A walk through the yellow pages

May it never be said that it takes much to entertain me.  That’s why when my brother or sister and I get together we can sit around a table and laugh hysterically while the rest of our families wonder how strange our childhood must have really been.

A few days ago Kelly and I headed off to northern Michigan for a few days of much needed R&R.  We didn’t have much planned – just a few days to hang out, relax, read some books, play some games, get some sleep, and visit the local coffee shop (Kelly’s idea).  It was a great plan – and it went quite well, but then I found myself paging through the local phone book of Manistee, Michigan – for what reason I have no idea other than that I was tired of playing games, reading books and relaxing.

As I was thumbing through the yellow pages, it happened.  I started laughing.  I was reading the headings at the top telling what the first and last businesses listed on each page were – and I hyphenated the two words, and well, I found myself amused.  But think about some of these business possibilities for a minute…

  • concrete-consignment:  sure, you’re done with it, but don’t throw it away – someone might pay for your used concrete
  • chiropractic-churches:  the ultimate holistic approach
  • mold-motels:  I think I stayed in one of these once in Sandusky, Ohio
  • pregnancy-publishers:  when you want everyone to know, they’ll get the word out
  • kitchen-landfills:  otherwise known as left-overs
  • drug-entertainers:  is this even legal?
  • toilet-towing:  it makes sense, especially if you can’t drive it to the shop for repairs
  • children-compressors:  are your kids getting too big? Or just too big for their britches?  These people can help!
  • septic-sprinklers:  this is simply recycling gone way too far

I told you, it doesn’t take much.  And remember, the next time you get bored – just let your fingers do the walking.

The Slaying of the Annual Christmas Tree

The Wood family has an annual Christmas tradition – we pack ourselves up, drive out into the county to the Christmas tree farm, wander around for the longest time while stopping at too many trees and asking “How about this one?” until we (in desperation) select our annual victim, then cut it down and drag it home on the top of our van.  (I left out the part where the kids complain about how cold it is because it puts a damper on my memories.)

That’s what we do most years.  There was that one year when we just bought a tree at Home Depot.  I think it had been cut down some time in July and kept in storage, only to be brought out at Christmas and foisted on this unsuspecting person who believed the little sign that read “fresh trees.”  By the end of that Christmas season we were adding Rogaine to the water in hopes that the tree wouldn’t shed any more.  And then there was last year, too.  We were living with Grandma, and she has an artificial tree.  It even comes out of the box with the lights already on it.  Lame.

So this year it was time to resurrect our tradition and slay another tree.  We selected a farm somewhat near our house, and set off on our family adventure – only by the time we got there it was raining.  And the trees – though they were beautiful – were priced at about twice what I was used to paying.  There are some times when a man must take a stand and refuse to overpay – and this was one of those times.  So we aborted our attempt.

The next day we tried a different farm – about 30 miles in the opposite direction.  And we found trees for half the price – yes! – but that was basically because you only got about half a tree.  After marching around their fields and deciding that neither tree (selection was very limited) was going to work, we settled on buying one that was pre-cut.  Pre-cut?  Sheesh.  But it was $20 less than the previous day’s version.  (The good news was it was no longer raining.  The bad news?  It was now snowing and blowing and freezing.)

With our tree on the roof (alas, slain by another man’s saw) we headed home.  But the story wasn’t over – when we got home I discovered my usual tree stand was not going to work – unless I further decimated a tree that was already dangerously thin in some spots.  I considered my options.  I could build my own stand – or buy a new one.  I opted for the latter, finding one that could work – but only if I nailed it to the floor.  Seriously, it’s nailed to the floor.

My tree is up – and it looks good.  And it’s not falling over – not now, not ever.

  • Buying a tree on the 2nd day – a savings of $20.
  • Driving an extra 60 miles round trip the 2nd day to find a tree – a gas cost of about $9.
  • Buying a new stand for the tree – another $9.
  • Total saved by refusing to overpay on that first day- $2.

Keeping the tradition alive?  Priceless.

365 days

On August 28, 2009, we unloaded the U-Haul and moved into our temporary home in Brighton, Michigan.  One August 28, 2010, we loaded up the trucks and moved out of our home in Brighton, and into our new temporary apartment but permanent home in the Waterford/Clarkston area of Michigan.

That’s right, exactly 365 days later.  We spent exactly one year in Brighton.  So what was that year all about?  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.  But following are a few thoughts on what I think it was about:

  • It was about waiting.  Sometimes patiently, more often impatiently.  It was about wondering where God was and what He was up to.  It was about wrestling with our faith and just hoping that God was growing it – because it seemed so puny most of the time.
  • It was about growing.  We faced new challenges, unfamiliar situations, overwhelming circumstances, but also new opportunities.  The kids had to adjust to new school settings – and learned to survive.  I took a job as a hospice chaplain – and learned how to minister to the dying.  Eight times I conducted funerals for my patients.  Twice they were just children.  I learned how to mourn with those who mourn.  I don’t think I’m the same person I was.  Hopefully, I care more.
  • It was about getting tougher.  We jumped off a cliff in faith – and hoped for exhilaration.  But it felt more like a thud.  But we survived.  And we realized that we had experienced what we had feared – and we still made it through.  God didn’t seem to be concerned about making our lives easier; He seemed to be more determined to make our lives stronger.
  • It was about bonding as a family.  We spent a lot of time together.  We didn’t have much choice.  The girls had to share a room again.  We didn’t have our old friends, so we became better friends as a family.  For that, I’m grateful.
  • It was about building new relationships.  When we first moved to Brighton I met a pastor of a local church who prayed for us – and prayed that God would surround us with people to care for us.  And God answered that prayer.
  • It was about contentment and gratitude – because in spite of all of the challenges of the year our lives were still incredibly blessed.  We were sufficiently housed and clothed and fed and then some.
  • It was about providence.  Even though I struggled to see God’s hand, He still protected me.  I drove 40,000 miles in less that nine months with my job – many days driving into the worst neighborhoods of Detroit – without incident.  And less than two weeks after I left that job my car blew its engine.  In a very safe place.  At a very fortuitous time.
  • It was about hope.  We always believed God wanted us in ministry – even when it seemed like it would never happen.  But I hope that God was just getting us ready – in accord with His wisdom (because it didn’t make much sense to me).

365 days.  Days that I may never understand – but days that God ordained for me.

Now we are in the early stages of a new adventure.  Waterford/Clarkston is our new home.  Waterford Community Church is our new ministry.  And the people of the church are our new family.  It took us a year to get here – but we’re glad to finally be home.

Anonymous

Before I started out the door for vacation last summer, I quickly looked around for some reading material.  If I was going to be spending long hours on the beach (getting ridiculously sunburned), I was going to need something to occupy myself.  And since I had failed to take a trip to the library the day before, I was pretty much at the mercy of what happened to be lying around the house.  The book that I grabbed was one that a friend of my wife’s had given her, but I was desperate – and fortunate.

The book was called Anonymous, and the gist of the book centered on the idea that while Jesus spent 33 years or so on this planet, about thirty of those years happened behind the scenes where no one was watching.  The author, Alicia Britt Chole, called these the hidden years, and speculated on how those years impacted Jesus.  While I don’t know that I agreed with all of the theology presented, I was captured by the idea that hidden years are often exactly what God has in mind for us.  In our world we measure significance by achievement, but God measures it in an entirely different way.  When we face the times in life when we feel forgotten, abandoned, stuck or discarded, God will step up to make those days worthwhile.

At first I didn’t underline some of the good things the author said – after all this was my wife’s friend’s book.  But then I just went ahead because there were too many significant points to let them pass (my apologies, Sharyl).  I’ll share one of them here, but then I would recommend that you get the book – especially if you feel like you have been asked to step behind the curtain in life.

“What does [being hidden like Jesus] build in us?  What grows in that underestimated gap between God’s calling and others’ perceptions, between our true capabilities and our current realities?  Most of us struggle if our dreams are delayed one year, let alone twenty.  We find God’s pauses perplexing.  They seem to be a waste of our potential.  When those pauses extend beyond what we can comprehend or explain (say, for instance, three days), we often spiral into self-doubt or second-guessing.

“But in anonymous seasons we must hold tightly to the truth that no doubt strengthened Jesus through his hidden years: Father God is neither care-less nor cause-less with how he spends our lives.  When he calls a soul simultaneously to greatness and obscurity, the fruit – if we wait for it – can change the world.”

I could have picked several other quotes that were just as good or better – but this one still provides some great food for thought.  You are not forgotten by God.  You have not been sent off to the corner to wait.  You have been chosen by him to be hidden and anonymous so that he can do something big in you!

Swim your own race

For some reason this week an old story came back to mind – and I think it is worth telling.

Many years ago the Special Olympics came to South Bend and I decided to be a spectator.  I headed over to the Notre Dame campus and took a seat in Rolf’s to watch some of the swimming events.  And I watched one that I will never forget.  Eight participants took their places on the edge of the pool awaiting the starter’s gun.  In an instant they were all in the pool – swimming their four-lap race.  And it was a close race – at least for seven of the participants.

But there was one young man who was not keeping up, falling way off the pace.  At first the attention of the spectators was on the other seven – and everyone cheered when the race came to an end.  But then everyone realized that there was one more swimmer in the pool – and everyone started to rally behind him.

“Go!  Go!  Go!”  The crowd came to their feet – me among them – to cheer on the lone swimmer who was more than a full pool length behind.  But he kept swimming and the crowd kept screaming until finally he touched and finished the race.  He climbed out of the pool to be greeted by the raucous cheer of the crowd, then he stood on the deck of the pool and pumped his arms in triumph.  It  didn’t matter that he had finished long behind the other competitors.  It didn’t matter that he took home last place.  What mattered was that he had finished his race.

I learned a good lesson that day, though I forget it all too often.  I forget that life isn’t a competition between me and anyone else.  It’s not about me comparing myself to someone else to make sure that I’m good enough.  Nope, the challenge of life is to measure myself against my potential – and to make sure that I’m measuring up to the plan that God has in mind for me.

The challenge of life – is to swim my own race.  Even if everyone else seems to be outdistancing me.  Even if the attention of the crowd is focused elsewhere.  Even if my efforts don’t seem to be worthwhile.  Even if I’m not making the progress that I’d like to be making.  I just need to keep swimming, swimming my own race.

And that’s what I would say to you.  Swim your own race!

We need a vacation

Family vacation is a big deal to me.  Some of my greatest memories as a kid involved vacations – and I’ve tried to make sure that my kids can say the same.  We’re heading off this afternoon for our “official 2010 Wood family vacation” and heading for the shores of Lake Michigan.  And we’re ready – because we need a vacation!

But I got to thinking back to a  few of the best vacations that we’ve taken as a family…

  • Anna Maria Island, Florida – We had a condo right on the beach – awesome.  I fell asleep each night listening to the waves lapping on the shore.  We also went to Disney World that year.  But we did have one mishap – Allie lost her teddy bear on the trip.  We replaced him, but it wasn’t the same.  (See Toy Story 3 to find out how Teddy felt.)
  • Cambridge, Maryland – Highlights included a quick trip into Washington, DC and just hanging out on the Chesapeake Bay – and eating blue crabs.  Actually it was Kelly who ate the blue crabs.   My favorite memory was flying a kite with Allie.
  • Washington State – We really enjoyed both sunny days – and also trips to Mt. Rainier and Mt. Saint Helens.  Luke talked us into seeing the latter and I’m glad he did.  We visited over 25 years after the eruption, and the desolation was still overwhelming.  A memory I would like to forget was my running through Midway airport in my socks because I knew that if I took time to put my shoes back on we were going to miss our flight.  (We made it, by about 30 seconds!)
  • Washington, DC – My niece and her husband let us use their apartment in Georgetown for the week.  What a blast – we tried to do it all – the memorials and monuments, the Capitol building, Arlington, Mt. Vernon, the Smithsonian – and my personal favorite – Lincoln’s summer home.  (Note to would-be Washington travelers:  Do not visit Washington during spring break week, especially when it coordinates with the cherry blossom festival!)
  • Colorado – I think this was our favorite vacation to date, though it had a few rough spots.  On the first day Lindsay ended up in the ER with her big toenail having been ripped off.  Then we all got the stomach flu – not at the same time but in succession.  Still we managed to go on an incredible horse back ride with just the five of us and a guide (actually, it was the four of them and the guide – my horse was content to follow several hundred feet behind), do some river rafting, visit Focus on the Family, drive from Aspen to Colorado Springs on the world’s most frightening road ever (I think it was a scenic ride – I was too scared to look), see the Maroon Bells, and make the climb to Hanging Lake.

So I love vacation – visiting new places, doing stuff as a family, taking some time to regroup and refresh, taking some pictures, eating too much fast food, finding the best ice cream place in town, stopping in at some glitzy souvenir stand, and making a thousand new memories.  Lake Michigan, here we come!

Customer Service

Recently our hospice team watched a webinar on the subject of customer service.  The guy teaching it ( Bryan Williams) was in charge of the guest relations department for the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain for years before going into business as an independent consultant.  His material was really good, so I started writing notes –  not so much because I thought it would be helpful in the hospice world, but because I thought it might be helpful in the church ministry world.

From my (random) notes:

  • The golden rule says treat others the way you want to be treated.
  • The platinum rule says treat others the way they want to be treated.
  • The double platinum rule says treat others the way they don’t even know they want to be treated.
  • Remember the 10’/4′ rule.  Anyone with in 10′ of you should always be acknowledged.  Anyone within 4′ of you should be engaged.
  • Recognize the difference between function and purpose.  Function is what you do; purpose is why you do it.  Make sure your team knows the purpose.
  • There are four basic steps of service: 1] a warm welcome using the person’s name,  2]  complying with wishes / anticipating needs, 3]  offering additional assistance, and 4] a gracious farewell.
  • Whatever you focus on improves.
  • Invest where the improvement comes the easiest.
  • Always give your team appreciation.  Without it they quit and leave.  Worse yet, sometimes they quit and stay.
  • Always get the input of your team.
  • Take advantage of every touch point.  Make deposits and not withdrawals.
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