Remembering Who You Are

14 08 2017

This world has always needed leaders.  Men and women aware of both the time and need into which they were born and live.  The grace to lead well is given to some more than others.  Today, in ways like no other time that has preceded it, the world is looking for leaders.  Individuals who will show the way, who will stand up, even while feeling afraid, and give direction, security, competence and solace.

As I have grown older, I find that I am given strength and grace to lead.  What I don’t have is grace or good reason to cower, shrink away, idle away the hours and live for me.  My agenda.  My plans for a content life without taking those who know me into account.  “My World and Welcome to It” is a fine motto for a ‘60’s TV sitcom.  But it ill becomes a leader, who is supposed to embody–to one degree or another–selflessness.  Sacrifice.  It’s not about me.  Nor about you.

I’ve been struck over and over again by the children’s movie “The Lion King”, one scene in particular.  Simba, heir to Mufasa as king of the Pride Lands, has run away from his home and sphere of influence after the death of his father.  Afraid.  He takes up a worry-less, footloose-and-fancy-free existence.  Hakuna Matata.  No worries.

But the call of leadership will not let him rest.  His father appears to him in a dream and says, “Simba, remember who you are!”  Simba is afraid.  His dad is dead.  His uncle Scar, who killed Mufasa and is now ruling the deteriorating Pride Lands, intimidates him.

With the help of Rafiki, the sage mandrill, Simba gets his courage, his call, his appointed place, back.  He is a leader and has royal blood in him.  He cannot escape the role of destiny except at the peril of those counting on him.

So, he returns to the Pride Lands.  There he overthrows the illegitimate ruler, corrupt Uncle Scar.  And assumes his rightful throne upon Pride Rock.

People are counting on you.  You have what it takes to bring order, peace, direction and security to those who are watching and looking to you.  Remember who you are….

 

Suggested Resources:

Lead . . . for God’s Sake!: A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership (Todd Gongwer)

Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times (Donald T. Phillips)

 

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“And In My Hour of Darkness”

9 08 2017

“When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be.

And in my hour of darkness

She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be.”

 

If you’re a Beatles fan, you recognize this classic.  What you may not know is the story behind the song.

In the late Sixties, Paul McCartney was going through a difficult season.  He had a dream.  In the dream he saw his deceased mother.  She said to him, “Let it be.”

His mother’s name is Mary.  Mary McCartney.

Those of us with a Catholic background probably thought he was speaking of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But he wasn’t.  At least not consciously.  Paul was baptized a Roman Catholic so perhaps his upbringing was leaking through.  You’d have to ask him.

If nothing else there is a message in “Let It Be.”  One, especially if you’ve been graced with a good mother, is this: Listen to your mom.  Remember her encouragement and wise words.  Remember her self-sacrificing behavior.

 

Suggested Resources:

Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics, 1965-1999 (Paul McCartney)

“Let It Be” (The Beatles)

 

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The Necessity of No

25 07 2017

“The most basic boundary-setting word is no.”  So wrote Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their bestselling book, Boundaries.   Some people excel at saying “no.”  My wife is quite proficient at it.  Me?  Not so much.  But I’m learning.

I know a minister who requires those he’s going to marry to read Boundaries.  He said this book is the most important book to him outside the Bible.  And to prove it, he asked a prospective groom—to whom he’d assigned the book quite some time before—if he’d read the book.  This was Wednesday.  The wedding was on Saturday.  “Uh, no.  I haven’t gotten to it.”  “Well, you better get reading or I won’t marry you guys on Saturday.”

He read the book.  It’s a big deal.

One of the go-to sentences we use a lot these days, especially with those close to us when we cannot say yes is “they’ll just have to figure it out.”  We are defaulting to this more and more, with good reason.

If you don’t know how to say no to people, you are like a painted target.  Those who have a poor sense of boundary and propriety hone in on “really nice people” like an F-15 locking on to a target in war.

If you don’t learn how to say no, you will have a life of varied chaos.  You will allow yourself to be taken advantage of.  You will enable irresponsible behavior.  And with such enabling behavior comes burnout and a loss of self-respect.  I know.  I’ve been there more than I’d like to admit.

People say yes to all sorts of requests for lots of reasons, some good, others not.  Sometimes we say yes because we are generous people who want to help.  But if one’s tendency is to always say yes to some appeal, it’s unlikely that the motives are pure and good.

We often say yes because we feel guilty saying no.  We say yes because we want approval.  We say yes because we’re afraid our egos will suffer if we do otherwise.  We say yes because we are anxious.  Most of all, we default to yes because we lack a clear sense of self.  Edwin Friedman calls this self-differentiation.

When we say no.  When we are not quick to step in when someone has gotten into a jam, with all the attendant drama, we not only hurt ourselves, we hurt them.  There is something healthy and ennobling about letting someone “figure it out.”  It is in solving the problems of life, especially the kind we’ve brought on ourselves, that we grow.

So here’s a challenge.  Starting with small steps, begin to know when to say no.  And then say no.  One of our favorite forms of no is “I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work for me.” If your default setting is to say yes, you probably need to work on changing it to no.  Take a step back and be brutally honest with yourself.  “Will this really help them or is it just sparing me pain in the shortfall?”

 

Suggested Resources:

Friedman’s Fables (Edwin H. Friedman)

The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (M. Scott Peck)

 

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Riding Shotgun

19 07 2017

I had a long chat with an old friend and colleague this morning.  We’d worked together years ago and spent a lot of time together, usually riding around in cars in lots of places in northern New York but also Michigan and Hollywood and New York City, to name other interesting locales.

I told him I missed our drives together.  When you ride shotgun or walk alongside someone, you get to know them.  And yourself.  I have many other friends, besides the one I mentioned—Kirk, with whom I chatted this morning—whom I’ve grown close to over five decades.  “Riding shotgun” takes many forms.  First, sitting in a moving vehicle.  But also walking, talking face-to-face, long chats on smartphones.  You get the idea.

Walking alongside someone is one of the most intimate things one can do, outside of sex and breaking bread together.  It is in these encounters that we deepen our friendships and make new discoveries, often about the other and always about ourselves.

Someone has said that “friendship is a sheltering tree.”  How true. Cultivating friendships, versus merely making someone’s acquaintance, is an art and a science.  The art part is knowing what and when to say something.  The science is actually making the effort to be with another.

Walking with someone, often literally, is an apt metaphor for cultivating and maintaining relationships.  It takes time, commitment beyond comfort, place and vulnerability.  Being a friend is not easy.  Sometimes being a friend means saying what will take you both outside of comfort.  But it is necessary.

Some questions for reflection:

  • Do you have people with whom you’ve walked that you’ve lost touch with? Call them.  Chat them.  Arrange a meal.  Relationships, even difficult ones, are gold.  Make the effort.
  • Are you willing and able to meet your friends on level ground—i.e. understanding the human condition, its complexities, and yet willing to continue to love them and pour into them even though the status of many of your relationships are best described as “it’s complicated” or “it’s past?” Some friendships are low maintenance—you just pick up where you left off.  Others require work and patience.  Do the work and cut them at least as much slack as you cut yourself.

So, here’s to my shotgun partners.  Kath, my wife of twenty-nine years, my children–Anna and Jordan, Emily and Joshua.  And so many others–Larry, Sher, Robert, Don, Keith, Tony B, Jim P, Gunnar, Jim B, Dan G, Bobby P, Lynn A, Tim, Mark K, Peabo, Ron, Tom M, Ken, Jay, Greg, Top, Christian, Gary, Jim L, Tom, Kirk, Mike G, Christopher, Mooney, Doug O, DB, Mom, Mom P, Char, Dad and Paul, and my siblings. (Apologies to any I may have forgotten.)

 

Suggested Resources:

The Walk (Michael Card)

The Chosen (Chaim Potok)

 

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The Pretty Girl at the Piano

12 07 2017

It was thirty years ago today.  July 12, 1987.  Northern New York, near the Canadian border.  Morning was hot and muggy when I first had a look at a beautiful young woman, a striking brunette in a striped dress, as I walked into the one hundred and fifty-two year old church.  She was playing the piano that morning.

I was hundreds of miles from home and came to this place to help in a missions trip to upper Ontario, James Bay region.

I noticed this young woman had a ring on the third finger of her left hand.  Odd.  For some reason, which I noted in a journal at the time, she didn’t seem married.  But she was lovely.  She caught my attention.

Fast forward to September 2, same year.  I’d now moved to this small village seven miles south of the St. Lawrence River.  She introduced herself to me.  “Hi Chris.  I’m Kathy.”

I was enchanted.  We soon found we were each other’s soulmates.  Seven months later we were wed.

Thirty years later she still takes my breath away.

Marry well.  I still have a hard time believing I get to share life with this marvelous lady.

Suggested Resources:

Marry Wisely, Marry Well (Ernie Baker)

The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts (Gary Chapman)

 

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Downsize

1 07 2017

A year ago today my wife and I unloaded a 16’ Uhaul truck and moved into our new apartment, 455 miles from our little lakeside village in northern New York where we made our home.  In prepping for the move, we got rid of a lot of stuff.  Sold nearly all our bedroom and living room furniture in New York in anticipation of buying new furniture once settled in Michigan, which we did.

There is something marvelously freeing about divesting yourself of stuff.  We got rid of a lot of things—books, knick-knacks, odds and ends, etc. before our move.  It was a relief.  There is so much we are sure we have to have.  Once parted from them, we learn that traveling and living lighter is easier than we’d imagined.

Today, we are again downsizing.  Our small apartment is crammed with stuff we’ve not seen in the past year.  So, it’s time again to enrich the local thrift store.

There is something to be said for the Zen concept of minimalism.  We are not the things we possess, though often they possess us.  Letting go of clutter, even if sentiment and nostalgia is attached, is, we have found, more satisfying than holding on to things to be enjoyed briefly from time to time.

Questions:

  • Have you ever thought about the reality of holding on to all sorts of things and what burden it may put upon your loved ones, who have to sort, toss, donate or take home, once you’ve passed?
  • Do you know that often we enjoy fewer things more simply because we have less options at our disposal, causing us at least the anxiety of having to choose what we give attention to?
  • Could it be that some of your stuff might be a real help to someone else, taking on a sort of second life of their own?

Suggested Resources:

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life (Francine Jay)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Marie Kondō)

 

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After A Long Hiatus….

6 12 2015

After A Long HiatusI’ve taken quite a long sabbatical from writing regularly on this blog.  One post in the past sixteen months has been it.  I now intend to return to at least semi-regular, if not regular, contributions to this page.

Much has happened in the past year and a half.  Our eldest daughter married a fine man from the Plains.  Both are now happily ensconced in the Deep South, surrounded by salt water and palm trees.  My wife, Kath, and I visited them a month ago.  A great trip.  They are well.

Our youngest daughter, happily married for the past two years, has moved with her husband, another son of the Plains, thousands of miles away to new tasks.  They, too, are surrounded by palm trees and salt water.

Our vacations will be superb!

Here in northern New York, we recently sold our one hundred and one year-old Victorian farm house and have a smaller apartment close to work.  We are content.  Our home of fourteen years served us well but, with our two daughters married, it was more house than we needed.  So we sold to a fine young family with adorable children.

Candidly, sheer busyness accounts for my writing hiatus, a good bit of it anyways.  But more than that, I’ve learned some things over the past year and a half.  My reading has increased in breadth and depth.  I’ve had the good fortune to be mentored skillfully and have been forced to reevaluate many of my cherished prior commitments about life, human accomplishment and foible, God, reality, and lots of other things.

I hope to share the fine authors and thinkers who’ve helped me grow.  They’ve not been easy on me.  And won’t be easy on you either.  But then again, as a mentor recently admonished me, “Do not be seduced by low-hanging fruit.”  What has value must be extricated at cost and time.

Or, as Sara Groves sings on her newest record Floodplain, “Love is a diamond hidden in mountains, covered in danger and dirt.”

Let’s do this.  Thanks for reading!

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