Category Archives: community

Living Presence

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Each of us lives in the lives of others. Sometimes we are fortunate to witness a glimpse of our influence in the life of another person. It could be a word, a quote, a gesture, a choice of restaurants… and we smile to ourselves, “I know where that came from.” But the real treasure, the the beauty of recognizing the influence of another in ourselves, is available anytime anywhere, at the bargain basement cost of a mere moment of reflection.

I know that we live in the lives of those we touch. I have felt in me the living presence of many I have loved and who have loved me. I experience my daughter’s presence with me daily. And I know that this is not limited to those we know in the flesh, for many guests of my life shared neither time nor space with me.

~Elizabeth Watson (quoted in Healing After Loss-Sept 8th)

Reading this quote of Elizabeth Watson this morning, my thoughts went immediately to Kat and her influence in my life. She influenced me greatly both in her life and her death (that word is still so raw and painful). But how do I pin it down and definitively say, “This is how Kat influenced my life”?  In answer to that question, in my imagination a picture appeared of Kat opening a door to a vast beautiful landscape. A garden with full, shady trees, wild grasses and beautifully colorful wildflowers. I step into this landscape which is now part of my world, always there for me to enjoy. Now that I live in this new world, I could try to name every aspect of this landscape to give her credit or I can simply say, “Kat opened the door for me to see life in a new and amazingly beautiful way. My life will never be the same.”

The Room Built With Love

In order to setup this story, I offer this extremely abbreviated version of a very long and arduous journey: Our youngest daughter, Kat, has been fighting cancer for the last year and a half. If you want to know more about that journey, click here.

Last week, in the hospital, Kat’s legs and feet began retaining fluid and swelling. When she saw this and remembered last year when the swelling prevented her from walking well, when she had to be carried up and down the stairs. She cried softly and said with resignation, “I can’t believe this is happening. I do not want to be carried up the stairs again!”

Each of us has emotional triggers; words or situations that cause us to predict what is coming based on our past experiences. Then we feel based on what we believe. Kat believed this was coming and was upset because there was nothing she could do to stop it. I have my own emotional triggers, but this was not one of them. I could see the passion in her desire and I resolved to never carry her up those stairs again!  But how? All of our bedrooms are upstairs.

The key was to prepare a room for her downstairs. The room I had in mind has been transformed several times already. First it was a computer room, then a formal living room, then a playroom. The room was wide open to the foyer, so it offered no privacy at all. I imagined that if we could temporarily wall off the large opening with a closeable door, it might just work. I imagined how that might be done and thought of how to make it happen. I planned to start working on it as soon as I got home, but on Saturday, Kat decided it was time to stop the chemo and come home with us. Suddenly I was out of time. It could not wait until I got home; this remodeling project needed to be completed right away!

Sunday morning, I sent a text to my best friends explaining the situation and asking if they knew anyone who could help. They immediately went into action. I was excited to learn that one friend’s father-in-law was visiting (his reputation for craftsmanship precedes him). I described the ultimate goal as being privacy for Kat without having to go upstairs and trusted them to make it happen. After some quick brainstorming and a few questions back and forth, the plan was complete, the materials were purchased and the work began. They thoughtfully sent photos so we could enjoy the progression of the work. I told the story and showed the pictures to Kat’s nurse. Word spread and the staff was just amazed. The phrase I kept hearing was, “No way!”  In a few hours, the work was done!

Now Kat is home. She is comfortably settled into what is now the largest bedroom in the house. The representative from the medical supply came to install her hospital bed and other sundry equipment. He said he has seen a lot of modifications made for family members to be comfortable at home. However, he had never seen anything of this magnitude.

Sometimes when somebody loves you
Miracles somehow appear
And there in the warp and the woof is the proof of it
– from Charlotte’s Web (the movie)

Building a wall is not a miracle. The miracle is in the loving friendship of our community.  This is just one miracle story among many. So many folks are weaving their threads into our lives to support us with gifts of grace, prayers, well wishes, lawn mowing, meals, moving help… Much thanks.

Crucial Skills

Crucial SkillsThere is so much data on the internet and so little valuable information.  Of the email lists that I subscribe to on purpose (not spam), this is the only one that I absolutely positively read every week when it arrives in my inbox.  The Crucial Skills newsletter is provided by the folks who also published three excellent books; Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations and Influencer.

One of my coworkers was telling me just this week how much the tools in Crucial Conversations helped her to deal with a difficult colleague.  She said that for the first time, she felt confident and empowered in speaking with this person.  You could see in her face how much it built her up.  After she told me the story, she said, “That’s my long way of saying, Thank you, for sharing that with me.”

Because I want to be a positive influence in my world, that comment really pumped me up.  Crucial Conversations in particular has helped me tremendously as well.  When the stakes are high and the emotions are hot, it is so hard to think clearly.  The tools in this book are vital to having the best relationships possible.  I am having conversations today that I only dreamed of in the past.  I know how corny that sounds, but it is true.  Check out the newsletter and subscribe, if you like it.

We see, They see–Part 2

Whoops!

I am not sure how it happened, but I published my last post with comments turned off.  I have changed that and they are back on now.

A Quick Case Study

This mistake on my part might make an interesting case study of my last post.  My guess is that some of you saw the “Comments are Closed” notice and determined (based on my behavior of closing comments) that I was not interested in what you had to say.  If you did, you were incorrect.  Despite my behavior of turning off comments, my intentions were to hear from my readers and my desire is to make that as easy as possible.  One of the joys of blogging is receiving feedback.  I like hearing how my words affect you.

The prior post was about the “We see/They see” quote repeated here:

We judge ourselves by our intentions.
Others judge us by our behaviors.
We cannot see our own behaviors.
Others cannot see our intentions.

My intention was to share my thoughts and hear yours.  You saw my “closed comments” behavior.  I was blind to my own behavior until someone pointed it out to me.  Likewise, you could not have seen my intentions until I explained myself.

Communication is Key

I was also stirred by an email from a dear friend who’s expressed desire to begin to look for intentions more in the coming year.  I appreciate that thought and it leads me to ask how one looks for intentions.  I think it is important to note that the first and most important element in communicating behavior and intentions is communication itself.  The problem is not that we don’t try to see our own behavior, we really cannot see it the way others do.  It is not that we don’t try to understand the intentions of others.  We actually cannot know them.  The only way we can possibly know what our own behavior looks like to those around us is to hear it from them, and we can only know their intentions when they communicate them to us.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about being nice.  I’m talking about communicating on a whole new level, something that does not come naturally and will take risk and effort.  It mostly is not modeled for us and it feels weird when we do it (but it is worth it).

Here are two unhealthy ways I could handle a situation with you: Let’s say that you do something that irritates me.  I could determine that you meant to hurt me and react based on that assumption.  I lash out at you verbally and we argue.  In that case, I didn’t understand your intention and you didn’t understand my volatile reaction.  Now let’s roll back the tape and replay it again.  You do something that irritates me.  I give you the benefit of the doubt by assuming that you didn’t mean to hurt me.  I conclude that your actions were unintentionally harmful.  I graciously choose not to respond to what you actually did.  While the first way may lead to unnecessary conflict, the second way can lead to being taken advantage of by the person who had ill intentions, but is never held accountable for his or her actions.

No matter whether one makes a positive or a negative assumption about the intentions of the other, the operative word is “assumption”.  Assumptions are not truth.  I hope I am not taking this verse too far out of context, but it reminds me of the words of Jesus in John 8:32, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The only way we can learn the true intentions of others is to communicate.

We see, They see

lady-justice.gifA few weeks ago, I heard the following thought and it rang true to me. I wrote it down in order to ponder it.  The more I think about it, the more important it seems to me.

We judge ourselves by our intentions.
Others judge us by our behaviors.
We cannot see our own behaviors.
Others cannot see our intentions.

To complicate matters even more, the “we” and the “others” changes constantly. At the same time that I am being judged by someone by my behavior, I am judging them by their behavior.

This miscommunication is the source of much fighting, loss of friendships and even wars.  Sometimes I wonder how we humans manage to get along as well as we do.  Mostly I wonder how we can do better.

Blog Action Day – Poverty

boots.gif I promised the folks at Blog Action Central that I would write about Poverty today.  The idea is invite bloggers to all write on an important topic in order to influence the conversations that we have today with family, friends, co-workers…  Most of the time we talk about the weather, politics, the economy and other things outside our circle of influence.  Today, let’s talk about poverty.

At the beginning of this year, I set some goals for myself, one of which was to

Move my spiritual journey from one of “learning about” to intentionally expressing God’s love in a tangible way to people who are in need. (hurting (everyone), poor, hungry, homeless…)

Even as I read that statement, I am stirred.  What does it mean when your own words stir your heart 10 months later? One of the biggest lessons of my year is around humility in my beliefs.  I want to hold my faith with open hands up to God and declare, “I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t believe the same things I believed 30 years ago.  I don’t even believe the same things I believed 10 years ago.  I am constantly changing, learning, adapting and I won’t believe the same things in 10 years that I believe now.  With that in mind, I pray God to help me have a humble heart that values the thoughts, beliefs and feelings of others.  Help me to see your thumbprint in everyone.”

This year has been one in which I am intentionally moving my focus from my intellectual beliefs to actually doing more of what God is calling me to.  Moving from talk to action.  you might say that I am adding more orthopraxy to my orthodoxy.  With that goal, the Justice Project has truly captured my heart; “a yearly comprehensive service initiative, where we invite a diverse collection of churches, organizations, & individuals to help us make a change for good in an inner-city community through selfless service, radical hospitality, & a message of God’s love & ability to transform the human heart.” I can hardly tell you how excited I am about what is going on here.  I am such a small part of it with such a huge desire to be more involved.  Folks from all over Charlotte have joined together to help folks in just one inner city neighborhood.  It’s a grass roots organization with little funding and the intention to remain that way.  It is relational from the ground up.  The focus is on building relationships with the community in Villa Heights as we serve them and partner with them to promote positive change in their community.  It’s about building relationships within the helper groups as well as those who have needs.

When I think about poverty (like any other problem), my troubleshooting skills take over. Let’s solve this problem once an for all!   I begin to consider the causes of poverty, but to find a solution, not just to blame.  The problem overwhelms me.  Part of me would like to explain away why it cannot be solved then walk away having appeased my own conscience.  H. L. Menken said, “There is always an easy solution to every problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.”  There is no easy answer… and I fear that many “easy answers” exacerbate the problem.  I could be oversimplifying things by saying so, but I believe that the solution begins in Jesus’ answer when someone asked him what the greatest commandment was.  He replied that nothing is more important than loving God and loving our neighbor.  Oversimplified or not, that’s where I am focusing my efforts.

Anyone want to join me in Villa Heights this Saturday?

Everything Must Change

I had hoped to be back in the swing of writing by now, but it is coming slow… because life is going fast! I wanted to quickly write about an upcoming event… in case you want to come too.

Brian McLaren is coming to Charlotte. Who is Brian? Why is he coming? I can only tell you what I know. He is a major voice in the emerging church. I was ready to sign up for this event from the beginning because a great friend of mine, John, had invited me. When I read Brian’s book, The Secret Message of Jesus, I became really excited about it. The title of the book was a bit of a turnoff to me. It sounds like hocus pocus stuff like using a special decoder ring to learn the secret message. It is not like that at all. Brian invites his reader to return to the Jesus of the Bible. I found the book to be refreshing, engaging and challenging.

I would like to invite you to this event at Area 15 in Charlotte on Friday and Saturday February 1st and 2nd. Click the photo above for details.

What would you do?

A little over a week ago, I learned that I have a network that I can tap into. I have few readers who have vastly different gifts, talents, strengths and experiences. (spoken in a whisper: Don’t tell, but I think that we are the Body of Christ… you know fingers, toes, ears and all.) That last one was a warmup for today’s question. This is for one of my daughters.

sanfrancisco.gifWhat would you do if you were a young newlywed and you were about to move all the way across the country from North Carolina to San Francisco? What if you planned a trip to find a place to live and you were only going to be there for a day and a half. How would you find a place to live? Money is very much of an object because you are a grad school student.

I have been out of the apartment finding business for so long that I don’t remember the old rules. The new rules, I suspect, are much different. I know they take credit histories and stuff that I don’t ever remember. What information will they ask for? How do you know it is safe to give them your SSN? Bank account numbers? What’s reasonable?

Ready… set… GO!

What would you do?

drive-in.jpgI want ideas. I recently wrote a post that I began by saying that I just wanted to be heard and I felt heard. Thanks. This time I want ideas. If you had a small group of friends who wanted a private place to hang out for an overnight trip, where would you go? It must be a place that can handle a last minute booking. A small group of guys that I do life with want to get together this coming weekend and the place we wanted is booked. So we are scrambling to find another venue. Any ideas would be much appreciated.

Stories

Recently, I asked myself the question that guys my age ask themselves so often. What am I here for? What is my calling? What bothers me so much that I could give the rest of my life to making it better? And you know what? I had an answer. It was so clear. It wasn’t a new idea, which made it feel even more real. But it was the first time that this was the answer that came to me when I asked the question:

Stories

Hearing peoples stories, Helping people tell their stories, telling my story.

Continue reading Stories