Kerry’s House of Pain

This afternoon I will willingly walk in the doors of what I have started calling, “Kerry’s House of Pain.” I know that the front of the building reads “physical therapy,” but honestly I think that is Latin-based code for “place of torture.”

I wish I had a glorious reason for needing PT, something that would sound good like, I was playing Rugby or crashed while mountain biking down half-dome. Nope, it’s embarrassing. I sprained a ligament in my knee doing a simple domestic chore and that’s all I will admit to. Either way, my doc wanted me to do PT as a way to guard the healing and strengthen or retrain whatever was the mitigating cause.

So, twice a week for a month now, my therapist engages in polite conversation as she simultaneously uses her fist or elbow to plow furrows in my thigh where my IT band used to be. Then her assistant smiles as she assigns me one exercise after another that is designed to stretch or strengthen some obscure muscle group no one knew they had. Translation, “feel the burn.”

And, twice a week I find myself thinking about how growth and character development really happens. Sure, I could sit with Kerry and share the same personal stories over a latte, but it would do nothing for the healing and long term health of my knee. It might even position me for greater long term pain and trouble.

I can see multiple parallels to personal growth from this experience.

  1. There is no comfort based alternative to personal growth. I cannot simultaneously pursue comfort and take new ground in the formation of my character.
  2. When I lean into pain and difficulty, by being attentive to the internal conversations and observations of my soul, I sow the seeds of real character formation.
  3. There is no magic pill. The attitudes and perspectives that still lurk in the dark recesses of my heart are stubborn and will not be dealt with through some simplistic approach.
  4. I cannot get there in a day. Personal growth and transformation happens much like the healing process in my knee. Even as the initial pain in my knee begins to subside, I know that the work is not done. I have to embrace the reality that repair and retraining of all the muscles, ligaments, and tendons connected to this injury takes time.

So, what difficulty or challenge are you facing these days? What would you like to avoid or dismiss?  Is it possible that your “house of pain” could be a place of rehab or retraining that will serve you in a deep way?

Grieving and The Health of my Soul

Every once in a while it seems a window opens that blows fresh air into my soul on a deeper than normal level. I never expected the emotional journey of grief to be one of those windows.

Two weeks ago Margaret and I spent the day in a hospital cafeteria while our son had surgery to repair his heart. We sat there with family and friends waiting for the phone to ring, with news about Ryan, but also awaiting news on Margaret’s father. Just two days earlier Jesse had fallen and broken his pelvis. The injury was more than his declining health could handle and his systems were shutting down rapidly.

We sat there in the hospital waiting at the edge of life for news about two of the men I respect most. We were unprepared to lose Margaret’s Dad on the day Ryan’s heart found “new life.” The two strands of uncertainty turned that day into a moment at the seam between life and death that puts a whole lot of stuff into perspective.

In a poetic way, both Ryan and Jesse went home at the same time the next day. Ryan’s surgery was successful, so he was released mid-day sent home to recover. At that very moment, while driving Ryan home, Jesse was released to go home as well… home to the Savior that he loved. Both men stepped into a new chapter of life together.

That week and the one that followed were more emotionally draining than I would have guessed. They were days of memories and sorrow and letting go and loving one another and loving Jesus. They were days of in-your-face reminder that life is fragile and because of that truly sacred. They were days where grieving reminded us that the mosaic of people and moments that fill our days are worth celebrating.

It has caused me to do a lot of thinking about the relationship between grief and the well-being of my soul. It is amazing how much the grieving process accesses and cleanses out the accumulated clutter in the deep recesses of the soul. In moments like this, you cannot escape the fact that real life happens on a much deeper level than most daily activity.

There is something about living in a soul-deep way that awakens the senses of the spirit and unleashes true peace in spite of the torrent around us.

[fyi: this is the bookend essay to one from last March on life being fragile and sacred.]

Character & Competency

A few days ago I posted the first in a series of essays on what I have found to be five attributes of a high-capacity leader. These attributes seem to function in two ways that matter to everyone of us. On the one hand they are like horses harnessed together to pull a load. And at the same time, individually they have the capacity to sabotage what could be accomplished by the others. This is the second of four essays on this theme.

There is a good shift taking place. While it seems that the majority of training and leadership expectations focus on one’s competencies, there is a lot of emphasis these days on the character that lives deeper than competencies. To that extent we are on the right track. As I and many of my colleagues believe, influence flows out of who you are not what you can do. Character is not the only thing that matters, but without it nothing else matters much.

However, in the popular conversations, it seems we often speak of leaders ‘having character’ as if that means they possess a strength of will to sustain them through the challenges they face. Or, we use character as a synonym for integrity.  To be sure these qualities flow from a leader’s character. However, I mean to imply something more.

The character of a leader is the personalized imprint of God on the inner life. It is not merely the imposition of a predetermined list, (i.e. the Boy Scout Law: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,etc.) I think of character as the comprehensive and unique landscape of one’s soul — the integrated package of convictions forged by experience and the internal formation carried out by the Spirit of God which shape our behavior.

Character makes an imprint on everything we do, every relationship we maintain, and every facet of our behavior. It is more than who I am when no one is looking. It is also who I am when everyone is looking.

It is a matter of soul and spirit. Spiritually, it is reflected in 2 Chr. 16:9
“The eyes of the Lord search to and fro throughout the earth, that he might fully support the man whose heart is completely his.”

At the same time, leaders need to have skills–significant skills! In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their abilities in order to lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.
Don’t misunderstand my comments on character to mean that skills don’t matter.  We live in a demanding world. In fact, most leaders find they are expected to be competent in a wide range of arenas they were never trained in.

Influence flows out of character, but high capacity leaders are also highly competent. They don’t flaunt their expertise, but they are constantly working to develop their skill-set. Character-deep leaders understand the relationship between character and competency. While character may be the key to influence, they have also learned to rely on their competencies much like a master-mechanic relies on tools. When the tasks demand it, they pull out different tools, use them with wisdom, and then put them back into the tool chest for another day.

In a world characterized by quantum and continuous change, we will always need new skills. We can benefit from skills that minimize personal deficits, but more importantly, we need to hone those skills that build on personal strengths.
Biblical parallels:
Ps 78:72:  “David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hand he led them.”
1 Tim 4:11-15:  “…do not neglect your gift…be diligent… so that everyone may see your progress.”

Making Space for God?

It was a fairly simple comment embedded in the middle of my Pastor’s sermon last weekend, but it keeps nagging at me.

Speaking of lessons learned from a week of prayer and fasting at church, Todd said, “we are learning that if we create space for God, he will fill it. Our task is making space for him.” Most of us live crowded lives that travel at breakneck speed. Into those lives, we need to create space for our souls, space for God.

I have long taught that God is more eager to speak to us than we are to listen. But something about Todd’s comment takes me to a new level. Meeting with God is more about showing up and less about all the things I do when I get there. It is not about what I do to manage my “quiet time” rituals, but what I do to quiet the noise inside of me in order to listen.

Intellectually, this is an easy discussion. However, integrity means admitting that this is not an intellectual challenge. I recognize that this is a call to trust God’s pursuit of me more deeply than ever. It means releasing any internal pressure to “fill the space” and pay more attention to simply making the space.

You see, for most of my Christian training I have been taught methods for having a “Quiet Time,” for meeting with God, for studying Scripture, for prayer, etc. I have found a number of those methods to be radically significant. In fact, I have endeavored to teach others many of the tools and approaches that have been meaningful to me. However, I am not the manager of an appointment with the King of the Universe. By definition, he is the initiator and I am the responder. It is his agenda that matters. It is his voice that I need to hear.

OK, so are all the things I have done over the years wrong? No. Should they be scrapped? No. But just maybe, the greatest work I need to do is to make space. Maybe my energy needs to be focused less on the things I am going to do in my “quiet time” and more on the radical task of being quiet in his presence.

If I make space for him, HE will know how to fill it.

Snowed In for a Sabbath

For a kid who grew up in Southern California, the notion of a ‘snow day’ may seem like a foreign concept. But, the eleven years we lived in the Chicago area taught us something pretty amazing. On those unique days when snowstorms overwhelm the city and life comes to a halt, the unplanned respite from work and regular ritual does something powerful for your soul and your relationships.

A snow day is like a spontaneous vacation. Because you can’t go anywhere, most people hole up at home with their kids. They play cards. They build puzzles. They start reading a new book. The bake cookies. And they wonder, “how come we don’t do this more often?”

What if God intended for us to enjoy days like this on a regular basis? What if human beings weren’t designed to work 24/7? What if the well-being of our souls called for time to pull-back from the drivenness of our normal life for a chance to replenish and refresh in relationship with those we love on a frequent basis?

What if God’s design of a weekly Sabbath was just such a plan?

Pete Scazzero, suggested the correlation of Sabbath and snow day in his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and I find it powerful. In the ministry world in which I live, there seems to be no real boundaries between when work starts and when it stops. Email is sent and waiting 24/7. People I work with live across multiple time zones. My cell phone is accessible in every state and almost every country at any time.

Yet, without a Sabbath break, my soul starts to run thin. So, I am trying to do a few things differently these days. Much as possible, I try to shut down from email and phone calls on Friday afternoon and let things sit until Monday. I try to get in some kind of extended exercise-usually a long bike ride. Church services are not something I squeeze in, but a relaxed place of worship and renewal. And, along the way, I try to enjoy extra time with Margaret and Tiffany.

I have to admit that at times, these Sabbath breaks create a backlog of work I have to dig out from the next week, but they leave me so much more refreshed.

It’s almost like a rhythm we were made for.