Investment or cost?

I jumped on a John Maxwell Team mentors conference call this morning as my family and I made our way to Asheville so my wife could speak at a leadership event. As we went over the mountain, the call kept dropping, but we made it to the city just in time for me to catch the tail end of Roddy Galbraith as he delivered some incredible insight that has been bouncing around in my mind since. He said something to the effect of: “highly successful people view personal development as an investment, whereas lower functioning individuals see it as a cost.” Mic. Drop.

I’ll confess, I have spent more time in the latter group than I would prefer. There have been many times that I wanted to take the easiest, cheapest, or most conservative road possible. Sometimes this has been from laziness or skepticism, but most often it has been fear. A fear that it wouldn’t pan out–that I wouldn’t rise to even my own expectations. Well, who would bet on a leader who won’t even bet on himself?! The good news is that I reframed this when I joined the John Maxwell Team. I decided to hedge my bet on the one thing that I have the most control over: myself.

We have incredible power over the outcomes of our goals. It doesn’t matter if these goals are fitness, academic, vocational, relational, financial, or anything else. If we see working out as an investment toward health as opposed to a cost of our free time, there will be a return on the investment. If we frame higher education as an investment rather than merely a hoop to jump through, we will gain more insight. But, so long as personal development is framed as a cost in our minds, there won’t be any return.

This doesn’t mean frivolous spending on every next big thing pitched. What it means is that we step out with an abundance mindset. Real talk: when my wife wanted to hire an assistant to help manage her office, I certainly saw it as a cost; I was afraid that production would stay the same as the expenses climbed. I let fear and judgment assume that my wife would drop to half the work now that she had twice the hands, but she saw it as twice the production because there would be twice the hands. She was living in abundance while I was living in poverty.

How about you? Do you live in abundance or poverty? Do you see your own development as a cost or an investment? I can pretty much promise you that flipping this switch will change your life and that you will never be freer than the day you decide to bet on yourself.

Thin Places

Years ago, a colleague of mine told me about thin places. As soon as she started describing them, I knew just what she was saying because I had visited thin places before. The term “thin place” was first used by ancient Celts to describe places like the isle of Iona in Scotland or the rocky peaks of Croagh Patrick, in Ireland. The pagan peoples in these areas believed that Heaven and Earth were always just three feet apart, but in a thin place, that distance was even closer. Often these thin places are considered sacred by the various religious groups indigenous to their location and one can find a monument or shrine erected, but other times these locations are plain and unmarked. They can even be dirty or unrecognizable.

I believe that sometimes these places were part of creation; God made them to touch humankind and restore their souls. A thin place is where one finds their Self and is at peace with it. I also believe that a thin place can appear at any location when Heaven touches Earth in some way. Another way to describe this type of thin place would perhaps be a holy moment, maybe along the lines of what the Greeks thought of as a K airos moment. As a chaplain, I am privileged to bear witness to these instances quite frequently.

Many times I have been present as life arrives in our world and when it has departed. In both of these moments Heaven and Earth are just a little bit closer to one another. The joy and sorrow are immeasurable and the experience is indescribable. Although it looks very plain and sometimes appears chaotic, when I stop and close my eyes to pray I can almost tangibly feel the light of Heaven approach. It is not just at birth or death that this happens in a hospital. It can also happen as community gathers together around an ill loved one. It sometimes happens as we grieve or celebrate the news brought by physicians and nurses. Other times it comes as these same caregivers act as God’s conduit to perform miracles and save lives. We never quite know when these holy moments will happen. They cannot be planned or forced and sometimes they are even missed if we stop looking.

It has been an honor to be a guest among communities experiencing these moments in time. I cannot express my gratitude to the families who have invited me in and shared these moments with me. They have taught me more about myself and about how to approach my creator than I ever learned in my many years of training. It is my most sincere hope that I do not ever get too busy, or too jaded, or too tired to stop, close my eyes, and just be as Heaven meets Earth

Grief

The first time I encountered her, I was still a child.

hardly recognizable, she was an ethereal mist, a cool breeze who caused my insides to shutter

she was a disorienting darkness that upset the tangible world of my existence;

what once was, was no longer.

throughout my youth she’d visit again: a beloved pet, a first love, a childhood friend.

oh, how it ached; I thought she’d kill me or perhaps drive me insane,

but I learned that no such relief would come.

as we became acquainted, she became more recognizable.

always coming in like the tide,

with waves that would crash down, disturbing the peaceful sands,

carving small canals into the flesh and scarring the land.

I began to hate her.

white-knuckled, with strained screams of why into the empty canyon,

would only return the faint and futile echo: “why, why, why.”

I thought if I fought her, she would let me be.

but I discovered what the soldiers and crusaders had already seen: she cannot be conquered.

I thought if I fled, she would let me be.

but I discovered what the drunkards and addicts had already seen: she cannot be outrun.

I thought if I understood her, she would let me be.

but I discovered what the scholars and philosophers had already seen: she cannot be outsmarted.

so I turned toward her.

I wrap myself in her cool cloak and ease myself to the ground

she steadies my trembling knees and somehow keeps me warm

as I look more intently, she is not as wicked as she once appeared

in fact, she is quite beautiful; she is merely the shadow of true love,

her name is Grief.

Filled With Power

My daughter recently had the opportunity to sing a solo in a church production. A day or two before she came to me and shared that she was a little nervous about the show. Now, I’ll be honest with you, she probably had good reason to be nervous- in my mind she hadn’t practiced enough times and she’s never had any kind of voice lessons. And this is the first thought I had. I wanted to say, “Well, maybe if you had practiced a little more you wouldn’t feel that way…” Thank God I didn’t blurt out that first thought. Instead, a bit of coaching insight seemingly dropped out of the sky from my training. “Honey, those butterflies you feel are just excitement. It’s kind of like the night before Christmas. Your body knows that something awesome is about to happen, so it’s filled with energy.”

This is a classic reframe. I actually started using it myself before any public speaking that I do. I remember reading about it in Mel Robbin’s book The 5 Second Rule. She explained how similar the emotions of excitement and nervousness actually are- how our bodies don’t really know the difference. And there is some truth to that- Its all the same automatic system, the same cortisol and adrenaline. The parts of our brains that light up just before skydiving are the same as the ones that light up when we get ready to present or have a tough conversation. Think about that- what would it be like to reframe your next crucial conversation? Instead of feeling nervous, racking your mind with everything that might go wrong, what if the thoughts were, “I feel so excited about the possibility to transform this relationship that my body is filled with energy.”

On a spiritual level there is a lot going on as well. Most faith perspectives include ideas about the energy that is around us. Many writers of The Bible use the word δύναμις (dü’-nä-mēs) to describe this energy. You might recognize the word- its where we get the word dynamite. Its most often translated into English as power. As in Acts 1 where the author writes: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” Most often, Biblical authors attributed δύναμις to God and even when it is about humans, they are mostly referring to God’s power flowing through us.

Some of the other connotations include ability, excellence, and influence. I absolutely love this word. John Maxwell says that all leadership is influence; nothing more, nothing less. So, if δύναμις is influence, it is also leadership. The great news is that means in a way we are let off the hook. See, we are called to lead, but that is a pretty heavy burden. If others are waiting on me and my ability, my power, and my excellence, then we’re in trouble. But, if I read this right, my leadership is based on the δύναμις, the power of God. I am just a conduit. I am the vessel to transport the dynamite.

My job then is not to lead but to be open to God’s power to lead through me. In fact, if I get in the way, if I try to contain or restrain the δύναμις we’d have a problem. If I or you start to believe that any sort of influence that we might have has anything to do with us then, well we cap the other end of the pipe and the ramifications become explosive. Disastrous.

God’s design has always been flow. What we receive was always meant to be poured back out so that we might receive more. Our gifts, our leadership, work like a stream. If we dam up one side or stop bringing freshness in, we go stagnant, we lose clarity, the ecosystem we once fed starts to parish and fill with the benthos (the bottom feeders).

So, in this season of freshness and newness, let us search ourselves and consider if we have stopped the flow. Are we still asking for more? Are we afraid that there might not be any left? Have we hoarded some for ourselves thinking we might not get our share? Has our ego capped the end under the false belief that we can somehow contain that kind of power? It is my prayer for us in the New Year that we allow the δύναμις to flow freely. May we be filled so that we can pour out. May our bodies tingle with the anticipation of knowing something awesome is about to happen.

Are Their Names Safe in Your Mouth?

I first heard this interesting idiom some years ago when a member of our small group was sharing how she was committed to keeping her husband’s name safe in her mouth. It stood out to me not only because it was powerfully figurative, but also because it stirred immediate introspection; “Is my wife’s name safe with me? What about my friends? What about my enemies?”

I am unsure of the origin of the phrase and Professor Google was not very forthcoming, but there appears to be a consensus on its meaning. When one’s name is safe in our mouths, we do not speak ill of him or her, we do not gossip, and we do not share his or her secrets. Basically, it means we have integrity and character.

Our faith traditions all have much to say on this matter. Scriptures are full of warnings about slander, gossip, and vindictive behaviors. We are instructed many times over to guard our tongues and show kindness to the other. Having high repute is not only significant to our moral constructs and spiritual disciplines either; there are social, emotional, and relational components as well. When we make a habit of honoring another, we train our minds to have gratitude, we find peace in the company of others, and we build the trust of our team. Others will know that we are safe and trustworthy and thus confidently open more opportunities before us.

In this season, let us be a people who can be trusted with relationship. May our partners know that their names are safe in our mouths, may our colleagues have confidence in our word, may we be trusted to honor our leaders, and may those whom we serve know that we honor them on the other side of the door. Blessings upon you and yours in the New Year!

Remember Me

There is this interesting story in Genesis 40 where a man named Joseph is locked in prison with a cupbearer and a baker. If you’re not familiar, he is in prison because he was set up by the wife of a high ranking officer in the Pharaoh’s army named Potiphar. Basically, Potiphar’s wife had made a pass at Joseph and he declined her advances. To save face, she lied and he ended up in prison. Anyway, Joseph is an interesting character who has this remarkable ability to interpret dreams and while they are in prison the cupbearer and the baker ask him to interpret theirs. It is revealed in the cupbearer’s dream that he will go before the Pharaoh and find favor. In verse 14 of the story, there is this very interesting line that I wanted to share with you. Here, Joseph says to the cupbearer: “Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house.”

“Remember me.” I love this phrase. It can be found all over scripture. It is used by several authors to describe God’s favor upon them and the Psalmist and others cry out many times pleading, “remember me, O God!” It is in the New Testament as well- upon recognizing Jesus as the Messiah the thief next to him on the cross calls out to him: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

I think this is a universal heart cry. We want to be remembered. We want to leave a legacy of some kind. We want to matter. Sometimes we want this so badly that we work really, really hard so that someone might notice us. Fact is, in business we sometimes skip the work and go straight to making sure that our names are on the lips of higher ups. Right? What’s the phrase? “Its not what you know, but…”

But, here’s the thing. This doesn’t work in God’s economy. In God’s economy it’s not who you know, but who knows you. The truth is that even if you do everything right, the cupbearer might forget to mention you to the Pharaoh, as was the case for Joseph. And if we’re honest, sometimes the thief, who, make no mistake was guilty, will have his name remembered. Because here is the thing: what we do is not what makes us valuable; It’s who we are that does. We have innate value because we are part of creation. I want this to be absolutely clear: People are not their production.

It is so important that we remember people. Not because of your skill, or what you produce, or even your successful leadership. But because you have shared yourself. If you have been with this organization for five years you have offered more than 10,000 hours to us. Sure, you have given your talents and abilities and knowledge. You have helped produce financial gain, but more than this you have given your heart, your unique self, to this community. This is why we stop to remember and to express gratitude. So, thank you. Thank you for sharing you with the rest of us. We are all better for it.

Praying for Parking

Awhile back I was thinking to when my wife and I used to pull into a parking lot and playfully say that God had given us a front row parking spot when we found one open. This was especially funny at church because we would joke about how we must be the only ones praying for a spot or that our prayers must be more holy than everyone else’s. Of course, there are many holes in this theology beyond the more obvious that God is not a magic gene or lucky rabbit’s foot.

If anything, God’s people are usually called to the back of the line so that there is room for the stranger at the front. The real truth is that in God’s economy there is more than enough room and every spot is at the front.

When we find ourselves getting worked up and thinking that we will be left out, that is when we start racing past others and demanding that we get our share. Some might even lie and cheat if they get desperate enough. But an authentic faith is one that knows we won’t be left out. Our turn will come, but we would all do well to remember that there may be times the front spot opens and we are called to pass it by because it is for another. Today my challenge it to look for just such times- Search for moments that you can pass the front spot and then just see what God might have for you.

Get Your Hands Off Your Hips

IMG_9853.JPG“Get your hands off your hips,” he said, “you’ll slow the other men down and demotivate them.” Dredd, a former US Army infantry and Special Forces Officer, has probably shared this leadership lesson with hundreds if not thousands of men. But it was the first time I learned it, at least in this way.

I was in Charlotte for a conference and I had the opportunity to hit a new AO before the first session. I grabbed another guy who I thought would enjoy a good workout and we jogged a couple miles from our hotel to the shovel flag. I was taken aback when Dredd himself pulled up and because he is one of the visionaries behind F3, I later joked that it was like stumbling across Animal Chin.

The workout was rigorous: an unrelenting run from parking lot to parking lot full of burpees, pushups, and sit ups. But the leadership lesson I took away has helped shape how I lead and that is what I’m really sharing with you.

Dredd’s instruction goes well beyond a workout; there is a scientific reason why it is important for leaders to keep their hands off their hips, both literally and metaphorically. If you’ve studied psychology much, you have likely come across some research on social proof. If you are not familiar, social proof is the phenomenon where we assume the behaviors of others around us in an attempt to reflect appropriate social action. In other words, we look for clues in others for how to react to a given situation. When we see others laugh, we are inclined to laugh and when we see others cry, we are inclined to cry.

I see social proofing all the time in the hospital. If a trauma rolls into the Emergency Department and the first Team Members to encounter the patient are calm and compassionate, each subsequent responder behaves in a like manner. The same holds true if the first responders seem anxious or aloof and distracted. Teams succeed and fail together largely due to social proof.

I was not in command that day, but make no mistake: I was still leading. Just before I was instructed to remove my hands from my hips, I had carried another man who outweighs me by a good 80lbs up a flight of stairs. The guy I brought that morning had seen this and it convinced him that he could make it up with his partner as well. Dredd knew that my friend was watching me. If I eased off, my friend would have too. This is the magic of teams and any good commander knows that it’s not about saying, but about doing.

Whether you and even others know it or not, they are watching you. Those in your circle of influence will have compassion if you have compassion. If you gripe and complain about things in your life, they will gripe and complain. If you do things the right way without cutting corners, others around you will too. It doesn’t matter if it’s your partner, your children, your boss, or your team, if you want them to go just a little further, it might serve you well to get your hands off your hips.

Great Leaders Serve

I once heard leadership described as the quality of influencing others to do something they otherwise might not have done. This is one of my favorite ways of defining leadership because it makes no mention of authority. While it is true that many leaders do indeed have authority, it is certainly not a requirement. We all know individuals who have authority but no leadership and very little influence. We also know many outstanding leaders who have no formal authority at all. These are the ones whom I admire the most. I, for one, am not impressed by mere titles, roles, or resumes. I am impressed by character, passion, and excellence. I am impressed by women and men who have the drive and the courage to doggedly pursue their very best self. These ones are the true leaders because they transform their communities and draw out the very best from their neighbors.

So how does one become a great leader? By serving, of course. It might sound surprising, but collecting accolades or pursuing roles of authority might actually be a disadvantage because it can become difficult for others to muddle through what we do in order to see who we are. Many sacred texts have much to say on this matter. In the Christian tradition, the book of Philippians teaches us to do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than ourselves. And several times in the gospels, Jesus teaches that to become the greatest, we must become the least.

Great leaders serve. And when they do, others are influenced to serve as well; something they might not have otherwise done. Make no mistake: every person here is called to lead. We have all been tasked with influencing others to become stronger, braver, healthier versions of themselves.

But Even If He Doesn’t

In the book of Daniel chapter 3 there is a famous tale of three men who are thrown into a furnace because they refuse to worship an image of King Nebuchadnezzar. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (better known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) stand firm against the king of Babylon because their faith forbids them to worship any god or man other than Yahweh. There is a particularly intriguing exchange in verses 16 through 18 as the three men declare their faith.

“We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter,” they say, “if we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from your hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

But even if he does not!” What a powerful proclamation of faith! Even if God did not move to rescue the three, they knew that God is still good. As the story unfolds, the three are indeed delivered, even after being thrown into the furnace. In fact, an additional figure is seen in the fire with them.

In the hospital I hear bold proclamations of faith every day. There are times that even I have had a difficult time trusting when the outlook is so poor. Early in my ministry I sometimes struggled to pray for miracles because I thought God would look bad if things didn’t turn out how we thought they should. I have learned time and time again that healing is not synonymous with cure and that God does not need my human defenses. Nor do others need my hesitation. God can and indeed does move in all our lives, but even if God didn’t, we can rest assured that our prayers do not fall on deaf ears. Furthermore, if in the end we must enter the furnace, may each of us know that we will not be alone.