October 31 – Halloween Dress-up & Reformation Day Stand-Up

Blog - Halloween

Our kids were pre-schoolers the last time we celebrated Halloween – and that was a long time ago. A couple of weeks ago, my friend Amber reminded me of a different side of Halloween. It’s not just another commercialized holiday (second only to Christmas in the US). Nor is it just for dressing up children in fun outfits (although that is one of the best parts of Halloween).Blog - Halloween 2

Nor is Halloween just about giving and getting large quantities of favorite candies…although this might be THE BEST PART of Halloween.Blog - Fall - Candy Corn - twitter.com ERLCPhoto Credit: Twitter.com/erlc

Amber, still fairly new in town, was looking forward to Halloween to meet more of her neighbors. Over the years, we had separated our family from Halloween because of the darker side of the holiday (All Hallow’s Eve). I don’t think our kids missed out at all, really, but this year I have opened the door back up a bit…to meet more of our neighbors.

For the first time in two decades, we turned the porch light on, and had a basket of candy ready….and the children came. We marveled at their costumes and greeted their parents (and sometimes, grandparents). It was fun to chat with these little guys and then watch them meander on to the next house in their dressed-up otherness.

When the candy ran out, I flipped off the porch light. The glow of our next door neighbor’s luminaries still beckoned the small bands of children with their watchful parents close by.Blog - Halloween 3

So that was Halloween 2015. No new friendships forged or anything…but we at least showed ourselves friendly.

Earlier today, I was reminded of the other side of October 31. Reformation Day. My husband’s mom, Julia, reads through a couple of devotionals each day as part of her Bible reading. On a visit with her this morning, she read to us the page below.Blog - Reformation DayPhoto Credit: 30 Days to Change the Nation by D. James Kennedy

On this day, 498 years ago, Martin Luther stood up against a wrong done in the name of God. He challenged his beloved Catholic Church to stop certain practices of that day. Practices that drew people away from God really, rather than closer to Him. Practices, or indulgences, in particular, that communicated that we could actually buy our salvation or do service enough to earn our salvation from our sins.

He wrote 95 “theses” or indictments against the church and hammered that long list on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. They were serious accusations and started with the first one below:

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Because of Martin Luther’s protest, a reformation was birthed. Millions of believers worldwide “have submitted to God’s word as their highest authority (Sola Scriptura) and…that salvation is a gift given by God’s grace alone (Sola Gratia) through the instrument of faith alone (Sola Fide) in the death and resurrection of their one savior and mediator, Jesus Christ (Sola Christus), so that all glory would always redound to the Triune God alone (Sola Deo Gloria).” *

October 31 marks two days – Halloween and Reformation Day.

The first calls for dress-up. The second a call to stand up.

I’m sure Martin Luther took great courage in God’s Word as he stood firm in his understanding of it.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God…and having done all, to stand firm.”  – Apostle Paul,  from Ephesians 6:10-20

Be safe out there if you’re still closing out the night. I’m thinking the kids won’t notice if a Butterfinger or Snickers bar is missing in the morning from their candy haul tonight…or could be, they will. It’s a risk. Good night.

*Reformation Day – Jesus Came Knocking

What Are Your Thoughts on Halloween? – John Piper

5 Interesting Facts About Reformation Day

Halloween - Nathan & Bekkah, Cliff & April[Four of my favorite grown-up “trick-or-treaters” -one of the kids must have taken this picture.] Photo Credit: Bekkah Mills

5 Friday Faves – Fall Trees, Handling Change, Naming Our Grief, Cool Job, and an Icebreaker Question

2015 October - Blog, Fall, Trees, Sadie 065

  1. Fall Trees – Is it a sugar maple or a yellow poplar? I don’t know, but isn’t it beautiful in the Fall leaf-turning? In the first year of our marriage, Dave and I lived in New Haven, Ct. where I was teaching and he was finishing his Ph.D. In the Fall, the sidewalks of our street were carpeted with these new-fallen soft yellow leaves. It was a magical time…just weeks after our wedding. I will always remember walking those yellow paths in the brief days before the snow came. The leaves dried and became crinkly. When the wind blew, or we crunched and kicked the leaves along, they blew up into the air. As if in a dance of joy. Sorry, there’s a deep romance in my heart that stirs at the sight of these trees in their Fall glory. Love!Fall yellow leaves by Shay WhitePhoto Credit: Shay White Photography

Blog - Fall Leaves Covering SidewalkPhoto Credit: Ann Williams, pinterest.com

2) Handling Change – Change is part of our lives every day, yet we struggle with it. Coming to grips and making peace with change helps us to move ahead to whatever is next. When Brian Dodd talks about handling change, he is speaking to pastors and church leaders. However, there is wisdom for any of us going through change in his article on the strange struggle of Jacob – wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32).

  • Change affects those you love.
  • Change costs you some change.
  • Change can be lonely.
  • Change takes time.
  • Change requires struggle.
  • Change does not leave you the same.
  • Change requires grit.
  • Changes requires humbleness.
  • Change is necessary for you to get better.
  • Change allows you to see God.

“Change is a true constant to be leveraged.  Not a temporary burden to avoid.” – Brian Dodd

Another related study on Genesis 32:22-32 I found helpful is Broken But Blessed.2015 October - Blog, Fall, Trees, Sadie 048

3) Naming our Grief – Grief always has a name and naming our grief helps us to heal. Having lived overseas for many years, we understand “Hellos-Goodbyes-Hellos” – both the sorrows and the joys of them. As the years go by, we experience job changes, relocations of friends and family, and deaths of loved ones. In a few days, it will be the 13th anniversary of my Mom’s Homegoing, and every day I still think of her. That grief definitely has a name. Sometimes grief feels more vague, like a sadness with a cloudy source. When I found this piece Because Grief Has a Name by Abby Alleman, it touched my heart. She says it well:

“Naming grief is our heart acknowledging its significance and place in our lives. In this way, grief is a friend, like Sadness from the movie Inside Out. It teaches us the shape of our own unique story and guides us to tastes of the ‘fullness of joy’ found in God’s presence. Acknowledging and entering grief also guards our hearts from the calcifying effects of the denial of pain, hurt or loss. Instead of resentment, bitterness or hatred, we get healing, strength and hope. We also become those who grieve well with others. This is a true gift.” – Abby Alleman

2015 October - Blog, Fall, Trees, Sadie 0592015 October - Blog, Fall, Trees, Sadie 064

4) Cool Job – Interaction Designer – Complete Beginner’s Guide to Interaction Design – I am not going to say much about this because my ignorance will became obvious quickly. My first hearing of this job was around the supper table this week during our community group (Movement Church). Brian is an interaction designer. As he talked about his work, I was captivated. He works to make internet resources available to a set of consumers all over the world, and does it in such a way that is so user-friendly that even I could maneuver painlessly on that website. When you enter a website that gives you exactly what you need without bottlenecks, extra steps, or language that puts you off, then an interaction designer is probably at work unnoticed in the background of that site. Thanks, Brian, for what you do. Wow!Deb's BlogPhoto Credit: Interaction-Design.org

5) Icebreaker Question – I love icebreakers. They are a fun way to get to know a little bit more about the people around the room or in the meeting. This week, I was in a situation where the following question was used to get us started:

When was the last time you did something for the first time? What was it?”

I had to think a minute, but then it came: Soothing my wee granddaughter as if it was all up to me to settle her, even though her mommy was in the next room. [The next time will be much easier.]

What was your most recent “doing something for the first time”? What’s a favorite icebreaker question can you recommend?

Blog - Icebreaker questions - howdoyouplay.netPhoto Credit: Howdoyouplay.net

2015 October - Blog, Fall, Trees, Sadie 069

Love Your Neighbor – Henrico Christmas Mother – How We Can Help

2014 December Christmas Mother (10)

As October winds down every year, stores are transformed into a shopping wonderland with Christmas just weeks away. Toys for children and presents under the tree are part of the wonder of the season. Henrico Christmas Mother is a local non-profit that helps “keep Christmas” in the lives of even the poorest of our neighbors.

Henrico Christmas Mother provides a unique and amazing shopping experience for qualified applicants, to brighten their family’s Christmas. Moms can choose gifts for their children from an enormous array of possibilities…without any cost. Thanks to the incredible generosity of their neighbors.  They also receive boxes of food to help during Christmas break when the children are home more, without the added breakfast and lunch programs available to them at school.

Harriet Long, a retired educator who I don’t think ever truly retired, is this year’s Council President of Henrico Christmas Mother. The Council is made up of past Christmas Mothers and representatives from the 5 Henrico county districts. Mrs. Long was Henrico Christmas Mother in 2013. These volunteers on the Council lead the huge effort made each year to fulfill their mission:

“To provide assistance in the form of food, new clothing, books and toys to qualifying families, adults with disabilities, and the elderly during the holiday season.”

2015 October - Christmas Mother - Ken & Harriet Long 003Harriet Long and her husband and #1 volunteer, Ken

I caught up with Mrs. Long this week to learn more about the year-round operation of Henrico Christmas Mother. As she talked about the community they serve, her eyes brightened. She has, for years, seen the difference made by Henrico Christmas Mother. Thinking that Henrico County had a fairly affluent citizenry, I was surprised at the number in our county in need of help. 40% of students in the Henrico County Public Schools live at or below the poverty line. 20% of Henrico County citizens receive some sort of public assistance.

Through the generous support of Henrico County Government and the Henrico County Public Schools, along with donations from private citizens and corporations, Henrico Christmas Mother serves hundreds of our neighbors.

2014 December Christmas Mother (48)

I saw that “neighbors helping neighbors” motto at work last December when I volunteered alongside many more at the Henrico Christmas Mother Warehouse. Harriet and her husband, Ken, were there as well…actually they are there every day during those two weeks of helping moms and dads shop for their families.  The joy of serving neighbors pulsated through that huge warehouse. All the work of packing food boxes, gathering, sorting, by size and age, and displaying items for ease of the moms being served is done completely by volunteers. It’s a sight to behold!2014 December Christmas Mother (29)

 How can we help our neighbors through Henrico Christmas Mother? There are so many ways, and one way might fit you.

Inviting the Henrico County Christmas Mother to speak at your organization or company, especially during Spring and Summer, would be a great help in getting the word out. Neighbors helping neighbors.

Making donations is the way this non-profit organization has continued to serve since 1942. You make financial contributions through their website or mail a check to Henrico Christmas Mother, PO Box 70338, Henrico, Va. 23255.

If you would like to donate items, you can begin to do that, as the Christmas Mother volunteers do – during the after-Christmas sales. Mrs. Long and the Council will begin to prepare for next year’s Christmas Mother starting right after Christmas. New toys, books, and clothing are bought for all ages of children. From 0 to whatever age the child is still a student in Henrico County Public Schools. Hats, gloves, socks, new children’s books, bikes with helmets, coloring books and crayons are always on the needs list.

Henrico Christmas Mother also serves senior citizens of the county as well as disabled adults – those who qualify financially. There are gift tables for them to shop for themselves – costume jewelry, books (including Bibles and cookbooks), pajamas, hats, scarves, gloves, caps, and socks. This service is unique to Henrico Christmas Mother, and donations of items for these adults are greatly appreciated.

The food boxes that are given on shopping day come from student donations through the Henrico Co. Public Schools. Last year, students donated over 110,000 non-perishable food items. Along with the food boxes, giftcards for meats, fruits, and vegetables are also provided on the shopping day. Just ahead of those two weeks of Christmas Mother, donations of soup, cereal, cookies and crackers, in particular are also solicited. Remember that these children are some of the most vulnerable in the county nutritionally during Christmas.

How does this all work?  The Henrico Christmas Mother Council works year round. In August and September, notices begin going out to families in Henrico about Christmas Mother. One flyer is sent in the water bill. Word also goes out through government-subsidized housing and through Social Services. Posters go up in the schools starting in September.

Applications are taken, at the warehouse, the first four Mondays of October. On that day, if the family qualifies, an appointment is made to return to shop during two weeks in December.

Then the fun really begins. The moms come in on their appointment day and are assisted by a volunteer to maneuver around the massive warehouse. They can choose books and clothes for each of their children. Hats, gloves and socks also are available for all the children. The toy tables are arranged by age. 2 toys/child. The parents choose them from a huge selection gathered by the Christmas Mother Council. Then each child receives stocking stuffers, coloring books and crayons.

Finally, the shoppers receive food boxes based on the number of people in the household – food enough for five meals. Henrico County Government staff then help these moms get all the gifts and food to their cars.

This is Henrico Christmas Mother – neighbors helping neighbors.

 2014 December Christmas Mother (12)2014 December Christmas Mother (1)628_Choosing_Stocking_Stuffers2014 December Christmas Mother (8)

I’m so grateful for the introduction President Harriet Long gave me to this great organization. This Christmas, share the joy of helping your neighbors through volunteering, donating, and inviting the Henrico Christmas Mother to speak at your organization or community event on next year’s calendar.

Henrico Christmas Mother provides a true and tested opportunity for us to show love to our neighbors this Christmas and all through the year. We can make a difference in the lives of these families.

Blog - Love Your Neighbor Christmas Mother - Beverly Cocke 2015

2015 Henrico Christmas Mother

2015 Henrico Christmas Mother, Beverly Cocke    (also the Brookland District’s representative on the Henrico County School Board)
“There is nothing like the joy in knowing that you played a small part in bringing a smile to a stranger’s face and sharing the message of love and hope across Henrico during the holiday season. I am honored and humbled.”

2014 December Christmas Mother (33)

Worship Wednesday – I Am Yours, and You Are Mine – Oceans – Revisited

Blog - Kari Jobe - OceansKari Jobe, singing Oceans

[Adapted from a blog I wrote here.]

Thus says the Lord:  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God…” Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea and a path through the mighty waters.Isaiah 43:1-2, 16

“Fear not” is the most frequent command of God found in His Word. “Fear not” – over 200 times. It’s not that hard to understand how it is He calls us not to fear but to trust Him in our circumstances.

There are times we just can’t see above the waves of our life…maybe it’s not our own storm but the storm others we love are passing through. The critical need to make a decision. The (re-)entrusting of work into the hands of God…or the hands of another. The walking into a future that’s shrouded from our sight… It always has been an unknown, but it seems more so today.

The truest reality is that there is still nothing to fear, really. God is with us. He went before us, preparing for where we are today. He will prepare for our tomorrows. He calls us to keep our eyes on Him.

My husband and his work team are going through such a glorious season (if I may call it that). There is nowhere to look but to Jesus.

It is such a season where God’s call to not fear and have faith stills our heart and steadies our resolve like no other time.

Dave wrote his team this email recently:

“I keep thinking of the account in Matthew 14 of Peter walking to Jesus on the water.  It is pretty amazing that Peter got out of the boat and walked to Jesus.  He actually got all the way across the water to Jesus.  As he was walking on water in the midst of that storm Peter must have been intensely focused on Jesus.  When he got to Jesus, it seems that he momentarily lost focus, turned and looked at everything around him.  At that point, his fear overwhelmed him and he began to sink.  As Peter cried out for help, ‘Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him.’  When Peter’s faith failed, Jesus grabbed him and pulled him back.  In recent days, I have been thinking a lot about that story.  Like Peter, when I am looking at Jesus, I’m good to go.  When I look at what is around me, I become afraid and distracted.  When I call out to Jesus, He rescues me.  So the stresses and challenges make me recognize my dependence on the Lord and push me closer to Him.  For that I can be grateful.  Let’s keep encouraging each other to run well (Hebrews 12:1-2).  I thank God for all of you and for the privilege of running with such great brothers and sisters.”

I was also reminded recently of the Apostle Paul’s letter to his “son” Timothy where he encouraged him to be confident in this:

“It is He who saved us and chose us for His holy work not because we deserved it but because that was His plan long before the world began — to show his love and kindness to us through Christ.” – 2 Timothy 1:9

We are in a time of making hard work decisions. In an organizational downsizing, some will be retiring soon. Many leave a work they love and face a very different future – both which they will  entrust to the God who will show Himself trustworthy. For those staying on the job, these may also see their work change. The phrase, “there will be lots of holes to plug” is something meant to comfort those remaining. It’s more how does anyone “fill the shoes” of those leaving? Those seasoned, revered “old” ones…

Tempted to fear…No, fear not.

I love words…and was delighted when my friend, Alicia, gave me a piece of art she made just for me. It is a line from the song Oceans sung by Kari Jobe. I didn’t know that song until we, together with other close friends, attended a night of worship featuring Jobe.

“When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace.”

Blog - Kari Jobe - Oceans 2

Lord, give us ears to hear You even amidst rolling waves and raging seas. Fill us with Your faithfulness.

Worship with me:

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now


Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior


“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”Jeremiah 29:11-13

Oceans Lyrics – song writers – Matt Crocker, Joel Houston, and Salomon Ligthelm

YouTube Video with Lyrics – Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) – Hillsong United – Lyrics – Zion 2013

YouTube Video with Lyrics – Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) – Hillsong United – with Lyrics – with powerpoint of ocean waves

Let’s Talk Biscuits & Gravy – So Much More Than Just A White Carb Load

 Blog - biscuits and gravy - daisysworld.netPhoto Credit: Daisysworld.net

This morning I am fasting for a doctor’s appointment and blood work later in the day. As I sip strong coffee without my lovely hazelnut creamer, biscuits and gravy keep coming to mind. They get such a bad rap these days, filled with all that white flour and fat goodness. I don’t understand why they are so bad, when the same fit and lean lovelies in my life (who refuse to eat these white carbs) seem less bothered with sugar-laden yummies…but that’s for another blog.

Growing up in the South, biscuits and gravy bring all sorts of sweet memories to mind. My beautiful mom always worked long hours outside the home through the week. Weekends were filled with catching up with housework, church, and us. Still, she would cook the loveliest breakfasts for us, and, in particular, the best biscuits and gravy. She mixed the dough by hand. In fact, she had a wooden bowl where the flour stayed between fixings. [Sidebar – I never knew what happened to that bowl. At some point she changed to a plastic one with a lid; easier to store the flour between times, for sure.],

She hollowed out a valley of self-rising flour in that flour bowl and mixed buttermilk and shortening into it. Gradually with those expert hands of hers, turning and turning, those 3 ingredients became biscuit dough. Then she hand-formed and patted those biscuits into little flattened rounds of loveliness. A few minutes in a hot oven, and magic happened.

Blog - Mom Memaw and ChristieBlog - Biscuit making with Memaw Mom[My little one learning to make biscuits from the master.]

While the biscuits baked, Mom made the milk gravy in a cast iron skillet. Sometimes, it was just a mash of flour and shortening (a roux, right?), with milk poured on top…slowly cooked to thickened perfection. Sometimes, sausage was gloriously added. Lots of pepper and just enough salt.

Mom’s biscuits weren’t the tall fluffy kind. They were more flat and chewy (with that sour bite of buttermilk). No matter how many she made, on a weekend with all of us around the table, there was always a grab for the last one. We ate the biscuits opened with gravy poured on. Mom liked a tomato diced on top of hers, and I took after her in that.

In all my life of cooking, my biscuits are never as good as hers. I do miss the days when, even as inferior as mine were, we sat around the weekend breakfast table with our teenagers, making our own biscuit and gravy traditions. These days, with the world so health-conscious, we don’t do this sort of breakfasting as much anymore…but the memories are, in themselves, satisfying.

Still…after my doctor’s visit, I wish I could make it to Hardee’s before they finish their breakfast service. Best biscuits and gravy option I have…since Mom’s with the Lord now…but hers were the very best.

Finally, one quick story….When we were living in Tunisia, North Africa, we had great British friends also living in our neighborhood. We enjoyed many servings of tea and cake around their table. One weekend morning, I invited them for an American breakfast of biscuits and gravy. First, “biscuits” in British terminology are cookies. Gravy is also brown and served over meat with dinner not at breakfast. So the idea of a meat gravy served over sweet cookies, for breakfast, turned out not yummy-sounding to our friends.

They were sweetly polite…but just didn’t understand that combination. Even upon tasting, the husband commented how it was an odd thing to do with scones. Live and learn.

 What’s your favorite breakfast? If not at home, where? Back to fasting for me…for now.

The Move to America – British Expat Trying Biscuits & Gravy

US vs. UK – Scones or Biscuits

Best Biscuits in Nashville – We had those biscuits at Monell’s. Yum!

Paula Deen’s Recipe for Country Fried Steak with Biscuits and Gravy

Building a Healthy Work Culture – in a Season of Change, Uncertainty, and Dips in Morale

Blog - Culture of FunPhoto Credit: Grasshopper.com

What are you celebrating at work these days? Hopefully you didn’t have to think really hard. Just having a job is something to celebrate, for sure. Beyond that, hopefully you have work that gets you up in the morning with a sense of purpose and a gladness of heart for your work community.

What if that’s not the case this morning? Any number of things can cause our workplace to become more stressful than healthful – a disappointing outcome in our research, a conflict over division of labor, a company merger or buy-out, a downsizing. I am awkwardly  list such things because none may touch on your situation. What is your work situation and your current work culture?

Whatever it is, working over a protracted period of time with low morale makes for a difficult work situation. We want to do whatever we can to turn that around. Not just for the sake of the organization and the goals of same, but for the sake of the personnel. The wellbeing of employees is the biggest factor in the long-term productivity of organizations. Yet, how do we wrap our collective leadership minds around such a thing as morale and engagement?

The key is work culture – and fostering a healthy work culture with as much energy and thought as we do our product line or customer service.

I was reading about work culture, especially related to a season of spiraling morale, and came across a pdf introduction of the book How to Build a Thriving Culture at Work by Rosie Ward and Jon Robison.

Not having read beyond the introduction of the book, I can’t give a full recommendation yet. However, the first few pages have already resonated with me about what is at play related to morale, or well-being, and what could be possible to restore it. Here are some quotes from Ward & Robison’s Introduction:

“Despite overwhelming evidence of a powerful link between effective leadership styles, positive work cultures and higher levels of organizational performance, many companies still operate with a top down, authoritarian management style, do not measure or intentionally create their desired culture, and do not effectively develop current and future leaders to maximize employee engagement and wellbeing.”

The authors go on to say that even in work situation where the leadership style is more employee-centered, the idea of work culture may not be well-understood or operationalized.

“Culture is the differentiating factor between high-performing and low-performing companies; however, most companies have not identified, articulated, measured or intentionally created their desired culture.”

The dilemma of employee morale may actually extend to the leadership team itself.

“The majority of executive leadership teams are not operating in a truly cohesive manner, and many leaders themselves are at a point of burnout.”

“Edgar Schein, PhD, leading researcher on corporate culture, describes culture as ‘the hidden force that drives most of our behavior both inside and outside organizations’. It’s like looking at a river. All of the things you see on the surface, from the flow of the water to the shape of the riverbed, are manifestations of an ever-changing, powerful current beneath the surface. In terms of culture, the current that ultimately guides the strength and direction of the organization includes the unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts and feelings of employees. The interaction between leaders and culture is profound and critical when considering how to transform or evolve the overall culture and subcultures within an organization.

“Patrick Lencioni writes that, to be successful, an organization must focus on two basic qualities: It must be smart, and it must be healthy. According to Lencioni, a ‘smart organization’ is one that excels in the classic fundamentals of business — i.e., strategy, operations, finance, marketing and technology. A “healthy organization” is one in which there are minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity and low turnover. While being smart is only half of the equation, for most organizations, it occupies almost all of the time, energy and attention of leaders. Yet, according to Lencioni: ‘Once organizational health is properly understood and placed into the right context it will surpass all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage. Really.‘”

Blog - How to Build a Thriving Culture at Work

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

How to Build a Thriving Culture at Work, Featuring the 7 Points of Transformation by Rosie Ward and Jon Robison

Work culture and employee well-being are not addressed by just another wellness program. Organizational ethos and values must incorporate both philosophy and programming to build morale, trust, and engagement of employees. Especially if the organization has been through a protracted season of change and uncertainty.

The good news is that possibilities abound. Workplace development literature is rich with approaches and frameworks that you will find helpful in attacking your own set of challenges. One such article is Workplace Culture is Everything: 20 Ideas For Building a Thriving Team – Great links to 20 articles on Workplace Culture. [I apologize, since I’m citing this resource, for the “coded” profane word in the title of one article. Good read otherwise].

Another book I re-discovered in reading about morale this weekend is Daniel Pink’s Drive. When a company is in the middle of a reorganization or restructuring, employee wellbeing (engagement, performance, satisfaction) can get lost in the sheer workload of the executive leadership team. This is when Human Resources, Membercare, or the Employee Medical Program can offer their own recommendations as to how to rebuild the work culture from the personnel side.

Are you in such a season? What have you done in this area? What has been helpful? I would love to hear about how your organization has dealt with employee morale and engagement during seasons of transition.

Blog - Healthy Culture - Motivation - Slideshare.netPhoto Credit: Slideshare.net

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

11 Ways to Create a Thriving Workplace

How to Create and Maintain a Workplace Culture That Will Make Your Company Thrive

5 Friday Faves – Christmas Music, Geese in Flight, Restaurant Salad, a Bookstore, Procrastination in Writing

Blog - Friday Faves

At a conference and am running late so this will be a super quick run-through of five of my favorites of this week. Happy Friday!

  1. Christmas Music – We start listening to Christmas music in October. There are so many songs that take us right to the throne-room of God Himself. This one by the King’s College Choir is so exquisitely beautiful. Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium (“O Great Mystery”). Enjoy –

2) Geese in Flight – In the Fall, seeing Canadian geese (and sometimes even snow geese) flying in formation gives me so much joy. My husband’s family lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland/Delaware, and the migratory return of geese northward is a common and extraordinary sight.  Greg Richardson wrote a piece this week on spiritual life and geese in flight. He reminded me of a long-favorite short essay – 7 Lessons from Geese.

Blog - Geese - Leadershiponpurpose.orgPhoto Credit: leadershiponpurpose.org

3) Restaurant SaladO’Charley’s – where kids eat free – or at least they did when our kids were little. My absolute favorite salad is their Southern Pecan Chicken Salad (so much crunch and chew with fried chicken, dried cranberries, pecans, and Mandarin oranges. Also just the best Balsamic vinaigrette. Dave prefers O’Charley’s California Grilled Chicken Salad – similar array of textures and sweet and sours, but healthier. Not distracting me from my favorite. [Our friend didn’t even order the salad; the Fish & Chips is also yummy!]Blog - OCharleysBlog - OCharleys - foodspotting.comPhoto Credit: Foodspotting.com

4) Bookstore – I’ve actually never been to this bookstore but the video below captured my book-lover heart. It’s a part of the Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania. I saw the video as part of watching the livestream of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation conference last week. If you love books and best practices, watch the video. Your heart will sing.

4) Procrastination in Writing – I knew I had this conference this week and could have already written the pieces for this week beforehand – even Friday Faves could have been of a different week’s “faves”. But, no! Procrastination is a struggle for me. So many choices, so many other things easier to be distracted by than focusing on writing. Jerry Bridges, a successful and prolific author, writes sympathetically and encouragingly about procrastination – something he has also struggled with. Such a helpful article. If I hadn’t procrastinated, I would list out some of his helps…but instead I leave you with a graphic from an altogether different article. Sigh…

Photo Credit: Tom Gauld, Gointothestory.blcklst.com

What are some of your faves of this week? Hope your weekend is full of making more.

Creativity, Inc. – Ed Catmull’s Story of Pixar, Working with Creatives, & Steve Jobs

untitledIMG_0223Photo Credit: Amazon.com (l) & Deb Mills (r)

Dave, the husband in my story, has always pointed me in the direction of transformative books and learning experiences. That path converged with this year’s Global Leadership Summit and Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc.

Bill Hybels interviewed Ed Catmull about his role in co-founding Pixar Animation Studios and pioneering the field of computer animation. Now President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, he has an extraordinary story to tell of leading creatives in innovative film-making. Mr. Catmull’s wisdom and humility can be well-applied in any workplace situation.Blog - GLobal Leadership Summit - Ed Catmull by brainpickings.orgPhoto Credit: brainpickings.org

“Science and art are not incongruous. Art isn’t about drawing; it’s about learning to see. Which business or professions do you not want to have enhanced ability to see?”

During this interview at GLS15, he talked about the business processes he uses in film-making. We can relate this level and quality of  accountability in any organization or company:

  1. Teams working together (using a Brain Trust – a group of colleagues all acting as peers, with vested interest, giving feedback;
  2. When failures happen in production – embracing [failure] but at the same time dealing with it with both total candor and kindness; and
  3. Operating within constraints (a budget) – actually pushes creativity higher and delivers better outcomes.

“Stories influence the world. We want to use story-telling for good.”

Listening to Ed Catmull talk about leading at Pixar and Disney whetted our appetites to read his book Creativity, Inc.

Originally, Mr. Catmull worked in the computer graphics department of Lucasfilm, in the beginning years of computer animation. In his book, he tells about his incredible journey in those early years right through to today. It was a wildly bumpy road at first and the work was almost sidelined had it not been for Steve Jobs buying Pixar from Lucasfilm.

Toward the end of the book, Catmull writes about Steve Jobs. They worked together for over 25 years, and the Jobs he knew was a much more complex and lovely man than who we knew through other media. A tribute full of “candor and kindness” – as much about how Ed Catmull sees people as about the amazing leader that was Steve Jobs.

Whatever your work, you want to read this book. Catmull describes how he modeled openness, confidence in, and care for his employees. There are trust builders and wide gates for innovation woven into Pixar’s business processes. Whatever our sphere of influence is, we can all learn to be more effective leaders as we think through how Catmull leads.

At the end of Creativity, Inc., there are 5 pages of bulleted principles that Mr. Catmull encourages as starting points for critical thinking. Here are just a few:

  • If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.
  • It’s isn’t enough merely to be open to ideas from others. Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.
  • There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.
  • If there is more truth in the hallways than in meetings, you have a problem.
  • Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capability to recover when unexpected events occur. If you don’t always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.

Creativity, Inc. is not just a book for whom we now consider “creatives”. It’s a book for any of us who want to employ and empower people to grow personally and in community and to produce in ways that yield great products/services.

We all have stories that can influence the world for good…if we grow a work culture where those stories matter and can be freely explored.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

Global Leadership Summit – 7 Take-Aways from Day One of #GLS15

YouTube Video – Steve Jobs Remembered by Larry Ellison and Pixar’s Ed Catmull

YouTube Video – Ed Catmull: Keep Your Crises Small

Worship Wednesday – Shoulders – for King & Country

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From the Archives – Don’t miss their Priceless/WinterJam tour Fall 2015I also wrote about For King & Country’s songs here and here.

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills–From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” – Psalm 121

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:28-29

There are wonderful and terrible things in this life I do not understand. The cycles of seasons. The next breath. The birth of a baby. The death of a young mother. A world crumbling under the weight of its own sin. At the same time, a world still sustaining life in exquisite beauty in the face of centuries of war. How is all this possible?

We are carried. By a God who loves us, comes alongside us, and lifts us up out of the muck and mire of our troubles. He shoulders our burdens. I am daily grateful to Him for that, because my shoulders are too small and weak for the task. Even when I don’t see God in a situation, I know, by faith and by experience, that He is present. How would we bear the wonders without Someone to praise for them? How would we bear the wrongs of this world without knowing, deep in our hearts, that He carries us?

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Some of you go forth to your daily labors and you find the place of your service to be a real wilderness, full of trial and everything that is unpleasant to you. Yet look again, with eyes touched with Heaven’s eye-salve and, instead of seeing the bitter poverty, and the grinding toil, and the daily trial, you will begin to see that God is in it all and, “underneath are the everlasting arms!” You shall go cheerfully home to Heaven, borne up by God. He who made you will carry you! He who loves you will bear you all the days of old till you shall come unto the Mountain of God and stand in your lot at the end of the days!”*

Luke and Joel Smallbone, of the group for King & Country, write so honestly about the Shoulders of God. The writing comes out of their personal experience of both a life-threatening illness and the birth of a child. Watch their video linked below which visually tells stories some of which we have also experienced. Thankful for these guys who help me to worship God as He is. Strong and true.

Worship with me:

When confusion’s my companion
And despair holds me for ransom
I will feel no fear
I know that You are near
When I’m caught deep in the valley
With chaos for my company
I’ll find my comfort here
‘Cause I know that You are near

My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders
Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders
Your shoulders

You mend what once was shattered
And You turn my tears to laughter
Your forgiveness is my fortress
Oh Your mercy is relentless

My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ‘cause I know, ‘cause I know it’s true.**

Blog - Shoulders - for King & Country

*The Everlasting Arms by Charles Spurgeon

YouTube Video (Lyrics) – Shoulders – for King & Country

YouTube Video – Shoulders – for King & Country – Official Video

YouTube Video – Shoulders Live on K-Love with For King & Country

See It First: Go Behind the Scenes of For King & Country’s Powerful Video, ‘Shoulders

**K-Love – Lyrics to Shoulders by songwriters Luke Smallbone, Joel Smallbone, Ben Glover, Tedd Tjornhom

Story Behind the Song – Shoulders – NewReleaseTuesday.com Interview with Luke Smallbone

For Hope: Luke Smallbone Finds Grace in the Darkness

Bio Page – for King & Country

Rebecca St. James – singer, songwriter, author, and sister to Joel and Luke Small bone

Photo Credits: YouTube and www.forkingandcountry.ccom website

What Makes for a Life-long Friendship? A Snapshot of Such a One

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A friend loves at all times.Proverbs 17:17

Kathy was in nursing school when we first met. She was on a clinical rotation to the cancer unit where I was the oncology clinical nursing specialist.  Bright, hard-working, kind and wise beyond her years.

We met again some time later when she was finishing nursing school and sorting out her future. She was thinking about obstetrical nursing, loving the idea of all those babies. I saw in her the hardiness and indomitable spirit of a cancer nurse, and asked her to at least consider that course for her professional life.

She did…and I will forever be grateful.

We ended up moving overseas after just a few short years of working together. In those years, a friendship was forged that has stayed strong across time and great distance. I credit it all to her.

I’m not sure how great a friend I am, but God has blessed me with incredible friends. For almost 30 years now, Kathy has hung in there with me…without benefit of much return.

Her birthday is coming up and I just want to make note of what makes for a close and life-long friend – in her loving and mentoring me. [She will say I mentored her…but in friendship, it is she, mentoring me].

Such a friend:

  1. Shares a passion for the possible, if you’re in the mix. Kathy and I collaborated on a patient and family support initiative of our cancer center. In those early days I had the ideas, and she worked out the details. We had a third friend, Kay, who (given her position, wisdom, and spunk) cleared the path through administration for our great dreams…but that’s a story for another day. Kathy was the “hands and feet” to my dreams, and that initiative still continues even more far-reaching under her influence.

Blog - Kathy & Deb 2Blog - Kathy & Debbie

2. Loves your “littles”. Kathy was from the beginning, and to this day, in the lives of our children. She celebrated their births (or homecoming with our adopted third) and their birthdays, their graduations, weddings, and now children of their own. Kathy is a celebrator of life and makes a “ticker-tape parade” for those she loves…and there is a great community of us…because of her.Blog - Kathy & CBlog - KathyBlog - Kathy 2

3. Makes an honored place for you in her family.  I have a room in her house. Oh, it’s not mine, and it’s possible, it’s become a game room with her own children growing up. Still, I know I have a place in the mix of her family. We’ve had coffee together on her deck, and food around a fire pit, and late-night or early morning talks wherever in the house we find ourselves. She has always invited me in to know her family, and they treat me as always welcome.Blog - Kathy & MikeBlog - Kathy & family

4. Sees beauty all around her and creates it as well. Despite (or maybe because of) her hard professional life, she has a great sense of all the beauty that surrounds us. She tends flowers and sets a bountiful table (with that great cook of a husband, Mike). She notices the redeemable in a situation, and she exercises  unshakable hope. She has both the wonder of a child and the faith of an old one. she struggles like all of us, but her actions seem measured; tempered by something greater. She lavishes grace on her people…which I need from her and of which she’s generous toward me.Blog - Jasmine - Kathy VisneskiBlog - Kathy Visneski's pic of farmer's market shopping & Wonder Bread - foodie

5. Grieves bravely and bravely enters your grief. Grief can be so awkward. How does one go well through losing someone you thought you could never live without? Kathy has done that, professionally for years, with patients and family for whom she became family. Then when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, this friend turned all her force of love on us. She called me and my mom, encouraging and counseling with us both through the chemotherapy, and the failure of it.

We have talked for over a decade since Mom’s Homegoing about her – Kathy, asking questions for me to talk about her, and listening over again to the memories that comfort me. Then when her own darling parents became ill and died within months of each other, I tried to be there for Kathy (from hundreds of miles away). Yet, I wasn’t the friend I wished to be. That grace to walk through those days seemed to come from God Himself – wrapping His arms around a daughter who served others well, and now He served her in her own grief.Blog - Kathy's parents

Though I’m not the friend I hope to be…Kathy is that friend. I could have written this blog about many others who have extended great grace to fortunate ones like me. Great, great friends. Today, on this occasion, nearing another birthday, I just wanted to say thanks to this friend who teaches me how to be a better one…and if that day never happens, still is such a friend, because it is her nature to be so. Thanks, Kathy. Happy Birthday.Blog - Kathy & me

Do you have friends you celebrate over a lifetime? I would love to hear about them (in comments below).

Survive and Thrive Cancer Support GroupSunset in East Tennessee - Kathy VisneskiSunrise off Kathy’s deck.