Wednesday, June 12, 2019

On fathering

I sat at the bedside of my wife in the maternity ward of the old Carlisle Hospital.  The nurses rolled in the bassinet with my newborn son, a day old.  I was 30 years old.  Tiger Woods, 29, chipped onto the 16th green at the Master’s Tournament, battling Chris DiMarco for the coveted Green Jacket.  The ball crept closer to the cup, pausing, and falling in as if Tiger literally willed the ball in the hole.  Legendary broadcaster Vern Lundquist made the legendary call, “... Oh my goodness!  Oh, wow, in your life, have you ever seen anything like that?”  The moment iconic both at Augusta and in Carlisle.

Arturo Gatti was my favorite boxer.  In July of 2007, he sadly lost in what would be his final fight. He wasn’t prepared for the fight, was well past his prime.  I talked to friends who were on their way to attend the fight in Atlantic City.  I was in the maternity ward of the new Carlisle Regional Medical Center, my second son just born in the wee hours of the night before.  It was the end for Gatti.  It was a new beginning for our family.

Early in my career, my boss asked me about my professional goals.  I hadn’t thought much about them.  “Get married.  Have a house.  Coach my sons in Little League,” I answered unashamed that these had nothing directly to do with furthering my career.

My wife asked me what I wanted for Father’s Day this year.  I answered honestly, “nothing - don’t buy anything.  Let’s just spend the day, us.”  I don’t wear many ties, have enough hot sauce, and can only eat so much beef jerky.  What I really savor is just another afternoon with them, and her.  Maybe we’ll chip and putt on the backyard putting green we made a few weeks ago, pretending we’re Tiger on the 16th at Augusta.  Or, maybe we’ll shadow box and I’ll tell them, again, how Gatti fought an entire fight with a broken hand.  In these moments, I really am living the dream.

They ask me deeper questions now.  Never when I’m pressing.  Only when I let the quiet give permission for them to explore.  Their curiousity about drugs, sex, and rock n roll arise and they inquire, asking for a friend.  I am thankful they’re still asking me.  And I pray I don’t screw this up.

I can talk effortlessly about Kobe dropping 81 points in Toronto or how Rocky Balboa dismantled Drago with body blows.  Yet, I can stumble through the talks that matter most.

It’s in the stumbling that I hope they see my vulnerability to say that I don’t have it all figured out and that I’ve made far too many mistakes.  That they know that life holds a lot of gray.  And that I will always give them my love, trust, and guidance. Impferctly fathering them the best I know how.

Yet I need them to know that in the messiness, I’ve learned and relearned a deeper truth.  Our Eternal Father is with us no-matter-what.  He’s not waiting for us comply or perform or achieve.  The depths of His love are unplumbed.  His grace without boundary.  The Apostle Paul outlined it like this, “Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.”  (Roman 8:1-2, The Message).  

My sons, I am proud to be your Dad.  And, know this, you are free.  You don’t have to succumb to the world’s expectations. Or, carry any unintended “shoulds” I dump on you.  Muhammad Ali said, “I don’t have to be who you want me to be.”  Boys, you are free to become who you were created to be - not who anyone else thinks you should be.  Keep looking forward with great expectation of what God has before you.  And, as you figure “you” out, I’ll be in your corner ready to encourage and equip you to stand for another round.  Or, to just hold the spit bucket.  With love, Dad.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Quieting the Noise

A recent article in Harvard Business Review noted that we are notoriously poor at offering accurate performance based feedback for others.  We believe we are fair in our assessments.  Research shows that we are not.  There are many known and unknown biases and judgments that skew our feedback.  However, at the root of it all is our innate tendency to be self-centered.  Our feedback is less about the other and more about ourselves. 

Part of the reason that we are so limited in offering valuable and insightful feedback is that we are inherently poor listeners.  Again, we fool ourselves into thinking we are actually fine listeners while research shows we are quite the opposite.  Fred Halstead, author of Leadership Skills that Inspire Incredible Results, says "It's not particularly intuitive; in our society we believe in 'me first." Preconceptions, biases, judgments, ego, multi-tasking, and our natural desire to talk all are barriers to becoming a good listener.  In many contexts, we make it all about us.  Halstead says that becoming a good listener requires us to have to find a motivation to want to listen.  And listening is hard work.

My wife and I just had a weekend away.  While we sat at a local pub for dinner, I found myself looking over her shoulder at the TV on the wall and not-so-subtly watching the local news.  Had this been the final seconds of a basketball game, my wandering attention may have been warranted (or not), but this was the local news in a town I don't live in - something completely irrelevant!  Of course, she noticed my distraction but was gracious enough to allow me to refocus without much condemnation.  We are poor listeners.  Our focus is often on ourselves - our needs, desires.

I recently heard a story about a person who had a physical condition that was maddening in its progression.  The doctor informed the patient that there was no cure and very little they could do in terms of providing relief.  The doctor said that the best advise he could give was for the patient to find a motivation to live.  He needed to find a purpose greater than himself.  He needed to cultivate a life that was completely motivated by serving the other.  Developing a life that was truly selfless was the only way to survive, perhaps an opportunity to thrive.  Might that be true for all us?

Our community recently lost a legendary high school basketball coach.  The article detailing his life described how he kept many letters from former players and students.  He had filing cabinets full of feedback.  The notes were reminders of why he did what he did - pages of his impact in a bigger story.  The players and coaches recounting their memories  of the coach talked about the small moments - the way he quoted movies and his love for his wife's spaghetti.  Relationship seeds trust, cultivating an environment for listening, blossoming into influence.  It's a process that cannot be rushed.  We play but a small role in a larger story. 

Words matter.    Proverbs 21:23 says, "Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble."  The prominent author knew thousands of years ago about our propensity to talk first and, void of listening, find ourselves with heaps of self-imposed struggle.  In the song, Speak Life, the songwriter notes, "... with every syllable hope can live or die."  Why are we so driven by our desire to speak first - to tell and not be told,  to teach and not be taught, to direct and not to follow?

I want to hear more.  I want to hear the deeper desires of my wife's heart.  I want to hear the challenges and opportunities of my team at work.  I want to hear the joys and the longings of my kids.  I want to hear beyond the noise of what divides us, to hear the seemingly small threads of what brings us together.  I want to hear the still, small voice of my God, calling me into becoming.  To do this, I need to get out of my own way.  To not look over the shoulder of the person in front of me to the distractions in the distance.  To see into their eyes, the window to the soul - listening, questioning, clarifying.  To know and not be known.  Learning and serving in the quiet.      

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Are We Enough?

Author Brennan Manning once wrote, "Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  Every other identity is an illusion."  Yet, Manning wrestled with accepting this his entire life.  Further, he noted, "In my experience, self-hatred is the most dominant malaise crippling Christians..."  Manning, world renowned author, speaker, and a leading authority on the Christian walk, wrote eloquently about finding your true identity as a child of God.  Still, at times Manning could only quiet the screaming lie of shame with the drink.  God's child falling into addiction.  Standing again only by the Hands of grace, relieved. 

Why am I continually surprised that others carry the weight of asking, "am I enough?"  Why does it strike me as uncommon when Phelps admits to therapy, Kevin Love to panic, CEO to sultry temptation, Manning to the bottle, or  mega pastor to struggling with the mega idols of being accepted.  Most of us without visible syndromes still carry the one of being an imposter.  We believe our accomplishments are simply sparked by luck and fleeting, our shortcomings soon to be exposed when the proverbial shoe drops.  It's Rocky Balboa admitting to Apollo Creed on the beach that he's scared, afraid he's not enough. Why do so very few of us really believe we really measure up?  Why do we mask-up and pretend to be more or less?  In his book, The Cure, John Lynch writes, "No one told me when I wear a mask, only my mask receives love."  What happens when we've worn a mask so long that the only affirmation and love we know is that attributed to our mask?  A tragic ruse.

I didn't even realize how much I had been trying to be what everyone expected, what everyone wanted, all while losing my reflection in the mirror - the person looking back becoming less familiar, but so well-liked.  I met this pastor-guy a few years back who helped me peel back some of the layers.  He led most conversations with vulnerability, admitting his struggles, ditches he was in asking for help to be pulled out.  He asked me tough questions like, what's the thing beneath the thing?  Why do I believe what I believe?  Where do I really need God to show up?  In my world of multiple-choice values, this guy was asking me to write an essay - unpacking who I was and who I was becoming.  It was life-changing as God used the season to loosen my clenched-fists on my life and ask me to come before Him openhanded.  Because, really, that's all we have, isn't it? Open hands to lay before a Creator God, our question shifting from "am I enough" to "God, you are enough, use me in your supernatural story of redemption."  Lynch writes, “We do not see God as He is, and we do not see ourselves as we are."  Grace allows us to see both in small reveals, reflections of heaven.

Manning's writing tells the story of someone moving from the overbearing strain of battling temptation, working so hard to be obedient, compliant, worthy - to understanding that nothing needs to be hidden.  God knows.  He's in it with us, loving us unconditionally through the thick of it all.  Walking with us through the fog, toward who we were created to become - all light.  We needn't hide.

We each have our unique story. We each have something difficult to carry that we are tempted to hide.  Pretending is a lie fueled by shame.  Truth is quite the opposite, this unfurling of grace - an invitation to stand before God, openhanded, receiving.  It's the only way we are able to provide the value and worth that we so desperately seek - to first receive the love, grace, and identity of God;  hope crashing and joy spilling out into the world around us, extraordinarily effortless, like waves.

Because He is, we are enough.  Here's to living boldly, as if we believe it this new year.

Monday, August 27, 2018

On Fear.

Earlier, I wrote about the freedoms found in vacation and challenged myself to bottle up the practices that produced those freedoms and institute them into the practical realities of everyday life.  I submitted that the peace produced while vacationing was more a matter of discipline than circumstance.  I opined, “Be in community with God, with others.  Listen to them - really, listen.  Give yourself enough grace to not be perfect all of the time. Shut off the buzz of busyness.  These are the things I want to bottle up, bring home, and sip from each morning.  A toast to the freedom found in the salt life.”

I had written that on a Sunday, upon our return from a beach excursion.   By Wednesday, the beach life had blown away, our everydays returned, vision for mindfulness vanished, stress crept in, and tensions rose.  In a curt exchange with my wife, she offered, “Why don’t you try and do any of the things you wrote about.”  Ouch.  A bit judgemental, untimely, and not well received by me.  But, true.  As the Apostle Paul said, “I have discovered this principle of life - that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.”  Stated differently, I can write eloquently (arguably) about the practices of creating space and margin to find peace and purpose.  Yet, when it comes to carrying that out, often I fail.

What happened between Sunday (vacation day) and Wednesday (arguing with my wife day)?   One word, fear.  There is a fantastic song by Zach Williams that says, “fear is a liar.”  True.  But, what a sliver-tongued liar it is, too often convincing me to do the oppposite of what I know to be right.

I shared that being in community with God and with others was key to finding a peaceful state of mind.  One discipline I have for this is to start my day with journaling (prayer) in a quiet space.  Trouble is, fear says that there are fifty things to do each day and only 24 hours to do them.  Think of how much more productive your day would be if you actually used the 30 minutes you spend with God (“quite abstract”, fear says) and actually do something (“tangible and quantifiable," fear continues).  I listen and reduce or omit the quiet space in the morning.  Similarly, I have a discipline of finding time and space for other mentors to speak into my life, my leadership (“unproductive, selfish fluff,” fear scoffs).  And again, I cancel my time with these life-giving folks to make one more call or answer one more email.

I offered that while success is in the details, perfection is often unattainble and life-draining.  I discussed that it is ok, at times, to go off-script.  Fear has a name for this, whimsical and lazy (“You are not doing enough,” fear repeats).  My kids listen to a rapper named NF.  (Ok, I do to.  But, only when I run).  In the song Why, he raps, “Nothin’ to me’s ever good enough I could be workin’ for twenty-four hours a day and think I never did enough.”  That’s fear.  That’s perfectionism.  That’s a disease that will stifle our souls.  As soon as I was back from vacation, I filled my days and my mind with the mountain of “shoulds” I could never complete.  And that’s exhausting.

Finally, I stated the obvious in how the “buzz of business” sucks our attention, focus, and life - screen  swipe by screen swipe.  At the peak of hypocrisy, I literally lecture my kids on their screen time while staring at my phone.  Worse, I am stern with them when they respond with, “well, aren’t you on your screen now?”  (“You are super-important to the world and your screen time is justified,” fear says.  “In fact, you need more time to answer those emails.  Send the whining kids to bed and do-more-work.  Earn your acceptance”).  I succumbed to the lie that margin is realistic for vacation, but I am too important to this world to be able to shut things down and be present in the real world.  There’s just too much to do.

Author Bob Goff writes, “Someone once asked me what I would write if I only had six words for my autobiography.  Here’s what I came up with:  'What if we weren’t afraid anymore?'”  That’s powerful.  That’s also the antidote to me practicing what I preach (write).  Let’s not be afraid that if we don’t come through, the world will fall apart.  Let’s not doubt that God is doing His part.  Let’s not succumb to the lie that self-care and mental/spiritual health are virtues to be held by marginal workers, a trite discipline for the soft, something that we’re simply too busy (and too important) to make space for in our lives.  Let’s put what matters most first, things of eternal significance.  Let’s live like we weren’t afraid anymore.  Afraid of being rejected.  Afraid of not being enough. Let’s do the hard work of loving others, even (gasp) our enemies.  Let’s live like we’re on vacation, appreciating all the beauty, the relationships, the life that we’ve been blessed to live.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Bottling up Vacation

I grind my teeth at night.  So much so that my teeth are cracking.  I had a root canal last week.   

We just returned from a beach vacation. I did not grind my teeth during the trip.  The burdens of the days lessened to the point that there was no need for my mind to subconsciously grate the stressors into oblivion at night. How do I bottle up this state of mind?  (And save my teeth).

There are disciplines I embraced on vacation that I don't put into my everyday practice back home.  Can these be captured and reproduced at home?  Or, are they like taffy or boardwalk fries and only fully experienced with the backdrop of an ocean?  I believe these truths brought relaxation on vacation and subsequent less teeth grinding:

Find your tribe - I enjoyed my morning run most days of vacation.  I was often on the boardwalk early, with countless other runners.  It was a community, all of us running off the baggage.  I ran past a lot of runner's in Eagles gear and wondered when they jumped on the bandwagon or if they were lifelong followers.  I was able to see them as fellow sports fans, humans running with a purpose - rather than simply stereotypical Philly fans, throwing batteries at the opposition and booing Santa Claus.  My son's running coach says that we run because we can, because today we've been blessed by God to have strong legs and healthy bodies.  So we run.  And under the rising sun over the surf, we were a community of people running - simply because we can.  Common people of purpose.  I believe God's hard-wired us to be in community, with Him, with others.

Listen more - We recently listened to a talk by author John Lynch about depression.  He said one of the best ways to help someone is to just listen.  Not fix.  Not make it about you.  Just listen.  I have weaknesses in listening.  I have can offer a potential solution often before the issue is fully divulged.  We discussed a wide array of topics during the trip.  Irritable bowel syndrome?  Declining church attendance?  I had answers.  (These are seemingly unrelated, but I also had an answer for how, in fact, they may be related after all).  Need to lose a few pounds?  I had an answer.  And then, I stopped answering. Instead, I listened.  And asked questions. I looked into the eyes of the other runners and wondered about their story.  I called the waitress by name with a smile, asking her about her day.  The focus shifting from self to others.  I believe God listens to us - silently at times, always with great attention.  And I believe we are to become more like Him. 

Cheat (when it's OK to go off-script) - I agreed to join my wife on the Keto eating plan (I don't believe diets are to be called diets anymore).   I'm typically not a dieter, or, eating plan changer, but she had me at, "you can eat all of the butter and bacon you'd like."  I won't detail the 30-day journey here, but there were many great benefits to the plan.  And, I lost 6 pounds heading into vacation.  However, I selectively and increasingly cheated during vacation and gained back a chunk of the weight I had lost.  And I am OK with that.  Life isn't always either/or.  It's a lot of both/and.  I've spent many years agonizing over my career, my parenting, my marriage, my friendships, my theology, my calories, my miles, my past, my future - hoping I've chosen the right one and frantically searching for options I may have missed.  Similarly, I have trouble trusting the lady inside my GPS.  I tell her where I want to go.  She maps my path..  Yet, I always have this underlying tension that she's wrong.  That I won't get to the appropriate destination.  I guess my point is that it's OK to take a wrong turn.  And, perhaps even enjoy finding a new route.

Less screens, more surf - We watched more surf than screens throughout the week. I checked worked emails once a day.  My iPhone battery lasted the entire week.  (I can't remember that last time it lasted a full day)!  We didn't just slow the screen consumption, we abandoned it for periods of time.  The result?  The team at work handled things.  Problems were solved and new challenges arose that will be solved.  The business of business continued.  God continued His work as well.  He didn't have to wait for me to get back online.  (Who knew)?  Like other addictions, screen overload numbs your senses.  As I withdrew from the screens, my senses heightened.  I noticed the sound of the birds waking the day and the green grass of the dunes bright against the tone of the sand.  The blue of my wife's eyes and the freckles on my son's face drawn out by the sun.  The flags waved by the ocean's breeze.  Technology is important and good and useful - when it's under our control.  I can hear God, the morning birds, the surf, and the sound of my children's heart (and consider how they're all interwoven) more clearly when it's quiet, my mind freed from a scrolling feed of emails, texts, and twitter. 

Be in community with God, with others.  Listen to them - really, listen.  Give yourself enough grace to not be perfect all of the time. Shut off the buzz of busyness.  These are the things I want to bottle up, bring home, and sip from each morning.  A toast to the freedom found in the salt life. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Measure Everything

It's a basic business principle to measure everything.  If you aren't measuring the minutia of your operations, you're likely missing opportunity for continuous improvement.

Our world has adapted this value, the measurement of all things.  My vehicle sends me routine diagnostic reports, tracking efficiency and capacity.  My watch and phone count my steps, tell me to move, and celebrate or encourage progress.  My Bible app records consecutive days I've been in the Word, or absent.  Facebook apparently tracks more than I am aware.  This hyper-measuring is all with good intention, to help me live a better life. 

My family and I were recently on vacation.  We barely escaped the looming temptation to postpone or cancel the trip to visit family.  There were just too many things circling.  Deadlines immovable at work, standardized testing at school, youth sports tournaments already paid for, and the realization that it's quite difficult to step off the treadmill without first reducing the pace.  It's even more difficult to jump back on.

Author Andy Stanley says that happy marriages are rooted in our ability to be selfless.  He calls it a "race to the end of the line."  In marriages at least, measuring does far more harm than good.  When either participant is keeping score, expectations are constructed and a failure to deliver on those expectations grows into resentment and... half of the marriages in our country know the rest of the story.

We went on a boat on vacation.  The waves lapping the sides of the pontoon, the wind a humid chill.  We left our devices behind, launching into the sea seemingly the only way to escape the self-imposed measuring of all things.  No notifications informing me of a message in queue, waiting for my response, clock ticking.  The rocking of the ocean lulling us to calm, distracting from the busy to the quiet.  It was only after the wind, earthquake, and fire passed that the Prophet Elijah heard the still, small of God as recorded in the Old Testament. Truth is mined from the depths of our souls when the loud storms of our days pass and we are left standing in the still and the quiet.

What to do with all of this?  The measuring and controlling versus the exhaling and slowing.  Perhaps it's not either / or.  Are we just measuring the wrong things?  Or, not measuring enough things?

We need to measure our organizations, our pursuits.  The discipline of excellence, of using all that we've been given to make the world a better place and the intentionality to slow, see, and listen are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, they're interwoven and dependent on one another. 

We need to measure our days.  The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the early church and noted, "Don't waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, ...barren pursuits..." (The Message).  We must be intentional with our time, an exhaustive resource.  Yet, an afternoon spent in conversation and coffee with a friend might be measured as the most significant work God has put in front of us today.  Equal to that of running a Fortune 500 company?  In both, the fortune found in investing in people, in life.

We need to measure our marriages.  Opposite score-keeping, measurement should be found in out-serving the other.  Stanley says that when we can get to the point of saying, "I owe my spouse everything and they owe me nothing in return," we've uncovered one of the secrets to a happy marriage.  This is counter-cultural.  This is illustrative Jesus' life (Matthew 20:28).

Essentially, it's re-orienting our innate sense to measure.  Oriented toward earthly pursuits, they seem void of meaning at the end of our days.  "It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement - that they seek power, success, and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life."  (Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents).  Oriented toward the imaginative, purposeful, abundant, joyful heart of our Creator and we almost unknowingly become the same, living life on purpose.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Every Day is a Gift

I believe the last funeral I attended was in 2014.  It was honoring a co-worker, someone I'd spent much time working alongside, a doorway separating our offices.  I wrote then that I'd wished I'd kept that door open more often, had more time, appreciated the moments - even the mundane, miraculous gifts of relationship. 

I attended another funeral a few weeks ago.  Another co-worker.  Gone unexpectedly and much too soon.  We worked together the day after Christmas.  We talked about the minutia of work - materials to be ordered, schedules to be made.  When I learned of his loss, I immediately grieved the conversations missed.  I'd wished I asked more about his Christmas with his family, about his dogs he loved so much, about his life.  I wished I'd talked more about my faith, about his faith, about the things that matter most. 

There is no expectation that we become best friends, or even have relationships at any depth, with our co-workers.  At least, we're to show up and work together to do a job.  At best, we're unified in diverse abilities working collectively toward a common mission, with mutual purpose.  In either case, we're human beings with lives and stories and baggage and hurts and dreams and souls.  While our work lives and personal lives are compartmentalized to some degree for good reason, they're not mutually exclusive.  We're people.  And it seems every time I lose a co-worked, I wish I'd known more of the person.

Things always slow down for a bit when someone is lost.  The pace lessens as we pause to examine the colors of the sunrise, notice the unique characteristics in the faces of our children, and realize that the conversations with our parents aren't forever.  And then things speed up.  We don't purposefully bump up the speed of the treadmill that is life until we notice we're sweating and breathing heavy, lamenting the racing of it all - the race we choose to run.

Author Ann Voskamp writes, "life is not an emergency."  I want to work hard, with commitment and relentless pursuit in my vocational and volunteer endeavors this year.  And I want to slow the pace.  To know that I do, in fact, choose when to run and when to walk.  To see the sunrises with eager expectation of what God has in store and to appreciate the sunsets with gratitude and peace.  To hear more about the person, to learn about their dogs.