Thursday, December 27, 2018

Renovation Project

We haven't had television services at home for many years, but when we travel we end up glued to the screen watching home renovation shows. There is something incredibly compelling about the journey of seeing something transformed and repurposed. While there are a variety of different shows, the basic premise and story arc is the same.

It always begins with a vision and excitement about the potential at the beginning of the project. Once the work is fully engaged, however, there are always unexpected costs and complications. When the layers are pulled back there ends up being underlying damage to the structure that couldn't be previously seen. At some point in the project the owners will be frustrated and express their doubts about whether the renovation will ever be completed. There is always a turning point where things begin to come together and every owner is always amazed at how beautiful things turn out at the end.

I don't think this story arc is much different for the spiritual renovation work we do in our own lives. Any project we go through gets messier before it gets fresh and new. The complications we run into will most likely lead us into wanting to give up before it's done. This process also won't wrap up neatly into a 30 minute episode, but ends up taking longer than we may have initially projected. The good news is that we can gain some confidence in knowing that if we continue to push forward it will turn out better than we anticipated.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Learning Curve

Our education doesn't stop the moment we walk across a stage to receive a diploma or degree. It's actually a lifelong process of constant lessons. How effective these lessons are depends on our awareness of them and our receptivity to what they are teaching us. 

The books we read, the people we interact with, the life events we experience, and the decisions we make all have the opportunity to shape us. Much like our time in an actual classroom however, we must be prepared to receive the lesson to take full advantage of what it has to offer. 

Not all lessons are pleasant to endure, but they can all be beneficial if we eventually apply what we've been taught. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Strange Shape

"And I became such a strange shape, 
such a strange shape from trying to fit in
Yeah, I became such a strange shape, such a strange shape"
“Wilson” Fall Out Boy

There is a distinct difference between “fitting in” and “belonging.” Author Brene Brown nails it when she writes, "“Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” 

Constantly trying to fit in isn’t being true to yourself. It is a marker of an off-balance dynamic where you feel pressure to change your real nature to conform to someone else’s ideal. It’s an unhealthy stretching that doesn’t cause you to step more fully into your fulfilled self, but to become less of who you truly are.

You know when you aren’t living out of your genuine identity. It causes internal tension that manifests in uneven emotional and spiritual states, difficulty finding healthy rhythms of life, and stagnant transformational growth. Over time it will inevitably be revealed that you still won’t be good enough for those who are trying to get you to fit in. They will be unhappy with their lack of total control and you will be left feeling unfulfilled and incomplete. It’s better to be in community with people who create an accepting space for you to mature into the most real, growing, grace-filled person you can be.

Don’t settle for less by squeezing into an ill-fitting form. You can’t be the best version of yourself when you are stretching yourself in unnatural ways. If you aren't careful, you might get stuck in that strange shape.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Storage Capacity

As I was driving home recently, I went by a site where a series of storage units were being built. My first thought as I rode past it was, “Really? Another storage unit? Do we actually need this?” I feel confident this was not an overestimation on my part of the number of storage facilities in our community. Obviously there is a demand for them or there wouldn’t be an increase in their supply. It’s a thriving industry as people collect so much “stuff” that they need to store them in other locations. Perhaps if we didn’t insist on keeping things we don’t need there wouldn’t be a continual demand for the construction of more storage units.

We don’t just hang onto physical things however. Our journey through life takes us through relationships, decisions, and unexpected circumstances that lead us to accumulate emotional and spiritual baggage as well. Those life experiences have value as they have shaped us into who we are today and should not be ignored. If we don’t learn to deal with them in a healthy manner, however, we end up hanging on to parts of life that we don’t really need. We harbor resentment, exude bitterness, cling to unforgiveness, wallow in shame, and live in mistrust—the things we cling to out of our hurt. Don’t reject the life lessons from difficult life experiences, but refuse to store up the negativity that often accompany them.

Much like the possessions in life we no longer have a purpose for—we should pick up each of these old scars, carefully examine them, and discard the ones that no longer influence us in a healthy way. Hanging on to them only crowds out space for engaging in new ways of thinking and feeling that take us down healthier pathways.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Whole Story

I am a storyteller. I love to share a riveting tale while engaging people around me in the emotional waves of action and making them feel as if they are part of the entire event. It's a characteristic I feel helps me connect with people (as I've seen it throughout the different career paths in my life.) This isn't a factor to be manipulated, but instead reinforces my deep desire to be inclusive of all people and to acknowledge each other as we travel through life together. I truly believe it's a reflection of the fundamental truth of our desire to be part of a story of significance and to feel as if we are characters influencing the plot.

The truth is that we are all storytellers. Our entire individual lives are one overarching story that simultaneously interweaves with the ongoing biographies of others around us. Much like a well-written novel there will be plot twists, unexpected characters, devastating events, and great triumphs. The key is to remember that the entire story matters and that our current events are only one part of the grand tale of our lives. The joyful and discouraging events all have significance.

Don't overlook the chapter you're in right now because it's all part of something grand and ultimately beautiful. Learn from each story arc as it becomes part of who you are and who you're becoming. Tell your story while eagerly listening to others as they share theirs. It's a common trait of compassionate humanity and in recognizing the power of influencing each other through what our lives have to say.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Learning to Speak Again

I have a fairly distinctive speaking voice. It’s a deep voice that I’ve learned to project through years of theater, working on athletic fields, and public speaking. There have been times I’ve walked into rooms and spoken with people who recognize me instantly because of the sound of my voice. I’ve even been told the that my voice is intimidating to some who may not have as strong-sounding a voice. I’ve grown to be comfortable with it as part of who I am and I have become attuned to using it in the right situations as I’ve aged.

We all have a voice that is distinctive. It may not necessarily be one that booms out from a stage or across playing fields, but each one is unique and has an important message to be communicated. Each of our voices is a key to who we are as it reveals our passions, fears, convictions, and perspectives.

There is a growth curve in learning to use it in a way that is helpful, however. We need a safe space to communicate and to know that it is okay for us to be who we are. When we are in places that stifle our voice and only want it to speak the script written by others, we are in danger of losing our identity and forgetting who our Creator has made us to be. Regaining that confidence can take time and will almost certainly require a monumental shift in what influences we allow into our own lives.

Our individual voices are needed as we speak into the greater collective of humanity around us. While the sound we make may be a little squeaky from under-use, we’ll find it gets easier over time as we use it more.

Speak up, my friends. Speak words of peace, kindness, curiosity, and grace. Speak up against those who hold you back from discovering and living out your true identity. Let your voice be as distinctive as it is already designed to be and don’t be ashamed of what it sounds like.

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.