Derek, Christina, Dawson, Carter, Asher, & Baylor

Derek, Christina, Dawson, Carter, Asher, & Baylor
June 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

To Become Excellent

Of all the reasons to make a film about Jim Kennedy there is one that stands out. Those of us who have been a part of his programs at PHS have cited many things that have been learned along the way from Jim's teaching style and personality. But perhaps the most influential quality, and the one that is most needed for teens in this day and age, is the relentless pursuit of being excellent.

If you really think about it... in what settings in today's society are teenagers pushed to truly be excellent at something?

Increasingly and sadly they have less and less involvement in their lives from parents who are too busy or too indifferent to care. And if they are fortunate enough to have a traditional family support structure it seems that mindless distractions and hobbies have taken the place of quality activities that would contribute to the character of the teen. The dismantling of the family unit at every turn tragically leaves the inspiration to be great to other circles of influence including friends and teachers. If they are lucky their friends will help them to be better people and fill some of the void...but don't count on it. Instead you might want to err on the side of caution when it comes to assuming friends are a positive force.

The influence of media marketing, professional sports, and Hollywood have for many years now eroded the senses and distorted the priorities of young people everywhere. What they see on TV, Social media, and at movie theaters shapes their opinions and desires to be cool and cutting edge... And in very rare occasions are they ever uplifted and inspired to be great because they caught the latest episode of "Big Bang Theory". Hollywood equates "excellence" or "greatness" with your net worth, your physical appearance, and your latest box office draw.

The education system in our country is increasingly being co-opted by those who crave power and control. Those at the top wish to dumb down kids in school and slot them into preconceived roles so that they fit nicely into society and they don't cause any ripples in the pond. Complicating curriculum and learning styles only drives a wedge further between kids and their parents because the answers are reached only by following progressive methods that parents never learned. There is surely no expectation or path to greatness and for realizing your eternal potential in this plan.

What motivation to teenagers have to be excellent? If they are in special groups or organizations that require hard work and dedication then they will be challenged to become great. For example, if young boys are encouraged to be in Boy Scouts they will have many opportunities to develop skills and qualities that likely will help them turn into productive citizens and will prime them for excellence. But what percentage of youth will actually be involved in this kind of program?

Kids in sports now are not encouraged to be great and to stand out above the crowd. Participation trophies and "no score" games coddle kids and lead them to think that it's not fair if someone else excels on the field or on the court. "We don't want anyone's feelings to be hurt" they say as they hand out the same drone-like award to every kid that decided to show up. How are we teaching kids and teens that hard work, God-given talent, and dedication are valuable anymore when we begin to suppress their excellence at such a young age?

Throughout the film you'll notice a common thread. It's important to point out that during the filming and interviews we typically tried to capture comments that were unscripted and in their natural context. That means that when you hear student after student talking about how "he pushed us and expected perfection...and that's what he got" that sentiment is real and made a lasting impression on each of his students. It must mean that even after 10 or 15 years of separation from that life, having someone who inspired you to greatness and did not give up when you wanted to actually did shape you into the person you now are.

So why does that matter? Why is it noteworthy that a high school choir director expected excellence from you? Well, at what age in your life do you think you were most shaped into the individual you now are? If you are of the belief that everything happens for a reason you might also believe that a person is put in the path of your life for your own good. You cannot go back and re-do your high school years…God only gives you one shot. With such a relatively small window of time to gain such a life-shaping influence it's stands to reason that if you are going to be lifted and challenged to be great during those 4 short years it will likely come from someone who was put in your path specifically for you.

How will each students testimony of Jim Kennedy's real influence on them translate over into real life when they graduate? Some may only think of their time in the choir room with Jim in a black and white way... That they enjoyed his humor, they learned great music and poetry, and they learned how to be on time and work as a team. Those are all great reasons to have loved a teacher because they made your time in high school meaningful. But those are really just the beginning of what a truly impactful human being does for someone. Most will have learned characteristics and qualities that become a part of them and that cannot be so easily put into words.

What happens when 5 years down the road you are faced with a crossroads and one path leads to a noble life and the other to chaos? Will you then draw on the time spent under the wing of a man who believed in you and helped you find out what you were really made of? You may not say to yourself "self, I know that I can do the right thing right now because I remember that one time in Singers...". In reality you will not have to recall "that one time" because the seeds of resilience and diligence and honor will have been planted in you years earlier by loving parents, friends, and yes...your choir teacher. When you make that choice that leads down the right path you are seeing the fruit of those seeds because they now define your character.

In this world the things that truly affect you for good are getting harder and harder to see. Yes, we made a film about our choir teacher...and many thousands of people get that and understand who he is and feel the same way we do. But realistically, everyone cannot move to Powell, TN and enroll in the high school so that their kids can have this same experience. This film is really about shining the light on teachers that inspire young minds to greatness and examples of these kinds of people are all over the world. If you take one thing from this film let it be this; Wherever you are...wherever your life takes you keep a keen eye out for your own Jim Kennedy and allow that person to inspire your mind and heart to excellence.

And who knows...maybe one day you will be that person whose Hands In The Air raise those around you to greater heights.

Derek Hinckley
Co-Director, Hands In The Air

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Someone Watching Over Me

It's been a few months now since I experienced a significant first in life. Those seem to be more and more rare as time goes by. 

Countless movies, songs, and personal accounts from friends and acquaintances over the years have referred to those who have passed on and with that come professions that "I know they are up there watching over me".  I've never really thought too much about this as I have always wholeheartedly believed it and known it's true. But I can say that I've never understood it...I mean REALLY gotten it, until now. 

I have never lost anyone that I've actually known and had a relationship with, much less someone very close to me. I guess I've just gone along thinking that it might never happen to me knowing all along it was inevitable. 

This past summer my Gramma Hope passed away after a long, mostly joyful... but often lonely life. When I was younger I saw her a lot more often but being across the country from her for most of my life has kept our relationship largely unexplored. But for a short couple of years my new wife and I lived close enough to visit almost every Sunday. We didn't yet have a working washer and dryer so she invited us to use hers as we came to visit each week. During that time we began to know her as a person and to love her snappy personality. We developed something great with this little old lady with crooked fingers and we have always been thankful for that time to have become friends with gramma. I never pictured what it might be like if she were beyond this world and could watch me much like God does. 

My whole life I've only answered to one all-knowing, all-seeing Being. He is the only one who really knows you, better than you know yourself. He is the only one who sees you when you're sleeping...and knows when you're awake. He knows your thoughts, your intentions, and your heart. He is the only Being with these attributes. If I believe my Gramma is with Him somewhere in the Heavens...and she is, then I must believe that she has passed from the mortal perspective I knew her in...to something closer to an immortal perspective. I wouldn't say that she has the same capabilities that my Heavenly Father possess to see into my heart and know what choices I will make infinitely. Surely that power is reserved for Him and His Son. But I am convinced she can see my actions wherever I am and whatever I am doing. And she can either be proud of me or saddened because of my choices. 

So if this is true, that changes things a bit. And it should. I feel like I already have a pretty good conscience that leads me along life. I try to take responsibility for my actions and try to always consider what God would have me do throughout my day. But that doesn't mean I don't ever slip up and falter. During those times perhaps I'll think about the only person I personally know that is a resident of Heaven and remember that my Gramma Hope expects the very best out of me. Do I want to rethink what I'm about to do?  Or neglect to do?

I have the belief that we all lived with our Father in Heaven before the world was created. We knew Him intimately just the way we know our earthly father or mother. But as we enter life in this world our minds are veiled and we are not permitted to recall that time with Him. Instead, we are encouraged to live on faith that He is there and hears us and guides our lives. 

So why should it make a difference to me that I know someone personally who can likely see everything I do and don't do?  How should that affect my life?  Well, I hope that it will make me a better person. I hope that my relationship with her on earth will give me added motivation to be more helpful, more honorable, more present, more willing to give and not take. Those are the things that she reminds me of from her own life. 

I am sure that those who pass on from this mortal life have much work waiting for them on the other side.  Undoubtedly I have had generations of ancestors who have already been watching over me and have been on Gods errand throughout my life. But now I feel like I have connections. I literally hugged an angel... I watched Fear Factor with an angel... I ate jello with the yummy fruit in it with that same angel. I carried an angel from the church step to a waiting car because the parking lot was too icy. I laughed hysterically and listened to the wisdom of this angel.  It's so cool to me to know that same awesome person is without pain and is at peace in a new home. I can truly say she is "my angel that watches over me" up beyond the stars. I just hope they don't ask her to say a prayer. 


Monday, August 4, 2014

What Us Fells Need

A buddy and I were talking the other day about how hard it is to be motivated as a man to get out there and make things happen when a spouse is less than supportive and exudes negativity.

Some general thoughts after the conversation: Fellas, understand that women innately crave a certain stability to life whereas we may be more inclined to say "all is well" and not show our stress. Ladies, understand that we don't really LIKE to talk that much so please show your appreciation when we endure while you tell us everything that's on your mind. If we say "cool" it doesn't mean we're not interested... It means we think what you just told us is in fact "Cool!". We just don't naturally elaborate. Research shows that women use 21,000 communications per day including spoken words, gestures, and body language. Us men? About 7000 if you're lucky. 

We also figured out that to measure up in today's world there is a lot of pressure on the male to lead, provide comfortably for a family, and be an equal partner in helping to raise balanced and capable kids. And we CAN do those things effectively...but we desperately need just a few key things from you, the gals in our life, to pull it off. 

1. Positive Encouragement.   There is nothing tougher to overcome than to start your day with a lack of positive energy coming from the woman you chose to share your life with. And that's if your job, health, etc are looking good. How much more demoralizing is it if those critical elements of your responsibility as a man happen to be spiraling downward. Logic (that's that thing guys are governed by) would tell you THAT is precisely when positive words and encouragement are the MOST needed. 

2. Basic Respect.   If two people cannot come to a basic agreement of respect for one another then disagreements will turn to fights, hurt feelings, and dysfunctional misunderstanding and walls will be built that become barriers to happiness. If you can agree on a set of ground rules, lines that you are not willing to cross...even when emotions are flaring... you will be able to solve any problem with your husband. If he feels like his manhood is cut down to size through harsh and unfair accusations or labels (stupid, lazy, etc) or is being spoken to as if he were one of the children he is preprogrammed to protect his territory in man-dom and he probably will. Every human being deserves basic respect, especially the one who you said "I Do" to. This ought to be very useful knowledge to any woman. Treat him with respect and you'll almost always get what you want from him. 

3. Your Trust and Confidence.  When a male hears positive reinforcement and feels like he has someone to build him up who's in his corner he is buoyed up by it. It can, in most cases, help him become something that he realistically may not yet be. Is it lying for one spouse to express to another that they have good qualities or characteristics that they actually are deficient in? No, it's called faith and trust. It is your responsibility to help your spouse be the most capable, happy, productive person possible. Without a spouses confidence motivation is zapped and it takes a very strong person to still realize their potential. Remember, if your man is happy and motivated you will reap the benefits in your home with him and with your kids. 

4. Physical "Fun".   Need I elaborate on this one? When I'm gone for a week on a job and come home... What is my wife looking forward to from me? To do the dishes and get a back massage. And I do both very well. What am I looking forward to? Yep, you guessed it. Nookie. We have different physical needs, and that's okay! Luckily in our case, one often leads to another, so that's peachy. It might take a woman half a day to decide she's in the mood for fun, but it takes a guy about 3 seconds. 

Ladies, if you want to really arm your man with confidence and a sense of "accomplishment" if you want to call it that... fire up some intimacy before he heads off to bring home the pig. I guarantee you he'll think about you later in the day and coming days and that's something you want. Another very crucial thing it does is satisfy that male craving to have that part of life hittin on all cylinders. There is a certain pride that is attached to that. Doesn't mean that he'll even brag or tell anyone about it. But he doesn't have to... It will show in that sales training conference he's putting together or that meeting with an important client to seal the deal. You see, he already feels like he's sealed the deal back at home... so bring it on! 

These are things that I've learned by working together with my wife...whom I must say has helped me greatly in these areas. We still work on this stuff all the time but she is becoming good at identifying my need to have her confidence, trust, and respect. It motivates me to do even more for her when I feel like she is behind me 100%. It's a win for both of us and our boys reap those benefits. She is also very good at building me up to our boys. Hopefully she doesn't have to fabricate good things to say about me. It's important that children see your confidence and trust in their dad. If there are problems or hurdles to jump over they shouldn't be broadcast to the young kids because you end up pitting them against your spouse which is so disrespectful to him. Focus on the good things and it just might inspire him to do them more. 

Written on a plane to Denver...

Friday, July 25, 2014

To Hike or To Drive

Two families decide to travel to southern Utah to visit several national parks and the first stop is the Arches in Moab. Once they arrive they each stop and explore many of the fun spots on the main road through the park. Each family decides that they must see the famous Delicate Arch that they've heard so much about. 

The Smith family decides they will lace up their hiking shoes and take the short 3 mile round-trip hike to reach the arch. Their kid-packed SUV pulls into the parking lot and mom and dad begin to prep the family for the adventurous hike. They dress the kids appropriately, double-knot their shoes, apply sunscreen and top them off with hats. Dad packs 5 water bottles in his backpack along with some apples and nuts. Mom laces up her tennis shoes and loads the 6-month old baby in his carrier. 

Mom and Dad already know that this will be a challenge. With four kids everything is. But this was the plan... they want to complete the hike and make it to the Arch. After waiting in line for a quick bathroom break at the trailhead the Smith family is finally ready to begin and they head off down the dusty trail. 

The Roberts family also wishes to see the famous arch on their trip to Moab. But as they near the turn-off for the trailhead dad and mom decide not to stop and simply drive to the arch viewpoint.  After all, it's much easier and the kids sure don't complain. 

Back on the trail the Smith family has reached the first incline on their journey and the 4 year-old is already asking to be held. Dad throws him on his back and they head up the switchbacks to the top of the rock cliff. The two older boys run up the hill playing tag as they go and mom and dad quietly make predictions as to how long they actually last. "Hey guys, you might want to preserve some of that energy!  We've got a long ways to go" dad reminds them. 

The kids heads are still buried in their gaming devices as the Roberts family nears the lookout parking lot. With earbuds in the kids exit the car in flip flops and the family strolls down the 50 ft walkway and briefly take in a distant view of the Arch. The kids barely amused, mom and dad try to stoke some excitement into the family.  But to them it's just another boring stop on their monotonous drive through the desert. Mom and dad Roberts sigh and they load back in the still air conditioned car and drive away. 

Back on the trail the Smith clan begins to realize that this was not the leisurely stroll they had supposed. But mom and dad decide they will press on and follow through even if it means a little discomfort now. Kids begin to complain and beg to turn back but mom and dad coach them on with "come on guys, it's only over the next hill" knowing it's not true. Mom skillfully devises a game to distract the boys. "We're going to find shade trees as we go. Who can find our next family shade tree?"  

Meanwhile the Roberts family is still driving and the car is nice and quiet, just how mom and dad like it. 

The Smith boys begin to forget that they are hiking and playfully climb and jump off the small formations along the path. A fellow hiker coming down informs them that they are just around the corner and they cheer!  As they come to a flattened opening on top of a huge rock plateau they see an awesome high cove carved out by centuries of wind and water. They scurry to the top and dad snaps more pictures of the moment. Dad climbs up the next rise and this time mom snaps an epic pic of the guys with a muscle man pose!

The Roberts are still driving. 

One more bend and there it is...the payoff!  The Smith family cheers and runs up to the amazing site.  Dad and mom congratulate the boys on conquering the strenuous challenge and there is a real sense of accomplishment in their eyes. 

The Roberts are still driving... The kids are occupied and in their own world... Thanks in part to the decision to skip the hike and opt for the easy way.  This mentality fits the general attitude that the family has gotten used to. The kids are coddled, catered to, given what they want, and have every comfort that life can offer. They are rarely pushed or inconvenienced because mom and dad just want to give them everything they never had. 

After the Smith family takes a few moments to admire the site they head back down the mountain. When they finally arrive back at the parking lot they are exhausted but happy. The kids don't realize that they have just learned an important lesson in life but mom and dad do. When these kids encounter challenges that seem really hard and sometimes impossible to overcome mom and dad will remind each of them that they can do it... that they've done it before.  

Mom and Dad Smith have the ability to provide all that the Roberts family provides and more but they don't. They instill in their kids the value of work to achieve a goal. When the kids want something they earn their own money and hand over the cash themselves to the store clerk. When the kids fall off a bike or scrape a knee mom and dad don't always spring into action. They are taught to be responsible for their actions and deal with the consequences. 

There will be times in your life when the easy way will be very tempting and it will be there for the taking. Just remember the easy way isn't necessarily the best way... and it rarely will be as memorable. Driving down the road you'll have the chance to pass the exits and cruise right on by... but don't. Get out. Get dirty and sweat a little. Struggle and overcome. Earn the reward. You'll be a stronger, happier, more balanced and grounded person if you do. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Restoring Honor Event in D.C.

Christina and I were fortunate enough to make it out to D.C. this past weekend to attend the Restoring Honor Event at the Lincoln Memorial. Not really knowing what to expect, we headed out Friday morning and made it to my cousins house near the D.C. area. Even though we almost lost our a/c a couple times on the way out and it was a lot of driving, we were glad and excited to be a part of something historic.

The event for me was something that i've never experienced before. As I stood there shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of thousands of other patriotic descent people listening and watching the video and images of those who are true heroes I felt like something very special was happening. The unity and spirit that I felt in the midst of those people, who had solid values and whom you could tell lived principled God-fearing lives, was like nothing I've ever been a part of and it told me that a movement to restore Honor to the country, to our families, to our communities, to government, to everything we do is taking shape and I hope i can find my part in it.

It was awesome to be there with my wife and our little baby. We left the older boys with their Grandma and Grandpa in Knoxville so they wouldn't have to endure the craziness and the drive. We're very glad we decided to make the trip and so honored to have been in the presence of so many good honest people from all around the country.