Category Archives: grace

Her First Birthday Party


Each summer, I serve as the Bible teacher for a summer camp in Texas.  The camp’s mission is to create positive memories for abused and neglected children, ages 7-11.

Two years ago, we had a little girl who was at camp for her first time. Every time she would see me, she would remind me that it was her birthday during the week, and she asked me over and over not to forget. I promised  her each time that I would be sure to remember and that we would celebrate it together.

Confession: I knew something that she didn’t.  At the camp, we always throw a birthday party for ALL the kids on Thursday night.  Many of them have never celebrated their birthdays before, so we get a church to donate enough toys to fill up a large shoebox for each child, make a giant cake, decorate the camp’s mess hall with streamers, confetti and party favors and make sure it’s an event that they will all remember!

When the night of the party arrived, I was excited for her and hoped that she would be pleased with the celebration. Amazingly, none of the older kids had let on about the party, even though they had been to camp several times before. I did my part distracting the kids with some other meaningful activities while the party decorations were completed, and then I got them lined up at the door of the mess hall, ready to go in for their big surprise.

The door opened up, loud cheers and clapping emerged, and the kids bounded inside, high-fiving all the adults and teens that had lined up to greet them!  Once past the gauntlet of celebrating big people, the kids found tables and chairs set for the biggest birthday party they had ever seen!  Party hats, juice pouches, colorful plates, napkins and plastic ware, noise makers and balloons!  Everyone excitedly took their seats and began to explore their table settings while the adults brought them cake and ice cream and sang “Happy Birthday!” to them.

When I went to see the girl after the initial surprise, she caught me off guard. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she said, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Pastor Mike! You remembered!” Over and over.  She was quite undone by the grace of it all.

I was a little embarrassed that she thought I was the reason for the party when I had really done nothing except distract the kids while the preparations were being made, but I didn’t want to ruin her moment by saying anything awkward. To her, this was a promise fulfilled and an opportunity to celebrate her birthday for the very first time.

I often think about this moment.  It both breaks my heart (for a little girl who had never had the simple gesture of a birthday party), and it humbles me.  There were dozens of people more deserving of the credit for her birthday celebration, but God allowed me to be the one that received her appreciation.  What I’ve realized is that God often allows us to get the credit for good works that we had very little to do with.  If we are honest, He does 99% of the work most of the time.  We have little to offer, and we are often selfish about offering what we do have.

I think He uses these moments to remind us of the joy we receive from joining Him in His work.  They are an incentive for us to trust Him more with our time, our talents and our treasures, and they soften our hearts toward those in need.

So, in retrospect, I’m not sure if the birthday party that night was more for the little girl or more for me.  I suspect God made the appointment for us both.

———–

If you would like to know more about Royal Family Kids’ Camps (which are held in many places around the world), you can visit their website at http://www.rfkc.org.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Abundance, agape love, christianity, generosity, grace, love, Service, Serving Others, unconditional love

Restoration


A man walked into a pawnshop and went straight to a worn down piece of furniture hidden in the back of the store.  He moved several other items that had been stacked against it and stepped back to take a look.

The piece of furniture was once a beautiful writing desk made with fine craftsmanship, but the former beauty had been worn away through years of use as it served first one family and then another.  These years were followed by even more years of disuse after it had been left out on the curb and salvaged by the pawnshop owner.

It was no longer beautiful.  Its drawers were broken, its roll-top in splinters, its feet uneven and wobbly, its stain faded and surface scratched and dented.  Looking at it, it was hard to imagine what the piece had looked originally.  You certainly wouldn’t want it in your home.  It was a real eyesore.

Even so, the man pulled out the desk and told the shop owner that he wanted to buy it.  The shop owner named a price – a surprisingly high price considering the condition of the desk – but the man was willing to pay it, and the transaction was made.

The man loaded the desk in his truck and took it home, where he placed it in his garage.  He turned on the overhead light and gave the desk a thorough inspection.  He took note of the broken drawers, the splintered roll-top, the wobbly feet and the scarred surface.  Nothing escaped his trained eye.

Having completed his assessment, he mentally planned what repairs and improvements would need to be done.  Then, he turned off the light and headed to bed.  Tomorrow would be soon enough to begin the work.

The next day, the man arrived late in the afternoon with new lumber and a collection of well-worn tools.  He was a carpenter, and these were the tools of his trade.  He had begun and finished many projects before this one, and he would begin and finish many more.  The work thrilled him.  It was a labor of love, and he thoroughly enjoyed taking something discarded and bringing out its true value.

With a smile of anticipation and a clear vision of the finished product, the man turned the desk on its side and sawed a heart-shaped piece from the bottom panel.  He then replaced it with a custom-made heart piece – golden in color with intricate etchings and made from a fine wood.  It was on the bottom panel, where it was unlikely that anyone would see it but him, but it was his trademark and showed the love and care he put into refurbishing the piece.  Those familiar with his work knew where to look for his signature.

He turned the desk back up and began with structural repairs.  He replaced one of the feet, repaired the broken drawers and built a new roll-top.   Before long, evening arrived.  The man put away his tools and retired for the night.

The next day, he returned to his work.  Using a sanding block, he began working on the inner parts of the desk that no one typically saw.  This might have seemed like a waste to most, but again, this was his trademark.  He always began from the inside and worked his way out.

After a week, an observer might not have seen much difference, but the man knew how smooth the inner boards had become, how silently the drawers slid in and out, how strong the joints and the frame had become.  It was a work of quality he was engaged in – not a work of speed.  He was not concerned about turning a quick profit; he wanted the finished product to be a blessing to some family who needed it.  He wanted it to bring them joy for years and years to come.  He thought about the children and the grandchildren who would live life around this desk, and he wanted the changes he made to bless generations.

And so, he worked, slowly but deliberately – never leaving off a task until it was done to his exacting standards.  Then, he moved on to the next area that needed repair, and then the next…

When he was done with the inner parts, he began work on the outer, and the piece began to really transform.  Each board was smoothed to take away the abuses of the past.  But he didn’t remove every dent or every scar.  Some, he knew, added value to the piece and gave it character.  Still, even these blemishes received his painstaking attention.  In fact, he spent more time on them than he did on the smoother parts, and when he was done, they became the most interesting parts of the whole piece.  What was ugly became beautiful and interesting, and those who saw them would want to know more.

When everything was prepared and the dust and grit and stains of past years had been removed, the man applied a covering.  It was a deep, reddish stain that soaked into the wood and provided a protective finish.  It was such a unique color that those who knew recognized it as the work of the man whenever they saw it.

The man then sealed the piece with a clear, protective coat, installed new hardware to the drawers and roll-top and finally stood back to admire his work.  The piece was impressive and made you want to come closer to look.  Its wood was so smooth that the man could literally see his reflection in it.  He smiled and said a quick, “well done!” to himself.  It was good.

In fact, it looked even better now than the day he originally created it.  You see, the pawnshop owner thought he was taking advantage of the man when he sold the desk at such a high price, but the man always knew the quality of the workmanship, because he had made it himself many years before.  Years of abuse and neglect had all but ruined the desk, but the man trusted in his own unique ability to restore the piece – even to make it better than before.  So he paid the high price, and he had no regrets.

Looking at the restored work, he knew exactly who he was going to give it to – a gift for a family that he dearly loved.

2 Comments

Filed under Christ, christianity, Covering, grace, Jesus, mercy, Protection, sacrifice, Salvation, sanctification, Savior, self-image, self-worth, unconditional love

Hustling Errors


In 1992, Jimmy Johnson, then coach of the Dallas Cowboys, cut running back “Swervin’” Curvin Richards after he fumbled in the last game of the regular season.  That in itself wasn’t so surprising.  Coach Johnson had a temper, and he didn’t suffer fumblers lightly.  But what was surprising was that Johnson would cut Richards but defend two other players who made similar mistakes in the same quarter of the same game.

Truth be told, all three mistakes were inconsequential.  Dallas would go on to win the game 27-14 over the Chicago Bears.  They had already secured a bye for the first weekend of the playoffs.  The game was nothing more than a notation in the record books as this particular Dallas team went on to win its third Super Bowl in dominating fashion.

The problem was not that mistakes had been made.  Richards’ fumble did result in a touchdown for the opposing team, but so did Steve Beuerlein’s interception.  Alvin Harper also turned the ball over…and all these happened in the fourth quarter.  So, why didn’t Johnson cut all three players?  Why did Richards alone incur Johnson’s wrath?

According to Johnson, it was because Beuerlein and Harper committed “hustling errors” while Richards simply showed the sloppiness that comes from a poor work ethic.  Beuerlein and Harper were forgiven because they were hustling; they were trying to make something happen.  They were taking risks and trying to get the momentum back for an offensive team that had started to focus their attention on the playoffs before the game had even ended.

Richards, on the other hand, failed to execute one of the fundamentals of his job.  Had he shown more diligence on the practice field, he might have been spared.  But Johnson was irritated with the running back for his lackluster approach to the game.  Johnson used this opportunity to teach his team an important lesson.  There are mistakes, and then there are mistakes.  Mistakes made while taking risks and trying new approaches will be forgiven.  Mistakes made because of poor preparation will not.

Leave a comment

Filed under coaching, failure, forgiveness, grace, justice, leadership, management, mentoring, mistakes

Son of the High Chief


A friend of mine shared this story recently.  My friend is part Samoan and part Hawaiian.  He was born in Hawaii but moved to Samoa during his childhood.  Adjusting to the new cultures in this high-context society was difficult for his brother and him, but they made a friend in one of the locals.

Their friend, as it turns out, was the son of the High Chief.  We might expect the son of a high-class family in power to be arrogant and dismissive of foreign-born, mixed race kids who were new to the area, but he was anything but.  He was friendly and took a personal interest in helping my friend and his brother adjust.

He taught them local customs, like cooking the family meal on hot stones outdoors every Sunday.  He taught them local culture, like the need to show respect for elders.  He taught them the local language, and he helped them to fit in.  He was a good and faithful friend.

One day, the town drunk appeared as the three boys were playing outdoors.  Children knew him to be a violent and abusive man, and they avoided him whenever possible, but today, he caught the boys by surprise.  My friend could tell he was drunk again, and he could see the rage in his eyes.  This day, he had come for the two foreign-born boys.

But just as he moved to attack them, the son of the High Chief stepped between his friends and the man.  The man’s anger snapped, and he began to beat the boy mercilessly.  Several times, he knocked the boy to the ground, but each time, the boy would stand again, blocking the way to his friends.

My friend and his brother asked each time he fell if they should go for help.  Should they go to get the townspeople, who would come and rescue their friend, the son of their High Chief?  The townspeople wouldn’t allow such a crime to happen to their leader’s family.  In fact, they might have even killed the drunken man for what he had done.  But each time, the answer was, ‘No,’ and the boy would stand again to take the beating.

When the man’s anger had been spent, he left them alone, and the boy was taken to the hospital to treat his wounds.  My friend and his brother visited him the next day.  His face was unrecognizable under the bruising, the cuts and the swelling, but he was alive, and he would recover.  The boys looked at their bandaged friend and asked him to solve the mystery that troubled their hearts, “Why wouldn’t you let us go for help?”

He looked at them as the teacher who patiently tries to birth a new way of thinking in the minds and hearts of his students.  “I have taught you so much… This is what it means to be the son of the High Chief.”

The boys couldn’t have asked for a clearer picture.  Their friend, knowingly or not, had shown them an image of what Jesus Christ did for each of us when He went to the cross.  He stood between us and the evil one, who wanted to hurt us.  He took the beating that was meant for us.

Had Jesus wanted, legions of angels would have come to His rescue, yet he refused to call for them.  Each insult, each beating, each whip of the lash, each thorn of the crown He accepted as an act of love for us.  And each time He fell on the road to Golgotha, He stood again.  His purpose was set; His mind was determined; no matter the cost, He would stand in the gap for us, because This is what it means to be the Son of the High Chief.

1 Comment

Filed under agape love, Christ, christianity, grace, Jesus, sacrifice, Salvation, Savior, Substitution

BIG “G” – little “g”


In one of the classes that I’ve regularly facilitated, we do an activity called “The Parking Space.”  Participants are given a role-play scenario in which two people have to compete for a single parking space.  One person is running late for a job interview, and the other is running late for a meeting with an important client.  As one tries to back into the parking space, the other is trying to pull forward into it.  The two people get out of their cars and negotiate to see who gets the space.

What’s really interesting about the interaction isn’t who gets the space or even how they get it (and I’ve heard some really creative and unethical methods of coercion).  It’s that in the process of overpowering their adversary for the space, both people completely forget what their primary goals were – getting the job or making the meeting.  It never dawns on them that time is ticking away as they bicker about who gets to park where.  Each person fights for a win-lose outcome, but what they end up with is lose-lose, because the parking space is moot by the time they miss their respective appointments.

The role-play is an excellent example of sacrificing a Big “G” Goal (making the appointment) in order to achieve a little “g” goal (getting the parking space).  It sounds crazy, but we do it all the time.

  • We pull out all the stops to win the argument but forget that we are trying to build the relationship.
  • We prevent our top performers from transferring to other departments in order to protect our team’s productivity and end up losing them because there is no room for advancement.
  • We refuse to share information with another group because they haven’t reciprocated in the past and lose sight of the fact that we work for the same company.
  • We cut services back in order to reduce expenses and succeed in chasing off our customers.
  • We invent rules for a small percentage of “law-breakers” and ultimately punish the 99.9% of people who want to do the right thing but can’t get anything done because of the excessive red-tape.
  • We turn drill sergeant with our kids to get them ready in the morning and manage to ruin everyone’s day as we head out the door for a family event.
  • We argue with our neighbors over property rights and forget that we were trying to win them to Christ.

Our problem is that we are so focused on what’s before us that we can’t see the big picture.  We are intent on winning battles, but our short-term focus is losing us the wars.  If we could keep our eyes on the Big “G” Goals, what a difference it would make in our lives, in our work and in our ministries!

We would have so much more grace for people who don’t act the way we want them to act.   We would be able to keep a healthy perspective on the minor things that don’t go our way.  We would make better decisions in the moment as we assessed the impact of those decisions on our Big “G” goals.

Where is it that you have gotten seduced by the urgency of little “g” goals?  How could you maintain your focus on the the bigger picture?  A long-range focus informs better decision making in the moment.  It takes practice, but if you’re like me, you’ve got plenty of opportunities.

Leave a comment

Filed under conflict, Goals, grace, Interpersonal, priorities, Prioritize, Relationships, success

Legislation for the Few


Have you ever stopped to consider where most of our laws, rules, restrictions and requirements come from?  Most of them were created to protect the many from the few.  In other words, most legislation (be it from a government or the Compliance department) is put into place to protect the many law-abiders from the few law-breakers.

I get it; it makes sense to me.  And I think many rules and laws are necessary.  But haven’t we taken it a little too far?  Sometimes we create so many rules and regs that we end up punishing the many just to restrict the few from their rule-breaking tendencies.  Once a rule is created, it ties the hands of everyone, not just the unruly rule-breakers.

Take this example from Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow:
“At Brock’s Restaurant in Stamford, Connecticut, here’s what it says on the menu (in large type):

SORRY—NO SHARING SALAD BAR
IN ORDER TO KEEP OUR OVERALL PRICING REASONABLE, IT IS IMPORTANT THAT AN HONOR SYSTEM OF NO SHARING OF THE SALAD BAR BE RESPECTED. SHOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND AND WISH TO ENJOY THE SALAD BAR, IT IS ONLY 2.95 WITH A SANDWICH, BURGER OR ENTRÉE. FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING AND COOPERATION WE THANK YOU.”

Consider what prompted this sign to be posted.  Restaurant management noticed some people piling on salad selections and then sharing them with their friends and family members.  How often do you suppose this happened?  How much do you suppose it actually cost the restaurant in salad losses?  I would wager that a month’s worth of salad stealing didn’t cost that restaurant more than one to two hundred dollars in actual losses (and I think I’m being generous).

Now, consider how many honest and conscientious salad patrons read that message.  How many of them do you think were irked by it?  How many of them left with a lower opinion of the restaurant than they had when they arrived?  How much bad publicity has that sign generated since being published by a nationally best-selling author?

Finally, think about the relatively small percentage of dishonest customers who dine at this restaurant.  Do you think the sign was a sufficient deterrent to prevent them from salad-stealing?  How many customers who had never thought of stealing salad now considered it after being introduced to the idea by the sign?

To quote an old proverb, the restaurant is “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.”  They are punishing the many to catch the few, and they probably aren’t catching the few anyway.

Seth Godin continues…
“Compare this to the wine policy at a restaurant called Frontière. The owner puts an open bottle of wine on every table, and at the end of the meal you tell the waiter how many glasses you consumed. The honor system.

Which is more worthy of positive comment? Marketing benefits aside, which leads to more incremental profit? (Hint: Two glasses of wine pay for a whole bottle at wholesale!)”

Both restaurants talk about an “honor system.”  The second restaurant demonstrates theirs.  Relying on the best of human nature, they put their money where their mouth is.  Sure, they will experience losses from dishonest people, but the losses won’t be anything compared to the positive press the restaurant gets for its sign of good faith.

Am I saying that we should get rid of rules and regs?  Not at all.  I’m saying, before you create a rule to govern the activities of your team or your customers or your kids (or anyone, for that matter), think hard.  What percentage of people is this rule intended to protect us from?  What percentage of honest, well-meaning people will be punished by it?  Could you better manage the behavior of the rule-breaking few by dealing with them directly?  Is the risk associated with the rule-breaking manageable?  In other words, can you live with the consequences of having a small percentage that are not in compliance?

Sometimes the cure is more expensive than the disease.  Maybe the problem isn’t worth solving.  Count the cost before you legislate.

Leave a comment

Filed under Abundance, grace, Interpersonal, Marketing

Matching Emotion with Concern


While sitting in one of the most boring seminars of my life, I was surprised to learn something that has added years (maybe decades) to my marriage.  It’s the principle of matching emotion with concern.

You see, for much of my early marriage, I had it all wrong.  When my wife and I would get into arguments, there would be lots of emotion.  Lots of yelling.  Lots of slamming things.  I hated it.  My teenage, drug-using years were full of these types of conflicts with my mom, and I learned that matching emotion with emotion just gets you more emotion.  Each person tries to increase their volume to get up and over the other person, and when yelling stops working, some people resort to physical displays and violence to make their points.  If they start at a “Level 6 Anger” on a ten-point scale, they will soon be at Level 8, 9 or 10 as they try to outdo the other person.  This is called “Escalation.”

 

Escalation

Matching emotion with emotion doesn’t work, so I learned over time to match emotion with lack of emotion.  Someone had to keep their head in an argument.  Emotional people say bizarre, exaggerated, unrealistic things.  Someone had to maintain logic and good sense.  That was the way to keep things safe, I reckoned.  For years, I tried this approach with my wife.  When she would get angry and emotional, I would take the “high road.”  Nothing she could say would bother me.  I stayed calm and rational during the entire argument.  But it didn’t work.

Emotion is about volume.  People use it because they want the other person(s) to recognize how important something is to them.  When I tried to match my wife’s emotion with my lack of emotion, she felt that I wasn’t hearing her…that I didn’t understand how crucial the issue was.  So in order to get her point across, she would increase her volume by getting even more emotional.  This is called “One-Sided Escalation.”

One-Sided Escalation

During one extended argument, I was proud of myself for keeping my cool during the entire ordeal, but I was tired and had lost hope of finding an easy end to our disagreement.  When my wife took a breath, I stepped in and said, “I’m tired and going to bed.  When you are ready to talk like adults, come and get me.”  Condescending, controlling, unfair.  Just because I was in control of my emotions didn’t mean I was above getting my shots in.

I headed off to bed and was in the early stages of sleep when I heard, “Thump! THump! THUmp! THUMp! THUMP!”  Suddenly, my wife, who had been stewing over my arrogant dismissal, came sprinting down the hallway to our room, leapt up on top of the bed and began to jump – up and down, up and down…narrowly missing my head with each landing.  This was a level of escalation I had never seen before.  In a panic, I remembered stories I had heard of wives who had been pushed too far and the things they had done to their husbands while they slept.  

Obviously, my calm, cool and collected approach was no better than matching emotions with emotion.  In fact, it was worse.  Unless they are willing to go to extreme lengths, emotional people are no match for logical people in an argument.  Emotional people say things they wouldn’t say during calmer circumstances.  It’s easy for logical people to identify exaggerations and discrepancies, and this often leaves the emotional person feeling frustrated and embarrassed.  A logical person can easily out-maneuver and even humiliate an emotional person (which tends to make emotional people even more emotional).  In short, matching logic with emotion isn’t a fair fight.

So, what’s the right answer?  It doesn’t work to match emotion with emotion, and it doesn’t work to match emotion with lack of emotion or logic.  Here’s what I learned in that boring seminar: You’ve got to match emotion with sincere concern.  It’s brilliant!  It’s simple!  But it’s not easy.  

When someone is emotional, the best way to respond is to show genuine concern.  If they are “Level 6 – Anger,” you’ve got to try to match it with a “Level 6 – Concern.”  It might sound like this:

My Wife: “I hate it that you are always coming home so late from work!  You’re never here for dinner!  I always have to take care of the kids all by myself, and I’m tired.  I never get anytime for myself!”

Me: “I’m very sorry, Sweetheart…I didn’t realize how difficult this has been for you.  I can tell you’re very upset.  Can we sit down and talk about it?”

Chances are, my response didn’t hit a “Level 6” for Concern.  Depending upon my tone and my body language (they have to match my words for my words to be believable), I may have only reached a Level 3 with this response.  But I shouldn’t give up.  This is a skill that takes patience and practice to learn.

My Wife: “Yes, this has been difficult for me!  And I’m not just upset….I’m exhausted!  You should try taking care of the kids for days on end without any help!  I need a break!”

Me: “Okay, I hear you.  This has been a lousy situation with my work, and it’s gone on longer than I thought it would.  You’re exhausted, and you need a break, and it doesn’t seem fair that you have to carry the full load at home.   Have you already thought of some solutions, or would you like to talk those out together?”

As I’m expressing concern, I’m using other tools to help my wife see that I understand.  I’m trying to reflect her emotions (i.e., “I can tell you’re upset.”), and I’m trying to summarize what I’m hearing, seeing and reading between the lines (i.e., “You’re exhausted, and you need a break, and it doesn’t seem fair that you have to carry the full load at home.”)  I’m asking clarifying statements (i.e., “Have you already thought of some solutions, or would you like to talk those out together?”)  

I have to be completely sincere at all times, or I’ll just make things worse.  But if I’m patient and keep trying, a wonderful thing happens.  When my wife feels like I have honestly heard and understood how important this issue is to her, she begins to let the steam out of her emotion.  It will typically take several attempts of matching emotion with concern at different levels, but if she believes me, she can lower the volume bit by bit.  There’s no need to continue to be emotional when the other person really understands what you are saying and how you are feeling.  Before too long, we will be able to have a rational discussion about the problem without the exaggeration and without the strong emotions.  This is called, “De-Escalation.”

De-Escalation

At the foundation of using this method for dealing with conflict are two essential practices: patience and kindness.  It won’t work unless you care enough about the other person to set aside your own personal agenda.  In short, it’s an act of love.  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

3 Comments

Filed under agape love, communication, conflict, emotions, grace, Interpersonal, love, marriage, Relationships, unconditional love