The Backstory, Part 1

Beginnings
—————-
I’m an idea guy. My brain goes 100 miles an hour, and that’s when I’m asleep. I’m also very entrepreneurial. I can identify needs and markets readily, and immediately get ideas on how to fill those needs or supply the markets.

Years ago, I saw the need for a family entertainment center much like The Incredible Pizza Company in Bedford. My visits to Casa Bonita, Disneyland, Disney World, Chuck E. Cheese, and Showbiz Pizza Palace all converged in my head, and I spent a lot of time drawing up plans. I even located a property that I thought was perfect – 416 W Bedford Euless Rd. In my pre-teen years, it had been a store called Gibson’s. As I write this, Goggle Maps is showing Stroud’s Fitness there. But at some point in the ’90s, it was for sale at $4.65 sq.ft. That was super cheap!

As would be the case with hundreds of ideas, this one didn’t work out. As I tried to figure out what I was supposed to be doing, I went from job to job, unable to be happy at any of them. I didn’t understand that I was a starter – someone who was designed to imagine things and get the ball rolling. But the thought processes and planning that I put into the facility were not to be lost or forgotten.

This was part of an entrepreneurial pattern in my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was wired as a “starter” – somebody who has enough energy and vision to begin something, but is not necessarily the one who can keep it going.

Years later, once again unhappy in corporate jobs, I had the opportunity to work as a summer program director and relief house parent at a children’s home. During this time, I got the bright idea that I wanted to stretch my musical wings. I decided that even if I couldn’t perform for a living, I at least wanted to write songs. I went outside to pray about it – again, for the millionth time – and before I could even get to my praying spot, I saw one giant pillar of cloud in the north eastern sky – in the direction of Tennessee. Growing up in Texas, I had see towering clouds before. But this was the only cloud in the sky. There wasn’t even a wisp anywhere else around. God said, “I dare you to chase me!” So, with barely enough money to get out there and back, our family made the trip out there and waited for a divine appointment.

Nothing happened.

And when I say nothing, I mean, not only did I not get into the music business, but we also survived. We didn’t starve. I learned that God protects you when you dare to chase after Him. In fact, He rewards it! I also learned that obedience is more important than measurable success.

I learned a lot from my experiences at the children’s home. First, just about facilities – what it takes to create a large place to do a certain thing. Be it maintenance, groundskeeping, safety, training, there are so many details that can’t be handled by one person. Take away: this project has to be bigger than me, which means I have to find others in whom I can entrust it.

Next, I found it telling that many of the founders had died by the time we lived there. Take away: If I’m a starter, I have to be satisfied with that. If I do it right, I will not get to see the end of the story in my lifetime.

Then, the reality of living off of donations (and how uncomfortable that relationship can be). I became convinced that there must be a reasonable way to combine business and charity, and have them help each other.

Last, but not least, I learned about some of the single parents by meeting them before they were parents. Because of my position I was privy to enough of their backstories to learn that preventing the problem would be a function of historically providing for the problem. In other words, it takes trust to be able to help someone avert trouble that they are making for themselves. And one’s reputation for knowing and treating the trouble is a prerequisite of that trust.

Changes
————-
The children’s home was under the oversight of a particular religious group that I had grown up in. After two years there, God told me it was time to leave. We didn’t have a place to go, Brandynn’s parents graciously let our family live in their guest house rent free. It was during this time that I was able to get my software business up and running. Without their help, it would’ve never seen the light of day!

Right after we left, the children’s home, it encountered a period of political turmoil for a short season, and a change of leadership occurred. We were spared being in the middle of all that mess by leaving when we were told to leave. This was the first preemptive move by God that He had clearly told me about directly. Up to this point, I had only seen Him in hindsight. This was a big confirmation that I was really hearing Him.

Prior to this, God had been working on me about getting rid of my religion. If that sounds odd to you, as if religion and following God are the same thing, let me define what I mean. Religion is a set of rules a man (me or someone else) creates and follows in order to make himself feel better. Following God does not require a checklist of rules, because He tells you what to do. The former is based on self, the latter is based on relationship. I firmly believe that the Bible is inspired, and from God. I also think it has become a god for many people. The Bible is supposed to lead to relationship, and that relationship explains the words to you. But, even  if someone were to remove all the copies of the Bible from print and online all over the world, my relationship with God wouldn’t change. He would still speak, and I would still obey.

But my religion was getting in the way of hearing Him speak. While religious people like to argue over rules and appearances, God wants to move into the hearts of men, and bring heaven to earth. To clarify one of the bullet points, God says true religion is caring for widows and orphans in their time of need. While many people who claim to follow God truly do help widows and orphans, I didn’t hear the public at large referring to Christians as “those people who help widows and orphans”. Something was in the way.

I always referred to it as a glass ceiling, i.e., no matter how how well you adhere to a set of rules, you will, by definition, never be able to attain a full, unfettered relationship with God, because He has to be kept within the bounds of your understanding of the rules. But in reality, my understanding is lacking, and God is boundless! So I felt like there was something beyond the very best – the ceiling – that my religion had to offer.

So God moved me to a group of people who had a heart for other people. Not the “hurry up and save everybody!” people, but the “How can we meet the needs of others?” people. When I first met them, I was astounded by the faith I was surrounded by. So much so, that I found I didn’t have anything to contribute for the first two years. I did a lot of listening, watching, and absorbing. I was discipled.

Understand, too, that there was a high price to pay in my extended family. Our particular affiliation went back many generations. To some, leaving that behind was the equivalent of leaving God altogether. But I knew God was calling me out, and my allegiance was (and is) to Him. So I followed. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Responses

  1. Brad,
    You truly bless & inspire me. Since the first time I saw you at Cottonwood with your ZZ Top beard, I have felt this strange drawing from within to the God that lives inside of you. Now that we attend the same Marriage class and I have gotten to know you a little better, I have a God-given desire to meet with you, spend some time in prayer together and see what the Lord has in store. I am truly thankful that God has sent the Stanfords to be a part of the Body @ Cottonwood.


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