Monday, July 28, 2014

Where I Learned Happy

Me and my college neighbor, Dina
People who know me would say that I am a happy, positive and optimistic person.

Without question, this is true.

A recent afternoon shopping trip reminded me of where I first "learned" that behavior. It was after my time living next door to Dina McReynolds at Judson College that I learned to consistently be positive.

Dina and I were alike in many ways but we are also very different. On the small homogeneous campus of Judson College in the early 1990s, we stood out. Not just because of our infectious laughter and penchant for fun, but because we were both very confident and bold in so many ways. We were both singers who graced our chapel stage for fun and for worship.

We both had our band of sisterfriends. And we both had our stories of pain and triumph.  I was very guarded and only let a few folks in, it was a tough road to truly get to know me because of my cynicism and biting sense of humor. Some days, I think about all the people who just recoiled when I'd intentionally say something to "test" their will to become my friend.  Thankfully, those days were cut short in 1991 when our group of loud girlfriends got assigned to live next door to an even louder group of girlfriends, who were seniors in Volkman Hall.

I'd been exposed to Dina from a distance the previous two years at Judson but really did not get to know her until that school year and the following two years after her graduation in 1992 and mine in 1993. Late night chats, treks to the south side to raid her closet and a host of other fun and crazy times marked our friendship. Dina singlehandedly taught me that I am a lightweight who should never drink or party past 10 pm. The summer of 1993, my first summer as a 21 year old working at U.S. Soccer Federation, for 30 days  I hung out with Dina and our crew. The Wild Hare. The Metro. Places I don't even remember - if they were in the city and were open past 2 am - we'd paid them a visit, trust me. By August 1, it was clear that I was not cut out to "hang out." But I was cut out to be perpetually positive.

Through everything, Dina always had a smile and a positive word. Even when folks were CLEARLY treating us poorly out and about, Dina always responded with positive energy. Make no mistake, she let folks know they were out of line but she did it positively. In fact, recently I was reminded that I have a gift of telling people to go to hell while convincing them to enjoy the trip. I'm certain my time with Dina influenced that skill.

Over the years, we lost touch but thanks to Facebook, we reconnected. And over the last two years, I've really recalled what she meant to me. Her energy, her passion for life and most of all her ability to lift others even during her toughest moments influenced me for good.  Dina has demonstrated that our happiness is not circumstantial. She has been a purveyor of love even when it hurts. I admire her strength and am humbled to call her my friend.

This year after not seeing her for over 10 years, I've seen her twice. Both times, we laughed and connected as if no time had passed. As I observed her, in two different settings, with different people, I realized her influence on me way back when I was struggling to find my own sense of self and my peace. There is no way I'll let so much time pass again.  I am grateful to have spend time with the person who taught me "happy."

Thanks Dina

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fruit, Seasons and Other Reasons My Peach Tree Grew Me As A Leader

Young peach tree with fruit. Something I won't see on mine this year.
We have a very young (less than 5 years old) peach tree in our back yard, very similar to the one you see in this photo.

Only difference, is this year,  for the first time in three years, we will have not fruit. There are no baby green peach buds on our tree now or will there be.

As a family we'd been watching for them but they have not arrived. There are so many reasons for that and trust me, as I've mentioned it to folks for the last few weeks while I digested the news, we've gotten lots of input as to what "wrong."

"This past winter was brutal."

"There are drought like conditions in Chicago this year."

"Many crops failed this year with the short spring."

And one very wise woman at a farewell party this past weekend asked a question, she inquired, "Did you guys prune that tree well last year?"

Being that I only deal with the indoors in our household, I don't even remember what I responded but I have been thinking about her question and all the related terms ever since.




As a leader, those are three very important concepts to tune into, often. To be effective as leaders, we have to think about fruit, seasons and pruning.

Fruit is the product of our work. Leaders have to challenge themselves often to assess the fruit in their lives, the fruit in their work, the fruit in the relationships they cultivate. Fruit is one way of "taking stock" along our journey. Fruit can be a measurement of our efforts. When we have lots of luscious healthy fruit, it can be correlated to direct intentional actions. And while fruit is not the only thing that matters, it is a significant indicator on the work we leaders do day-in and day-out.

Seasons are also indicator in our lives. We have seasons of growth and change. Depending on the leader, those can be fun and invigorating times or tough, uncomfortable periods. Seasons also remind us that everything is cyclical. No season lasts too long or too short. Seasons come and go just as they need to for reasons we never truly understand. Our understanding lies in grasping that a season is a short and finite opportunity to impact something or someone.

Pruning is a process of cutting back to have more. And while plants generally let us know of their overgrowth and it's very tough to ignore, in a leaders's life pruning is a bit more subtle but just as important.  In life it is not always easy to "see" where pruning needs to occur.  But if we look closely, it is actually easier than you think. We must prune away people, things and processes that hinder our growth as leaders. When we look to grow and move forward, we must always look at our current situation to know what we need to leave behind to foster that growth.

It's amazing all the lessons my young peach tree taught me when I stopped to listen. In a way, I got fruit from it this year,  after all.  Now, I hope we don't have to wait too long to see actual fruit again. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Where Have You Seen God Lately?

On a Sunday afternoon, in the small remote town of Zacualpan de Amilpas in the State of Morelos, Mexico, we had an encounter with God.

It was quiet and the surroundings very still as we were in a cemetery. Just my husband and our two kids seeking out a memorial, we'd encountered with a bigger group over 4 years prior to our own adventure.

We paced together and separately seeking out the location of my father-in-law's final resting place. Since 4 out of 5 people buried in this municipal cemetery share the same last name as my husband, it was frustrating, at best and downright heartwrenching, at worst.

At one point, I pleaded with God, out loud to help us find the spot. My 12 year old enlisted God and the spirit of a woman with the last name Barreto and first name Maria buried in a large and highly adorned plot on the main walkway. My husband said nothing but scanned each plot in the cemetery many more times than we did.

Finally, we decided to leave our flowers on an empty wooden cross that resembled the one that marked his father's spot many years ago. As we gathered, you could sense the sadness and doubt about our selected location. We turned over a plastic vase to put our flowers in and it stated, "Familia Barreto." We all smirked since almost everyone buried here belonged to that same "family." We cleared a spot and placed our large floral arrangement in the center of the memorial plot in front of the empty cross.

As a family, we locked arms and held one another in silence as we all stared at the flowers and faded cross. I decided against trying to pray out loud as both kids were weeping softly. I just asked God to be with us in this moment.

And then He appeared.

A beautiful red-beaked hummingbird flitted into our view and purposely swooped in to nibble on the nectar of our flowers. It was gorgeous, deliberate and almost in slow motion.

We stood in awe and relief.

We know for sure that we were in the right place to honor the life of Ezekiel Barreto.

Sometimes people look for thunder or lightening.

Others want grand revelations.

I know from experience, the best way to experience God is just as we did that afternoon in Mexico.

Clearly call Him.

Be earnest in your invitation.

Wait in stillness and faith.

He will show up.