Hello Me, Nice to Meet You

Happy New Year! My last post went up during the last week of 2020. That was a year we were all ready to have end, wasn’t it? It was so filled with challenges that people began to say, “It’s 2020” in response to any unusual or difficult thing that came up. 2020 was certainly filled with problems. It’s fitting, though I hadn’t thought about it at the time, that I wrote about a personal problem in my last post. Problems are inevitable regardless of the year (sorry, 2021 will have it’s share, too). Here’s an important truth about problems. Speaker, author, and leadership coach, John Maxwell, writes, “Problems introduce us to ourselves.” When I look into the mirror of a big problem who do I see reflected back at me? For example, let’s explore that in the form of three contrasted questions.

Am I a Victim or a Victor?

Another way to ask that is, “Am I a blamer or a tamer?” What’s my first instinct when a problem presents itself? Is it to find out who’s to blame? Is it to focus on how the problem is negatively affecting me? Or, is it to ask the question, “What do I need to do right now to overcome this barrier and achieve my desired outcome?”

The difference shows my attitude. Problems introduce us to our attitude. If you look up the word “attitude” you’ll see that it has to do with posture or position. In an airplane, for example, it refers to the relative position of the plane’s axes to a reference point like the horizon. When we think about mental attitude, it means our mental position or posture relative to a given situation. Think of it as am I curled up in a ball wondering “why me?” or standing squarely in the face of the problem ready to take it on.

Am I a Hothead or a Level head?

When I see my reflection in a big problem do I see steam coming out of my ears? Frustration is the feeling we get when we are being obstructed or impeded in our progress toward a goal. Obstruct and impede are synonyms of frustrate. It’s normal to feel it when our progress is being thwarted by something, especially if it’s something out of our immediate control. The question is how much control over me does that feeling have?

The difference between hothead and level head shows my emotion. Another way to look at it is by the effect of each. Think of it this way. Am I a tornado or a Zamboni? The difference between those is what they leave behind? A tornado passes over something beautiful and wrecks it. A Zamboni passes over something wrecked and makes it beautiful. Does my emotional response add to the problem or help put it in perspective.

I said that frustration comes when our progress is obstructed. But an obstruction in our path presents a couple of options. One is we learn how to overcome the obstruction which is a form of progress called growth. Another is we take another path that could lead us to a better destination than the original path. Even if it doesn’t, as long as we learn something, even failure is progress. With that in mind, we can be less frustrated because we can see progress possible no matter what.

Am I a problem spotter or a problem solver?

Any “Captain Obvious” can point out a problem. Even If the problem is less obvious or anticipated, the question becomes what am I going to do about it? Am I the kind of person who only spots problems and points them out, or am I the kind of person who takes action to solve the problem?

I was on a daily call yesterday with my team. At the end of the call I always go around the group and ask if there’s anything else on the topic. One caller spoke up. They said, “I was talking with my peer who told me about this anticipated problem. I put together these supplies they would need, should that situation arise, and delivered them.”

Another one of the callers said, “My concern is that if the customer does this, then that might happen.” The second caller was spotting a potential problem. The first caller learned about a potential problem and took action to solve it ahead of time.

The difference between spotter and solver shows me my action. Spotting problems is important, especially if they’re hard to see or they are potential problems that people aren’t thinking about. But solving problems is what leaders do.

We learn a lot about ourselves by how we face problems. We learn about our attitude, about our emotions, and about our action. But, guess what, if we learn, the problem has become an opportunity.

Life In The Ranch – Trouble In Paradise

I drove up to The Ranch one afternoon shortly after we bought it and noticed water dripping from the insulation underneath, near the front middle of the RV. Uh Oh. I went to the side and saw a gap between the screws holding up the insulation and pulled down slightly to see if I could find out anything about the source of the water. When I pulled down it created a low spot at the edge of the RV and out poured a lot of water that had been sitting in there. The good news is the water was clear, meaning it was grey water at worst, fresh water at best. In case you don’t know, RVs have three kinds of tanks. One holds freshwater for if you’re camping somewhere without a connection to city water. Another holds “grey water” which is the wastewater from your sinks and shower. “Blackwater” is the wastewater from your toilet. Now you know why I said clear was the good news.

Now What?

The dealer we bought the unit from had gone to great lengths telling us how differently they do business, that “As Is” (which is how used units are sold) doesn’t mean “you’re on your own once you drive off the lot.” He told me how they inspect the units carefully to be sure all the systems are working and that if there was anything they missed I should call him directly and “hit him between the eyes with the news.” So I called him. He asked me to send him some pictures which I did. I will admit, I was skeptical he would do anything. My skepticism seemed justified when he said on the phone, “I don’t know what to do, Jim. My repair guy won’t travel that far.”

I decided to try something. I called a local dealership and asked if they had or knew of someone locally who would come to my site and work on my rig. To my surprise, they referred me to a guy named Chris. I called him and described my situation. I told him I was hoping to get the guy I bought the unit from to pay for the repair. He didn’t think that was going to happen and told me he thought it would cost around $1,400 to repair my leak and good luck getting the dealer to pay for it. “I’ve worked with guys like that before,” he said.

I called the dealer and told him I’d found a local guy who would come look at it. He was skeptical. He said, “I’ve worked with guys like that before (funny huh?) “They’ll take you to the cleaners.” When I told him what Chris had estimated the costs to be, he said “See, he’s setting you up for a big bill.” But, to my pleasant surprise, he agreed to talk to Chris.

Then What?

Chris agreed to talk to the dealer but said he would only come if he paid for the service call upfront, $100. I gave Chris the dealer’s number and a little while later he called me back to set up an appointment.  Wow! I thought. This might work out after all. Chris explained what he and the dealer had worked out about how to approach the diagnosis of the problem and asked if I was OK with that. When I agreed he said, “I’ll see you then.”

Chris actually showed up. He drove up in his car, popped the trunk where he had a toolbox and a creeper (a board with casters for rolling around under things on your back). I hung out with him while he worked because I like to learn new things and I wanted to understand what was under The Ranch and what he would be doing to fix my leak. He cut into the underbelly insulating cover and peeled it back.  He discovered that one of the greywater tanks was completely full and, instead of backing up into the kitchen sink like it was supposed to when it was full, it was overflowing underneath.

That was actually good news. I was happy it wasn’t anything that needed to be replaced. It did raise a question, though. How did that tank get so full? I had emptied the grey water tank. It turns out there was a valve to open this tank located away from the other valves for the black water tanks and the other grey water tank. I hadn’t seen it. We opened that valve and the water drained out. The system shouldn’t work like that but it’s something I can manage now that I know. So Chris left to call the dealer with the report and get paid and I was happy with the result.

So What? – The Flexibility of Stories

As I was thinking about telling this story, I realized it could be told with a different emphasis to make the story about one thing or another. That’s really true about any story, isn’t it? This could have been about how the dealer kept his word. It could have been about the action I took to help get my problem corrected. I could have made it more about the colorful character that is Chris. Or, it could have been about systems in a 5th wheel. That’s one of the great things about stories. They can be true while remaining flexible to make different points.

An Indescribable Gift

This is the season of gift-giving. In fact, I’m posting this during Christmas week. This year, 2020, has been the most unusual year in my lifetime. With all that has been happening, it seems we need the hope Christmas brings more than ever. Last year I had the privilege of speaking at Grace Community Church in Lathrop, CA during the Christmas season. What I’ve included below is an expanded outline of a message I shared about God’s indescribable gift to us. A full transcript would make for too long a post, so I hope this will get the points across. Merry Christmas!

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever received a gift that left you speechless? It was so extravagant, or so unexpected, so beautiful, so personal … you couldn’t find the words to speak.

That’s how we’ve felt each time we met one of our children for the first time.

That’s how I felt when Suzi said, “Yes” that night on December 7, 1979, under the lightly falling snow on the corner of Dearborn and Chestnut Streets in Chicago when I asked her to marry me.

Paul had that reaction in 2CO 9:15. He is talking about financial assistance to those in need. That leads him to talk about how God supplies, and he ends with the exclamation “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift”. The gift he’s talking about is called in another translation “unspeakable.” It’s unutterable, it’s inexpressible, it’s incomprehensible, it’s extraordinary because it’s paradoxical. Let me show you what I mean. Four Paradoxes of God’s Indescribable Gift …

This gift is given to everyone but only a few receive it

  1. It has been delivered to every front door – in fact, it’s said to be knocking at the door, but people don’t receive it
    1. Reject it – “Return to sender” because they don’t trust the giver
    2. Don’t know about it – someone needs to tell them what that knocking is at the front door.
    3. Don’t “need” it – what do you give the person who has everything?
    4. Are afraid of it (don’t know the giver) – what’s in the box? It could be a bomb, anthrax, who knows
    5. Ignore it – no time, no interest
  2. (JOH 1:12 Yet to all who did receive [this gift], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God) – heirs to the throne of heaven!

This gift is absolutely free, but it will cost you everything

  1. It’s free
    1. You can’t buy it – this offer is not available in stores (or online for that matter) You can’t get it at Amazon, there is no auction on e-Bay, Wal-Mart doesn’t carry it. You won’t find it at Nordstrom. Even Neiman Marcus doesn’t carry it. (Simon the sorcerer tried to ACT 8:18) the price is too high. You couldn’t afford it. No one but God could afford to pay for it.
    2. You can’t earn it (LUK 18 the young ruler, “What must I do …?”; ROM 6:23 wages vs gift)
    3. You can’t bargain for it – (“God, if you get me out of this, I’ll start going to church!” I’ll give you this if you give me that or do that for me) It’s not a quid pro quo transaction
  2. It will cost you everything
    1. When you receive it, (take it up, essentially “sign for it”) it changes your Character – This is not a gift you can just stick in your back pocket, or hang around your neck, or put up in the closet. When you take hold of this gift, it takes hold of you. It gets inside you and begins to change you from the inside out. Just looking at it transforms [metamorphosis] you 2 CO 3:18.
      1. Cost you who you are today to become who you were meant to be
      2. Cost you energy
      3. Cost you money
      4. Cost you friends
      5. It has cost many their lives – HEB 11, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Jim Elliott
    2. When you receive this gift, it changes your trajectory. This gift comes from God and it takes you back to God for eternity.
      1. Redeems your life from bondage
      2. Restores your soul
      3. Remakes your brokenness
      4. Resurrects you from spiritual deadness, and
      5. Returns you to the one who gave it forever

This gift is given to you, but it is not for you (only)

  1. You’re intended to re-gift this gift – the words from a song that plays at Christmas are, “Last Christmas I gave you my heart. The very next day, you gave it away.” In the song that’s a bad thing, but God says “Yes! And the next day and the day after that. Give it away.” You may just get a case of the “can’t help its.” Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning. (1951 Alistair Sim version). “I don’t know what to do! I’m as light as a feather! I’m as happy as an angel! I’m as silly as a schoolboy! I’m as giddy as a drunken man!”
  2. Part of the transformation is from selfish to selfless
  3. None of God’s gits is intended to flow into you like a reservoir, intended to flow through you like a river to benefit others – 1PE 4:10  “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
    1. Individuals – horde my gift away and maybe talk about it once in a while
    2. Congregations – sing and learn about our gift and invite people to come to see it – go give it away
  4. This gift grows in value as you give it away. You reap all the benefits of the gift and it continues to deliver – it’s the gift that keeps on giving

This gift is both a what and a whom

  1. This gift is not a thing – not a fire insurance policy – not a certificate of membership is some club.
  2. This is God’s gift of Jesus and all he is and brings when he is received.
  3. Jesus is called many things in the Bible. At this time of year we think especially of “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” I love the title King; King of Kings and Lord of Lords. My journal, “I serve at the pleasure of the King.”
  4. In 1981, my senior year at MBI, Suzi and I attended Moody’s Founder’s Week in February S.M. Lockridge spoke. His message was entitled, “Amen.” During that message, he delivered this now-famous description of the indescribable Jesus! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzqTFNfeDnE 

CONCLUSION:

Pastor Lockridge asked several times, “Do you know him?”
Have you opened the door and signed for the gift God has delivered to you?

Life In The Ranch

A lot changes when you move from a 2,600 square foot house to an RV (The Ranch) full time. For one thing, you have to decide what you absolutely need for immediate use and what stays in storage. But your routines also change.

The Dog

One big example is letting the dog (Zuzu) out. That’s something you may not think is a big deal, and it’s not really. But it’s way different now. I used to just open the sliding door onto the patio and out she would go to take care of her business in our fenced back yard. Now she wears a harness and I have to put her on a leash and go out with her until she does her business. And now, instead of one of the kids collecting doggy prizes once a week, I take a little plastic bone attached to her leash filled with a roll of doggy prize bags. When she leaves a prize on the grass, I now gather it immediately, picking it up with my hand inside the bag, pull the prize into the bag by turning it inside out and goose neck tie it off and throw it out.

Of course, I have to be dressed appropriately for going outdoors in December (granted it’s California where a cold morning is 37 degrees, not zero or below) and it now makes a difference to me whether or not it’s raining. which it has been for the last two days.

The Cat

We also have a cat (Bandit). He’s a great cat, very easy going, but he’s an indoor cat which raises the question, where do we put the litter box? Well, it depends on the time of day. During the day it goes in our closet at the front of the Ranch, out of sight. He knows to go through our bedroom and into the closet to do his business. But, when it’s time for bed things change. We don’t want the door open and the cat coming into or through our room during the night, so I take the litter box down to the kitchen when we go to bed and close the bedroom door.

Now my weekday morning routine is get up, make coffee, feed Bandit and Zuzu, take Zuzu outside, read, sometimes take Zuzu outside again, write, clean the litter box, shower and get dressed, move the litter box to the closet, gather up the trash from the kitchen where I’ve put the soiled litter and any Zuzu prizes, say good-bye to Suzi, gather my work things, head out the door, leave the trash at the end of our space, head to work.

The Son

I neglected to mention that our youngest son, Jordan, is staying with us for awhile. He sleeps on the hide-a-bed in the living room which, in an RV, is part of everything that is not the bedroom. So, my morning routine is accomplished while being as quiet and stealthy as I possibly can. When I sit to read and write my knees are no more than 12 inches from the corner of Jordan’s bed. Fortunately, he is not a light sleeper. If he were, he’d be a much earlier riser than he would like.

The Point

In the grand scheme of things, these changes in routine are minor. And they are certainly first-world “problems.” But they illustrate a comment I made to a friend the other evening. We had our first guests over for dessert this past weekend. They are long-time friends with whom we get together often, but they hadn’t seen the Ranch yet. So we invited them over for “a tour.”  During the evening we heard a thumping sound coming from the next door RV. We’re not sure what’s going on over there but we hear thumping all evening long. There are four kids and one adult living there long term. It sounds like the Romanian gymnastics team is practicing most evenings. Our friend said, “I could never do this.” She was referring to the whole living in an RV experience and the thumping neighbors just solidified her position. My comment was, “You’d be surprised what you can learn to do.”

Whether it’s transitioning from full time ministry to business, moving to a foreign country to work in a new kind of job, going into healthcare, then going into manufacturing, then going back into healthcare, or moving into an RV full time, one thing I’ve learned is that you can learn to do anything you need to do. It’s not always about how prepared you are. It’s usually more about taking the step.

The Ranch

So, where does a family go who just moves out? The first answer is, to a hotel. We were supposed to close on our house on Monday, November 16th. A hiccup with our Buyer’s Buyer’s lender caused a delay that set everyone involved into Plan B mode.  Our buyer had set up a cleaning company and a moving company based on the anticipated close date. Our plans were also based on that close date. We knew we would have to spend a night or two in a hotel. Our plan had been to close on the house, take the proceeds from the sale and buy an RV for the short term. We want to see what happens in the country and I’m still working so that was our plan.

Reality

All that was well and good except for a couple realities we didn’t expect. RVs are selling like hotcakes. When we first started looking, we would find one we liked and call about going to see it only to hear it had been sold. We realized there was no point in even looking until we had money in hand. We also discovered that space at RV parks was at a premium. Lots of people in California seem to be going long term in RV parks. More than once we heard, “We don’t have even two week spots at the moment. Call back at the beginning of the month when people pay rent. That’s when things usually open up.” It was good we started the search for RV spots weeks before the originally scheduled closing date. I was able to make a reservation for two weeks at a park that is only one exit away from my work. As that original closing date came and went, I had to change the reservation two or three times. Thankfully, they were able to accommodate the changes without charging an additional deposit.

We finally closed on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. That evening, Suzi and I spent quite awhile online looking at RVs. When we had confirmation the proceeds had been deposited into our account the next day, we took off to look. We checked out two at a local dealer and then drove to a dealer a little over an hour away to look at the one we both liked best from what we could see online. That turned out to be the one. We met with the salesman who toured us through the unit and explained some things to us. He offered to let us go get coffee to discuss it and promised not to sell it to anyone else until we returned. When we got back from coffee, we met the owner of the dealership who told us more about the unit’s history and how they do business. We made a deal.

Early Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving, Suzi and I left the hotel and drove back up to the dealership for our walk through with a technician. It was all coming together. We had checked out of the hotel, gotten our reservation reset for this day at the RV park and completed our walk-through. We don’t have a truck to pull the RV yet so we had it delivered. Finally, almost two weeks after we were originally supposed to close on our house, we moved into our 2014 Heartland Big Horn 3875 FB 5th Wheel.

The Ranch

This is the 4th RV we’ve owned over the last several years. In the past we’ve always referred to them as the “rig” or just “the trailer.” We’re tired of that and decided we wanted to call this one something more “homey.” This one is manufactured by a company called Heartland. That happens to be the name of a Canadian TV show Suzi and I like about a family and their ranch. With that connection, we decided to call it “The Ranch.” It sounds much better to say, “We’re heading back to The Ranch” or “Oh, I left that back at The Ranch” than “… he rig” or “… the trailer,” don’t you think?

This series of posts is about stories. It’s about the power of stories to convey truth. Trying to relay a story like this in around 700 words in an interesting exercise. So much has to be left out. What you include in your stories will depend on what message you want people to retain. This one could be about adventure, craziness, boldness, faith, how things work out, or a number of other ideas. I’d be interested in hearing what you took from it.

1,380 Pounds

Suzi and I recently sold our house. It’s something we’ve been talking about for awhile and the time seemed right. Strangely, the market is good in spite of (or because of) the pandemic. Interest rates are way down and Suzi had what I call an unction. A handful of times in our life Suzi has come out with an “I think we should …” statement. Once it was “I think we should buy a trailer.” That one was way out of left field, but we bought the trailer and I later learned why that was a good idea (maybe a topic for another post). This time it was, “I think we should sell the house.” Not, “I think we should sell the house, someday” like the conversation had been. It was, “I think we should put the house on the market now.” I’ve learned to listen to Suzi’s unctions so we sold the house.

Our recent 12-Day Journey took place after we had accepted an offer on the house. We knew the time between accepting the offer and moving was our only opportunity to enjoy some relaxation so we took vacation and off we went.

Moving

We bought this house in July of 2014. We lived there for 6 years and 4 months making it the longest I’ve lived in any one place in my entire life. We saw our two youngest go from 8th grade to High School graduation and beyond in that house. It holds a lot of memories. Turns out, it holds a lot of other stuff as well.

When you move, you are usually moving to somewhere. We weren’t. We were just moving out. That means we had to pack and move everything to storage. Everything including the chair we had just bought in Tennessee and carried 2,000 miles back with us. Well, not everything. Our buyer had purchased our two largest pieces of furniture as well as our fridge, washer, and dryer. That was a relief. We didn’t have to store those.

The weeks after our vacation were filled with packing and moving loads of the stuff of our life to storage units. There was a great paring down taking place as well. We had a moving sale one weekend and I became close friends with Facebook Marketplace. Online I sold an extra TV, our basketball goal, our baby grand digital piano (that one was hard to let go), and several other large items we didn’t want to store. We also put so many things out on the curb for people to pick up free I can’t recount them all. Every thing we put out was taken by someone. There were also several trips to the thrift store donation center.

I rented 4 U-Haul trucks over the course of the next few weeks (that’s another whole story). Twice we decided to use the truck to take a load of trash to the transfer station. That was eye-opening. When you take items to this transfer station in a truck, they have you weigh in and weigh out and charge you by the portion of a ton. The first time we went the load was 860 pounds! Even the guy taking my money said, “That’s a big load.” The second time we went the load was 520 pounds. That’s a total of 1,380 pounds … of trash! That’s one skinny teenager away from 3/4 of a ton of trash. I was blown away. How do you accumulate and hang on to that much trash? That doesn’t even account for all the stuff we sold, gave away, and the couple trips we made to the transfer station with an SUV full that didn’t get weighed. When I say we got rid of a ton of stuff, I’m probably understating it.

Stories

How does a family have a ton of trash? I’m not talking about old cereal boxes and milk cartons or the daily scoops from the litter box. I’m not talking about the stuff you put into the trash bin out on the curb once a week. I’m talking about stuff that we once considered important enough to keep and, in some cases, move with us more than once. It wasn’t trash when we got it. It was memorabilia or things we kept “in case we might need it someday.” But, during this move, we decided we didn’t “need” or want it anymore. So, what was once some of the “stuff of our life” became trash.

It was a ruthless exercise and sometimes we said, “Yes, we’re finally getting rid of that!” but in some cases we said, “Aw, you’re getting rid of that?!” I’m not sure we had a rule about how we made the decision to discard. In some cases it was simply, I have been carrying this around for years and haven’t thought about it once except when packing it for the next move, so out it goes. Other times it was a harder decision, but we had to pare down.

I’m still sorting out the lessons for me from this story. What principles do you think you could illustrate with a story about 1,380 pounds of trash?

A Thrift Store Chair and Another Book

The final eastbound destination on our recent 12-Day journey was Nashville, TN. Here we were to revisit a tradition from the year or two we lived in Indianapolis where every several weeks we would drive to Nashville and our friends John and Julia (then all our children came with us) would drive up from Atlanta and we’d spend the weekend together.  Those were great times and we were excited to see our friends.

John and Julia are another couple we’ve known for over 40 years. John and I were security guards (with Keith) in Chicago in college and we’ve stayed in close contact through the years. Julia and Suzi love so many of the same things and John and I have worked for the same company in the past. I also worked for a company that provided service to John’s company once. Let it suffice to say, we never lack for conversation.

Tradition!

One of the traditions of our time together with John and Julia is a trip (or two) to a thrift store.  Suzi and Julia especially like to see what people donate in different parts of the country. So off we went to a Goodwill store in Franklin, TN outside Nashville.

Suzi and Julia went off on their treasure hunts inside the store as soon as we hit the door.  They have keen eyes and a sense for the kinds of things they’re looking for so they don’t take hours to complete their searches. Suzi usually fills a shopping cart with possible purchases or things she wants to show me that are unique or might be special in some way. But, often she walks out of the store with nothing or one or two small things. Occasionally, however, there is a piece of furniture that catches her eye. This was one of those times.

I noticed the two of them standing at the front register admiring something so I went to see what it was. It was a wooden chair. It sat lower than most chairs, had a rattan bottom, and was unusually wide. One elderly lady in line said it was a “story time chair” where you and a child could sit side-by-side and read a story together. Another lady in the line suggested, “you could but a big cushion on it and make it a dog bed chair.” The look in Suzi’s eye suggested, “I really like this chair.” So we paid the $15 and loaded it into the back of our vehicle to make the 2,200 mile trip home with us.

Another Book

When Suzi and I hit the thrift store together, she heads off on her systematic search and I head to the book section.  Admittedly I rarely find anything. It’s like panning for gold. You sift through a lot of dirt and usually come up empty. When I say “dirt” I just mean things I’m not interested in. But, once in awhile, I find a nugget. This was one of those times.

Several years ago I ran across a video by Daniel H. Pink called “Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” I saved a link to it in my Evernote file and have referred to it, been informed by it, and shared it with others often. The video outlines the research showing that the “carrot and stick” motivational tactics used by so many can actually be counterproductive. He shows that we are much more highly motivated by three intrinsic factors, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Well, there, on the shelf at the Goodwill in Franklin TN was a copy of the book he wrote by the same title. I started to leaf through it, then I started to read a particularly interesting chapter. I was about mid-way through that chapter when I noticed Suzi and Julia at the front of the store. When I went up to see what they were looking at the book was under my arm.

I bought that book even though it had been thoroughly highlighted by the previous owner. I actually think that’s kind of cool. I get to see what they thought was important when they read it. It goes into much more detail about the research and shares great implementation ideas at the end. I enjoyed reading it so much I bought a clean copy to share with my colleagues.

A Dark Night In The Woods

After our delicious brunch with Juliana in Kansas City, we headed out to visit with dear friends, Keith and Terry, in the St. Louis area. To be more accurate, we headed out to visit with Terry. Keith’s work often takes him out of the country and, unfortunately, this was one of those times.

Keith and Terry are friends we’ve know for over 40 years. We met in college where Keith and I were security guards together in downtown Chicago. Keith and Terry were married a month before us and Suzi stood up in their wedding. Life circumstances have prevented us from spending as much time together with them as Suzi and I would love, so we cherish every moment we can get.

The Fun

We met Terry at their daughter’s house where she was finishing up a day of (grand)child care and headed out to dinner. Terry drove us to a favorite restaurant, and, after we were seated, she got Keith on a video call. He was at the airport overseas waiting to come home. So, Suzi and Terry visited across the table while I got to visit with Keith for awhile through the wonders of modern technology.

After dinner (the best pastrami sandwich I’ve ever had) we picked up our car and followed Terry to their house. Keith had built them a house in the woods on land his family had owned for a long time. Though we’ve known Keith and Terry for a long time and I remember conversations about how the project was coming along, we’d never seen their beautiful home in person. We were looking forward to it.

I knew the house was in the woods. I just didn’t know how deep in the woods it was. The fact that it was already dark when we drove back to the house probably contributed to the feeling that we were way off the beaten path. All we could see on the one-lane drive was Terry’s car in front of us and what was immediately within reach of our headlights. That included a deer, a opossum and trees, lots of trees.

We eventually wound around the last bend into the spot Keith had cleared for their home and onto the driveway. What a beautiful place!  Terry took us on a tour. We even got to see Terry’s sister who was visiting and her parents who live in the downstairs apartment Keith built for them. It is a beautiful home and we were so glad to finally see it in person.

Despite Terry’s urging to stay the night, Suzi and I needed to get more highway behind us before settling in for the night. Terry offered to lead us back out to the main road but we declined. I had GPS and the we didn’t remember the route being that complicated. That was a mistake.

The Dark Night in the Woods

We headed back out into the dark night in the woods chatting about how great it was to  spend time with Terry and video chat with Keith. Then we came to an intersection. Left, right, or straight? We couldn’t remember. Straight looked like someone’s long driveway. We couldn’t see anything to the left or to the right. How did we get lost that fast? It had only been a couple minutes since we left Terry.

My GPS was pointing us down what looked like the long driveway so we immediately lost confidence it that and looked for a sign we’d seen on the way in. We didn’t see it so we made a decision. I don’t even remember which way we turned. But it wasn’t the same way we’d come in. I was actually impressed by how calm we both were for two people who had confidently told our friend we could find our way back and, only moments later, were completely lost in the dark in the woods.

We made another turn and stopped short when we realized this was someone else’s driveway. I put it in reverse, just when I realized I couldn’t see well enough to back around that turn headlights came on in front of me.

“Oh, No!” I thought, “this guy is wondering what someone is doing way out here pulling into his driveway.”

Up drove a stern looking man on an ATV. I rolled down my window and said, “I’m sorry, sir. We were just visiting our friends, and are trying to get back to the main road. We turned here but this looks like a driveway so we were trying to back out.”

“Who are your friends?” he asked in a tone that sounded more like an accusation than a question, though I could understand why he’d be wary.

“Keith and Terry,” I answered.

His face softened and he said, “That’s my nephew. This is a driveway. It’s my driveway. But you can pull along in front of the house, keep driving past and it will take you down to the main road.”

“Thank you,” I replied in relief imagining what an idiot he must think I am. At that point I was inclined to agree.

We drove on following his directions and found the main road in short order. We made the rest of the drive to our overnight stop without incident. Whew!

The Power of Stories

How many different lessons could be learned from that story? Aside from what you may have learned about me that I didn’t want you to know, I’d be interested to know what points you think you could illustrate with that story.

The Dancer and The Book

One of the stops on our recent vacation was Olathe, Kansas (Kansas City area) to see our oldest daughter, Juliana, who moved there three months ago.  She’s the one I mentioned in my post “How Does A Klutz Become A Dancer?” This is the same girl who, right after graduating from High School, was given no choice but to move to China with her parents and two younger siblings. “What am I going to do in China,” she asked? I’ll tell you what she did. She started a dance school.

I was working at an international JK – 12 school and Juliana saw an opportunity. She started classes in the cafeteria after school. She had classes by age group and by dance style (Hip-hop, Jazz, Lyrical, Ballet, etc.). The junior Kindergarten kids were adorable and she even had some of the staff in classes. She learned how to get costumes made and had several full recitals over the two years we were there. She charged for the classes but also held bake sales to raise money for a scholarship fund so no one who wanted to dance was unable to.

Fast forward to three months ago. Juliana has become a Dental Assistant. She was working and living in an apartment with two other girls in the same town as us . The three of them lived in a two bedroom, two bath apartment that cost them over $1,700 a month for rent. Their transportation was a minivan Juliana’s roommate had borrowed from her dad. When their lease was up, the roommate decided to move home to save money so she could buy a car. Juliana and her two dogs moved in with us temporarily.

Time to Get Out of Dodge

After several months of living with her parents again, Juliana wanted to get back out on her own. She decided to leave California because of the cost of living and she does not like the hot summers. So, where do you go? She had three criteria for choosing another place to live and work. One, it had to be a state where her Dental Assistant credentials would be accepted with no additional work. Two, there had to be a family member or friend living there so she wouldn’t be completely on her own (that one may have been influenced by mom). Three she had to be able to afford an apartment on her own.

After a couple weeks of research Juliana zeroed in on Olathe, Kansas. She has a cousin there who agreed to let her stay until she got a place. She had put her name out in the area and had several phone interviews which led to invitations to in-person interviews, so she packed her stuff and her dogs into a rented minivan, got a friend to drive along with her and hit the road.

Within two weeks of arriving in Olathe, Juliana, after having several working interviews with different Dental offices, had multiple job offers. She loves the office where she’s working and the pay and benefits are far better than she had in California. Better pay and benefits with the lower cost of living, I’d say she landed pretty well. She found a two bedroom, one bath apartment that she can afford on her own (with her two dogs). That’s the girl we went to visit.

Dancers Gotta Dance

We arrived on a Monday night. Juliana got the next day off so we had an evening, all day on Tuesday, and the morning of Wednesday together. She took us to the Kansas City Market downtown, to Union Station and to a cool “Made In Kansas City” shop with some amazing ice cream. The day we left, we had brunch at a local breakfast-and-lunch-only place that was delicious.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Juliana. One thing that tickled me happened the night we arrived. We planned to have dinner together which we did, but before we had dinner, Juliana wanted to keep her appointment. It was her class at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio where she’s moved on from Hip-hop, Jazz, Lyrical and Ballet to Ballroom and Swing. Hey, dancers gotta dance. I love that she’s doing that.

O Yeah, The Book

Suzi and I needed something to do while Juliana was at her dance class. I took Suzi to a nearby store where she wanted to look for a few things and, at her suggestion, I want across the street to a Barnes and Noble Bookstore.

On the way to the bookstore I remembered a book I’d been wanting to get so I went in, bought it, and started reading it in the car while I waited for Suzi and Juliana. The book is called The Go-Giver: A Little Story About A Powerful Business Idea. It’s by Bob Burg and John David Mann. I absolutely loved it. I’ve read it twice already. The title is a link to the book so you can check it out.

Stories

Stories can have purpose. I could have shared this story (actually there are several stories here) to a number of ends. I could want to talk about entrepreneurship (dance school in China) or to introduce you to the character of my daughter. I may want to highlight some of the spots in Kansas City or talk about the comparative cost of living in different parts of the country. I definitely wanted to introduce you to a great book. What other purposes could you see for these stories? What are some of your stories that can have a purpose?

Our 12-day Journey

Suzi and I just returned from a two-week vacation. It was a driving vacation that touched 14 states over 4,900 miles. We love driving across country. We did a similar trip last year, too.  It’s relaxing and fun to drive through the changes in topography and to see the countryside and the cities.

Our first night was in Salt Lake City. After that we stopped in Denver to have dinner with Suzi’s sister and her husband and Suzi’s sister-in-law. The next day it was on to Kansas City where we spent two nights and a day with our oldest daughter (the Klutz who became a dancer). After that we stopped in St. Louis to have dinner with a friend on our way to a layover in Mt. Vernon, IL. The next day we reached our eastbound destination, Nashville. There we spend three nights with dear friends who had driven up from Atlanta.

We decided to return home by a different route. That trip involved no visits with friends or family but took us to stops in Oklahoma City, Gallup New Mexico, and Bakersfield California. Bakersfield is only 3.5 hours from home but we decided it was better to rest, leave at a leisurely pace the final morning and arrive refreshed rather than arrive home at midnight wrung out from the road.

I just described a 12-day journey in three paragraphs that take less than a minute to read. That’s a story in itself. What did you learn about me and my family from those paragraphs? What did you think about yourself as you read? “I would never do that.” or, “That sounds like fun.” What did you think about the length of the trip or the speed or the distance?

This series of posts is about the power of stories (starting the first week of October with my Black Swan story) . Over the next couple of weeks I will share few stories from the trip in more detail.