An Upward Cycle

I was reading Seth Godin’s post the other week and he was, as usual, encouraging me to look through a longer lens. He said that there is “an upward cycle, a slow one, a journey worth going on.” And in that comment, he captured so many things.

An image that came to mind was of bicycling. I used to do it. Haven’t for years because being a parent of small children meant, among other things, having some facility to arrive to the neighborhood more quickly than a 1.5 hour cycle commute allowed.

Chicago is flat but there is a hill or two on Lake Shore Drive’s bike path. I thought about that hill every time I headed to the path. I anticipated it, dreaded it. I looked forward to moving down that hill because it brought wind and speed. I hated the, for me, slow climb of going upward.

Consider the areas of your life. Where have you succeeded? And as importantly, where have you failed? Think about what you’re up to currently. Which journeys proved to be the ones worth going on? They were probably the slow ones, the ones that built your strength even when they didn’t seem to build your patience.

I think that the moments in life that build strength inevitably build patience. And it is cyclic. It’s upward and cyclic. Keep going upward, even if you’re moving slowly.

Read Seth’s post here.

Given the History of Misunderstandings

Friday I read an article about the President-elect’s conversations with world leaders and how they were, consistent with his earlier manner, clear departures from the way diplomatic leaders and ambassadors think he should participate in such conversations.

Mark Landler’s NYT article quoted a former Pakistani ambassador who said that in his country history and details matter most. He said that his country and our country has between them many misread signals. I thought: given the “history of misunderstandings” some conversations need more than a leader’s reactivity.

I don’t know that the President-elect’s conversation was reactive. But I do know that some conversations require patience and consideration. In other words, a considered approach is a more thorough one given the history between your conversation partners. Wisdom seems to be in knowing which conversations require us to dispense with history and tradition and which require pronounced appreciation for them.

In which relationships do I need to pay attention to what’s happened before? I think most relationships call for that. I can’t think of any situation where knowing and respecting what happened before you arrived at the next seminal isn’t important. Then, you choose according to your wisdom.

The Ripples


Every decision we make changes things. The people we befriend, the examples we set, the problems we solve…

Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get to glimpse those ripples as we stand at the crossroads. Instead of merely addressing the urgency of now, we can take a moment to focus on how a quiet insight, overlooked volunteer work or a particularly welcome helping hand moves so many people forward. For generations.

How did you get to where you are? Who is going to go even further because of you?

Thank you for passing it forward.

From Seth Godin whose words you should read.

People Who Insist You Avoid Shortcuts

Photo Thanks to Leroy and Lifepix

Photo Thanks to Leroy and Lifepix

Surround yourself with people who insist you avoid the shortcut.

When I read Seth Godin’s words in that recent post, it made me take a minute to express my gratitude for people who forbid me–with their lives, with their ways of being, with their manner–to take short cuts.

I had to write one of them. I did something similar last week on a facebook wall. I’ll do something like that in a month when I see a mentor for his birthday. I’ll do thanksgiving around my own birthday too.

I’m thankful that not only is Seth Godin great for quality, pointed writing wisdom, but he also helps me notice the people pulling it off. He helps me bring to mind people who are relentless in focusing their energies on building something good.

Because I work in ministry, my focus is usually on people who build other people. Those are my heroes, mentors, friends, and colleagues. I spend myself with those who contribute. I befriend them.

I befriend people who give. I’m a giver. I build givers. I’m a teacher. I collect teachers around me. Because those folks don’t take shortcuts. Because those folks don’t let me take shortcuts.

They take very long views. Dangerously long views. They believe in the worst of students. They slow down when someone needs attention. They breath deeply when everyone’s afraid.

Those are the folks who teach me to “take my time” and attend to what’s in front of me with grace. They are the people in my spiritual autobiography, in my life narrative, in my regularly changing life review when I’m on the MICU and being grateful for the number of witnesses who people and participate in this life that I live.

They’re the ones around the interior kitchen table of my heart. They’re the people I thought of when I read Seth’s brief reminder. I’m thanking them all as much as I can because they’re lovely.

“Everything You Need”

My friend, Patrick Shaffer wrote this letter to a young man when his mother and member of Patrick’s church asked him to participate in her son’s school assignment.  Patrick’s response is an essay of proverbs, written from a place of compassion and wisdom.  His letter reaches to distill everything you’d want a young man to know.

I’ve been turning over Too Short’s instructions to young boys in the last week; if you are unaware of it, don’t worry over it because it isn’t worth worry.  I started writing a post in response.  I haven’t finished.  Then, yesterday, I saw my comrade’s Advice at the Huffington Post.  Pastor Patrick’s words are a kind corrective to that musical nonsense that had so many people alarmed.

Of course, I don’t agree with everything Patrick says here; I never agree with everything Patrick says, so I shouldn’t start now, right?  Nonetheless, he’s got some powerful stuff in this lovely letter to a single mother’s son.

Hey, I hope you are well. I wanted to share some things with you about life and all of the above. Forgive me if they seem scattered but I think what I have might help.

You should be awakening to new ideas of freedom, an expanded world and optimism about your future. The substratum or foundation of all of those things, though, is responsibility. Great responsibility is placed on your shoulders. Responsibility perhaps that you would rather not have and don’t think it strange if you vacillate between your childish tendencies and being a young adult. It happens. I still wrestle with the kid in me, and it never leaves. You must master that little boy in you who says “this is too hard” or “I don’t feel like this.” Giving in to those voices will lead you to be fruitless in your life. You must hear those voices and push yourself pass them to be who you are — the world is waiting. Being a man is a hard and thankless enterprise, being an African American man is harder.

Your mother loves you and did her absolute best to raise you. As you get older you will see her in a different light and humanize her in ways you couldn’t when you were younger. That should make you appreciate her and love her all the more. You may have had to piece together the meaning of what a man is from your father and different male figures in your life. Some of us have failed you, some of us will fail you but use our lives always as a class. Learn from our failures; hear our wisdom and they will serve as the tapestry of the man you will become. But really it’s not up to us anymore; it’s all up to you. We are here for you but the training wheels of life are coming off now — time for you to peddle and ride the bike yourself. We will be watching and be right there when you fall.

You will have unbelievable standards to live up to from the world at large and even from your own people. Our president is a black man — who can live up to that? Your world and your very meaning in the world is ever changing at a seismic rate. Sometimes it will be hard to keep up.

You will look over your shoulder and know that there are peers who aren’t smarter, haven’t worked as hard as you, who will get all the breaks in life and you will wonder “why is this so hard for me?” But that question means that you are conscious of your growth, your progress and what you have achieved. Remember son, you are not in competition with anyone but that kid on the inside of you. If you can grow him up, without being weighed down by what someone else has achieved, you will be just fine. If you can understand that that little kid on the inside of you is there for counter balance, when things in life are stressful and sometimes way too serious for you. When you master the moments of knowing when it’s time to play and when it’s time to work, you will be just fine.

The world has expectations of you. Your mother has expectations of you. I have expectations of you but really, we don’t matter — it only matters what you expect from yourself. I hope you expect great things; you will achieve what you want when you master working smart and not hard.

I admonish you to stay in school, finish everything you start. You will be pressured to make money, for this reason and that reason. The reasons may be legitimate but stay in school anyway. Even if you’re broke, have to sleep on the floor in a friend’s apartment, finish the degree. Education is the key — go to school and work part time if you have to. I wish I could tell you that getting an undergraduate degree is enough, but it’s not. Don’t take a break, stay in and go to graduate school. The economy will turn, more jobs will be available one day, and your education will prepare you for your future career, your future life. You don’t want to work a job, you want to have a fulfilling career and there are no shortcuts to the life you want. If you want it go after it, stay after it. Don’t quit, you will be sorry you did.

To finish reading pastor Patrick’s letter, click here.