Personal Update: God the WayMaker

“Way Maker,
Miracle Worker,
Promise keeper,
Light in the darkness,
My God, that is who You are”
“Even when I don’t see it, You’re working,
Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working,
You never stop – You never stop working
You never stop – You never stop working”
The song Way Maker took my mind on a rabbit trail this morning, with this pandemic and going all the way back to 5 years ago.
I’ve been raised in the faith, but actively following Christ since 14. And each new phase is a journey that we enter together. Marriage. Parenting.
Business ownership.
It has always been important to me that in all things, that my life not be split into pieces. I had a pastor (Doug Bailey) that taught “Stop talking about putting Jesus first in your life, as though you’re putting Jesus first and your family second. Don’t put Jesus first in your life. Make Jesus the center of your life. Don’t put Jesus before your marriage. Instead, make Jesus the center of your marriage. Don’t put Jesus before your parenting. Rather, make Jesus the center of your parenting.”
So since becoming a business owner, this is what I’ve been reminded of, over and over again, especially during this pandemic. My commitment was to make Jesus and His character the center of my business. I don’t know about other stories, I do know about mine.
Although I may feel fear looking to the future, the past has loud-and-clear examples of God providing for me and my family. At times, we have “survived”. At times, we have been richly blessed. But God’s past providence is this business ownership journey is in-your-face obvious to me.
Five years ago, almost to the month, I left West Salem ATA, and students that I loved. There were many small reasons, but the biggest reason: The owner’s dependence upon me allowed him to do wrong by other employees, knowing he could count on me. Feeling like an enabler, I knew that the painful decision of leaving West Salem ATA in 2015 was best for me AND best for the school.
By the way, we were right. Me leaving forced the owner into retirement, and a new team took the school into new heights. This new team dramatically improved the competitive quality of the students there. But still…scariest decision I have ever made. And hardest. I have never actively chosen to walk away from my students, and it hurt. However, every analysis showed that it would be best for everyone.
Scared that I would have to change careers (after 15 years of teaching) or uproot my wife and two daughters and move across the country to find an opportunity or build a new school from the ground up, I remember literally laying awake, shaking. I had never experienced that feeling before.
At that time, Senior Master Rusty Duer found connections in our region, schools that would experience a win-win if they brought me on their team. So the connection would made that I would help with instruction and business at Albany ATA.
I would be there for 8 months. They helped me to learn the business from an all-new perspective, and they let me try out/experiment with a few tools, all while still being able to feed my family. It wasn’t my permanent home…my job was not to “enact my vision” for their school, but to support them in their own vision. As this happened, I started to learn that I had my own vision, my own direction I wanted to go.
Within this time frame, the opportunity to buy Keizer ATA came up. The short story is that the owner, a long-time friend of mine and competitor, Master Keegan James Ireland, wanted to return to driving a single school to excellence, and believed it was better for both academies if each had a single owner driving them forward. Also, I’m the nostalgic type: I wanted to teach in the same city I grew up and had already forged connections in. (for those who don’t know, Keizer is Salem’s hat. You know, like Canada ;-).)
The long story is really about timing, but I’m going to spare that story here.
Funding options fell through, and we learned that things like SBA loans would take 6 months or longer. But then, my dad, who was previously vehemently opposed to lending family money (which makes sense…loaning money can destroy relationships) was game for helping me out.
Then, I was able to buy it.
But then, I had only one staff member (Deborah Bickle), and I needed a staff team to create the experience I wanted to create for the members.
So Dan Shaffer, a prior martial arts classmate and comrade, suddenly appeared and said “This isn’t my chosen forever career choice, but I can help.”
Then West Salem ATA called and said that Mr. Nathaniel Mauro and Mrs. Tawnia Mauro wanted to become instructors and perhaps school owners, but there was no room on their team for them. So they asked if there was availability on my team. We hired them before we were actually able to afford them, and before they even knew what they were doing.
Then, months after Dan Shaffer left and we ran the school understaffed for a while, my old “training brother” (we were hired at the same time as teenagers) and trusted friend Reuben Gould returned, wanting to choose this as his career. The addition of Mr. Derrick Oman also significantly upleveled our school’s customer experience and our culture, and for that we are thankful.
Fast forward to March of 2020. Pandemic hit, and we discovered a feeling that we hadn’t felt since we laid awake shaking after leaving West Salem in 2015. Will we be okay?
Over these past five months, we’ve cut things tight to spend wisely. But we’ve been able to take care of ourselves, our school, and our team. Some months we’ve been a little behind. Some months we’ve actually been ahead.
We are thankful to our staff, our students, parents, and families, and the incredible support they’ve been.
But over and over again, it’s been obvious that this is not chance: It’s too hard to ignore the “coincidences”. God has been putting the pieces together for us.
I know that God does not equally bless. He is not required to, for there is noone above Him with authority to require of Him. But for whatever reason, my school and my family have experienced His blessing.
And as this pandemic continues, the fear is still present. But the greatest tool to alleviating the fear is to remember the stories of God’s past involvement in my personal and business life.
“I’ve seen You move, You move the mountains.
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again”
God bless, everyone. I don’t know about your story, I only know about mine. But if you discover God’s providence in your past, I hope you can find your hope for the future, in a time where your hope is actively attacked by the social media narrative.

The power of NEW and the hope it brings

Tomorrow is a special day for my martial arts school.


Tomorrow is the first day I teach in a new facility. We just moved two doors down to a larger space. The timing felt scary…our numbers have dwindled since the pandemic…but moreso than ever, we need space to be the best martial arts school that we can be. This was a big decision, and we remain easily convinced that we made the right one.


The emotions I feel remind me of when I first made the jump from “instructor” to “instructor and school owner” 4 years ago. It was a transition. We were entering a new world, a new phase of my career. Literally nothing would be the same.


The phase of my life in which I operated a school for someone else was an important phase in my development, but I would never go back. It was such a necessary “new” to go where I needed to go, and to become who I needed to become. I had a desire, a vision, that could not be realized until I was captain of my own ship. A certain new needed to take place.


This got me thinking of the power of “new”. I have been taught, and I fully agree with this teaching, that “anticipation is more exciting than participation.” The excitement of looking forward to Christmas is a stronger emotion than the happiness the day after Christmas, no matter how many of the best toys you got. And although being married is far more enjoyable than getting married, the anticipation is still more exciting than the participation (excitement and enjoyment are not the same thing).

A new baby. A new job. A new video game system. A new house.


New elicits a powerful emotion.


Sometimes “new” involves taking something that was okay or good and upleveling it to great. I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching at my martial arts school in the past…it was simply time to uplevel.

Sometimes “new” represents a putting to death of the old. New freedom from an old disempowering relationship. Turning over a new leaf to put an end to a negative chapter of our lives.


New elicits a powerful emotion.


And God knows that. Maybe it’s a problem…maybe our desire for excitement and newness is rooted in a lack of contentment. Maybe it’s something that He designed, planning to love on His children and surprise them with new things. Either way, God knows it about us. And He speaks to us on those terms.


Two selections of Scripture seemed to explode with meaning at key moments of my life. As I was grieving the loss of my mother to cancer, Revelation 21’s words look on life and imprinted themselves onto my heart forever…


Revelation 21:1-6

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”


And the first five months of 2016, as Sarah and I were getting ready to buy a martial arts school and begin a new chapter of our lives, this Scripture seemed to jump out of the pages at me.


Isaiah 43:16-19, NIV

This is what the LORD says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”


(Let me be clear: Yes, I have a degree in Biblical Studies, and yes, I do realize that the context of this passage is not talking about my martial arts school. But something about it made me think that God does take us through different “chapters” of our lives, and I knew He was doing a new thing in our lives. It was not the intent of the passage, but rather, it inspired a thought)


What new gets you excited?

What new is He bringing you into?

Is there something old that ended?

I cannot imagine a solution that doesn’t start with listening.

Sorry, but I see two ideas that aren’t solutions. But perhaps we can find one between them.

Last week, with the killing of George Floyd, we saw two camps erupt on Facebook. We also saw a lot of anger and defensiveness.

We saw people who supported violent protest. We saw people who did not.

We saw people who raised a voice of support for people of color, black people.

We saw people who raised a voice of support for law enforcement officers.

We saw people who defended that just as no black person should ever be ashamed of being black, no white person should ever be ashamed of being white.

We saw people who raised a voice against racism for other minority races.

We saw “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” and the inflammatory responses to each of them.


But the thing that was missing…we didn’t see a lot of listening.

Or rather, selective listening. Listening to one side, but not the other.

As long as any side is labeled and dismissed, a solution will be further away from us. So what is the solution?


Failed Solution #1 – Calls for peace with no other substance.

There were many who condemned violent protest, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. in the process. If you watched close…you saw that this took us further away from a solution, not closer. Here’s why.

Grand Master Bill Clark (9th Degree Black Belt in the American Taekwondo Association, and a legend in the industry across the board) said that “People only change for one of two reasons…inspiration of desperation.”

Protest is meant to make people uncomfortable. Is it meant to take people who aren’t changing, and create enough discomfort for them to change. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem, he made many enemies, many opponents.

What that means is…it was a good, effective, peaceful protest. (Remember, people hated MLK.)

And so, when people got uncomfortable, they started to criticize the how, why, and when of what he did. They brought ad hominem arguments, pointing out how fortunate and lucky he is to be playing in the NFL.

In short, he made people uncomfortable. He disturbed people. So they responded with, basically, “Stop that! Get back in line! Do what the others are doing!” a.k.a. “Stop making people uncomfortable!”

If what I am typing just now upsets you, I ask you to take a deep breath and consider the merit to my argument. Please know that on matters of politics, I tend to lean to the right (especially in matters of economy and crime/law) so I’m not “just another left-leaning whatever.”

Now, we have seen SOME of the protests turn violent (not all, not even the majority…some). This violence has made people angry, uncomfortable, and scared.

That’s when we quote Martin Luther King Jr. “I support peaceful protest. I do not support this violence.” But if a rebuttal is presented, a rebuttal that says  “No, you don’t support peaceful protest, because you complained about that too. And peaceful protest wasn’t getting us anywhere,” then that rebuttal leaves us without a case.


The purpose of the violent protests is this: To say “Oh, you’re scared of threat? Of violence? Of innocent people getting hurt? Now you get how black people feel.” Calling for peace without calling for change sounds like saying “Guys, let’s just go back to the way things were.” And this just causes more anger. The purpose of resistance is to get away from how things were, by any means necessary.

Just calling for peace is a failed solution.


Failed Solution #2 – Violence, Us vs. Them, and “White Privilege” shaming.

Let me be clear: I believe that white privilege exists. I believe that found in the sinful human heart are different degrees of xenophobia (fearing different languages, cultures, and races, and feeling comfort around people are look and talk like us) and that each person must take every thought captive.

I do not believe that every white person is an accidental closet racist or subconscious racist. I have another blog post that I haven’t shared about the roots of racism (xenophobia, tribalism, general stereotyping to look and feel in-the-know and confusion between the ideas of what “culture” means and what “race” means), but we won’t get into that for today. I find some of these roots in my heart, yes, but I tag them as “irrational” and make sure to smile at those I meet and treat them kindly. If anyone has ever caught me doing otherwise, I invite them to accuse me, publicly, of something they’ve actually seen me do.


So let’s make this simple…if Team A tags Team B as a threat, Team B will never trust Team A. There will always be a rift between them. If I’m on Team B, and the narrative I keep encountering is “Team A thinks Team B is _________,” then I will never feel trust or ease when my child goes to hang out with friends of Team A, nor will Team A parents feel trust or ease when their child hangs out with my Team B child. I will feel like I have to prepare them. To teach them to defend themselves against accusation.


As long as people on Team __ feel uncomfortable or threatened on the topic of Team (other), they will enjoy interactions with them less, and the problem will undoubtedly persist.


If you look at the teachings of Malcolm X in history, on Youtube, on Wikipedia, whichever, it’s clear as day: He taught his followers that white people are the enemy. He taught his followers that while white conservatives would push for a continuation of the old segregation and racism, white liberals would use championing black causes in order to gain political power for themselves. Conservative whites were wolves, and liberal whites were wolves dressed as sheep.


He taught that the only way for blacks to gain their rights back was black superiority. Conflict is the way of man, so they had to come out on top.


If one (a black person) were wronged, betrayed, and denied justice because of their skin color, this worldview would be very appealing. It would sing to the legitimate anger and hurt.

But from a helicopter view…I cannot imagine any long term solution growing out of soil like this.


The solution cannot be found in “peace.” In absence of conflict, in shuffling problems under the rug.

The solution cannot be found in “conflict” or “retribution.” No one on either side is going to take that laying down.


The only solution I can think of is justice.

Not “retributive” justice. “Restorative” justice. Justice that says “There is no greater or lesser between us.” Justice that RESTORES equality.


We must analyze our thoughts and actions. We must capture the wrongs our hearts produce.

We must take action against the wrongs we see. However, we cannot assume the wrongs we do not see. This will take us away from the solution, not towards it.


Ultimately, we must make sure that every interaction makes others feel loved, respected, and valued.

White people: Make everyone around you feel loved, respected, and valued. Up to the point where a black person around you has no doubt. Do not passively avoid unkindness, but rather, actively be kind.

Black people: Make everyone around you feel loved, respected, and valued. In this season, a good white person is afraid of being accused of racism. Perhaps they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. They may feel defensive in the current climate. Please help lower their defenses by smiling at them and saying hi.


On Facebook, do not just call for peace…call for systems of accountability for law enforcement. And if the law enforcement can demonstrate numbers that show their accountability here, then don’t blast one city’s law enforcement for mistakes another city’s law enforcement makes. Each shall be held accountable to their own deeds…not the deeds of others.


E Pluribus Unum – Out of the many, one. Listening is critical to building bridges.