Friday, September 26, 2014

Toxic Emotions

Scripture Art - 2 Corinthians 12:9 - PrintSoccer Mom has tattoos that she doesn't reveal.  She conceals the art as they invoke painful reminders of decisions made amidst chaos, life decisions that tattooed her heart with shame that's embedded deep, like inked-skin.






Mr. Executive climbs relentlessly toward a corporate peak he'll never reach.  The climbing distracts him of the pain with no trigger.  It's the cascading fear, that drives him to climb, to escape.   The climbing exhausts and he numbs with the intoxicating medications that society offers.  An insatiable appetite for all the things of this world drowns the raging self-doubt churning in his soul.






I sit at a diner and listen to the waitress talk of her estranged children.  Her past haunts.  She tells of her teenage son and how he's been thrown out of school.  She says he's been labeled oppositionally defiant.  She says they're trying to work through it, but the counselors say the boy is really just angry from the abandonment of his father.  He carries an uncertainty of who he is and what it means to be a man. 
 





Business author Michael Hyatt writes, "In my experience there are four emotions that usually come mixed in a powerful cocktail, sure to undermine our goals: fear, uncertainty, doubt, and shame."  Hyatt contends that as he's written about these topics, many people admit their wrestling with general feelings of inadequacy.  We ask ourselves, "Would I still be accepted if people really found me out?  What if they knew I don't have it all together?"  Hyatt continues, "[the struggle with these emotions are a] universal affliction.  And it’s natural. There’s no playbook for leaders, no manual. We’re all making it up as we go. Under those circumstances, who wouldn’t feel like they might blow it?  But just because I wrestle with these four emotions doesn’t mean I have to succumb to them." 






We have the Light within us to drive out the darkness of these toxic emotions.  That Light bursts forth not when we yield some Jedi-mind-trick to tap into its power, but when we open our hands and let go of our desire to control everything in our path.  We can't embrace anything when we live tight-fisted.  We can't offer grace to another until we've first received it ourselves.








In a letter written to the early church, the Apostle Paul wrote of his own personal demons, "... and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations... At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.  Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—...I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become." (The Message).




The Light can't drive out the darkness until we turn toward it, not denying the existence of the dark, but rather choosing to live in the Light.  Blogger Ann Voskamp writes, "...all the shadows we all live with everywhere just prove there is Light."  And because of that Light, we can always get up again.  Prizefighter Jack Dempsey said, "A champion is someone who gets up when he can't."  (via John Sowers in The Heroic Path).  May the Light brighter than all darkness lift you above any toxic emotions you may face today.   






Saturday, August 9, 2014

When the World Says Go, Slow

Last week I attended a training in New York City.  Each morning, as I walked to the skyscraper where the training was held, I was swept away with the throngs of suited professionals walking in unison, yet isolated from one another with their eyes glued to small screens and their ears filled with buds.  New Yorkers are a hurried bunch.  I'm not sure what they are all listening to on their headsets, but apparently it's fascinating enough to capture their full attention.  My training class consisted of all men in the construction trades.  There was a lot of power positioning and pretending.  I tried to be authentic, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't participate to some degree in the competition of proving oneself to a group of insecure strangers.  It's a strong temptation to try and prove that we're enough to everyone we meet.  Or, are we only continually trying to convince ourselves?

I sit on a non-profit Board of Directors.  Recently, we were interviewing a candidate for a leadership position.  The interview was going well, however I wanted to turn up the heat a bit.  I painted a chaotic picture of the stressors and the loneliness of leadership.  "Do you think you can handle that?"  I asked.  The candidate paused and after a few moments replied, "I believe that I am called to do this work and I believe that God can use me to do what's necessary in this role."  She should have responded confidently saying that certainly she could handle whatever comes her way.  She should have told me that she had the iron-clad guts and rhino-thick-skin to deal with the tough stuff of leadership.  She said nothing of her own merit.  She only said matter-of-factly that she believed that this was God's call on her life and, if that's the case, He would equip her accordingly.  She was hired.

Early in my career, I came upon a kind, gentle man who wore a lot of sweaters.  He could talk sports and the origins of the earth, however he always held his opinion until after others had a full opportunity to speak first.  When decisions of any weight were needed from this man, he almost always requested the opportunity to pray about it first.  I thought this man's delayed decision making was more a reflection of his lack of fortitude to lead.  Over the years, I've seen this man enjoy a quiet life with many joys but also a fair share of hurt and pain.  Through it all, he is notably resilient because a Power greater than anything he could muster dwells deep within his soul.  He's anchored by a Love greater than anything that he could garner from this world.  He continues to lead well because he, the creation, doesn't attempt to outpace the Creator.

My identity was built upon navigating my own direction.  As I journeyed, the accolades of the crowd was a drug that I'd sacrificed much to gain.   This pursuit might have cost me my life.  Not in a tragic accident kind of way, but more akin to a slow disease where something eats slowly away at you without you noticing much is going on until you're on life support, trying only to hold on.

Tonight, I write from a cabin in the woods.  I'm so thankful to be here with my family, us pushing the world back for a weekend to just be.  I'm thankful that I now find my identity in something deeper, an inexhaustible love that never fails.  I'm a beloved son of God, born to do good works that were planned before the world began.  I don't have to pull myself up from my bootstraps and prove my value to a society that's sadly lost it's own in many ways.  Tomorrow, I only have to trust that God will show up for me, as He always has, working through my life in ways that I could never do on my own.   Some days that's me being afraid to lead in certain areas, but doing it anyway, because I've been called and I trust that God will equip me as necessary.  Other days, that's me slowing to bathe decisions in prayer and listening for God's still small voice.  Every day, that's us choosing to be thankful and to receive each moment as a gift - God's grace all wrapped up and given. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Letter and a Prayer for My Sons

My sons are still at an age where they think I'm an all-star basketball player and that my office job is on par with that of Jack Bauer.  They naively promise that they'd never imagine going to the movies with a girl over going to a ballgame with their Dad.  They soak in my stories, laugh at my jokes, and are always watching and sometimes to my horror, mirroring my actions.

I know that they'll not always be as open to my voice in their lives as they are today.  I know that they'll have to find their own way.  When the difficult seasons of distance arrive, may The Word be their compass.  And may some of the other words that I've collected for them be an anchor when they drift.  Perhaps this will be one such note.

To my sons,

You are both asleep in your bunk beds tonight.  Tonight we battled with swords.  Last weekend we built a fort.  The weekend before that we caught fish.  I love being your Dad.   

There are so many life lessons that I wish I could imprint on your hearts and seer into your souls.  I know that I can only imperfectly attempt to model and teach these things to you.   Here are a few of those lessons, a backdrop for your unique story. 

Treat women with respect.  Love your future wife selflessly, the way Christ loves the church.  Entering into marriage with prideful self-interest is like trying to bring luggage that exceeds the weight limit onto a plane.  It's possible, but you'll pay handsomely to do it.  It's best to shed the baggage of self-interest before you cross the threshold of marriage.  The apostle Paul gives us a beautiful description of what true love looks like in 1 Corinthians 13.  Paul authored this knowing that the only thing that casts our fear, is Perfect Love.  Which brings me to my next point;

Live your life like you are not scared.  We are all scared.  Kobe Bryant is scared.  "I have self-doubt,” Bryant said. “I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and [I don't feel like I can do it]. We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it. You respond to it. You rise above it."  The greatest moments of my first 40 years are the times when I've done things that I was terrified to do, but did them anyway.  My greatest regrets are the times when I listened to the voice of fear calling me to stand down, leaving me to wonder how those opportunities may have evolved.  Nelson Mandela said it best, "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."  Conquering fear isn't about beating our chests in bravado, it's about finding our greatest strength in our weakness.  Which brings me to my prayer for you;

Author Ann Voskamp prayed an amazing prayer for her child.  It's my prayer for you. "May [you] be dead to all ladders & never go higher , only lower, to the lonely, the least & the longing.  [You] led of the Spirit to lead many to the Cross that leads to the tomb wildly empty."  Society nudges us toward  the pursuit of happiness via the social, spiritual, career, political, power, and position ladders each leaning alongside one another, calling us to climb.  This is a lie as these ladders lead to nowhere.  Always go lower, to the least of these.  Cast out fear with Perfect Love.  Live life like you are not scared, as if the God of the universe is walking alongside you.  Live boldly as if the Author of all life created you for good works, all prepared for you in advance.  Find a woman to journey with and love her deeply.  Be led by the Spirit of God.  Lead others, pointing them to the Cross that unites us both in our brokenness and in our Hope.  In the words of Bob Goff, "Love God, love people, and do stuff."  I can't wait to see the stuff that you will do, the places you will go.  I love you more than you'll ever know.

With grace,

Dad

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Forgiveness

A few months ago my wife sent an email to the elementary teacher of one of our boys.  She let the teacher know that our son confessed to taking a piece of candy from the teacher's desk without asking.  She let the teacher know that his punishment at home was minimal because of his willingness to tell the truth.  Also, she let the teacher know that he was quite upset about the issue and that he had written a note of apology for her, however he was awfully scared to give the teacher the note.  It's the telling that's often the most difficult.  And most freeing.

We make bad decisions.  We cut corners.  In the busyness and business of life we fall prey to the lure of the shiny piece of candy that's so easily taken without notice.  Instant gratification with risky consequences can often outweigh healthier decisions offering long-term positive outcomes.  We've all been there.  And, it's so easy to justify these decisions to ourselves.  "I deserved what I stole," we say.  "I never get recognized and it's about time I get something for me."  "If you want something, take it," we foolishly tell ourselves.  "It's just candy, she would have given it to me anyway."  I deserve, I am due, I have a right to this, and I am owed are all lies we tell ourselves to numb our prideful power-moves to trample others and take what we want. 

When the dust settles, our lies are revealed, those we hurt are painfully evident, and our takeovers aren't filling the void we thought they would - then, we see our prideful desires for the destructive narcotics they are and we know that we need forgiveness.  Too often, we do not ask - as it's too painful to face.  Instead, we ignore and we numb, allowing the wounds we've caused and those inflected upon us to fester for years. 

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is recounted by the Apostle Luke.  He tells the story of the prodigal son who chose to receive his inheritance early - it was rightfully his - and went off to waste it all on the vanishing pleasures of the world.  Broke and broken, the lost son decides to return home and ask for his father's forgiveness.  Luke writes, "His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.'  But his father said to the servants, 'Quick!  Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him.  Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his fee.  And kill the calf we have been fattening.  We must celebrate with a feast, for this son mine was dead and has now returned to life.  He was lost, but now he is found.'  And so the party began."
 
The son barely got the words out of his mouth asking for forgiveness when the father interrupted him and showered him with adoration and love, asking those around to tee up the party in store.  "My son has returned."  The Father says.  And so the party began. 

My son's teacher sent this email in return.  "He gave (the apology note) to me shaking.  Wow, what a brave boy!  I forgave him and expressed how proud I was that he made the decision to make it right.  ...He feels relieved.  He has it written all over his face.  We all can relate with these moments." 

We carry tremendously heavy loads of shame and guilt around because we are too afraid to simply tell.   Our pride blocks our apologies and our fear stops our returning to those we care about.  All the while, those we've wronged often just want us to return.  They don't want our apologies, they want our presence.  Like the father in the story, they can't wait to order the party to begin and celebrate our renewed relationship.  The Bible says that heaven celebrates when anyone lost is found.  Let the party begin.

I'm thankful that my son goes to a school where teachers respond to the return from his prodigal journey with nothing short of grace and forgiveness.  May we do the same. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Living Free

I went to a funeral a few months ago.  Like hospitals, I typically avoid funerals like the plague.  I suppose I don't like to be reminded that our lives are really a passing breeze.  In this case, I wanted to go to honor a friend and former coworker.  My friend was way too young to go and lived such a pure life you wonder why God didn't bless us with just a few more years of her presence here on earth. 

I worked alongside my friend for only four short years.  I had stepped into a leadership position in an organization that was in a state of great change.  I was focused on leading well, implementing change, and making improvements.  My friend had been with the organization a long time.  Our offices were side by side, separated by a single door.  After about a month into my role, she left a note in my mailbox that said she was glad I was there and that I was doing a good job.  I needed that affirmation.  I didn't keep the note, but I wish I would have. 

At the funeral, my friend's family told of her life before she "found a relationship with Jesus" and after.  It was quite different.  It was a wonderful, tranformational, and redemptive story.  I didn't know this story.  I wish there had been the chance for my friend to tell me more. 

When we worked alongside each other I was focused and intense.  I thought a lot about performance and production.  These aren't bad things.  In fact, I'd say that we improved in these areas together and that the organization benefitted from this.  Sitting at the funeral, I couldn't recall a single organizational performance improvement that we accomplished.  I did remember that she liked hot dogs on the grill, that it made her smile when her husband dropped by with lunch, and that she often played the beautiful music that her daughter recorded.  The louder she played the music, the more she needed peace in any given stressful day.  I found myself wishing that I had left the door between our offices open more often.  I wish that I had allowed more time for real conversation, for sharing our stories.

At the funeral they played video clips of her last days.  She was in very poor health, yet she told her husband (who was shooting the video), "God's been good to us.  He's good to all of us.  It's just too many don't realize it until it's too late."  From her hospital bed, she sang hymns with her daughter.  She was at peace.  She was ready to meet Jesus.

 I cried when I told me wife about the funeral.  I hadn't stayed in touch with my friend for a few years and I wasn't close to the family.  Yet, I cried because we lost a very good woman too soon.  She didn't wear masks and position herself to be someone she wasn't.  She didn't try to impress.  She was simply who she was - a broken, beloved child of God, saved by grace.  She was a grandma who loved her family and had a wonderful marriage.  She often spoke of weekend rides on the Harley with her husband.  She lived life that is truly life.  She will be missed. 

The card at the funeral included a poem entitled, I'm Free.  "Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free; I'm following the path God laid for me."  I want to live life like my friend - to ride through this life on a Harley with a smile and to approach death with a peace and contentment that only comes from a life immersed in grace - to live free.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Grace Parenting

Our friends visited a doctor last week and heard a heartbeat.  Wonderstruck, they listened to new life growing.  The best days of their lives are ahead.

I remember when our oldest was our youngest, just born.  My wife and I arrived at the hospital with life already figured out.  My memories of that time are fading at the edges.  I remember the panic that enveloped as I stood ready to enter the surgery room and the same panic that faded as I entered and my attention turned toward caring for my family.  I recall the awe of meeting my son, MY SON, for the first time.  I remember watching, as my wife and son slept nearby, Tiger Woods win the Master's with a miraculous putt.  Upon leaving, I remember telling the nurse that I knew how to change a diaper (although I did not), but she taught me anyway. 

Years later, we welcomed another son into this world. The miracles repeated in the same and different ways.  We were fully living this life of parenthood, all grace.

I think about what advice, if any, I might have for our friends.  Here are a few thoughts...

  • You don't know, what you don't know.  My perceptions of all that matters most are quite different than pre-kids.  God's teaching and renewing me.  The changes in me have only been to the degree I've been able to get out of my own way;  letting go and letting God.
  • Parenting is mentoring and trusting, not controlling.  Author John Lynch writes, "No matter what I believe, each of my children have their own relationship with God, finding their own way, in their own choices.  I do not have control over that.  It's a mistake to make myself responsible for the choices of anyone else, even  my own children." 
  • Until you've been there, don't judge.  Further, don't judge.  I used to looked at other families and their kids with their messy faces, Cheerio strewn trails, scattered toys, and disheveled cars and wonder why they just couldn't clean the whole act up a bit.  I write this on a table filled with Legos in a room will finger-smudged walls and next to a dog that sheds (which I had warned against).  All perfectly messy.
  • You have to receive grace before you can give grace.  Just this morning, a tooth was removed from underneath a pillow and replaced with a gift.  It should have happened last night.  When our son wondered aloud this morning why the tooth was still there, I told him to go back to sleep.  Sometimes, the Tooth Fairy is late.  On another occasion, the Tooth Fairy was a no-show due to the heavy snow.  It happens.  The Tooth Fairy, our parenting, our kids, and life itself isn't perfect.  And there is no getting there.  There is only grace, received and given.
  • Parenting gives new context.  So many lessons of faith, trust, and of God's love for us have come alive as I related them to my own experience of Fathering.  God, I'm so thankful.
We told our boys at dinner last night that we had big news about our friends.  Our six-year-old asked, "Did the baby hatch?"  We laughed, told of the new heartbeat, prayed, and thanked God.

My six-year-old just arrived with the sunrise and laid the money he received from the Tooth Fairy on the table with a smile.  When he awoke earlier, he had worried the Tooth Fairy had forgotten.  Although sometimes it's later than we expect, the gifts always arrive.  Grace is always on it's way.     

Monday, January 20, 2014

Imagine That

Recently, I ran into a kid who I had coached last year in Y basketball.  I asked him how he had been.  He didn't talk much.  After a few minutes he came up to me and said, "You were the best basketball teacher ever."  I needed no praise from my wife that day nor an 'atta boy from the boss on Monday.  The affirmation of a First Grader carried me for a week. 

A recent article stated that we remember more of an event when we aren't taking pictures.  A study noted individuals attending a museum who were snapping photos remembered 10 percent less objects and 12 percent less details about an object versus those who were not taking pictures.  "When you press click on that button for the camera, you're sending a signal to your brain saying, 'I've just outsourced this, the camera is going to remember this for me," said Linda Henkel, a professor, who led the study.

Years ago, a supervisor asked what I wanted to do in my career.  I wasn't sure.  I knew that I wanted to get married, have sons, and coach.  I've realized my dreams and have coached both of my sons in many sports.  I love coaching.  It's a stress release for me.  Coaching offers one of the few times that I can be fully present with others.  I'm immersed in the moment. 

My wife and I have hard drives filled with photos.  We don't always look at them as often as we'd planned.  We stumble upon the photos on our computers more often than we do the printed ones boxed in our damp basement.  I wonder why we take so many photos but rarely see them.  Professor Henkel says, "Photos are trophies. You want to show people where you were rather than saying, 'Hey, this is important, I want to remember this."  That's sad, I think.  I don't want any of my photos collections to be a presentation.  When I look at them I only want to remember the sights, sounds, and emotions of those moments.

When I'm not coaching, I'm that parent.  I have videos and stills of every Christmas pageant.  I proudly avoid the scrum of parents jockeying for territory at any given event by strategically choosing my picture-taking-position pre-event.  I take a lot of pictures.  On a good day, the tally of pictures are a photo journal of gifts received.  They are snapshots of grace for which I'm thankful..  On a bad day, the pictures represent desperate attempts to hold onto these passing moments.  The fear of scarcity drives the click-clacking of the camera; me snapping frames to store in the warehouse for when these wonderful moments end.

Author Shawn Achor said that we can replicate the neurology that occurs in our brains when we journal a positive experience.  He said that our brains have difficulty distinguishing between the reality of the event actually occurring and the journaling and recollection of the event.  The same positive endorphins are released.  It's in the remembering.

I'm thankful that I can coach.  The kids often teach me more than I could possibly teach them and it allows me to be fully present.  I can remember my sons first hits, first points scored, and the boy that said, "coach, this is the greatest day of my life." 

Pictures can draw us into a moment we experienced or help us imagine a new one.  Yet, pictures will never be a substitute for the real thing.  They'll never replace the opportunity for us to be real, wholly present, and completely immersed in the joy the of moment.  Imagine that.