10,000 Years

40 Year Thoughts On Giving, Growing Older and Gaining Perspective

Recently I have had the pleasure of a mash of activity that has been challenging and enjoyable in multiple ways.  In a little more than two weeks I have traveled in and through four states – Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Georgia. I have breathed the air and walked the earth in two nations – the USA and South Africa. Occupied both northern and southern hemispheres having crossed the equator twice, thereby experiencing both summer and winter seasons.

I have driven a car from the left-hand seat on a right-hand road and the right-hand seat on a left-hand road, enjoyed two 40-Year High School reunions – Sherry’s in Starkville, Mississippi and mine in Douglasville, Georgia. I’ve enjoyed reminiscing with dozens of classmates, meeting new people and seeing lifelong friends and then returning home a year older after observing both of our 58 year birthdays with multiple celebrations. We both loved seeing all of our kids, grandkids and parents and I had the privilege of teaching two spiritual leadership workshops/conferences, had a guest speaking opportunity and covered over 21,000 miles.

But in all of that there was ONE MOMENT that I know will stay stuck between the cracks of my mind.  It happened unexpectedly in Starkville, Mississippi.

The Starkville High School Reunion and the Douglas County/Lithia Springs High School Reunion were very different events. The Starkville gathering was an ordered, multi-faceted, two-day event that encouraged conversations, sharing, reminiscing and reflection.  The DC/LS event was an one-evening, non-structured, celebration that mixed classic 70s music, good food, old and new friends and volume.

That moment in Starkville was the highlight of both on a level that I never expected at such an event.  One of Sherry’s classmates, a student by the name of Carl Awh, left that sleepy little college town to craft quite a resume of accomplishment.  He is now Dr Carl Awh (pronounced “Oh”.) Dr Awh completed a fellowship in Vitreoretinal Surgery and Research at the Duke University Eye Center with Dr. Robert Machemer, the “father of modern vitreous surgery.”  He is now an internationally recognized clinician, surgeon, and educator. His special interests include macular surgery, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and the development of surgical devices and techniques. He has authored scientific articles on these subjects and on the topics of ocular trauma and intraocular tumors. Yes, as you, my inside conversation just said, “Wow, he’s an intelligent guy.”

As a distinguished alumnus, he was asked to speak to his fellow high school graduates in a reflective moment on the cumulative impact of their lives. His subject was, of course, visionary, but not of the ocular variety. Instead, Carl invited us to look in and look beyond. He talked about the cumulative impact of our lives as the ones released to the world in the Spring of 1977. How, as a class, they had lived more than 10,000 years and who might know how many more years we have as a group to live well, live large, live as a giver and lover and investor in the human family.

10,000 years.  I do not how many times that figure came to my mind this Saturday night in Douglasville, Georgia, as I looked around the room and wondered about my class, my friends, my fellow Lions and Tigers from these two schools that, for three years in our school history were one.

10,000 years. What have we done with that?  What will we do with what we have left?  Many of us are anticipating retirement. Some of us are facing dilemmas beyond belief. A few of us have been laid to rest already and that number will begin to increase exponentially over the next twenty years.

10,000 years. I see it now.  I feel it now. I want to get on a chair and scream it now. How many of those 10,000 have been redeemed?  How many have been used to great gain?  How many have been ignored, trashed or left behind never to be seen again?  It matters not what has been. It matters what will be.

10,000 years.  If there are 500 or more of us in our class and we average 20 years of life, we have that much more to give, see, experience, live and love in. I can only hope we ‘see’ what Dr Awh has opened our eyes to.  I can only hope this message is replicated and repeated through my voice to those I know that were not in the room that night in Starkville.

I never expected a 40-Year High School Reunion to allow me to see how much we have to give.

I never expected a 40-Year High School Reunion to speak to my heart about growing older.

I never expected a 40-Year High School Reunion to give me a perspective I have never realized or acknowledged.

But, open my eyes, it did….speak to me, it is….reorient me to what has been and what we yet have opportunity to do, it did.

Life is found in purpose not accidents.  Don’t anticipate laying life down in some retirement resignation from reality. Plan for purpose. Give. Love. Invest. Share your life!

Now, I give you that same challenge – See. Hear. Perceive.

Class of 1977, or 78 or whatever you claim…Be powerful.  Be Purposeful.  I so enjoyed my 40-Year Reunion but I was reacquainted with LIFE at Sherry’s.  Thank you, Carl. I never knew you and may never see you again, but may your voice, vision and veritas resonate beyond that room in the Hilton Garden to the corners of the earth. As our group said forty years ago… “We’re all angels, going to heaven. We’re the Class of 77!”   Let’s make that true through living, on purpose, in Grace – the power of Heaven to be all we are created and intended to be.

In moments like this, the truth of the ancient texts ring in my ears and heart and give strength to my vision…

So, since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.

We may feel alone, but we aren’t. We are surrounded by an army of witnesses. They have run the race of faith and finished well. It is now our turn.

Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.

Consider the life of the One who endured such personal attacks and hostility from sinners so that you will not grow weary or lose heart. Among you, in your striving against sin, none has resisted the pressure to the point of death, as He did.

Indeed, you seem to have forgotten the proverb directed to you as children:                   My child, do not ignore the instruction that comes from the Lord,                                          or lose heart when He steps in to correct you;                                                                        For the Lord disciplines those He loves,                                                                                          and He corrects each one He takes as His own.

Endure hardship as God’s discipline and rejoice that He is treating you as His children, for what child doesn’t experience discipline from a parent?  But if you are not experiencing the correction that all true children receive, then it may be that you are not His children after all.  Remember, when our human parents disciplined us, we respected them. If that was true, shouldn’t we respect and live under the correction of the Father of all spirits even more?  Our parents corrected us for a time as seemed good to them, but God only corrects us to our good so that we may share in His holiness.

When punishment is happening, it never seems pleasant, only painful. Later, though, it yields the peaceful fruit called righteousness to everyone who has been trained by it.  So, lift up your hands that are dangling and brace your weakened knees. Make straight paths for your feet so that what is lame in you won’t be put out of joint, but will heal.

 Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, since no one will see God without it.  Watch carefully that no one falls short of God’s favor, that no well of bitterness springs up to trouble you and throw many others off the path.

 Do it…for the next 10,000 years!

Simplify!

Every few weeks I get the opportunity to interface with leaders around the globe. Over the next several weeks I will be standing in front of dozens of women and men, leaders all, who are fighting to be effective.  My message to them?  Simplify.

I found a funny (to me, anyway) book title the other day – 100 Ways to Simplify Your Life! Wow, 100 ways?  That sounds complicated.  Give me three or four ways, please!

I am embracing simplicity little by little.  In fact, I like to teach on the concept of ‘Ministry Made Simple’ encouraging leaders to quit trying to get people to do more and equate that as better.  I think less is more. In fact, I am about to the place where I wonder if doing church as we have known it is the way to go.  Maybe we gather for development and challenge once or twice, then encouragement and inspiration once or twice might be better. What if release people to engage their neighbors, family and friends with specific acts of blessing.  But, I digress.

Back to the point at hand… simplify.  I have found I am driving slower than I used to, obsessing less than I used to, permitting more than I used to, chewing more than I used to…and enjoying more!

This morning, I opened my email to the following message from a minister who is committed to sharing encouragement on a daily basis to we who get too busy too often. It read like this… “As I continue to slow you down, do not resist me. For I am slowing your pace in order to preserve you, but also in order to instruct you. At times you advance too quickly, and walk in presumption, so I must slow you down in order to draw your attention to where you are, and to the tasks before you this day. I must bring your awareness off of tomorrow, off of your future, and bring you into observation of today. So do not resist the adjustment of your pace, for what I am doing within you is good, and will bless you greatly.”

Jessie Sampter said, “Simplicity is the peak of civilization.”  What did he mean by that?  For me it means this – when I relax and dial down I am more on top (and civilized) than at any time in my life.  The keys for we mere humans in a world of complexities is how do we get there?

I found a few hints recently and I will share them with you.  I’ll begin with the simplest.

  1. Identify what is really important to you.
  2. Eliminate everything else.

Now, here is a longer list (but much shorter than 100!!)

  1. Make a list of five things most important to you.

This might be a relationship, a goal, an endeavor, a state of being.  Reflect and then begin writing. (Hint: you might begin by making a list of all you can think of that is important and then begin downsizing the list in order of import.)

  1. Tune Out, Tune In

Turn off your electronic world.  What does TV, the Internet, Cell Phones, etc make you?  They make you bigger, wider, available.  Turn it off.  Even if for a prescribed period of time, turn it off.  Gadgets tend to distort your perspective.  By cutting off the outside world and retreating to your inner world, you will gain perspective and infinitely increase your ability to discern.  Tune in to the voice of God. Listen.

  1. Spend Time, not Money

We can all spend money to make an impact, but how about spending time?  Usually the impact of money spent is immediate and short-lived.  When we give of ourselves it creates a memory, a connection, a moment in time that is real and relevant. Play a game with someone.

  1. Think Outside Your Cubicle

Do you live to work instead of work to live?  Is your 8-5 becoming 6, 7, or even 8?  Do you take work home?  Working longer does not usually translate into working better.  Find ways to redeem time, take your breaks, eat lunch for an hour.  Ask for ways to make work smarter, not harder.  You can do this.

  1. Count Your Blessings

We, US Americans, who make more than $25,000 a year (and that is most of us) are the richest people in the world.  Learn to live and give from what you have instead of only seeing what you do not have.  Find ways to re-use and not throw away.  Find ways to give and empower.  Discover ministries that make a difference and give them money to help someone.  Discover organizations like ONE.org and KIVA.org where you can be a player in alleviating the suffering in the world AND make a direct impact on someone.  Understand that the best things in life are not things.

  1. Bring Someone Along

Don’t take the simple journey alone.  Find someone to share it with, talk about your discoveries, your insights, your blessings and your life-lessons.  Experiences are best done in community not in solitude.

Enjoy.  Go Slow.  Simplify!

Murky & Deficit

Any good story has a setting, be it in a home, a nation, a battlefield, a street or the great outdoors.  My story happens inside the church. Whenever anyone comes to visit me in Atlanta, my hometown, I love to take them on a tour from an insider’s perspective.

I do not just take them to The Varsity, largest drive-in restaurant in the world, but I tell them the story of Flossie and Erby.  I do not just show them the buildings but I take them underground on the world’s longest escalator.  I do not just tell them about grits, red-eye gravy and country ham, I take them to experience it. We see Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthplace and his resting place a block away. I show them the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With The Wind, the location of the world premier in 1939, the place she lived when she met an untimely accidental death.  I show them where CNN was born and the Marriott Marquis, now occupying the address where St Joseph’s Hospital stood and where I began my life on a stormy Friday night in the late 1950s.

And, I take them to a street that does not exist anymore. Washington Street.  Where this small street use to offer passage there is now a parking lot.  But, before the parking lot there was a stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, built in 1963-1965 to be the new home of the Atlanta Braves, purloined from the city of Milwaukee, to be the iconic move of the city of Atlanta from small town to major player.  Here, in this parking lot, the former layout of the baseball diamond is laid out in brown brick to distinguish it from the black asphalt enveloping the remainder of the property. The spot where Hank Aaron’s 715th homerun sailed across a fence on April 8, 1974, breaking Babe Ruth’s seemingly insurmountable record, is memorialized.

And then I tell my visitor, “Right here, on the edge of what formerly was a thoroughfare stood the Washington Street Assembly of God. This is the spot, right here where first base is outlined on the ground, where the altar and pulpit were located. On an autumn Sunday morning in 1959 two young, first-time parents brought a young son and dedicated him to God’s life for him. Born in a Catholic hospital to two Pentecostal parents from Washington Street Assembly of God was my beginning and I have never left the church.”

That gives me almost six decades of experience in this dysfunctional community organization.  I have loved her, hated her, commended her and slandered her. I have taken from her and given to her. I have led her and been led by her.  I have controlled her and been controlled by her.  In my hindsight, I could not have lived without this beautiful bride to be and I wish I had never known this bridezilla.

The church, sometimes with good intention and sometimes with selfish, has developed what it calls Christians – a collection of humans ascribed to the notion that Jesus is the incarnate son of God and the Savior of the world.  But, by it’s own Scripture that is not the definition of a Christian. We have allowed this family with natural DNA embedded in it to be malformed by a code of ethics and conformity the very leader of the pack never mentioned as necessary or forthcoming.  We have created a form for godliness and left the heart of relationship as an addendum instead of the center point of meaning.

As Leonard Sweet mused recently, “Why can’t we get this one thing: In the biblical drama, Absolute Truth is not abstract but personal, not expressed in abstract statements and principles but embodied in a person who empowers us not to impersonate him, but to personate him and thus personate truth.”

“Why?” he asks.  I can tell you why.  It is the one thing that separates the church we experience from the church of prophetic and historic promise. We are taught that the statements and principles are what we are after, about and are absolute. When what is not central is made central you have a problem.  We seem to have no clue of process, growth and spiritual nature – supernature – supernatural living lived into by seeing the pathway of righteousness.

I am committing the next six decades of my life to turning this around in my life and the life of those who will simply listen and consider. I will write, teach, mentor and live to personate…not to get myself right, in conformity or accepted.  I realize I cannot get myself right so He gave me righteousness. I cannot conform myself to His image but I can allow myself to be transformed into that image. I cannot try to be accepted when I already am.

That is not clear in the church, or in my experience of church – both as a minister of and a ministered to person. When institution and membership replaced communitas and commission the waters were muddied and became murky and people started living from fear instead of faith, looking to do no wrong rather than learning to live in their ascribed righteousness.  I am out to unlive that into clarity, purpose and as Len shares, ‘personating’ Jesus.

I like something else he shares, and I want to be counted in the latter group… “The church was built on mavericks, marginals and martyrs, not bricks and mortar and mammon.”

Selah.

Ebenezer!

It has been a while now, but I still feel it – The Joy Factor.

Without change of circumstance or environment, something abides in my heart.  Early on a Saturday morning, I awoke with the following poetic prayer dancing in my mind…

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life

I believe that early morning experience is, to me, an Ebenezer.

In ancient Hebrew history the Israelites were twice defeated by one of their most fierce rivals, the Philistines.  Twice they were buried in disgrace and their most prized possession, the Ark of the Covenant, taken from them.  Finally, at a third opportunity for breakthrough in battle, Israel prevailed.  Yeah!!!

They erected a monument at the site of this battle field and called it Ebenezer.  Eventually, the whole area came to be known by that name.  The name was a word made from two words, meaning ‘place’ and ‘stone’ and came to be known as the place where the Lord helped.

Later, when God would help someone they would say of the lasting substance and significance of that breakthrough activity, “That is my Ebenezer.”

That Saturday morning is an Ebenezer for me.  For some reason, God showed up, put a word in my heart (Psalm 23) and changed something inside of me.  Since that day, I have felt this joy factor that has led me through transition and a new life definition and vision.

To me this is Groovy Gravy!  I don’t understand it, but I sure do appreciate it.  Right now, think about a time, place or space where God showed up for you, mark it in your mind and heart, write it down if you would like. Make your own Ebenezer and be thankful.

More succinctly, maybe you have been a loser in this battlefield again and again and yet you have not given up or given in to the notion that succeeding over your challenges is possible, then come back to the battle with God’s attendance and assistance. Plan on erecting your own Ebenezer!

So, next time you hear the word ‘Ebenezer’ forget Scrooge, remember God….and be strong!

The Living Dead

I have known them. Who? People that were fully alive. They oozed life. They were smart, funny, intuitive, genuine, spirit-filled, wise, generous, open, accepting, forgiving, and attractive to all.

I have also known these – the dead. Those who are gone, remembered, adored, loved, missed, storied, honored, revered and ours.

Then there are the living dead. Those living but suppressed, lonely, unsure, unconvinced, halted, forfeited, wrong, missed, unknown, pushed away, taken advantage of, hopeless, sorrowful and just clueless about what to do or if to do.

The first position is advantageous.

The second position is due all of us.

The third position… well, that is debatable. This is why there is an entire industry afloat of self-help gurus, supposed secrets, “spiritual” principles, inspiring stories and subliminal tapes available to you, me and the world. In the end, though, it is simply a decision that turns death to life for the masses huddled in this place of mediocre experience and unfulfilled expectations.

So, if it is so easy why aren’t more people making it?

One reason – we have made decisions before and they haven’t worked out. Some of our decisions were okay. Some of our decisions are decent. Some of our decisions are horrible. Some of our decisions are stupid. Some of our decisions are pitiful. So, why make another one if we have no clear track record of success and forward motion?

A great percentage of humans are self-labeled by interior language that screams at us that we are NOT enough – we do not know enough, have not experienced enough, never learned enough, have not acquired enough, and we are not quite as good as that woman or man over there, across from us. So, we do not enjoy life even if we do enjoy moments.

What strings enjoyable moments into an enjoyable life?  What accumulates in our emotional bank accounts to create reserves and eliminates deficits?  What is within our purview to manage if we, like everyone else, are unable to control those things outside of us?  What, or maybe the better question is, who can I control?

That answer is myself. I choose life! The ancient texts of Scripture offers me that choice. When I read it, I immediately wonder about it, but I choose to trust the offer is real. And, then I see there is a perk.  Look and see with me…

Today I ask heaven and earth to be witnesses. I am offering you life or death, blessings or curses. Now, choose life! Then you and your children may live.

I am glad that I have that choice.  It means that I have to endure, or is it enjoy, a transitional move from the deficit mentality – “I am doomed and things never work out, no matter what I hope” to an abundance mentality.  But when I do that, it does not only affect and impact my life, but look…. My children live!  My emotional DNA, no matter what season I am in (I have adult children and young grandchildren), has a trickle down effect.  Yeah, baby!  I like that!  So, I choose life.

But not choosing life does not mean you do not choose. We all choose. Indecision is a choice and if we do not choose life we choose death – separation from life. We can be dead even when our cardiac system has rhythm and our pulmonary system has breath.. In not choosing life we have made a decision. How cruel is that? Our very decision to not make a decision decides we will stay in limbo, stuck, dead to life and dreams.

What is a reason to decide not to decide? When we doubt our decision, the outcome of our decision or have a self-described history of bad decisions, we may shrink because we do not want to be disappointed. But consider this, choosing disappointment intentionally to avoid possible disappointment if things do not go right, is sort of self-defeating.  I would rather choose a 1% chance of goodness than a 0% chance.

So, let me share a prayer with you and I invite you to use it today and in the days to come.  Heck, use it everyday!

“Hey, Life, it’s me. I am hanging with you today. You are my chosen friend and I am going to enjoy you enjoying me. God said you were open to me and I trust him, so here I am. Let’s dance like no one is watching…well, except my kids. I want them to see this dance and join us. Amen.”

Change Your World

When we hear the statement ‘change your world’ most of us, if we are Christian leaders, think about what we call evangelism. If we could just get people to change from unbeliever to believer, from faithless to faith-filled, from far-from-God to child-of-God, from heathen to Christian, it would change our world. However, this is NOT the angle I want to challenge myself with this week.

For two millennia now the words of Jesus’ instruction have hung in the expanse of human life for his followers, “Be in the world, but not of it.”  That statement has been interpreted six ways to Sunday, but whatever the interpretation we are at a time in history that much more suggests we are ”of the world but not in it.”

Sociologists and researchers such as George Barna tell us that the lifestyle of the world is pretty consistent with the lifestyle of those who claim the name of Christ.  Not only that, but less than 15% of all church attenders (less for those who claim to be Christian) share their faith and live redemptive lifestyles.  When it comes to the clergy the numbers are frighteningly similar. Church leaders, such as ministers and pastors, are much too busy to be in normal, everyday, embedded-in-the-world relationships with sinners and the like.

So, our dilemma is this…

  • We are like the world but we are not really relating to it very well.
  • We are not distinguished as different for a purpose as much as different because we are satnd-offish.
  • Our world is dying around us in hellacious ways and we are too busy to care.
  • We equate success and effectiveness, as leaders, by our Sunday activity instead of our weekly lifestyle choices.
  • Followers of Jesus do not have leaders who truly ‘show’ the way but rather are great at teaching it.
  • We devolve into keeping the church going instead of expanding the Kingdom by living the mandate of our leader.

So, my challenge (and I hope, yours) is to change my world.

  • Develop relationships, as Jesus did, that are intentionally redemptive. That means it has to be outside the church world.
  • Commit personally to live a distinctive lifestyle that says something about your values. Don’t choose to live as well as you can economically, but live at 80%, or less, just because you can and you can use your extra resources as redemptive tools.
  • Make Monday through Saturday more important than Sunday. (As Andy Stanley says, “Cheat the Church.”)
  • Create a discernable and visible way of life that others can reproduce in redemptive manner.
  • Simplify your worship experiences into encounters between our soul and God with the least amount of hyperbole possible.
  • Finally, get out of the world you’ve created and enter the one around you, it is God’s.

Monday

Mondays are an interesting lot. One of seven evenly measured days throughout the week, each having their own personality. But Monday is the cousin of the other six that sits alone at the family reunion, doesn’t get a card on their birthday, never gets asked to dance at a soiree and, try as it may, just never gets respect.

Today is Monday.  Humans, around the globe are begrudgingly accommodating Monday’s presence while anticipating Tuesday. After Tuesday is Wednesday, which has been given the nickname ‘Hump Day.’  When you are given a nickname, you are accepted and liked. Then, Thursday is a day of high production and part of the collection of days at the end of a work week that, in light of the proximity to Friday, is affectionately welcomed. After that, Friday, the day of Divine Gratitude. Friday even has a slogan – ‘Thank God it’s Friday!’- attached to it. Nobody doesn’t like Friday. Followed by the precious two-day collection misnamed the weekend because it also contains the week’s beginning, but who cares? Saturday is your personal day to do ‘me’ stuff, whether it is house chores, lawn maintenance, shopping, playing, partying and hanging with chill friends in or out of the neighborhood. Sunday is the traditional day of worship that has turned more extended relaxation period than anything else. Then, here it comes again, Monday.

Monday is just on the outside looking in. Have you ever felt like Monday? Do you feel like Monday now? That somehow you are just like everybody else but yet you feel unlike anyone?  In some respects being unique is great, but this does not feel great.

One time, early in Jesus’ ministry, a religious leader named Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cloak of evening darkness to inquire about Jesus face-to-face.  He first said, “I recognize you are looking-inon the inside with God because if you weren’t the miracles you do would be impossible.”  Jesus read between the lines and, I believe, heard a Monday talking.  Allow me to paraphrase what Nicodemus was saying and what Jesus was hearing. “I’m like you, godly and lawful, but unlike you I do not get what is going on with you. It must be God working with you but if it is why are we not getting the vibe and walking in step with you?” Nicodemus was feeling like an outsider and he did not like it. It was uncomfortable. When it came to Jesus and the Kingdom life that seemed to be teeming around him, Nicodemus felt like he and his partners had suddenly moved from Saturday to Monday. From being the coolest ‘insider’ and having everything ‘godly’ emanate from their center to being on the outside and seeing the center of the universe become the center of what was happening in their culture.

But Jesus was not about anyone being an outsider. He wanted everyone, sinner and saint, to come inside and he said as much. “Nic, to even see inside, follow this simple reality…be born again.”  What? Born again? Nicodemus was confused. “How do I do that?” I am sure he considered a Benjamin Button scenario but Jesus continued. “Nic, you’ve already had a natural birth when water broke and you emerged into the world. This new birth is of the spirit. You must have both to enter, be an insider, in this domain of godliness.”

And, for all of us that feel as if we are a Monday in a world of Friday and Saturdays, take the challenge to become an insider that is never deported. Be born again.  If that concept is a mystery, write me, I will try to be a helper.  Just know, none of us have to be outsiders. Come on in.

Father’s Day

It is Father’s Day weekend.  I approach it with a little fear and a lot of love.

Fear is ridiculous but present. My rational mind dismisses it but my emotional self feels it. I am dad to three daughters. I would give my life for them but I have not been a stellar dad. During their very formative years I was a workaholic and felt like I was trying to prove something to the world. That drive disappeared in ultimate failure and a season of self-pity. But, then the next season of my life was spent trying to deal with anxiety of pending loss and being a different sort of person. Again, my girls lost because my focus was on myself. I finally had personal breakthrough and entered a healing season but the time had passed to be ‘that adorable, loving, idealistic’ dad.

I have had Father’s Days in the last decade when the day came and went and I heard nothing. That is not the norm, but it is part of my reality. I sit here today and feel that insecurity of wondering. Even if I do hear from them, or one or two, I will wonder if it is obligatory or perfunctory, not because of them but because of me. That happens when you are a marginal parent.  I have not had a Father’s Day with all my girls since 2009. My fatherhood is not something that is celebrated and honored, and why would it be?

But here is what I am sure of today as I crawl toward Sunday.  I love my girls. I think they are wonderful daughters and, in the grand scheme of things, they have never been problem kids. Of course there was the coming of age rebellion, the search for significance, the pain of maturing and the devastation they had to suffer because of divorce.

My eldest, Andrea, is accomplished, married, parenting three of her own and filled with gifts that I hope continue to make room for her as she releases them to bless people. She is beautiful, intelligent, deep, wise and probably more mature than even I am.

My middle girl, Alexis, is creative, super talented, somewhat shy, focused, beautiful, adventurous and engaged to be married. She also has her own chemistry of gifts that need to be championed, pushed and used. She has the most problematic view of me and the judgment to go with it. I am still hopeful that I can be in her eyes what she is in mine.

My baby girl, Amanda, is super loving, open, caring, feeling, sensitive and so pretty.  She is free from pressure to be something she is not, taking the freedom to live the scenic route of life, smarter than what she will admit to and nurturing to a fault. She expresses herself and stays connected with a true sense of care. She may even feel sorry for me….LOL.

And, the best part of all this is that I am their Dad. I would not ever want to be anyone else’s Dad although God has given me another dozen young adults in this season to mentor and invest in. In addition He has allowed me to know and love four young men and a young lady (Andy, Drew, Darren and Candace) as sons and daughter. Andy as Andrea’s husband, whose story of grace and faith is a testimony for the ages. Darren and Drew, Sherry’s sons who both impress and give value everywhere they go and Candace, Darren’s wife, who adds grace and beauty to all of us.

Finally, this day would not be complete without the legacy factor of Father’s Day which includes Andrea & Andy’s children, Gemma, Levi and Phoebe…what amazing kids. Then, Darren and Candace have given us Elliott and Emory, two little boys whose life lights us all.

So, here we go into Father’s Day weekend with great love, deep pride and hope for a future filled with family connection and God’s healing touch. Of all the things I am today – husband, son, mentor, guide, shepherd, teacher, writer, friend, it is a joy to know I am and will be a Dad every day of the rest of my life.

To all the rest of you out there, Happy Father’s Day!

Upheaval

I sat and looked at pictures this morning of a political rally for the presumptive Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Inside this rally were thousands of supporters wearing hats, t-shirts and buttons that identified themselves as ‘The Silent Majority.’ There were printed slogans on placards with the prerogative ‘Make America Great Again.’

Outside there were placards that proclaimed ‘Love trumps Hate’ and ‘Trump is the AntiChrist.’ These were alongside wordplays on his policies ‘Deport Trump’ and ‘Gays against Islamaphobia.’ There were definite visions of our nation in contrast on separate sides of Peachtree Street at the corner of Ponce de Leon on a Hot-lanta afternoon.

And, it only forecasts to get hotter, even as the calendar turns from Summer to Autumn. The polarization and divide over issues at hand is not going to magically fade away in an avalanche of cooling rhetoric and/or dialogue.  It is too far gone. The hemispheres will never merge into one another and the poles will not move off their axis.

And, how do I stand?  I stand in sadness. There is no human solution. There is no freeing political ideology. There is no Wizard behind the curtain with words to make us feel it will all be okay. It will not be okay. I am not sure when America ever was ‘great’ in the sense it is being touted to return to. (Before you go off on me, we have been the greatest among our peers but we have too many horror stories to just be called great without a disclaimer.)

We are a nation marked by our inglorious past and helped by our glorious calling.  I do believe we are a called nation.  I cannot shake that conviction.  I do believe we have the most influential role to play on the world stage.  I do believe we are used by God, and have been, in many ways over two centuries. However, since 4 July, 1776, we have been a nation under attack. Any idea, calling, purpose, movement, mission or glory that God may have envisioned for us has been met with anti-force. We are a community of humanity whose freedom allowed us to be arrogant, hateful, demeaning and cruel even in the quest for right.  That is just the way of the world and we have not escaped that. We cannot ‘return’ to greatness.  We can aspire to it though.

I am without a party, a candidate, a rallying cry in this election. I have been for the last couple of election cycles.  Still, as an American, I aspire to greatness.  I will use my freedom for good.  I will use my calling for good.  I will use my citizenship for good.  I will use my hope for good.

Despite who the President, or the party of power, may be, I will not succumb to pitying myself or my nation. I will find like-hearted friends and colleagues to make a difference where I live.  I will pray for the peace and the prosperity of the place I have been sent, for if it prospers I will prosper.

I wonder, just momentarily because of the absurdity associated with my idea, if Jesus followers would just obey the Scripture with as much fervor and energy as they exude in the political process, pray with conviction for our leaders – even IF they might be a closet Muslim or atheist or agnostic or even a clueless Joe and hate our faith and practice – and intercede beyond the realm of flesh and blood, what might happen. The church will never do such a thing though. Why? Because we are more American than we are heavenly. We are discipled in the system of politic and treat Scripture as the kind aunt or uncle who, while giving us good advice, have no authority like a parent.

Our nation is in upheaval. What I am going to do is choose not to join it. I will live by the law of love and pray to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.  I am not very good at it, but I realize this, and only this, is my pathway to greatness.

Selah.

Leading from the Inside Out

One of the most significant books I have ever purchased was entitled ‘Leading from the Inside Out’ by Samuel D Rima. The tease of the title was as informative as the content of the book. In a time when I was devouring leadership materials I had found myself expecting from others what I did not expect from myself. I was much more forgiving and much more tolerant with my attention to matters of self than I was with others. The subtitle of the book, The Art of Self Leadership, struck me as an invitation that I had not received before.  What was I missing in the activity of gathering, motivating, designating and delegating movement toward a goal or a vision? The answer was a mystery to be solved.

And, work toward that new end I did.  I had to learn some difficult lessons and then change based on my discoveries about self.  Along the way more resources became available and I am still exploring, discovering and leading myself as I lead others in similar expressions of leading.  My life is given to developing leaders – young, old, middle aged, successful, struggling and hopeful. I think everyone is a leader of something or someone. And it all starts with leading yourself.

Kevin Cashman writes his process of understanding and leading self as a process of mastering our lives so that we are not subject to circumstance but we are capable of possessing ourselves in a position of self-control.

Jesus Christ taught it this way, “By your patience possess your souls.” He was teaching his followers, and us, that even in the most difficult of circumstances you can prevail. It is not even about being prepared for what comes but being ready from within.

Cashman gives us these masteries of self:

Pathway One: Personal Mastery

Exploring and getting to know yourself and what is important to you by asking questions such as:

What do I believe about myself and other people?

What do I believe about leadership?

What do I believe about life and the world?

Pathway Two: Purpose Mastery

Focusing on understanding and using your gifts and talents to add value to those around you

Identifying activities that are energizing and exciting

Pathway Three: Change Mastery

Letting go of old patterns to enhance creativity

Being adaptable and willing to change

Changing current reality allows a leader to see a new reality

Pathway Four: Interpersonal Mastery

Focusing on the development of interpersonal competencies

Seeking feedback from others will help to improve personal relationships

Pathway Five: Being Mastery

Using periods of peace and silence to understand one’s inner most being

Pathway Six: Balance Mastery

Taking time for self, family and friends is critical to maintaining balance in life

Achieving balance may be one of the most difficult pathways to master, but is the most important

Pathway Seven: Action Mastery

Leading as a whole person by getting in touch with one’s authentic self and expressing it to others

If you would like to interact or explore coaching in these areas, feel free to contact us at phil.underwood@crmleaders.org

Kevin Cashman’s books can be found at http://goo.gl/4hYsdq