When our next contributor, my younger brother Jacob Epperson, agreed to write a post for me, I was excited to see what perspective he would bring. We’ve been brothers pretty much his entire life so naturally, people often ask if we are similar. I respond, “We’ve got a lot in common… I’m taller one… and he’s the smart/nice/bearded one.”
As a professional counselor, Jake spends his days pouring into people who can do nothing for him in return. That’s truly selfless, truly honorable and truly Jake. Where I am quick with a rebuttal and even quicker with a joke, Jake is patient. He listens well and responds purposefully. I watched him from a distance at his recent grad school graduation. His classmates were drawn to him. Not because he is the “cool kid”. They are overrated, anyway. I’m sure they were huddled around him because they know that when they talk, he listens. That’s only one of the reasons I am honored to let him speak here.
You’ll appreciate his insightful observations below. When you’re done, make sure you follow him on twitter. The funniest tweets money can buy! – Eric
Tell a good story.
“How does a good story begin?”
“Umm...There once was this boy.”
“Ok, what’s next?”
“He was wearing one shoe.”
“Great. And then…”
This is an activity I do early on while working in group therapy sessions. We go around the circle, adding to the story one sentence at a time. Coming up with the next sentence, each person has an idea of a direction they want the tale to take. But of course, it doesn’t end up going where any one person is steering it on their own. With the story on its second or third lap around the room, Person 5 is able to say ‘But then he saw it was a Dragon!’ only to have Person 6 trump the line by saying, ‘But, luckily, it wasn’t a dragon at all, but a horse dressed in drag.’ This story doesn’t end until, as a group, we reach the ending. Needless to say, I’ve heard some good stories. And I’ve heard some great lines. These are the lines that bring the most laughs. However, the more I do this group activity the more I realize there are lines that I appreciate more than the zingers. Due to the flow of the story, Person 8 might be stuck with, ‘And so he walked...’ The Horse in Drag is great, but there’d be no horse or dragon if someone before didn’t make The Boy “walk on the green grass and around the brown wall.” A big chunk of my days are as boring as ‘And so the boy ironed his shirt.’ But I’ve learned to appreciate the mundane. It is there that I learn and develop the skills that enable me to hold my own when I see the Dragon, or Horse in Drag, around the corner.
Be direct and to the point.
Be direct and to-the-point.
Do the BIG thing.
You know those times when you’re stuck between two options of equal pull and can’t come up with which direction to take? It would take years for me to make these types of decisions. I can’t put my finger on why this is so. I’m just indecisive. (And cheap, but that’s only part of it.) But not anymore! Ever since a beating I gave myself for choosing the lamer of two options, now when I’m given a choice, I choose the bigger. For example, not long ago my stepbrother invited me to join him at a gun show. With guns. Lots of them. Miles and miles of thousands of tables piled high with millions of guns. I’m not sure if I either know or care less about guns. But it was either go with them or eat a Pop Tart and watch my dog stare at a wall. So I went. It doesn’t matter if it was fun or not. I wasn’t sitting at home wondering if I should have gone. Doing the BIG Thing has given me experiences worth writing about. And making these decisions within seconds and moving forward has freed up my mind to think about important things.
There’s no place like home.
Important things, you say? Part of the reason for choosing the gun show was because it meant time spent with a couple step-brothers. One flies helicopters for the Army. One is a businessman in Tulsa. The three of us don’t have much time together. The lesson is this. Whatever the activity, whenever the time, wherever the location, I want to be with the people I care about. This trumps the “neat” or “exciting” any day. I’ve been able to do some “cool” things in my life. Spending that year living on Mt. Fuji is nothing to shake a stick at. It’s not something I regret. Heck, watashi wa nihongo wo hanashimasu, for goodness sake. But after the honeymoon period and jet lag wore off, it was just me on this iconic volcano reading about my loved ones on Facebook. I hope you don’t hear me sounding ungrateful for this totally once-in-a-lifetime experience; this was a very important year for me. But give me an 8-to-5 job in Muskogee, OK, doing the mundane if it means I’m around you. Japan is overrated. So suck on that, Godzilla.
Know the difference.
There is honor in staying in a challenging and trying situation, riding it out through the dump, the cold winter times and the worst days. And there’s also a lot of wisdom in knowing when it’s time to quit. It takes courage to do both. I respect people who make the decision to do either.
It’s okay to try new things. If I’m not careful, my natural tendency to be timid (and lazy) will come out of hiding. Pointing back a few notches up the list, I don’t naturally do BIG things. I don’t like doing NEW things all that much either. I’m comfortable flowing with routine and letting everyday happen. Whether this makes you cringe or not, I would almost be okay with working at the same job, spending time with the same people, eating the same things at the same places. I’m a creature of comfort and habit. I have been for a long time. But boy, has the excitement really kicked up this year! Being willing to break my mold, take a deep breath and jump in has allowed for things to happen that I would have missed if I’d stayed in form. I still move with caution, but also with wisdom and courage. I am willing to take more risks. The payoff is worth it.
All things for good.
I can’t deny that all things will work out for good for us somehow, someway. They have for me so far, and I have no reason to believe this will not continue. Example? One of the greatest things for me came from hitting a tree with my car and finding out about it a month later. That’s an entirely different blog. For right now, since “this” worked out, I’m confident other “bad” situations can be turned around as well. It about did me in, but now I’m going forward. If I live, then I’ll run with a limp.
It’s a hard knock life.
Jay-Z says to tell a story about a kid with a gun, but to not tell why he has the gun in the first place, is lying. I don’t encourage kids to walk around with guns. That’s not the point of this line, anyway. The point is, the Kid doesn’t wake up one day and just go get a gun. It is the background that leads to this: the danger of his surroundings; the actions he’s seen modeled since early on; the fear he has been burdened to carry around. These are the things that have boiled up in his past - and present - that led him to carry the gun today. This doesn’t excuse violence but it does help me understand. Empathy for this Kid comes quickly when I open my eyes to what he’s up against. This line of thought ties in directly to conversations I have with people on a daily basis. People don’t just wake up one morning and decide the type of person they want to be, or how they will struggle. We can’t tell what they’ve been up against as we bump into them throughout our lives. But knowing that they’re in the middle of a long fight helps me treat them with understanding and compassion. “Be kind to everyone, for we are all fighting a hard battle.”
Don’t worship idols.
It’s never worth it.
Walk through the valley.
“Mountain tops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valley.” (Billy Graham) I will not spoil this with commentary. Thank you, God, for providing me with valleys. Thank you for teaching me in valleys. Thank you for showing me you’re with me in valleys. I will not be afraid.