Peaks N’ Valleys

“Sometimes you’re on top of the world.  Stay humble.

Sometimes you’ve hit a low.  Stay hopeful.”



I hadn’t heard much about Lokai until Emaan Sourjah gifted me this seemingly simple bracelet for my 35th birthday this year.

The piece contains water from Mount Everest, the highest point on earth, as well as mud from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.  It’s a daily reminder of balance, of the reality that life has ups and downs, and that sometimes we lose focus and lose hope.  When we’re way up, we need to focus on what’s truly important.  And when we’re way down, we need perspective.

Pretty awesome concept I must say.  Wish I would have thought of it!

Anyway, after Christmas, New Year’s, a milestone birthday, time during Spring Break to reflect, and with Easter coming up, I thought I’d share some thoughts with y’all.

Yes, I just said ‘y’all.’  A native Texan once told me that three years is good for that license : ).

As I reflect, I recall being to both places – the peak & the valley – several times over.  A few things learned that I’d like to share:

(1) Everything in life is significant.  It all has deep meaning.  Every single encounter with a fellow human being, in a mysterious way, holds more eternal significance than we’ll ever know.  I read a book several years ago called “The Five People You Meet In Heaven.”  In it, author Mitch Albom tells a story about a war veteran & maintenance worker named Eddie.  When Eddie dies, he goes to heaven.  In heaven, he meets five people; a few he knew very well while on earth and a few he barely remembered.  Each person gives Eddie a ‘tour’ of some of the most difficult moments of his life, revealing what was really happening behind the scenes.  Eddie has his most difficult questions answered, he learns some valuable lessons, and he’s able to see things from a different, unveiled, perspective.  The book is wild, I highly recommend it.

(2) All of us are in a relationship.  Relationships shape our lives and our world; long-lasting ones and those that last but a split second.  Everything we do and don’t do – or say and don’t say – has this far-reaching ripple effect.  You never know what one smile or friendly comment can do for someone else.  Every action, every word, can literally change lives.  And those lives go on to change other lives.  And it goes on and on until the ripple reaches countless souls.

(3) Suffering is inevitable, but it ends.  Sometimes when we’ve hit that low, it’s hard to believe that it will come to an end.  It’s hard to believe we can recapture happiness.  But suffering does end.  And it comes back again.  And it ends again.  We mustn’t forget that our dip in the Dead Sea is followed by the ascent to the Mountain.

(4) We learn more from the valley than from the peak.  Some of the most valuable lessons learned come during periods of suffering.  The saying ‘what doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger’ has become super cliché.  But, if faced with a humble, resilient, hopeful disposition, it’s true.  Think of the most inspiring person you know.  I’m willing to bet that it’s someone who is well acquainted with heavy crosses.

(5) Freedom begins when we stop caring what other people think.  Certainly prudence here is important, however, always remember that other people’s’ expectations can cripple us.  Letting go of these expectations can free us.

(6) True love sometimes hurts.  Living selflessly yields a much more abundant life than living selfishly.  Love doesn’t always feel good.  Sometimes it hurts because it demands a sacrifice; love sometimes requires us to deny our own comfort or convenience for the good of the other.  But it’s well worth the risk.

(7) Work is a gift.  It’s not always roses, but having a job is more an opportunity than a problem.  Let’s treat work with the dignity it deserves.  If you’re not happy in your line of work, make plans to start something new.  But ‘don’t quit your day job’ too soon.  Remain in the moment, work hard, and give it your all no matter where you’re at.

(8) Empathy is the beginning of understanding.  Through my line of work, I’ve definitely discovered that things aren’t always as they seem.  People who appear to have it all together don’t, and, people who appear to be a mess can have tons of wisdom.  Every single person is fighting a battle.  When I think of the times I’m annoyed or angry at someone, it’s usually because of something that’s going on with me; it’s usually because of some battle I’m fighting.  I believe that, when dealing with difficult people, it’s key to place ourselves in his/her shoes.  Empathy is the beginning of resolving conflict and of understanding the other person.

(9) Faith is real.  It can literally save lives; I’ve seen it.  Yes, religion is far-too-often used for discrimination and even violence.  However, a humble, authentic faith only pushes us forward; it raises us to higher ground and brings healing to an incredibly wounded world.

(10) Discerned risks are worth taking.  Our comfort zones can be, ironically, the most dangerous places on earth.  I’ve taken some good risks and some not-so-good ones.  But the risks that are well-discerned always provide solid learning and growing opportunities.

So yeah, this is a lot from a simple bracelet.  But it’s also coming from personal reflections on 35 years of messing up, starting over, striving to walk with empathy, and seeking wisdom from friends, family, mentors, complete strangers, and lived experience.

My New Year’s resolution was to be more present to people and to offer a listening ear when a listening ear is what’s needed.  I’ve become super busy, too busy, the last couple years and have lost touch with many friends made along the way.  But this year, I’m clearing my calendar for what’s truly important.  Trying anyway!

If you ever need someone to talk to, hit me up.

Some exciting things coming up in 2018 and beyond : ).

Cheers N’ Peace.

From The Middle: Gun Rights AND Gun Control.

No, I am not a middle child; I’m the oldest of three boys.

However, in the current political world, those who stand in the middle of the aisle can be likened to that forgotten middle child.

The ‘Middle’ refers to that place on the political spectrum that your Facebook & Twitter feeds – and the mainstream media for that matter – might consider completely alien.

It’s a place that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention lately, but the concepts here, I believe, are desperately needed in these turbulent times.

I tend to be quite central, politically, and while I don’t like to politicize anything, I’m going to for this post because people get it, and, I think this needs to be said.

I’ve remained pretty silent in the discussion about the tragic, unspeakable event in Parkland, FL thirteen days ago and the subsequent discussion about guns in America.  Truthfully, I didn’t know what to say.

What does one say?

Sadness, anger, and helplessness are just a few of the many emotions that have been running through my soul, and while I wish I could have complete empathy for the people who’ve lost so much, I can’t even begin to imagine the pain.

So even though it’s become a highly criticized response (for good reason), I do offer up my thoughts and prayers.

But…I also want to do something.

Now, in the gun rights vs. gun control debate, we typically are met with two extremes.  Both are extremes I ardently disagree with, and, I believe that the majority of Americans disagree with them as well.

The Far Right fears that any gun control initiatives infringe upon gun ownership rights, and tends to think that the answer to gun violence is more guns; arming teachers at school, for example.  The Far Left seems to believe that guns have no place in our personal lives and that taking guns away from people will immediately result in less gun violence.

In my humble opinion, both of these options are unreasonable and impractical.



These two voices – the Far Right and the Far Left – are both pretty loud and are highly likely to attract a lot of attention on our Facebook feeds.  Just check out the comments, memes, accusations, name-calling, and all other sorts of peace-busting ridiculousness.

However, just because these two voices are the loudest doesn’t mean there isn’t a third one.  Or even several others.

What if the answer to the tragic, complicated problem of gun violence is found not in these ‘coming-in-hot’ conversations, but rather, somewhere in the middle?

What if we proposed a solution that took away no one’s guns, while at the same time began to take gun ownership in this country very seriously?

What if we preserved the rights of responsible individuals to own firearms, yet actually did something to keep guns out of the hands of would-be mass shooters?

I want to state, assertively here, that I fully respect our Second Amendment rights and that I believe gun ownership to be a noble and good thing.  I’m currently not a gun owner, but we grew up with guns on the farm, and I’d love to own a gun, or even several, someday.  The opportunity to own a firearm for hunting, sport, or protection in potential dangerous situations is one that, in my humble opinion, needs to be upheld.



I agree with conservatives that guns in and of themselves are not the problem.  The old adage, ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ is true…to a certain extent.  People have owned guns in this country for a long time, and mass shootings are a relatively recent headline.

Many factors come into play here.

  1. Conservatives assert that the problem is the culture.  And I agree, to a certain extent.  We do live in a culture that glorifies gun violence.  Music, movies, and video games have become increasingly violent, and while freedom of speech needs to be respected, I believe it’s important to hold our entertainers to a certain level of social responsibility.
  2. Many in our youngest generation are not learning the basic human virtues that inspire communities to work toward the common good.  Such virtues are being supplanted by moral relativism, a rugged individualism, and an exaggerated consumerism, among others.
  3. Mental illness is, like other diseases, both biological and environmental.  An increasing number of people suffer from various forms of mental illness and, the causes are believed to be both interior and exterior.  It’s a case of nature and nurture, which is partly why it’s so difficult to understand and treat.
  4. Empathy for our fellow human beings appears to be on a steep decline due to a lack of authentic relationships and in-person communication.  Work ethic, and gratefulness for what one has, are becoming lost arts in a paradoxical world of immediate and impossible satisfaction.
  5. And, let’s not forget that there is such a thing as evil.  We saw pure evil raise its ugly head in Florida last week.
  6. Then, there are guns.  Not guns in of themselves, but rather, the ease with which people can access them.

Yes, there are many factors.

And while the mere existence of guns is not an issue, the accessibility of guns is. 

Here’s where I depart from the Right.

While it’s true that guns don’t kill people, it’s also true that people – with guns – do kill people.

People – who are out of touch with reality, angered beyond angry, or simply under the influence of great evil – do use guns to kill people.  It happens.  Way too often.

Gun rights activists continually say things like “Well, if someone wants to hurt another, he/she will find a way to do it.  It’s not the gun.”

The problem with that answer is that it is purely hypothetical.  We need to look at reality, at what is actually happening.  People are using guns to kill large amounts of their fellow human beings, and the ease with which they can obtain guns is certainly a factor.



My sharpest critique of the Far Right on this issue is that of legislative inaction.  This common notion that, ‘it would’ve happened anyway,’ or ‘there’s nothing we can do,’ is unacceptable, and frankly, un-American.

We have a serious problem with gun violence in this country and to suggest that a problem has no solution, or that we’re not even going to study the problem and attempt to solve it, is, yes, un-American.  We are called to be people of integrity, people of a ‘never-give-up’ mentality, people of blood, sweat, and tears who fight for human rights and the common good.  Why would we settle for ‘it would’ve happened anyway’ or ‘there’s nothing we can do’?

I agree with the Left – and with many Americans at various places on the political spectrum – that we need, and can actually achieve, common sense gun control.  We can do something; we can do something about this serious problem without infringing on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.  Gun rights and gun control can both exist at the same time; they are not mutually exclusive.

It’s encouraging to see the high school students taking a stand, raising their voices, and imploring their lawmakers to do something.  Whether you agree with their practical suggestions or not, we need to listen to them.  It’s easy to point fingers when one is on the outside looking in, but paying attention to the ones who’ve ‘been there’ is the beginning of empathy.

These students are tired of watching their peers lose their lives, and they’re tired of the inaction by lawmakers who are not being held accountable for their inaction.

No more ‘it would’ve happened anyway.’  No more ‘there’s nothing we can do.’

We can do something.



Decades ago, people started losing their lives in car accidents.  In response, we didn’t take away peoples’ cars.

We did something about it.

We invented the seat belt and the air bag.  We cracked down on drunk driving.

We implemented steps for people to become educated, responsible motor vehicle operators who are held to a certain level of responsibility.

I wonder if gun control could be similar.

Gun control doesn’t mean taking guns away.  It simply means taking gun ownership in this country very seriously.  It means holding would-be gun owners to the highest possible standard of responsibility and accountability.  It means doing our best to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of people who would cause harm on a mass level.

Perhaps we could issue licenses for people who seek to purchase a firearm.  Licensing might include training, a mental health analysis, and a comprehensive background check that would include personal, academic, and professional references.

When we hire people, it’s very common to check with personal, academic, and professional references.  We are quite particular, and actively concerned about, the people we bring aboard our companies, schools, nonprofits, churches, teams, and other organizations.

I wonder if gun control could be similar.

Other countries have implemented similar initiatives and these initiatives have shown promise.



Some people might characterize such gun control ideas as ‘inconvenient’ or ‘too much of a sacrifice.’

To that I would say:  A lot of things in life are inconvenient.

Sacrifice is part of our daily lives and every one of us makes sacrifices for the good of our families, our careers, and our communities.

If even one school shooting were thwarted, if even one mother didn’t have to receive that agonizing phone call, if even one life were spared, any of these inconveniences or sacrifices would be worth it a hundredfold.

We sacrifice much in our daily lives for the greater good.

There’s a much greater good at stake here.



Sadly, nothing we do will end this problem overnight.  There are many factors at play here.

But I do believe, and many Americans do too, that we can do something.

We can have gun rights and gun control at the same time.  We can hunt, we can shoot targets, we can protect our families and ourselves by owning firearms.  We don’t need to take that away from anyone.

But we can, and must, take gun ownership very seriously.

We can, and must, urge our legislators to do something about this mega problem of gun violence.

We can, and must, make great efforts to end the madness of mass shooting.

And the answer, like with many issues people shout about, just might be in the middle.



I don’t know.  Does anyone else think this way?  If so, please like, share, or comment.

And contact your elected officials.  If you don’t know who they are, go to; you just type in your address and you’re good to go.

They might not listen, but just don’t give up.  Let’s not lose hope.

Thanks for listening.

Peace & All Good,


Boots in A Sandbox


Hello. My name is Jonathan Campbell. Here’s a little about me.

Likes: People (Most of the time), Tacos, Siberian Huskies, Puns, Bodies of Water, Tattoos, Writing, Will Smith, Hiking and My Work.

Dislikes: Being sick & Clowns.

Superpowers: Parallel Parking, Baked Potatoes.

Weaknesses: Singing & Attention to Detail.

Welcome to Boots In A Sandbox.  Boots In A Sandbox is the sane (or the crazy, you decide) part of this blog.  It’s a place to learn about, and share, fun or meaningful experiences from a guy’s perspective.  The sandbox is our world (which we share with wearers of stilettos) and the boots tell stories of the path we’re on.  Here, you’ll read stories about life, relationships, work, faith, sports, (occasionally) politics, fitness, travel, and the like.  If you’re not super interested in dry shampoo techniques or finding the best eyeliner, try this page : ).  Either way, whether you wear boots or stilettos, I hope you find the articles in this section interesting, relate-able, and/or inspiring.

My journey began in the small town of Grafton, North Dakota, circa January 1983.  I grew up with two younger brothers, working on the farm, playing hockey, building tree houses, and listening to lots of music we shouldn’t have been listening to.  After high school, I became kind of a rambling man, attending college in Florida and Ohio, helping launch a new restaurant concept in the Midwest, and working with at-risk youth on the East Coast.  There were more ventures as well, some of the wandering with purpose, some not so much.  But I feel like I’ve learned a lot along the way.  I now call Austin, Texas – the Live Music Capital of the World – my home, working as Director of Social Outreach at a church just west of the city.  

To this blog page I bring with me some memorable experiences, friendships with people from all walks of life, visits to nearly every U.S. state, dreams come true and dreams shattered, wisdom and folly in relationships, and a relentless pursuit of trying to make the world a better place.  Often, I fail miserably at that last piece.  But I’m trying.  We all are.

Emaan Sourjah is my beautiful, selfless, intelligent, driven, funny, sassy, and stylish girlfriend.  She truly is one of the most inspiring persons I’ve ever met, and I am beyond grateful to walk this path of life with her : ).  She’s got two little banshees, Malik (9) and Mikail (5), who are pretty cool too.  I haven’t yet been married nor had kids myself, so this is a new experience for me.  I look forward to the joys and challenges of being an encouraging influence in their lives.

Emaan and I wanted to team up with this blog and share a little about our lives – and our relationship – so that maybe those who have been through similar experiences might relate.  We both totally believe that everyone’s story has meaning, and that our stories have purpose; sometimes to make people laugh, sometimes to help people through a struggle.  Hopefully, we can do a little of both.  

We encourage you to reach out to us and let us know some of your story, too.


Jonathan W. Campbell