Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Telemarketer Grace

On Sunday at Plow Creek Rick Reha did a teaching on grace and then he had us get into small groups and tell stories about grace in our lives.

I didn't think of it then but later I thought--I have a telemarketing grace story. For the past 4-5 years I've been in charge of Plow Creek's long distance services. We have 10 lines and six toll free numbers and use account codes to divide the bills between personal, church and Plow Creek business calls.

We've had the same long distance carrier for the past four years. I've taken numerous calls from people trying to get us to switch. Most of the time they can't come close to the deal we have. In self-defense I've developed a policy of telling folks to fax me their offer in writing.

Then about four weeks ago Maria Mandic from DC Communications called. I'd never heard of the company. I did my usual bit about about faxing which she promptly did.

Usually it's me who practices grace with telemarketers. I never hang up on them. I listen and when I don't buy or donate I say, "Better luck on your next call."

But Maria practiced grace with me. No pressure. She just called back when she said she would and answered all my questions.

It took her four weeks of follow-up since I had to research our current plan (it turns out, unbeknownst to me, that our current plan had raised their rates and fees), compare it to hers, and then consult with folks at Plow Creek.

Never once did she make me feel guilty for taking so long to make the decision. Not an ounce of pressure. She simply let me tell her when to call me next and then she'd call me.

Late in our series of conversations she mentioned that she not only does sales but would be my service rep. "Wow," I thought, "I can acutally call this nice person when there's a problem?"

Yesterday we completed the deal and I had a story about telemarketing grace.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A good conflict with my prez

Trust is built on love and conflict.

A few months back the EGL finance committee decided that, since we don’t have a lot of money, I shouldn’t spend more than $30 (other than petty cash) without the approval of the finance committee.

This created a conflict for me. In EGL workshops we teach that trust is essential to helping a group thrive and lots of rules do the opposite of building trust. I felt like the finance committee didn't trust me with EGL finances.

I knew they were trying to do a good job of being responsible for EGL finacnes but I was still hooked.

In February I tried to talk with EGL president Jason Harrison (who'se also on the finance committee) about the finance committees policy. I said that I thought the EGL finance committee should trust me and that our monthly finance statements were a good way for me to be accountable.

Jason pointed out that under the system I was proposing I would have already spent the money by the time the finance committee became aware of what I was spending it on. And he thought we ought to be having conversations about where the money was coming from and where it was going.

He didn't say it but implicit in his concern was: What’s the use of a board and a finance committee if Rich makes all the decisions?

I said that I did want to have conversations about money. I don't know if I said it but implicit in what I was feeling was: I don't want to be controlled by a set of rules that make it hard to do business in a good way.

Both of us left that meeting feeling frustrated.

This past week I spent a couple of days in Indiana, working on drumming up business for Evergreen Leaders. Also, I met with Jason.

We went over the finance discussion again, this time much more calmly, and were able to work on a plan that made sense to both of us.

This times as I listened to Jason, I realized that while I need to give the message to the board “trust me”, I also need to be open with the board about the direction I think we should be headed and that includes where the income will be coming from and where I think we should be spending money.

Trust and openness need to fit together like mashed potatoes and gravy.

We agreed it makes sense for me to do regular financial forecasts to the board--giving them a read on EGL's financial realties: here’s how much money I think will be coming in the next three months and these are the ways I think we ought to spend it.

That way we can have conversations about EGL’s fianc├ęs without them creating rules and me fussing about the rules. When we human beings have rules imposed on us we have a natural tendency to think of ways to get around the rules.

I don’t want the board and the finance committee us to waste time dreaming up rules and me waste time dreaming ways to get around them.

At the same time I want our finances to be completely in the open so that we can trust each other as together we figure out how to make EGL be a thriving group that gives ordinary people the tools to help the workplaces, churches, and families thrive.

I walked away from this meeting grateful for growing trust with Jason.

Random thoughts

(I wrote this post last Wednesday but forgot the version of my name I had used on this blog and couldn't post on the Goshen College computer I was using.)

I'm at Goshen College, on break between meetings with folks about Evergreen Leaders. I did a Google search for Evergreen Leades to get to the EGL site and noticed that our Evergreen Leaders tops the Google list.

*****

I'm on a trip promoting EGL workshops. Sometimes I get struck by doubts. Will EGL really make a difference in peoples lives? Will it really help groups thive? A few minutes ago I met with John Roth, a Goshen history professor. He was one of my daughters' favorite profs when they were students here. He said that Virgil Miller, CEO of Sauder Woodworking and current president of the Goshen College board, attended a Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership program a dozen years ago and that it transformed how he operates as a CEO. My deepest longing for EGL is that in a few years people will be talking what a difference it has made in their lives and their groups.

*****

When I arrived at Goshen College this afternoon I unloaded my wheelchair and looked around for someone to direct me to Wyse Hall where John Roth has his office. At that moment I was hailed from a tree. I looked up to see Joel Gonzalez from Reba Place, the church and communal group that founded Plow Creek in 1971, and a young woman. They hopped dwon from the tree, Joel intrduced me to Kirsten, and they led me to Wyse Hall.

*****

At any one point in time I am meditating on three books of the Bible, a verse or two at a time. Many months ago I began meditating on the Gospel According to Matthew. On Easter morning I woke up and realized that I was arriving at the first verse of the resurrection story that morning. Like Mary, I've been treasuring that in my heart.

*****

I am hoping to arrive home tomorrow night in time to take Sarah on a date. I treasure her in my heart too.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Random thoughts

(I wrote these random thoughts two days ago but posted them today.)

I'm at Goshen College, on break between meetings with folks about Evergreen Leaders. I did a Google search for Evergreen Leades to get to the EGL site and noticed that our Evergreen Leaders tops the Google list.

*****

I'm on a trip promoting EGL workshops. Sometimes I get struck by doubts. Will EGL really make a difference in peoples lives? Will it really help groups thive? A few minutes ago I met with John Roth, a Goshen history professor. He was one of my daughters' favorite profs when they were students here. He said that Virgil Miller, CEO of Sauder Woodworking and current president of the Goshen College board, attended a Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership program a dozen years ago and that it transformed how he operates as a CEO. My deepest longing for EGL is that in a few years people will be talking what a difference it has made in their lives and their groups.

*****

When I arrived at Goshen College this afternoon I unloaded my wheelchair and looked around for someone to direct me to Wyse Hall where John Roth has his office. At that moment I was hailed from a tree. I looked up to see Joel Gonzalez from Reba Place, the church and communal group that founded Plow Creek in 1971, and a young woman. They hopped dwon from the tree, Joel intrduced me to Kirsten, and they led me to Wyse Hall.

*****

At any one point in time I am meditating on three books of the Bible, a verse or two at a time. Many months ago I began meditating on the Gospel according to Matthew. On Easter morning I woke up and realized that I was arriving at the first verse of the resurrection story that morning. Like Mary, I've been treasuring that in my heart.

*****

I am hoping to arrive home tomorrow night in time to take Sarah on a date. I treasure her in my heart too.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A leader's cry of unfulfilled longing

Yesterday I cried while teaching at Plow Creek. I don't cry that often while teaching but once in awhile I hit an issue that resonates deeply.

Yesterday I was talking about Jesus, near the end of his ministry, expressing a deep, unfulfilled longing.

From the beginning of his ministry the religious powers that be found Jesus and his way of doing things offensive. Yet he never backed down--he kept healing on the Sabbath, he kept hanging out with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other undesirables, he never repudiated the rumor that he was the Messiah, a blashphemy to the powers that be who knew that the Messiah was not going to be a carpenter from the wrong side of the tracks.

Yet he loved the very people who were out to get him. After describing their hypocrisy in a series of striking images (often referred to as the seven woes), he ends with this plaintive cry of unfulfilled longing:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

As a pastor I've poured myself out to folks at Plow Creek for 24 years. Many people have responded but there have been a couople of people who I was deeply bonded to who, no matter how hard I tried, refused to be "gathered."

And I couldn't back down in order to gather them.

The refusal of some to be "gathered as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings" (isn't that a tender image?) hasn't stopped me from continuing to pour my life out.

I think of the line from Oscar Romero's prayer, Prophets of a Future Not Our Own:

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

So even though I fail to gather some, I keep on, liberated in knowing that I am just a little dude doing my small part, leaving plenty of room for God's grace.

More than once lately in my journal when I'm feeling down I've asked Jesus, "Did you ever feel this way?"

I take comfort in his leader's cry of unfulfilled longing.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Blogging Sarah's birthday 6

9:58 p.m.

I'm a tired boy. This is my last blog of Sarah's birthday. If you want to read them in the order I wrote them scroll down to Blogging Sarah's birthday 1.

Heidi, Woju, Sarah, and I had a great feast and two hours of conversation.

Sarah opened a gift from Esther Johnson--a lefse turner and a lefse maker frying pan. On the box it listed the foods you could make on the frying pan. Lefse topped the list and injera was at the bottom. Injera is an Ethiopian flat bread.

Woju was so excited because he loves injera. I said to Heidi and Woju, "This frying pan is designed to make food from both of your roots"--lefse comes from Heidi's Norwegian and Swedish roots and injera comes from Woju's Ethiopian roots.

Good night, faithful readers, and good night, my dear Sarah. I may be tired but I have a big smile on my face because I am the man blessed to be married to Sarah.

Blogging Sarah's birthday 5

7:06 p.m.

Sarah and I sat on the swing in front of our house, ate more of the dessert from this mornings party, watched the birds and dandelions, and talked.

We're waiting for our daughter, Heidi, and her husband, Woju, to arrive from St. Louis for a birthday supper. They should be arriving in half an hour.

Thirty-one years ago when Sarah and I celebrated her 22nd birthday we were about to be married. Mostly I was thinking about how wonderful it was going to be to be in bed together.
But there have been lots of other wonderful things about Sarah that I never could have imagined when we were 22. Let me count seven.

One, in 1993 I finished the first draft of a long-dreamed of novel, Jonas and Sally. Sarah was the first person to read it and critique it. She proved to be a great editor. After she critiqued it, I re-wrote it and when it was accepted for publication by Good Books they had to do little editing.

Two, she is an astute reader of people. As a pastoral elder at Plow Creek I have discussed many pastoral situations that I have faced over the years and benefitted greatly from her ability to read people.

Three, while before we married both of said we thought we'd be good parents, I never realized what a joy it would be to watch her mother our children. Our three children who live in three different states all love to talk to her on the phone. I love hearing the life in her voice as she talks to them.

Four, she's a diplomat. Being the spouse of a pastor is not an easy role since pastors are subject to attacks and challenges like other leaders. Sarah loves the people of Plow Creek as much as I do and is gentle with my critics. I trust her and so do the people of Plow Creek. That's high praise.

Five, she loves to go on dates and second honeymoons with me. In fact, she was the one who suggested we go on dates every other week when our children were little. Talk about a great idea. We still go on dates and this week one of the workers at Taco Bell in Princeton, a place we have had many dates over the years, referred to us as newly weds. That's a high compliment. I never knew old folks could have so much fun being married.

Six, she has taught me that's a joy to love her by washing the dishes and she's invited me to wash them right now.

Seven, about those second honeymoons. Our kids know it's a joy for us and they often give us gifts of money for second honeymoons for birthdays and anniversaries.

My dear lady manages a smile after I woke her up for a suprise 8:00 a.m. birthday party. Posted by Hello

Boo Graham is an artist in food. Posted by Hello

I greet people people outside our house for this morning's surprise birthday party. Posted by Hello

Blogging Sarah's birthday 4

3:44 p.m.

Sarah has been spring cleaning, putting the screens on the windows, and talking on the folks to lots of people who are calling to wish her happy birthday. Right now she's on the phone with her mother.

Blogging Sarah's birthday 3

10:07 a.m.

Sarah's best line about the surprise party--she told our daughter, Hannah, "Rich threw himself a party on my birthday."

Blogging Sarah's birthday 2

9:15 a.m.

Sixteen people showed up for the party. There were lots of dubious comments as we gathered on the front lawn. Rick Reha said he was was with Sarah (he is definitely not a morning person). Mark Stahnke said he was going to stay outside in case there was an explosion.

No explosion--just hiding under the covers.

I went into our bedroom and turned off the fan. Four-year-old Kora Behrens joined me, bringing a couple of Tootsie Rolls. I motioned for the folks in the livingroom to sing.

At the sound of "Happy Birthday" Sarah covered up her head with the blankets. Kora and I came to the head of the bed and Sarah peaked out to see who was with me. Kora gave her the Tootsie Rolls. I told Sarah I loved her and she loves me because she accepted the reality of waking up to a surprise birthday party.

Boo is an artist in food. She had written "Happy birthday, Sarah" in whipped cream and carmel. I brought the cake back to our room for Sarah to see.

Then, while she was getting dressed, Lynn Reha and I dished up the desert of everyone. When Sarah joined the party, Bev Benner led us in singing "happy birthday" again. Bev was late and didn't realize we had sung it already. But it's worth singing "once, twice, three times a lady."

I had the dessert planned but no drink. Rick Reha put on hot water for tea. What are friends for if not to make up for one's shortcomings.

Sarah is such a sweetheart. She put up with my surprise with good humor. I bless the day she was born.

Blogging Sarah's birthday 1

7:30 a.m.

Fifty-three years ago the love of my life was born an orphan. Her father, Ralph Larson, a General Conference Baptiptist missionary in Ethiopia, had been shot and killed five months and three days earlier.

What a sad beginning to life but how glad I am she lives.

Today I am going to blog her birthday like I blogged my birthday last September 30.

In a few minutes friends from Plow Creek are going to gather at our house for a surprise brithday party. Am I nuts? Sarah is not a morning person. Most likely she'll still be sleeping? I am a little nuts and crazy in love. So hopefully after the shock of waking up to a whole lot of people in the living room singing happy birthday, she'll enjoy the attention. A little bit, any way....

Boo Graham has made two ice cream and oreo cookie cakes which we will all enjoy for breakfast. Did I say I am little crazy? I did have her add bananas to the recipe so that the cake will have fruit, nuts, wheat (there must be some wheat in Oreos) and dairy products. Sounds like a balanced breakfast to me. At least for once in a year....

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A long streak of hard

Lately I've been getting up at 4:30 - 5:00 a.m. A long time ago I learned that if I wake up anywhere near morning I might as well get up because otherwise I'll lay in the dark with my brain rattling around.

I've had a long streak of hard work and a series of challenges to my leadership style by people I love. I've been waking up on edge.

I sit in my chair and write in my journal--always starting with worship. Most of the time my spirit quiets down as I connect with Abba and Jesus.

As a leader I am prone to thinking it's all up to me. People look to me for action, wisdom, and saftey. I do my best but it often doesn't seem to be enough.

Starting the morning in worship before dawn helps me to return to reality--I have a small role in God's plan, a plan that's been in motion for millenia.

Lately I've been plodding through Jeremiah who was always hearing a word from the Lord that got him into trouble with people around him. Finally he got tossed into jail, accused of helping the enemy. At one point, since Jeremiah seemed to have a pipe line to God, the king wanted to hear what he had to say and then, of course, the king went his own way.

My troubles seem tiny compared to Jeremiah's.

I worship and bathe in the word of the Lord and usually a phrase for the day emerges. This morning it was: Nurture through faithfulness.

So I'm trying to be faithful as I work and love today, trusting that others will be nurtured by my faithfulness.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Haughton practices what he preaches

When you teach, it's challenge to practice what you preach.

I thought of that last Saturday morning when I was e-mailing Laurence Haughton to ask permission to use an excerpt from his book, It's Not What You Say... It’s What You Do – How Following Through at Every Level Can Make or Break Your Company.

It's Not What you Say... has an extremely practical section on teaching empathy on the job, based on the experience of the Union Square Hospitality Group in New York.

I've never met Haughton but I did a Google search on his name to see if I could find his e-mail address. I wanted permission to use an excerpt from his book as a handout for Evergreen Leaders' Listening Path Workshop.

I found his website and saw that he had not only recently published It's Not What you Say... but a couple years ago he had co-authored It's Not the BIG that Eat the SMALL...It's the FAST that Eat the SLOW: How to Use Speed as a Competitive Tool in Business.

As e-mailed Haughton I wondered if he practices what he preachers--if he uses speed as a competetive tool in business. I needed him to be fast because I wanted to use the excerpt in a workshop on Wednesday.

Haughton does practice what he preaches.

I e-mailed him on a Saturday morning and he responded within two hours. Not only did he respond but he said that he had checked out the Evergreen Leaders web site and sees that "we share a lot of the same guiding principles."

Then he added that he needed to check with his Currency Books editor in New York on Monday to get permission for Evergreen Leaders to use the excerpt. Late Monday he had permission from his editor and he e-mailed me the excerpt.

Haughton is fast.

The excerpt, "Reading Between the Lines" worked great. At EGL workshops folks sit at round tables, five per table, and we alternate between lectures and table action. I divided the hand out into five sections, numbered 1-5, and had each person read their section and then teach it to the rest of the people at their table in sequenece, 1-5.

The participants were all from an organization that serves adults with developmental disabilties in small group homes. After they had taught each other the hand out I had them share stories of of staff at their organization who use their heads, hearts, and courage to serve the folks they work with.

After they shared the stories I had them write headlines for the stories and post them on the wall.

There was great energy in the room as they taught "Reading Between the Lines", shared the stories, and did the headlines.

It was an honor to be on the Listening Path with these folks.