Sunday, January 28, 2018

Saying Goodbye to The Velvet Hammer

My hometown community suffered a great loss last week when my friend, mentor, colleague, and former boss, Patsy Graham passed away. We haven’t stayed in consistent touch with each other since she retired several years ago, but that doesn’t soften my sense of loss or the grief I feel at her death. 

I have known her for close to 30 years with nine of those working together at Mainland High School. She was tough as nails and wouldn’t back down from anyone. Patsy was also incredibly gracious and would look for ways to help people fulfill their potential and become the best version of themselves they could possibly be. While she was known as a great leader and principal, it was her genuine concern for individuals and her desire to see them grow that truly marked her leadership. It’s this combination of strength and gentleness that helped to earn her the nickname, “The Velvet Hammer."

I remember hearing one story in particular coming out of a principal’s meeting. Another local leader was lamenting the difficulties of educating the students who were struggling at the bottom of the curve. This other principal commented that his overall school performance would improve if they didn’t have to deal with that group. In her inimitable southern accent, Patsy leaned across the table with fiery passion and said, “Send those students to us! We will educate them!” It was a perfect example of her commitment to bettering everyone within her reach without regard for what the system might have to say about it.

One of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had was when I left Mainland to go into ministry. I called and asked her if I could stop by her house as this needed to be a personal, face-to-face conversation. I distinctly remember being very nervous at sharing this news with her—not because I was afraid of her reaction, but because I didn’t want to disappoint her. We sat in recliners in her living room as I struggled to get the news out and to seek her input. I don’t know that I actually received her blessing that day even though she (grudgingly) understood my decision. She was so passionate about education and helping all of us—students and teachers alike—become better people and then sharing that legacy together.

The last time I saw her was almost two years ago at a Mainland family wedding. I didn’t know this would be our last chance to talk, but I felt compelled to share a few words with her. As she was getting ready to leave, I hugged her tightly and spoke in her ear over the loud reception music. I told her she was the best leader I had ever been privileged to work with and that her influence was tangibly evident in me and my views of those around me. I went on to let her know that there weren’t many days where I didn’t think about her and how well she cared for us all. I almost feel that those few moments were inadequate to fully describe her impact, but I at least wanted her to know how much she meant to me. We parted with a hug and “I love you,” not knowing it would be the last time we spoke.

There isn’t one person who will be able to fill her role, but all of us who have been impacted by her will do our best to keep working for the good cause. We will be strong when it is needed and stand for those who can’t stand for themselves. We will be compassionate and understanding while believing the best in others. We will strive to lead others to work together for the common good and look for every moment to do what’s right. It won’t be easy, but together we can continue to see her good work continued. 

You will be greatly missed, my friend. We will do our best to carry your legacy forward. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


"With all I am, in Your grace I stand." lyric from Love on the Line, by Hillsong Worship

All the pieces of my life, 
every decision I have made, 
everything that has been done to me and 
everything I’ve done to others. 

My hopes and aspirations, 
my failures and successes
when I felt good about myself and when I am consumed with self-loathing. 

The times I have overcome my mistakes and 
the (many) times I have repeated them. 
My insecurities, my pride, my fluctuating ego, my confidence, and my weaknesses. 

What I can do, what I can't do and 
the line that is sometimes blurred between them. 
My love for those close to me and 
my deep compassion for others traveling this journey around me. 

This is all of who I am and 
all of it is able to stand in the grace God offers me. 

This is a big, bold, stable grace 
that gives me strength to be upright when I don’t think I can stand anymore. 

It is this generous gift from God that envelops me and reminds me I am loved.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Preparation Matters

Getting ready to play a baseball game takes more preparation than you might think. Not only do the players have to go through their routines of warming up, but the playing field has to be readied as well. There are several hours of work that are necessary before the first pitch. You couldn't just decide you wanted to play a game, ignore the steps to get ready, and expect things to turn out well.

I think we forget about the need for preparation when we want to do something big in our lives. Our desire for something new or better serves as motivation for better decisions, but we falsely expect to see immediate results. Changing our physical health involves a plan for better eating and exercise. Improving our family relationships means taking the time to listen to each other, apologizing for the past, and honestly engaging each day. Taking the next step professionally means we have to excel at our current position while taking steps to improve ourselves and connect with other people. Being a vital part of our community involves ongoing honest dialogue and a willingness to enter into life with people in tangible ways.

What steps do you need to take to get ready for what's next in your own life? Commit to the necessary work of preparation as part of the path of growth and change.

Monday, January 30, 2017


You may or may not have noticed how often there are guardrails on the roads you travel. They appear in areas of increased risk where running off the road would bring potentially fatal damage. These structures should give us something to bounce off of to prevent us from doing too much damage to ourselves.

An author I recently read wrote about the guiding principles for her life and how they served that same function. These are the values that shape the decisions she makes and help to keep her on the best path as she pursues her life vision. It’s vital to know our own guiding principles or we run the risk of causing damage to ourselves and the people we care about.

What principles do you hold tightly to? How do these shape the way you think, speak, and act? How are they protecting you and keeping you focused in the best possible direction?

Creating the mental, emotional, and spiritual space to clearly define these principles is helpful for us to stay on the path we want to live on.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Another Step

Imagine you decided to take a trip southward and eventually ended up in Antarctica. This would take some serious maneuvering of travel modes, but it is distinctly possible that the frozen tundra of the South Pole would be your stopping place if you kept going south.

Once you arrived, you might complain about the cold temperatures and how it wasn't what you expected, but this is still the journey you chose to undertake. With a desire for warmer temperatures and a lack of enthusiasm for your surroundings, you can begin a northward trek. The truth, however, is that you won't be on a sunny beach in a short period of time. Your journey to the South Pole took a while and the warm beaches of Miami, Florida aren't quite within reach yet. You've got to keep traveling in the right direction to get where you want to be.

I see this being similar to the picture of recovery. We usually end up in predicaments (relationship, financial, mental health, habits, addictions) because of a series of choices. While we can see positive gains from a change of direction, there are still steps of healing that will take time. Committing to the process of growth and healing is a lifelong journey.

You can't change in a day what took a lifetime to create, but you can take another step in the right direction. Where do you need to take a step today?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Trying to Ignore Them

On Thursday night, an assistant coach in an NBA game stood on the court next to an opposing player in the final seconds and distracted him from taking a potential game-tying shot. (Obviously this isn't a legal move, but none of the officials caught it at the time.) The player with the ball thought it was a defender and passed up the shot before realizing it was a coach trying to confuse him. The coach ended up being fined by the NBA, but the damage was (unfairly) done and his team was victorious.

Can you identify the things that divert your attention the most? What pulls your focus away and leaves you feeling unsuccessful? Distractions pop up in very unexpected ways and won't always be fair. It takes a strong level of concentration to not be pulled away from what is most important and to complete the task in front of us. We've got to discipline ourselves to be zoned in so we can do the things that matter most.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Over and Over Again

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." 
Will Durant (paraphrasing Aristotle)

What do we find ourselves repeatedly doing? Are they good habits leading us to future growth and maturity?  Are they negative thoughts and actions that keep us caught in cyclical patterns of frustration and apathy?

The start of a new year gives each of us an opportunity to set new goals and think about new desires for the next season. Establishing the right habits to reinforce those desires will give us the foundation to be successful. To be excellent we should look carefully at the habits we've established and start to create new ones to lead us in the right direction.