Brokenness a Key

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This post is in Memory of my Precious Jocab who we lost to a tragic accident on August 14 2003, today, February 09 is his Birthday. I thought as a tribute to him I would post something from my journal about a year following his death.

Today was a better day. Pat and I spent it together, mostly in silence. It was good to share the time where no words were necessary and the silence the best communicator. We ended the evening with a conversation that started in the car and ended as I held her just before she drifted off to sleep. It was a conversation that lasted at least an hour and yet very few words were exchanged. I began be asking, “Are you worried about me.” “I am always worried about you but know when you are silent you are working through it. I just need to know from time to time that you aren’t upset with me for something and as long as you’re not I am ok with your silence.”

My mind was racing all night with thoughts, mostly random, but all seemed to be directing me somewhere. “Deep”, what is so significant about that word? God is digging that deep well and the depth of my heart and soul have been penetrated. Deep seems to have a theme in my life. I wonder if that is what people will see when they look into my eyes, depth.

I think about days like the last two. I have no desire to talk to anyone. I am not sure why, maybe I am so unsure about the lessons I am learning that I don’t want to contaminate the process. My thoughts go to the depth of my struggle, which to a large degree is a very private thing. I realize at sometime they will become public, but not now. This struggle occurs at the very depths of my soul. The struggle comes as the result of great loss, a loss so great it is difficult to comprehend the thought of life without Jacob.

I have one couple in my life that constantly try to comfort me, not by seeking to enter into my pain, but to share just how they fully understand what I am going through. I am sorry but they have no clue. There are others who I know can fully appreciate my pain and with that intimate knowledge seek not to convey their “understanding”. They let me talk, and they listen. Others who mean a great deal to me offer their presence without commentary. They have no way of understanding my pain and don’t try to act like they do. I know they struggle because they don’t understand the meaning of this ending in my life, the shock of this great change, the emptiness that has invaded my life.

They cannot really share my pain because what I have lost cannot be totally understood, respected or revered by them. Pat has helped them by describing the “nevers,” things she will never experience with Jacob. Our friends look on caringly, of course, but there’s little else they can do. They advise, but they cannot possibly know the pain of every step we take. It is not their arms that are empty yet heavy, not their hearts pained with every beat, not their lungs gasping for breath beneath the weight. It isn’t even my desire that they would understand, the cost of this understanding is too great.

A man not well acquainted with me made a comment to a friend of mine. “He just needs to move on.” He felt qualified to make that statement since he had lost more than one of his own children. It is the “pick yourself up, brush your self off” mentality. “Walk it off, pull yourself together”. Sorry, that dog don’t hunt for me.

How do I move on when the thought of moving on is unimportant. If anything, it is the last thing I want to do, it seems impossible. And, as far as I am concerned, moving on would be the worst thing anybody could do. Go on for what reason?

Those others who stand at the edges of my life cannot realize the sense of deep, deep isolation that comes when life as I have known it has been suddenly and irreparably changed. The most difficult are those who desire to, or pray for the pain to be taken away. There is no one who can take the pain away because the pain cannot be taken away. There is no one there to ease it because it simply cannot be eased. They seem to miss the fact that the pain is my connection to the one I have loved and lost. To avoid it would be to avoid the very connection I have with my son.

So at this moment in time my life has slowed to a crawl, and for good reason. The key to this moment in my life is what the depth of my despair is accomplishing. It is here that I find my Lord in a profoundly personal way. This suffering, this grief, the depth of my pain has thrown me into the sea of his love.

 As I read the lament of Jeremiah I read that it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. I am vindicated in my desire to remain alone and silent, “for the LORD has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust- there may yet be hope.” He has reached into the depths of my darkness, into the pain of my suffering and expressed his desire for intimacy with me.

I  sense that trial, pain, suffering and these distortions of life have a great deal more to do with God’s desire for me than his desire to produce anything in me.

I think I have a mental picture of my “deep calling unto deep”. First I saw, what would be my heart, being opened up to its core. My mind questioned why this would be and another picture representing my soul had been ripped open exposing it’s core as well. I was puzzled by these images until God spoke to my heart saying that these trials, these difficulties are the keys that open the depths of a man’s heart and soul. The more difficult the trail, the pain, the deeper God ministers intimacy.

What is the truth about me?

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I have recently discovered an author by the name of Marcus Buckingham who has challenged my understanding of human behavior. He has also challenged my lifelong understanding of how strengths and weaknesses are interpreted  in our lives. When I read a small book he authored called “The Truth about You” I got very excited about what I would learn about myself and got even more excited about developing better questions to help others discover their path in life.

He states in his book that fewer than two out of ten people get to have the experience of working in a place that challenges them in just the way they would like to be challenged. A place where they are recognized for what they do well and are pushed to become better in that area. A place where they get to make a difference in a way only they can and a place where they get to experience the thrill of success.

When I read this I realized that most of the people I encounter don’t work in a place like this but, if asked would say they would give their right arm to.

Buckingham describes a scenario that defines where 8 out of ten people spend their life. They find themselves well along the journey of life where they feel trapped, where they have lost the freedom to choose. They had a dream, something that fanned the flames of their passion but, in the process of life they took a job unrelated, something to pay the bills. They did it with the belief that someday they would pursue that dream or that this job would give them the freedom to pursue their dream. Time passes and they find themselves 20 years down the road, pinned in by a standard of living that depends on their current career. He states that “with all the best intentions—to get ahead, to support your family, to pay off debts—you dive into a job, work hard, get promoted, and then one day you wake up and find yourself in a job that doesn’t engage you, that doesn’t call on the best of you, a job where you’re just marking time, putting in the hours….”

While I don’t feel trapped, I am challenged to stop waiting and to start taking the steps to make my dreams come true. I think I have always been ready but I have struggled to define where I should be putting my energies and have relegated myself to the waiting room of life, waiting for the right door to open.

I think the greatest help Buckingham has been to me is to give me better questions. With better questions I have been able to discover better answers. He also helped me understand that most of us don’t make decisions based on our strengths; the things that make us unique and tie into our passions. We make a “should” decision. The world looks at our life, determines what we are good at and then says this is what you “should” do with your life.

It made me think about my son, a gifted vocalist who loves to sing. I, as his dad, our family, his choir teacher in high school and the Choral director at his college all agreed, with such talent he “should” pursue a vocal career. He was given a full ride scholarship to reinforce the “should” and off he went to college to fulfill that expectation. His first year ended with academic probation, the loss of half his scholarship and a young man striving to discover just what he wanted to do. He realized just how much he loved history and we encouraged him along with academic counselors and friends that he should pursue a career as a history teacher.

In Buckingham’s book he talks about discovering the why, the who and the what. In Joshua’s case he loved the “why” of singing, it is something he loved doing, he even liked the “who” of it, these were the people he was doing the singing with. But the “what” stopped him. What would he do to pursue this career? He hated most of the classes related to the major and he also couldn’t see himself as a teacher of music. As Buckingham states it “the ‘what’ always trumps the ‘why’ and the ‘who’”.

He finds himself at another cross-road where the “what” has trumped the “why” and the “who”. He loves history and it seemed natural that he “should” pursue that career but the “what” was not bringing power and passion to his life. Luckily he is still young, in college and doesn’t have decades of life to weigh him down. It is possible for him to make some mid-course corrections without having to uproot a family or lose a career.

I don’t find my sons experience to be too foreign to my own. As a matter of fact the more conversations I have with friends and colleagues on this subject the more I find this to be more a common experience rather than an anomaly.

Buckingham contends that one of the reasons that most of us have this struggle is we don’t understand our true strengths and that instead of playing to those strengths we spend most of our life focused on our weaknesses and thereby miss living in the arena of success and fulfillment that only 2 out 10 people experience in life.

Buckingham states that we have to start by taking our interests seriously. I had been raised to believe that other people knew me better than I knew myself. After all my life had been spent being evaluated by others who would tell me either through grades, awards, tests or performance reviews, what my strengths and weaknesses were. While not all these were bad and I had come across many people in my life who would offer good advice and opportunities I had to come to the same conclusion as Buckingham, that I was “the greatest teacher about me and my strengths”.

So Buckingham states that our starting point has to be our interests. I have referred to this as passion, the desire of my heart and have encouraged others who have come to me for direction to think about where their passion, their interests lie. I use a tool I call a passion assessment but I also like the process Buckingham uses in his book. First you look at your work experience, second your hobbies, third the type of reading you like and finally the people in your life. From this you choose three things , or subjects or types of people who you have discovered as “deeply seated interests” in your life.

Let me walk you through the process I use with the addition of Buckingham’s first category.

  1. If you could snap your fingers and know that you couldn’t fail, what would you do?
  2. At the end of your life, what would you love to be able to look back and know that you’d done something about:
  3. What conversation would keep you talking late into the night?
  4. What are the things you like to do in your free time, when your time is your own and not dictated by others. If it is recreational activities what are they, if it is reading what do you like to read, if it is surfing the web, where do you like surfing?
  5. Buckingham’s question to think about a job you have had, was it just for the money or was it something that brought power to your life. Was there anything that really intrigued you about the job/s you have had, something you can honestly say you enjoyed or loved?

If your career does not include your interests, your passions, you have probably made a trade-off somewhere down the line. Buckingham states that most of us are too quick to discount our interests and we find ourselves somewhere in the future doing things that don’t interest us. He states that this eventually takes its toll on our motivation and our confidence and can eventually lead us to living a second-rate version of our own life where we have lost ourselves somewhere along the line. What a high price to pay and it doesn’t have to end up that way.

What I found most revolutionary about Buckingham’s book was his take on Strengths and weaknesses. He contends that strengths are not what you are good at and your weaknesses aren’t what you are bad at.

Whenever I was asked what a person’s strength was I usually tied that to what the person was good at. I then assumed that if that was their strength then their interests would naturally fall into that area. Buckingham would say, “wrong,” and I am inclined to agree with his conclusion.

He states that “something you’re good at is a fine place to start when you try to identify your strengths. But it’s only the start.” He asks the question, “don’t you have some things that you’re good at, but they bore you, drain you, or frustrate you? …If you never had to do those things again it would be too soon.”

Going back to my son’s situation, he is a gifted singer and I pushed him to sing often but it was always like pulling teeth. Most of the time the only way I could get him to sing was to pay him. He also never seemed to enjoy the public acclaim that came with it, he seemed to shy away from the public applause, preferring to overhear peoples praise rather than getting it front on. Sometimes it appeared as if an audience was a necessary evil to his vocal expression.

Buckingham asks, “What do you call that? Something you’ve been blessed with lots of ability to do well but cursed with no appetite for it. Something you’re brilliant at, but that leaves you cold?”

Well, the answer to that question changed the way I looked a strengths and weaknesses. Strengths are things that bring power and energy to your life and a weakness is something that takes energy away and leaves you weaker. Buckingham states that it would be crazy to build a career around something that drains you.

So if we can’t discover our strengths solely by looking at the things we are good at how do we discover them? Buckingham suggests that we have to pay “close attention to what we are feeling before, during and after an activity.” Here is the test he gives to guide us through the discovery of our strength:

If, before you do something, you find yourself actually looking forward to doing it, it may be a strength.

If, while you’re doing something, you feel focused, in the zone, with time whipping by really quickly, it may be a strength.

If, after you’re done, you feel fulfilled, it may be a strength.

Now why is this so important? Buckingham states that, “as you grow, you become more and more of who you already are.” While so much of your life will change, education, hobbies, friends, skills and dreams Buckingham states that the core of who you are will always be your core. He continues by stating that it is in this core that we will “grow most”. And that makes sense. I am drawn to and like to work in the areas that bring me strength and energy, I learn most effectively and with a sense of ease in the areas of my strength. Buckingham believes that “you will improve the most, learn the most, be the most creative, be the most inquisitive, and bounce back the fastest in those areas.”

In my training, yes you seek to discover strengths, but you focus in the areas of your weakness in order to move those to a place of strength. From Buckingham’s perspective this is futile because that will rarely if ever happen and all you seem to do is focus most of your creative energy in areas that deplete you, that take energy away, leaving little focus investing in what could bring the greatest impact on your life. Why not place most of your energy in areas that will grow exponentially because you are putting energy in an area that naturally brings energy and then use the excess to work in areas of weakness that are required to perform some task.

What is your Dream?

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Tuesday night is date night with my wife and last night we decided to go see “Up In the Air” the latest George Clooney movie. It was a great movie and got me thinking about life, purpose and what if. I don’t know if it is true but my thought is that most people don’t live their dream, they stop striving toward their ideal and settle for bringing home a paycheck.

I started thinking about my future when I was very young, I dreamed about traveling across the country in a big rig, when I hit high school I dreamed of becoming a chef and by my senior year I had caught a creative bug and planned to spend my life in graphic communications. In 1983 my dreams changed to making a difference worldwide and wanted to become a missionary so I went to bible college and have spent the last two decades serving in a variety of ministry capacities. All have been fulfilling because I decided to invest in my personal growth and to seek change.

This brings me to my current thought. Why aren’t you pursuing your dreams? Somewhere along the line you stopped dreaming and gave into the routine of living from paycheck to paycheck. While I can’t prove it most have fallen into this routine because they have spent themselves into a corner. Most have established a lifestyle that is dependent on that job you can’t stand and feel trapped. You have a million excuses as to why you can’t do anything else and you are stuck.

Most of those who are stuck in life are stuck in cement called fear. In the movie you have the opportunity to see the responses of people who have spent their lives giving themselves to a job only to find out that after all that sacrifice they are losing that career. Their fear is played out for all of us to see. “What will I do now, how will I pay my mortgage, what will I tell my kids, what will they think of me, I’m too old to start looking for a new job, my life is over.” Condensed the fear is “who am I” and “how will I survive”

So let’s go there, what is standing in the way of your dream, what is keeping you shackled to an unfulfilled life?

What would happen if you lost your job today? It might make it worth it if it was really George Clooney setting across the table but it won’t be. Imagine that today the HR department calls you in and tells you that your job is no longer available or that big contract goes away. What would you do after you freaked out, got angry and pissed off and spent the next weeks or months wiping the depression droll from your mouth? First back up, think about how you could respond in a positive way that wouldn’t rob you of your creativity and love of life and family. What are the new options and possibilities?

One way to discover these new options and possibilities is to face the fear front on. A way of doing this is to think about the worst case scenario, what is the worst that could happen. My worst case would be to lose everything, my house, my cars, and my savings. At the end of the movie you have the opportunity to see and listen to people as they discover that the sum total of their lives was not their jobs but that they still had their family.

Now my worst case is no longer the worst that could happen. In this exercise you discover that the consequences are not as bad as the cloud of fear that surrounds it. All of a sudden you are able to discover alternatives. If I lost everything I have family that would take me in and the basics of my survival could be managed, food, housing and clothing so that I could start all over again. Even if I didn’t have family I could go to a temporary shelter and find help for the basics while I rebuilt my life; we discovered this in “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

I would be free to dream again, what would I do with my life if I could start over? Would I take some classes, start my own business and become my own boss, get additional training for a different career or maybe find a career in the area I originally trained for in college.

Now, instead of having this forced upon you through a layoff or firing why not choose. Why not choose to leave the situation you feel trapped in. When you accomplish this mentally you will have such an empowering sense of freedom. Your mind will now be free to imagine the possibilities God has placed in front of you. Begin writing down some of the steps that come to mind and start putting them into action. You don’t have to know every single step; you just need to get started. If you are ready to pursue a dream and that will require you to leave your current position then some of those steps might be to create an emergency fund by cutting your spending and putting money aside for your dream every paycheck.

Remember no matter how tough things are there is always a solution, what are yours?