When I was 17 years old Dr. T.T. Crabtree, the retired 73 year-old pastor of First Baptist Springfield MO, bought me a little thin black book simply titled: "Integrity."
Now, I'd heard that word my whole life and sort of knew what it meant but had never really given it much thought. I just thought it meant "be honest" or something.
It wasn't a book that I was too happy to receive as I was mostly hoping for cash for graduation so I stashed it away in some box with all my other forgetables.
I spent the next 5 years of college barely making it for classes, missing engagements, telling people that I would do something and then back out. The worst part of it all was that I usually took advantage of the people that I cared about the most.
Subconsciously I guess I knew that they would still love me at the end of the day if I called my dad a few hours before I was supposed to help him with the wood pile and tell him I couldn't make it.
So the next 5 years were spent, building a name for myself that was synonymous with being late, and being a no-show. Undependable but talented. Likeable but frustrating. Intelligent but unfocused. Immature.
By the time I reached my last year of undergrad. I had a whopping 2.7 GPA and a bunch of bounced checks and over-charged credit cards.
Honestly, it was the hunt for cash that led me back to this little black book and then spurred me to open it at all.
"Hmmm" I thought. "You know? I never checked this book for cash. Maybe there is a check in there or something." (Not giving the first thought to how crappy it would be to cash a 5-year-old check, even if the bank would do it.)
The first sentence I read changed my life forever. It was this author's simple definition of Integrity.
"Integrity is simply doing what you say you will do when you say you will do it. It is essential to becoming the man that God wants you to be. You will never be that man until you grasp this concept."
Wham! A light flicked on in my mind. I realized that my reputation, my bad credit, my negative bank account, was due mostly in part to my lack of this Integrity. And Integrity comes by choice alone. The roots of being undependable had grown deep but it wasn't too late... hopefully.
I graduated that year, (After begging my geology teacher to give me a C--- for all my no-shows. Honestly I think he gave it to me becasue he couldn't take another year of me!) and slowly but surely I began to build trust. Honestly, some of those relationships will be forever tarnished. Some are still just moderately repaired to this day. But when I started my grad degrees, I decied to change. I decided to change the way I think and change the way people think about me. It is the definition of repentance. "To change the way you think."
I was amazed at the way it made me feel to be thought of as a man people could depend on. It was humbling and empowering.
Do what you say you will do. If you know you can't do it, then don't say you will. If you can't do it after you have committed, then you better have a good reason or your relationships might be damaged and will take mending. Even if it is for free.
Especially if it is for free.