Raging Rivers at Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving.  It only comes once a year.  Sometimes I wish it would come more.  The family, friends, food, football, fun, lasagna, etc.  Yes I said lasagna.  We have turkey too but we have Italian roots and usually there’s a big pan of lasagna. With no ricotta cheese.  (because ricotta is just a space-filler).

In grad school, I had a professor who was recognized as the world’s authority on his teaching topic. He had a PhD from Yale and a PhD from Harvard, and his textbook was the gold standard. One of the students in my class asked, “Prof, how do you keep learning? Haven’t you arrived?”

He slowly walked closer to us and kept silent for what seemed like minutes. Then he replied, “That’s a good question, and a foundational one. As soon as you think you’ve arrived, it’s the beginning of the end. I always want my students drinking from a raging river and never a stagnant stream.”

I think gratitude is one of the keys to living life as a raging river.  Everyone can live life as a raging river.  It’s never too late to start.  Being grateful makes us hungry.  Hungry to give our life away.  Hungry to serve others.  Hungry to give credit where credit is due.  Hungry to appreciate life and live with a positive attitude.  Gratitude also makes us more happy.  Harvard says so.  Psychology today says so.  But this is the problem–my natural bend is not to be grateful.  My natural bend is to look at what I don’t have.  To remember where I’ve been wronged.  To remember the “near misses” of my life.  So what do we do?

Here are 7 practices that I’ve found helpful to cultivate a grateful heart:

  1. Start the day by writing down a list of 10 things you are grateful for.
  2. End the day by writing down a list of 5 things you were grateful for about that day.
  3. Write a thank you letter to someone who has made an impact on you. (and maybe even deliver it in person!)
  4. Thank people mentally.  (in your inner dialogue be grateful to people).  This really works!
  5. Unplug from social media and take some time to reflect on this past year.  The blessings you’ve been given, unexpected times with friends and family, what’s been meaningful, etc.
  6. Think about the tough, unhappy times of this past year.  You can even be thankful for these. Maybe it’s “how far you’ve come.”  Or how you’ve grown.  Or even that your current circumstances aren’t as bad as they could be.
  7. Meditate on how good God is.  Think about who He is and how much He loves you.  Nothing can change this.  He can’t love you any more and won’t love you any less.

What else do you do to help you be grateful?

The sky’s the limit with gratitude.  As things swirl around in a hectic, hot mess this week, will you take a little time and cultivate a grateful heart?

Happy Thanksgiving!  Here’s to becoming raging rivers.



What’s your mission statement?

“People with clearly defined missions have always led those who haven’t any.  You are either living your mission, or you are living someone else’s.”

—Laurie Beth Jones, The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and for Life

It was said that during World War II, if an unidentified soldier appeared in the dark and could not state his mission, he was automatically shot. (1)

Mission in World War II was a matter of life and death.

It still is.

Do you know your mission in life?  If you don’t, how do you make decisions?  As the World Series begins tomorrow, I realized that I don’t care about it. At all.  But for the two team players, coaches, personnel, and fans, it matters. A lot.  Maybe the biggest goal of their life.

If you don’t know the target, it’s rather difficult to hit it. So the old adage goes, “if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

Your mission is the most important thing you can do with your life. What are your life values? Can you name three? Can you name one? What are your unifying principles (overarching guiding principles that help you stay on purpose)? What do you want to accomplish in this world?

You might not know and that’s okay. But the sooner you discover your purpose and figure out your mission, the sooner you’ll be able to accomplish it. The sooner you will have a lens through which to make decisions. Here are some questions to meditate on to begin crafting your personal mission statement:

  • If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
  • If you could influence a cause, what would you choose?
  • What are some issues that you’re passionate about?
  • What are you really good at?  Where do these overlap?


Here are some helpful links to begin developing a personal mission statement:

  1. How to write a mission statement in 5 easy steps.
  2. How to write a mission statement in 3 easy steps.
  3. 12 inspiring company mission statements.
  4. Franklin Covey’s how to build a personal mission statement.  (you have to give your email).
  5. How to write a personal mission statement (in the Christian faith)
  6. Michael Hyatt’s helpful 3 questions.


(1) Laurie Beth Jones, The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and Life (New York: Hachette Books, 2001)


What will your funeral be like?

Your Deathbed Regrets

Have you ever thought about your funeral?  Morbid I know.  But something that might give some deep insight.  As you think about it, who is there?  What do they say?  What would you change?  What regrets do you have?  Have you ever been near someone when they are close to passing away?  It is a profound time when the divider between temporal and eternal becomes thin.  Mortal is about to step into immortality. It causes reflection upon one’s life and causes people to wonder what they would have done differently.  At the end of your life, what will stand the test of time?

Top 10 Life Regrets

1.  I wish I’d lived a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.  I wish I wouldn’t have compared myself to others.

2.  I wish I hadn’t worked so much and wish I made more time for my family.

3.  I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings more. I wish I had allowed myself to love, be loved, and say I love you.

4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5.  I wish I had pursued my dreams and aspirations, persevered and kept going.  I wish I discovered my purpose earlier.

6.  I wish I had saved more money for retirement.

7.  I wish I had taken more risks and taken more chances/traveled more/experienced more cultures.

8.  I wish I would have realized contentment and happiness are a choice.  It’s all about your perspective and attitude.

9.  I wish I had taken better care of myself.  Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

10.  I wish I had touched more lives and inspired more people.

Sources:  “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” by Bronnie Ware and www.addicted2success.com study of residents in nursing homes.

How do you avoid having these regrets?  How do you live life to the full?  There is a book coming out in April that will address these regrets.  You will be equipped with better time management skills so that you can spend more time with your family and less at work. You will learn all about money and investing and how to budget now so that you will be able to have more money later. You will learn how to build better relationships with those around you and care for people in a deeper way. You will be able to influence more people as a result of reading this book and avoid many of these death bed regrets.  More to come in the future months.

You Were Meant to Change the World

Part of this next stage of the journey is to find out what matters in this life. Don’t spend your life only to look back with regrets later. Take control of who you are today. What matters to you spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally, and mentally, and how will you give yourself to these things?  Most people want to make a difference.  Most people want to leave this world different than they found it.  If you want to change things, change begins with yourself.  Not many people have a deep life motto of: “I just want to come and pass through this life with a whisper and leave it the exact same as I found it.”



See future posts on how to “adult” with great wisdom and how to change the world.



Open Letter to a College Freshman

Dear New College Student,

You are about to embark on one of the craziest adventures of your life.  College will be a blast and it will change things.  You will change and transform.  You’ll probably change your major once, or 3x like me.  You might fall in love.  Or out of it.  The question is who will you be after these 4+ years?  What will happen to your inner person?  What about your character?  Here are my TOP TEN things you need to know.  In no particular order:

  1. You matter. Your life matters. What you do for the next 4 years matters.  Your decisions have consequences.  You are shaping who you will be for the rest of your life.
  2. You were meant to change the world.  You aren’t totally sure about this but let me confirm what you’ve already been feeling—you were meant to make a difference.  You were meant to have an impact.
  3. Use these next 4, 5, 6, or 7 years to find out who you are.
    1. Invest some time in your spiritual growth.  Does God exist?  If so, what is God like?  “Who is God?” might be the most important question you answer in life.
    2. Find your “yoda” or even a couple mentors that are a little older and a couple steps ahead of you.  Learn everything you can from them.
    3. Find out what matters to you and what you are excited about.  Try all kinds of stuff, not drugs or anything weird but different interests, organizations, clubs, etc.
    4. You have certain innate talents that make you feel alive.  Explore and develop these. Find out your strengths, weaknesses, passions, blind spots, liabilities.
  4. Learn how to study
    1. Only cram on stuff you don’t want to retain.  Then ask yourself the question why am I taking this class in the first place?
    2. Go to class.  Sit near the front (this will help you stay awake and pay attention).  If it’s terrible, study during class or do other work.
    3. Talk to professors and meet w/them.  Go to office hours and ask how to study and how to do well in their class. Know your class policies/how grades are determined inside & out.
    4. Go to review sessions.  Sometimes little “secrets” are given away.
  5. Learn time management – you only get one shot at life, only one time through.  Don’t you want to get the most out of life?
    1. Choose people over program and sometimes over being responsible.  Hey, you’re in college!
  6. Figure out a way to serve.  How can you give back?  It really is in giving that we receive.  That’s not just a cheesy line, it’s a profound truth.
  7. Sex is really, really good.  Actually fantastic.  But it is not to be trifled with.  It is not just physical and there is no casual sex.  It’s meant for 2 people who are committed to each other for life.  Recent research (see the book Hooked) has shown that the people who are the happiest are those who wait until marriage to have sex. Try and wait.  It will be worth it.  I promise.
  8. Meet everyone you can early.  Knock awkwardly on the doors of your hallmates.  Plan hangouts.  Take advantage of living in such close proximity to great people.  And don’t be afraid to make friends out of your dorm. Most of you will not live in a situation like this again. Everyone is waiting for someone to take the initiative.
  9. Don’t get a credit card. Don’t buy anything you can’t pay cash for.  Use your debit card for all purchases.
    1. Start saving and investing.
    2. But also don’t let $ hold you back from something you want to do.
  10. Be aware of your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  Exercise.  Do intramural sports.  Go easy on the all-you-can-eat part of dhall.  Eating 3 meals at all-you-can-eat is a recipe for disaster.  Also, maybe don’t have dessert with every meal.  Sleep more than you think.

11. OK I lied.  I have 11.  Write down what you want to accomplish.  It can be dumb stuff but also some serious hopes & dreams.  Written goals are HUGE.  There is power in written goals. Who do you want to become?  What do you want to do?  Get some clarity on what you want to make of these next 4+ years.

GO FOR IT!  DREAM BIG!  TAKE RISKS!  And have a blast.  You were made for such a time as this.

–Pete Hardesty, former college student.




Naked you come…and naked you go.

       Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul? Or a wood chipper?   PC: Drew Johnson

The year was 2001.  The phone rang.  I was the only one in the office so I answered.  A low, gruff voice on the other end said, “I need to speak with the person in charge of your chapter at Princess Anne High School.”  Uh oh.  These calls could be trouble.  I was on staff with a non-profit organization that worked with high school students and we never knew what to expect, often receiving calls from parents worried about their kids. I responded saying that person was me and asked how I could help.  “We need to have a meeting” the bellowing voice said.  “OK, may I ask what it is in reference to?” was my reply.  “I want to know how I can help you” the deep, gravelly voice said back.  Whew!  Dodged a bullet.  The next week I would meet a man who would forever change my life.  His name was Jack Birsch.  When we met, he was well over 300 pounds and had a shiny, bald head and smoking a big cigar. At noon. In a Holiday Inn restaurant (one of the few places left in Virginia Beach you could smoke).  Thus, began a friendship which would change me forever.

We started meeting every couple of weeks, then every week for an hour, then it became two hours.  He had a twinkle in his eye and a way with words.  Jack was big on grace.  Jack was big on love.  Jack had a big personality.  After we had met several times, he asked me a question in his booming voice that would become a splinter in my mind:

Jack:  Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul?

Me:  No.

Jack:  Of course you haven’t, because naked you come, and naked you go. So you better find out what matters in this life and give yourself to it wholeheartedly.

Jack continued to ask me that question every few weeks until it became engrained on my heart.  I asked myself what really mattered?  As I got to know him, I realized the impact of his life was still echoing all over Virginia Beach and all over the world.  It seemed like almost every day I would meet someone who would say: “Oh Jack?  He was a huge influence in my life. He showed up when I needed him most.”


Take a minute to think about your funeral.  Pleasant, I know.  But close your eyes and imagine what it would be like.  Who will be there and what will they say?  If you passed away tonight, how would you be remembered?  Would people be sad or indifferent?  Who would be there saying you made an impact on them?  Have you made a difference in this world?

Unsettling, isn’t it?  Morbid? Sobering?  Yes, it is. We all think we are going to live forever.  But there is bad news:  The death rate is holding steady at one per person.  You will die.  It’s just a matter of when and how.

We are temporary stewards of everything in our life.  This is bad news in one sense but good news in another.  It is freeing.  No possessions last forever, nor are they meant to. Dead people can’t enjoy their stuff.   If we figure out what matters, we can have a life well-lived.

Stephen Covey says that we should begin with the end result in mind.  He lists this principle as one in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.  Most people want to have a very meaningful life…but most don’t.  Most people want to have a difference-making life…but most don’t.  Most people want to make a huge impact in their life…but most don’t.  What are you after? Who do you want to be?  A meaningful life and a life well-lived will not just happen.  You don’t get to have significance by watching Netflix.  No one ever drifts into greatness.  No one ever drifts into making a difference.  You need intentionality.

What is important to you?  What do you stand for? With what is happening in our nation and our world, we need men and women of strong fortitude and character who know the difference between right and wrong. And people who know what matters.