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Let your vision set your goals

January 3, 2015

20141231_125626 (1)In 2001 I began to cultivate the habit of keeping a journal. Five years later I thought it might be worthwhile to go back and read past journal entries. Each year since then I have devoted the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas to reading the past year’s reflections. It can be a bit depressing when I face the brutal truth that I have made no progress at all in some areas, that the inner conflict I was wrestling with in February remains unresolved at the end of the year. But it is quite uplifting as I see concrete documentation of growth in areas that matter.

If one thing stands out from reflecting on 2014, it is the value of vision, that is, the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be. Goals can be of value as well, but I am reluctant to set goals, based on my early career experience. As a radio ad salesman I was required to turn in 90 day sales goals at the beginning of every month. It was never enough for the sales manager, so he would set the goal for me. I never achieved it. Not once. Later, as a fundraiser for a small, private university, I would submit annual fundraising projections based on the last year’s results and what I believed to be a reasonable, challenging increase. That, too, was never sufficient. The president and vice president would convene behind closed doors, then hand me the revised fundraising goal. It was not based on past results and well-calculated projections. It was based on the difference between projected earned income (tuition) and projected operating expenses. “Fill the gap, Richard.” In six years at the university I never once achieved my fundraising goal.

I recognize the value of having a goal as a target to aim for. “Shoot for the moon,” the management gurus tell you, “even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” But that’s not how I felt as an ad man or a professional fundraiser. I felt like a failure.

My experience with vision is much more positive. It wasn’t long after seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 that I began to envision myself on stage, playing guitar and singing with other musicians. The vision was realized when I played and sang in a rock band for my junior high talent show. It took ten years, and we sucked, but it didn’t matter. I found something I could do that fueled my passion, and I’m still at it today.

In 1996, my wife Tracy and I moved from Dubuque to Kansas City. Our daughter, Xandra, was four years old; our son, Philip, was not quite one. Tracy and I envisioned a church where we could invest our passion for the arts to draw people closer to God. It took us a year to find what we were looking for in the form of a start-up church that was leasing space on Sundays from the local community center. Shoal Creek Community Church had been “planted” about two years earlier, and was committed to using contemporary music and short drama sketches to highlight the spiritual message. In those days, there were sometimes more people involved on stage than there were in the auditorium seats. But the pastor and his wife had a vision for reaching spiritual seekers who were turned off by the traditional church setting. Their vision was in sync with our vision, and we poured ourselves into it. Today Shoal Creek’s weekend attendance often exceeds 1,000 people.

When my son, Philip, was five or six years old, sitting in a car seat was a major pet peeve. But he loved listening to the church band play, especially when we covered classic rock songs. I remember sitting beside him one Sunday as we made final preparations for the service. “Dad,” he said to me, “when I’m a teenager can I sit in the front seat with you, AND can I come to band practice with you?” Much like my experience watching the Beatles — and at about the same age — Philip could envision himself playing in a band. He picked up the bass guitar in middle school, and at 13 he successfully auditioned for the church band. He and I have been playing together ever since.

About the same time my son began to play bass, my daughter envisioned herself serving overseas. When one of her teachers announced plans for a summer trip to Tanzania, Xandra was one of the first to sign up. Unfortunately, the Tanzania experience proved to be cost-prohibitive, so they began to consider alternatives. Fortunately, our church had for several years been engaged in outreach to AIDS orphans in South Africa. A young couple from Shoal Creek was living in South Africa at the time and offered to be “guides” for the student trip. Xandra and her classmates spent 10 days with them in the summer before her senior year of high school. But the experience did not fulfill her vision. It fueled it. As a college student, South Africa was her first choice for a study-overseas experience, and her vision expanded far beyond the six-week internship offered by her university. She reached out to a youth ministry, applied for an intern position, and interviewed with their leadership. Everything was set for a six month stint, six months ahead of time.

Not long after Xandra had finalized these plans she learned that the youth ministry was in less-than-stable condition. Things might turn around by the time she arrived, but it was also possible that the organization could cease to function. She was quite uncertain about what to do. Her sense of responsibility said she should stick with the organization; they were counting on her. But the reality was that she could end up with no place to serve. Upon reflection, Xandra realized her vision was not to serve that organization, it was to be of service to the youth of South Africa. She could still realize her vision, but she needed to adjust her strategy. So she sought advice from worthy 1148956_10201846995122351_1392332840_ncounselors who helped her find another internship opportunity. She worked hard to earn and raise the resources to fund the experience. In May 2013 she arrived in Cape Town and stayed for six months. In that time she touched the lives of hundreds of young South Africans. Vision realized; dream come true.

Last year was a big year for my son. Philip had dreamed of being a Marine since he was 12 years old. He entered the early enlistment program in August 2013 and got good and serious about physical training to prepare for boot camp. In May 2014 he began to experience pain in his lower leg. Pushing through the pain only made it worse; a visit to the doctor confirmed that tendonitis had set in. The Marine recruiter decided to delay Philip’s entry into boot camp. Although he was disappointed, Philip carefully followed instructions to rest, ice his leg, and accelerate the healing. On July 21 he left for Camp Pendleton, just two weeks later than originally planned. But the path toward his vision was filled with obstacles. Less than a month into boot camp, in a letter he (fortunately) never sent, he wrote:

Dear Mom, Dad, and Xandra,

I have pneumonia and I’m very afraid I’m going to be dropped to another platoon. This means I’ll graduate later. Please tell our church community and ask them to pray for me. This place is terrible. I’ve been IT’d (incentive training) multiple times. Look them up on Google and you’ll get a basic idea. The idea of being dropped is very real and so scary. One recruit I know of is for sure getting dropped, which only worries me more. I miss home so much, and the thought of having to stay here longer is awful to think about. Anyway I hope all is well for you. Please keep praying for me. Also I know you’ve probably replied to my letters but we haven’t…

And that’s where the letter ends. Not long after writing it he recovered and began receiving our letters. In the weeks that followed he went through another bout of tendonitis, numerous “ITs,” and the Crucible, but he never got dropped. Our family was were there, along with my sister, our mother, and a couple of very good friends, to see him graduate in October. Completing boot camp was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Philip says. I envy him. The experience has granted my son an air of confidence and maturity of faith that I never had at his age. Vision realized; dream come true. If he can make it through USMC boot camp, he can accomplish just about anything he wants to.DSC01020 (2)

When vision intersects with passion, amazing things happen; but if you don’t cultivate your passions, you might miss out. As a new father, I came close to concluding that it was time to put the guitar aside. I mistakenly thought guitar was a young man’s folly, unless you got lucky like Keith Richards (guitarist and founding member of the Rolling Stones). Real men put their toys aside. When we were on the hunt that led to Shoal Creek Community Church, my vision was less about playing guitar and more about being part of a church community that leveraged the arts to reach people and draw them closer to God. Apparently God had other things in mind. When I contacted the Shoal Creek music director, he told me he was looking for a “plug and play” guitarist who could fit a variety of musical styles. In 25 plus years as a guitarist I had played acoustic, electric, classical, rock and roll, country, jazz, bluegrass, folk, even musical theater. Jack of all genres, I passed the audition.Three years later, the music director was gone and I took over on a volunteer basis. After five years I happily handed the reins to a very talented young woman who has taken the music program toRockinAround new levels of professionalism. She values me as much more than a guitar player; I am one of her trusted advisors. But I am also the principle guitarist. They call me the Grampa of the music team.

Vision realized; dream come true. And when God is truly smiling down on us, I get to play me some rock and roll.

Despite my distaste for setting goals, I admit they have played an important role in each of these stories. But when your vision is clear, in sync with your passions, and part of a purpose larger than yourself, the goals become obvious. They set themselves and are naturally accomplished as you pursue the vision. My New Year’s Resolution is to keep that in mind as I move through 2015, and I invite you to join me.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rance permalink
    January 3, 2015 5:59 pm

    Awesome perspective, Richard. From the outside looking in, it’s been cool to see God work in you and your family over the years. I’ve learned a lot just by watching. It is a true privledge to know you!

  2. January 6, 2015 9:48 pm

    Great post Richard…it has been amazing to witness these visions come to be. This reminded me of a post by James Clear I read recently that is helping me step away from “goal-setting” to more systems thinking. Basically being what I believe I am to be, and the “goals” will be achieved, without all the negative baggage that comes from not meeting an arbitrary goal. The article is at

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