What is it about this time of the year that strikes fear in the hearts of grown men and women everywhere?
Is it the mounds of catalogues that are stuffed into our mailboxes enticing us with glossy pictures of turkeys and good linen and elaborate table settings? Is it the tinsel and trees and fake snow in fake windows at the shopping mall that tightens our throat and shortens our breath? Or perhaps it’s the expensive, calorie-laden holiday drinks that the barista is peddling that makes us groan and search for a quiet corner?
Or … is the look I see in the eyes around me actually a plea, a hope, a dream for a soft touch, a quiet love and a gentle walk to the closing of the year.
The truth is that for the holidays, as for many other areas of our life, it is the path we willingly choose that determines our journey. It can be a frantic frenzy that ends with feelings of failure and inadequacy. It could even end with us basking in triumph and personal glory over how special we made everything.
Or we can choose another way.
There is a gentle rain falling and I listen to the sleep-breathing of my husband in the bed beside me. I think about my one child leaving and my one child arriving. The girl-child has spent the past week showing her newlywed husband the land of her birth. They leave today for new adventures. As the sun sleeps it’s final hour over the African continent, my boy-child is somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. He arrives today to lead a team of missionaries who travel to these Southern shores to perhaps change the destiny of a young one or a vulnerable one who lives in deep poverty not far from where I awake. As the rain falls softly in the dark of the morning hour, I hear the brown owl call as he returns from his nightly hunt. I listen to the sounds of the day awakening on the Southern tip of Africa and three words fill my heart and my mind.
Three words that can change everything.
I am grateful.
I could think of the weariness that comes with the living out of suitcases as we travel with new and old friends. I could sigh over the burst pipes in an old house. There could be complaint about the endless sweeping of leaves in a tree-laden garden or sigh in anticipation of the work ahead when 28 missionaries fill this house. I could walk this road.
Instead, I choose the other path.
I am grateful.
My daughter got to introduce her husband to grandparents who were too frail to attend the wedding.
Here is a commentary on my book “A Severe Gentleness” by one of my readers:
This little book is best read slowly. Something readers will find difficult to do as the story is a compelling mix of the birth of a ministry and observations about the challenges that followed. Readers will recognize similar challenges in their own lives.
The Lord’s Prayer has been a guiding light to the author for over 20 years and the prayer lends both understanding and encouragement for each step of this amazing account.
Set in Africa
Set against a background of bringing hope into rural villages in HIV torn Africa, the book’s many anecdotes will enlighten readers from all walks of life. Bits of hard earned wisdom dot the pages. Gaining cooperation, forging successful partnerships, using money as a tool, and dealing with bureaucracy are just part of the story. The tale is told by a seasoned writer in a manner that lets the reader feel the emotions of the people in the story. Experience the feeling of bewilderment Michelle faced when entering a village with the intent of helping only to be spurned by a child. What happened?
I was a passenger in the car with my son when we got to a crossroad and he was uncertain of which way to turn. He handed me his iPhone, told me to open the Maps App and tell him which way to turn. Big mistake. Firstly, I am one of those people that will turn a paper map around and around to make sense of all the squiggly lines. Secondly, I had never used the app before. My car’s built-in GPS system speaks to me in a friendly voice and kindly tells me where to go. Not so much my frustrated son. He needed quick directions, I needed time to figure out the app and the rest of the story is not so pretty.
We live in an ever-changing world. New technology seems outdated as soon as it hits the shelves. Cars no longer need keys, cell phones are no longer just phones, bookshelves are becoming obsolete and so the list goes on. My children are native to this ever changing world whereas I sometimes feel like someone in a foreign country. I have however leant that there is no point in complaining and lamenting. If I don’t want to be left behind, it is best to work hard at keeping pace. This is true for mindsets as well.
Here are some old mindsets that may be holding you back from succeeding in today’s world.
Are you afraid to fail? If you’re anything like me, you were raised in a culture that frowns upon failure. Success is what is important and what is celebrated. Yet, the older I get the more I can see the value in failing. Let me explain.
Failure is life’s greatest teacher. Failure can spur us on to better effort and greater breakthroughs. Failure is not necessarily a measure of inferiority but rather displays a willingness to take risks, to not always play it safe, to be innovative and to improve.
I was watching an interview with Elon Musk on the TV show “60 Minutes”. It was the interview that inspired this post. Apart from the fact that Elon Musk is a fellow South African – which right off the bat makes him super interesting 😉 – he is a genuinely fascinating person. Amongst his accomplishments are Paypal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX which flies rockets to the international space station for NASA. Seriously? What kind of person starts a company like that? The kind that finds it okay to fail.
During the 60 Minutes interview he commented that going into the electric motorcar business, he assumed he would fail. (He has in fact succeeded enormously, but only after many failures.) The interviewer asked him why he did it if he thought he was going to fail. His answer is nothing short of spectacular:
There are times when life comes at us, angry, ferocious and relentless. But we are leaders and others depend on us so we smile and we speak and we give of ourselves. What we actually feel like doing is pull weird faces behind somebody’s back, throw a tantrum or sulk. Instead, we keep smiling and speaking and giving. If you’ve been in any leadership position for more than a month, then you’ve been here.
I had too many torrents come my way these past few weeks. In fact, it was monsoon season for me with icy wind chill factors thrown in for good measure. Flu, heartache, stress, work, conflict resolution, little sleep, and then my husband, who was my only silver lining, had to leave for a week. So, I did what good leaders do – I tucked my head down, lifted up my collar, turned my back to the wind and, while feeling sorry for myself, ate a truckload of chocolate. I had no choice.
The thing that pushed me over the edge was a phone call.
I’m in a transitional year. At Orchard: Africa we are finishing up a five-year project and getting started on the next one. Our objective and purpose is still the same but we’ll be using new methods and implementing new tools. The thing I’ve noticed about times of transition is that they can be unsettling. The ground shifts and you find yourself feeling unbalanced. What you do with this feeling makes all the difference.
When our feet are on unsteady or uneven ground, our natural response is to grab hold of a stable object and hang on. Initially, this is a good plan.
- In transition, the dominant feeling is often fear. Fear of losing the familiar and fear of the unknown. Here’s a thought to hang on to – the thing about feelings is just that; they are feelings. They exist only in your heart and mind. You can choose to feed fear with a bunch of “what if’s” or you can starve fear with trust.
- When your world is moving and wobbling, hang on to trust. Trust in God. Trust those that God has brought alongside you. The scripture says to “believe the best of all people”. Choose to trust – it is a stabilizing force to hang on to.
- See yourself as God sees you. He sees you as immensely valuable. This is not based on the success or failure of your current or future projects or plans. You are immensely valuable to Him – period. No conditions.
We live in a pushy world. Every day, people are bullied and pushed. Bosses, parents, teachers, neighbors and social media push and demand. With each push, the treadmill moves faster. The fear of not keeping pace and being flung off, a failure on the sidelines, is real and palpable. The temptation to join in and push back is very real. In the words of Jesus, “But, it shall not be so among you.” If you are being pushy, you are not leading well. Godly leadership requires the opposite spirit – gentleness.
Gentleness seems to be a lost virtue. Yet, this virtue is a refreshing pool that produces more energy, enthusiasm, loyalty and results from those we lead than any pushing I’ve ever witnessed.
To be clear, gentleness is not:
- Using soppy greeting card words.
- Tip toeing around issues and avoiding difficult conversations.
- Tearfully spilling our guts to all and sundry.
- Those proverbial Kumbaya moments.
- A character trait reserved for women only.