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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The apple of your eye...

I am a people watcher. I enjoy trying to figure people out, what they're thinking, what makes them do what they do. Maybe that is why I enjoy leadership philosophy and praxis so much. I get ramped up over working with people, trying to get a diverse group of people all moving in the same direction without killing each other, and helping people discover and develop their individual leadership traits and personality quirks.

However, lately I have been consumed with why I do what I do? Where did my leadership thinking and subsequent praxis come from? Who forged my understanding in those formative years?

Reflecting back over my childhood, the good and the bad, has caused me to consider who I am. I am the son of an alcoholic, distant father. In fact, I can honestly only remember one instance of my dad playing catch with me. I learned to do the things boys do from playing with my neighborhood friends. I do have two older brothers, 16 and 19 years older respectively. But by the time I had reached elementary school age my oldest brother had a family of his own and my middle brother was married and beginning his journey into adulthood. Progressively throughout my early childhood my father's drinking got worse and his distance increased. Don't get me wrong, he was not physically abusive toward me or my mother, he attended every football game and wrestling match, and provided well for his family. However, he was just a lost and lonely man who didn't know what to do with his life or this son who came along late. Maybe he was always that way, even with my brothers, but that is the topic of another conversation.

Somewhere along the way my middle brother became a key figure in my life. After battling through his own struggles he not only became involved in full time ministry but he took on the added pressure of his little brother. My hunch is that our mother thrust me upon him and his wife. Whatever the reason, his influence greatly shaped who I became in many ways. Looking back it was an unfair responsibility he accepted, but for his acceptance I am eternally grateful. He taught me much of what a father would normally pass on to his son, gave me a foundational understanding of God, and somewhere along the way the courage to challenge that understanding. Much of my understanding of leadership thinking and praix comes from my time with my brother and watching him. And like my understanding of God and how God is lived out in my life how leadership is lived out in my life.

However as I got older and moved away to college that relationship, like that with our father, became more and more distant. I jokingly tell my wife that I get together with my brothers once every seven years whether we need to or not. A sad commentary on our family I'm afraid. But through the magic of Facebook I am connecting with my two nieces who I never really had the opportunity to know very well. Maybe we can change family trends? At least I am hopeful.

All this reflection has caused me to consider again who I am and why I do what I do. Most of us hate to admit that we are like our parents, but in many ways I am my father (much like my mother too but we'll leave that alone for a while, one parent at a time is enough). As my father was distant from me so I find myself distant from others while at the same time craving that which I am distant from. That is a tough dichotomy to live within but one in which I think many of us do. I so much longed to have a relationship with my father, then that desire turned to my brother. But because of something deep within my psyche both of those relationships became increasingly more distant. So now in my 40's I find myself looking for something that reconnects me to those relationships.

It finally dawned on me last night in an ah-ha moment that my love for motorcycles stems from my desire to connect with my father (honey, this is not an excuse to justify my most recent motorcycle purchase). Now my brother is a motorcycle enthusiast as well and maybe his love comes from the same inner desire as mine, but in reflecting back over my childhood, the motorcycle was one of the earliest and strongest bonds I had with my father. We moved from the city to the suburbs when I was in the third grade and it was shortly thereafter that my father showed up with my first motorcycle, a little fat tired mini-bike. Then followed a snowmobile (same connection as a motorcycle). In fact, over the years I have had 9 motorcycles all with the same unidentified (until last night) underlying desire, to connect with my distant father. I can see now that as his son I just wanted to be noticed and for him to spend time with me. The motorcycle is that connection for me. You see, when I first started to ride that mini-bike in our great big yard and the vacant lot next to us my dad was always out there watching me. When I drove that new mini-bike into our neighbors garage and tore off the entire front end, and subsequently broke my shoulder blade it was my dad who came running to my aid. It was my dad that had it repaired, even though I said I would never ride it again. And it was my dad that put me back on it and watched as I rode off into the world. No wonder the motorcycle is my connection to my dad. That is when I truly remember being the apple of his eye like like that referenced in Psalm 17:8, "keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings."

My people watching and leadership has been impacted by this revelation. Understanding myself helps me to understand who I am and why I do what I do. But it also helps me understand who others are and why they do what they do. Is there a motorcycle in their past that connects them to a lost relationship? More importantly, what is it that connects me to my daughters? Am I allowing past trends to distance me from them as they get older? This Christmas I am making a list of the things they enjoy doing with dad and for 2009 that list is going to determine how I spend my time with them. I don't want them to look back when they're in their 40's trying to figure out some kind of connection to their father. I want them to know that they are all "the apples of my eye."

What about you this Christmas. What has influenced you? Are you longing to be noticed? To be "the apple of your father's eye?" Let me remind you of a wonderful truth this Christmas, you are "the apple of God's eye." He notices everything you do, loves you, and is so proud of who you are as His child. But I also thinks He wants you to take that same love to another. Make your family, your children, "the apple of your eye." Make a list of what they like to do with you and use it as your daily guide in spending time with them.

Just something to think about...

Merry Christmas,


Monday, December 8, 2008

Give a Gift to Jesus by Giving a Gift to Others this Christmas

I've been thinking a lot about leadership and involvement and how they are lived out at Christmas. We are in that precarious time of year when the "haves" and the "have-not's" become more and more distinct. Now, I have to admit that my family and just about everyone I know falls into the "haves" category. We are truly blessed as a family and I hope we do not take that for granted. God is better to my family than we really deserve.

However, I still find myself thinking of how I would like this or that, how great it would be if I could get that "special something" for Rochelle, or how much I would love to get that new phone for my daughters or this or that for others. In fact, I honestly spend a whole lot more time concerned about what I cannot give to my family rather than what I am giving. Truth of the matter is I really don't need anything and, sorry girls, my family really doesn't lack for anything either. We are blessed beyond measure and the gifts I am giving are very nice.

But then I am confronted with that large Christmas tree in our church foyer that has names of families from our own church who will not have any kind of Christmas without my help and the help of others... you know, us "haves." They really are the "have-not's." Their concern is not what they cannot give out of all the multitude of the things they are giving, their concern is feeding their families and keeping the electricity on for one more month.

Yeah, we've taken a few names from the tree. The least we can do, right? And even yesterday Emily pulled another name of a little boy who only wanted a toy monkey for Christmas (that kind of hit me because our dog has two toy monkeys as toys himself). So, we'll buy for these families and give our obligatory gifts and that will end our level of involvement in their lives. How sad a commentary on me and my level of Christianity and leadership. Jesus said that as we do unto the least of these we do unto Him. I kind of think that if I was buying a gift for Jesus I might also want to get more involved in His life, don't you? Truth is though, according to His own words in Scripture, I am buying gifts for Him by buying gifts for the least of these. Buying gifts for my friends and family is not buying gifts for Jesus, they are not the least of these and neither am I this Christmas. But buying for families who might otherwise not receive anything this year, let alone even have electricity truly is buying for Jesus.

On December 21st our church is delivering these gifts. I have to admit stuff like this makes me uncomfortable as a "have." Not the buying of the gift, but the delivering of the gift. Am I somehow afraid of the "have-not's?" I don't know their circumstances but yet my own humanness puts up walls that my Christianity must tear down. I may be a "have" this year in the material sense, but it was not that long ago in God's time frame that I was more of a "have- not" than anyone I'll buy a gift for this year. I was spiritually lost and had nothing until I accepted God's gift in Christ. God is definitely a "have" and we are "have-not's." Yet He continues to reach out to the "have-not's" offering His Son as the greatest gift ever given. And once the gift is received He continues to stay involved in our lives. I think this year I want to be more like God. I am not only giving the gift but I want to help deliver the gifts to these families on the 21st. I want to find a way, even if for a brief period of time, to become involved in their lives.

Think about it for a minute, how much more meaningful would the gift be if it was accompanied by our involvement in their lives? On the same line of thought, how much would God's gift really mean to us if He never got involved in our lives? The value of Christ would still be the same, but I somehow think that in our materialistic American mindset it would not mean near as much. Is that too much for us to admit this holiday season?

God's gift of Salvation includes His gift of new life and His presence in us. What an example for us to follow as we give gifts this year, both to the other "haves" in our lives as well as to the "have- not's."

Just thinking out loud...

Lead Strong,