I’m Sorry I’m a …?

apology

Hit me with your best shot. I apologize.

I’ve always found it funny that when you defend your faith or beliefs, it is called apologetics. Today, when we think of the word apology, we associate it with an act of sincere regret—something you are sorry for doing and feel bad about.

“I apologize for stepping on your toes.”

“I apologize for hurting your feelings.”

But never, “I apologize for what I believe.” That would be the opposite of what a true apology is.

The word comes from the Greek apologia, a derivative of a word meaning “to speak in one’s defense.” It comes from apo-, “away; off” together with logos, “speech.”

Lately I’ve felt compelled to apologize… but in the Greek sense not the modern sense. I’m not sure why now…maybe because I feel poked a lot…and it hurts. I don’t think people always realize they are poking me and it isn’t always intentional. But lately I’ve stripped away my garments, looked in the mirror, and realized I’m covered in bruises.  As long as I can remember I’ve tried to make my life a quiet, steady apology. But now it’s time for a written one. I don’t have all the answers or by any stretch of the imagination think I know it all or ever will, but I plan to have my pen search the depths of my soul and let the words of my heart heal some wounds.

Apology coming soon.

People with Rabies

rabies

This guy has Rabies.

A homeless guy called me “cool” today. He said and I quote, “Only cool people appreciate the name of my dog.” His dog’s name is Rabies. He knew how much I appreciated the name by my reaction. I LOVE creativity and a bit of dark humor. And this pup is aptly  named.

Just one day after watching A Dog’s Purpose at the movie theater (spoiler alert: bring Kleenex), today I saw another dog with a purpose. A dog named Rabies loving his master. A master who many people treat like he has rabies, though neither of them do.

I love his sign, too. I think it is a sign we all should carry. Everyday.

Because isn’t that what we are…really? Ugly and broke. We are all imperfect. Yes, we may wash our hair and put on clean clothes in the morning, but let’s face it. His sign is our sign, too.

And aren’t we ALL traveling folks? We journey through this world looking for our next opportunity–whether it be a better job, a happiness fix, a loyal friend, or our next meal. We travel. We journey. We wander. And every now and then, if we are wise, we slow down enough to share in the joy of the struggle and break bread with other ugly, broken people along the way. Cool.

Entropy, Feelings, and the Next Chapter In My Quest for Peace

grave

Is this a picture of peace or unrest? I think it is both–the nature of our life on Earth.

I’ve been thinking about peace all week. And as with other synchronicities of life, I happened to also take a personality test on 16personalities.com . It is a Myers-Briggs style test. I scored as an INTJ (introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging) type when I first took the test in the early 90s and in all the years I’ve taken it since. This particular test labeled me again as an INTJ-A, and categorized it as a rare analyst personality type called “The Architect.” If you haven’t taken this particular test, I highly recommend it. Don’t forget to read all the methodology (but of course I would say that, I’m the Architect).

Naturally, it makes sense I continue my quest for peace by none other than good old reliable analysis. It’s what I do.

First, I discovered people often misunderstand what I mean when I say I am not peaceful at Christmastime. It is not spiritual peace I am lacking. I have plenty of that. In fact it is because of my spiritual peace that I am all the more in a state of unrest. I want and desire more than anything the promised peace I believe is to come. This peace does not exist naturally on Earth. Don’t get me wrong, there are peaceful moments, but let’s face it…the second law of thermodynamics proves that disorder is the order of the day. That’s right! Entropy! And the holiday season brings with it both  great joy as well as great disorder. Hence, less peace in my life.

Secondly, while doing my morning swimming/thinking, I contemplated how we all use the same words to mean different things. Peace, joy, happiness, contentment …what do they really mean?

I hear all the time that joy and happiness are different; that is, happiness is circumstantial and joy is not. That’s how I’ve always thought of these two words. Webster only partially agrees with this concept. I hear people use peace, joy, and happiness interchangeably when describing their state of being. I see both circumstantial and spiritual meanings in all of these definitions. It is confusing because you never know on which plane people are speaking when they say they are happy, content, joyful, or peaceful.

Joy: 1) the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires; 2) a state of happiness or felicity 3) a source or cause of delight

Happiness: 1) a state of well-being and contentment;  2) a pleasurable or satisfying experience

Peace: 1)  a state of tranquility or quiet; 2)  freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions

Contentment: 1) in a state of peaceful happiness.

My contemplation of peace has been centered on something I’ve started to really embrace and let out.

Are you ready for it? They are called feelings. Amazing, right?

Did you know we are allowed to feel bad, or sad, or mad, or glad? And we don’t have to repress, hide or deny those feelings? In other words, I don’t have to cry in my closet or the car wash anymore. I can, but I don’t have to.

I’ve actually been working on understanding feelings for the past six or so years (thanks to my feeling friends—most of whom score high on the Ffeeling scale on personality tests).

When I took the personality test this week one of the things I discovered about myself was a change on the thinking/feeling scale. I was no longer heavily weighted on the thinking side, as I have been in years past. There was almost an equal balance on the thinking/feeling scale. And, if I switched the T (thinking) for the F (feeling), my personality profile changes to that of an Advocate (INFJ) not an Architect (INTJ) —both of which are rare personality types. Eureka! This explains a lot!

INTJ – Architects form just two percent of the population, and women of this personality type are especially rare, forming just 0.8% of the population – it is often a challenge for them to find like-minded individuals who are able to keep up with their relentless intellectualism and chess-like maneuvering. Few personality types are as mysterious and controversial as Architects. Possessing intellect and strategic thinking that allow them to overcome many challenging obstacles, Architects have the ability to both develop and implement a plan for everything, including their own personal growth.

INFJ –Advocates tend to see helping others as their purpose in life, but while people with this personality type can be found engaging rescue efforts and doing charity work, their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue so that people need not be rescued at all.

In short, what I’m discovering is that my own repression of feelings for many years may, or may not be, my natural personality. Most likely I am some hybrid of the two.

So what does this long personality explanation have to do with peace, you ask? Everything for me. I’ve been interpreting my newly embraced entropic feelings as the lack of peace – physical peace. And, I believe, rightly so. And guess what? That’s alright. Because when I let myself feel them and I share them with others (outside of my closet) it allows me to be an advocate for others–something I’ve been doing more and more and more as the years advance.

A good friend of mine told me to imagine feelings as if they are kept in a vise. If you tighten the vise and suppress one side you suppress the other as well. So if you squash the unrest, you squash the joy, too.

So, today I say this. I’m going to be glad I’m not “peaceful” all the time. I’m better for it. Ironically, I’ve found that there is peace in not being peaceful Wow! Who knew?

But no time for more writing today…. I have whips to crack, puzzles to solve, people to love, and a world to help rescue.

Peace on (My) Earth

goggles

Deck the halls with swimming goggles!

I swim at 6 a.m. on Monday and Wednesday every week and have been for the last year and a half. I’ve rarely missed a swim day. Even when injured I still show up and do what I can. Water has healing power. Some days I’ve been physically hurt and the hot jets have comforted my aching muscles. Some days I am frustrated and use the emotion to smash my 800m time. I love being in the water, but I’ve never loved swimming laps. I find it boring. I don’t meditate well. I fight with my thoughts as I blindly navigate the lane through my foggy goggles. To combat this, I’ve started using the time to solve work problems, compose poetry, write play scripts… I’ll solve almost anything to pass the time.

Wednesday morning I couldn’t come up with a good swimming brain project, so I jokingly told my swimming buddy I was going to solve world peace. I didn’t realize that meant I was actually about to attempt to solve personal peace. After the first eight laps, the best I could come up with was “let’s all just be nice to each other.” Seems simple enough until you realize you can’t control other people. So that meant Peace on Earth starts with the peace I bring to it. I kept swimming.

I’m not peaceful at Christmastime. Yet, peace is a word used over and over in a whole bunch of Christmas songs and stories. I pondered this as I hit lap ten. In the Christmas story it says a heavenly host appeared to a group of shepherds as they were watching their flocks by night and said to them:  

 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE among those with whom he is pleased!”

Hmmmm. If I don’t have peace, am I not pleasing to God? Made me think. Hmmm. So, I can bring some peace to the Earth and to others, but I can’t have it myself. Hmmmm. I didn’t like where this was going. I was pretty sure there was some twisted logic here and my graduate school rhetoric teacher would have scolded me by now for such a conclusion.

Splash. Turn. Lap twelve.

Peace, MY peace, or lack thereof, is almost always attached to my judgment of myself—not meeting the impossible expectations I’ve set. And Christmas brings out the worst in me. It reminds me of my failure and of the injustices I have or am experiencing and sets me up for failing again or, at the very least, having little trust in any goodness to be found in the world. I can’t succeed at Christmas….not the way the songs want me to anyway. Splash. Turn.

But maybe MY peace has nothing to do with God being pleased with me and a bunch of shepherds. He has already forgiven my imperfect self. That is the point of Christmas, after all, isn’t it? I conclude again that I’m the one with the problem. I’m the one who isn’t pleased. I’m the one who can’t forgive myself or cut myself a break. Splash. Turn. Lap fifteen.

I’m pretty sure peace for the entire Earth is impossible to solve.  But maybe, just maybe, Peace on Earth for me is possible, some days, even during, or maybe especially during, Christmas.

So now I’ve got something else to try not to fail at—personal peace. I wonder what that looks like? I think it may look like trust…or faith…or simply letting go.

Splash. Done. Guess I’ll need to wait until Monday to finish solving this one.

Render Unto Caesar

hail

Aloha, Caesar!

When my son was in fifth grade, he asked to be excused from class to use the restroom. He grabbed the hall pass, a Hawaiian lei, and happily scampered off to avoid the impending math lesson. The class sat quietly and turned toward the front of the room as the teacher demonstrated a problem on a Smart Board. When returning from his escape, he stood regally at the back of the class, the Hawaiian lei doubled carefully around his head. With his hand outstretched, he broke the silence.

“Hail, Caesar!”

The stunned class didn’t understand his dramatics. The girls chastised him and several of the kids mumbled, “Who’s Caesar?” The teacher swallowed her giggle before administering a swift punishment.

Sitting here on election night, I find myself in shock at how close the race for the White House is turning out to be. I guess I’ve blocked out all commentary on the subject over the past month (except the loud conversations I hear over cubicle walls at work) due to my disappointment in both presidential candidates. When I turned on the television tonight and saw all the red and blue states on the map, the first thing that popped into my mind was my son shouting, “Hail, Caesar!”

There is no doubt at least fifty percent, and in reality a whole lot more, of the country will be disappointed by the outcome of this election. So, to all of you disappointed people I will remind you of another Caesar story, as accounted in not one, but three, books of the Bible (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). And whether you are Christian or not, this story says something significant about government and what’s ultimately important.

Then the Pharisees (Jewish dudes who were really good at following all the rules) went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.  They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.  Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Much of my work is funded by the government. I have payed and will continue to pay my taxes under Democrats and Republicans. Who knows? I may not even have a job under the next administration. But no matter. I’ll get by and pay taxes and slog along rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, whether I agree with how it is spent or not. So, if you must move to Canada, go ahead. But, remember, what really matters is the only thing you can control…that which God has given to you and that which you give to God…your life and the daily little choices you have control over.

I think I’ll come to work tomorrow with a Hawaiian lei wrapped around my head. Sigh.

Hail, Caesar, indeed!

Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

Say goodbye to where you’ve been. And tell your heart to beat again.

Tears were rolling down my face this afternoon as I pulled out of the office. I had to park the car on the side of the road and soak in the words of the song (above) that “just happened” to be on the radio. It was more than a song—really a prayer for my friends and loved ones who are suffering this week.

October has been a month where my heart has nearly flung out of my chest more than once watching not one, but many of my friends and family go through life-altering events.  And really most of the hardest stuff has fallen this week. This song just weaved its way into every moment.

My friends from work have a baby daughter who has been suffering from a terminal illness. I found out today she took her last breath. You’re shattered. Like you’ve never been before. The life you knew. In a thousand pieces on the floor.

I helped move my Grandma’s furniture and belongings into a new memory care facility. Yesterday’s a closing door. You don’t live there anymore. Say goodbye to where you’ve been. Tell your heart to beat again.

My mom arrived home from the hospital, settling in for a long recovery with a new knee. And words fall short in time like these. When this world drives you to your knees. You think you’re never gonna get back to the you that used to be.

I stayed with a friend during elective surgery this week, as she recovered. Beginning.
Just let that word wash over you. It’s alright now. Love’s healing hands have pulled you through.

A friend and neighbor from work had a brain tumor removed on Tuesday. So get back up, take step one. Leave the darkness, feel the sun. ‘Cause your story’s far from over. And your journey’s just begun.

This song says it all. I love songs that do that.Feelings aren’t my favorite thing. Ouch. I try to avoid them where possible.  But I’m feeling them all today. I wish I could take the pain for you, my friends. My heart’s beating…beating hard for you all.

Justice, Injustice, and Grace

Do you see any signs saying this sidewalk is closed?

My son went running at the park in the evening. When he crossed the street his foot fell into a small, uncovered manhole. He tripped, tumbled, and rolled into a busy intersection. Thankfully, he didn’t break any bones and came away with only bruises and cuts on both his arms and legs.

What did he do?

He called the city to tell them about the accident and that the missing cover was a hazard to others. He received a call back this morning from Public Works.  Please choose from the following answers what you think the person from the city of Wheat Ridge said to my son:

A. We are so sorry. We’ll send a crew over to make sure that problem is taken care of. Thank you for letting us know.

B. We just finished redoing the sidewalk there and someone must have forgotten to put the cover back on.

C. That sidewalk is closed and clearly marked with signs. You should read better next time.

By now, you’ve probably guessed the answer is “C” or I wouldn’t be writing this post. My son came to them with grace…not demanding retribution…but with a pure heart to help others.  In return he was called a liar. Injustice.

It is yet another example of our broken messed up world.  Blame. Covering backs. Lying. I’m sick of it. What happened to grace? Sometimes it seems like the only two possibilities people see are justice or injustice. (And I’m not even sure people always know the difference.) How about another possibility? How about grace?

Grace is awesome.

Grace is giving and forgiving when you shouldn’t have to.

Grace is taking the time to tell the city the manhole cover is open while you stand there bleeding.

This world needs more grace. Why do we humans seem to hoard it or save it up for special occasions?

Enough already.

Let’s not live in fear. Let’s love each other. Help each other. Forgive.

My “Free” T-Shirt Has Cost Me Plenty! I’m So Glad.

tshirt

The most wonderfully expensive “free” t-shirt I’ve ever owned.

It happened again. This “free” t-shirt has cost me. Though I shouldn’t be surprised because I practically live in this incredibly soft, cotton-blend shirt.  It is the most comfortable t-shirt I’ve ever owned. It also just happens to say “Live Generously.”

Today, I was driving to get some lunch and pick up a few groceries. Standing on a busy curb by the store entrance was a man, his pregnant wife, and a stroller with a sleeping toddler inside. Something inside me stirred and I stopped and parked in a lonely lot where I could observe what they were doing. They held up a sign that I could not read. I watched as car after car drove past them—but not because people didn’t necessarily care—the way traffic was flowing it was pretty hit or miss whether a car would actually be able to stop long enough to roll down the window and hand them some change.

As I sat in my truck, my heart broke and I looked down. Sure enough, I was wearing my stinky well-worn “Live Generously” t-shirt. I hopped out of the Cranberry Crush and dodged traffic to go meet them.  I introduced myself and found out that they had traveled from California in search of a job. Their names were Julietta and Viorel. They were from Romania originally and were now living in Denver. He tried to answer all of my questions with broken English. He was a mechanic by trade and was having a hard time finding work because his English was not very good. Their smiles, however, spoke volumes.

I asked them what I could do that would be most helpful to them. My mind flashed back to times when I needed help and I remembered that having people ask me what I needed was so wonderful because I could tell them specifically rather than them deciding what I needed based on their perception of my situation or their own judgements. Not too surprisingly, they told me they were in need of groceries and cash to help with rent.

I ran to the grocery store to grab a gift card and some cash. What does “Live Generously” mean, I thought, as I stood at the checkout. $10? $20?  No. I decided today generous meant giving up what I would have spent on groceries.

I sprinted back the curb with my cash and gift card in hand. I gave $40 to Julietta and said, “for rent” and I handed Viorel a $100 gift card and said, “for groceries.” Tears started to well up in their eyes. It was like they had won the lottery. They beamed and we shook hands. I asked again. What else can I do? The language barrier was too much and we both recognized that nothing more could be done today. But today was a good day.

As I ran to my truck and got in, I saw them leave their post and head to their vehicle with a new spring in their step. We smiled and waved at each other. I can only hope we meet again.

I am so grateful for every day I can live generously. And, equally grateful for every day others have lived generously for me. I hope this t-shirt never wears out.

What If God Is the CEO?

towel

Towels folded like Mickey are just one of thousands of tiny details Disney provides to make your service better than you ever expected.

Observing really exceptional customer service and customer experiences is something I’ve always been passionate about. I’m not trained in the hospitality industry, but I’m very intrigued when I see it done well. It is one of the reasons I love to go to Disney theme parks. To me, the adventure is often less about the rides and more about figuring out how they do everything. I am a student of service. I observe their greeting behaviors; the attention to detail on every square inch of a ride; the choice of music as you transition areas; crowd control systems and line management…it’s fascinating.

Lately I’ve been reading a book called Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit.  It is written by the CEO of the Ritz Carlton. I’ve learned even more fascinating things.

For example, every Ritz Carlton employee is given $2000 per customer to solve service failures. That’s incredible empowerment. No employee has ever had to spend all $2000. What they discovered is that if an employee approaches each problematic situation from a position of generosity, the customer often declines or minimizes any repayment.  Mostly, people just want you to care…genuinely care… that they’ve been wronged. They don’t want to be asked to state the “facts” of the situation, like they are on trial. They want you to care. Empowering employees with the means to fix problems creates an attitude that anyone and everyone can jump in and take care of things.

The Ritz also keeps detailed customer notes. If you requested extra towels or hypoallergenic shampoo the last time you stayed at any of their hotels, don’t be surprised if you find those items in your room when you arrive next time.

At work I believe exceptional service is providing a better product for less than you quoted and delivering it before it was requested. You often hear about these three pieces as part of a product triangle  (Quality, Cost, Time) — and that you can only ever provide two of the three. I disagree. You can almost always provide all three, but it often comes at a personal cost.  It comes down to asking this: Is it worth it? Is providing exceptional service worth breaking my back over? We all have to answer that individually on a case by case basis at work. (I think I know how Disney and Ritz employees would answer that question most of the time.)

The book has made me think differently these days. Not about business, though. Most of it makes good common sense from a business perspective. It’s got me thinking bigger.

What if God is like the CEO of the universe and we are His service providers.

That would mean each day I would need to ask myself these questions:

  • Am I actually looking at each “problem” I see in the world and approaching it from a position of generosity?
  • What have I been given as my “discretionary fund” to solve problems? A little bit of my time, talents, and treasures? Or much more than I dare to think? What is keeping me from feeling empowered to give more?
  • Am I genuinely caring about the hurting people around me?

I think that is how I am going to start thinking about it. I’m an employee at Earth. God is the CEO. I want to strive to serve like I work at Disney or the Ritz.

Only the best for my fellow planetary guests!

Spill Your Sugar Everywhere

jack

When Jack crossed the midline he couldn’t walk. Now he is 53 and he can. Yay, Jack!

Today started out gloomy and snowy. It didn’t feel much like Spring. As I sat in my usual spot at the Starbuck’s bar pouring sugar into my oatmeal, I completely missed the bowl. The sugar spilled onto the table.  Just then I got a gentle nudge on my shoulder from Jack.

Jack rides his motorized wheelchair almost every day to and from and my local Starbucks.  He smiled at me and said, “I’m going to an MS meeting this week. I’m going to surprise them and show them how I can walk. It’s going to be a bright day.”

Jack makes every day bright. I met Jack at Starbucks about 5 years ago. I’ve been stopping at Starbucks ever since, saying hello and giving Jack fist bumps. He always shares his smile and we discuss the Avalanche or the Broncos or whoever is playing that day. He usually asks about “Indy.”  That’s what he calls my son, because he thinks he looks like Indiana Jones (and has the adventurous stories to go with it).

What you would never know from looking at Jack is that he spent 14 years in bed. He was diagnosed with progressive MS in his thirties. A month after the diagnosis he was essentially paralyzed and had lost his voice.

“I thank God for MS,” he told me, “because He gave me a disease I could conquer.”  The doctors don’t want to write about him in any journals, he shared. They don’t want to give people false hope–that this could be their story.  The medical world tells him he is a miracle and that he is “one in a million.” (Something I already know.) I told him to heck with the medical journals! I wanted to write his story. It wouldn’t reach the masses like a medical journal would, but I didn’t see anything wrong with giving people hope or at least letting people rejoice in his hard work, love of life, and miraculous comeback.

As his 14 bedridden years passed and he slowly started to improve, he set his sights on walking. It took him 5 years to take his first steps. Jack wanted to take the picture above  standing—not sitting in his wheelchair. He told me that when he stood for the first time, he could feel his toes wiggle. That was all the encouragement he needed. He said he wiggled and prayed, wiggled and prayed, wiggled and prayed. That was the trick.

As I brushed the spilled sugar into my hand and tossed it in the trash can, I realized that Jack was like sugar—pure sugar. He comes to Starbucks every day and spills his sugar everywhere. I’m so glad he does. I can’t think of a better way to start the day. My oatmeal is always better with some Jack on the side.