Thursday, November 24, 2011

A simple thought on self respect.

Most men have the experience of looking in the eye of a man holding a sharp object to his jugular every morning.   When in this situation, it's good to know that the guy looking back  respects you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Life is the Test

In the spring of 2011, after 30 years of involvement in the martial arts with time off to deal with my other lives (job transfers, huge projects at work, marriage, child birth, divorce. new marriage, blending families) I finally was ready to test for my Fourth Degree Black Belt which would qualify me as a Tae Kwon Do Master. I had planned to test in both June and then December of 2010 but had yet another major project intervene. My wife Lucia was 100% committed to helping me pass, a wife so supportive I could never have asked for. I worked with Lucia to plan our summer around the test and we made plans for a family reunion in Ft. Lauderdale after the test. We scheduled the time off of work and made sure her siblings did too, we made air travel reservations for those living too far away to drive, we had it all set. Then the date of the test was changed to the weekend after our return instead of the weekend before, leaving me with what could be a big hole in my training. I could have opted to put the test off for another 6 months and Lucia even asked, while holding her breath I'm sure, if I wanted to skip the reunion. I prayed about this, asking God to show me the path through and found that the best thing was to simply go with the flow and weave the different threads into a more holistic approach to reality. Instead of altering any of the plans I worked with Master Seo to find a place I could train in Ft. Lauderdale, but knew that even that would put a dent in the festivities since it was a 30 minute drive away from the house and our schedule was packed. In the end I found that I could work the weapons training in my sister-in-law Maria's back yard and practice everything else in the city park near her house (where there was a basketball court to provide a good flat surface but where the weapons would be illegal). I managed this in the South Florida heat every day we were there and as I walked back on one of the last days I was feeling good about having interwoven the different parts of my life. I had managed to keep God in first place, please my employer, keep my family commitments and still prepare for one of the more significant events in my life. As I was thanking God for helping me arrive at this point I heard the message, the promotional test was not the issue, the real test was my life itself. I am still learning to balance and prioritize my life just as I am still learning as a martial artist. I passed the promotional test and am now considered a Tae Kwon Do Master. I think I passed the life test, this time at least, as well. In my heart I know I still have a long way to go in both disciplines but I have great mentors to help me on the path, the Mentor in Chief being God the Father.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

My strength versus His Strength

One of my greatest failings in life has been a persistent belief that I can do anything if I just try hard enough. Sounds simple and innocuous enough but it has proven a consistent chink in my armor and one that Satan has used to rob me of much joy and success. You see if it is true that I can do anything if I just try hard enough then anything that goes wrong in my life must be due to my not trying hard enough. Now sometimes this is true enough, I have my slacker days like most of the rest of us but life is a team sport, believing that it's all on you, or in this case all on me, can lead down a dark path. It has lead me to do jobs that members of my team or family could have done and grown from because I felt like it was my responsibility. Not because I doubted the talents or abilities of the people I led but because I felt like it was my job to shelter them from the storm and in so doing I unintentionally limited their growth. This belief is also un-Biblical, it suggests that if I try hard enough I just might be good enough to get into heaven on my own, the reality is that all of us are products of the fall and in total dependence on Jesus for salvation. Now before this goes too far let me say that we all need to work hard, as an obvious example I'll site Matthew 25:14-30. But we must never forget to seek God's guidance, assistance and will in our lives, it might just be in line with our own, if not we need to get our will in line with His. Here's an example from my life (I'd say I was changing the names to protect the innocent but none of us are so I'll just change them and leave it at that):

My career had taken a number of interesting twists and turns and I was largely successful, in my mind this was because I was trying hard enough. At times though I was troubled by people I saw around me not doing as well while trying just as hard, maybe harder. Clearly if only effort were needed it would be obvious to the naked eye.Some time ago my comfortable career took a difficult turn, I had been working for a man I'll call Jeff. Jeff understood and inspired me, he was the greatest boss I had ever had. Our company went through a re-organization and he was promoted. I was moved into what should have been a comfortable leadership role but I found my new manager's style of leadership frustrated me somewhat. We worked through this together and I learned from the partnership. I could have done better in this role had I been a better communicator, but that is material for a future entry. At the same time this happened the people who managed the office space relocated my desk from a nice window seat to a surprisingly inconvenient location next to the printer and fax machine directly outside of a noisy break room with a squeaky door, I heard every conversation (hushed and otherwise), every vending machine thud, every microwave beep and every dish clanked in the sink. My new manager tried address the space issue but my feeling was that, with limited options it was better for me to remain where I was than to move one of the team to that space. I really missed my old situation and wanted to move on from where I was.

I found that Jeff had an opening which I applied for. It seemed clear to all that I was a fit for this promotion, I interviewed and the path seemed clear but at the last minute we learned that the job required a four year degree with no exception for work experience (which I had plenty of). I had started working for this company to earn more money to finish college but our growth was so fast and my work effort so well rewarded that I had decided to settle for my Associate of Arts Degree and my ability to work hard enough. This was the first time in my adult working life when it was made clear to me that hard enough was not good enough at work either, past life experience had earlier made clear that trying hard enough is not good enough in relationships. After appealing up the corporate ladder and evaluating my options for finishing my degree it became apparent that the job would go to someone else and it did.

And so I got a new boss I'll call Sam. Sam's leadership style fit me better but I wanted to be validated with something more than I had. Sam and I worked on getting some other promotion under my belt. When a manager role opened up on a team I had worked on a few years earlier some of my old team mates recruited me for the job. I applied and, just as before, it seemed to me that I was a shoe in. Then I learned that someone else had been named for the position and I had been passed over again. I was despondent but had kids to feed and a decent income so I resolved to just work to put food on the table, do the best I could and not worry about it.

Some time later I had an opportunity to share some critical information with one of the senior leaders of the company, we'll call him Tom. Tom was suitably impressed and I offered to come by his office to discuss it further. Tom took me up on this and that chat led to an opportunity to show my stuff in front of a number of senior leaders while car pooling to a remote site for an inspection and I felt that perhaps my time had come after all so the next day I got up early and got the kids on the school bus (I was a single dad at the time) then set about getting ready for my big opportunity. Then I did something I never do, I got into a clothing hassle with myself, these slacks are to fancy, this shirt too old, that one too pretentious, etc. Then I looked up and realized that I had made myself late and missed the car pool. I called Tom and told him that I'd meet him at the remote site and cursed myself on the hour long drive across town. When I arrived I found that all of the senior leaders I wanted to impress had not shown up at all. We did our inspection, I got all of 2 minutes worth of face time with Tom, and I drove the hour back across town in a blue funk.

When I got back to the office I parked the car and thought about things for a minute and realized I had left out one critical element in all of my career planning and execution. I had left out God! I pondered this some more and realized that I had been relying on my own strength and not His. I had not prayed for guidance, for discernment, for wisdom, for help or even for good luck. Some years earlier I had promised not to dishonour God like this when I realized that doing things in my own strength had been a contributor to the failure of my marriage and here I'd done it again. I prayed a little and then I prayed a lot, I asked God to forgive me for leaving Him out again and the betrayal of it all hit me full in the face, I had broken yet another promise to seek His guidance and follow His lead and I was reaping the consequences. I told God I was putting my career in His hands and was just not going to worry about it any more, if He wanted me promoted then He could make it happen, if not all I asked for was to be able to feed my kids. With my perspective back on straight I headed back to my desk.

A few minutes later Jeff came by my desk and did his "I know something you don't know" dance (hard to picture without seeing it but it involves stroking his beard as he rocks on his heals...). After a minute I looked up and asked what was up, it was either that or let him rock there waiting for me to take the bait. Jeff explained that he had been on his way to buy a soft drink from a vending machine down stairs with his credit card so he could maintain the mandatory two purchases a month required to keep his low interest rate when he suddenly came to the conclusion that he should just buy one from Tom's assistant Sally (she keeps a supply in a dorm fridge under her desk for Tom). While Jeff was shooting the breeze with Sally, Tom heard his voice and called him in to discuss the inspection. My name came up and Tom was fairly complimentary. Jeff mentioned that he had been trying to get me promoted for some time but wasn't having any luck. At this point Jeff said that Tom essentially froze and looked up and too the side for about 15 seconds, then snapped back and told Jeff to go get the paperwork filled out for my promotion, as far as Jeff and I know there wasn't even a position open for me at the time. I was blown away and told Jeff about how the day had gone and my prayer of submission. When we did the math we figured there was about 15 minutes between my prayer and my promotion. Three years of effort wasn't good enough until I acknowledged His sovereignty and sought His will. Now let's do some different math:
  1. Two missed promotions that most people I consulted expected to go to me.
  2. A temptation to hope again which I met with my same old "stand on my own two feet approach".
  3. An episode of uncharacteristic fashion consciousness on my part (anyone who has known me for long will attest to my lack of fashion conciousness).
  4. Multiple leaders who had accepted an invitation to an event all having last minute conflicts.
  5. A prayer of submission.
  6. An innocuous change of plans in Jeff's regular routine putting him outside of Tom's office just over an hour after the inspection and just minutes after my prayer.
I just don't see that much room for coincidence there. Now none of this is to say that if I just pray I'll get the genie in the bottle routine from God, as I said He may have other plans and life will go better if I line mine up with His. I'm also not suggesting that this was all about God wanting me to have a promotion if I just asked nicely. What I am saying is that He is in charge and can use whatever life events are out there to teach us this. He wants us to live in relationship with Him, in constant conversation with him, to pray without ceasing. He'll start with a whisper and may get a little louder if we're not paying attention. He wants us to seek his advice and guidance. He wants to use us for the betterment of His kingdom. A kingdom which is not coming at some time in the future, but exists whenever and wherever God has his way. We need to be ready to listen when he talks whether it's about careers, relationships, big issues or seemingly small ones.

I still work on this challenge of His strength versus my strength in my life and am getting better but I am clearly a work in progress. Brothers and sisters, never under estimate the value of good guidance to go with the careful stewardship of whatever talents God has gifted you with, he wants you to use them to grwo His kingdom.

Where are you in this challenge of driving hard but concurrently seeking His will?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Beginnings

I believe that God has an infinite capacity and desire to bless us in his own timing, when we are in living in His will and when we are ready (ready in the sense of being able to appreciate, comprehend, handle the blessing). Among other topics I hope to relate some of my experiences, times when I have been on more or less on track and when I've been just getting in God's way. As I look back on my life from a vantage of almost half a century I can see many times where God nudged me gently trying to get me out of the way, or lead me in a better direction. There were career nudges, relationship nudges, health nudges, all kinds of nudges, some I actually paid attention to.... Sometimes there was a less gentle nudge and others times He decided that the only way I would learn was to let me run my own life and reap the consequences, remember that Sunday School lesson about sowing and reaping? It was true....

Today I'm living in amazement at the recent blessing of God having brought me together with my soul mate, Lucia, after what seemed an eternity of struggling in mismatched relationships or living for years at a time without a companion. He used our sons to introduce us to each other, to teach us about how each of us dealt with people and life, to show us how important those characteristics are to each other. Neither of us pursued the other, both were drawn over the course of our sons' friendship which grew into a good friendship of our own. As time went by some doors were closed to us and eventually the door to love was opened. Had we met when we were younger we would not have been right for each other, each needed to grow, to mature, to learn who we were and what we needed in life. We needed to learn to walk alone before we could savor our walk together. Now that we are in a time of our lives when we can truly appreciate each other, here we are and I'm once again saying that God is good, all of the time.