have learned some important lessons this week.  First, you don’t have to search for beautiful.  Instead, you have to teach yourself to see the beautiful that exist all around you.  It’s like getting a pair of bifocals for your heart and soul. The world doesn’t change.  You just see it a whole lot clearer.  Second, the beauty that you see in the world around you is/was created by someone or something.  Likewise, each of us has the potential to create unique beauty in our world.  Finally, you need to feed yourself beautiful.  Find those things that remind you of the beauty in this world and connect with them as often as you can.  Doing so helps to reinforce the important idea that this is a world full of beautiful.

This last piece has really stuck with me.  I’ve been looking for ways to feed myself more beautiful.  One of the solutions that I came up with is a see beautiful soundtrack; music that is inspired by and inspires beautiful.  I asked friends, family, and loved ones to recommend songs for the playlist.  From their recommendations, I pulled 28 songs (one for each day of my journey).  The final list is eclectic.  There are different genres of music from different musical generations in a variety of styles.  Many of the songs were new to me.  Some were old favorites.  The final list is…beautiful and, I’ve got to say…I love it. Thank you to everybody who contributed to it.  Here is the final playlist:

  1. Lovely Day – Bill Withers
  2. Brave – Sara Bareilles
  3. Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin
  4. Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
  5. Somewhere Over The Rainbow & What A Wonderful World – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
  6. I Can See Clearly Now – Jimmy Cliff
  7. The Rainbow Connection – Kermit the Frog
  8. Golden Time of the Day – Maze featuring Frankie Beverly
  9. Clouds – Zach Sobiech
  10. Blessed – Jill Scott
  11. Beautiful – India Arie
  12. You Are The Universe – The Brand New Heavies
  13. One Love – Bob Marley
  14. One Day – Life Vest Inside
  15. True Colors – Artists Against Bullying
  16. Beautiful Day – U2
  17. We Are One – Maze featuring Frankie Beverly
  18. Man In The Mirror – Michael Jackson
  19. There’s Hope – India Arie
  20. Seasons of Love – Cast of Rent
  21. Wake Up Everybody – John Legend & The Roots
  22. Ooh Child – Nina Simone
  23. Stand By Me – Playing for Change
  24. Firework – Katy Perry
  25. Oh Happy Day – The Winans
  26. Here Comes the Sun – The Beattles
  27. Imagine – John Lennon
  28. Sweet Baby James – James Taylor

I have put the playlist on YouTube and you can access it here.

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Be the Change

I have to admit. I’m pretty uncomfortable with change. I like my coffee with a splash of cream and a couple of spoon fulls of sugar. I find comfort in tradition. For 28 Days is pushing me to really consider the value of change; especially when it is for the better. The funny thing is that sometimes you won’t know the benefits of a specific change (be it large or small) unless you embrace it.
Enjoy the video. I look forward to continuing this journey with you tomorrow. Be the change that you want to see!

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From Seeing to Creating Beautiful


Day four of my 28 day journey has been very interesting.  I spent the day at a retreat for the staff of the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence.  I have been serving as the director of the Center for a little more than two years now.  The Center is a very special place.  It is full of talented and compassionate people who wake up each morning to work on tackling some of the toughest problems facing urban schools and communities today.  We do valuable work.  Today, however, something happened that made me shift in the way that I see the men and women of the Center.  As we sat together today…sipping coffee and eating turkey sandwiches…talking about the challenges that still leave us baffled…planning purposefully for the upcoming year…and laughing at and with each other, I came to understand something that had never before crossed my mind.  Simply put – the men and women with whom I work each day are in the very important business of creating beautiful. These past four days, I have focused my mind, body, and soul on attempting to see beautiful.  Yet, I work in a community each day that is wholly focused on creating beautiful in our world and in the lives of others.  That simple thought brought a smile to my face today. I am still wearing it as I write this.

It is a powerful and inspiring idea – each of us is capable of creating unique forms of beauty in this world.  How would our world change if every person decided that each day they would find some way to make a beautiful contribution? The question reminds me of the story of Bai Fangli (pictured above).  If you don’t know the story of this phenomenal man, here is the brief version:

In 1987, a 74-year old rickshaw puller by the name of Bai Fangli came back to his hometown planning to retire from his backbreaking job. There, he saw children working in the fields, because they were too poor to afford school fees.

Bai returned to Tianjin and went back to work as a rickshaw puller, taking a modest accommodation next to the railway station. He waited for clients 24 hours a day, ate simple food and wore discarded second-hand clothes he found. He gave all of his hard-earned earnings to support children who could not afford education.

In 2001, he drove his rickshaw to Tianjin YaoHua Middle School, to deliver his last installment of money. Nearly 90 years old, he told the students that he couldn’t work any more. All of the students and teachers were moved to tears.

In total, Bai had donated a total of 350,000 yuan to help more than 300 poor students continue with their studies. In 2005, Bai passed away leaving behind an inspiring legacy.

Bai Fangli’s story represents the exclamation point at the end of a day full of joy and revelation.  Today, I learned a important very important lesson: the beauty you are looking for may be waiting within you to create.  Day Five…here I come!

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A Letter From Fred

A powerful example of beauty in action. A group of musicians connect with a man with lyrics of love to create a beautiful piece of music. To love openly and freely is truly an act of beauty!

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For Father’s Day, my mom gave me a copy of Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack.  Inside the frond cover, she included a short note which read simply – “A little something to think about.  Enjoy.”  I’ve been picking my way through the book whenever I have a moment.  I’ll read a couple of pages here or a chapter there.  The book chronicles the journey of a man who like me is a father and husband.  He is also learning, like me, to better understand the examples of beauty that exist around him.  As my mother predicted, the book has got me really thinking.

Last night, I came across something that really made me reconsider my ideas about relationships with people.  I thought I would share it with you this morning.  This is the passage:

Each relationship between two persons is absolutely unique.  That is why you cannot love two people the same. It simply is not possible.  You love each person differently because of who they are and the uniqueness that they draw out of you.  And the more you know another, the richer the colors of that relationship. (p. 215)   

That’s it.  It is a simple paragraph that describes the beauty of the relationships with people in our lives. As I read it, I couldn’t help but be excited by the idea that each of these relationships is a one-of-a-kind expression of one person’s connection to another person; one that grows richer as we learn about each other. As I continue my 28 day challenge to see beautiful in my world, I now realize that each day I have the opportunity to forge a unique creation when I open myself to learning about and sharing myself with others. In some ways, I am now challenged to look at some of my relationships with new eyes and search for ways to build with people in deeper and more beautiful ways. 

If you’re interested in checking out The Shack, you can find it here.  I’m enjoying it.

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A simple video with a wonderful message. Sometimes we aren’t aware of the beautiful acts that shape our world. However, at times there’s a hint if we know where to look.

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Like many parents, I love a quiet Sunday morning with a lazy start time. There’s nothing like sleeping in!  This morning, however, my four year old daughter decided to jump start my day in her own special way.  I’m not quite sure when she managed to climb into my bed.  She can be ninja-silent when she wants to be.  I only noticed her when those little fingers started tickling my cheek and I heard her raspy little morning voice begin to sing –

Wake up everybody, no more sleeping in bed.

No more backwards thinking, time for thinking ahead.

Can you believe that? Teddy Pendergrass and my daughter conspired to get me out of bed early on a Sunday morning!  Ordinarily, I might have muttered a “go play” and turned over to finish sleeping. This morning, I couldn’t help but turn to her and smile.  What an absolutely beautiful way to start my day and this 28 day challenge.  I snapped the picture as a reminder to see beautiful in the small and loving acts of my children…even at 8:00 on a Sunday morning.