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Lead more gently

In Lead more gently

Proximity To Power Can Lead To Ruin

I stood watching little children play in one of those indoor playgrounds with obstacle courses worthy of the military.  The kids squealed with delight at climbing over and under, swinging from ropes and jumping over barricades.  One little girl was lording it over them all.  She cut the lines with a smirk, going from play equipment to play equipment, never waiting her turn.  The fascinating thing is that she developed a small entourage.  A few children followed her lead, hanging out with her and thereby getting to cut in line too.  They recognized in her some power and they wanted in.

We do that as adults too.  We seek after power.  Initially we work to pay for shelter and food but once that is taken care of, we seek power.  Power helps us cut the line, get what we want, makes our life easier and others beholden to us.  We snub or we use those with less power than we have and we seek to be close to those who have more power than us, hoping that some of theirs may rub off on us.

Proximity to power is a goal that can lead to ruin.

It sets us on a path that is circular; offering just enough hope that each bend will lead us to the next level where we will find enough power to stay ahead of the pack. The reality is that the desire for power (its’ form takes many shapes) is a path on which we endlessly strive but never arrive.  Power is a false god, a torturous god whose goal is to lead us away from the truth.

Jesus, the very personification of Omnipotence, both shows and tells us the truth about power.

God with us, Immanuel, chose to be with us in the most humble of ways.  He could have been with us from a palace, from the home of a tech billionaire or from high office.  Instead, he avoided the privilege of the powerful and became Immanuel within a poor family from a nowhere village.  He did not seek the power this world has to offer. His coming, including the way he chose for his coming, compels us to reconsider the assumptions about how the world is organized.  The power of first, of most, of biggest is more suited to Herod in his palace than Jesus in his manger.

The mother of two sons wanted her boys to be at the center of power.  She asked Jesus to put them on each side of him, to rule with him when his kingdom comes.  His other disciples, when they heard of this, were outraged because they too wanted proximity to power.  We know how Jesus responded.

He gathered his disciples close to him and he spoke to them about the false god of power.  He spoke of the way power is used to lord it over others, how power is used to manipulate people – ensuring that others submit to the powerbroker’s way of doing things.  To this, Jesus spoke strong words.

Not so among you!

Instead, he said, use any power you have to serve others.  If you’re going to fight over the right to be great then find that greatness in serving others. If you have any power, use it to make their lives easier.   Relieve their burdens.

Any time we use what power we have accumulated or what power has been bestowed on us to manipulate others, we are following the false god of power.  Every time we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves either ahead or lacking, we are following the false god of power.  Let us beware of this all-consuming false god.

Any time we use what power we have to relieve someone of a burden, to make their task easier, to serve them in some way, we are following the True Power – the All Mighty who laid down his power in order to take up our burden.

As the New Year approaches, I ask that each one of us examine what power we have.  Truly examine it.  Quantify it.  Understand it.

Then, when you understand your power – however large or small – I have one request to ask of you.

Would you, this New Year, resolve to use your power to make one person’s burden lighter as the year begins?  Stop.  Think.  How and for whom can you do this?  Let the power of Love lead the way.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  Galatians 6:10

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

Does your job count in eternity?

It is the time of year when many of us reflect and introspect. As I prepare to hurtle my way through the last month of this year, I have a sense of accomplishment, a satisfaction of what has been, of a job done well. Simultaneously, there is a restlessness, a desire for what could be done differently. So, in the still of the night when my home is sleeping, my mind wanders and my heart wonders. I question everything. I embrace my calling and ministry gift, protecting and nurturing it, yet, in the quiet night with no daytime agenda to distract me, I lay it down countless times, knowing that, alone, I am inadequate to the task.

I recently heard a friend say he no longer wants to work with people who are “projects”. I recall nodding at him, understanding his dilemma.  At the same time I wondered, “Aren’t we all projects?” I was in his office for another purpose altogether and we both had little time so I let it pass. But that sentence of his has haunted me. I can’t imagine a world where the best leaders give up on “project people” for no reason other than that project people take up time or energy or talent great leaders don’t have to give. The truth is, in some area of our life we are all projects to someone else. We are all inadequate to the task before us. We are spouses, parents, employers or employees. We are siblings and children and friends to someone and we are not adequate to all these tasks. We sometimes succeed and we sometimes fail. We walk with clarity and we bumble our way through. We know and we don’t know. It is the human condition. We are created to depend on and draw strength from God and from each other.  If we decide we have no time for project people, we decide we have no time for people.

We are all called to minister to people. Regular, normal people who vacillate between confidence and hesitancy, people who aspire to great things but who simultaneously long for the simple life, people who are happy and content but are also sad and afraid. Normal, regular, project people.

My time, like everyone else’s, has demands placed on it. Time is finite – I have 24 hours in my day. It certainly is important that I spend it wisely. I am, however, reminded that time is also infinite. You and I are eternal beings, of immeasurable value to our creator. Organizations are not infinite. Every single business, school, church, non-profit, will come to an end some day. As a leader, as a person, as a minister of the grace of God, I am not called to any organization. Nobody is. We are called to people. To project people.

If you are in the building trade, you are called to house people. If you are in retail trade, you are called to feed or clothe people. If you are a teacher, a lawyer, a banker or in the hospitality industry, you are called to grow and to serve people.  Every disciple of Jesus is called to serve people, not to grow and to serve an organization. Yes, healthy organizations facilitate good service but if our main focus becomes the organization, we will without any doubt, sooner or later, miss the important aspect of the people that the organization exists to serve in the first place.

I sit in the stillness of the silent night and I wonder about these things. This has been a productive year. The organization for which I work has accomplished much. We have done good work. Yet, these thoughts have been planted in my heart for a reason and I wonder.  I wonder what should be done differently.

As the year draws to a close and I prepare for the year to come, I determine to simplify Organization and to maximize People.   If you too are contemplating and planning for next year, I encourage you to put, not your organization first, but rather, to prioritize its’ people. Seek out your project people and then plan to serve them with all your heart.

Time spent doing this is never lost.   Instead, it is at this very place that time is found. It is here that time turns into eternity and it is eternity that has been placed into the human soul.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart …” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

 

In Lead more gently

Saving a Soul from Social Media

I am a reader. Every day I read multiple articles and at any given time I can be found in the process of reading two or three books. Social Media has given me so much to read – much of which is questionable. Many times I have considered canceling all my social media accounts. Instead, I have tried to regulate my feed by un-following some and intentionally finding people I want to hear from and following them.   It has helped somewhat. Despite this, all over social media I still see people destroying people.

C.S. Lewis wrote, There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit. … Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”   (The Weight of Glory)

People are immortal souls formed by God. We are created in God’s pure and glorious image. He adores us – each and every one of us, with no exception. He is utterly committed to us. Human souls are immeasurably precious to him.

Why then do we think it’s okay to use social media to publicly mock, shame, blame and find fault with human souls – souls we have never met, souls whose full story we don’t know? People are sacred – yes, even the ones who act debased – are of immense value to God.

I am overwhelmed by the courageous acts I have recently seen via social media from ordinary people in Texas who, to their own danger, have set out to rescue others who have been caught up in stormy waters. We all recognize the value of human life. In our societies we purposely set up institutions to protect human life – fire departments, police, emergency services.   When a life is in danger we expect, no, we demand, a response.

This protection, this care, this instinctive understanding of the value of human life can, and should, be carried through to the entire human soul. Let us bless. Let us use our words, on social media, in person, to one another, to bring a rescuing blessing to others. Every single day people around us are drowning, surrounded by floods so deep it hurts to breathe. Let us show courageous acts of kindness and bless them. What if our social media streams turned from vicious attacks on strangers to the kindness of strangers? What if we truly see fellow human beings as the holiest object presented to our senses?

What if the kind words you sow today saves a soul from a lifetime of destructive hurt and sets them on a path of seeing themselves as God does – infinitely precious. What if you wade out in the storm of destruction against a person and your kind words saves a soul from death?

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” 1 John 4:20

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

When We Choose To Live With Civility, We Reflect Our Creator

Freedom is important to us. Our freedom of thought. Our freedom of choice. Our freedom of expression. With summer that has come to the Northern hemisphere, I have noticed that our freedom to travel becomes particularly valuable as many of us choose to take a break from our regular routine.

One freedom that fascinates me is our freedom to exercise control over ourselves and choose to live with civility in our society.   When our choices are made within the boundaries of the golden rule, our family and our friends, our neighborhoods and our world benefit. When we treat others in the same way that we would want to be treated, gentleness becomes noticeable.   The sharp edges within which we move softens when we choose to see others through the lens of empathy. This is a choice we are free to make.

Freedom is important to us. Yet, we are never entirely free. Seasons come and go without our choice in the matter. Weather patterns are not ours to choose. This past week a terrible winter storm hit the Southern tip of Africa. There has been devastating wind and rain, flooding, out-of-control fires, snow and icy temperatures. This land that I love has been pummeled by forces of nature, none of which the people of the land chose.   But, within the circumstances, people get to choose how they will respond.

 

 

I have seen the best of choices.

People from within the country have stood together, neighbor helping neighbor, taking those left destitute into their homes. Those in the battle against the flames have been flooded with support. Communities from afar have sent supplies to those in need.   Humanity helping humanity.

Why do we choose this? Exactly because we are human.   We choose empathy. We know that very easily the storm could be at our own door. The fire could be on our roof. Easy devastation could come to our lives. When it passes us by and visits another, we do unto them as we would want it done unto us. If we were drowning or hungry or cold, we would want others to notice. If our children were threatened by fire and loss, we would want others to protect. Our empathy is what makes us human.

When we choose to live with civility, we reflect our Creator in whose image we are made.

To all those who have stood alongside us during this time of crisis, I thank you.  Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

The hurt is not yet over and many lives are still facing severe hardship. 

“Do to others as you would have them do to you … Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:31+36

 

 

In Lead more gently

ARE WE ABLE TO CREATE A CULTURE OF HUMANITY?

Like you, I have witnessed world events unfold on my smart phone. From terror and wars and the refugee crisis, to shootings in a myriad of community spaces that ought to be safe exactly because they are our community spaces.

I have witnessed marches and counter-marches and talking heads shouting over each other.

I have tried so very hard to find press coverage that informs me rather than tries to convert me. I am struggling in this regard.

I very much want women to earn equal pay for equal work and to be valued in the workplace similarly to men.

I don’t ever want my daughter to believe it’s okay for any man, including her husband, to use her (or any other woman) as an object for his sexual gratification. I do not want to live in a world where this is okay.

I desperately want the weakest and smallest amongst us – our unborn children – to be protected and to have the highest value. I want the sanctity of life to be just that – sacred and important above all else.

In all these unfolding world events and issues, I have felt overwhelmed. Frustrated. Scared.

I have wondered where to begin.

I am a contemplative person. This does not mean I am not a person of action – I am – but first, I contemplate. Whenever I do I always seem to circle back to the starting point, which is … me.

I cannot control the events around me. I cannot control the actions of others. I can, however, control me and how I respond.    And yes, respond, I should. I must take action – but – the culture I create while doing something is as important, if not more important, than the actual task at hand.

I can scream, shout, froth at the mouth and insult. I can calmly undermine, manipulate or scathingly devalue the other while creating plausible deniability. I can ignore, pretend, and lie.  I can create this culture.

Or, I can listen.

I can seek to understand. I can acknowledge good points. I can think deeply and make good points of my own. I can donate to causes far away in which I believe. I can volunteer and turn up to those within my reach. I can contribute my voice and speak up in areas of my expertise. I can do all of these things … while creating a culture of respect.

In our families we can, and must, treat our spouses tenderly in their shortcomings. We should not angrily dismiss the pain of our child, nor should we ignore the confusion of our parents. These are the least of our human duties. Yes – duties.

 It is well within our ability to listen with a view to understanding, not with a view to saying our say.  As intelligent beings we are well able to debate without debauchery and to disagree with humility.

We are, after all is said and done, fellow human beings.  As such, it is imperative that we create a culture of humanity.  We must respect the humanity of others. We must connect with the humanity of others. We must identify with the humanity of others.

If we do not, the cause is lost before we start and the task at hand becomes an exercise in cruelty and one-upmanship.

ooOoo

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Carefully consider what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

In Lead more gently

My Week In the United States of America

I am a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.

Monday saw me watching my grandchildren play alongside complete strangers on the play equipment at the Zoo. Climbing all over the make-believe rocks and rivers were little people from different race and cultural groups. They chased each other up and down the slides, squealing with delight: strangers, yet friends for the day.

This is the face of America I have come to know.

Tuesday saw me watching the election results on Television. I listened to victory speeches and congratulatory speeches and I saw Americans rejoice and I saw Americans mourn. I listened to conversations from both sides. I added my voice on one or two occasions. On my Facebook stream I saw friends reach across the red and blue party lines, acknowledging that the democratic system had done its work, yet committing to still be friends. I saw honest to goodness kindness in their words toward each other.

This is the face of America I have come to know.

Wednesday saw me shopping for some kitchen items in Target.   As I walked the isles, store staff stopped what they were doing, looked me in the eye, smiled and asked, “Can I help you find anything?” When I got to the checkout counter the cashier smiled and greeted me like a long last friend. “Did you find everything you needed? Is there anything else I can help you with?”

This is the face of America I have come to know.

Thursday saw me attend a Board meeting. Around the table sat some of the smartest, kindest and most generous people I have ever met. Each one of them is super-busy and highly successful. Yet, they spend their own money to fly across the country and take their own time and donate it to a ministry organization that serves the poor in a country halfway across the globe. All of them serve local ministries too. They are intelligent, informed and committed people who I am honored to serve alongside.

This is the face of America I have come to know.

Friday saw me host our non-profit ministry’s annual fundraiser. It was also Veterans Day. All day long I heard people thank a veteran for their service. All over social media and television, Americans were thanking those in the armed forces, past and present (as well as thanking the families of those in the military) for their service. Then they came out in crowds to our Orange Ball and ate mass-cooked rubbery chicken with a smile on their face and an incredibly generous hand in their wallets. Afterward they thanked me for my service.

This graciousness is exactly the face of America I have come to know.

It is the end of an emotional week. My email account is filled with grace-filled notes written by a diverse group of people who are living through tumultuous times. Yet, because they love God and they love people, they take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the good they see in others.

This is the face of America I have come to know.

Thank you Americans! I am honored to be counted among you.

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 2:1-3

In Lead more gently

A Prayer For The Men In Our Lives

It is my daily habit to read a passage of scripture. This day it was Romans, chapter 13.

As I read, a particular phrase struck me.

“And do this, knowing the time …” – Romans 13:11

I asked myself whether I know the time? Do I know the time in which I live? Do I understand the implications of the time that God chose for me to live and breathe?

As is my daily habit, I took the scripture to prayer. I started praying that God would help me understand the time but my heart kept going on another path. My prayer kept moving away from me understanding to praying for the men in my family. I have a husband, a son, a son-in-law and three grandsons. These then are the men foremost in my family. My prayer then moved toward other men I know – my extended family, those with whom I work, my friends, my pastor.

I followed my heart and here is what it led me to pray for these men. I offer this prayer to you, my readers, my friends – a prayer for your men, a prayer for all our men. A prayer for a time such as this.

 

A PRAYER FOR THE MEN IN OUR LIFE

Our Father,

I pray that the men in our life will know the time …

That they will understand the time you chose for them to live;  the time that you chose for them to be children and the time you chose for them to be adults, to be husbands and to be fathers.

I pray that they will understand the time in which they are men.

 

You chose for them to live at this, their time.

 

They are uniquely shaped, carefully molded and perfectly equipped for a time such as this. It is time for them to fill a void, to take a place, to stand in the gap and to build the thing that you, at the very foundation of time, designed for them to build. You have a blueprint, a plan of this thing you want each one to build. I pray that the men in our life recognize this holy thing you have for them to build and that they build with all their might.

 

I pray that each man in our life will know that the time is always now.

 

Now is the time to awake out of sleep.

Now is the time to walk and to run and to build up and not to break down.

 

“And do this, knowing the time …” – Romans 13:11

 

I pray that the men in our life will understand the “and do this” as they walk in their time:

  • To be submissive to those who lead them because it makes their own leadership pure.
  • To pay their taxes and be honest in their finances.
  • To not run up debt and be enslaved to others. Rather, may they be givers, generous and kind.
  • To give honor to who honor is due, never being so proud that they cannot see the good in others.
  • To always chose purity and walk away from lust and lewdness.
  • To choose peace and not embrace strife.
  • To celebrate God’s blessing of others and not be envious of their neighbor.
  • To plan their life around their purpose; not around their ego and their flesh.

In knowing the time, may the men in our life continue on the path that you have set before them. This path leads them to lay their life down.

May their lives come second and third and fourth place.

May their wives and children and siblings and parents be put before them, so that they may protect from behind as they follow you in the front.

 

For this is your way – the way of the cross – to lay your life down so that your family may be saved.

 

May the men in our life know the time.

That now is the time.

That now is always the time.

 

“And do this, knowing the time,

that now it is high time to awake out of sleep:

for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.

The night is far spent, the day is at hand.

Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness,

and let us put on the armor of light.

Let us walk properly, as in the day,

not in revelry and drunkenness,

not in lewdness and lust,

not in strife and envy.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” – Romans 13:11-14

Note: The verses before this speaks about submission and leadership, money and taxes and love that is pure. [Romans 13:1-10]

 

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

When parenting choices go wrong

Our organic, heirloom seeds were tenderly planted into compost rich beds. They were watered, fed and nurtured and we delighted in watching the growing process. Shoots that a few weeks ago peeked out of dark soil grew into greens that filled bowls in our kitchen. We’ve battled bugs, snails, squirrels and the neighbor’s dogs and we have come through undefeated – weary and battle scarred – but victoriously crunching not-so-perfect produce.

We could have chosen perfect leaves that were not first shared with insects, but that would have needed poisonous chemicals. We preferred the happy, admittedly stinky faces of Marigolds in our garden to ward off most insects as well as the occasional spray of cayenne pepper.   The resulting bounty, somewhat imperfect in outward form but perfectly formed within, brings a pleasure that is only truly known by those who raise things organically.

Which brings me to children.

spinach

pea

pea-on-sring

radish

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bug

trellis-2

tomato

We made a parenting choice to move from the big city and raise our babies in a small town flourishing between farms that grew sunflowers, corn and cattle. It was a happy town that sprawled out in the open flatlands of the African savannah. The local economy rose and fell by the weather and every person above school going age knew from which direction the good rains came. African farms are vast and the crops depend on rain – not irrigation. So, when the warm Spring winds blew dust that settled in every crevice, you heard no complaints, only the whispers of thanks because it brought the summer rains.

Our family thrived in this town. Days were filled with sport-art-ballet-piano lessons. School days were spent learning in classrooms brimming over with talented teachers. Weekends were not long enough to get around to all that life offered – friends, excursions, church, laughter, love and endless days in the swimming pool.

Until it ended.

Our small town fell into crisis and families moved out in droves. Lifelong friends said goodbye to each other, leaving holes in the growth pattern of my children’s lives. Our home, once filled with sprouting teenage friends, became quiet. Institutions closed down and along with them went the sport-art-ballet-piano lessons. Now the days seemed too long and our children, who were once bursting with growth, floundered and spent unhealthy amounts of time alone.

School teachers were amongst those who left our once happy town. At a critical time in their development, huge gaps appeared in the trellis of our children’s education. Two parents, who themselves were reeling from the loss of their support system of friends, looked each other in the eye and made hard decisions.

This man who I married, who had always been strong for me, wept harder with each mile that passed as we left first our daughter, then our son, at boarding school. Red-bricked institutions of education, of the best our country had to offer, schools that other children dreamt of attending, now housed our babies-turned-teenagers and our home was empty long before it’s time.

chair

peas-and-flowers
empty

Enormous phone bills became a normal item on our budget and our car clocked high mileage as weekends consisted of driving to schools hundreds of miles away. Many nights I would sit in my children’s rooms listening for echoes of their voices and days I would fold and refold their clothes just to catch a whiff of their smell.  Our evening dinner table was pathetic as two parents saw the hurt reflected in each other’s eyes.

The sacrifices we made and the endless self-doubt paid off as our children took root in this transplanting. They started to flourish.   They made the friends that teenagers sorely need and learnt their school lessons from teachers skilled in their craft.  When you study the growth of a tree, you can tell when the hard years hit by the notches in its bark.   I see the notch of those floundering years in my now grown children but I also see the strong growth that the transplanting produced.

There is no other way of raising children but organically.   Babies are wild and free and have no genetic modification that will automatically ward off the hardships of life.   Worms gnaw at their self-confidence during the day so at night, while tickling the back of a sleepy child, mom speaks words of encouragement. Insects lurk under tender leaves of talent, whispering self-doubt in children’s ears so their dad applauds with all his might, front row and center, brimming with pride.

trellis-2

oranges

bowls-of-herbs

basket

strawberry

Children grow organically and parents do the best they can with what life brings. Some years the rains don’t come and the pain of this leaves deep wounds that scar – possibly for life.  Some years there are insects that eat away at new growth and you feel that more is being taken than left behind.  Some years the soil is rich and the sun shines bright.  Delight in these, remembering to show compassion for those in another season. Each child grows differently and parenting is a skill learnt on the job. There are days you will get it gloriously right. Celebrate your harvest!  Then there are days when you will need to acknowledge the grace you need when you get it badly wrong.  On these dark days, remember your own parents and forgive.

On the day my son graduated from college, he gave his dad and me his sash. On it were written these words.

Mom and Dad, this is dedicated to you for making this possible. The encouragement, hope and belief that you gave your small town boy to chase his dreams, along with your sacrifices, has made this day a reality. Thank you. You are my example.

A few weeks ago my grown daughter, herself now a mother, put her arm around me and said thank you. Thank you for the sacrifices, for your generosity and for always being there when I need you.

I am very aware that these words of my children reflect more about their character than my parenting skill. It speaks of their grace, their forgiveness, their understanding that babies are born wild and free and parents are but human. There is no other way of raising children but organically and when we set about growing things organically, whether it be vegetables, herbs or children, there is a certain amount of imperfection that is built into the process.   It is best to make peace with this from the get go.

“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.” – Deuteronomy 4:9

example