Friday, September 30, 2005

Worth more than a billion dollar inheritance

Today I turned 54. Generally I enjoy birthdays, seeing them as one more reason to enjoy life. I even blogged my birthday last year. But today I've been sad. I'm not exactly sure why.

Recently I figured out that my insurance company pays about $150,000 a year for medicine for two chronic conditions I have--rheumatoid arthritis and emphysema due to alpha one antitrypson deficiency. And that doesn't count all the expense connected with being hospitalized for a blood clot this summer. Today I recieved a hospital bill for over $30,000 that my insurance company will pay one of these days.

It's expensive making sure I keep having birthdays.

Am I worth it? I suppose the answer is grace.

Here's three words of grace that I am treasuring on this day I turn 54. One, last night as Sarah lay in my arms she said, "I am glad you are alive for your birthday."

She, who's father was killed before she was born, never loses track of the wonder of having a man who loves her and doesn't disappear on her.

Two, recently I began writing a column for Tiskilwa's weekly newspaper and today I received a birthday card from Wilber and Doris Giltner, a couple I've met a time or two. In the card they wrote: "We sure enjoy your column in the Chief. Keep up the good work - you are an asset to our community!"

Three, you have to know a little background to appreciate the sentence in my daughter Hannah's card that's ringing in my heart. First, as a communal member of Plow Creek Fellowship we've taken the equivalent of a vow of poverty. Sarah and I are accumulating no assets to pass on to our chidlren. Second, I write a letter of each of my children and their spouses/fiancees each week. In her card to me Hannah was reflecting on how close to me she feels even though she and her husband Donny live in Florida while Sarah and I live in Illinois.

Then Hannah said, "I realize it is because of your faithful letters, e-mails, and our phone conversations. Thank you for all your letters--I woudn't trade them for a billion dollar inhertance."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

My kind of Mennonite

When the president of Eastern Mennonite College named names in an effort to keep Mennonites pure, he included Jim Harnish.

During World War II, Jim, a long time member of Plow Creek Fellowship, was a conscientious objector and served in an alternative service program run by Mennonites.

The program, sanctioned by the U.S. government, was required to accept not just Mennonites but all conscientious objectors.

Mennonite leaders were worried that young Mennonites were being radicalized by being thrown together with pacifists of other persuasions.

Jim was part of an alternative service unit, working as an orderly at a state hospital near Poughkeepsie, NY, when the president of EMC identified a conservative young man who was part of the unit. He wrote the young man and asked who among the Mennonites at the unit were being radicalized.

Based on the information from the young man, the EMC president sent a letter to the unit naming Jim and others who he deemed as not adhering strictly enough to all Mennonite beliefs. How can you call yourself Mennonites? he asked.

The young man who had provided the names felt very bad. He had not expected the people he had named to be denouced in a letter to the whole unit.

Jim and another person in the unit felt sorry for the young man and took him out for a malt.

Now that's my kind of Mennonite.

Taking a rhythm day to get my groove back

Yesterday, Tuesday, I took a rhythm day. Not a sick day but a rhythm day.

After waking Monday with a headache and going through the day on passionless will power, by evening I was thinking, "I just want to run away and hide." It was at that point I realized I needed to take a rhythm day.

Tuesday morning I left home and wandered to the local library, chatted wih the librarians, taking note for future columns.

Then I had a long lunch at Burger King reading the latest Fast Company. After lunch I drove to a park, leaned my van seat back, and took a nice nap. Actaully two nices naps. The first one wasn't long enough.

After reading Freakonomics for awhile I took a swim and then headed home for dinner with friends.

I love people and pastoring and leading EGL but every once in awhile it's too much.

If I were working for a standard USA company I would face a moral dilemna: should I call in sick?

Margaret Morford, president of the HR Edge Inc., a Nashville-based training and management development consulting company, says people are taking sick days because they are simply working harder and longer. Voice mail, e-mail, cell phones and other technology also allow people to be plugged in to work more than ever.

"People are getting burned out," she said. "And I recommend to managers: You need to keep your eye on people, and sometimes you just need to give them a mental health day, or at least offer them the option."

Companies need to abandon the old sick day policies and give people rhythm days.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwarz make two points in The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal'':

We need to balance stress and recovery.
Balancing stress and recovery helps us be highly energetic.

When the balance between stress and recovery gets out of rhythm on the stress end we get sick. Much better to take a rhythm day. And now I have my groove back.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Turning the good ship Evergreen Leaders

The major emotional, intellectual, spiritual challenge I've been working on is expanding Evergreen Leaders into board training and consultation. At our Labor Day weekend board meeting the board strongly encouraged me to head in this direction.

First, it's an emotional challenge because our vision from the beginning has been to give ordinary people leadership tools to help their groups thrive. We want to work with groups who would not otherwise have access to leadership teaching. So it feels like a loss to me to invest in boards, pastors, and CEOs, as if we will be ignoring the people ate the extremities of the organization, the people we wanted to work with in the first place. I'm sad at the thought of turning away from ordinary people who make it possible for any group to thrive.

Second, it's an intellectual task because to keep integrity we need to figure out how to add board teaching and pastor/CEO consulting within the framework of our mission which is to give ordinary people the tools to help their groups thrive. All along I've had a nagging concern that to be really beneficial to nonprofits and churches, that we need to engage the pastors and CEOs. I pretty much overlooked the boards, a mistake, I think. I am reading a lot about church and nonprofit board development as a way of filling my brain with what others are thinking about the roles of boards. I am enjoying the reading and trusting we will be able to fit the pieces together into a uniquely EGL approach to boards just as we've done with our series of workshops.

Third, it's a spiritual challenge because EGL is God's business and I am God's man. Even though I am very passionate about Evergreen Leaders, it's not mine. Each day I focus on trusting that Jesus will shape my day and my work that day including my work with Evergreen Leaders. In turning the good ship Evergreen Leaders to also focus on leaders and boards, I am obeying the true founder of EGL, the big Dude I work for.

Evergreen Leaders is all about helping groups change so that they can thrive. Now we are getting to practice what we preach, or maybe, we are practicing on ourselves so that we will have something to preach.

Whenever I think of helping an organization to change I think of that a small change in the direction of a ship’s tiny rudder will, over time, change the course of an ocean liner.