Category: Love

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 .

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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”

Happy birthday in heaven Dad !

Old School : family film with Dad

My Dad would have been 75 today if my “goesintas” are correct?

I wish he would have had a chance to see my, my sisters and my step brother and step sister’s families grow and soar!

I’m thankful my dad captured these moments of my earliest childhood on film back in the days before everyone had a video camera in their pocket.

My Dad’s been gone almost two decades now but I still miss him.

Miss you Dad, my prayer is that you are doing the heavenly equivalent of riding your Harley right now and forever.

Cherish the moments soarers!

Tell people how you feel about them while they are around.

Don’t wait to reconcile or get over grievances, as you may not have all the time you think you have.

Keep soaring !

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!

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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

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

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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

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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?
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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

#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

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.

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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

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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)

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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.

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