Saturday, July 12, 2014

Paying Yourself Extra for Free

Image courtesy of
At 4:30 a.m. on a snowy December morning, all I had on my 13 year-old mind was getting each nearly-frozen newspaper off my sled and onto each customer’s porch. The faster I could unload papers, the sooner I could melt back into a toasty bed. But I stopped after ten houses, glancing back.

Four newspapers had missed their targets by a mile, each sticking out halfway in the snow. Hey, I was paid for delivering newspapers to the premise, not customized handling. And besides, my toes were cold.

I thought of the elderly couple who lived at one of those homes.

The next morning I returned to my usual route. This time every newspaper landed on a porch, and I placed a few, the ones I'd went back to the day before, just inside the storm doors. And for the elderly couple, whose storm door was locked, I deposited a plastic bag-wrapped newspaper in the mailbox adjacent the door, same as I’d done the day before. But when I opened their mailbox this time, I found a small package wrapped in Santa Claus gift wrap, with my name on it. Inside was a pair of wool gloves that fit perfectly, and a note shakily written to match the writer’s voice. Thank you for placing the newspaper in our mailbox. Sometimes it’s hard for us to pick it up.

And when I got my first real job on a payroll at 16, at the local hardware store, I pushed the shopping cart for a middle-aged woman and loaded paint cans and houseware items into her car. She couldn’t walk very well.

I was paid to work in the store, and to load heavier items like bags of sand and mulch and salt rock, and to only go out to the parking lot to retrieve empty shopping carts. I wasn’t paid to push a customer’s cart, but I did it anyway. She thanked me and offered a five for my trouble. I politely refused.

I think of the numerous times during my professional career, when I’ve stepped outside of my hired job role to fix a problem that was not my responsibility to fix, but I took a shot at it anyway, foregoing my own work for another. I didn’t always fix the problem, and I certainly didn’t get paid extra for the effort, but it was a chance to communicate something that always pays off, and in some cases can change another’s life. Somebody cares.

When a person says ‘no’ to something they are not paid to do, is that wrong? No, it is not. Then should we only say ‘yes’ to those things we are paid to do? After all, we need to make a living, and we’re all limited by time. We can’t be all things to all people.

But didn’t Jesus Himself say “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28 NIV)? How do we know where to draw the line?

I think you’ll know.

I never hand-delivered every customer’s newspaper to their door or mailbox. I couldn't finish my job if I did. I’d offer that 9 out of 10 newspapers flung 30 feet from the curb to the door every morning, most largely missing the doormat. But that 1 out of 10, the one I knew I should help, I gave extra for free.

This post is part of The High Calling's Community Post topic, "Working for Free". Click here to read more insightful posts on this topic!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Shore Book Project Update - Still Cranking

It's been a while since our last update, and we're happy to report the cogwheels are still cranking with Mike and Christa Shore on their book.

2013 proved to be a very busy year for all of us with work, family, and ministry commitments, so our book interview sessions were few and far between. We decided in December that instead of trying to piecemeal a few hours here and there to conduct interviews, which left far too much time in between each get-together, and having to re-visit parts of the story, we changed our approach to what we call "marathon sessions." We opted to set aside 6-8 hour chunks on Sundays to crank out several story interviews back to back, and get 'er done.

At this point we have over 80,000 words of transcribed interviews, and I expect we'll have closer to 120,000 words once the interviews are complete (we think a couple more marathon sessions will wrap up the interview process). As a frame of reference, a typical non-fiction book is around 75,000 words, so we're not worried at all about having enough content for their story. It's the editing and cutting that's going to hurt.  :) Once we've completed the interviews and laborious transcription process, it will be full steam ahead crafting each chapter for the final manuscript.

Thanks for checking in, and thanks to those of you who have asked how the book is coming along. As always, your prayer support and encouragement are invaluable to us on this journey.

And as has been Mike and Christa's purpose for this book from the start, we all continue to believe strongly that this story will help anyone find hope and purpose through and beyond life's setbacks.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Polka Dot Wonder

Photo by Brock Henning
Clumsily the polka dot wonder pranced through the brush, breaking sticks under its toddler feet and drawing so much attention within a quarter mile that it might as well have worn a blaze orange sign with the words "Eat Me." Don't you know there's a coyote pack roamin' these parts, little podna? I thought.

Usually it walked the fields with its twin sibling, and usually its mother was nearby. Not today.

There was more shuffling. The bushes along the fence row shook one after the other, like a sloppy version of "the wave" in a stadium crowd. I stayed in my seat as to not alert of my presence.

Where are they? I surveyed the yard and neighboring woods for momma and sister, thinking the worst. The coyote howls had drawn closer to the house the past few nights.

The frightened little guy traipsed back and forth along the fence, nosing in the breeze, looking for an opening he knew was there but couldn't seem to find.

I'd seen this fawn jump the clear spot many times. It's the only gap over the fence that is marked by a well-worn path on either side, but he'd only jumped it when momma was around—and only after momma had gone first. C'mon, I thought, you've done this a dozen times.

He never found the clearing, nor the game trail leading to it. His panic was causing a raucous that was sure to invite only bad things.

Then I saw it out of the corner of my eye...

There was no panic in her steps. No rushing. Only grace. And sister came trotting not far behind.

Polka dot wonder stared at them from the other side, motionless, except for a twitch here and there.

Momma sniffed his wet nose through the fence, then walked in the direction of the clearing. He mirrored her steps.

She leaned back and leapt an arch of smooth beauty over the wire fence. And sister, uncertain at first, followed, with her own leap of faith.

Sometimes I feel like that little fawn, frightened when I can't find the opening over the fence, or the narrow path hidden amidst the weeds. Or when I can't find Him.

I get clumsy, like a child, running this way and that, making all kinds of noise, inviting only bad things. And God is like momma deer. She was never far off. She wasn't freaked out. I'd bet she was watching him the entire time.

Sometimes the only way we grow is when we step out alone, sometimes by our own choice, sometimes not. We are tested in what we've been taught, confronting the truth, confronting our fears—confronting ourselves.

But the truth is, we are never alone.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

For Love of the Irish

Photo by
The hard crack of the collision reached the upper level almost immediately through a roaring crowd. Shortly thereafter, a yellow flag was thrown, desecrating the sacred ground of Irish turf and igniting thousands of chanting football fans into an eruption of fury.

The referee had committed an unforgivable sin. It was a clean hit. I saw it through binoculars. Larger than life.

But the play was over. And the penaltywithstood. The Celtic giants, unscathed by the dirty work of one overzealous official, returned to the frontline, wiping from their mouths the mud that was as gritty as their toughness. There is no glory in looking back.

I watched the snap, again through binoculars. It was another run by Notre Dame's naval opponents—amazing how efficient Navy boys can move on land. A defensive counter-maneuver of gold helmets was set in motion when suddenly my magnified tunnel vision went blurry-green.

"Excuse me," she said, a young twenty-something, clad in a blue Notre Dame sweatshirt and jeans of Irish-green, had scooted in front of my binoculars. Larger than life.

Her boyfriend, wearing a fighting leprechaun embroidered hoodie and ball cap, shuffled behind her by a few seat-lengths. He was awkwardly carrying two large Styrofoam soda cups, a plate of loaded nachos, a giant pretzel, and a bag of salted Virginia peanuts—quite the chivalrous chap—though he looked as uncomfortable as a newcomer at Mass.

On his next step he tripped over a seat cushion hanging off the wooden bleacher in front of us, like the smarts of a padded kneeler left down on the back of a church pew. But like any devoted Irish fan, he recovered with the swiftness of a Catholic priest during communion, not allowing one crumb to hit the floor. Played like a champion.

Yet this was the third time the couple had filed through our row, carrying at chest level (as in a Eucharistic-style procession) the edifying (and edible) cheesy-salty sacraments of this holy venue—but even devout Catholics know better than to go through the communion line twice. 

My father, with whom I'd made this 316 mile pilgrimage from our hometown to America's college football mecca, muttered something under his breath, but out of respect waited until the young couple was beyond earshot. And truth be told, he only said what all of us seated nearby were already thinking. A voice for the voiceless. That's the Notre Dame spirit.

A few seconds later, this play was over. The penalty—declined. We adjusted our caps, zipped up our jackets, wiped the caramel corn from the corners of our mouths, and readied our high-fives for the next play on the field. Glory is in looking forward.

Go Irish.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Focus Frenzy

Photo from
When I was twelve years-old my parents bought for me Juggling for the Complete Klutz. Do you remember those kits? It came with a how-to book and three bean bag cubes packed in a red nylon net. I don't know if my parents thought it was a neat gift idea or if it was a hint, but I wasted no time accepting the challenge.

Juggling three tennis ball-sized objects can be learned fairly quickly and in three simple steps (if you'd like to learn, click here), but keeping them airborne requires a fourth step with a little more discipline—focus.

If you're able to juggle (and if you aren't, click that link!), try juggling while looking away from the bean bags (or whatever you're using) to your right or left, or down at the floor. How did you do? Imagine trying that with knives.

Last week I shared a post on a solution to the problem of juggling more than we can handle. But sometimes our problem might not be how many things we're trying to juggle, but rather, our focus. (As a side note, I find it's typically a combination of both.)

Take an honest look at a day in the life of many adults in today's America. How much time are we fretting over, say, Facebook? Did you see what so-and-so said about so-and-so? Why would Sue block me all of a sudden? I can't believe only two people 'liked' my last update? I need more Friends...Like. Like. Like.
Or what about LinkedIn. Wow, Yolanda's resume looks terrific. How in the world did she ever get all that experience? But look at her profile picture. I bet it's from Glamour Shots.

Or MySpace. MySpace? Seriously? Dave is still using MySpace? Who anymore uses MySpace?

Twitter. Of all people, how did Jack get so many followers? Why would anyone care about what he's doing? Does anyone care about what I've been doing?

Yes, it seems somebody does cares...maybe too much.

As a technology professional who does promote the benefits of social media, I still pick on its addictive draw from otherwise healthy investments of our time. But be it social media outlets or other enthralling interests—infatuations with the nightly news, the crazy neighbor next door, the Kardashians—all can quickly become distractions, and the months go by and our lives are a frenzy not just because we might be juggling too much but because we're focused on the smorgasbord of frivolous information, day in and day out, when what we need is to turn our attention back to what (or who) is directly in front of us today.

Lay down the bean bags for a minute. Sit and take a breath. Better yet, take two. You need it. Now pick up the bags. No, not that one—that one isn't yours. Only three of them are yours. Now stand. Focus. Juggle.

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." — Matthew 6:34 (The Message)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Unpopular Word

Watch over your heart. Don't let just anything in; don't let it go just anywhere. What's this going to do to my heart? is a question that I ask in every situation. 
— John Eldredge, Desire: The Journey We Must Take to Find the Life God Offers

If you don't make plans of your own, you'll fit into someone else's plans. 
— James Scott Bell, How to Achieve Your Goals and Dreams

Are you exhausted? Overwhelmed? When asked, "How's it going?" do you almost always respond with "Busy. Real busy."? Talk of busy-ness seems to be increasing exponentially. And the truth is, you are busy. Too busy. And exhausted. And overwhelmed. You used to devour books like 362 Ways to Improving Your Life's Time Management, but you don't read them anymore because you're 362 tasks behind on your to-do list.

On the outside, you look so happy and excited to all those people and organizations that you're volunteering all of your precious time and resources, but inside you are miserable. You can't wait until the first commitment is over so you can catch a break and maybe have a little time for yourself and your family before the next request comes along and you again say yes, when you really want—need—to say no. And once again, you are miserable inside, and nobody knows this except your loved ones who, night after tired night, catch the brunt of your short-tempered responses. You're overcommitted.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was pegged with believing that the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do. As a recovering people-pleaser, I cannot agree more.

Think about it. If you say yes to every person's request for your time, energy, and creativity, to join them in their pursuits and their goals and their purposes, you will never have the margin in your life to say yes to those desires and dreams and priorities that deep down you are called to do.

Successful business leaders face this same dilemma. When their organizations have branched into more products and industries than they can sustain, to the point they are losing money, they prune the excess to focus on the core competencies, get back to the basics, the original vision, to strengthen the core business. The results? Positive numbers and hopefully saving the business.

And I am not suggesting that you carelessly start saying 'no' simply because you don't want to do something. Several times have I said yes to opportunities I didn't feel like doing but I knew I had the time and the talent for, and I was blessed in the end by not only helping others in need but also gaining allies who helped me toward my own personal goals. Nor am I aiming this toward the weasels out there, people who are flat-out lazy, selfish with their time, and could not care less about helping others. They could stand a lesson or two on saying yes.

I'm speaking to you, the person who wants to make a difference, desires to use your gifts and talents in your home, your job, your church, your community, your world. You've identified with what author Max Lucado calls your sweet spot, that intersection of "what you are good at" and "what you enjoy", and you desire to use it to grow personally and professionally, and to help others do the same. But your inability to say no keeps forcing you off the road.

You know there will always be more needs to be met than there are willing people, so you feel guilty saying no because nobody will say yes, but you also know that every time you say yes to others you are saying no to your own priorities simmering beneath the surface, which, if not released, will eventually boil over and burn someone...probably your loved ones.

When you say no, you're going to disappoint some people—good people. You may find yourself unpopular among those elite who are praised for always saying yes. You're going to feel guilty—at first. But it won't be long that your pruning will produce beautiful roses—those efforts you are called to lead or support. Your loved ones will notice you smiling more. Your friends and colleagues will see a new confidence in you. Opportunities that fall more in line with your heart's desires will begin to open, your impact for helping others will be greater, and you will experience a joy on this journey you never knew was possible.

Yes, you'll be tired. And yes, on some days you will feel overwhelmed. But you'll no longer be miserable. You'll be living.

During my own struggle over the years with saying 'no', I've come across many excellent resources for dealing with busy-ness, managing your time, and speaking the unpopular 'no' word. Here are some recent articles that I hope you'll find as useful as I have.

On Saying No
Four Reasons Why You Might Be Overextended - by J.B. Wood (The High Calling)
How to Say No When You Feel Pressured to Say Yes - by Michael Hyatt
5 Reasons Why You Need to Get Better at Saying "No" - by Michael Hyatt
7 Leadership Benefits of Saying "No" - by Ron Edmondson (Church Leaders)
"No" is the New "Yes": Four Practices to Reprioritize Your Life - by Tony Schwartz (Harvard Business Review)

On Busy-ness
Being Busy is Not Cool - by Bob Robinson (The High Calling)
Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are - by Meredith Fineman (Harvard Business Review)
To-Do Lists Don't Work - by Daniel Markovitz (Harvard Business Review)

On Rest (We need to say "yes" in our schedule for down time!)
How to Take a Break - by Diane Paddison
Take Time for Retreat - by Mark D. Roberts (The High Calling)
God's Prescription for Workaholics - by Matthew Dickerson (The High Calling)
Quiet Living in a Noisy World - by Marcus Goodyear (The High Calling)


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