A mom for all seasons

If many of you were to write a blog about your mom and titled it ” A mom for all seasons” I suspect your story might be about one special woman who showered you with unconditional love, who was your rock, your inspiration and a guiding light in your life. Still others of you might write a story of two or maybe three such ladies. In this world of moms, stepmoms, adopted moms and biological moms there is no end to the variety of moms in our lives. All of them have such a profound impact. There may be yet another segment of you out there that will feel like they have no mom or mom figure to write about. If that is you, I am so sorry and I hope this story helps you realize that, out in the world, are so many special people who want to love you like a mom, whether you are their kid or not, no matter what age you are.

The last subset of folks out there reading this may be more like me, perplexed on Mother’s Day about who to thank first? Challenged with so many incredible mom figures in their lives that raising them one above another would be a disservice to the season in which they were there for me in that way that is only describable to those who have known that kind of unconditional “mom love” that might prompt one to write a blog post like the one I described above.

As I have wrestled with this dilemma through the years I have written Facebook posts, built collages, reached out to each one separately, you name the tactic I have tried it! This is the first time I am going to try to write in more depth about a sample of these ladies in the framework of my 50 years of life so far and the many seasons that these ladies have played a part in. I need to start by prefacing that I am probably going to mess some things up, I’m probably going to forget something or someone critical, but my prayer is that this will be read in the spirit it is written in- as a tribute and as a small glimpse into the wonder of moms and how people can be there for each other at the most critical and pivotal moments in their lives.

Catherine-The Birth of Belonging

I am convinced that the woman who was kind enough to give me life and so many other incredible gifts had every intention of my never needing any other mom figure in my life. Circumstances, in hindsight, some of my very own making, proved that was not to be the case. Thanks to my dad’s early adoption of home movie equipment, I am very lucky to have actual footage of this unbridled joy and affection she had for me in the video above.

I think it is easy to see that my mom wanted nothing but joy and happiness for me from my earliest days toddling around this planet. She provided my fledgling brain, heart, and spirit with everything she could to give me the right start in life and I am forever grateful for that. My mom and I were very close from early on and into my childhood. She taught me to love music, she taught me to love art and explore my creative side. My mom and I watched a lot of the same TV shows and talked philosophically about life, even at a young age. My mom, sisters and I relied on each other to navigate the life of a single mom with four kids. It wasn’t always sunshine and roses, but she stood up for me when I was picked on at school, she laughed at my terrible impressions and she encouraged my love of learning. She taught me many lessons about life, survival and finding joy in the midst of struggle.

Josephine-A Firm Foundation in We Need Each Other and a Glimpse at Servant Leadership

Right alongside my mom, I was lavished with the kind of love and attention, that only the first-born grandson of a New York Italian American Italian family can understand, from my grandmother. This next mom figure was the strongest family figure for all of us through the first part of my life until her passing. For me and my triplet sisters, the lines blurred between our Grandma and our mom as they co-parented us through some challenging years. This mom was beautiful in so many ways and she taught me so much about life that I am still uncovering today. She literally risked jail for us as she wrote bad checks to feed us. She made our clothes sometimes when we had no money. She let each of us live with her at various times in our tumultuous lives. She worked to manage the more chaotic elements of our lives as much as she could. She helped me get my first job, my first car, get in contact with my estranged father and family in New York. She was an amazing woman and one day I’ll write a special, proper post about her, but for now, I’ll keep it short and simple: she taught me grit. She taught me how to manage my way through untenable situations to the other side. She taught me how to make family a priority. Mostly she showed me what servant leadership was all about before I ever had words for that. I wish my wife and kids and my younger and newer family and friends could have known her, she was truly one of a kind and will always be in a pinnacle spot in the hall of JJ’s moms.

Margaret-The Loyal Laughter of Childhood

The next mom-like figure I’d like to feature is my Aunt Margaret. This is a bit weird because I could just as easily share that she was more like a big sister to me. We shared a room for part of my childhood. We shared many laughs. She took me with her to her high school football games. She celebrated me and cheered me on through childhood and young adult trials alike. She and I were, at various times, each others’ “person” as they call it nowadays, well before that term was ever coined. So perhaps it is a bit off the mark to include her here, except for the fact that before she had kids of her own and even at certain times thereafter, she watched out for me as if I were her kid and showered me with that level of self-sacrificial love and attention that was more about me and less about her that only moms can exhibit.

Jo-The Sparks of Esteem and Possibility

When I was a teenager before I started working, I was poor: food stamp poor, no quarter for the Dig Dug video game poor. There is more about that in other blog posts, but the next mom figure in my journey is my Aunt Jo. Aunt Jo was responsible for teaching me so many things about being both a kid and an adult I can never repay her. During a very pivotal time in my life, when my self-esteem was at an all-time low, my Aunt was a like a mom to me. Under the guise of me coming up to help her and her husband care for their new baby girl, she arranged for me to live in New York City with them for more than one summer. There I learned about life in the city, caring for a young family, going out to eat at restaurants. I had my first restaurant beer, my first true tourist experiences at places like Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center. I was (at first forced) and then allowed to go out and buy vegetables and groceries on my own at the corner market. I had some of my first ever clothing and haircuts that were not from a thrift store or my grandmother’s seamstress scissors. As we drove down the bustling streets of New York she noticed I couldn’t see the signs as crisply as I should be seeing them and helped me get my first pair of glasses. She opened up the world for me, expanding it from black and white to technicolor both literally and figuratively. More than anything, she built me up. She told me I was going to be OK. She refused to let me wallow or be down on myself, she built me up and tried to make me as ready as she could for my next steps in life. She helped me see there could be more for me than the life I was living and that I was capable of achieving it. I had been told that before, but I didn’t believe it until my time with her.

Pat-The Power of Potential and Unconditional Love

I’ll never forget a certain walk that was both just like and not like any other walk around the McDonald’s restaurant where Pat and I were managers. She was not only my boss, but she was also my mom and we had ourselves a little family there at the restaurant. I had come back from my time with Aunt Jo in New York and started working at McDonald’s, a couple of years later I was managing at said McDonald’s with Pat as my boss. Shortly after that she and I “got our own store” where she was THE manager and I was the assistant. It was an amazing time and I learned a great deal about managing people while also serving and loving them from her. An opportunity came up for me to leave and try something different, but it was an opportunity fraught with challenges and potential burning of bridges. I essentially had to leave everything I been building to go try and build something else somewhere else. One of the things I dreaded about this decision was letting down my champion and letting down my latest mom in the hall of JJ moms. So we went for that walk and I told her. She probably held back all her instincts to tell me this was a potentially disastrous move and instead simply told me she loved me, unconditionally and would support me no matter what I did or where I went. Mind you at that time, she and I were critical players in an incredibly busy business and this move meant professional pain and challenge for her on top of worrying about me leaving town, yet she chose to support me over self-preservation. A mom’s love if I’ve ever known it. PS: When I returned with my tail tucked between my legs, some years later, I received a judgment-free welcome as if I were the Prodigal son returning home.

Evelyn-Adoption without the Paperwork

It is weird even typing the word “Evelyn” as Mom Galloway will always and forever be Mom Galloway to me. Mom Galloway is the biological mom of my best friend’s family. A family who practically adopted me in my teenage years I described above while I worked at McDonald’s and forever after. The man in the picture is her husband Duke, who passed away suddenly one Christmas. That Christmas stands out in my mind for many reasons, but for one, the reason I was there as it was the most Christmas like dwelling to be, at the time, for me. Her boys were helping me with work on one of my beater cars that Christmas. She was cooking incredible meals and asking about my day like any mom would, just accepting my presence at her house by day, overnight, just any time I wanted or needed to be there, as a given. There was no drama to the adoption. No papers. I was just always introduced as the adopted child of this family and I still feel like their son, decades after I held her hand on the kitchen table after Duke’s passing. I still receive handwritten notes asking after my family. I still get giddy smiles when I make an all too infrequent phone call to her and an “oohhh John I’m sooo haappy you called.” Her voice and written cards sound and look like home to me and she will forever represent that as well. Mom G will forever be my adopted mom without papers.

Gail- My Momma @ Work

When you are new to your career and you start leading people you don’t expect that you’ll end up calling one Mom, but that is what happened to me. I was also new to my marriage and a young father at the time and there I found myself at work with this woman who wanted nothing more than to reassure me and build me up every day. Gail is not super mushy or gushy despite my depiction, in fact, she is quite matter of fact in her declarations. The kind of momma I needed at that season was exactly what God brought me, a no-nonsense, unconditionally loving, straight-talk wielding lady who wouldn’t put up with my crap but wouldn’t let me beat myself up either. You make a lot of mistakes as a young career person and a young dad and I was blessed to have this kind of support both at home with the next lady you’ll hear about and at work with Momma Gail. She will forever be the Lovey Howell on the Gilligan’s Island of my mom’s.

Diane-A Refuge of Calm Counsel

A lot of folks get confused when I call my mother in law Mom instead of Diane. The same is true for my father in law, and I hope part of their confusion is the affection they hear in my voice for each of them. I hope another part of the confusion is because I hit some sort of strange jackpot when I married into my family that included this woman who provides me a place to go that so many of the best mothers do- a grace-filled refuge and place of confidence to share both my triumphs and tribulations. This has been the case since the earliest days of my marriage and it is simply who this woman is to so many of us. A world-class listener and wise counselor, she has a way of providing thoughtful feedback and setting me back on track without damaging my all too fragile ego. Like so many of these ladies that came before her, she builds me up when I need it and now that I need the opposite, more often than I did in my younger years, she brings me down to earth just as effortlessly. My life is imminently blessed because I get her counsel nearly full time as we live under the same roof.

Thank You

If I haven’t made it clear by now, this blog post is simply a thank you to all these women I have called mom over the years. The collage was just not enough, and who knows I may yet write a true long-form post on each and every one of them. The truth is I could write a book about each and it would be a wholly inadequate tribute to these women and their impact on me. At my work we have a saying #womenmakeusbetter . Each year we are prompted to write our affirmations and pledge what we will do to help women in our workplace. This is not something I need to be convinced of doing. This is not something I can fail to do. You see, women have made me better, each and every day of my life and these women are just the moms! I also have sisters, co-workers, friends, family and of course my amazing wife. I can’t help but want to see them all soar! If you are one of them and you are reading this I want to see YOU Soar!

If you are a dude, I want to see you soar too, but I encourage you to lean on the mom or moms in your life for guidance and inspiration as I have. I also encourage you to do everything you can to support, encourage and advocate for those ladies.

Because : #momsmakeusbetter and #womenmakeusbetter .

Advertisements

Let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm…


The poet of my youth was one Gordon Sumner, aka Sting. The first concert I ever went to was Dream of the Blue Turtles, his debut solo album. A bit odd for a kid my age as all my other friends went to the Journey, AC/DC and KISS concerts, and I loved all that music too, but my  teen and young adult heart was drawn to the Billy Joels, the Elton Johns, the James Taylors and the Stings of the music world.

When we are young, suffering through unrequited love and longing and trying to figure out who we are, the songs of our youth have a different meaning. They apply in different ways. What I now feel is the true test of a great song is if that song can grow along with you, gaining alternate meaning as you (hopefully) gain wisdom and understanding.

When I first heard Fortress Around Your Heart, my thoughts were fixed on unrequited teenage love and angst. I wanted to build a bridge to some girl’s heart that I had a crush on and well let’s just say I am thankful that bridge was never built, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time! (hormones are an amazing elixir!) At the time, Sumner’s lyrics acted on my young wounded heart as both salt and salve.

It was only later that I realized I didn’t really get the intended meaning of the song at all. 

Here is what Sting himself says about it and let me share the lyrics, before I resume: 

“Fortress’ is about appeasement, about trying to bridge the gaps between individuals. The central image is a minefield that you’ve laid around this other person to try and protect them. Then you realise that you have to walk back through it. I think it’s one of the best choruses I’ve ever written.” Sting

Under the ruins of a walled city
Crumbling towers in beams of yellow light.
No flags of truce, no cries of pity;
The siege guns had been pounding through the night.
It took a day to build the city.
We walked through its streets in the afternoon.
As I returned across the fields I’d known,
I recognized the walls that I once made.
Had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I’d laid.

And if I’ve built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.

Then I went off the fight some battle that I’d invented inside my head.
Away so long for years and years,
You probably thought or even wished that I was dead.
While the armies are all sleeping beneath the tattered flag we’d made.
I had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I’d laid.

And if I’ve built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.

This prison has now become your home,
A sentence you seem prepared to pay.
It took a day to build the city.
We walked through its streets in the afternoon.
As I returned across the fields I’d known,
I recognized the walls that I once made.
Had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I’d laid.

And if I’ve built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.

Songwriter: Gordon Sumner
Fortress Around Your Heart lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Have you ever sought to reconcile with someone, someone who you encircled in trenches and barbed wire, setting them aside, building in distance and letting time and / or physical and / or emotional distance create a chasm between you? 

We probably all do this every day to some degree with various people? Often, this is only a natural outgrowth of the changing seasons of life or bandwidth, but sometimes it is deeper than that. Sometimes, we are a full-on intentional construction crew separating ourselves from one another on purpose.

Inevitably, just as the poet shares with us, right after we build up the battlements around ourselves and the other, we go off and fight some battle we invent inside our heads. We fill our thoughts with all of these things that may or may not be true about the other person in the gap of time since we were last close to them.

“They probably (think) or even wish that I was dead”…

…is a poignant representation of those kinds of thoughts. In the end, this only makes the chasm deeper, the battlements sturdier and the barbed wire sharper.

This fear of what the other is thinking, this damage that we do by cutting the ties that bind us, however tenuous, creates a condition where, over time, there are no flags of truce, there are no cries of pity, the armies all just lay there sleeping and we know we have a mind field to walk through to get back to that person.

This dynamic keeps people away, sometimes forever. If they do reconcile, it is painful and treacherous as they navigate the mines they laid down with sparse, misconstrued or a vaccum of communication in the intervening timeframe.

What does this mean for us? What can and should we do about it? Is reconciliation always right? I am not sure full reconciliation is always right and I am not sure you have to build a bridge with every person you ever built battlements around? Sometimes, the risk is real, but the key is to make sure we haven’t simply convinced ourselves the risk is authentic. The trick is to make sure we are not inventing battles inside our heads to avoid the discomfort of walking on the mines we’ve laid.

However, I would challenge you to be careful about how many people you keep in the fortress. I would ask that you scan the horizon and look for all the keeps, moats, fortresses and chasms that are in the landscape of your life. I would share that when I did this I found several bridges that needed rebuilding and it was hard work. I had to walk through those #$@!% mines I’d laid with several people…and it was some of the scariest stuff I have ever done. Yet, in hindsight, just like our invented battles, I realized the fear and my prediction of the number of mines I found waiting for me, was nothing like what I actually encountered. In each case, I found walking back to be much easier than I ever allowed myself to believe.

If it was so scary, you might ask, why do it? Isn’t life easier when we keep our distance? I have found that that is a deception. It can feel easier in the short run, and I think that is what gave birth to Sting’s epic song and many of our wall building endeavors.

I did it because of these reasons and because of what I learned about this Jesus guy, Who taught me to love one another not as I would love myself but as He loved me. That told me that I didn’t get to keep the battlements up where they were no longer necessary. That taught me to build bridges and I did, and I learned that I not only freed the people I sought to reconcile with from the barbed wire, but I freed myself.

I saw this video meme the other day of these two bucks who had locked horns over barbed wire, you can probably guess the result, neither one was spared the barbs and the harder they fought to separate from each other the tighter the wire became, until some brave farmers with wire cutters came and cut them free. I believe that Jesus has the wire cutters if you let him approach.

You may not believe what I do and that is okay, but I ask you to consider, whether it is Jesus with the wire cutters or you, shouldn’t you start clearing out the barbed wire? Are there people in your life that you have let grow far from you, who may have hurt you or you- them, that you should reconcile with? Forgiveness doesn’t mean you put yourself in harm’s way and it doesn’t have to be accomplished all in one day. Sometimes we have to start removing the battlements one brick at a time. Sometimes we have to approach gingerly at first, like the farmers trying to free the bucks.

What does that look like? Well, I’ve used several techniques. Sometimes it is a simple text or sharing a funny meme. Sometimes it is a paper letter or card, delivered through the mail, to keep the back and forth of the bucks’ thrashing horns at bay until God can get close enough with the clippers. Sometimes it is calling the person on the phone.

Whatever it is take a step. Do your scan and pick one fortress and take down one brick. I want you to soar and I know that you can’t do it any more than those bucks can, while you are tangled in the barbed wire of your grievances with one another.

Do one small thing today to build the bridge, light the match that sets the battlements you have built between you and others on fire, and soar!

Surviving change without going ape

How many times have we left for work, fully intending to play the part of the ever-composed, quietly observant, always benevolent Jane Goodhall, only to find ourselves at the end of the day, flinging feces at our teammates in a primitive display of dominance and one-upmanship?

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”― Jane Goodall

Continue reading “Surviving change without going ape”

What are you choosing to take with you?

Do you need all that junk you are carrying around?

How much of what you encounter every day is because of what you choose to take with you everywhere you go?

4:24 Yoda and Luke Cave Scene from The Empire Strikes Back
I DO NOT OWN THE RIGHTS TO ANY OF THE MOVIE CONTENT IN THIS FILM

Luke Skywalker: What’s in there? (Motioning toward a cave)

Yoda: Only what you take with you. (Luke grabs his belt with lightsaber and blaster). Your weapons…you will not need them.

(Luke finds his Father, Darth Vader, fights and defeats him, only to reveal his own face under his father’s mask)

Instead of going in free of his burdens and anger, he goes in armed for combat and darkness and that is exactly what he finds there. The dark side of him. What he is destined to become… if he gives in to it.

In the end, he is only truly free when he chooses to let go. Chooses peace over struggle. Chooses love over hate. Chooses light over dark.

2:59 Finale-Return of the Jedi
I have no rights to this film

How many of us are taking our baggage powered weapons into every encounter or every “dark forbidding cave” of our life?

Maybe you should go into the cave with nothing material at all …maybe no emotional baggage or hardware either ? … or better yet, maybe you should be armed with the only Everything that really matters, God?

I appreciate that this is easier said than done. I struggle with this every day myself. I’ve been much better at it since I stopped trying to do it on my own.

If taking God with you, is not your choice right now, please don’t dismiss this advice. For too long each of us has decided to carry baggage and weight we should have released long ago.

What do you have to lose by taking a step and trying to leave your weapons’ belt of hurt, pain, grievances and regrets sitting on the swamp floor where it belongs?

Try it. Let me know how it goes. I want to see you soar!

If you enjoyed this post and you haven’t yet subscribed, please do so today and share with a friend!

Please consider supporting me on Patreon where you can get audio versions of the podcast.

Pushing people into the chasm of tension as an act of service.

Tension. This is a word I used to view very differently.

Once, I thought all tension was “bad” or “negative.” I was under the assumption that making others uncomfortable (or my making a mistake) was always a “mark against me on the scoreboard of life.” This could be because I am innately, at least according to many of the personality inventories I’ve taken the last 40 years, a so-called “Helper.” What the Ennegram folks term a type 2:

The Helper

The Caring, Interpersonal Type
Generous, Demonstrative, People-Pleasing, and Possessive

Type Two in Brief

Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs. At their Best: unselfish and altruistic, they have unconditional love for others.

Basic Fear: Of being unwanted, unworthy of being loved

Basic Desire: To feel loved

Enneagram Two with a One-Wing: “Servant”

That’s the “pretty part” – here’s the not so pretty part:

However, Twos’ inner development may be limited by their “shadow side”—pride, self-deception, the tendency to become over-involved in the lives of others, and the tendency to manipulate others to get their own emotional needs met. Transformational work entails going into dark places in ourselves, and this very much goes against the grain of the Two’s personality structure, which prefers to see itself in only the most positive, glowing terms.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing Twos, Threes, and Fours in their inner work is having to face their underlying Center fear of worthlessness. Beneath the surface, all three types of fear that they are without value in themselves, and so they must be or do something extraordinary in order to win love and acceptance from others. In the average to unhealthy Levels, Twos present a false image of being completely generous and unselfish and of not wanting any kind of pay-off for themselves, when in fact, they can have enormous expectations and unacknowledged emotional needs.

I know what you may be thinking, “thanks” for pasting all that stuff in this blog about you, but what does that have to do with creating tension in others?

It is this simple, when you are built like this, especially when you have not forced yourself into all those dark places and come out on the other side, you can avoid creating tension in a desire to be loved by everyone.

However, that is not real love. That is not “The Helper” at their best. The Helper at their best is about unconditional love. Luckily for me, as a Jesus Follower, breaking these natural tendencies, is one great way to live out my faith. In fact, as I learned more and more about following this Jesus dude, it became clear to me that he was continually creating tension everywhere he went.

However, He didn’t do it to create tension for tension’s sake. He did it to do exactly what so many of my mentors remind me of all the time, push situations and people out of a state of idle, downward spiral, rest, or complacency and into movement toward something Greater than themselves. You don’t have to share my faith to believe that we are all better off when we are moving in a more productive, healthy or loving direction.

I don’t think thought leader Seth Godin shares my faith, but he says it this way:

Seth Godin: This is Marketing

He is not alone of course. I first learned the lesson of being “ok with” and leveraging tension from both my pastor Jenn Williams and another pastor named Andy Stanley who talks about leveraging and managing through tension this way:

On a swing-set, you must do two things simultaneously in order for you to swing: kick-forward while leaning back. On the upswing, you then must reverse, kick-back while leaning forward. It is this tension between those two opposites that allow you to swing. The same is true for (our) ideas and practices. We must be able to do both well, and never really resolve them. In addition, perhaps it is wise for us to reverse our opinions once in while (or more frequent than that), so we can continue to move the conversation forward.

I’ve had too many conversations with people who only want one side, who only see the truth through their interpretive lens, and you can just feel in the conversation, we’re not getting anywhere.

Excerpted from Vialogue

In my “Helper” mode I had been guilty of letting the swing lay idle too often. When you want to be loved by everyone, you will avoid conflict, not out of maturity, but out of fear.

As Exhibit B, here is what another personality inventory I took several years ago said about me:

Even-tempered and tolerant, John constantly tries to be the diplomat. He excels in promoting
harmony around him. John is very co-operative and articulate, communicating sympathy, concern and a willingness to become involved. Usually verbal and persuasive, he will seek or wish to withdraw quickly from confrontation unless provoked to the extreme, when he may go “off the deep end” verbally.

(yet another pretty picture with an “ugly side”-right? Chillingly accurate-especially in my younger years)

Don’t get me wrong, there is no need to create conflict for conflict’s sake. There is no need to build or evoke tension in others or in a team, simply to “watch the fallout” or “light a fire in people.” No, the kind of tension I am talking about is the kind of healthy tension that helps people move toward the chasm of change and then take a leap. I am not simply hoping they’ll leap, ultimately I am hoping they will soar! (see what I did there? …Oops, am I seeking love and acceptance again? Dang it! 🙂 )

These days, I get to use the ‘verbal and persuasive” aspect to leverage and create opportunities to prompt people “over the other side of the chasm.” I have leadership roles in every aspect of my life. Most of them are pretty informal and “unofficial” just like the one I have as the “CEO” and “COO” of this blog. (I try to extend the “verbal” to written in this case 🙂 ) At work, I coach over a hundred people who have opportunities every day to create tension to move projects forward. In my church roles, I run into the very literal tension Andy is talking about above, with the challenge of balancing tensions like Grace and Truth, building relationships and organizing people, loving unconditionally and loving some people who are “hard to love.” Nonetheless, each arena provides openings, they provide playgrounds full of idle swings that are begging to be ridden, or people on swing sets asking me to swing alongside them, or in some cases, a swing rider, sitting idle, waiting to be pushed.

The communities we find ourselves in, the workplaces, the social spaces are filled with this opportunity for each of us. I know we are not all “Helpers” according to the Enneagram folks or “Motivating Inspirers” as my Insights profile calls me (I’m sure ultra positive labels like that sell a lot of profiles to many companies). The reality is we are each a messy mixture of personality aspects. Some of us are achievement-oriented, others are creatives, still others may be interested only in facts and data. Regardless of your type, we all have one thing in common, we are in this thing called life together. We have to interact with one another. If you believe as I do, we are called to (as my (unofficial) mentor Andy says) One Another, One Another.

That means not only loving one another, it also means unconditionally loving someone enough to get in the middle of some tension with them. It means creating or leveraging tension to help them grow. Not all the time. It is not a steamroller of tension for a reason, we are not mean to barrel in, pushing our viewpoint on others, no matter how well-intentioned we are. It is a swing… kick forward, lean back, lean forward, kick back, repeat.

Where are the idle swings in the playgrounds you frequent? Who needs you to swing beside them? Who needs a push? Who can you help leap the chasm and soar?

The “Colonel” Of Truth and our bias in the war against him.

Why do I write this blog? What is this whole #four4soaring thing about anyway? As I ponder this question I am assaulted by what Steven Furtick calls the Chatterbox in my own head:

You are writing this blog out of ego.

You want to be liked.

You crave attention.

You don’t really care about anyone but yourself.

The only one you want to see soar-is you.

I’m not very fond of that Chatterbox guy.

He is the one that I have fought with my whole life.

He has been my adversary since I was a young man. He has been the primary rival working against me all these years as I desperately sought to free the “Colonel Of Truth” from the prison of my insecurities.

In the action-packed screenplay of my life, the good Colonel was captured many decades ago by Comrade Chatterbox. I can’t even recall when Colonel O. Truth was initially caught behind enemy lines and tied up? My loose reckoning is that his capture occurred some time in my early childhood when I knew the unbridled joy of just being loved and cared for, playing in the woods near my house or with my toys, a time when Comrade Chatterbox had not yet begun broadcasting yet?

In those heady days, all was right with the world, I didn’t compare myself to others, I thought I could do anything and be anything, I felt that the love I received from my family was pure, unadulterated, and unconditional. I didn’t know abandonment or hurt. I didn’t know envy for what others had materially or otherwise. I was, in my Faith’s vernacular, a child of God- innocent, accepted, watched over by a heavenly guardian.

One day, who knows what day or what year that was, the broadcasts started. They were intermittent at first, but they were relentless and over time they drowned out a good deal of the unbridled joy and freedom I felt. Year after year, the broadcast of Comrade Chatterbox told me I was not loved by anyone, let alone this Heavenly Father person. Through the years, Colonel O.Truth was brought to lower and lower levels of the dungeon where the light had a difficult time getting in. Before I knew it Comrade Chatterbox had filled my head with things like:

You’ll never get married.

You’ll never have a girlfriend, let alone a wife.

You’ll never get a good job.

You’ll always be poor.

You are ugly.

You don’t deserve to be loved by anyone.

You should give up any creative or artistic feelings that stir in you to write or speak or lead, you are kidding yourself.

At some point, I went to war with Comrade Chatterbox. It was a bit of a Cold War. It was a war of umbrage and one-upsmanship. I started to prove Comrade Chatterbox wrong, or so I thought, because I fought and won so many of the things he said I would never get. I took the hills of work, the plains of romantic love and the battlements of (a modest) austerity. (I never did get very good looking but I got rid of my warts and outgrew some of my pre-teen gangliness 🙂 .)

There I stood having won all those battles, but I was stuck on the ground. I wasn’t flying or soaring overhead, surveying any of the “good work” I (almost spitefully) did to get where I was. I was tricked into thinking all those hills were on my side of the combat zone!

Instead, one day, I woke up to find I was stuck behind enemy lines, behaving just like Comrade Chatterbox- cynical, pessimistic, tribal and petulant. To make matters worst, the Colonel was still locked in the dungeon and the Comrade was broadcasting louder than ever!

Until I found these friends and they had a map. A map that led to connections and those connections led to others who soon started to light the path to freeing the Colonel. Along the way the good Comrade got quieter as I made my treacherous trek toward the Colonel. One day, after a momentous struggle with the Comrade, I found Truth and he was set free (with quite a bit of help from Above.)

The initial price I paid was to shut down my Sherman tank-sized ego and realize I could not fight this battle all by myself. The later price I paid was letting people in, beyond the close circle I held tight. Even later, I started believing in something greater than myself. In many ways the old me died saving Colonel Truth from that dungeon, but, I was brought back to a whole different life.

I locked away my guns and stopped warring with the Comrade. Today, when I hear the broadcast seeping in, I have learned to turn up the volume on another broadcast. I hang out with the Colonel now. I learned that Colonel O. Truth, or Kernel O. Truth as he is known by his civilian moniker, is all about mentoring me and telling me that I do have something to share and I shouldn’t hide that. When I meet up with him, he encourages me to let others see what I have stored inside of me. He says some people need to hear what I have to say, some people just need me to listen and yet others need me to show up for them.

That said, this story is not about me…

…it is about you.

It is not even about asking you to find the Faith I’ve found, although I will always pray you would. This is a story about the Colonel locked away in your dungeon. You see Colonel O. Truth is the kernel of truth that you spend a great deal of time denying and locking away. The kernel of truth is who you really are. I refer to it as a kernel, not because it is only part of the truth, it is the whole truth about you, it is a kernel because you have made it so small.

When you lock the truth of who you are created to be away, it shrinks to the size of a kernel, a morsel that is ever-present, calling from its captivity, for you to be who you were always meant to be.

The kernel of truth was probably well known to that kid you used to be when you believed anything was possible before Comrade Chatterbox and the traps of comparison and ego got in your own way.

Just like when you were young and it was more like a Bountiful Bushel Of Truth, the kernel of truth, once he is set free, will help you realize you are loved and forgiven. When that happens, and you accept it, the kernel will begin to grow back toward its original size.

We avoid letting the kernel have his say and that is where bias comes in. We all have a strong tendency toward confirmation bias. That is when you tend to migrate toward information that confirms what you “already know.” The trouble is, much of the time, what we already think we know about ourselves, is wrong. In fact, most of it is derived from Comrade Chatterbox’ version of the truth.

The Comrade’s propaganda gets overwhelming and a snowball effect occurs where we push the good Colonel deeper and deeper down into the dungeon until we can’t find him anymore. We get lost behind enemy lines, with no map, few connections and no ability to free him (or ourselves) on our own.

When I am listening to my Colonel, he tells me the reason I write this blog is that I have been you. He reminds me that, despite any human failings or need for validation, the overriding kernel of truth is that I want something FOR you, not from you. I believe you can defeat Comrade Chatterbox and you can soar on the wings of Light, Love, Leadership, and Laughter.

This blog and the quotes and jokes I share are offered to help you find your way to free your Colonel. They are intended to be clues and a map to set him free.

You may find you need help getting there and turning the key as I did. My help came from above. Maybe you won’t want to make that choice? I would never try to compel you to do that. In any case, I can advise you to start with connections. Start with the community. Surround yourself with people who are FOR you.

I’m not advocating you join up in some sort of tribal fallacy with people who share the same anti-xyz cause or who follow the same hockey team. (although those can be fun.) I’m talking about taking a step and spending time with people in settings where you can talk to them about what’s really going on in your life, knowing they want nothing from you and everything FOR you. I’m talking about finding the places you can go where people will see you for who you really are and help you see it too.

I’m talking about serving alongside others and working on things bigger than yourself. I’m talking about a place you can soar!

I’m glad you are reading this because I want you to know this is one of those places. Thank you for reading and let me know anything I can do to help you. For the record, in my movie version of your life, Comrade Chatterbox always goes down in flames.

You, my friend, will always Soar.

images are from Rambo and Unsplash

Is blind faith what it’s all about?

Faith is not blind. It sees. Where we falter, it renews.

I have always been fascinated by dogma. Fundamentalism is something of a preoccupation of mine. So much so that I used to equate those two things with Faith and in particular following Jesus.

I used to think that there was a requirement to believe “all the things” (and believe all the things -literally.) I thought there was a requirement to be a blind, thoughtless follower, a perfect follower in order to be a faithful follower.

By proxy, this really turned me off to “following.” I avoided it wherever I could.

I was not going to be a slave to any dogma, nor ritual, nor commit to blind obedience to anyone or anything.

I took pride in this rebellion. An arrogant and condescending pride. I immediately boxed myself in with the “free thinkers” of this world. The truly noble breed of mavericks who had their own philosophy of life, ever-changing and ever maturing. I did not need a compass point, I was the only true north that mattered.

Only the closer I got to what I thought would be freedom, the more shackled I was? I was locked in by my own limitations. I was lost at my lowest points with nowhere to turn but my would be “almighty” self.

Was I loved by others? Yes. Was I happy with myself and confident in my own skin, for the most part, yes? However, just like some worn out cliche or poignant song lyric, I had reached “the end of myself.”

You might call it luck that I was already two or three steps into a community of believers when this day came, but I call it divine intervention. You might say I was searching for answers and in some self-fulfilling prophecy, I had simply found them. Maybe you’re right? Although, if I recall, in those days I was feeling semi-coerced to be in community when my preference was to hang with my wife, dogs, and kids, and/or sit at home on my couch and watch TV or movies instead?

Then the collision happened. I felt a pull and a tug to stop blazing a trail of my own and let a broader community in. What was even more frightening to me was that this community was made up of the very people I had scorned for the better part of my life!

Crash! There I was with the airbag in my face. Not only attending a small group of similarly conflicted people but being asked to lead one. Bang! There I was starting to call out to a God who only weeks prior was a non-entity to me. Screech! The sound of tires and brakes squealing and the metal of my mind being twisted like paper was a cacophony of contradictions.

How could I let go of myself and my loved ones as the center of my universe and give all that over to a figment of these other peoples’ imagination? What was I thinking!? How hypocritical would I feel after years of questioning other people’s faith to suddenly reveal I had become one of these blind believers?

The answer was not anywhere as dramatic as I thought it would be. The answer wasn’t a life where I stopped being me in order to be a follower of Jesus. Ultimately, the answer was not even about blind faith. The answer was all about simply following.

It turns out, much to my delight, that I didn’t have to give up every independent thought or action or desire to be a faithful follower of Jesus. It turns out that it was never about the dogma I thought it was. It turns out that, instead of becoming “less me,” I somehow got to become “more me” than I ever dreamed of?

Where I thought I would be shackled – I was freed.

Where I thought I would be constrained – I was unbridled. (yet somehow also accountable?)

Where I thought I had to dumb down – I became smarter and wiser.

Where I thought I was called to be perfect – I found I was forgiven with Grace so bottomless and everlasting I could not fathom it!

… and yes, where I was lost, at the end of myself, I was indeed found. Well… I was found from my perspective only, because, my friends, the thing I finally had to realize was that I was never truly lost. I was never brazenly doing anything on my own. I was never at the end of anything. I was simply a dead thing waiting to be brought to life by a God who was always by my side waiting patiently for me to ask for a new life.

You may not buy any of this. I can’t ask you to do what I wasn’t willing to do myself. All I can ask is that if you feel that tug. If you feel like you’re reaching the end of yourself. Please follow where it leads you. Start by letting other people in. Let them love you. Let them show you the face of God in their actions, not their dogmatic words and maybe, one day, decide to follow.

I can’t promise you it will be a perfect journey where one day you will be in pain and the next day you will have none. I can’t promise you-you won’t meet up with contradictions that man has put in the way. I can’t even promise you that your faith will be everlasting (although I wish and pray that for you and for me alike.)

What I can promise is a new life.

A life of dull gray dead ends that turn technicolor with Promise and Hope. A life of Love that far exceeds the kinds of love you’ve been experiencing to date. A world changing kind of love. The love of a flawless Father and a forever friend.

I can promise you what I promised at the start. A new lens on life. A new way to see the world. A tireless fountain of renewal.

Love you guys, J

Why do we run from things rather than toward something greater than ourselves?

What is it about our human nature that is so stoked in fear that we are constantly looking for any excuse to find the exit?

What saturates our brains in flight or fight neuropathy so much that it feels like we are always either defending our flank or leaping like an antelope for the safety of the opposite river bank?

As an amateur student of biology and evolution, I know the selfish gene theory says we are wired to preserve our life so we might pass those genes on. As a student of the Bible ( and an even greater amateur at that ) I know it has something to do with being broken and (by our choice) separated from God?

No matter the reason or combination of reasons, it is self evident that we want something different than to run. We yearn for some kind of peace and open plain, free of predators where we can idly eat our antelope grasses, without fear of the next attack.

We yearn for something or someone to protect us.

Those of us who are Christians turn to God for this peace and protection, but we often fail to truly accept it. We are always trying to do it all on our own. If he sends us people to help, we reject them for fear that they are the lion in antelope’s clothing. If he gives us a moment or two of peaceful revelation and a feeling of acceptance we reject it as not real, as a lure or trap set for us to get just a bit too close to the watering hole, so the crocodile can snatch us.

If we are not Christians and we have no other, higher power to turn to, we attempt to rely on our understanding of human nature to bring us peace. We hope that a greater and grittier acceptance and understanding of the strategies that other humans employ to stay safe will help us gaurd and cope more deftly. We strive to become the perfect antelope that can either evade or outrun or outsmart any danger. We are in utter competition with the other antelopes for our survival, sometimes clustering with a few others for our safety, but always just a bit wary of their motives.

I witness myself on both sides of this conundrum without easy answers. I think I’ve found them by knowing that I am forgiven. That I am loved, unconditionally, by my Heavenly Father. I pray that when I go to him and lay my troubles, fears and anguishes at His feet I will become like the antelope on the safe plain. I also seek answers in my study of human nature. I listen to endless podcasts and read books and blogs. I observe human nature and those around me, endlessly. Sometimes all if this feels like a continuous struggle with no obvious answer.

Only that is not really the point either, is it? Maybe we aren’t designed to be at peace continuously or have a bunch of obvious answers to our deepest yearnings? Maybe we are designed either by nature or by a prime Mover for something else?

What if we are intentionally designed to strive? What if we are meant to soar like an eagle who only gets to drift for a few glorious moments, but much of the time must flap its wings to climb or desperately dive and seek its prey?

What if the whole point is not the placid peace but the engagement? What if it is neither the quest nor attainment of competency, but the act of building competency and community? Perhaps it is not about vigilance or hiding or running at all? Perhaps it is more about the way you show up, who you show up for and only a little about how well you can find gratitude in the quiet moments when the grass is still and the plain is clear and someone or Someone whispers…

Fear not, I got you!

If that is the case, we have but one choice.

The choice to engage with our environment and lean into our community. The choice to be for something and not simply against or running from something. We have to make the choice to be better together over standing alone or in safe (but wary) clique.

One on one an antelope is not a match for a lion anymore than a single fish can be successful against a dolphin or shark. The reason herds are successful is because there is strength in numbers and strength in community. We are not meant to do this alone. Biology, God or a combo of the two, the evidence is clear that the lone antelope wandering off on its own is only going to encounter greater risk to life and limb. It doesn’t have as much chance to pass on what it has learned. It may not get to see its progeny strive and survive. It is too busy running or hiding or surviving or dying for that.

Don’t do this thing called life alone. Don’t try to figure it all out. Don’t run from those who want more for you and nothing from you.

Run TO something, be FOR something, be FOR someone and Fear not, He’s got you!

Love you guys, J

Slapped in the face with the mirror of “for” vs “from.”

I write two blogs. This one and one for work. This one is called Four4Soaring, as you know, and the one at work is called Friday Food For Thought. I suppose, something about “F” sounds and the word “for” just speak to me. I think it is because I do my best to be ” for” people, “for” my community and “for” my family and friends.

I endeavor to provide both blogs weekly. They are written with the same purpose in mind to encourage, inspire and equip people. They are meant to be “for” people. We have this saying in my church world that is supposed to prove you “get it.” “It” being the whole “Jesus Follower thing” and it is that:

“you are supposed to want something FOR people, not something FROM them.”

That is what I think I am doing, most of the time…

Yesterday, I was kind of riding a high of being “for” people and I really thought I was wonderfully postured to continue down this path of delivering things like:

this blog and my work one

and the leadership quotes I share on multiple platforms

and leading in my areas of our church where I have been asked to lead and grow other leaders….

…..when I was slammed in the face with the possibility that this work I think I am doing is not meeting its intent!

The short version is that someone shared with me that they were not very impressed with my ability to lead and were not interested in receiving anything from me in this regard. In the ultimate irony (you will only get when you read the blog post I wrote to my work world a couple of days prior below) they said I both failed to empower others and be authentically humble. The post was named (and you just can’t make this stuff up) “Be Real, Be Humble and Empower Others to Get Results.” Now if you don’t believe God has a sense of humor, I can’t help you with that, because that, my friends, is both mildly painful and hilarious!

Then I went to my email this am and I saw a message from someone who I happen to live in more than one area of inluence with and it said simply this “Thank you, I really needed this today.” That wasn’t the only such message I received Friday from the Food for Thought, but it had a special meaning to me because I know this person knows me in more than one sphere. It has even more meaning this am, after being told how very unhelpful I am sometimes.

To be clear, this person is not some villain and I am not the hero. I screwed up. I did not do a good job with informing or empowering them. I needed to hear that. I may have even needed to hear the other part about not being authentically humble. I can be pretty arrogant sometimes and pride is something I wrestle with. So this person i right on many levels. I am grateful for the feedback, but what if anything do I do to change what I am already doing?

Which is it? Am I a fraud, a charlatan, or worst yet a “sorcerer” trying to influence and cajole people into liking me? Am I really doing all this to inflate my own ego and be liked? Do I want something “from” people or do I want something “for” people? I’m going to keep asking myself that question and I’m going to ask God to help show me the answer.

Until I get the answer I’m going to keep doing what I feel I am called to do. Until I get more clarity, I’m going to keep trying to be the best leader I can be. I’m going to keep trying to help you be the best leader you can be. The harsh reality is I’m going to screw up, and I am going to do it probably every single day!

(two quick examples: 1: I jokingly told someone to ‘die to himself’ that had literally died last year and 2. I called a guy (and his family) by the wrong name, made a big deal about an event I wanted him (wrong him) to go to and didn’t realize I did it until 4am this morning!) Holy foot in mouth Batman!)

So keep the feedback coming folks because I need help to know the real answer and God may use you to tell me. I want more than anything FOR you to soar. I want you to find light, love and laughter. I want you to find keys to being a better leader in every aspect of your life, just as I try to be.

Those are the 4 Ls to live by and soar by and they are coming each week along with the Friday Food for Thought I share at work. Let me know if this is truly valuable to you, but also let me know if and how I can do better.

Love you guys, and thanks for learning and soaring with me, J

Here is the (now hilariously and painfully ironic) Friday Food for Thought my co-worker thanked me for Friday:

Be Real, Be Humble and Empower Others to Get Results

Over the last couple of months I’ve watched a group of teammates form a team and tackle an enterprise HR project utilizing the new model and all its strengths to create a truly impactful product!

One of the most remarkable things I witnessed through my lens as a “grizzled 20 year HR veteran” is that this team leveraged all the Boeing Behaviors along the way, led by an unlikely set of guides: an early career project manager, an external consultant and a brand new team member!

Although the project required a great deal of cross functional collaboration and expertise, there was no “grizzled veteran” at the helm of this ship. Sure, they brought a few of us along for the ride and they empowered their team to get things done, but they are the ones who steered the ship into the harbor, and they did it precisely from areas of strength that, without their courage, could have been some of their most vulnerable weaknesses – they led with trust, curiosity and humility every step of the way.

To be fair, I’m deliberately not calling out the name of the specific team here because this could describe any number of HR teams I have seen over the last several months, and all of these teammates of mine are fast becoming my heroes.

In an environment rife with change, they created an environment of inclusion and trust and they helped each other learn and grow. They respected the value of the differences on the team and leveraged those to deliver results.

So today’s Food for Thought will feature some wisdom and behaviors I’ve witnessed around empowering and delegating and it will feature this “not so hypothetical but representative” team along with one of the best teachers I have ever listened to on this topic : Craig Groeschel. Much of the Food for Thought below will come from Craig, so I shared some references below to give credit where credit is due.

Food for Thought Item 1 : Be Real and Be Humble to Get Results

Let’s start by examining this team I mention and one of the primary reasons I think they succeeded:

They were REAL

They remembered that they didn’t have to know it all to be great leaders! They were themselves. They got to know each other. They took time to build rapport with one another and with new team members. They laughed and joked all along the journey and shared their fears with one another as well as their triumphs.

Why does this make a difference?

People would rather follow a leader who is always real than one who is always right.

Craig Groeschel

https://insite.web.boeing.com/culture/pi/784520-702771.jpg

Another reason they were successful was: they were humble and willing to accept that they were the guides not the hero– they assembled a team of subject matter experts and experienced people (aka some of the “grizzled veterans I mentioned) to be the team and bring their best ideas to the table:

Groeschel explains why this is so effective in this way :

We empower people through clarity and trust.

We must be clear on the what and the why, but not the how.

Trust those you empower with the how.

Clarity without trust produces fear and inaction. When you have clarity but no trust, you’re looking over shoulders and causing fear. You hold onto the things others could be doing instead. Fear can paralyze the people you’re trying to lead.

On the other end of the spectrum, trust without clarity produces work without direction. Your team members might be bought in, but they don’t know what to do. They’ll start doing things that might not be important or right. If you want to frustrate someone, give them freedom without direction. Clarity ensures that your team members’ work is aligned with your goals and mission. Your team will know that what they are doing matters. Trust is the necessary net that results in risk-taking.

When your team members have freedom to fail, they have freedom to experiment and don’t have to be perfect.

“Most leaders are trying to figure out the right strategy. The best leaders are obsessed with empowering the right people.”

“You can have control or you can have growth, but you can’t have both.”

“The best way to know if you can trust someone is to just trust them. Craig Groeschel

https://insite.web.boeing.com/culture/pi/784520-834324.jpg

Item 1 Food for Thought Questions:

  • Do we have an ownership problem? If every idea is your idea, your team is simply executing your vision. If they are part of process and bringing their ideas to the table, your team is more likely to embrace it as their own.
  • How can you ask more questions and provide fewer answers?
  • How can you provide clarity and trust the team to get the right answer even if you think you know that answer before they do?

Food for thought Item 2: Delegate and Empower Others

Sometimes, as leaders, we think there’s no way someone could do the job as well as we can.

Is that a leader’s mindset? No!

A leader says, “Eventually, the right person will do it better than I ever could!”

Most leaders delegate tasks. The best leaders delegate authority. Craig Groeschel

Are there other, real life examples of this we can look to?

One company that does an extraordinary job empowering their employees is Zappos. They tell their employees to provide the absolute best customer service—that’s the clarity. How their employees chase that mission that is up to the employees—that’s the trust. Some Zappos employees have felt so empowered, they:

  • Physically went to a competitor’s store to buy out-of-stock shoes for a customer.
  • Sent a free pair of shoes overnight to a best man who arrived at a wedding with no dress shoes.
  • Sent a customer flowers when they found out her feet were hurting after wearing Zappos shoes.

Does extending clarity and trust mean that your team members won’t make mistakes? Of course not! But it’s better to see aggressive, Boeing-Behavior-driven mistakes than passive, safe ones.

Be a leader who takes risks because you believe in your team enough to trust them with your values.

Item 2 Food for Thought Questions:

  • What are some decisions that only you can make?
  • Name at least three tasks or decisions you will delegate immediately.
  • What are three things you are doing now that you can delegate to someone on your team?
https://insite.web.boeing.com/culture/pi/784520-821065.jpg

Bringing it all together:

Start with yourself as a leader. Ask yourself the following:

  • Do I accept that I am a leader, even if I don’t have a formal title?
  • Do I need to motivate better?
  • Does my team have the resources it needs?
  • Do the team members feel valued? Appreciated?
  • Do I really believe I’m the only one who can do things right?
  • Am I threatened by (other) good leaders?
  • What needs to change in me to better trust my team?
  • Is the culture I influence around me empowering and healthy? Does it align to Boeing’s Behaviors and Values? If not, how can I change that?

Lastly, ask yourself : How can I take all the Food for Thought questions shared in this article into next week?

  • Into 2019?

What is one thing I can do different starting next week?

I hope you find this valuable, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments, and remember, if for any reason you don’t find this helpful…it is all just Food for Thought.

Resources:

Creating an empowering culture part 1

Creating an empowering culture part 2

“The strength of your organization is a reflection of who you empower and trust.” Craig Groeschel

The Payoff and Price of Flourishing

My brother in law and I were joking about my relationship with my kids over the holiday break. He is the cool uncle, the fun one, the world traveler that takes them out and shows them how to have fun in the world and how to live in the moment. I am very thankful for him.  We were joking about how these now grown men, my so-called “boys,” might feel about their dad in contrast. At least I thought we were joking because (and don’t be shocked) the joking was more me being self-deprecating around being a less than stellar parent in the fun department.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just as I was slamming myself, my brother in law got serious for a second and looked me in the eye. This was a bit of surprise as it was one of those “hanging around in the kitchen,” amidst a bustle of activity, in the scurry and flurry of the holiday, moments. In that split second, for me, everything got still. He said something like (and we never really recall exactly what people say- so I don’t fool myself): “John, your sons respect you, they value your opinion, and that is huge.”

That has not left my mind in the weeks since he said it. I am definitely someone who overanalyzes things anyway, but that one statement, in that moment and since, has both filled me with pride and (immediately) set me on my heels with abject humility.

When someone says things like that, our human tendency is to feel supremely validated. Yes! I did something right! I think there is some merit to that, but I also can’t help but be aware of how powerful of an influence I’ve been on my kids for good and probably some detriment over the years. We can’t help being both because we are only human. Hence, the acute need for humility. 

Recently, a similar dynamic has happened at work. A few times a week, I will receive some feedback about how well thought of me and my work partner are in the work world. We’ve done some pretty cool stuff, but neither of us did it alone. Nonetheless, this dynamic of kudos persists. It struck me this morning that the same thing also happens in my church community a good bit. It also happens on social media occasionally. My friends and family will say similar things…. you get the picture (sorry if this makes you nauseous, there is a point, I promise 🙂 ).

Although these worlds are varied, I try my best to be the same person in each and I find the theme is prevalent throughout. I think what all this means is – I am flourishing? Wow! That sounds so pompous to say in my head let alone write it in a blog, and I know that is the last thing someone who isn’t flourishing wants to hear from someone like me because I wasn’t born flourishing. (At least I didn’t know I was born flourishing, because I didn’t understand who God was back then nor even as recently as ten years ago when, by all accounts, I had begun flourishing in many of the ways the outside world views flourishing. )

This all came together about 4 am one morning as the term flourishing or the feeling of flourishing was really on my mind along with this pervasive pinging on my heart around humility. I couldn’t sleep, so I was listening to a podcast with Ed Stetzer and Carey Nieuwhof and Ed quoted a guy named Andy Crouch- and what he said acted as a crucible for all these thoughts and emotions in that instant:

Why is power a gift? Because power is for flourishing. When power is used well, people and the whole cosmos come more alive to what they were meant to be. And flourishing is the test of power. Andy Crouch

Just like that moment in the kitchen, I was humbled and taken to my knees by the fact that it is exactly and precisely when we are flourishing that we have to be the most careful and the most grateful! To be more precise, it is ok to be thankful and grateful in the flourishing as long as we have the right posture about it. Yet, we don’t get to bask in the hot tub of gratitude or take a “well earned” victory lap for very long. Unfortunately, to quote a less austere, but equally awesome dude: Stan Lee:

With great power comes great responsibility.

I find the joy of flourishing and the heart of gratitude to be a positive and overwhelming set of emotions, but the brain and the devil will constantly try to deceive you into thinking you did all this without any help when the reality is the exact opposite.

Flourishing is a test of power and we must never forget that. In fact, I would edit this to say flourishing is a relentless test of power. The test is how you use that power. The test is ongoing. The test is how you show up in the world. In the flourishing, I catch myself growing a bit bolder, which can be a good thing until I let my arrogance creep in – I have to go back to a place of humility.

This is most evident when I catch myself wielding influence in new and varied ways to help other people flourish or give them some relief from stress or pain, but then (often unaware) neglect to give them my time or get too busy for them or give them the wrong advice and counsel. One of the hardest parts of this realization is that the more I flourish,  the stronger the influence, the sting of hurt to those looking to me is that much greater.

So what can you do with this information? I didn’t write this post to brag about my flourishing, I have probably done that enough in so many subtle and not so subtle ways on my social media feeds I have sickened people (Insert nervous laughter here.)

What can you do? If you are not flourishing, let me first say I am sorry if this hurts to read about someone else doing so. First, please know that blog posts are like a lot of other media and artistic license always paints a rosier, Instagram version of reality and my flourishing is probably not all it is cracked up to be in many ways. Second, I submit to you that comparison is a joy killer and a trap. If you are a believer, one of the most beautiful things about God is that he will heal you if you let him and free you from that trap.

What can you do if you are flourishing to avoid all the pitfalls and truly use the power you have been given? That is my question to you. I fully realize your answer may not be my answer.

Here is my answer:

  • wear your curiosity and humility about you at all times like a seat belt.
  • Serve others abundantly.
  • Talk to God about the not so shining moments you have while flourishing.
  • Have a strong person or set of persons in your life that will bring you back to reality in a moments notice.
  • Lastly, wield your power with gentle grace and loving intent to help as many people flourish as you can.

Flourishing is not a solo sport, it is best done as a team, and the bigger the team the better.

Donald Miller says this much better than I do, so I point you to this quote as you (and I) consider the best way to flourish. 

Those who realize the epic story of life is not about them but actually about the people around them somehow win in the end. Its counterintuitive, but its true. In fact leaders who think the story of life is all about them may achieve temporary successes but are usually remembered in history’s narrative as a villian. 

Grow in unpredictable ways

As I walk my dogs each day I am struck by the beautiful oaks my neighborhood offers as majestic diversions along the roadway. One such oak must have had an interesting history because it has somehow found its balance much like a waiter with an outstretched arm holding a platter?

I sought to capture a photo to give you a feel for what I am talking about but I am afraid that my lack of photographic skills combined with the pre-dawn light and haze of my morning walk have conspired against me. It will have to suffice that the way this tree has found its balance is to become wider than it is tall. Its outstretched branches seem to grow perpendicular to the trunk to the left and most remarkably to the right like some sort of wooded scale.

As the dogs and I wonder at this creation on our walks, they are thinking of nothing more than how cool it would be to sniff and do unseemly things to that trunk, while I am pondering deeper things. I am wondering :

How unlikely and unpredictable the growth pattern of that tree is?
What pressures must have been exerted on it to force it to grow in such a way?
How similar is this tree to me and to you?

Much like the mighty oak tree in our story, we have pressures on us as we grow. Each passing year forces us to stretch in unpredictable ways. Our experiences shape us. Our genetics shape us. If you are a believer like me, you also believe that God shapes and molds us.

How do we respond? I think we can take a lesson from the tree. As we look ahead and face new pressures, we should adjust and grow, shaped by our experiences, simultaneously moving in the path truest to how we were created to be. The key is the balance. Like our broad-leaved friend, we need to seek stability along the way.

We must also remember that we can’t grow without:

light (Light/God/something bigger than us) 
water (other people who we can pour into and who can pour into us) 

and

rich soil (Faith/community/tradition that provides a foundation 
and nourishing environment for us to grow in)

When we recognize that we need more than our own will and desire to grow, we remain humble, understanding nothing is accomplished solely on our own.

The final and perhaps best part of this analogy is, as we grow, much like the waiter with his outstretched arm in the opening paragraph, we can use that growth to serve others.

If we serve as we grow, remaining balanced and humble along the way, we will find that we grow in fantastic and unpredictable directions.

#Abundance

I follow this guy on Instagram who posts quotes the way I often do. He issued a challenge the other day to sum up my 2018 in one word. The first word that came to mind was blessed. I thought about sharing that word because it fits so perfectly and then I challenged myself to come up with another word. This all happened in a matter of seconds of course, but the next word that came to mind, was the one I used :

Abundance


From the moment I hit “done” on the keyboard of my phone, I’ve been dissecting why I chose that word. Again, blessed was the first word that came to mind and that was the more appropriate word, because I believe everything I am and everything in my life is thanks to a Heavenly Father that loves me and put things in motion billions of years ago that allows us to play a part in a story beyond the size and scope of our imaginations, for this one infinitesimal blip in time. I believe that the same Father uses all these blips in time we call “lifetimes” to bring light to the world. I believe He sent one very special Light into the world a couple of thousand years ago to better show us how that ought to be done, because, frankly, without a more explicit roadmap, we were really bungling the whole thing up.

I know not everyone reading this believes the way I do. I didn’t use to believe it either. It wasn’t so very long ago, probably less than a decade ago, that I thought that people, like me, who believed what I just wrote about were….well not very bright. I thought and said they were naive. I thought and said they were simple and malleable, sheeplike in their wonder and submission. I now believe I was wrong. However, if you are reading this, and you still feel that way, I’m not going to try and convince you are wrong. That’s not my job. My job is to live my life in such a way that you have another blip of evidence that it might be true, and I try my best to do that. I screw it up on a minute to minute basis, but I try my best.

I can’t convince or convict you, but I can share with the hope of sparking your curiousity, so that is the intent of the rest of this posting, just a bit of sharing. When I first started trying this whole “faith” thing out, I thought it was going to be hard. If I’m honest, sometimes it is, but not really in the way I thought? You see the trick that this God guy pulls on you is a pretty clever one and that brings us back to the word I chose- Abundance. What I’ve learned since trying this whole thing on around attempting to live my life (imperfectly) in the way Jesus taught us to live, is that no matter how much I give, how much I serve and how much I do, I can’t out-give, out-serve and out-do God. The more I pour into my community, my family, my job; the more I lean into being who He created me to be- the more abundance I get?! It is the most remarkable thing I have ever seen! There are other people I know who feel the way I do and we, literally, sit around and talk about this sometimes, remarking to one another about just how strange it is?

I feel compelled to remind you that before I took a step on this path, I never would have believed any of this. I would have looked to some biobehavioral and/or anthropological self-fulfilling prophecy borne explanation of this. I’m sorry folks, I am still a skeptic, with a strong grasp of both psychology and selfish gene-driven motivations, but those explanations barely scratch the surface of what I’m talking about here. I wish I could describe it better, but I do finally understand how frustrating it is for people of faith to describe the mystery of their faith to others who don’t yet possess it. So, again, it is not my job to convince you, but it is my job to try and share. It is my job to be a blip that makes some noise about this in the hopes that the cumulative effect of my blip with other blips, over time, brings about a change. One might say I can try to be the change we want to see and be in the world to steal ironically and shamelessly from the secular positive affirmation universe (who may have stolen it themselves from the “be salt an light” crowd I hang with these days.)

As I write this it is Christmas Eve 2018 and we are about to celebrate the arrival of the Ultimate Example Blip that was sent into the world, for just one lifetime, to show us what Abundance and Blessing really means. If you follow Him, you get that it isn’t about things, you get that it isn’t about a zero-sum game of who can achieve more, give more, get more, do more. You get that it isn’t about feeling spiritual or magical or believing that the supernatural makes science and the natural world mute.

If you follow Him, you understand that it is about magnification and multiplication and clarity. It is about taking what is good and making it better, it is about taking all the “feels,” tastes, sights, sounds and smells in your life and making them more. It is about finding bounty everywhere you look and everywhere you go. It is about being confronted with wonder and awe, relishing that there are some things we can’t know. It is about people learning that they are not meant to live alone, or hurt or impoverished materially or spiritually. It is about the abundance found in living our respective blips of a lifetime as if these three things were as essential to living as the very breath in our lungs:

We Need God

We Need Each Other

The World Needs Us

I was blessed to find some people who taught me about this. They didn’t talk me into it. I didn’t read a book or pamphlet and then have an a-ha moment. I saw them living this life of abundance and I found myself oddly drawn to it. I took one step, then another, reluctantly making my way to the edge of the faith until I was over the other side and realized I believed. If I could give every one of you reading this (and those that aren’t reading this-as there are oh so many more of them 🙂 ) a Christmas gift it would be to spend one moment feeling the awe and wonder some of us feel when we are discussing this “abundance conundrum.” It would be the second best gift I could give you because only you can ask for the First Best Gift.

Only God can give you that First Best Gift, but all He wants is for you to ask. So I can’t give it to you but I can promise you this, if you ask, you’ll receive:

Abundance

Flocking around the Christmas Tree

So we bought this thing called a “flocked tree” and I was thinking…someday I would love to Meet the Flockers. Who are these people that put flock – some sort of glue like substance that mimics snow- on the trees? I decided to build a set of questions to ask about these mysterious creatures and the practice of flocking, should I ever get the opportunity:

  • Do you call a group of them a flock?

  • Do they toil, tirelessly, working day and night, i.e. do they flock around the clock?

  • If stores are sold out of these trees, does that mean people were flocking to buy them?

  • If they run out of material does that mean the flock was out of stock?

  • When the flockers leave work, do they have to flock out?

  • What about the security of their factory, do they have to lock the flock?

  • If I got a chance I’d like to ask them all kinds of other things about flock that I can’t post on here because of… well let’s just say I take no responsibility for other people’s flocking related imaginations.

What is the four in Four4Soaring?

An open hand

Read the full Story on Medium

“John, when your hand is open you can give things away and at the same time make room for more.”

We have a New Banner Logo!

Thankful ain’t what YOU think

I used to dream of the ability to shower people with gifts that I thought would thank them properly and adequately.

6289194-6399049-image-a-28_1542400463393

The original, first and only draft of the lyrics to ‘Your Song,’ the crown jewel of the Elton John and Bernie Taupin songbook.

I used to pine tirelessly to imagine a way of thanking my bride for all she did to lift me up with “a big house” to quote Elton’s poet, Taupin: “where we both could live.”

There was a time when I wanted to thank my teachers and early adulthood leaders for inspiring me by obtaining occupational status.

I use to think my kids would love me to thank them by buying them a really cool set of toys, The kind I never had at Christmas time.

I used to relish taking my grandfather out for a meal to repay all the meals he provided for me.

I used to think that God was looking for a thank you by reading His book or sitting in a row with other people.

Then I learned thankful is not what I think it is.

You see I did all of those things and I learned something critical along the way.

Thankful ain’t what I think it is, nor what YOU think it is.

Thankful is what we all Get To Be because of the love and sacrifice that God and others have made for us. 

That is why we don’t get to define what thankful is or what it means to God or others.

I learned that is why I have to stop thinking for myself what God and others might see as an act of appreciation and start listening for what

thanks means to THEM.  

To my wife it was never the house, it was my time.

To my kids, it was never the presents it was my presence.

To my grandfather it was never the meal it was the conversation.

To my teachers and leaders, it was never the work it was the (as Godin calls it the) “art” and bringing my whole self to each job or endeavor.

To God it was never about just reading the book, never about checking the box and taking up a seat in a hallowed hall, it was eternally about the circles, perpetually about doing for one another, it was about coming to the end of myself so He could transform me into what I was always supposed to be when I was too busy being in my own way, it was about agape and ekklesia and an ever-present vs. in the moment gratitude. 

So what are you thankful for this season?

How are you planning to show thanks?

Is it about what YOU think thankful looks like? or is it really about what they and He think thankful looks like?

Love you and thankful for you guys, J

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Pepop: A Decorated Veteran of the Game of Life

Some months ago I wrote a story about my grandfather and how he taught me how to be full of CHIT: Curious | Humble | Intentional | Teachable. Today, I want to talk about this World War II veteran and how he has lived a life as a gritty hero, not just of World War II, but of the game of life.

I have seen the documents typed on an old-school typewriter by some nameless clerk, doubtless doing their duty for our country, the paper was worn, brittle,  once durable, once able to withstand being struck so hard by each off-kilter element of typeface, each record is an aging survivor of the decades stuffed in a drawer or filing cabinet God knows where:

Army of the United States: Honorable Discharge 552nd Bomb Squadron

Battles and Campaigns:  Air Offensive Europe, Central Europe, Normandy Northern France Rhineland

Decorations and Citations: European African Middle Eastern Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal

Wilmerton (12)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I recall looking at the bottom of the discharge papers and seeing the mark of this man I had seen on hundreds of other documents from checks to rental agreements, Dominick Demonaco, a signature etched by a much younger man who must have felt a huge relief that he would get to go home.  He must have been grateful as he signed that none of the bombs he attached went off when he was handling them, that none of the missiles intended for him and his buddies hit and that none of the planes that came in full of holes and live explosives, that forgot to drop when they were supposed to, put an end to both his military career and young life before victory was achieved and his good conduct medal was issued.

To add to our family’s honors, I also had an uncle, Rocco Margagliotti, that received both the purple heart and the bronze star for saving his captain at The Battle of the Bulge. He and my grandfather were best friends but they served in different parts of the war. They grew apart later in life due to family squabbles and drama and that is a shame as my uncle Rocky left us many decades ago.  I take solace in the fact that one day soon, Dom and Rocco will share a Miller High Life in Heaven together, and there shaking her head at them will be Rocky’s sister, my grandmother, Josephine or Jay Margagliotti Demonaco.

Thankfully, unlike the family of my Uncle Rocky, that day is not today and I still get to celebrate my full of CHIT Pepop on Veteran’s Day weekend and not Memorial Day.  I get to think back on his service to our country with pride and thank him for it.

I sure hope I don’t offend anyone, but that service is not the service I am MOST thankful for.

The service I am most thankful to Pepop for is the service to his family.  The way he got up every morning, put shoes that were often too tight and too worn on his broken and aching feet and went to work every day to help support his impoverished family.  I was lucky enough to live with this man, both when I was very little, as a teenager and again as a young adult.  I watched him hobble on those feet and go to physical jobs.  His work was so unlike mine, it involved driving, moving, hauling, standing for hours on end.  Every time he got up from his chair or bed, I heard him suck in a breath and utter a slight curse as his feet sought to betray him.  I also watched him as he walked to work later in life after his eyes gave out and he could no longer drive a beer truck or a garbage truck.  It was then that he embraced his true love (after my grandmother) to make a living, cooking.

Yet even that was a sacrifice, beyond the walking to work, when he arrived he worked for people who did not give him a raise in the decades he slaved in their kitchen.  He was made to pay for the pizza he brought home to us- the mere cost of ingredients to the owners – even on holidays.  Sometimes his employers would give him a free bottle of wine at Christmas as a bonus, but the rest of the time, it was pay as you go.  I saw him sacrifice another way too.  He had to save his creativity for home.  He can make a gravy or as you non-New York-Italians call it – spaghetti sauce- that was second to none, yet he had to make the sauce their way.  He had to make the sausage and peppers their way, and then hobble home and cook for us.

Years prior to his Italian restaurant job, his dreams for doing it “his way” were dashed when a failed attempt to relocate and reconcile with Rocky and start his own restaurant ended in further family separation, Soprano’s level Italian family infighting and the collapse of the former buddies’ business shortly after it started.  I think he tried to make a go of it alone and we basically ate all the profits even as he tried to serve New York Heros to Titusville, Florida’s former “what’s a hero?” sub with extra mayo eating public.

The amazing thing about my grandfather is that he took all this in stride. In times of distress, my grandfather is famous for his colorful phrases belted out in a half chuckle like :

ya’ sista’s a$$ !

ain’t dat som’ $hit? or

you gotta’ be kiddin’ me!?

Yes, that’s my Pepop, utter a curse and move on.  Thank God for what you DO have and move on. Dom is a study in both CHIT and grit. He even takes the same attitude when he talks about his time in the war.  No somber serious recollection of planes flying in with a live bomb hanging off a tattered wing, no urge to come in closer and listen to what he did to save the day.  Not my Pepop. When asked what he did in those situations he said, “we shit in our pants and prayed to God the damn thing wouldn’t blow us all to hell!” and he laughs as he says it.

If you want to hear Pepop’s voice and more stories about his growing up in the depression and WW2 here is a StoryCorp interview Dominick Demonaco my niece did with him.

Pepop got one of the first injuries to his feet as a teenager driving a milk truck in New York City.  When he was a teenager, they used giant blocks of ice to keep the milk cool and he dropped one of those mothers on his young foot! That is probably where all the cursing started and it never stopped! LOL! (oh…did I mention that he still lives on the second floor of his apartment building and walks to the store sometimes?) Dom went from delivering milk to delivering beer, attached and detached bombs somewhere in there, came back delivered more beer, drove a garbage truck as a teamster on Long Island.

He built a house on Long Island and moved his family out there when it was still considered “the country.” I have pictures of he and the family picnicking. My mom and triplet sisters and I moved into that house with my grandfather, my aunts and my uncle when I was a toddler and we lived there, with houses popping up all around us, but still adjacent to some woods, until I was nine and we attempted the failed reconciliation I mentioned above.

On the Space Coast of Florida, years before the first space shuttle launched, the reconciliation failed and the restaurant sank in the swamp but our lives as Floridians began.  Pepop left the Teamsters and never drove again.  Never went to test for his Florida license.  At that point, when he was close to my age as I write this, he said: “I’ve been driving all my life, I’m done.” From that moment forward he cooked and he walked. I’m 50 now. He worked well into 70s, well after he should have. He worked at several restaurants and he was beloved by his coworkers and known as a hard and dependable worker who made people laugh at each and every eatery, including the one that couldn’t spare the free pizza.  They love him too and he loves them, he celebrates occasions there sometimes to this day! Dom bears no grudge, he only holds only the memories of laughter and crazy times with them, that is who he is.

No matter his age, he never stopped taking care of those around him.  What is his is yours. Whether that is a roof over your head, food, money, time- he gives it. He is still doing it today, still helping the family when they need it in some of those same, often non-monetary ways. For a while it has been my turn to pay him back monetarily a little, I have sent him a small supplemental allowance twice a month, for many years now.  When I get a raise he gets a raise.  Every time I talk to him, we have the same ending to our short and sweet conversation- He says: “John thanks for all your doin’ I really appreciate it man” and I say “Peep-it is just my turn I could never do for you what you did for us.” I say “I Love You Peep” and he says “Take Care Kid” (which roughly translated means “I love you kid” in Brooklyn Teamsterize).

So forgive me if I am selfish and his being a veteran in service to this great country of ours is not what I am most thankful for this weekend nor any other weekend. I prefer to forgo celebrating only the good conduct medal and rather like to think of Peep also getting the Golden Spatula for Meritorious Service to his Family.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Hello in There?! The call to seek connection and be known.

Who do you let in? Who do you seek out?

How often do you stop, cup your hands to your mouth and cry: Hello in There?

We all yearn to be known. We have this inborn appetite to be seen. We are also prompted to connect with others. The opposite, isolation, is both physically and mentally debilitating.

In the recent episode of Invisibilia embedded below, a young person, Abby Wendle, simultaneously navigates her long distance relationship with her boyfriend and the loneliness that accompanies this condition which leads to the tension between protecting herself and letting people in.  She discovers something else along the way, a connection with an unlikely friend who shares her love of John Prine’s music.

John Prine appears in the podcast as well and he talks about the origin of his song, Hello in There, how it relates to reaching out to older people who just want to be known and his inspiration for the song, calling into the echoing hollowed out trunks of his childhood forest- hello in there!

It so happens that this podcast entered my feed on the heels of a few stark reminders of exactly where I would be if I had not made a few key connections over the past few years.  Recently, there were a few unlikely friends I let in, that have added tremendous value, richness, depth, and love to my life that I never would have known had I remained in isolation from strangers as my deeply introverted, insecure personality had sequestered me to in the past.

Bonus Episode of Invisibilia : Who Do you Let In? 

If you are a reader of this blog, you know that the last couple of weeks have been very hard, as I lost one such friend, Tim Sader. author of Tuesday’s Torch. If you click back to the last couple of my posts, you can read all about Tim, his mom and his wife, all of who I am blesseIMG_4446d to be friends with.  I attended church with these folks for a long time before I was brave enough (and it turns out lucky enough) to spend time and go deeper in my friendship with.

Similarly, my church, Ashley Ridge Church of Summerville, SC, decided some years ago to start a food truck ministry called, Expanding The Table.

When I heard Abby’s story and listened to the John Prine song, Hello in There, it evoked a flood of memories and present-day emotions that surrounded the relationships I built when I used to go out there with the truck on Saturday afternoons. One of these relationships persists today and more recently had me praying for my unlikely friend, Mother “B,” after some medical issues. Nowadays, Mother and I have a “text out of the blue” friendship. Several times a week, we reach out to each other with bits of encouragement or prayer.

If you watch the video below, it will show off Mother’s sparkling personality and zest for life (as well as her Boy Scout-like level of preparedness for summer critters and other unexpected circumstances.)  What is probably less obvious from the pictures and the video are all the laughs we had and the friendships we formed. One of the other ladies from the neighborhood, Ms. “H,” did not have all of Mother’s vitality.  She is pictured above, with a smile, but that is not how I first encountered her.  When we first started going out there, Ms. H was a little ‘standoffish.” Over time, and with enough of us asking, “Hello in there?” Ms. H began to let us in.  She still had many grumpy moments, but many times, toward the end of my time visiting the apartment complex, Ms. H would demand endless hugs before I could go home.  I’ll never forget the first time she said, “I love you.” It was a pretty amazing moment.

The interesting thing is I can recall as I drove home that night, how odd it seemed to me that I begrudgingly went to serve on Expanding the Table the first time.  In many ways, I was like an older version of our friend Abby above, scared of expanding my circle.  Scared of looking into the hollowed out log and asking if anyone was at home inside.

I recalled preparing my introverted brain to go out to the food truck the first time, I told myself how it was going to be tough, but I was doing what I was supposed to do- serve.  The idea I had was that I would go out to serve some food, and I may have to meet some folks who reminded me of the way I grew up. Boy! was I full of sanctimonious crap?!

What I learned from all of the friendships that have pushed me out of my comfort zone to date is that I was under the impression I was the one serving.  I was the one who mistakenly thought he was peering into the hollow log of someone’s life and asking Hello in there? and each time, I learned they were not only asking me the same question right back, but they were also unlocking and revealing things inside me I did not know were there. I also learned that the folks who connect, reveal and know us don’t always have to be sage women of deep faith, sometimes, as with The Sader’s they are younger than us.  Sometimes there are things that simply defy explanation found in making a connection with another person.

I was seeing them and they were seeing me.  They became known to me and I became known to them. When that happens, we discover our, what I believe is, our God-given imprint to be connected to one another.  We unlock what it means to be better together.

One last thing.  I was late getting my blog written today because I attended a men’s breakfast. The speaker had a strong message-it was about connecting to other men. It was about inviting people into our world to connect.  It was a reminder that young or old, man or woman, we all just want someone to shout into the log, looking for us.

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger

And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day

Old people just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”

So if you’re walking down the street sometime

And spot some hollow ancient eyes

Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare

As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”

 

Hello In There Video – John Prine

Hello in There
Full Lyrics
We had an apartment in the city
Me and Loretta liked living there
Well, it’d been years since the kids had grown
A life of their own left us alone
John and Linda live in Omaha
And Joe is somewhere on the road
We lost Davy in the Korean war
And I still don’t know what for, don’t matter anymore
Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”
Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more
She sits and stares through the back door screen
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen
Someday I’ll go and call up Rudy
We worked together at the factory
But what could I say if asks “What’s new?”
“Nothing, what’s with you? Nothing much to do”
So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”
Songwriter: John Prine
Hello in There lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

A Tribute to Tim the Writer

On October 21, 2018, I was one of four people asked to share some of my thoughts with some of the gathered family and friends of Tim Sader at only the first of two services.  The following is the first draft of what I shared.  As usual, on the day this was shared the words of those other speakers inspired me to interject some additional items that made this, hopefully, better as they each did an incredible job of capturing who he was.

Continue reading “A Tribute to Tim the Writer”

May Your Torch Burn Long and Prosper

According to his parents May 19, 2011, was a Tuesday, it was the day they lost their first son and it was a day that his brother had the hardest time writing his blog, Tuesday’s Torch, but he wrote it anyway. He wrote it dutifully, beautifully and eloquently for 9 years.  He wrote it to spread light and salt across the earth and he accomplished those feats that so many who are called to minister and/or write seek-he touched people-he loved people with his words-he met them where they were and lifted them up.

Today, I am resonating with my friend’s difficulty on that day in 2011 as I try to find the letters on my keyboard through my tears. Yesterday, I said goodbye to him along with his parents and his wife.  The day before I stood between his parents and across the bed from his wife and prayed one more of 1000s of prayers lifted in the last few days by the 1000s of people who love Tim.  Yesterday, it was a different prayer with a roomful of broken-hearted loved ones as we all asked God to welcome his mighty warrior and faithful servant to dance with Him in Heaven.

It was just this past Sunday that our pastor, Jenn Williams, talked to us about legacy. She joked that her sermon was not “the old people’s sermon” and her message was around living and loving people as if you were leaving a legacy all the days of your life, not just as you get old and gray and supposedly wise.  Tim is the epitome of this. I didn’t need to be in a room full of greaving people last night to know that my friend, who never got to be old and gray, but was most certainly wise,  was living and loving his legacy every day. Let me tell you a bit more about the man I knew.

Tim was all the “regular” sorts of things: son, brother, husband, friend and follower of Jesus, but there was nothing “regular” about Tim.  Tim’s heart and soul outshined his body. Tim and his brother battled muscular dystrophy.  When I say battled, from my limited view, that is what it appeared to be, a body degrading and betraying its owner until you can’t move, then you can’t eat and then, well you get it… If you met Tim, and I’m sorry if you never got the chance here on earth, you would have met a man who did not surrender easily or willingly to his enemy.

In fact, Tim gave no purchase to any enemies whether that be the very corporeal, tangible, in your face disease he wrestled with or the spiritual forces that told him to give up, give in, be less than who he was created to be.  No sir, not my brother, that is why I asked yesterday for God to welcome a mighty warrior into his arms.  Tim may have been bound to a wheelchair, but he found a way to leap into people’s lives.  He may have had to take gulps of air from a straw between sentences, but he fought to get God’s message out to the world, he may have had to roll down the aisle to marry his bride, but he loved her more abundantly and passionately than any muscle rippled star of stage or screen,  I witnessed Tim’s incredible friendship first hand and second hand.  I saw him lift and inspire people to be more and to do more.  I saw him help people back from the depths of despair and the brink of throwing it all away.  I saw him love people in his family and in his church and among his friends that were hard to love, returning again and again with his peaceful, patient heart and gentle prodding wisdom to welcome them back like prodigal sons and daughters.

No, Tim was no regular guy, he was extraordinary and maybe his soul was just too big and bright for any fragile body to handle? We don’t know, we don’t have any of these answers.  All we know is what Tim reminded us of.  Those lucky enough to be in his orbit just peripherally like me and those lucky and smart enough to be even closer to him, that got to live with his legacy every day, know that this man was a gift to us.  Because he intentionally built a legacy while he was here with us, part of that gift is still here in his blog.  Tim wanted people to read his blog and learn the lessons he learned, both from his battles with his disease and his incredible love story with his beautiful wife Sammy.  So please read it, not as a favor to me or to him, but as a favor to yourself.  Get to know this man that I was lucky enough to get to know just a little over a few short years.  You won’t be sorry.

Here is what Tim says about his Torch.

My blog has a similar theme as does the legacy that I am trying to live and love out loud.  I call it the 4 Ls to Live By and Soar By Light, Love, Leadership, and Laughter.  Tim gave me all of these things every time we met, messaged, emailed, lead, played or prayed together. Sammy paid me the honor of saying that I was Tim’s “bromance” of late.  I happen to know I am not alone in that and Tim just made everyone feel like they were special.  Tim had a “bromance” with humanity. That is his legacy.  That is the torch he wants us all to not only see but pick up and light the way for others just as his Lord and Saviour did for him, just as He does for us.  Tim was a good and faithful servant indeed and we love him so very much.

Tim, to paraphrase one of my very favorite “(deceptively not the) end of the bromance” lines: I have been, and forever shall be your friend, may your torch burn long and prosper.

timandsammy

 

Once Upon a Time, There Were Three Little Girls…and I was their Bosley

When I was a kid I would get very excited when I would hear the words: Once Upon a Time, there Were Three Little Girls… that went to the Police Academy. It took me a few years to understand exactly all the reasons why I was so excited, but at first, it was simply because there was a really cool TV show coming on that was action packed and like nothing, I had ever seen before.  Of course, only a few of you reading this will remember the next line was… “and they were each assigned very hazardous duty. ”  The disembodied voice character (who we never see throughout the life of the series) that talks in that opening’s name was Charlie and he was describing, rather sarcastically, how these three lovely and more-than-capable young ladies were “playing at,” mostly low-level, police and detective work far below their true capabilities and talents, before he “took them away from all that.”

The rich, supposedly handsome, international man of mystery plucked them away from directing traffic and “meter maiding” to a life of international, intrigue and top-tier detective work. While it is true that the show exploited the sex appeal of these three incredible women, like just about every TV show then or now, (and as I hinted at earlier, I am only human and that was not lost on my younger or older self) ironically, it persists precisely because of that, the point is often lost that Charlie saw infinite potential in them and wanted to see them soar.

I was no Charlie as a kid and I am certainly no Charlie as an adult.  I’ve always been much more of a Bosley really… and whether you are old enough to think of this photo when you think of Charlie Angels…GTY_charles_angels_jef_160922_12x5_992

or this one…

Charles-Angeles-Movie-Reboot-Production-Start-Date-April

…you have a pretty firm grasp on the topic of who “your angels” are.  Like I said, I am more of a Bosely and I am also confused because I resonate with the top picture but the “home version” of my angels used to look like this…

Copy of triplets (1)

and now they look a bit more like this…

331959_127460127355653_294717841_o 1

Even as I write this blog it is their birthday.  Yes, all of their birthdays, they are triplets and they still look like angels to me. We didn’t have all the fancy toys and distractions when we were growing up that many kids, even some of the least financially sound ones do nowadays.  I remember going from playing with the rabbit ears on the TV to try to get Charlies Angels to come in clearly one minute, to playing Charlie’s Angels with my sisters the next.  We had an old manual typewriter and we would put that on the desk in my room and that would immediately become the Angels’ office and I would transform into Bosley.

I can’t recall all the fights over who got to be which angel, but I know they happened. I can’t remember the plot lines of any of our scenarios, but I will always remember being Bosley to these angels.  I will always remember pretending to talk on walkie-talkies and taking down bad guys, but what I remember most of all is that we were a team and that they, like those angels, had something in them that looked a lot like strength and sharp wits even when they were very young.

If you had a time machine, and I am so glad you don’t, you would see that my Bosley of old, when he wasn’t playing nicely, could be mean to these sisters.  I guess all of us siblings can be mean to each other? I would say hurtful things and we would fight like cats and dogs. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t done so much of that, and I wish I would have built them up more when we were younger. I wish I would have said more encouraging things and helped them know, what they know now, that they can be strong and independent and survive impossible to survive things.

Our childhood wasn’t all Charlie’s Angels and Bosley to be sure! We rallied around each other when times were tough.  I call them my war buddies because we’ve seen and been through some scary stuff together.  One day, I will write more about all the ways my sisters have triumphed over adversity, but that story is waiting for another time and perhaps a series of stories, when I can share a great deal more about each of them. Individually, they have in turn, and more than once, overcome so much and I am beyond proud of who they are and how they show up in the world today.

Although I am not a Charlie and only a Bosley, I can see when someone has the potential to grow from obscurity to the heights of whatever they apply themselves too.  (maybe Bosley was the one who went out and recruited the Angels anyway?) My sisters are such people. I guess I have always known that but I had a terrible way of showing it until we all grew up.  They are all moms now.  One’s a grandma! One does not need a time machine to see all they have accomplished and all that they are.  Anyone can take a look at the lives they have created, the beautiful and talented children and grandchildren they have raised,  and the brother they have loved and supported and know.

I love you angels, Happy Birthday! Bosley

 

965421_10201866991148138_102199886_o

185895_273509379417393_534599058_n

We DON’T Get To…

Some months back I wrote a blog post called We Get To. I was inspired by a couple of women leaders in my life, one in my work life and one in my church life that drove home the point (that not incidentally my wife has been trying to drive home in my home life for almost 25 years) that we “Get To” be who we are created to be.  We don’t have to, we GET TO.

Today, I feel compelled to write about what we DON’T GET TO do. We don’t get to be more than we were created to be.  This is self-evident whether you are the most faithful doctrinaire Christian or the most dedicated, ardently objective, naturalist in the world. or someone like me who falls somewhere in the messy middle  We are built, whether by a designer or not, to be limited to exactly what we are created to be.  The cool thing is, if we realize our potential, we GET TO be ALL of THAT.  Many times, maybe most of the time, we are not fully realizing all that we get to be because we get in our own way, but we only get to be what we are, not something else.

img_8837For instance, we don’t get to be bigger than what we are.  We don’t get to be God.  We don’t get to be the universe.  We don’t get to be the conscience of every person in the world, dictating right from wrong.  We don’t get to single-handedly save the world or even all of our friends. We don’t get to rescue a business, or a project or a town, or a country or a church by ourselves.  As much as we would like to- we don’t get to.

We forget that we don’t get to do that sometimes.  Sometimes we feel like the very weight of the world is on our shoulders, but we don’t get to have the weight of the world on our shoulders.  We are not built for that in any way shape or form.  We are not built for that in any faith tradition nor are we built from that from a strictly secular sense.

The hard truth is, we don’t get to be alone in the world.  There will always be other people until there are no longer people.  We don’t get all the power the world has to give, because it can’t possibly be held by one person.  We don’t get to have all the money in the world, nor all the love, nor all the fame.  We simply don’t get to have it all.  We simply don’t get to be all things to all people.

tozer

You may not agree with me, but I made a leap of faith that says that there is a God that does Get To.  He is the ultimate Get To.  Whether you agree with me or not, you can’t argue that anyone else Gets To be more than we are as humans.  We get to be salt and light, but we don’t get to be The Light of the World-there is only one of those.

Which leads me to the beauty in the fact that we don’t get to.  The beauty of that is that we all need each other.  In fact, the world needs us to need each other precisely because none of us gets to have all the answers. So even when it seems like there are people or countries or players that Get To have it all, just remember that they don’t get to be anything more than what they were created to be just like you and I don’t get to.

Remember that the power is not in one human or a small group of humans getting it all their way, the power is when we all come together and when we all recognize our proper place in a posture of curiosity, humility, intentionality, and teachability.  We all get to thrive when we do that and assume that posture together.  All the other ways of being in the world are deceptions and lies and people fooling themselves into believing they get to do things they were never created to do.

We get to be who we are created to be, nothing more, nothing less.  That is a beautiful thing.  Thank You, God for that.

Change your lens to see more light.

Per Merriam Webster

Definitions of lens noun\ ˈlenz  

a piece of TRANSPARENT material (such as glass) that has TWO OPPOSITE regular surfaces either both curved or one curved and the other plane and that is used either singly or combined in an optical instrument for forming an image by focusing rays of light…

…a COMBINATION OF TWO OR MORE simple lenses…

…a piece of glass or plastic used (as in safety goggles or sunglasses) TO PROTECT the eye

…a device for DIRECTING OR FOCUSING radiation other than light (such as sound waves, radio microwaves, or electrons)…

Lenses.  They dictate how we see and experience the world.  Whether the lens we are talking about is the biological lens of the eye, the physical lens of a camera or the euphemistic lens of our point of view.

We all have an assumption that these lenses are transparent to us, maybe because transparency is right in the definition?  In our minds and our hearts, we feel we have consciously chosen the lenses we put on the world and the events around us.  We marvel at those that look through a seemingly opposite lens than ours, often dismissing them in the same heartbeat.  Conversely, we gather around us and often pay much closer attention to, those who share a similar lens to us.

I find it interesting that, in the physical form lenses are not, in themselves, what we intuitively expect.  The eye’s lens, for instance, relies on the brain to flip upside down the image that it sees.  Most artificial lenses and complex devices that help us see (such as a sophisticated telescope, camera or my trifocals) rely on, not one surface, but multiple surfaces to produce crystal clear images.  In all cases, lenses are forced to be more complex to deliver their clarity.

This is so with our non-physical lenses as well.  Our viewpoints are not always what they seem or what we intuit.  They are subject to powerful forces that shape the way we view the world.  Confirmation bias is one such force.  Have you ever seen the famous Gorilla experiment? Watch the video in the link, whether you’ve heard of it or not, and you might be surprised by the impact of your own confirmation biases.  This often replicated experiment is one source of evidence that our lenses, physical or otherwise are cloudy, they are subject to error.  They can cause us to miss things that are right in front of us, visually, orally, behaviorally and spiritually.

changeyourlensHowever, lenses can also be powerful and wonderful forces for directing and focusing our attention on what’s truly important.  They can help us “keep our eye on the prize.”  They can help us see another land, another way to show up in the world and even locate the best in others. It works best when we choose to view things differently, but sometimes we need to open our minds and see through the lenses of others first.  For instance, my wife’s biased lens toward me led her to see potential in me I refused to acknowledge for a long time.  Quite a few folks, I met and that loved me over the years, did the same.  Some of those folks encouraged me professionally, some socially, some academically and some spiritually.  They all saw me through a lens that said, “John, has so much more to give and so much more to know about how rich and full his life can be if he would simply stop being so stubborn and change his lens already!”

As a young man, I had a strong set of confirmation biases and a lens on the world that led me to believe the world was a harsh place, full of dangerous people and situations.  My spyglass was one of cynicism about the actors in the world around me.  Internally, I looked at myself in the (funhouse?) mirror’s lens and thought I had very limited worth, few gifts to offer the world and no chance of having the life I have today.  Over time, and with the help of God, and those he put around me, I changed the way I look at the world.

Let’s take a break here and get real. I am still quite skeptical and sarcastic.  I am not a Pollyanna that never sees or discusses the perceived hidden motives or ill intentions of others.  Nor am I some uber confident soul that fully realizes and sees my potential. Quite the contrary, I have to fight those tendencies to self-deprecate and hate on the world every day.  That said, the old me, ironically saw that pessimistic outlook as the clearest possible way to view and be in the world.  My younger self-refused to believe there was any other lens to be applied.  The result was a heck of a lot of perceiving exactly what I expected to see and not recognizing what (and Who) those other people were challenging me to see. I lament the decades of my life when I didn’t realize that my lens was impossibly cloudy, leading me to continuously reconfirm my worst fears and desperately in need of a good spit shine.

So what is the difference now? Perhaps the change I have made is that I am on guard for pulling out the dirty lens I have a tendency to use on myself and the world?  Practically speaking, I try to correct myself, at the moment, when I refuse to Believe the Best. I now have a Faith that gives me a lens that prompts me and holds me accountable to strive to see the world and people the way God sees them, with love and a gracious heart. I try to enter new situations, conversations and interactions with this at the front of my mind. Like I said, I mess this up on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis! Nevertheless, my point is, the effort to try on another lens, whether you do that through faith, as I do, or just through shifting your mindset, is well worth the effort.

I challenge you to try it on for size for just two weeks and then report back to me.  I have provided a couple of additional resources to get you started below.  After two weeks, if you have not seen a difference, I will be shocked, but I will also be glad to chat with you about that. Just comment below. If you experience a positive change, I want to hear about that too! Give it a try.  What do you have to lose by trying on a different lens for just two weeks? The promise is, and my hope for you is, that it changes your entire outlook on life and sees you through to a better tomorrow.

 

If you find this blog helpful, please share with your friends and subscribe.

Subscribing is free!

Additional reference material:

SYSK: Caroline Webb: How to Have a Good Day

Jenn Williams: Better Together Blog

Andy Stanley: Your Move

The Struggle is Real…Sometimes…

I am a restless person.  You might even call me “Restless by Nature.” That is not quite as cool as “Naughty By Nature” but I am anything but cool.  This restlessness is all too big a part of being human.  We struggle from the moment we emerge from the womb.  If you believe Maslow’s hierarchy (or pyramid) to a be an accurate depiction of that struggle we start by struggling for basic needs.  We cry out for air, shelter, food and the security of having our basic physical needs met. Then we yearn to be safe.  We want to know we have enough.  “Mom are we going to be able to pay the electric bill, or do I need to pawn my Atari?” Right after that, we want our belongingness needs to be met. We want to know we have a friend, we want to feel we are loved and that we belong. When all these needs are met we start to stress and strain for recognition and for our self-esteem to be bolstered. Finally, if we can make it past all of those hurdles and climb the pyramid, we struggle with being all we were created to be.  We strive to be our full and complete self.

In a perfect and unbroken world, we climb the pyramid, stumbling along the way and look down from the top and admire the lessons learned along the journey.  We don’t live in that world, do we? What happens if we get stuck? A few people probably come within reach of achieving this lofty objective.  For most of us, this may look very different.  It may be less of a linear climb up the pyramid and more of a slipping and sliding, up and down journey. Many of us bounce through these stages and slip and strive our way through life. The key to this kind of climb is that your eyes stay set on moving up.

What happens when someone is less focused on moving up and out of these levels and more addicted to the back and forth struggle of moving between them? 

    Do you know someone or are you one of those people who seem overly attached to the strain and pain of falling down and the joy of going back up?
  • Do you or your friend seem to “self-destruct” every time it feels like your making progress up the pyramid?

I used to really resonate with this.  Not only did I know many people who seemed to relish in staying in the struggle, but I was one of them.  I would create drama when there was no drama needed.  I would manufacture discord out of peace.  I was addicted to the pain and the struggle and my story of overcoming the struggle.  The truth is, I still slip into this mode occasionally, but overall, I live a much different life now.

The irony of this is that the whole time I was addicted to that pain, I would cast dispersions on those who did not seem to be struggling or who appeared to have peace.  These people who I felt were looking down on me from somewhere higher up on the pyramid all had it too easy in my mind.  Their lives were not the painful struggle mine was.  They did not have to pawn their Atari. They had everything given to them in a soft, cushy life I could never imagine. They did not know my pain.  What I later learned was…

I was full of a big ole pyramid size pile of crap!adamsgoodoledays

Everyone struggles.  Everyone hurts and everyone looks for these needs to be met.  There is not one person who has the market cornered on pain, we just all process it and show it in different ways.  Sometimes people don’t even realize how empty their lives are and may appear cocky or appear to have all the material and superficial things you don’t, but they are still hurting and broken on some level.  But this post is not about them. 

This post is about you and me and the people we know who are addicted to the struggle and in love with our own story of struggle.

I am not convinced that this whole process was discovered first by Maslow.  I actually believe Jesus had this figured out way before him.  You can agree or disagree, but he seemed to know that people wanted to be fed, loved and achieve a peace beyond their own understanding way before the first psychologist’s couch ever got its cushions.  What he taught people, people who knew much greater struggles than we know in our first world, modern lives, was that they needed two things to achieve the top of the pyramid- God and each other.  Just two things.

Whether or not you follow Jesus, you may agree that the reason this is so profound is that the reality of our existence is that we are never satisfied and we are never done struggling. 

The key is how we orient ourselves during that struggle.  If we orient ourselves to serve something greater than ourselves and live for each other, something magical happens to our addiction to struggle.  All of a sudden, our story doesn’t take center stage.  Our struggle no longer has the spotlight on it.  Instead, how we fit into the bigger story and how we can help other people tell their part of the story more successfully, takes center stage. 

When we let go of our addiction to struggle and pain and the drama that comes with that, the remarkable thing is we receive a gift.  The gift of peace. 

We get the gift of freedom from the chains of endless struggle.  That is what the top of the pyramid looks like.  We can sit there, on top, still broken, a bit tired, but full of love and unchained…at last free of the need to struggle-endlessly.

Love you guys, J

tozer

 

 

Convey your idea, mission, or project through the power of story.

One of the most powerful ideas I have heard recently is that when you share a concept, in reality, you as the presenter are not the hero, your audience is the hero. Nancy Duarte shares this concept with us in her TED Talk as she reveals her passions for presentation.  This is how she describes it:

So if you look at Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, just in the front part, there were some really interesting insights there. So there is this likable hero in an ordinary world, and they get this call to adventure. So the world is kind of brought out of balance. And at first they’re resistant, they’re like “I don’t know if I want to jump into this” and then a mentor comes along and helps them move from their ordinary world into a special world. And that’s the role of the presenter. It’s to be the mentor. You are not Luke Skywalker, you’re Yoda. You’re the one that actually helps the audience move from one thing and into your new special idea, and that’s the power of story.

ThepowerofstoryCapsI love the idea of being the mentor versus the hero as I strive to get an idea, a mission or a project to “catch” and succeed. This idea will forever more clarify the objectives and deliverables for me when I present, write, mentor or lead a team through a project or initiative.

She does an exceptional job of describing how this works for presentations and ideas, that I’ll let her tell you about that while I discuss below the application of this concept to projects and programs: watch her talk here: Nancy Duarte TedXEast : The Common Structure of the Greatest Communicators

How does storytelling work in a project? Turning the listener into the hero in a talk or presentation is hard enough, how do we apply it to a project or an even more daunting pursuit, like a major initiative or mission? First, let’s talk about why we would even want to try in the first place?!  Once more we can turn to Duarte as she describes the power that stories hold to drive action.

I really think they (presentations) have the power to change the world when you communicate effectively through them.

And changing the world is hard. It won’t happen with just one person with one single idea. That idea has got to spread, or it won’t be effective. So it has to come out of you and out into the open for people to see.

…and the way that ideas are conveyed the most effectively is through story.

Nancy Duarte

In any initiative, mission or project your goal is to organize and drive action until the objectives are complete and the deliverables are brought from napkin or whiteboard to reality. Just as Duarte tells us you can’t change the world solo, you can’t single-handedly be as effective doing all the roles on a project as you can leading and organizing the action. The next time you begin a project, try thinking of it as a story you would like to tell.  Instead of envisioning yourself at the end of the project as Supergirl looking over the end state with her cape billowing in the wind, place yourself in the role of the mentor-nodding her head wisely, as the future she envisioned for her team of heroes comes to pass as she looks on.

Picture a powerful, but bumpy start where you define your project or initiative and what you are trying to accomplish.  You are seeking to take a condition that exists in the present into the future. You are attempting to overcome some sort of obstacle and you want your teammates to be the heroes that lead the way in conquering that barrier.  As you lay out your objectives and deliverables to your sponsors or the other stakeholders (people who have something to benefit or lose related to the project or mission) create an immense contrast between the two states, so it is obvious for our heroes to see why they need to follow you, their mentor, and produce the change you are all looking for.

As you start on the project, be sure to regularly engage both your internal team and your other stakeholders in the audience, rallying your heroes to own and tell their piece of the story as it unfolds. This part of the mission or project is commonly called the execution phase and you will inevitably encounter resistance and setbacks along the way.  Just as Duarte suggests, you will have to tack the project back and forth like a sailing ship to adjust to these obstacles.

You have to actually capture the resistance coming against you when you are sailing.

Sometimes we see this as slowing ourselves or our mission down.  This trap is common when we see ourselves as the hero vs. the mentor.  As the hero, we feel any resistance to our project is akin to people stepping on our cape or throwing a kryptonite necklace around our “Superneck.” However, someone with the mindset of a mentor knows the story only gets better with the angst and adjustments your teammates and stakeholders make along the way because the more invested they become, the more of their ideas that are woven into the fabric of the project, the more successful the initiative will be.

Duarte tells us that at the end of a talk or presentation we should describe a “new bliss” and this is one thing many of us are not very adept at when we conclude or get in the home stretch of the project.  As the project or initiative draws closer to the finish line we can be so exhausted that we are not thinking of ending well, we are just thinking of the next endeavor and having this “over with.” The best advice I have for this is to start thinking about how you will end the project as you begin.  Find a way to build the new bliss into the DNA of the project from the beginning when you are establishing objectives and deliverables.  Make one of the deliverables a transition plan into the “new bliss” and continually remind people along the way of where you are going-i.e. continuously tell the story of the project (with the stakeholders as the heroes).

(Jobs debuting the iPhone) ends with the new bliss. He leaves them with the promise that Apple will continue to build revolutionary new products. And he says, “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love: ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.’ We’ve always tried to do that at Apple and since the very very beginning, we always will.”

Right about now you might be thinking that you can’t tell a story like Steve Jobs or Nancy Duarte or Martin Luther King Jr., and that is true-you are not them.  You were created with your own unique style of storytelling and your job is not to be one of these people- your job is to be fully and completely you.  Your job is to discover the story in each project or initiative and tell that story with your voice, from beginning to end and beyond to the new bliss.  How do I know you can do this?  I know you can do it because I believe we were all created to tell stories and to use those stories to make things better for the people around us.  I believe those stories are inside of you and are bursting to come out into the open. Here is what Nancy Duarte says as she closes her talk, I agree that you are created to soar exactly as she describes:

You know you can change your world. You can change your life. You can change the world that you have control of, you can change your sphere.

People are more important than things.

“People are more important than things.” Randy Pausch

People are more important than thingsRandy Pausch describes pouring Coke into the back seat of his new convertible to demonstrate how little he cared about his car as a young man versus his love for his nephew and niece.

As I prepare to sit through this storm (Hurricane Florence 9/2018) my thoughts and prayers are not for all the THINGS that are already lost and will be lost. 100s of billions in damages to be sure.

No, my prayers are for the safety of the people, their comfort and the people that show up to be beside them as they grieve the impact.

We will get hit too, although nowhere near as hard as millions of others, so I pray that goes well, again not to salvage my stuff- although I’d be lying if I said I don’t care about it.  Instead, I pray for the people who will be hurt and who will surely need help once the weather channel cameras and their crews get distracted by something else.

I pray those of us who live in the states impacted, rally around their neighbor and are there for one another the way we are intended to be.

Unsunk and unstuck: Open the door to more!

Have you ever heard of the sunk cost fallacy? If you click the link there is a neat infographic that explains it, but it is essentially this:

Time, money, energy, emotion or resources already spent and permanently lost. Sunk costs are past expenditures that are partially or totally irretrievable and, therefore, should be considered irrelevant to future decision making.

I am certainly no stranger to sunk costs.  I am the dude who spent 20 years of his career-defining himself as one kind of HR specialist, avoiding being a generalist at all costs, only to find himself more fully realized and innumerably happier teaching an army of generalists how to tackle projects.  I am also a guy who spent most of his life running away from faith and practicing how to be a cold, purely scientifically-driven agnostic only to find himself embracing faith and leading in a church in the second half of his life. I am the shy introvert who spent decades avoiding meeting new people who is now on a quest to bring people closer together and more in touch with who they were meant to be at work, in a church, and through this blog.

Consequently, I am familiar with the all-too-human traps around sunk costs! I once thought I had invested too much time into reading Richard Dawkins books to be a Jesus Follower or feeling like I built too much “company/career street cred” honing my HR expertise in staffing and workforce to become an HR portfolio manager.  I know the despair of waking up every day wanting to go back to my “simpler life” where I didn’t try to find people to connect with and in need of connection, where I didn’t have to write a blog every Saturday, when my investments were all sunk into just me and my immediate family and closest friends.

My friends, what I have now realized is that those sunk costs had me sunk!  I was drowning in them.  I was mired in a morass of my own self-absorption, intent on getting and keeping what was mine, whether that was a firmly held belief that I could think my way through life, intellectualizing my feelings and casting God and Spirit aside or nesting comfortably in repeating the same victory dance, over and over again, after bringing home one complex staffing or employee service project after another until they all started to blend together into one big, blurred and distorted image of myself as the staffing and services hero of the century.  Why shouldn’t I stay in this niche, after all this is what I am known for, this is what my reputation is built on?  I have all this heavy, artistic clear glass with writing on it on my desk-that must mean something right?! Something, yes…EVERYTHING-Wrong!

What I have now realized is that those sunk costs had me sunk!

In much the same way as my faith and career, my limitations in my relationships with others took on a similar, insular feel.  I have an incredible wife, great kids (the best in fact -sorry other husbands and fathers) and a fantastic family.  I have a few friends and mentors that have been with me since I was a messed up kid.  Why wasn’t that enough?  I had already sunk all that time and effort into making those friends and keeping the threads of my family together, so why should I expand my circle to other people?

This is precisely the kind of thinking that limits so many of us today, it is only exacerbated by social media and the ability to lose ourselves in entire weekends of streaming television and movies.  We choose to invest in the “select few” people we feel “most safe” around.  We deceptively fool ourselves into believing we have expanded our network by gathering surface deep friends on social media and we avoid connection by connecting to Netflix and Hulu. Don’t get me wrong I do all these same things and that is why I am so familiar with the temptation to be drawn into that world.  (In fact, I love to believe many of my freinds out there are much more than surface deep.) I am tempted every single waking hour to just lose my introverted self in the rich worlds of Instagram or Pinterest or soak in the endorphins and “feel good about myself| for all of my many connections measured simply by the number of likes I receive(d) on Facebook. My wife and I are known to suck on the sugary sweet lollipop of Hallmark movies too great excess.  It is so easy to disappear in nostalgia watching an 80’s or 90’s gorgeous TV star fall in love with an equally ravishing former star in a ridiculously luxurious setting, while they try to slide Apple product placements in under your mesmerized nose.  So I am not advocating abstinence. In fact, I would love it if you shared this blog with all your friends on all your social media outlets! (There are some Handy dandy links below. :)- )

A starvation diet from all these things is not what I am calling for.  What I am challenging you to do (if you recognize yourself in anything I am saying) is to balance your diet and add in some new things. I’m asking you to look around you at the doors you have left unopened.  Are you staying in the same job role at work way too long, leaving doors to other careers, companies or cultures that would be a better fit closed? Did someone invite you to an event and you refused to go so you could stay home, “Netflix” and eat a pizza? Did you say more than just “hi” to that person behind the deli counter at the grocery store or the DMV? Did you ask them how their day was? Maybe use their name?  Did someone invite you to church or youth group, but you were “washing your car or your hair” that day? Again, I’m not suggesting you turn your whole life upside down in a day or a week or a month. I’m asking you to open a door or two.

I’m inviting you to pay attention to the doors that are put in front of you, the ones that are begging to be opened.  Notice the bids for attention or emotional connection that people around you are making and respond to them! Engage in a conversation,  go to just one group meeting or event, take one step towards a new role in your career.  Let go of the sunk costs, release the anchor of what is holding you back.  You won’t regret it.  I promise you that what is waiting for you on the other side is better than you could ever imagine.  We are built to be connected, we are built to be in circles with other people and we are made to soar!

img_9236

P.S. (…I am serious about what I said above, someone asked me the other day if it was ok to share this-what? it is more than OK! Please share.  If you know anyone who would benefit from this blog, please share it using the links provided. I am writing this blog to reach you and other people like you so they can be inspired and encouraged to find Light and love, be better leaders and laugh in ways they may not have thought possible- so please share. If there are things about this that make you hesitate to share, let me know, I love feedback!)

Hope prevails at any age

This is a post about hope and I want to start out by saying that because I need to lead you to a darker place before I “turn on the light.”  In a few days, I will reach one of those “major milestone” birthdays. I am looking forward to it!  It’s the one where, in the old days, before we HR types scared everyone to death about getting sued, you could decorate a person’s office or cubicle in black balloons and crepe paper, placing some Geritol in the community pantry, while strategically positioning a few canes around the office to hilariously kick off the next decade of your co-workers life. I am sure in some (many?) work settings folks still do this and I salute you (if you exercise good judgment and know the person will take it well.)

Hope prevails at any age_FB

Whether I see the black balloons or not, I am taking this moment to look back.  The Psychology of Aging textbooks I read in college said I would do this- they were right. As I wax nostalgic, I find that my thoughts gravitate to another time-namely my teen years- when I was nearly a polar opposite reflection of who I am today.  I want to share a bit with you about that difference in the hope that someone who reads this, and who may be closer to that kid than to the aging dude I look at in the mirror these days, needs to hear about how far one can travel along the road to hope and happiness. The road is accessible to everyone who persists…grows and opens themselves up to something bigger than a 15-year-olds limited view of the world.

The creative adult is the child who survived.

Julian Fleron

One of the starkest tragedies of our lives is that we are horrible predictors of the future.  This affects us in a myriad of mundane and profound ways.  We can be hurt by this in the way we choose our kitchen tile or cast our vote, by our inaction around saving and multiplying our money from a young age or when we fail to see the good things happening around us or, tearfully, when we give up. Even when we don’t do something as extreme as giving up permanently, those of us who fall prey to a life without hope can find ourselves existing day to day, as Andy Stanley explains, as a “languishing life preserver.”

I had a co-worker come around the corner yesterday and show me a picture of a beautiful boy somewhere between the age of my youngest son and that 15 year old me I just mentioned who had just killed himself,  We prayed for the family of that kid even as we asked ourselves what could be so terrible and so broken in him that he felt like there was no hope? This teammate and I share a faith connection and we feel we know there is Hope, but we also know there are people who don’t feel as we do.  She has had faith much longer than I have, I have found it much more recently, so I get where this kid was on a level that she may not fully grasp.  I remember my 15-year-old self and how I allowed my creative brain to imagine all the ways I could put an end to my hurt and suffering.

When we are 15 we have this thing happen to us that is meant as a gift but can be so easily perverted.  This gift is independence.  Our brains were designed to start thinking independently, abstractly and creatively at this time in our lives and our emotions and hormones are injected into our systems on supercharge mode.  This combination creates puppy love for some that may feel like the love of a lifetime as well as the unrequited longing that feels like the pain will never end. This combination can create dreams of being a neurosurgeon that drive science fair wins as well as it can build a rejection and abhorrence of all things “school” for someone who can’t seem to get their academic groove on. It is a wondrous aspect of growing up, but also a difficult one, even for the future neurosurgeon who probably puts way too much pressure on herself to be perfect and imagines every low A she receives to be the “gateway to total failure.”

If it sounds like I get this it is because 15-year-old me found himself on the dark side of the gift.  That kid thought there was little to no hope for the future.  I remember him so well.  He used to withdraw to one of his fortresses of solitude, a tree, the rusty piped shower, the roach filled bathroom or under the covers of his mosquito infested room and think “there is no future for me.”  I saw the happy families on TV, men with their vibrant houses, full of kids who loved them, beautiful, hilarious, intelligent wives and I thought “that will never be me.” The windows in our house at the time did not have good screens or even glass in many cases and the warm Florida air would bring the mosquitos into my room.  I would form a mosquito tent with my sheet as they buzzed around me hungry for a taste of my blood and wonder if I would survive the night without going stark raving mad.  While the kids who were in the same classes as I was, worried over their grades, I worried about the electricity being on the next day.

When I got up in the morning, clothing selection wasn’t too tough because there were only a few things I would wear.  My mom did a great job of finding clothes at the Big S, I would call it, to somehow mask the name of Salvation Army, yet my wardrobe included girl jeans and girl shirts that looked “just masculine enough” but buttoned on the wrong side because boys my age back then wore out their jeans before they could be donated. As I got ready for school, many times there was no toothpaste, so brushing wasn’t a thing that slowed me down, even when there was I didn’t care about using it.  My teeth were crooked.  I remember my “nemesis” at school had braces, a sign of affluence I tried to punch out of his (what I imagined as his) cocky head once only to fail in humiliating fashion in front of what felt like the entire middle school.

I sported warts on every finger of each hand and on my eyelids and nose.  I was slow to develop and I would glance around at the mustached and brawny boys wondering why God decided to leave me prepubescent for my entire life!? A few of these kids would push me around at the bus stop and call me names like Dorky (their favorite by far).  Some of the kids in school would give me money for pencils or paper, while others would tease me (and some of the other kids from the free lunch line) and throw change in the urinals to see if we would retrieve it. I would sell said free lunch for a quarter and keep the milk so I could trade that for a “milkshake,” which was nothing more than ice, chocolate syrup and low-fat milk-but it felt like I was “rich” when I did that. The kids I called “rich” lived in houses the size of my inlaws bottom floor apartment today.  They were, in fact, not rich, but middle class, back in the days when the divides were not so extreme.  It wasn’t all bad, some of these middle class, NASA-job-parented kids, were my friends and one even invited me over to his pool, where I was able to teach myself how to swim out of sheer fear of drowning (of embarrassment.)

At that age, I looked up to my other friends who lived on a sailboat in the marina, who had two parents and food every night, even though looking back I now realize they weren’t much better off than me, they just had two parents that worked and lived on a sailboat to keep expenses down.  I remember being made to wait out on the deck while the family ate together.  My understanding was that they didn’t want to make a habit of having to feed me all the time, they felt that was my family’s responsibility, and so I would usually just get a sandwich here and there during the day from the kids.  It was also thier family time and I didn’t want to intrude anyway, but the dad was kind of like a lot of dads back then, he would come home from a long day at work and barely talk to me.  I still have no idea what he thought of this kid that would constantly scavenge off his family? I am sure he had empathy beyond what was conveyed, he was a good dad and his wife and kids loved him.

So you get the idea, I had little hope at 15. The beautiful wife and the awesome house full of kids and in-laws were not within reach.  I envisaged things like becoming a hit man or a soldier of fortune.  I wasn’t bold or quite lost enough to take my own life, but I might be willing to risk my life to make a little money.  I thought about joining the military, as so many brave people do, but all I could imagine was the bullies from Gomer Pyle’s barracks laughing at my pre-pubescent scrawny frame.  When that path dead-ended, I thought maybe I could be a servant in some rich person’s home, like Alfred the butler from Batman or Florence on the Jeffersons?

This was also the time when my imagination took me down a dark road that took me nearly 30 more years to depart from the road of profound disbelief in anything greater than myself.  I could no more imagine a future with God in it than I could imagine a future with a six-figure income and a gorgeous nurse for a wife. In my Flavor Aid (the generic version of Kool-Aid) and government cheese-addled brain, my father on earth left me when I was 6 and my Father in Heaven left me when I was 15.  He left me there crying in the shower, with no shampoo and rusty water.  He left me at the bus stop when the teasing started.  He left me when I had to trade my Atari (my earthly dad sent down after we reconnected at 13) in for food money and pawn my bike to turn the electric back on.  He abandoned me to the brace-filled smile of my nemesis as my punches missed wildly while he landed his fists solidly on my unbraced jaw. So I left Him-I left God in my room.  I left him with the roaches and mosquitoes and the government cheese and I decided I didn’t need Him or anything like Him.


I know there are some of you who feel this way too.  I know there are some of you who may be  15 or you may be much older than that, but you have decided life is better on your own, languishing without hope or in at least one boy’s case, life is better – ended. This is where my uncle found himself when he was fast approaching the age I am now.  I’m not sure when he gave up on things, but he ended things at a much older age than the young man my teammate told me about.  He left behind a beautiful family, all of whom are growing and thriving now and I am so very proud of.  When I was 15 and he was a young dad he and his wife experienced a horrific loss, followed shortly thereafter by a succession of miracles that are his 3 kids. As a little kid and later a young man I watched in admiration as he built a life I could only dream of in the suburbs with what I thought was a great job, with a growing family and a beautiful home, hobbies and other interests.  Unfortunately, over time that all slipped away and he isolated himself more and more.  He went deeper and deeper into the pit of despair, and I never learned precisely why or if there was a why? All I know is that he, like 15-year-old me, and my teammate’s  friend, must have felt he had no hope.  He must have felt that life was better-ended. This was and forever will be a huge waste!

The kind of thinking I found myself in at 15 and the kind of thinking that young man and my uncle fell prey to is simply a lie.  We are so quick to think things will never get better, things can never be different than they are right now and that just simply isn’t true.  I have seen people bounce back from much more than my little soap opera described above. Severe physical or sexual abuse, devastating diagnoses, the brink of death and deep depression just to name a few. The short version of the story is this.  My life on the outside from 15 until my early 40s was a race to gather all the things I thought would bring me peace, only to wake up finding I was living my life as languishing life preserver.  To the outside world, it looked like I had achieved everything, despite my circumstances. The reality is I did manage to pull off some things unimaginable to 15 year old me, but that little boy never stopped trying to fill that hole inside him. I woke up one day with all the things and still missing the God that had my back while I had mine turned on him. Thankfully, some incredible people helped point me toward Him and away from languishing in a sea of my own “stuff.” I found community and then a Saviour.

Whether you are faithless and ready to find faith like I was, or you are just ready to take a step toward something better than languishing in your “stuff,” I implore you to make connections with other people.  Find just one person or a group of people that understand community.  Look for people that get that Life is Better Together.  When you isolate yourself you fall prey to the darkest parts of the 15-year-old brain and its poor predictions of the future.  I much prefer my soon to be black-ballooned brain, it knows that there is hope.  It has faith in Someone far bigger than its mundane earthly ‘stuff,” it is forever-more poised to find others to make connections with.  That brain is attached to a portly body that can give hugs and pray with people and better appreciate and love the family and friends it has assembled around it.

It may mean something to you that the portly body and older brain happens to live in a house twice the size as most of the ones the 15-year-old brain watched and pined after on TV. That house is filled to bursting with all the things and all the people the 15-year-old brain never thought it would have. That black balloon ready brain is ready for the next half of this adventure, thankful for all the people who were there along the way. That brain recognized the love of the family and friends the young myopic 15-year-old had around him at the time and every year since. That brain has accepted that the 15-year-old brain chose to close its eyes to the God that was at the bus stop and sent the bus driver who intervened. The brain has accepted that he was not all alone when the middle school teacher took him under her wing and made him her aide.  This older brain of mine laughs when it finds itself bothered by one mosquito or one roach.  This coffee-addled brain knows it needs a lot more forgiveness and grace than it was ever owed. This older brain knows and feels that there is Hope for all of us that is far greater than my young brain could envision and he prays that you find what he has found.

Whether you are despondent or just a little down, don’t give up on your best possible future, not only are you terrible at predicting it, more importantly, you have been created for so much more than you can see right now!

There are two futures…

A quote about two very different futures by Eric Haseltine of Ted Talk fame. I love what he describes here as it speaks to both our limitations to imagine the future and the endless possibilities. In my estimation, our job is to realize as many of those possibilities as our talents and gifts permit while we are here. We get to do that, we get to #soar !

There are two futures

 

Don’t Hate…but how?…and why?

When you are lost and you feel like no one is in your corner it is easy to gravitate toward hate.  Hate is seductive. Hate that is shared is unifying and affirming in a sick sort of way.  Hate feels good at the moment you are stoking it or feeling it.  Hate can be a crucible to burn off or distract you from your feelings of dismissal, discontent, or discomfort. The ironic thing is the whole time you’re hating you secretly yearn to love and be loved.

King-Jr-Quotes-3.jpg

There is a vital attribute of this love you are seeking and it is to be cherished unconditionally.  Our hearts’ desires are to be embraced with the kind of grace that provides a warm, security blanket around us at all times. Some of us also recognize this brand of devotion as a mother’s love and other’s of us are reminded of God’s unique manner of  love. Sadly, for all too many people, it is an alien feeling. I heard a story about one such man, a skinhead whose heart began to open up the first time he held his newborn baby in his arms.  You don’t have to be a violent white supremacist to experience this transformation.  I have heard the echoes of this story over and over again, where anger and hate are born of far less extreme circumstances, cases like mine, where someone who had just a bit of a hardened heart, for whatever reason, has that love that is locked inside them – set free.

In the case of the neo-nazi, the circumstances that hardened his heart started out with a family that rejected him, playground bullies that taunted him and morphed into joining, and later leading,  a culture of hatred. At the apex of his hate, he despised anyone who he was taught to think of as different than him. Lashing out in his brainwashed mind, and with his deadly fists at those that spent their time supposedly scheming against him, “taking” the resources meant for him and his friends.  The universe holds as many of these stories as there are souls. Luckily for this man, he found the love of a woman, who didn’t share his views and, with the help of others, helped him slowly see another way.

Long before our friend the skinhead learned to love fully and more unconditionally, he “went straight” from his life of skinhead crime by opening a record store to sell his self-made “white power” music, a step toward living a normal life after getting married and having a kid, that opened his heart ever so slightly toward this kind of unconditional love. Once the door of the record store opened he found that he had to offer a mix of hate music and garden-variety LPs to ensure the success of his business. Unbeknownst to him, people of all stripes started to show up in his store and in his life, including childhood friends long since cast aside, and it completed the journey of opening his heart to love all people.

I was never anything close to a white supremacist.  In fact, my life has been spent in a passionate quest for diversity, or so I thought as a younger man. In my case, earlier in my life, my heart was hardened against God and what I thought of as “Christians.”  I was convinced that most evangelical Christians were like the ones I saw on TV and read about in books and articles.  These vampires, feeding off hate of all things unlike themselves, were no better to me than our friend the skinhead and his tribe. I now have a very different view, although I still rail against those who ostracize others because they are different, I have held a mirror up to myself and seen that I was guilty of the very thing I purported to stand against, namely arbitrary hate.

In other cases, otherwise “Godly people,” (whatever that means?) have hearts that are hardened, not against God, but against men; such as a father who broke their family’s collective heart or a husband who left a marriage after their wife was diagnosed with a disease. Some have been neglected, others abused. A majority of people most likely lived through a more subtle form of verbal abuse, parental indifference or a simple, but constant, dosing of negativity.  “Godly” or “ungodly” we all hate, even if it is only for a fleeting moment.  There resides in us an ugliness and a brokenness, we can’t run away from any more than our friend’s skinhead brethren could bring themselves to admit they found that Jewish man they met the other day wise and endearing.

So how do we overcome it? We can start by accepting that we are all human and prone to these feelings.  Then we can ask ourselves some questions.

One question we may pose is: why is it so much easier and quicker to hate than to love?

Another, more crucial question may be, why is so much more powerful and life transforming to love than it is to hate?

I’ve heard it shared that we are created with a loving heart by a loving God who wants us to love Him and others.  That is what I now believe, but if you believe something else, that is OK, I used to feel the same way.  The one caveat I will share is that when I hung my “loving hat” on the hatstand of my own understanding,  I was able to love, but not as consistently, deeply, fairly nor fulfilling as I feel I was meant to. I learned over the years that the ability to keep on loving people, and myself when it got hard, was way harder without God than with Him as my point of reference and my Hope.  Like our friend the former skinhead, I credit my wife, my kids and many others that loved me into opening my heart more fully. I give God the credit for bringing them to me and pointing me toward Him.

I recognize I’m making it sound easy. It isn’t, and I recognize just talking about God might tune some people out.  If you are like I was and have hardened your heart to God, you might not want to jump straight into His arms-I get it! So let me suggest the method that worked for the skinhead, learn to let go of your hate one interaction at a time. One conversation at a time. Here is one of the best parts of this approach.  As you live your life more and more this way, you will unlock untold insights, joy, and peace, not just in yourself, but in others.  Once you start practicing this approach, each encounter with someone, in person, on TV, on social media, and in our community will become an opportunity.  It is, in fact, the ultimate opportunity: to choose love over hate.