Ashes to Ashes

November 4th, 2018 was a bright sunny day in Baker Oregon as 11 people loaded up into vehicles for a day of elk hunting.  Venturing off onto familiar roads heading for those spots where hunters are spaced off along a road and push down through the area hoping to see their prey.  Today’s hunt started like all other days at elk hunting.  Everyone rises, breakfast is had, lunch is loaded in the cooler, and off we go.  But today was not just any other day.

This year’s elk hunting season marked the first time hunting without my dad and without uncle Dan.  Uncle Dan passed away in March of this year with my dad passing in August.  It has been a long year for my family and while no one was looking forward to elk hunting this year it needed to be done, for our healing and to honor Dad & Dan.  Elk hunting, for my family, was never about shooting an animal.  Elk hunting was for spending time with family, playing pinochle or cribbage, and sharing stories.  This year was to be no different and yet more special because we told stories about memories of Dad & Dan and at the same time made new memories.

This was a momentous year for my family in that my 4 boys and my brother were all there hunting with us.  Some of us had gone at different times over the years but this year we all were there together.  Along with Uncle Rick, Aunt Kathy, Uncle Rick T, and Uncle Larry we had family there to spend time sharing and telling stories.  It reminded me of the elk hunting season the fall after my grandfather passed away.  No one wanted to go because grandpa wouldn’t be there and what I remember missing most was his stories as we drove around.

Sunday, November 4th, we all loaded up and drove up to one of Dad’s favorite spots.  Top of the ridge, visibility in every direction and wind in your face.  Dad wanted his ashes scattered here.  Elk hunting is where Dad could just be Dad and no matter what else was going on in the world, life was good.  Family was together, stories were shared, hurts were forgotten and it was just special.  This was to be Dad’s spot.

I don’t know how you are supposed to feel or react when you scatter someone’s ashes.  Truly, I would have much rather had Dad standing next to me at that moment.  We gathered as a group, said a few words, and at one of my uncle’s suggestions walked over and scattered Dad’s ashes on the rocks under this scraggly looking tree.  The tree stands alone on top of the ridge, taking whatever the weather throws at it and challenging it for more.  That spot is now known by my family as Howard’s Point and at least once a year, during elk hunting, we will drive by and say hello.  Some of my favorite memories with my dad were while hunting so this was a perfect fit.

Dad, i’m sorry we didn’t get to all go hunting with you there.  Selfishly I wish you were still here with us but I also am at peace knowing that you are no longer in pain and your body is healed.  We spread you on your spot just like you wanted and now I just hope I can live a life that honor’s you.  I pray that you, Dan, and Grandpa are hunting the big elk, never getting one, but telling stories all the same.  I love you Dad.

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What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate

Communication, or lack thereof, can be one of the most important factors for individual, family, organization, or team success.  It would seem that in today’s society with all the social media and communication tools at our disposal we would not have to make it a point to emphasize the importance of communication but I believe we have reached a point of complacency in regards to effective communication.

As families/friends we no longer send the birthday or holiday cards.  We don’t put together an end of the year newsletter highlighting our ups and downs.  We don’t call to check in with family members or to update each other on how things are going.  We rely on social media, texting, and blogs to fill this need.  We assume that everyone knows what is going on because they have read our blog.  We assume uncle Bob is doing ok because we saw a post from him on social media last week.  We have become so used to these new methods of quick, impersonal communication that we have grown complacent in doing any effective communication with our families/friends.  Telling people about a new job we have has a become a status update on social media.  Checking in with family has become a text message that say, “how r u?” and really all we are looking for is a reply, of any kind, so that we know they are still there.  How is any effective communication occurring in this environment?

As organizations/teams we have fallen into the same traps.  We no longer have meetings to discuss projects instead we “collaborate” through discussion threads or shared documents.  We have reached a point where it seems the ability of individuals to work together and have an effective team is no longer impacted by their individual connections and how well they communicate with each other.  Communication is, to some extent, taken for granted in organizations/teams.  Individual members of an organization/team are expected to follow social media outlets and be proactive in listening to communication, almost to the point that if they don’t know about a change or update coming up they are considered at fault.  Leaders of organizations/teams cannot be complacent and assume their teams are being communicated with they must be intentional in their communication.

As parents, friends, leaders, coaches, etc., we are not off the hook for communication because of the society we live in.  If anything, I believe, the culture we live in makes intentional, effective communication that much more important.  I was in a discussion a couple of weeks ago where the question was brought up “Do we have to over communicate?”  With as much communication goes on through access to social media and cell phones it may seem unnecessary but my answer is yes.  Over communicate, make a phone call, have a meeting, and do more than you think is necessary because what we have right now is a failure to communicate.

My Success

Adversity can define us, shape us and (if we let it) hold us back.  The last couple of months, for me, have been full of adversity, frustration, and doubts.  I can choose to let it define me or I can use it to shape me and make me stronger moving forward.  As a coach, parent, husband, son, brother, friend, employee, businessman, and many other things I have the ability to influence the thoughts and decisions of lots of individuals.  I want to be the best influence I can as others are impacted by my decisions and how they see me handling situations.

This is an excerpt of a letter I wrote to my football team halfway through our 2018 season.  For me, my motivation and reason for coaching is much more than just about winning a game., and I wanted my players to know why I do the things I do.


 

“My success, at least how I measure it, is based on how I have helped to shape you into young men who can move on to high school prepared for whatever comes your way.  My success is measured in the player I coached 16 years ago who is now coaching in his community.  My success is measured in the player I coached 8 years ago and is now getting ready to graduate high school with offers to play college football.  My success is measured in the player who didn’t have the best home life and now is in a successful career and starting his own family.

I don’t assume to take credit for all that these players accomplished but my goal is always to help prepare my players for their own level of success, whatever that may look like.  I am telling you this because as a coach my role extends far beyond the football field.  Everyone who has ever played for me was and always will be one of my boys.  I am always here if you need anything whether it’s middle school, high school, or beyond.

Thank you for the opportunity to coach you this year and I look forward to seeing what your futures hold and what successes are coming your way.  We have several more weeks of our football season left and I know we have goals still to accomplish.”

 


As my team has faced adversity this year I am hoping they learn how to press through and find their own success in the midst of tough times.  Even in a losing situation learning and growth can take place.  The individuals on my team this year will be stronger because of the lessons they have learned.

“Cheers”

As part of my down time I enjoy watching shows online, most particularly series of sitcoms.  My series of choice right now is Cheers.  Taking the time to watch this series and really enjoy it has made me wonder.  Do I have a place where everybody knows my name?  Or, better yet.  Do I want a place where everybody knows my name.  I suppose there are times when it would be nice to go somewhere we people know you and look forward to seeing you but for me, more often than not, I want to go somewhere that no one knows my name and I can just sit alone and think.  Maybe that is not the right ideal in a world where we are called to live in community with each other and support each other but it is the life I have.

I had a conversation with someone recently about friendship and being in community.  This individual expressed to me that they considered themselves to be my friend.  My response to them was that I don’t really have friends.  I have people I work with, people I coach with, and people I go to church with but I don’t have friends.  Is my definition of friends skewed by past hurts and frustrations with friends who are no longer.  Could be, but I think a larger part of it, at least for me, is that I know what I would want to be as a friend to others and I don’t feel I could ask someone to be that for me.  Friends live life together, get together just because, and when no one else is they are there for each other.

I don’t know where to go this conversation because deep down I resist the idea of having or being friends because ultimately you just get let down.  As it relates to Cheers, it is not enough for me to have a place where everybody knows my name if no one knows the person behind that name.  Thank you to Brad, Ryan, Shawn, Rob for having been a friend when I needed it.  To Kara, thank you for being my best friend.  I could not imagine a day without you.

Maybe I need to reconsider what I think a friend should be…

 

It Is An Attitude

Evaluations are an effective tool to determine how well an individual is doing in their position and for feedback on potential areas of growth.  The challenge for those who administer the evaluations is the delicate balance between giving someone a high enough rating to show your appreciation for their work and yet not so high as to give them the impression they can’t still improve.  An evaluation of 5’s across the board says, “you are doing a great job, keep it up” but doesn’t give them any room to improve.  The only way they can go is down.  It is a dangerous tendency to arrive in a place of contentment and complacency thinking you have it all figured out.

A few weeks ago I sat in a community meeting where an individual shared that they felt the customer service in our community was excellent and something we should be promoting about our town.  Well, as much as i would like to agree, I can’t because I think they are wrong.  Now, not wrong in that if we are excellent at customer service then we should promote that but wrong in the believe that we are indeed excellent in customer service as a community.

Being a family that tries to do as much shopping as we can locally we get to experience service at many of the local businesses and although we do have our shining examples of good (not great) customer service we also have many businesses which fail to see this as a priority within their business.  As is the case with any community, you are going to have disgruntled customers who just want to complain about customer service.  This is not what I am talking about.  I am addressing those businesses who give the impression that people should shop there simply because they are locally owned and they are entitled to our business.  They don’t see customer service as a valuable tool to bring customers in and retain them.  Customer service is an afterthought when a complaint is made.

On the other side of that coin is the fact that my family owns a business in our community and customer service is a critical piece to our success.  Saying that I also know that we do not always to do a good job of providing good (not great) customer service.  We strive for it every day and we talk to our family that works the business with us about the importance of taking care of the customers but we do fail at times.  Our biggest failure is that we just lose sight of it and think we have arrived, we get complacent.  We don’t always see the customer as the main focus of what we do and life gets us overwhelmed.  Not excuses, just confessions.

All of this brings me back to the premise of evaluations.  It is dangerous to think you have it all figured out and are great at something.  I strive to be good, bordering on great, but always knowing I can be better and there is room for growth.  Customer service is not a way to handle complaints or deal with disgruntled customers but rather a mindset of how a business should be run to serve it’s customers.  In our community, as in many other small towns, this is critical because customer service may be the best way to compete against larger businesses and communities.  I saw a great quote as I was pondering this topic today.

“Customer service is not a department, it is an attitude.”

Don’t Make Assumptions 

Regardless of who you support or who you oppose in these tumultuous political times the effort to label individuals or groups because of who they support is dangerous and divisive. My vote is my personal choice and no ones business but mine. Saying that, the more people speak out and label individuals because of who they support the more I take it as a personal attack on myself.

It is none of your business who I vote for but if you push me to defend my choice and myself because of my vote I will do so. If people would spend as much energy telling people why to vote for their candidate as they are attacking and ridiculing those who vote for the opposition they would be much more effective.

I have seen or heard of many people telling ‘friends’ on Facebook to unfriendly them if they plan to vote for a particular candidate. If that is your opinion then unfriend me now because if it is not this issue then it will probably be something else I say/do/believe that offends you and we should just part ways now.

We don’t have to all agree and we don’t have to keep quiet when sharing our opinions or beliefs but labeling people is based on assumptions. People have and will continue to make assumptions about others but in doing so they only make themselves look ignorant (speaking from experience).

Be cautious of the ignorant who make assumptions motivated by emotions.

No One Has Been Hurt by “The Church”

I was blessed with opportunity, albeit on about 14 hours notice, to preach at our church this past weekend.  Our pastor is working through a short series on belonging and recognizes that many in our current body are hurting because of past experiences in the church.  Although he said I could preach on any topic God placed it on my heart that it was the right time to share my own story of the good and bad experiences in church.  As I processed what I should share I kept coming be to the idea that many people have been hurt by “the church.”  I could not process how to help individuals heal from these pains and how to address it without bringing myself and those listening more pain.

I had recently read a book by Jim Putman titled Real-Life Discipleship and in the introduction of the book he describes a conversation with an individual who had been hurt by “the church.”  As he completes the story he makes a statement that, although simple in it’s context, has deep implications for “the church.”  Jim Putman states, ” sadly, we are making a mess of what God intended the church to be.”  We are making a mess, not “the church,” we.  We are the church.  Those who call themselves Christian, proclaim Jesus as their savior, and seek to disciple others are “the church.”

So, my message on Sunday was not about forgiving “the church” or asking individuals to give church another chance.  My message was that if we are the church then we are to blame.  Not only for the hurt we have felt but also for the times when others have been hurt by church.  As I looked back over my church experiences the good times were because of an individual or group of individuals but when I was hurt it was “the church” who did it.  It is much easier to put them blame onto an entity that doesn’t fight back or challenge your accusations but in the long run you miss an opportunity to forgive, reconcile, and potentially even help another individual grow.

I am sure that I have been involved in church decisions or discussions, with best intentions, that ended up hurting individuals.  I have to be willing to take responsibility for those and recognize when I was hurt it not hurt because of “the church” rather individuals in the church.  I would not want to go back and relive any of those painful moments but I also know I wouldn’t be the individual I am today without them.

A former pastor of mine used to say that if God wanted church to be perfect then he would not have let people be involved.  Well, God did let people into His church, and he never expected it to be perfect.  We are “the church” and as such we have hurt individuals in the name of church, intentionally or not.  For those who have been hurt by “the church” it is time to revisit the pain, refocus the hurt, and forgive the individuals so that you can reconcile with “the church.”