life lessons learned from dementia

sunsetHard experiences often teach the best lessons. Helping care for my elderly dad triggers childhood memories and reactions, fears for the future, and all the worst of me at times. The positive result is time to reflect and apply what I learn to other areas of my life. I have a lot to learn(!), so here are my first three lessons from my recent visit:

Even when I can’t “fix” it, I can still serve.

I would like nothing better than to cure my dad’s Parkinson’s and dementia, but I can’t. Medications, therapy, visits, prayers – other than a miracle – will not “fix” my dad. However, I can serve him. True service is determined by the one being served. He needs simplification in language and task, and continual and creative adjustments as his abilities change. He also needs my patience when he would prefer to do something (slowly!) himself and my respect even when he is confused or forgetful. Those last two are much harder for me.

Besides my dad’s illness, there are many things I’d like to change in this world: peace in place of violence, an end to inequities and inequalities, reconciled injustices, healing for hurts, desperation to encounter hope. I can’t fix those things either… but I can serve. I can go where I am called, give my best in all I do, and think of others rather than myself first – one day at a time. I can consider what will best assist others rather than what I want to do or what is easiest for me to offer.

I don’t have to be right.

I learned quickly that I cannot win an argument with a dementia sufferer. To the person with dementia, his perception is the only thing that is true. My dad’s delusions, paranoia, and denial are his reality. I cannot reason, argue, convince, or win him over to my perspective. I can only help him with what he believes.

That is often true with other people also. Even if we see the same scenario play out in front of us, our individual personalities, backgrounds, and values give us different perspectives of that incident. I can discuss, persuade, or pressure for hours, but I will never be the one who is right. I am learning – slowly – that I don’t always need to be right. My truth is often not the one truth in a situation. I can only help people if I care about and work with what they believe.

Attitude is powerful.

You would think I would know this one by now. I cannot change my father’s attitude, but I can change mine. I can look at his disease as a glass half empty and focus on all he has lost and who he was, or I can view the glass as half full and concentrate on what we can still enjoy together – neighborhood walks, quiet rests on a park bench, joy at watching fat rabbits in the yard, a New Mexico sunset streaked across the sky. He can sense my attitude, and he reacts accordingly.

He is not the only one affected by my choice of attitude. My family, friends, and co-workers also react to my half-empty or half-full mood. My actions may be good, but my attitude has the most powerful influence on his response.

These are the three lessons I am working on this week. I will share others in the weeks ahead, but this is enough for me for now!

How about you… which of these three is hardest for you?

What have you learned about serving others, caring about what they believe, or choosing the right attitude? 

wait is a four letter word

3 oclockThe alarm went off at 3:00 AM, only a few hours after my head hit the pillow. Begrudgingly, I forced myself awake and moving to catch the 6:00 AM flight. At least the effort and pain of this early hour meant we would arrive to Albuquerque by 10:30 AM and enjoy a full day with my sister and my dad.

The departure to Houston was uneventful. We even received upgrades for that first flight, and we were about to arrive on time when the tower denied our landing because of fog in the area. The pilot first communicated that we would circle above the airport and wait for permission to land. Fifteen minutes later, the pilot informed us that we did not have enough fuel to wait any longer, and we would have to land at a nearby airport.

That detour cost approximately 60 minutes in the air there and back and another 40 minutes on the ground for re-fueling. Our connecting flight was long gone by then. Oh well, we thought, we could just wait for the airline to re-book us on the next flight.

When the automatic re-booking option came through on my phone, we would be arriving in Albuquerque… at 11:00 PM(!) with a detour through Denver. UGH! Basically the whole day lost, WAITING, sitting around in airports. Not my idea of fun.

We stopped at a service desk to check for better options, and I asked some friends to pray that we might find an earlier flight. The texts back and forth from my friends made me laugh and lightened the mood. In addition, they offered suggestions for using the waiting time:

  • Rest and relax
  • Stop at Starbucks 🙂
  • Eat something
  • Write a blog post on waiting!

We also walked, shopped, read, and enjoyed some “Face-Time” with our children. We eventually found an 8:00 PM arrival. All in all, the day was long, but we were safe and not much changed as a result. It did not take much effort to fill the time, and it helped to not get angry or irritated with people or circumstances along the way.

I remembered – once again – interruptions and delays are an inevitable part of life. We wait for relationships, jobs, disease cures, prodigal children to come home, and bucket-list dreams to come true. I can’t control them, but I can control my attitude as I wait.

How do you handle interruptions and delays in your life?


 

Photo credit: amyvdh / Foter / CC BY-NC

carrots, eggs or coffee?

carrots eggs coffeeA modern-day parable making its rounds on social media… if you haven’t read this already, it might encourage you!

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A young woman went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as soon as she dealt with one problem, a new one would pop up.

Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire, and soon the pots came to boil. In the first pot she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”

Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The grandmother then asked the granddaughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the grandmother asked the granddaughter to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma then asked,

“What does it mean, grandmother?”

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter.

Are you the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do you wilt and become soft and lose your strength?

Are you the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did you have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship, or some other trial, have you become hardened and stiff? Does your shell look the same, but on the inside are youI bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?

Or are you like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, the coffee releases fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.

~~Author Unknown

One more reason to love my coffee… a great object lesson for life!

When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?

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All three photographs are courtesy of morgueFile free photo archive: http://www.morguefile.com/

olympic attitude

olympic rings

Adrenaline pumping courage, sweat and tears discipline, and breath-taking athletic accomplishments. Beauty, strength, smiles, and the fruitful culmination of many years of hard work. I love the Olympics! Watching the athletes – almost 🙂 – motivates me to get off the couch and do some push-ups or run a few miles!

There are also the tumbles, falls, heartaches, injuries, and tears. Last night I watched a bit of the Olympics. In the women’s snowboard slopestyle final, Sarka Pancochova, from the Czech Republic, took a horrendous spill on her third jump landing. She caught her snowboard edge, lost her balance, and fell backward. Her head hit the snow hard; her neck whipped back; her body was a limp rag doll tumbling down the slope. When she finally slid to a stop, she laid still, not moving. VIDEO: Watch her fall

Sarka’s helmet broke and cracked open in the back – an intentional protection design. 

Incredibly, after just a few minutes, medics reviewed her, and she stood to her feet and finished the course under her on power.

I did a little ski racing when I was young. I remember a terrible finish line wipe-out when my dad also encouraged me to quickly go back up the hill and race again – not allowing the fear and memories to control me or limit my future skiing attempts. I enjoyed skiing for many more years.

I am reading a book now called True North by Bill George. He encourages authentic leadership and claims that leaders do not emerge simply from characteristics, traits, skills, or styles, but rather from life stories. As we test ourselves through real-world experiences and then re-frame those life stories to understand who we are, leaders unleash their passions and discover the purpose of their leadership¹

Real life stories involve great triumphs… and terrible tragedies. All of those experiences are woven together to make us who we are, if we learn from them and use them to empower our leadership. I have fallen many times in the past, but those are not the defining moments of my life. The real victory comes from getting back on my feet, learning from the experience, and moving forward toward my life purpose.

Sarka did not win the snowboard event, but she definitely has a winner’s attitude. I am sure she will reach amazing accomplishments in her life. Her attitude is a great reminder and example for me.

What is your attitude after a fall? What helps you to get on your feet again? How have your experiences led you to discover your purpose in life?

___________________________

¹ George, B., 2007,True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, Kindle Locations 201-203

only the best


One day, a man walked into an antique shop and asked permission to look around. It was a rather exclusive shop frequented only by those who could afford to purchase articles made rare by their scarcity and age. The visitor seemed strangely out of place because he was poorly dressed though clean; indeed it was clear from his appearance that he was a laborer whose face and been etched by sun and rain and whose hands were rough and worn. After more than a half hour, he left. In about ten days he returned. This time he found a very beautiful piece of glass and asked if he could make a deposit on it. Each week he made a payment, until at last the article was his. With much curiosity, the owner of the shop engaged him in conversation to determine, if he could, the use to which such a man would put his new purchase. “I bought it for my little room.   It isn’t much, but I bring to it, from time to time, through the years, only the very best and beautiful things. You see, that is where I live.” 
                                             Howard Thurman, Deep is the Hunger                                                                                                       

To bring to where you live only the very best and most beautiful…

I read this story this morning and began to consider my life…

Of all the thoughts that pass through during the day, which will I keep for my room? Will I choose to keep only the positive, encouraging, believe-the-best, excellent ideas about myself, others and my world?

What will I bring into my home through my music, media, activity and reading choices? Are they only the very best and beautiful things? Worth their price? Valuable?

There is a lot of cheap, ugly junk quickly and conveniently available in our world today. On the other hand, it takes time, effort, care, attentiveness, and diligent searching to find a priceless treasure.

It is said that where your treasures are, that is where your heart is also.

What treasures are you collecting for your home? 

got the gratitude attitude?

I’ve been amazed the last few days by great contrasts in gratitude displayed.

In one instance, a fellow missionary friend received various favors and helps, but made only negative, complaining comments.

In another situation, a young lady, on her own initiative, said “thank you” various times, in the middle of a very busy schedule, to the people who had done something nice for her.

In both cases, the actions were so noticeable that a third-party, impressed by the behavior, came to tell me about it. Unfortunately, one was very encouraged, but the other felt frustrated and disappointed.

I’ve had people rationalize their lack of thankfulness with, “We don’t thank people for something when they are only doing their job” or “I’m not detail oriented. I don’t write notes”. They haven’t convinced me. In my opinion, these are just excuses for a lack of gratitude and an unwillingness to make the effort.

There are many ways to express gratitude. When I was little, my Mom taught me to write thank you notes for gifts or special treats. We taught our children to do the same. We also taught them to say “grace” before a meal, to “try a bite” to show gratitude for the food offered, and to say thank you to the cook before leaving the table. Living in a foreign country, we saw many examples of poverty and need, and our children learned gratitude for all they had. On teams, we say thank you in many ways (diplomas, gifts, financial and “day off” compensations).

Sometimes it takes extra time, effort, or even expense to say thank you; it is a habit we learn and can improve mostly it just takes a sincere attitude of  gratitude. I know I can grow in my gratitude attitude… the picture I added to this blog has been going around on Facebook and Pinterest and challenges me greatly.

I can also learn from you…  How is your gratitude attitude? How do you say thank you?

Incarnational leadership is like chocolate!

As an avowed chocolate fan, I love Vianne Rocher’s chocolaterie as a picture of incarnational ministry.  The protagonist of the movie, Chocolat, Vianne is “warm, non-judgmental, and compassionate, offering grace and peace to the troubled community… She engages the lives and troubles of her community… offers space… for honesty and truthtelling to happen”.  Vianne makes transformational friendships in the community by discerning the individual (chocolate) preferences of each customer and prescribing the appropriate (chocolate) remedy for their needs.  She cares less about the success of her business and more about the concerns of the people in the town.  Vianne serves the French community with the incarnational attributes of love, self-sacrifice, and commitment.  As a result of her compassion and acceptance, Vianne’s ministry transforms the lives of individual friends and the village as a whole.*

The greatest story of transformation power through personal incarnation is God himself coming to live among us in human form through the person of Jesus (Phil. 2:7).  An incarnational model of leadership is a willingness to re-make ourselves in order to mimic Jesus more effectively in our life and work.  Incarnational ministry does not require that leaders completely give up their culture (national/gender/personality) identity.  Jesus did not give up being God; He did choose to limit certain aspects of His character and power.  Just as a body illustrates how the varied spiritual gifts are necessary to serve God completely (I Cor 13:4-31), so are elements of all cultures necessary to reflect the full image of God.         (…a whole box of chocolates!) No one culture alone is the perfect God culture.  Sometimes aspects of one culture may more closely represent the character of God than another culture; at other times, combined cultural views reflect the character of God more accurately; sometimes an aspect of culture is definitely not Biblical, and a leader should discard that value. Incarnational leadership requires a lot of reflection and effort to determine how and where to make the edits in order to be more like Christ.

Applying the incarnational servant model in leadership is not easy. It can cause self-doubt, confusion and frustration. As leaders we enter a leadership position with a deeply ingrained sense of identity that developed over a lifetime. Our ethnocentrism assumes that others do or should have the same cultural values because my view is the “best” or the “correct” view. Leaders inevitably bring pride and selfishness into the situation and often negatively judge others as inferior or wrong. Attempts to serve and lead in another culture or with multi-cultural teammates will also be affected by the others’ views of  servanthood and leadership. Remember: an action is not a service simply when called service; the action must actually be helpful to the receiver. (Which chocolate is their favorite, not my favorite to give away?) In addition, the pre-conceived opinions, perceptions, and stereotypes of others may interfere with our efforts to lead and serve.  Sometimes even though our motives are good, our actions are completely misunderstood by others, due to their own culture grid or even their own insecurities.

Applying the incarnational model to leadership begins with an attitude adjustment. Just as Jesus came as a helpless infant, so must we approach the leadership situation humbly and with a willingness to learn.

  •  The first step towards an incarnational model is self-acceptance.  This self-acceptance implies recognizing that God made each person intentionally and uniquely, and that He sovereignly allowed their lifetime experiences to develop in them the cultural values that they have at the time.
  • Secondly, it is important for a leader to recognize their personal values, but also be willing to adapt them when necessary. (Would I give up my favorite candy?) God’s power to help a people yield their own preferences and needs to those of others is an indispensable element of incarnation. Without confidence in God’s power to change lives, there would not be much hope for the difficult process of incarnation. Thankfully, with desire, effort and God’s help, leaders can change and grow in their incarnational leadership.

*The Chocolate example comes from The Shaping of Things to Come (2003) by M. Frost & A. Hirsch (pp. 33-62) Hendrickson Publishers.

*** Next blog post will discuss six abilities we can develop to grow in our incarnational leadership… stay tuned!

How do you apply an incarnational attitude to your leadership?  

want to be a hero?

Julien Tromeur – stockvault-superhero113321

Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. Spider-man. Have you ever dreamed of being a hero for someone?

Webster’s Dictionary defines a hero as: A person of distinguished valor or enterprise in danger, or fortitude in suffering; a prominent or central personage in any remarkable action or event; hence, a great or illustrious person.

A hero is also described as someone regarded as a model or ideal, or someone who fights for a cause.

Walt Emerson said, “Each man is a hero and oracle to somebody.”

Being a leader today provides us with many opportunities to be a hero.  There are enemies and suffering in this world of all types; there are battles to fight, needs to meet, people who hurt… God has called us to make a difference in this world and there is so much to do.

Being a leader “hero” today requires:

COMPASSION – God has given us the ability to care deeply about people and situations. I get a an aching pit in my stomach or energetically pound the table because I feel strongly about something… What is it that causes you to want to DO something? …lost souls, abused children, human trafficking, orphans and widows, injustice, pollution, teamwork?

Think about it… consider it… it doesn’t matter what it is, but if God has put the passion in your heart, I have learned that He will also give you the opportunity to get involved, and you can be a hero to someone (or many!) in that area.

ATTITUDE – Phil Collins describes a “level 5” leader, one who will leave a legacy, as one who has the right combination of humble modesty and confident will and resolve. Our world needs more people who are willing to give, to serve, and to go… and who can work hard and hang in there to get the results needed.

Most superheros didn’t go looking for their job; some tried desperately to avoid the responsibility… but eventually yielded their own desire for a quiet life of anonymity to meet the needs of others. I want to be the kind of leader who does not “lord-it-over” others, but who is strong in character and willing to persevere to get the job done. I want to honestly evaluate any growth area that might get in my way. How about you?

POWER – All superheros have a special source of power… and so do we! God has promised that when He calls us to something, He will also enable us with all that we need. We have His Word; we have His Spirit; we have an amazing variety of resources in His people. We have no excuse!

The trick is relying on His power and not my own, working together with His people and not alone. I remember that the hero usually gets in trouble when he forgets to use his special power – I need to remember who is in charge.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE – Superheros take on the enemy and trans-form their world. Nothing is too big, too scary, or too hard for them. They know that people are “worth it” and that people can make a difference. We are created for a purpose; when we let God work through us – even in seemingly small ways – we can make an eternal impact in someone else.

I want to see challenges from God’s perspective and remember that He put me here for a reason. I think there are too many negative role models in our world today and too many huge needs for any of us to sit on our thumbs and not get involved in the supernatural adventure of being a “hero”.

What do you think?  Do you want to be a hero with me?