It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then
conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? — Robert K. Greenleaf
“…more likely themselves to become leaders” – Isn’t that how you thought Greenleaf would end that sentence? I read it that way. We don’t naturally think of aspiring to serve – “moving up the ranks” to better position ourselves to serve.
Why write about servant leadership?
So much has been and continues to be written about servant leadership. The terms change and trend a bit differently over time. Of late, relational leadership has gained in popularity. This type of leadership is defined as “as a relational process of people together attempting to accomplish change or make a difference to benefit the common good.”
I love that concept and style of leading, but servant leadership goes even farther. Relational leaders can focus on their particular team or tribe, in a mentoring, collaborative role…for the good of those leaders and the organization and client base. Servant leaders aspire to a wide reach. Not just leader to leader, but to permeate the whole of the organization with an ethic that everyone, at every level, matters. This is a huge aspiration but the gains are huge as well.
Marcel Schwantes has also written 10 Compelling Reasons Servant Leadership May Be the Best, Says Science. In this piece Schwantes tackles the misconceptions about servant leadership as well as the many reasons why it’s the best form of leadership. I personally love this article because the evidence of the kind of company that prospers under servant leadership is undeniable. We know these organizations by their service – like Chick-Fil-A, Southwest Airlines, Home Depot, Ritz Carlton, FedEx, UPS, U.S. Marine Corps, and many others. Very persuasive.
Finally, I’d like to share General Stanley McChrystal‘s view of leading “like gardeners”. My husband is a gardener. Even after a long, tiring day at his regular job, he puts in the time necessary to tend the plants he’s growing. Bent over, on his knees sometimes, doing the work of nurturing them to reach their maximum fruitfulness.
“Regular visits by good gardeners are not pro forma gestures of concern—they leave the crop stronger. So it is with leaders.”
Employees and customers know the experience (or lack thereof) of the leader who truly attends to their needs. No drive-by visits here. No sprinkling of some corporate fairy-dust just by the sheer presence of the leader in the room, or the building, or on podcast/commercial.
McChrystal warns against the leader who becomes too important to personally serve his personnel or customers.
“I would tell my staff about the “dinosaur’s tail”: As a leader grows more senior, his bulk and tail become huge, but like the brontosaurus, his brain remains modestly small. When plans are changed and the huge beast turns, its tail often thoughtlessly knocks over people and things. That the destruction was unintentional doesn’t make it any better.”
Always in thinking of leadership, we are tempted to look to our own leaders…to measure them by the scale of excellence (seen above). The servant leader is servant first. Don’t get muddled up by checking off what your leader is not. Serve that leader, as you serve other personnel and customers. Serve. Serve by leading. Lead by serving.
“Servant-leadership is more than a concept, it is a fact. Any great leader, by which I also mean an ethical leader of any group, will see herself or himself as a servant of that group and will act accordingly.”
[Please don’t miss the links below…especially those not mentioned in this blog. Also please share examples (in Comments section below) of servant leadership you have experienced…or your own personal journey in becoming a servant leader.]
Happy Friday! We made it! You know those weeks where so much is going on it’s hard to process it all? I’ve surfed on top of the waves of this week…thankful for all the helps along the way. How was your week?
Always glad to hear your views on life, not only on the Friday Faves, although they’re fascinating, but on anything you want to talk about. Please share in Comments below.
Here are my Friday Faves. Enjoy!
1) Spring Flowers – Search “Spring” on my blog and you will find several posts on this incredible season. We’ve lived in countries where Spring isn’t as obvious as it is here, but Spring comes all over the world, in subtlety and in glorious spectacle. Where we are, trees are flowering, buds are popping, and leaves are unfolding. Oh the beauty of the earth! Love!
These guys give a bit of their stories and their counsel on what is required to build an online community and have a successful podcast. Great reading!
3) Organization – Fuzzy boundaries and project piles are part of my battle in life (work and home). Love to keep my options open, I guess. It requires all the discipline I can muster to finish well. When folks write about organization, routines, and habits, I take note. The best articles are those that are consummately practical – and encourage rather than condemn.Photo Credit: Flickr
4) Caring – In recent months, I have been increasingly aware of two health issues requiring great insight and caring – 1) Adverse Childhood Experiences and 2) Alzheimer’s Disease. A film debuted in 2015 titled Paper Tigers. Its focus is a high school in Washington state and how the staff and other caregivers began turning things around for traumatized high schoolers who deal daily with toxic levels of stress. These are the same kind of kids that too often get less care than more because they are difficult to engage.Photo Credit: Marshfield News Herald
Alzheimer’s Disease is a frightening disease as we watch someone we love change and diminish, both in their thinking and their function. As hard as it must be on the one who has dementia, it is also devastating to those who love that person. That’s what makes it so amazing when a son, for instance, takes the time and effort to honor a mom with dementia. Joey Daley, of Lima, Ohio, has taken on a video project to document their journey through dementia.
I haven’t watched all the videos, but the ones I’ve watched have allowed us, strangers to their experience, to see inside their relationship in a difficult time. His visits with his mom are as sweet as any son’s would be…with dementia added. He knows, and we know, the days will become more difficult. I think we will see his love for her endure…
5) Frosted Strawberry Lemonade – Chick-Fil-A, a US restaurant chain, has this incredible refreshment blending ice cream with lemonade. I already raved about their frosted lemonade here. This Spring, there’s a seasonal addition to the menu. Strawberries added – enough said.
“…that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” – Joshua 4:24
In a stressful week and a spiritually dull time, it’s been good to reflect on the work of GOD in our lives. 12 stones of remembrance are piled on my kitchen windowsill. 12 recollections out of the many times He has moved on our behalf. The first 6 are found here.
7) We moved overseas to work almost 20 years ago. Our children were young and we felt terribly young ourselves with the language skills of a preschooler. On arriving in a beautiful capital city in North Africa, with survival Arabic and the grace of God, my husband needed to find a house for us to rent. It seemed a daunting task. That first morning, we prayed together, and he left the hotel to begin the search…by faith, really. Even hailing a taxi requires some cultural understanding of how it’s done there, and it took a few tries for him to “win” a ride. Finally a taxi driver invited him in, and off they went. In a country of 9 million Muslims, there were many 30 Christ-followers. In all this huge city, the taxi driver who stopped for him was one of those few. Over the years, we have known the friendship of many wonderful Muslim people, but on this stressful first morning, to have the company of a brother was a special kindness of God. Housing was eventually found; that encounter was a special grace.
8) Sometimes God’s might and gentle care both shine through a seemingly insignificant situation. After some time in this North African country, work took us outside the capital city to a distant town. Now my husband would have to purchase a vehicle which we had not needed in the capital. Again, like so many seemingly simple processes, this took on a whole new level of complexity when done cross-culturally. The used car souk only happened on Sundays, and the bargaining process was incomprehensible. He was unsuccessful for weeks. Knowing our move was imminent added pressure. Finally, one Sunday, he just gave up. He walked up the ridge to the highway to catch a taxi and looked back over all the business of car sales, feeling hopeless. A taxi pulled over for him, and he got in. The driver said, “Are you buying or selling a car?” When my husband told him that he was unsuccessfully trying to buy a car, the driver asked what kind. It turned out that the driver had a friend selling a car, just the kind we needed. Random, crazy, love-filled act of GOD.
9) While we were overseas, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. It was a lymphoma and, by all rights, should have been cured, or at least arrested, by the treatment of that day. It was not to be so. For three years, Mom endured aggressive chemotherapy. The cancer was relentless. In the course of her treatment, she also had a severe Shingles attack that went into her nervous system and caused her pain for the rest of her life. We came back to the US for what would be her last year. My mom loved the LORD. She never prayed for healing, although we sure did. She only prayed for GOD to be glorified through this cancer. He answered her prayer…and ours, in a different way. Much of her life, she lamented that she didn’t hear GOD speak to her in ways she was sure he did with others. I asked her once, near the end, if He spoke to her now, and she smiled, and said, “All the time.” For her, the cancer was worth it.
[Since writing this blog originally, we’ve also lost our dad. He had both Alzheimer’s and colon cancer that was spreading. We had prayed for months that he would not be afraid as he lost his memories and that he would not be in pain in the end. God gloriously answered those prayers for us. We know it doesn’t always work out that way, especially with Alzheimer’s. We are so grateful.]
10) Losing my mom was especially hard, a “severe mercy”*. Losing my older brother was strange and complicated for me. Robert had what I would describe as a self-imposed hard life. He could be rough with those he loved the most, almost taunting them to desert him. Yet, he had a kind heart that would often betray his attempts to be distant from us. He finally did move away from all his family, building a house way out in the country. When mom died, I think the sense of home for Robert died with her. Two things I prayed for him, during this hermit season of his: that he would not die alone and that he would be reconciled to his family. Although we lived far away, we saw at a distance that Robert began softening in his conversations with us. On our last phone call, he actually sounded happy. He talked excitedly about meeting up with one brother and working on a project with the other brother. At the young age of 61, piercing chest pain forced a call for an ambulance, and he, not many hours later, died on the operating table. He did not die alone, surrounded by the surgical team who sought to repair a shredded aorta…and many in his family praying for him outside. He died short of repairing all his relationships, but he was moving miraculously in that direction…by God’s grace.
11) Our oldest son, Nathan, is a classical guitarist. In his last year of college, he was to perform a Senior recital as part of his requirements for graduation. In the process of preparing for this recital, he developed a tendonitis from the hours of practice. His doctor told him he had to rest his hands for the 2 weeks prior to his recital. This could have been devastating to his performance. Nathan was able to practice the day before and the day of his recital. He was a bit shaken mentally because of those days without practice, but he determined to continue with the recital. I may be his mom, but his playing that day was technically brilliant and incredibly beautiful. Especially given the stress coming into that day. There was a row of us, family and close friends, praying for him through the recital. With every piece completed, it seemed we were more in a worship service than a concert. I filmed his performance, and later as we watched the video, we saw something very interesting. There was a light artifact of some sort, and it looked as if a shaft of light beamed down through his right hand. It was a picture of GOD being there with Nathan, and we knew He was by Nathan’s performance. Nathan had played for all of us, and for an audience of One. He told us afterwards that his hands ranged from feeling ice cold and difficult to manage to feeling on fire and exquisitely painful…yet he played so well…and so to the glory of GOD.
12) Finally, the last stone of remembrance for today: being present when someone receives the LORD as her own. Many of you may have that experience on a regular basis. For me, spending so many years in North Africa, I have only personally had this experience a precious few times so far. One very dramatic time was when we came back to the US. A young woman I really didn’t know very well appeared at our women’s Bible study. There was an urgency about her…a quiet earnestness. She was there on a mission. The LORD had clearly been working in her heart and she wanted to settle things with Him. There was only a handful of women in the room, but the power of the Holy Spirit was so evident. While some of us explained how to receive Christ as Lord and Savior, the rest of us prayed…back and forth, as she talked, listened, cried…and then prayed aloud herself. Did one of us lead her to be a Christ-follower? No. We were merely and miraculously witnesses of a redeeming love. I wish you could have heard her pray…so full of humility, and longing, and finally peace. To witness the work of GOD in a life He drew to Himself…incredible.
Right now, as we are days away from this year’s Easter celebration, I am once again riveted by God’s reach into our lives. Just in this past year alone, He has been with us through great joys and great losses, a cancer diagnosis, much change in our work, and the birth of a precious grandchild. The handprint of God is everywhere…even on days when I have to get my heart quiet and my eyes focused to see. He is always near…it just takes us looking…and then remembering all the times before.
“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:13
Will there be days we forget? It happens… Fortunately, for us, even when we forget, He never does.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” – Isaiah 49:15-16
Beautiful day outside…hope the same is the case for you.
Here are my Friday faves this week:
1) Music Lessons – I was the worst student at music lessons. My mom was so determined that I would learn to play the piano. Seriously, I don’t even remember having a piano in our home…we must have, right? Dear old Mrs. Bowles taught me my first lessons. She and her husband owned a tiny general store in our neighborhood. She was ancient…and kind. I loved her but not enough to practice. Some weeks, my only time on the piano was our lesson. Do you think she could tell?
In the article he lists 13 scientific benefits of the many more derived from music lessons. Below, I’m posting his list, but don’t miss his brief and fascinating commentary on each one. Here’s his article.
Taking Music Lessons:
It improved your reading and verbal skills.
It improved your mathematical and spatial-temporal reasoning.
It helped your grades.
It raised your IQ.
It helped you learn languages more quickly.
It made you a better listener, which will help a lot when you’re older.
It will slow the effects of aging.
It strengthened your motor cortex.
It improved your working memory.
It improved your long-term memory for visual stimuli.
It made you better at managing anxiety.
It enhanced your self-confidence and self-esteem.
It made you more creative.
All three of our children had piano lessons early in their schooling. They all did music through high school then took different paths afterwards. After her high school girl band and college chorale experience, our oldest plays piano just for her own pleasure now. Our middle, Nathan Mills, moved from piano to classical guitar and is now doing music professionally and giving lessons himself. Our youngest loves opera and is teaching himself the harp. Music lessons are definitely worth their investment…even beyond the music itself.
2) Final Fantasy – No, this isn’t some bucket list or deathbed wish. This is a video game. In fact, it’s a very popular one and has been around since 1987. This past week marked its 15th update. During our boys’ growing up years, I wasn’t enamored of video games, but I also never really sat down and got to know what they were about (my mistake). Final Fantasy is a good-vs.-evil battle game. Its musical themes are beyond beautiful. Our son, Nathan, has arranged many of the themes for classical guitar. Most recently, he has posted the Valse di Fantastica. As I’ve listened to this piece over and over, it makes me wonder at the times I kicked him off gaming to do something else more valuable with his time. Yet, the music stayed in his head and heart. I’m glad he’s kept the music…and here it is for you.
3) Grandchildren – These littles are so worth the wait. I say if you don’t have your own grands, then find some to love. Never enough love for children – tiny ones or those nearly grown. Photo Credit: Pixabay, Pixabay
Reuters posted a news story by Madeline Kennedy that touts the health benefit for seniors of occasionally caring for their grandchildren. Without going into the statistics, this German study reported that those who care for their grandchildren, on an occasional basis, actually live longer.
This and other studies (see article) point to time caring for grandchildren as benefiting cognitive function, as well as physical and mental health of the grandparent. These benefits could be enjoyed by caregivers not related to the children as well. Also a distinction was made that the study related to occasional care-giving (rather than full-time care) and depended on what was considered stressful or non-stressful by the grandparent.
In Mertz’s article on leadership ladders, he’s not talking about building or climbing ladders for our own success but for the success of others. What a lovely and timely concept! He prescribes four different leadership ladders – family, personal, organizational, and community. Read his piece here.
Within his article on leadership ladders, he references his 3 articles below. I read them all, and you will want to as well.
5) Smorgasbord on Success – OK, we all define success in many ways. Couldn’t think of another exact word – being effective, making a living, realizing a dream, leading well. I’ve been reading a lot lately about leadership and about business start-ups. This week has made for a bounty of discovery on these topics (including Jon Mertz above). I’m just going to post the links and you can choose what tickles your itch this week.
My biggest take-away is that if we’re willing to learn, apply what we learn, and push out of our comfort zone, we can make extraordinary advances in our work and workplace. I really believe that, no matter what our age or level. Here are some writers who say the same:
Empathy is no soft skill. In fact, it can be a rare commodity in today’s workplace where we are competing for jobs, customers, time with the boss…pushing for that edge which makes us stand out over the guy down the hall.
We have seen empathy in corporate culture. Amazon immediately comes to mind, as does Apple. These companies have studied the wants and needs of their customers and they have put that research into play in their service and products. Customer loyalty is a huge outcome of feeling understood and valued.
Empathy and sympathy are two very different human experiences and expressions. To sum up the differences between the most commonly used meanings of these two terms: sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another. [read more at Dictionary.com]
Our neighborhood is in the middle of a huge engineering project being done by our local electric company. The wires are being put underground thereby keeping our service from being interrupted by windstorms. Various technicians and contractors have come to each of our front doors to let us know, courteously and apologetically, what disruptions must happen to eventually provide this service. The sub-contractors, moving throughout the neighborhood, have worked quickly and quietly, keeping disturbance at a minimum. Their work will all be completed soon with 1) only what disruption was absolutely necessary and 2) with a high expression of empathy for their presence on our streets and in our yards.
Disruption devoid of empathy is no business process anyone wants in their workplace…no matter what the outcome or benefit. Unfortunately, when it happens (and it does), we put up with it for what comes out of it, and because we have no other choice… If we are not careful our own empathy for one another suffers. Mark that.
For years, the word and process of empathy had become so common, it became almost without meaning. Something just ordinary. Nothing special. Now, it’s rising in favor again…probably, seriously, because of how competitive businesses have become. Too often, we err in business with putting innovation and technology as goals and standards without considering the customer or colleague. Decision-making proceeding ahead of information-gathering and analyzing impact on those most affected is not the way up.
Marla Gottschalk says it well in her piece Disrupting Organizations With Empathy, “Forward thinking organizations hold great empathy for their potential customers. They design products that not only appeal to our emotions and senses, but address the problems we wrestle with in our daily lives. In each product, process or service — there is a little of us represented.
As long as we have empathy, I believe we’ll have innovation.
The same truth applies to the developing frameworks that support our employees. With empathy, we can achieve significant advances not only the way we work, but how we ultimately feel about our work lives. Whether we are considering leadership (See how empathy affects perceived leadership here), feedback, career development or work spaces — empathy matters.
Viewing work life from another’s perspective, can reap powerful results. We need to follow behind our employees and support their journey...Measuring our workplace problems is simply not enough to encourage healthy workplaces.” – Marla Gottschalk
I watched an episode of Chase Jarvis Live where Jarvis interviews Brian Solis – author of What’s the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences and X: The Experience When Business Meets Design. Brian Solis is one incredibly smart individual, and what captivated me the most in that 45-minute interview? What he said about empathy: “What do you want somebody to feel after they’re done with you in every moment of truth?…Who am I really trying to reach? What’s a day in the life of their world? What could I do to have an impact in their world?…What does a relationship really mean? When you see the world outside [from their side], then you see the role you’re going to play…Empathy unlocks a whole new level of perspective…It’s not good enough to be good enough…or the best. You have to now understand the impact you want to have and the role you want to play in someone’s life and then who that person is and design for that. It’s so inspiring.” – Brian Solis
Marcel Schwantes lists empathy is one of the 10 leadership habits found in the world’s best leaders. Empathy is a discipline. It is hard skill that every leader and every person equipping themselves to lead must see and seek as valuable to leading well. Otherwise, the lack of empathy will eventually have a pervasive effect on the workplace and the service and product. Don’t let this happen to you or your team.
In the YouTube video of one of the episode’s scenes, Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy and Spock are in captivity. The humanoid woman Gem is with them. She is unable to speak but has extraordinary empathic powers. She can feel the pain of another and take it into herself, thereby healing the other person, at a cost to herself. She is also learning from these three what genuine care and self-sacrifice are.
Not the sort of topic we often toss around in our conference rooms or strategy meetings. Still…if we want to offer the best and be the best in our organizations, the lessons are clear…as are the warnings.
It’s FRIDAY! Wrapping up another week that roared by. Without further ado, here are five of my favorite finds.
1) Body Language – Since our moms first instructed us to “smile at the nice lady” or “stand up straight”, we’ve been aware of the impact of body language. Posture, attitude, and approachableness are all a part of that.Photo Credit: DevZone
We communicate so much through our faces and bodies. Eye contact is a big one as well as what we do with our eyes – as in rolling them or staring off. What does our body language convey?
Are we too self-important to engage with the person in front of us? Are our children growing up too cool to be bothered with the people around them?
Earlier this week, I saw a 2-minute video of UConn basketball coach Geno Auriemmas talk about body language. He nailed it! Not just in athletics but in any other life situation. We can still help our children and grandchildren to think beyond themselves…as we model it, too.
Andrews is so engaging. His books are highly readable and full of wisdom. His easy writing style is like having the author himself telling you the story out loud (in fact, in his audio books he does just that). I used his book The Traveler’s Gift in teaching ESL while we lived in Morocco. The adult students loved it!
Andrews’ Seven Decisions (see image below) were gleaned from his own life experience and through reading and researching. He read over 200 biographies of great men and women of history. What was it in their character or circumstance that led to their greatness?
In his book The Traveler’s Gift, he fleshes out the Seven Decisions through the story of a desperate man’s fantastical visitation with historical figures, learning their stories and gaining their wisdom.
How humanizing and honoring to see that visual and performance arts are being used right alongside medical treatment for our veterans.
Healing arts can include so many different expressions – photography, drawing, spoken word, story-telling, and music. During college, our son, Nathan, played his classical guitar as a volunteer at the medical center nearby. I have friends who also facilitate art projects, therapeutic story-telling, and photography.
4) Cheese – One of my absolute favorite foods. My heart goes out to those who have dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. Our life overseas even had an element of cheese discovery. Often when people live outside their home countries, they have cravings for what feels like home. The longer and happier you live in another country, those cravings subside. It happened for us in many ways. However, we were thankful that each of our resident countries had great cheese.
Egyptian cheeses most enjoyed by Egyptians are gebna rūmi (similar to a hard Romano cheese), and Gebna bēḍa (a soft salty cheese). We ate those cheeses but also found a wonderful white cheddar from New Zealand in the larger supermarkets. Tunisian cuisine was much more exotic, but cheese wasn’t a mainstay. There we again ate imported cheese from the Netherlands. Edam cheese encased in a red rind. We used it for everything we would have ordinarily used Cheddar or Mozzarella. Moroccan food again was really wonderful…with few cheese offerings. There was a fresh goat cheese available locally that was yummy. Still we found the Netherlands Edam and were satisfied.Photo Credit: Gouda Cheese Shops, New Zealand
Why the meandering about cheese this week? Not exactly a new find. The reason I’m writing is that my husband sent me searching the answer for why is cheddar cheese in America orange in color.
Well, it turns out you can follow the money for the answer to this. Centuries ago, when cows (Jersey and Guernsey, in particular) were grass-fed, they produced milk that was more golden in color. The color came from the beta-carotene in the grass. This golden-colored milk yielded a deep golden cheese. The deeper the color translated to the higher the quality. In fact, consumers were (and still are) willing to pay more for a deeper colored cheese.
Cheddar is the preferred cheese in the US, and most people associate it with its orange color (even though there are white Cheddars). Dyes (more natural dyes now, like the plant seed Annatto) are used to produce the deep color. In these days of the artisanal farmers, cows are becoming more grass-fed, and we see cheeses of deeper colors (without dyes added).
[Probably more than you ever wanted to know about our food preferences or the color of cheese.]
5) Don’t Waste Your Life – In 2000, a much younger John Piper preached to a crowd of young people at a Passion Conference. He focus in this sermon was to urge these college students not to miss the Kingdom of God before them…not to waste their lives on what wouldn’t last. Here is a brief (7-minute) excerpt you might want to watch. It is gripping.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. – Hebrews 6:19
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. – Psalm 71:1-3
In my late teens and 20s, my mom endured a hard and painful-to-watch season. A few of my other friends’ moms went through what then was called “a nervous breakdown”. Somehow, my mom pushed through. She felt tremendous responsibility to get her four children grown and established in our adult lives. She worked hard at her job and served well in her church and community. Mom was unshakeable in her love for God and for us.
Yet the demons were real. I will never forget sitting beside her as she lay weeping on her bed. Deep, shaking, inconsolable cries. She was never able to say what the tormentors were – regret? worry? There were times she described how it felt like something was in her throat (that proverbial “lump”) that she couldn’t get down – literally like she couldn’t swallow (or stomach) whatever was going on.
In those days, holding my mama who I loved most in the world, I promised myself I would never let that level of misery happen in my life…I would figure out how not to be taken down by fear or the threat of the future…especially such that my children would not have to see me in such pain.
It was sometime in my 20s that my own tears dried up. After watching my mom cry so much, I just didn’t have any tears…maybe I didn’t want to go to that hard place…
Praise God there is always more to the story. My mom survived those years and lived more joyfully and peacefully after that, right through the day she went Home to be with the Lord. Thanks to my mom, I did learn how to cope with the stressors of life…not always well, but I know how.
Mom and I both learned through our lives how to cast our cares on God. There may have been times in Mom’s later years that she wrestled with anxiety just between God and her. There are times, as well, that I wrestle, especially in the night hours, before sleep.
Right now, anxiety seems to be gripping the hearts and lives of some dear friends of mine. I’m not sure how to counsel but am absolutely sure how to pray.
Anxietyis not the same as fear. It is an emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil…It is the subjectively unpleasant feelings of dread over anticipated events, such as the feeling of imminent death. Fear is a response to a real or perceived immediate threat, whereas anxiety is the expectation of future threat. It is a distinction between future and present dangers which divides anxiety and fear. Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness and worry, usually generalized and unfocused. It is the mental state that results from a difficult challenge for which the subject has insufficient coping skills.
For today, I just want to express my profound gratefulness for the God who meets us in the dark nights of the soul and reminds us of what is true and restores our joy and peace. He is faithful, and His Word never fails.
Worship with me through the song My Anchor by Christy Nockels and Jason Ingram.
You’re the Lord Almighty Your every word is sure And in Your love unfailing I’m safe when oceans roar
Yes, I’m safe when oceans roar
My anchor, forever
My shelter within the storm
You’re my deliverer
You never falter
You’re the rock I stand on
Here within the struggle
And every crashing wave
You are more than able
Your hand is strong to save
Yes, I know Your hand is strong to save
My anchor, forever
My shelter within the storm
You’re my deliverer
You never falter
You’re the rock I stand on
I hold on to You
And You hold on to me Jesus, I hold on to You And You hold on to me*
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.– Philippians 4:6-7
By the way, I seem to have gotten my tears back, for which I’m grateful. Also, for those of you, like me, who struggle with anxiety, it’s a battle. We must be gentle with ourselves but, at the same time, disciplined in dealing with the lies with which our mind hammers us. For you who love us “sometimes anxious ones”, thank you…especially when you don’t default to anxiety…thank you for trying to understand, and for loving, and for guiding us gently to the truth, and for praying. You are the face of Jesus to us.
On the weekend, I was catching up with a bunch of friends who gather occasionally to keep relationships up-to-date. The question around the table was “So what’s new and exciting?” That usually elicits baby news, job changes, latest relationship, and emotional or situational struggles. I was completely engaged in what they were all saying…and then it was my turn.
I had nothing.
After stammering over what I could add, I pretty much just confessed to the mundane nature of my life. Vanilla was the only flavor that came to mind.
On the drive home, clarity prevailed and the largeness of the past year’s events filled my mind’s eye like watching an action film on the big screen. More “new and exciting” than I imagined could happen in a year – a grandson’s birth, a cancer diagnosis, my father’s illness and death were just some of the scenes of the last several months.
Then, right there, in the dark car, I was filled with gratitude that a merciful God filled all of that with His presence. Sometimes I forget to say out loud how incredibly good God is to be in our lives…and to never leave us alone in the hard.
Today’s “new and exciting” is that I am cancer-free right now, that darling baby is the star of his own music video, and acute grief in losing our dad is shifting to savoring memories of all our years together.
There’s more though…
Later in the weekend, I read this enlightening piece written by Benjamin P. Hardy. He interviewed composer and pianist John Burke about how he pushes himself to create.
Burke listed out four strategies that he regularly uses to “elevate” his work.
1. Always Work on Something You’ve Never Done Before
2. Map It All Out From the Beginning
3. Apply More Layers of External Pressure Immediately
4. Put “Creation Time” On Your Daily Schedule
Read Hardy’s piece for the particulars of Burke’s creative habits.
Burke’s approach to work, in general, and creating music, in specific resonated with me for two big reasons. The first, is that I had seen his system for creating in the habits of our composer/guitarist son, Nathan Mills (Beyond the Guitar). The second reason is that I see what the “new and exciting” had done to my own creative habits.
I had settled into a sameness, a smallness, that had become a prolonged recovery time for me. Healing was imperative, but there comes a time when we gather ourselves up and get back into life. The Hebrew King David’s example came sharply to mind – after praying and fasting for his terribly ill son – 2 Samuel 12:18-20 – at the news the child died, David rose up, washed and dressed, worshiped God, and ate.
The “new and exciting” for this Monday is to take John Burke’s strategies to heart. When a person gets her life back after a cancer diagnosis, and recovery is behind her, the best medicine is to get on with life…with a renewed passion and intentionality.
Thank you, Mr. Burke, and Mr. Hardy.
My husband has described this “elevating our work” with the phrase “Shifting to the next gear”. That’s what I want for this next chapter of my work life. I’ve been driving the service roads, and now it’s time to get back out on the highway. To adjust my life to a greater difficulty and higher speed.
Elevating our work requires adjusting our thinking in that direction as well. [See links below.]
In his LinkedIn article, Barry Sanders talks about one of the characteristics of what makes a “best place to work”. This characteristic is “common purpose”. He writes:
Common purpose is essential to driving organization-wide adaptability, which is key to succeeding in today’s fast-paced business world. A shared set of values and goals across the organization allows leaders and individual contributors to achieve widespread alignment, manage uncertainty, and guide decisions in times of turmoil and change.
Without establishing common purpose, companies risk a lack of motivation, lower levels of commitment, less loyalty, and decreased alignment amongst their employees—not to mention negative Glassdoor reviews.
He also quotes from his CEO General Stanley McChrystal’s bestseller Team of Teamswhich gives this summary of the importance of common purpose:
“Team members tackling complex environments must all grasp the team’s situation and overarching purpose…Individual SEALs have to monitor the entirety of their operation just as soccer players have to keep track of the entire field, not just their own patch of grass. They must be collectively responsible for the team’s success and understand everything that responsibility entails.”
When you can see the entire field, not just your patch of grass, your organization becomes more effective—and a better place to work. – Barry Sanders
I sure hope senior leaders get this message. Just communicating the purpose is not enough. That “patch of grass” must be given to that soccer player. He must own it and own his part of the entire field. Leaders who genuinely believe in and nurture common purpose cultivate a “best place to work” for their personnel.
2) Safeguarding Your Marriage – Infidelity or unfaithfulness in our marriage relationships is not just about sexual betrayal. Infidelity can happen when we allow our hearts to become more bonded to someone or something else more than to our own spouses. Dave Willis defines infidelity as “broken trust or broken loyalty”. He has posted a tremendously helpful article entitled The 9 Forms of Infidelity in Marriage (Hint: 8 of Them Don’t Involve Sex). Willis is a pastor,counselor and founder of Stronger Marriages. Single or married, you will benefit from his article because too often we “fall” into infidelity by letting ourselves be deceived in thinking it’s nothing. Safeguard your relationships!
3) Being Different – Matt Damico has written an excellent piece for Christ-followers. It is The World Needs You to Be Different. If you are reading this and you aren’t keen on the teachings of Jesus, you may already think that Christians are a quirky lot of people. What Damico says in this article is to call us to the rhythms, the routines, the practices of the church that work a peculiarity in us that’s a good thing.
Piano scales make a pianist. Hours behind the wheel make a driver. Weightlifting reps make muscles, and lots of miles make a runner. Routine and repetition aid us in so many ways, yet a lot of us seem allergic to similar habits in our weekly church worship gatherings.
But just as these individual habits do something to us, so it is with our congregational habits: they’re making us into something. God willing, they’re making us the right kind of peculiar.
We’ll bear fruit in this life when our roots are firmly planted in the coming new earth. As C.S. Lewis said, history shows that “the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” One of the main ways this happens is through the rhythms and repetitions worked into our weekly gatherings.
So, as your church gathers for worship this weekend, appreciate anew what’s happening, how the strange rituals — the “rhythms of grace,” as Mike Cosper calls them — are making you more faithful and more fruitful. – Matt Damico
4) Hard Seasons – I’m not going to wax on here about hard seasons – we all know what ours are. I just always want to keep Syrian refugees on my radar so here’s a photo piece that dramatically displays their reality…in a way that has stayed in my mind all week.
Then I also wanted to share a piece by Aaron Brown. I know his family. He grew up in Chad where his father was a physician. His reflects on a very difficult time and its oddly positive impact on his life…renewing his hope after the very difficult year of 2016.
5) Small Beginnings – In the Bible, the prophet Zechariah encouraged the people, “Do not despise small beginnings.” They had the huge task of rebuilding the Temple, and Scripture tells us, this great work began in the mundane but extraordinary act of Zerubbabel picking up the plumb line. Any beginning may seem small and inadequate for the grand vision that stretches in front of us. However, we never know when the small explodes into wonder.
Chip and Joanna Gaines (HGTV stars of Fixer Upper) have an incredible story of small beginnings which grew into a huge, phenomenally successful business. They started out flipping houses as a young couple and often had just the cash in their pockets. Now they have their own TV show, a real estate business, home goods store, and “The Silos” – a refurbished commercial venue in Waco, Texas.
Another example of small beginnings is pastor and author Tim Keller. Just this past week, Keller announced he was stepping down from the senior pastor position of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. He pastored there for almost 30 years and it now is a multi-site 5000-member church. [This is a planned succession and he will be teaching in a seminary.] A friend of mine here in Richmond “knew him when”. Years ago, before his NYC church role he was her pastor, in a small church near here – West Hopewell Presbyterian Church. Small beginnings…
Whether you are examining a small beginning as a Christian or from a different worldview, there is excellent counsel to be had…both in Scripture and in articles (such as those linked below).
Just yesterday I was trying to encourage a young man about what he viewed as a small beginning in his career. Not sure I made sense at all. Then today, my husband emailed me this great article – about the exact same subject.
the power of choice (“you stop playing the victim to external circumstances and take responsibility for your life – the private victory“) and
the power of context (“In everything you do, there should be collaborative and synergistic elements. Of course, there is work which is your work. However, that work should be embedded within a group of others and toward something much bigger. – the public victory”)
Hardy’s full article is excellent (even includes components of the assist we get from brain plasticity which I wrote about earlier).
You know that shocking experience when you are driving to a known destination and then get lost in your thoughts? At some point, you snap back to attention and wonder, “How did I get here, I wasn’t even thinking about it?!” That is neuroplasticity or brain plasticity. It is an amazing capability we all have and can be nurtured and utilized throughout our lives. Yes, “old dogs CAN learn new tricks“.
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to restructure itself after training or practice. An example of how neuroplasticity works: when you view the brains of people who frequently practice playing the violin under fMRI (functional MRI) they appear to have developed a larger area of their brain devoted to mapping their fingers. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
This change is directly related to the quantity and the quality of the practice they’re performing – their brains are adapting in very real and tangible ways unbeknownst to them... The more practice you accumulate, the more ingrained or grooved the pathways become. Of course the inverse happens as well: if those pathways aren’t utilized, the space will be used by other pathways needing room to grow. Use it or lose it! …Your brain can change based on repeated experience…People of any age have the ability to learn new things and form new habits. – Mike Torres, Refocuser
Watching Nathan play intricate, complicated runs on his classical guitar boggles my mind. How can he think that fast? It’s lots of practice that causes the brain to connect to the hands, and those difficult pieces get “under his fingers” almost without thinking.
Years ago a friend gave us this book Never Too Late by John Holt. In his “musical life story”, Holt describes how he learned to play the cello in his 40s. We were encouraged by this during a time we moved to Egypt and learned Arabic in mid-life…when language-learning is supposed to be especially difficult.
I love neuroplasticity but it gives me hope, in getting older, of keeping skills and developing new ones, even as an aging person…unless I give in to dumbed-down practices excusing myself for the same reasons of “getting too old”.
When my older brother suffered a stroke, it was neuroplasticity and the repeated efforts of his medical and therapy team that got him back on his feet. He finally “repeatedly practiced” his way back to independence. The personality changes seemed more ingrained, however, they changed, too, as he exchanged his anger and bitterness for a hopefulness and longing for healthy, loving relationships. As he refused to give into anger and chose soft responses, his personality seriously changed over time…with conscious that eventually turned unconscious practice.
How does all this apply to us in the workplace and life, in general? We are confronted at times with a situation that confounds us – a new uncomfortable skillset, an unpredictable relationship, or an unfamiliar decision-making process. Neuroplasticity helps us to not just give up on mastering either a new work process or a complicated interpersonal situation.
1. Change is mostly limited to those situations in which the brain is in the mood for it. We have to want to learn and change. If we give up, stay resigned to the status quo, or remain fed-up, change will not happen. Want change!
2. The harder you try, the more you’re motivated, the more alert you are, and the better (or worse) the potential outcome, the bigger the brain change. Focus and persistence or key to mastery.
3. What actually changes in the brain are the strengths of the connections of neurons that are engaged together, moment by moment, in time. Practice strengthens pathways for behavior. Whether it’s learning a new computer system or developing a different way of communicating with a boss…practice hard-wires.
4. Learning-driven changes in connections increase cell-to cell cooperation, which is crucial for increasing reliability. I see this in musicians who live-stream and can read listener chats, respond to them, and continue playing all at the same time. Crazy.
5. The brain also strengthens its connections between teams of neurons representing separate moments of successive things that reliably occur in serial time. This is definitely the mechanism that gets us to our destination when we stop thinking about where we’re going.
6. Initial changes are temporary. Habit formation takes time, and somehow the brain interprets whether the change is vital. Amazing.
7. The brain is changed by internal mental rehearsal in the same ways and involving precisely the same processes that control changes achieved through interactions with the external world. At the simplest level, this is the mechanism of how we “talk ourselves through” a situation. Or when an athlete goes through his routine in his mind before he’s back out on the track or in the pool.
8. Memory guides and controls most learning. Our brain actually helps us to remember what we did well and discards what we didn’t.
9. Every movement of learning provides a moment of opportunity for the brain to stabilize — and reduce the disruptive power of — potentially interfering backgrounds or “noise.” The more we practice, either a physical skill or a way of thinking through a problem, we actually get better at it because somehow the brain reduces the background noise (which can include insecurity, fear of failure or self-doubt).
10. Brain plasticity is a two-way street; it is just as easy to generate negative changes as it is positive ones. Dr. Merzenich warns us, as we get older that we “use it or lose it” by our own decisions to stop learning and mastering new skills and behaviors.
How are you using neuroplasticity to help you continue to grow in your work and personal life? Trevor Blake encourages us to set the tone of the day positively and don’t defect from that. Using self-defeating language can blur our focus and mental capacity for mastery. Read more of his excellent counsel here.
As we age, or give in to “what is” at the moment (tracks greased by depression sometimes, or perceived lack of ability or opportunity), we may not realize the great positive effects of neuroplasticity. However, the good news is that we can keep learning and changing and mastering what work and life and relationships bring our way. It’s never too late.