Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lessons from my Dog

While I've been on a journey of sorts over the last few years, 2011 has been a year of big changes for me.  I got some of my ducks in a row and started taking more responsibility for my health and well being.  I also got a dog.  I've never had a pet before.  We never had pets growing up, so this has been a big deal for me.  But on July 20, I adopted Sophie, a six year old yorkie poo rescue.  She has been a "breeder" dog all her life with very little human interaction and, from the way she responds to people, I'm assuming that interaction wasn't very positive.  It's been a tough journey at times, but I've learned a lot from her.  Here are some of them.

- There are good parts to every day. I was the kind of person who would avoid going out of the house at the smallest hint of a rainy day.  I'd stay in bed longer to let the snow melt.  I'd avoid leaving the comforts of air conditioning during most of the summer months. It has taken some serious weather watching on some days but I've learned there are good parts to every day.  In the summer, early in the morning and late in the evening can be quite pleasant. On rainy days, there is usually a little break which makes those moments feel like a special little treasure.  Each day has redeemable qualities.

-  Sometimes a patch of grass can be more than just a patch of grass.  I don't know what she is thinking in her mind, but there is this one patch of grass in our neighborhood that Sophie loves to run through.  It actually looks more like hopping as she lets herself go. I encourage her and run right along side of her wondering what the neighbors are thinking. It may just look like a patch of grass to me, but there is something magical about it to her.  Maybe there are other patches of grass in life that are more magical than they first appear to be.
-  Don't listen to all of the advice you are given.  It must be what parents feel, but when I got Sophie, everyone had an opinion about what I should be doing with her.  The neighbors felt like she should be willing to meet all of their dogs, no matter how huge or spastic they were.  I should force her to interact with other dogs.  I have one neighbor who feels like he is doing a favor if he forces some interaction with him because "that's the only way she'll get over her fear."  The foster mom wanted me to let her do anything she wanted and the rescue place wanted me to let her know who was boss.  Sometimes you have to just quiet the other voices and listen to your gut.

- Anything can be scary if you let it.  Today when we were walking, leaves were blowing around.  This seems to scare Sophie, along with the Christmas tree when we first put it up and a long list of other items that do not seem scary to most of us. The truth is though, we all have things that we think are scary that aren't really.  We've got to learn to walk through the blowing leaves swirling around us and past the twinkling lights of Christmas trees and not let them hold any power over us.
-  It takes courage to trust.  Sometimes we forget how hard it is for others to trust us and we treat their trust flippantly, but the truth is, trust is of great value.  We need to remember that some people may have a harder time trusting because they never had anyone they can really trust.

-  Sometimes progress comes as slow as grass growing.  You've got to learn to celebrate the little things.  The little things may be that she no longer runs when you kneel down to pick her up or that she does not always shake when you get in the car.  In adult life, progress and change in life came seem to be nonexistent, but we have to learn to celebrate the little things.

-  What's a little pottying on the floor?  I walk around fearing that she is going to pee or poop on the floor.  And we have had our fair share of that.  However, I often am so afraid of her having an accident on my floor or, worse, someone else's that it limits what we do or what I expect of her.  And, why?  What's a little potty?  It can be cleaned up pretty simple.  The truth is though, I find that I spend a lot of time worrying about things in life that are really not that big of a deal as well.  Let things happen and clean what you need to.

-  A little walk around the block can make all the difference in the world.  I have been amazed at how good it feels to take our fifteen minute walk to start and end the day.  I've always been a "don't talk to me before I've had my coffee kind of person, but now by the time I'm pouring my cup, I've already walked Sophie.  By the end of the day, I usually feel wiped.  The tasks of the day are still swirling around in my head.  However, I go for a little loop in the neighborhood and it all melts away.

Here's to a new year where Sophie and I can continue learning to trust each other and I continue to be challenged by having such a wonderful little creature in my life.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Love These People

It has been a long week in my family.  My grandmother, Chloe Hardison Roberson, passed away early on Monday morning.  She had lived a long life and while we are sad, I think there is a general sigh that she is finally at peace.  The woman who once knew everything that was going on in town, as the pastor said at her funeral, almost before it happened, no longer knew who we were and most days, where she was.  She was a survivor and a fighter but the fight had gone out of her.  The things I remember about my grandmother are her love for Mello Yellow, candy orange slices, that she always kept icee pops for the kids in her freezer, and the fact that she was a little ornery.  Granny always had an opinion and she was always willing to share it with you.  I learned later in life just how proud she was of me.  Anytime my name would appear in the Biblical Recorder, a NC Baptist newspaper, she made sure everyone saw it.  When I was hired as Baptist Campus Minister for the Raleigh Area, she wanted to make sure everyone knew.  

Listening to the pastor speak, I realized that a lot of the things I like about myself I share in common with Granny.  A friend once put it, "We are going to get around to the truth eventually, why not just get there now."  I've learned I have strong opinions and I pride myself on sharing them.  I want to be transparent and let others know what I'm thinking.  I'm fiercely protective of those I call "my own."  I'd like to think that I've learned to be a little tough myself along the way.

We have a big family....there are seven children still living, sixteen grandchildren, twenty-one great grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren.  They organized us for the funeral by allowing the children and their spouses to process in and sit towards the front, the grandkids were together, etc.  While it started out feeling a little weird not to be with our parents, it wound up making us feel like one unit.  One clan, the Roberson family.  While some have different last names now, we are the Robersons.  And as I sat there, I was overwhelmed thinking, "I love these people.  I really love these people."  

We are not often all in the same room so it was funny how overwhelmingly we all look alike as we gathered as a large group.  We all have a little of Granny's orneriness in us, but we are there for each other.  As a family, we have struggled through difficult times together but no matter what, we have stood by each other in our times of crisis. We've visited hospitals as cousins struggled in a fight for their lives, we've rebuilt homes after hurricanes have knocked them down, we've stood by each other and loved each other unconditionally no matter what we may have done.  We know how to celebrate with each other.  We could rent out my aunts and uncles to make wedding receptions more lively because they know how to cut loose and have fun!  We are funny and we love to laugh and tell stories.  It's even better if the stories are on each other.  

As I sat there in my pew, I remembered jumping on the trampoline at my cousins Wendy and Eric's house.  I remember how cool I thought my Aunt Fay was because she is so crafty!  I simply adore my Aunt Becky.  I remember going exploring in the woods with my cousins Nikki and Will and us scaring ourselves silly.  I remember looking forward to getting Nikki's hand-me-downs because she was way cooler than I ever thought I could be growing up.  I remember all of us cousins walking to the gas station from Granny's on Easter and getting bubble gum eggs.  I remember camping out in my Aunt Cindy's back yard out on Hatteras and the amazing fresh seafood my Uncle Joey always brought to our family get togethers.  I remember all of us playing bingo and our crazy Christmas gift exchange and all of us getting feisty with one another...because it's in our DNA.  

With family, it's easy to just take one another for granted.  But these are special people.  I'm so glad my life is intwined with theirs.  I'm glad to be part of our Roberson clan.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Living in Cages

This is my dog Sophie.  I have had her for two and a half months.  She is six years old but was a breeder dog and so has had no people interaction.  She's lived her entire life in a crate.  We've made a lot of progress but we still have a long way to go before she is behaving like a "normal" dog.  One of her quirks is that she loves her crate more than anything else.  She could have the entire run of the house, but she runs right to her crate in the kitchen when we come into the house.  She has this really soft fluffy bed that I keep nearby the crate.  We use it when we travel or when I make her hang out with me in the living room.  Sometimes she will run to the fluffy bed, but mostly she just runs to the crate.  It is what she knows and so it is where she feels the safest.  It doesn't matter how uncomfortable it is, it is what she knows.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as it relates to people as well.  The truth is that many of us have cages that we always run to.  It may be the pain of a difficult decision, something awful that has happened to us or someone we love, a relationship we are in, or just a piece of our identity that we cannot give up for something healthier.  I do not mean to diminish any difficult experience of life.  Sometimes the blows of life really knock us down and force us into "cage like" experiences.

The problem is that after awhile, the cage begins to serve us.  It may be difficult there, but at least it is something we know.  If we really just committed to the decision, let go of the pain, moved on with our lives, etc. we would have to finally let go of the last piece of something we know.  In a way we often cannot explain, the cage becomes comfortable for us.  Without it, we will have to move on with our lives and so, as much courage as it takes to really face pain, it takes even more courage to move on from it.  It takes tremendous amounts of courage to leave the cage! We know ourselves dealing with the pain, and without the pain and anxiety we would have to move forward.  We have the opportunity to fail if we move forward.  What if we cannot do it?  What if the pain is too much?  What if we can't live with the decision we made?  What if we just aren't good enough at living life and fail miserably outside of our cage?  What if we are truly happy?  What if succeed?  Sometimes the positive is just as scary as the negative.

Where do you need an extra dose of courage?  What's your cage?  What is holding you back from living the rest of your life just as God intended?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sacred Places

This Saturday morning I am starting my day sitting in a rocking chair at ridgecrest conference center. The morning is cool and I have a great cup of coffee. This is my sacred place.

For those who don't know Ridgecrest, it is a Baptist owned conference center in the mountains of North Carolina. We would come here every year for youth camp when I was a teenager and then came in college every year on this weekend for our annual Baptist Student Union Fall Convention. That is what brings me here this weekend...of course now I am a campus minister and not a student.

There is this long porch that has about thirty rocking chairs that overlook the mountains. As a youth this was one of the cool places to hang out and a lot of memories were made in these rocking chairs.

But this place, ridgecrest, is also where I have made all of my major decisions in life. This is where I hear God speak. I did not set out to make all of these decisions and life commitments here, it just happened that way. And now when I arrive through the gates, I immediately feel God's presence. I just feel at peace.

We all have those sacred places...yours might now seem so sacred to anyone else but you know it is the place where you can feel the most honest and at peace. It is a place where all becomes clear and God breaks in in ways you would not expect. It is a place where you remember what has been and you see the direction for the future.

As we start this new season of fall, why not find some time to spend in your sacred place, or maybe make a new one? You never know what can happen there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Retail Therapy

Last Friday I needed to go to the mall. I had a gift certificate that was expiring and gap was having a sale I was going to check out.

I love shopping. I love trying on something brand new and the feeling a perfect fit gives you. In my real life, in ministry, I deal with the deep problems of humanity and it can take years to see results of my efforts, if I ever get to see them. There is something immediately gratifying about piecing together a beautiful outfit or finding the right accessory to put an outfit over the top. I've been told I have the ability to perfectly accessorize any outfit. Not exactly something to put on your resume but it sure can make you feel good to know your least as far as ministers in central North Carolina go. Obviously, I am all about "fabulousness." :)

I also love the possibility of a new outfit. This may seem crazy to you, but I like to think about where I will go, who will see me, etc. in this outfit. Being single, I think, will this be the outfit that some guy falls in love with me in?

I have also realized that just like with my compulsive eating, there is a void I am trying to fill when I shop. A little pick me up. We often harmlessly term it as "retail therapy" but as it says in the book "Women, Food and God," what are we really wanting? Why not just go right to the problem. What do I want that little bauble or trinket to do for me? Why do I feel like I need the perfect outfit to get the attention of someone of the opposite sex or to get that job?

So, Friday I was at the mall for legitimate reasons but, because I was feeling a little "blah," I tried to find something else to buy. Something beautiful and fashionable to get lost in for a few minutes. The trouble was I could not find anything. I found plenty of things I could spend money on but there has been this shift inside of me. It is a realization that nothing I buy or eat, etc is going to make me happy. Nothing externally is going to solve problems or make me feel better about myself.

As I got in my car, I was still feeling a little "blah" but I knew it would pass. In the core of who I am, I knew that was enough...and that is pretty "fabulous."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Living Life

I have been negligent in blogging anything over the summer. I was shocked to see my last post was in May! May seems like another lifetime to me. A new school year is beginning and with the cooler weather we've had this week, I feel fall already in the air.

I've been negligent in blogging, and doing some other important things like school work, because I've been living my life! I expected some major changes in my life back in the spring that did not happen. I'd been putting off making decisions, getting control of areas of my life, organizing or redecorating my home until a major life change happened. You know, just being in that middle place where you are waiting for something big to happen to get everything in your life right. I got thinking, why couldn't I make all of those changes a reality without the life altering situation. Why not create my own life altering situation. It probably also helped that I turned thirty-five at the beginning of June. It just left me with this no nonsense approach to everything. Quit making excuses and just live!

So I did that....I lived. It has been an incredible summer! I've organized my house. I got rid of old items I'd had since high school and redecorated my house so it looked like an adult lived here. I even painted one little wall in my house red and have more painting projects planned for the fall!

I got a dog. She is a little mess of a dog, poor thing. She was used by a breeder just to produce puppies so she has no people skills at all. I'm learning a lot from her and am sure you'll hear more in future posts about her.

Perhaps the biggest changes came from reading a book, "Women, Food and God." Now, as a minister, I feel compelled to tell you this is not technically a "Christian" book. The author, Geneen Roth, talks about God in the sense that God is whatever you determine "god" to be. However, the message of this book was very powerful for me! I am a compulsive eater and I can say that now. My eating and weight issues are tied to so many deeper issues that this book made me not only name, but start taking actions to create a different future for myself! It has changed the way I look at myself and the way I look at food.

So..this is just an overview of all of the ways I've been living life and learning. I'll talk more about each of these later because right now I need to go enjoy this lovely evening by walking my dog.

Quit making excuses and just live!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Loneliness of Leadership

It's been an interesting few weeks in the media. We've watched towns literally destroyed by tornadoes. We've watched a fairytale wedding where the "commoner" became the "princess." We've watched breaking news unfold as Osama Bin Laden was killed. In the wake of Osama's death, the political volatility of our nation has everyone becoming a critic. As I watch the commentary, I am reminded of one basic truth. Leadership equals loneliness.

Ruth Haley Barton writes in her book, "Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership" that "Any leader who cannot endure profound levels of loneliness will not last long." This is a universal truth whether you are leading in the political world, military, ministry, education, or even amongst family and friends. I believe it can be very surprising to young leaders just how lonely it gets. Even for seasoned leaders there are times where we make decisions, share a vision, handle a conflict, etc that lead us to a new place loneliness, critique, and isolation.

I see young adults entering ministry because church is where they were always accepted. I think the same is probably true of those wanting to pursue leadership in other areas, like politics or business, because when they were in leadership as a young person they were always encouraged, that was the way to popularity and the way to know you had arrived. Funny how that all changes in adulthood. Suddenly being in leadership means that you have to be willing to be the one is not accepted but who is critiqued. You have to realize that leadership will not make you popular, or prove your competence. In fact, there will people with whom you will always be unpopular and will always seem incompetent.

So, why would anyone want to step up into leadership in adulthood? I cannot speak for all of you but for me it is because I know that I was gifted and called for leadership. I feel it is a waste of my gifts for me not to be in leadership. The people pleasing side of me has died to the part of me that wants the best for others, whether they like me or not. I seek to make the world a better place. I have to own my own commitment to leadership even in the loneliest of times. That is what makes me a good leader. Leading not to please, pushing through the loneliness, and using my gifts for what I know is right.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Going with the Flow

A few months ago, in an effort to branch out and make new friends (which is a lot harder in adulthood than is fair), I joined a local hiking and outdoor group. I've been to a few classes they've led and a local hike and enjoyed the people. Over a month ago I decided to sign up for a river kayaking trip that took place last Sunday. I own a kayak but have only taken it out on lakes. I'd never done kayaking on a river, especially one with a few rapids. If you know anything about rapids, these were only class 2 rapids that were intensified a little by the extreme rain the previous day's storms had brought to the area.

About ten feet from where we got into the river, we hit our first little area of rapids. They'd educated us before to say that when going through the rapids you need to keep paddling. Otherwise the flow of water would turn your boat around backwards, which is very disconcerting. I know because my boat did this in the first rapids. I wasn't expecting the rapids to come so quickly and so I just stopped paddling and was going to ride it through and suddenly found myself facing everyone still on the shore behind me. I was embarrassed and was determined not to lose control of my boat again. I was in control! I knew what I was doing! The first hour of our trip down the river, I would enter each rapid paddling fiercely. I was in control! I was also getting exhausting and I realized that the harder that I fought, the more the water was taking me where it wanted. I had to develop a balance of paddling to stay facing forward in my boat and learning to go with the flow of the water. When I worked with the water it was much easier than trying to fight it.

My life has felt a little like it's been going through rapids lately. I've been approaching much of the rapids by being determined to stay in control. If I just work hard enough, plan hard enough, I can stay in control. Life is a lot like rapids though, the harder we fight, the more exhausted we become. We have to find the perfect blend of going with the flow and working to keep ourselves moving in the right direction. It's difficult, but is difficult sometimes. Nothing we do can change that. We just have to learn how to best go with the flow.

Monday, February 14, 2011

All We Need Is Love

Last Friday, I found myself with a small amount of time. It was too long before my aerobics class to just go and sit at the gym, and long enough to run to a nearby post office to send off some packages to my niece and nephew for Valentine's Day. The place was busy, I was not the only one waiting until the last minute. This was not my usual post office and I was surprised by how kind everyone was. In fact, I actually had the thought, "This has got to be the friendliest post office anywhere." As I was getting my mailings prepared, I heard three different men help three different older women with doors, packages or with some piece of equipment. Everyone was speaking friendly to each other. There was a palpable positive vibe in the place as people laughed and kindly greeted one another.

That was until 4:27 rolled around. A worker decided to lock the doors to the counter service portion of the post office in preparation for that part of the post office to be closed at 4:30. People running inside the post office to get in line in the last minutes of the business day were incredibly frustrated and some angered to find the doors already closed. The man who had locked in the doors stood on just the other side and refused to let anyone else in. One customer even stood and argued with the man, yelling at him through the glass, but he refused to open the doors for him. There was no apologies, no regret. The doors were closed and that was it. People began walking around the outside lobby area, seemingly frustrated with everyone. They were trying to figure out the automated services and angered by anyone who was ahead of them in line. As all of the fussing and complaining echoed around the lobby, the tension level rose. At this time, I was already mailing my packages through the automated service so I was not particularly shaken by the change of events. That was until I got into my car and tried to leave the parking lot. The same people who had just minutes before been so happy to help each other now were in a fight for their lives to get out of the parking lot as soon as possible. It literally took me ten minutes to get out of the parking lot! Most of that time was spent trying to back out of my parking space!

It is amazing what a difference a little common courtesy, kindness and grace can make in the world. It's like that old commercial where one kind deed breeds another. May we be the kind of leaders who realize that keeping order and following protocol is not always the most important thing. May we be the kind of people who, in a world of doors closing early, continue to open doors, help others and be gracious in parking lots. A little kindness and grace go along way.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Plastic Forks and Duct Tape

Yesterday morning I was out running errands and needed to pick up lunch to eat at the office. Being gluten intolerant, I can't just go anywhere so I decided to place a take out order for PF Chang's, which has a wonderful gluten free menu. As the waitress was putting my lemon chicken coated in sauce in a bag, I mentioned that I needed utensils. She smile apologetically and giggled saying, "Sorry, we ran out of our disposal utensils. So, we don't have any." I just stood there and said something like, "I guess I will just have to figure out how to eat this then." She smiled and walked away, leaving me dumb founded. Now, I work in a building that has a kitchen, so getting a fork is not a real problem for me, but what about everyone else? Could no one on staff run out to get some plastic utensils? This restaurant was located in a busy shopping district, where there were many other restaurants and stores. And why was it my problem as the customer? Why, in this nice restaurant, is no one taking leadership in fixing such a simple problem, especially a problem that would be a real hindrance to most of their take out customers?

It reminded me of something I learned a few years ago. I was working as a summer missionary for a church start in New York City. Our goal was to reach out to young professionals on the upper west-side of Manhattan. In order to connect with this population, we would set up a table early in the morning in front of the comedy club we held worship services in and hand out breakfast bars to young professionals on their way to the subway. Our goal was to connect with them but also to give visibility to our church. The pastor of the church had ordered a large banner made for this purpose, advertising who we were and our job was to hang the banner on the building behind our table. Our first morning, it did not hang as it was supposed to and we decided to just forego the banner. The pastor came by and questioned why the banner was sitting rolled up. Without it, people had to stop and be willing to talk to us to know why we were there. Let's be honest, there were not many New Yorkers willing to do this and so without an advertisement of who we were, we just looked like crazy people handing out breakfast bars on the street. Our leader asked why we had not tried other methods of hanging the banner, or why we had not visited the hardware store just down the street to find a new method. For heaven's sake, why had we not just at least gotten some duct tape?

The good leaders are the ones who go for the duct tape, or the plastic utensils. They are the ones who recognize what is important and do whatever it takes to follow through. They do not just give up and leave the banner rolled in the corner or smile and say "sorry." If you want to be a great leader, you must know what is most important. There are many smaller details that a good leader knows can be flexible. They are able to keep from sweating the small stuff. An ineffective leader will wear others out making the sure the non-essentials happen just the way they intend or invision them happening. A good leader knows what is important, what contributes to the vision and ultimate success for their organization or event. They will do whatever it takes to make sure the vision is not compromised. They keep the most important, most important and will do what ever it takes for success. While success may be held together with duct tape, it is still success.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tough Egg to Crack

Last week I was making some breakfast and had a run in with a difficult egg. I was working very hard to crack the egg so that I could make my omelet. After tapping it forcefully a few times, a little chip finally gave away. Unfortunately, the "membrane" around the egg stay in tact. I literally had to take my thumb and shove it in to get the insides out. As I was cleaning up the inevitable mess this made, I found myself saying, "Whew, that was a tough egg to get into." I immediately thought about the old description, "a tough egg to crack."

I'm facing a "tough egg to crack" as a leader right now. The ministry that I serve is experiencing lots of change. This year new students seem totally different than those who were new last year. Much of what our ministry does is not connecting with this new group, or at least not connecting in the same way. For one example, a few years ago our catch phrase was, "A Place to Call Home." We had t-shirts with our ministry building placed in the middle of a city skyline. Students identified that we could offer people a second family and a home away from home. That is not resonating with this group at all. Even in the span of three or four years, these students are now so connected to their own families through cell phones and technology that they are not looking for a new family or a new home. Many of them grew up in event based youth ministry or at least grew up constantly having entertainment available. Coming to our ministry events has to be worth their while. There has to be a reason to give up the cell phones, the games, the unlimited streaming of media. Perhaps the biggest change is the pressure of getting a job. They are fully aware how difficult it is to get a job or get into a grad school program. They have to be so involved in professional groups on campus and volunteering in their fields of study that without really good time management skills, it makes it difficult to be a part of a ministry like ours.

This is the challenge of good leadership. I joked earlier this year that leadership is like being a ninja, but again I think there is much truth in that. You must be able to assess the situation just like the Green Hornet's side kick, looking for the danger spots and your assets. You must be able to have a vision for the future. You must, while being true to who you are as a leader, discover what type of leadership is the most effective for this group of people. What this group needs from me is very different from what's be needed in the past which challenges me to find new ways to lead out of my strengths and muster the courage to lead in new areas that are not as comfortable.

So, for now I'm still trying to figure out how to get into the egg, making as little mess as possible.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Have a Voice

I just returned from seeing the movie "The King's Speech," a movie I highly recommend seeing. It is the amazing journey of King George VI and his struggle with a speech impediment that resulted from a life of difficulties. There is a powerful scene where the therapist provokes the king's anger. I won't give the whole scene away, but it ends with the poignant moment when King George VI shouts that he should be king, as he states, "because I have a voice." It was a powerful moment where George, affectionately called Bertie, steps into his own. He realizes he has a purpose and a place in life. He has a voice the world needs to hear, no matter how imperfect it may be.

The same is true for all of us though. We were all created with a voice. We were created with a unique world view, experiences and gifts. Sometimes we allow our own life experiences to squelch our voice. We worry of what others will think of us and it silences the passion that flows through our very being. We are worried they will call us too liberal, too conservative, too much of a bleeding heart, too ignorant, too untrained, too demanding, too needy....and the list goes on and on.

The reality is that if we live our lives so concerned about what others say, we will find ourselves paralyzed in fear. LIving a life that is the equivalent of a vocal stammer. You have a voice. What do you want to say?