No Matter What

No Matter What

Men Building Bridges #9

“Have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt.”

An acquaintance recently shared a quote and comments from St. Augustine & Oswald Chambers.  Having recently been reminded of it, I was compelled to write. The relevant portion is Oswald Chambers’ discussion of St. Augustine’s prayer for forgiveness from the ‘lust of vindication’, and reads as follows:

Another thing that distracts us is our passion for vindication. St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” Such a need for constant vindication destroys our soul’s faith in God. Don’t say, “I must explain myself,” or, “I must get people to understand.” Our Lord never explained anything—He left the misunderstandings or misconceptions of others to correct themselves.  – My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers (from ‘travel the road’)

While I thought I might understand the insight offered, I was immediately struck by the inescapable fact that in order to even attempt to vindicate a mistake, one must *first* be able to, and indeed, is compelled, to *admit* to a mistake, before any attempts at vindication can take place. The irony invoked by both the speaker and their actions, in light of their quoting Oswald Chambers and St. Augustine, left a distinctly foul taste in my mouth. The light was flickering, however dimly.  If we think we are always right and know everything already, we will never be able to learn anything.  We love to nurse our painful, self-righteous grudges against those who’ve wronged us, especially when it has been unfairly, unexpectedly, and publicly done.  This was a particularly painful and humbling lesson I brought entirely on myself.  I could have avoided this lesson by first, responding in love as opposed to responding in kind.  This, then, is my own account of what happens when we fail to respond in love, no matter what.

My first failure with this person was after receiving an unexpected, abusive, angry, accusing, challenging, hateful, extended outburst.  I failed miserably, by accepting his challenge.  I responded with my own contempt & anger.  Unchanged, the other angry, accusing challenger left the room after repeating his taunts.  I was ashamed, wondering why this happened.  The next day, I approached the man whom unexpectedly had lashed out at me, sincerely apologizing for responding to their anger with my own.  I wanted to heal the breach.  He seemingly accepted, and I happily hosted his lunch with afternoon drinks, and later that same day, hosted his dinner, both at my expense.

While at this dinner, I and the others in attendance, were stunned, when, during completely innocuous, relaxed, easily flowing conversation, the same man unexpectedly launched on another contemptuous, angry, hateful, accusing outburst.  He was shaking with anger and rage.  I was grateful to have been too stunned to respond in any form the second time.  I completed the meal in silence at the restaurant.  As I had offered the meal days prior to any of this, I paid the three-figure check for all in attendance and silently went home.

I despaired, not engaging in conversation with this man again.  A few days later, I emailed him to extend an open invitation to resolve whatever had caused this in a peaceful manner, offering a possible solution.  I was completely clueless of how it started and why such rage was repeatedly directed at me.  The offer was declined, no apology nor acknowledgment would be forthcoming.  I had done nothing in either case to warrant such raging outbursts.

Several months passed during which I received the unexpected gift of an apology from someone else entirely. It instantly prompted my respect and forgiveness.  It was disarming, humbling, sincere, and honest.  As this person spoke, my understanding began to flicker.  I was moved with love and compassion for them.  It was bittersweet as my own desire for an apology extinguished the flicker and changed into a feeling of entitlement and demand producing my own contempt and resentment.

Still later, I had occasion to contact the man whose outbursts had affected me so deeply.  Seeking to clarify a possible miscommunication in an upcoming meeting which he had invited me to, I dialed his number.  The conversation turned, quickly once again, ugly, as I thought I should bring up first, the unresolved breach.  My query was perceived offensively as an accusation and an affront.  This man once again raged, casting even more accusations, some of them painfully accurate.  I then, used his blind rage to justify my own observation of his hypocrisy.  The flicker of understanding awoke.

The phone conversation was able to continue as I challenged the man to please listen to what I was actually saying, and not focus on what he was feeling.  He began to repeat my words, several times, until he calmed down enough to understood what I was asking.  He was making an effort to listen.  Acknowledging nothing, he assured me he would look into any miscommunication.

He relayed to me that the previous incidents ‘were resolved in his way of thinking’.  I asked, ‘How am I supposed to know if it was resolved one way or the other if no one could tell me?’.  ‘How can silence, without acknowledgement, and ignoring what happened resolve the continued expressions of rage and accusations?’ I asked.

‘Why couldn’t you *say* anything to me?’ I asked.  All I received was a shrug. “How hard is it to say ‘I’m sorry’?”  I inquired aloud, “just acknowledge what you did and say ‘I’m sorry’?”

He never did acknowledge nor apologize for his raging, spittle-filled episodes. I wasted no more time on them, nor him.

The meeting later happened without incident.  I was unable to sleep at all.  I researched Oswald Chamber’s comments & St. Augustine’s prayer.  I let go of my need for vindication & contempt.  I finally understood.  In doing so, I received a quite unexpected gift: release from the prison of my own contempt, replacing it instead with freedom and peace.  I realized, I may *never* hear the words ‘I’m sorry’.  The words would have satisfied my wounded pride and may or may not have released me from my contempt.

I am responsible for my own actions, thoughts and speech, not others’ actions or lack thereof.  It is not my place to neither blame nor demand anything.  An apology, acknowledgment, and request for forgiveness, all, are gifts, not tribute to be demanded by my ego.  Will he say the words ‘I’m sorry’?  No, probably never. Will it bother me? No. Will it bother him? Again, not my concern. It’s his concern to resolve, nor not.

Giving and receiving a most amazing gift: whether an apology, or requesting forgiveness for our own offenses releases both the offender AND the offended.  However, it must be freely, and willingly offered. I can never demand it, and we may never receive it from those who have hurt us.  There will be plenty of opportunity to give and receive these gifts as we may gather with those who have hurt us in holiday gatherings.  We may not ever receive an apology, acknowledgement, nor request for forgiveness.  Never expect it.  Holding on to resentment, contempt, anger, and vindication only imprisons ourselves and hardens our hearts towards those who have hurt us.  Don’t worry about what someone else has done to us, no matter who they are.  Worry about ourselves. We are to be loving advocates for each other, even those who hurt us, not contemptuous accusers of each other.

During this holiday time, before offering anything to anyone, if you have hurt someone, giving ‘as good as you’ve gotten’, instead, give them the gifts of release and peace they will never, ever expect: an apology or forgiveness.  You may just receive a stronger, deeper relationship and peace for both of you in return.  You will definitely have a better relationship with yourself and others.  Who sharpens you?  Who holds you accountable?  As men, hold each other accountable, sharpening each other, however painful.  I am daily thankful, for the mentors who hold me accountable, and in turn, allow me to hold them accountable, encouraging each other and building each other up in our daily struggles.  As men, respond in love, no matter what.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”

“Make this your common practice: Confess your faults to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.”

“Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.  There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.  I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him.  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

(emphasis mine) “…I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters:  If you enter your place of worship/meditation, and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out…


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Distractions

Distractions

Men Building Bridges #8

“What you seek, is seeking you.” – Rumi

I shook my head in disbelief as I watched college students, office workers & retirees attempt to navigate the crowded four lane boulevard while texting, making cellphone calls, adjusting make-up, and eating fast food, all while attempting to drive at the posted 45MPH.  Suddenly, a creative, frustrated, naval-inspired expletive almost escaped my clenched mouth as I swerved tightly to avoid a much more mature driver talking on a cell phone straying blindly into my lane at 45MPH.  In the heavy, dangerous traffic, I swallowed hard and took a deep, calming breath.  It triggered several jarring memories of distracted moments.

My frustration vanished as I remembered.  While in college, thinking I saw a friend at a local gas station, my eyes left the road in front of me for just a moment, and I rear-ended a car that had unexpectedly stopped at a green light, the other driver unsure of where to go.  Fortunately, no one was injured.  However, it did $200 damage to the other vehicle’s bumper, and totaled my car.  A tough lesson for a struggling college student in a little red Chevette.

An avid, life-long cyclist, many years later, I was riding at a fast clip in a peloton of approximately 60 other riders, half-way through a 54-mile ride.  All of us were drafting off of each other with just inches between our front tires and the rear tire of the riders in front of us.  Reflexively, I drew in a sharp quick breath.  Incredulous, at 30MPH+, a rider, inches in front of me, was grabbing awkwardly for a ringing cell phone in his back shirt pocket.  With no hand signal, no warning, he squeezed his brakes with his other hand.  I immediately knew I’d be forced to cross tires with him.  I wasn’t distracted, but he was.  He didn’t go down, but I did, rolling into the fall, end over end.   Everyone else immediately scattered on a road with traffic.  Fortunately, no one hit me.  Stopping, I stayed curled in a ball, knowing better than to get up in the middle of a pack moving at that speed.  Road rash, pride, and a rear wheel were the only casualties as I finished the remaining 30 miles nursing a wobbly rear wheel.

One more final memory flitted across my mind’s eye:  ‘Huh?  What did you say?’ my friend and passenger mumbled, distracted.  I remembered the conversation, or at least trying to have a conversation.  Driving with a friend, their iPhone was a constant distraction, audible notification triggering an immediate, pavlovian response that was instantly demanding and distracting.  I was glad I was driving.  They were infamous for using their cell phone for anything but talking while driving.  Dings for constant text messages, check-ins, custom ringtones for games indicating it was his turn, status updates, tweets, emails, videos, jokes, news/sports updates and the occasional actual phone call, all completely obliterated and interrupted what was supposed to be time spent talking together on a road trip.  Taking a deep breath, I quietly asked my friend if they could please completely turn off their cell phone and just enjoy our trip together.  My friend, simultaneously annoyed and sheepish, powered down their iPhone, looking out the window.  At first they struggled with a real, actual, face to face conversation.  As the miles, music and time passed, they relaxed, remembering, and eased back into honest, actual conversation.

Flashing back to the present, I cringed, as a texting college student ran a red light, followed by an angry senior citizen, swearing loudly out of their open window.   Both narrowly missed myself and another driver already in an intersection.  I realized all it takes is a fraction of a second, an unexpected or willing distraction, for myself, or someone else, to place ourselves and everyone around us at risk of catastrophe.

Distractions come in many forms, some are intrusive, some are invited.  Our reactions to those distractions can be just as immediate and intrusive.  We can be so easily distracted.  All it takes is a glance, or others’ driving, judgment, word, reaction, hyperbole, text message, anger, email, IM, ringtone, tv, computer, or image to misdirect our attention.  We often remember to excuse our own moments of distraction chosen or otherwise.  All the while, we are forgetting that a moment’s distraction can cause damage to ourselves or someone else.

Distractions can be dangerous not only while driving, but also at work, in our homes, in our marriages, in our relationships, in our families, in our jobs, in our daily lives, in our daily spiritual journey.  What is your current distraction?  Is it a reaction to a sudden stimulus or a well-rehearsed, habitual, chosen favorite used to deflect our own complicity in avoiding things and others around us?  Are distractions destroying our relationships, chipping relentlessly away at our focus?  Are the distractions more important than each other and the attention we are to be focusing?  Are we seeking distractions or are we seeking God?  We need to be careful what we are looking for, we may just find it, and end up with nothing but disaster.  We always have a choice: to be distracted or focus.  What are we looking for?  We just might find it or it may just find us.

 

Discretion

Discretion

Building Bridges #7

“You are sent as sheep among wolves. Be as wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

It was summer 1984 in the middle of a long recession, I was young, idealistic, and convinced of the basic goodness of all those around me.  I often would stop to help change flat tires, pick up hitch-hikers, give food & water to the hungry.  I worked as a night clerk at a 24-hour convenience store on third shift while in college.  Yes, we had a few food fights, and long talks about girlfriends, life, cars, sports, customers, dogs, food, music, history, philosophy, religion, local police patrols, roommates, and what we wanted to do when we were no longer working at a convenience store while struggling through college.  All done a decade before the movie ‘Clerks’ was ever thought of.

My co-worker, an avid golfer, kept his clubs in the trunk of his super-clean stock 1967 Ford Fairlane.  It totally outclassed my shiny, red Chevette.  Often, during occasional bouts of boredom, he would get a driver out, spin around with his eyes closed, pointing with his club.  Stopping at random, he would tee up in front of the store, then drive the ball in the dark, in the middle of the night, in the direction of his random pointing.  Sometimes, we never heard where it hit or landed.  Sometimes, we did, and ran inside.  Sometimes, the Kroger’s workers diagonally across the street would scatter in alarm at the sudden arrival of a golf ball in their midst. Were we showing discretion?  Obviously not.  However, our customers showed just as much a lack of discretion.

Often, teenagers, their parents, local swing shift workers, cops, drug dealers, pimps, hookers, college students, drunks, and homeless people would wander in for bread, milk, lunch meat, toilet paper, coffee, conversation, more beer, rolling papers, cigarettes, panty hose, ice, sandwiches, conversation, or just warmth.  Some wouldn’t have enough money for even a sandwich or coffee.  Both my co-worker and I would chip in from our own meager pockets to make sure no one went hungry or without coffee.  We were often surprised what people were searching for.

One dealer, satisfied with a good night at the university up the street, left a baggie of pot on the counter as a tip, ‘On the house’, he said as he walked out after paying for some beer.  It was immediately flushed down the toilet by myself, much to the chagrin of my co-worker.  Were they showing discretion when they were falling over displays, changing clothes, spilling coffee & beer on themselves while drinking it before even getting up to the counter?  Were they showing discretion when they held us up at knife-point or gunpoint for drug money?  Obviously not.  However, neither did some of our other co-workers.

One co-worker, even after being warned about not using a metal holder for meat on the deli slicer, still held the meat in place with his hand.  While he was laughing & joking with us, I and a customer, watched in horror as he sliced the end of his thumb off with the meat, neatly stacked beneath the slicer.  The EMT’s later retrieved the end of his thumb on ice, but were unable to re-attach it.  Another co-worker went home one evening with roast beef in her hair.  It was still there when she returned in the morning.  Were they showing discretion?  Obviously not.

Despite the eye-popping experiences of working there, I still felt compelled to help people:  giving rides, sharing food, fixing flats & radiator hoses on the side of the road, until one day, many years later.  Working on a payroll system database snafu in the middle of the night with a co-worker, I left to get pizzas.  In addition to working at the same university up the street from the old convenience store, I had also just completed certification as a volunteer Red Cross Disaster Services Coordinator with several thousand volunteer hours under my belt on local & national disasters.

On the way back to work that night, I witnessed an automobile accident and stopped to help.  As prepared as I thought I was for any disaster, I ended up quickly being carjacked by the driver, (a parole violator I later discovered), in his haste to escape.  I memorized the route we took, turn by turn, thinking it would be my last trip, ever, especially given the carjacker’s warning.  Imagine my relief when I was finally instructed to pull over next to a house in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and the carjacker jumped out.

We are here to take care of each other.  If we don’t, who will?  Personally, I still think it’s worth the risk to continue reaching out, but not in the indiscriminate, naive way of my youth.  Never give cash, but help in kind: call AAA, towtrucks, police, medical assistance, food, water, grocery store/McDonald’s gift cards, socks, granola bars, toothpaste, toothbrushes, water bottles, directions to shelters, phone numbers for churches, food pantries, agencies that can provide assistance.  Remember the Samaritan:  pay it forward, or better yet: pay it ahead for someone else.  We still listen, care, help people make connections for urgent needs.  Be alert, aware of your surroundings, and humble.  If you aren’t genuine or sincere, most people can tell – so, don’t waste their’s, your’s, or anyone’s time in making yourself feel better.  If you don’t genuinely care what is happening to those around you, better get alone, think, ask yourself, meditate, and find out why.  Above all, have the presence of mind to know when to help.  This can be accomplished through meditation, prayer and simple observation.

We are charged to be aware of evil and those who would do evil to us.  We aren’t charged to be afraid of each other.  Even when others mean it for evil, the universe sometimes still intends it for good.  As much as we desire to believe the best of others around us, not everyone we encounter shares our same desire.  I am older, a little more experienced, hopefully a little wiser, and after some soul-searching many years ago, still helping others.  Don’t let fear or the meanness of our current economic or political climate or fear prevent us from reaching out to others.  At some point we have to live it, not just talk about it.  Let’s be careful out there.

 

Detours

Detours

Building Bridges #6

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

– St. Paul

Living for more than a decade after the failure of my business, my first marriage, walking through some of the darkest times in my life, followed later by some of the brightest times of my life, I thought I knew where I was headed and what my life was going to be like for the next several years.  Man, did Life have a clue-by-four in store for me:  a little more than three months after remarrying, and looking forward to a vacation in Hawaii, I had a heart attack.

Two days after Christmas, at 2AM, my wife drove me to a local hospital where they promptly put me on a helicopter to a better-equipped facility.  The pain was excruciating.  In the shivering downdraft of the rotors, waiting to be loaded, I was just fighting to endure the pain.  An emergency heart cath found a 100% blockage of the left circumflex at the branch.  It was opened and a stent was placed as I watched the monitors while on the table in the cath lab.  A cardiac nurse in the ICU where I was staying afterwards said, ‘You’re lucky to be alive.  Not many people survive that’.  It finally hit me:  I could’ve died, again.

My first response was ‘Obviously, I must still be here for a reason:  I haven’t finished whatever it is I’m supposed to do.’  My second response was a little more ticked off:  ‘I was in good shape, training annually several years for half ironman triathlons including cycling, swimming, running, yoga.  Here I’d worked out for the last five years, ate right, lost a great deal of weight, kept it off,  and still ended up with a heart attack.  Genetics suck!’  My third response followed even more quickly after the second:  ‘Grateful at the gift of still being here.  Just what is it am I supposed to be doing?’

This wasn’t the first time I’d faced my own mortality.  Each time, in my own way of thinking, was a detour.  I wondered why I had to keep facing this over and over again – through freak, sudden, emergency surgeries, random crime, accidents, or the loss of friends and family.  Then I remembered:  death is a part of life.  We have absolutely no guarantees.  I already had accepted each day as a gift, not to be wasted, every day saying out loud: ‘Thank you for another day’.  Whether we literally face our own naked mortality out of rude awakenings, or through the more subtle daily grind and thousand cuts of life, all of us face our own mortality every day, acknowledged or not.

Each time, I had thought of each event as a detour.  In fact, what I had thought of as detours, in retrospect, turned out to be a path, pointing straight ahead.  I may or may not be able to continue with the physical nature of my job.  That’s for others to decide.  I will find something to do.  My boss shared just prior to my heart attack, “I can’t believe what you’ve had to go through.  It’s been a tough year.”

I replied, “Are you kidding?  This has been the best year of my life!  I bought a house, and married.  After what I’ve been through in my life, this is a piece of cake!  I’m just glad to be here”.  Incredulous, he laughed and shook his head.  Other co-workers joined in and we had a very interesting conversation.  The universe hears, and continues to bring people across my path: strangers, friends, family, neighbors.  It is doing surprising things.  It’s not all about me.  It never was.  Everything we do, experience, and endure we are to do without complaining or arguing, do our absolute best, and above all, do in love;  not in proud, self-righteous, ‘look-what-i’m-doing love’, ‘tough love’, or manipulative ‘what am i getting out of this’ kind of love,  but in a true, humble, giving, grateful, sharing kind of love.

Whenever I had made plans and assumptions about my life, the universe had other ideas.  As frustrating as my recovery from this heart attack has been, with, to date, 6 heart caths, 2 more stents, unusual response to nitrates, slow progress throughout a monitored cardiac rehab program, I find my life changes daily.  Even more so now, my focus is daily on being available, finding out what the universe wants me to do, doing it, and being content with it.  That, I believe, is the point.  Is your ‘Detour’ really a detour?  Better look into it.

“Do everything without complaining or arguing”

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.”

“Do everything in love.”

If You Love Someone – Act Like It

If You Love Someone – Act Like It

Building Bridges #5

“if I don’t have love, I am nothing.”

‘What’s your problem?’, I asked, all those years ago.

‘What’s your problem?’, someone else asked me, not so many years ago.

‘Do you really love me?’, I continued.

‘Do you really love me?’, someone else continued, not so many years ago.

‘Yes!’ I/they answered.

‘Then act like it!’ I/they replied.

The words were stinging and bitter, both in saying them, then, later hearing those very same words come back at me.  They came unrestrained, choking, honest, hot, low, flat – and burned.  Neither I nor they wanted the words to burn.  We needed to know:  ‘Do you really love me?’.  All those years ago, someone I loved, deeply hurt me.  So lost in rage they were, that their words & actions hit me like a blunt object, leaving me gasping for breath.  I was stunned.

Not so many years ago, so lost was I, so lost in my own hurt, I spoke.  My words were direct, and just as damaging to someone else, someone who loved me.  When I heard someone else ask that very same question of me, at a later, completely different time & place, I knew.  I knew more than I knew my own name, that I wasn’t acting like I loved them.  I was humiliated, not by them, but by my own words.  I immediately acknowledged to them, on the spot without justification, my own failure.  Gratefully, I was forgiven. They were kind and understanding. A gift I’ve never forgotten. Presence of mind, awareness, humility, love:  what do these crucial, powerful ideas impact in our daily lives?  Everything!

Our words & actions are sometimes equal and sometimes not.  Those we love know better than ourselves when they don’t match up.  We are our own worst enemies.  Yet, those whom we love so much, who truly love us, the ones we’ve hurt, forgive us, and love us anyway.  They give us the freedom to do better.  Sometimes, if we’ve hurt someone enough times, through thoughtless, insensitive, lazy words or deeds, sometimes, they leave us, and never come back.  Sometimes, if we’ve been hurt enough times, we leave, and never come back, from friends, from work, from family, from spouses, from anything.

We don’t have to be angry, bitter, or hurt.  We also don’t have to silently and carefully lick our slights.  We don’t have to wait for the perfect opportunity to unload on someone else the blunt and damaging words in a single blow.  We, through our own apathetic sleepwalking, indifference, & assumptions in taking someone we love for granted, that their love is a given – through all of these thousand little cuts of indifference, we wear them down.

We never know when we will see those we love for the last time.  I’ve heard someone’s angry, raging, despairing words.  Unfortunately, they were the last words I ever heard from that person.  I have to live with that, never hearing their voice again.  We don’t show our love just by apologizing.  We show our love by taking the time to find out how others need to feel love and love them that way.  We show our love by changing and not doing the things that cause us to apologize in the first place.  It’s not just flowers and celebrations:  it’s paying attention, listening, hearing, touching, encouraging, sharing, giving, working.  We don’t quit until we get it right, and keep doing it.  Who do you love?  Who have you hurt?  Without love, we truly are, and have:  nothing.  If you love someone, ACT LIKE IT.

“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.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

“evidence of spirituality is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There are no laws against this.”

How Many Times Will It Take?

How Many Times Will It Take?

Building Bridges #4

“How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

I really didn’t want to give this man another chance.  I had repeatedly been lied to and deliberately deceived, in a professional, public setting no less.  In working on a proposal, whenever working with this particular man, almost everything this man said whenever asked, inevitably turned out to be a lie, usually improvised on the spot.  I had grown accustomed to my BS detector maxing out every time he opened his mouth.

My team and I even tried to help the guy save some face on the project by saying:  “I know things are going to go wrong, things aren’t always going to work out according to plan.  Just man up and tell me before I find out after the fact.  Don’t lie to me.  Please treat myself, our team members, and yourself with some respect.”  Absolutely nothing I said or did made any difference, until one day.

I had known the man was overworked as a property manager, but didn’t think much of it.  We’re all overworked as a tough economy is turned into a mean economy every day by uncaring corporations, managers, and employers.  I expected him to be organized, He wasn’t.  I expected him to be on time, he wasn’t.  I expected him to be prepared, he wasn’t.  I expected him to do what he said he would do, he didn’t.  I expected him to be professional, he wasn’t.  After putting in several hundred hours of my own time on this particular project, I thought, “The least he could do was show up prepared”.  I expected him to get the right proposal out to the right vendors, he didn’t.  The vendors which weren’t selected were rightfully upset.

Finally, after another meeting, which this gentleman didn’t attend, and for which he did nothing he was contracted to do, I went, completely frustrated, to where I should have gone in the first place:  contemplation.  The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant immediately came to mind.  I was humiliated, while in contemplation, all of my failures and missteps as I had progressed through my career, immediately came to mind as my conscience was pricked.

I realized that previously on other teams, on other projects, the project managers allowed me to fail, make mistakes and take some missteps, but they never called me out publicly, nor humiliated me.  They took the time to show me where my projections were incorrect, or a better methodology could be applied.  They allowed me the freedom to make mistakes so I would learn.  And, learn, I did.  My first professional lesson 23 years ago, was particularly stinging:  I didn’t have to make someone else look bad, in order to look good.  I wasn’t trying to look good, but I was trying to come in on time and within budget, and was unhappily picking up the slack.

Unfortunately, now that I was the project manager, I was not extending the same grace to this man whom had lied & deceived me so many times, that had been extended to me. Realizing, I then went to the man who had lied to me so many times this year on this project.  I started the conversation with “How are things going?”.  I then found out, to my astonishment, the extent to which he was overworked:  5000 units for one property manager, 20 different properties and he was also being treated for and suffering from chest pain.  I was doubly crushed and humbled.  I hadn’t bothered to find out, until now.  Recovering from my own heart attack and 3 shiny new stents, I understood stress, work, overwork, and frustration.

The man was amazed that I actually cared about him as a person.  I immediately apologized to him.  From that day on, he never lied to me again, and we enjoy a good working relationship to this day.  I learned that in projecting my own high expectations of myself on to others is never a good idea.  Someone else’s effort, may just be their best shot, accept it while being encouraging.  Effort does count for a great deal.  In digging deeper, I also learned that I really need to extend grace to others in all parts of my life, not just in my personal life.  It is a given, and guaranteed, that I will need that same grace from others, on a daily basis, at home, at work, with my friends, wherever, in all areas of my life.

How many times will it take till we get it right?  How many times are we to forgive?  As many times as it takes.

 

Love is Closer Than We Think

Love is Closer Than We Think

Building Bridges #1

“Love stays close to the broken hearted and saves those whose spirits are crushed”

‘You Are A Poor Investment’, ‘I Didn’t Think You Could Do It’, ‘You Are A Disappointment’, ‘Damaged Goods’, ‘Social Liability’, ‘Different’, ‘Not One of Us’, ‘On Your Own’, ‘Maybe Next Time’, ‘Unteachable’, ‘Freak’, ‘Crazy’, ‘No One Will Ever Understand You’, ‘That’s Exactly What You Just Did’, ‘Your Services Are No Longer Required’, ‘Leave’, ‘Goodbye’: I have been crushed. I’ve been cut to the quick by sudden, unexpected, cutting, shredding words full of judgmental condemnation and rejection. I thought I was alone, expressing it in writing at that time:

What I Found
 
I sought The Mystical, beyond physical,
Alchemical, Transcendental;
All, I gave; Ultimately, Not shared.
A union declared, But left adrift,
Half, Tending the Share;
Half, Not willing to care.
Illness then came;
Hunger, longing, Despair;
No affection, nor tenderness,
No Support nor belief;
Instead politeness, detachment,
Cool ennui.
No sense of Home;
Left,
Bereft,
I found Myself,
Alone.
 
 

I wrote this many years ago in the process of losing literally everything. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Providence was there with me. When I had lost everything, my brothers, my honor, my self-respect, my safety, my company, my marriage at that time, my finances, my home, my car, my dog, my cat, my anger, my beloved books, my pride, my sanity, people I thought were my friends, many of them “religious”, and, for a while, even family. I lost everything that ever meant anything to me. I certainly was broken-hearted. Providence was always there. As I dug deeper into despair, it drew closer.

Three friends, none of them, not one, were religious, looked until they found me. In that moment of utter and complete failure, I discovered love was looking for me, even when I didn’t want to be found, even when I didn’t want anyone to care. All of my education, my knowledge, my skill, everything I’d ever been taught, nothing could prevent the crushing loss I’d known throughout my life. In that moment, losing everything, especially my pride, I found an odd thing: freedom.

I would never recommend discovering freedom the way I did to anyone. Love proceeded to heal the gaping emotional wounds from what I had thought of as a life of loss. I had come to believe by the time I had turned 34, that my life was determined by the constant pain in my life, and the level of that pain, both physical & emotional. It wasn’t easy, taking time, and hard work.

Imagine discovering, to my astonishment, that love then gave me: Peace, Joy, Contentment. It was particularly liberating, and still is. Anything good that is in my life today, has been given to me by love – my loved ones, my job, my home, life itself is precious, each day: a gift; even that, which others may intend as evil to us, is a gift, that, in our refusal to respond in kind, is turned into good, by the transforming power of love itself, by responding in love. Love is powerful, even in our darkest moments, when the worst words we’ve ever heard still come back to haunt us in the middle of the night.

Are you broken-hearted? Is your spirit crushed? Love is closer than you think.

“Love stays close to the broken hearted and saves those whose spirits are crushed”