Here’s to Hamburg United

As the World Cup kicks into full gear, I thought it would be appropriate to commemorate my favorite soccer team – Hamburg United Red.

Last fall when we uprooted our kids from the place where they grew up in pursuit of God’s call on our lives, we looked for some ways to make life easier since we knew they were going to face some new challenges.  Before we even moved to Brighton/Hamburg last fall we tried to find an opportunity for Lindsay to play soccer.  She had only played in rec leagues before, so she wanted to try a travel league.  We made a call to the Hamburg league – could they add a player?  The answer was yes, provided the child was a girl and a U14 player.  Lindsay was both.

So began Lindsay’s travel league experience.  She received an official uniform – one that didn’t have a sponsors name plastered in huge letters across the front.  It was a nice red and white Adidas jersey along with some huge shorts.  She even got to pick her own number (who but Lindsay would pick a number like 43 for soccer?).   She was ready to play for Hamburg United.

Hamburg United was not a strong  team.  In the fall season they tied one game.  In the winter season they managed to win two games. This past spring they didn’t win any.  (It didn’t help that their goalie totaled her ACL in the first practice of the spring.)  But it didn’t really matter because it was Lindsay’s best year of soccer ever.  She had a great coach who made things fun – and she had some great teammates who played hard every game and never quit.  Better yet, they remained a team.  They never rode each other, never got upset with each other when mistakes were made, and never felt sorry for themselves.  They went out every game and competed.

Last night was their end-of-the-year pool party.  It was their last time to all be together.  Hamburg United is breaking up.  Some are moving up to U15.  Others will be playing in other leagues.  I think the girls were all sad.  It has been an incredible year for those girls, and for Lindsay especially.

She made 15 friends.  She got to play soccer for the right reason – for the love of the game.  She discovered that she didn’t have to win to have fun.  She got to play a ton of soccer.  She improved her game.  And she’s become a big buddy with a teammate who lives just a few houses away.

I think this is the point of youth sports – to learn teamwork, to improve your skills, to compete, to create memories that will last a life time, to make friends, and to have fun!

Yep, Lindsay is sad – sad that her very imperfect season is over.  But I’m not sure how imperfect her season really was.  I think it was pretty much the opposite.

Here’s to Hamburg United!


3 Days

Since the last time I had a 3-day weekend was in the middle of February, and since the final day of that weekend was spent driving the 8 hours from Oshkosh, Wisconsin to Brighton, Michigan I was determined to get the most out of last weekend.  And I’m feeling pretty good about how it went.

Saturday morning Kelly and I headed to downtown Brighton to the farmer’s market.  Evidently there aren’t very many farmers in Brighton as there were only two vegetable stands – but there were several flower stands, jewelry stands, and tacky craft stands. We opted for the Harvest bread store, instead.  Kelly ordered an iced coffee and a piece of bread; I ordered a chocolate chip cookie (a really great mid-morning snack).  The girl handed me the coffee and started to walk away.  I had to remind her that I still needed to pay and that Kelly had also asked for a piece of bread.  Deciding to be content with her getting the piece of bread for Kelly, I just let the cookie idea pass.  Sigh.

After milling around town for the next hour or so we headed to the English Gardens nursery where we bought a rose bush for the back yard.  Back at home Kelly planted the bush and worked to create a new flower bed while I ripped out bushes and mowed the lawn and got into a water fight with the kids who were supposedly washing the car.

Saturday night we ate out on the deck and received a text message from Grandma who was taunting us by showing us a picture of the swimming pool that she was enjoying – and that we were missing.  Not very nice.  Returning evil for evil we texted her a picture of our awesome meal – then we headed to Putterz in Ypsilanti where yours truly won, followed by Allie, Lindsay, Luke and one other member of the family that I won’t mention because I don’t want to embarrass her.  And we texted Grandma a picture of that, too.  Then we headed to the Washtenaw Dairy

for some ice cream – except for Luke who doesn’t like ice cream but who was quite excited to find that the store sold white cheddar popcorn and lemonade.  Yep, we texted another picture to Grandma to show her what she was missing.  Then on the way home we saw a sign for “Aaron’s party” so we all got out and took a picture of that, too, to remind Grandma how much fun we were having without her.  (Don’t tell her that we really didn’t crash the party – we just took the picture.)

Sunday morning was church.  Sunday afternoon all the girls went shopping while I took a nap.  And the dog only woke me up twice.  Then after dinner Kelly and I headed for Kensington Metro Park and walked about 5 miles along Kent Lake.  It was beautiful.

Monday morning we hopped in the van and drove to Grand Rapids (the place of my birth – you probably didn’t need to know that but the trip left me feeling somewhat sentimental) to meet the grandparents (the ones who don’t send mean text pictures)  at a Jonny B’z Dogs and More, a brand new restaurant venture recently undertaken by two people who always inspire me with their faith, and that I am kind of related to – Jon and Ginger Goad.  I ordered a BBQ brisket sandwich which was phenomenal and Kelly ordered what she called the best hot dog she’s ever eaten.  So the next time you are in southeast Grand Rapids…

Later, Kelly and I headed for Borders where I spent a long time trying to figure out what book to buy with my 40% off coupon and my 2-year-old gift card which still had $2.86 left on it.  Then we capped off the weekend playing Rook and Dutch Blitz with the kids.  I can’t tell you who won because we didn’t keep score – and yes, I think that’s kind of lame, too.

And that was the best three days I’ve had in a long time.

Mourning with those who mourn

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  Romans 12:15

Tomorrow I will be conducting another funeral.  That seems to come with the territory when you are a hospice chaplain.  And no doubt there will be tears shed at the service.  There should be.  God created us with emotions and the ability to grieve.  I believe that is one of His gifts to us.

But have you ever stood beside someone who was grieving and didn’t quite know what to say our do?  These are just a few suggestions that I would pass on from my experiences in the past few months.

1.  You don’t need to say anything; you just need to be there.

2.  Don’t tell them that time will heal and that they will feel better down the road.  While that is probably true, a person who is grieving really isn’t concerned about 6 months from now.  He’s just trying to make it through today.  This is not the time to find the proverbial silver lining.  This is the time to agree with them that sometimes life stinks.

3.  Encourage them to talk.  Most people need to express themselves – and no, they really aren’t complaining.  They’re just trying to verbally work through the angst that they are feeling.  And they may say the same things day after day.  Just listen.  And then listen again.

4.  Check back with them in a month.  At first family and friends surround people with lots of support, but then they return to their routine and forget about the person who is still grieving.  Refuse to lose track of them.  (In hospice we follow up with families for another 13 months.)

5.  Give the person time.  Grieving is not a quick process for most.  It’s a lot of “3 steps forward; 2 steps back” type of progress.  And when you are working with a grieving person you might want to let them know that relapses are normal and not to get frustrated.

6.  Be a part of their “new normal.”  Their lives will never, ever be the same again.  They might be better; maybe not.  They will certainly be different.  I call it their “new normal.”  At first they may not let you be a part, but patiently hang in there.  They may need you.

7.  Realize that grieving is the result of a loss.  In hospice that loss is generally a death, but people can grieve other things as well – the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, the loss of an opportunity, the loss of a dream, the loss of an ability.  People who experience extreme loss of any type will likely grieve.  Don’t let them grieve alone.

8.  Pray for them – and tell them that you are.  But don’t say it unless you really are.  The words “I have been praying for you” mean more than most people realize.

9.  If a person has lost a loved one, encourage them to talk about that loved one.  Maybe they have pictures they can show you.  Maybe they have some favorite memories that they can relate.  Help them keep the memories alive.  Maybe you have a memory yourself that you can share.

10.  Don’t worry if you don’t get it all right.  Just communicate that you care.  And then communicate it again.

What about the change?

Change is at the same time one of the most welcome and unwelcome parts of life.  We love change because of the variety it brings.  We hate change because it upsets our familiar routines.  We love change because it offers us a better way to do things.  We hate change because just when we learn how to do something we find ourselves having to learn a new way.  But all in all, change is good.

Organizations thrive on change. While the status quo may feel comfortable, the truth is that the world is changing, and if the organization is going to be relevant, it will have to change as well.

From my vantage point there are three types of change.

1.  Core change.  This involves changes at the bottom level.  They may be changes that affect systems or values or identity, but these changes will redirect the course of the organization, program or project.

2.  Cosmetic change.  This involves change on the surface level.  And often these are good changes as they make something better without requiring too much risk or investment.  These are small adjustments that while they may not change the DNA do change the way that people feel about things.

3.  Unnecessary change.  This involves changing things simply for the sake of changing things.  Nothing is broken, but for some reason someone feels the need to fix it.

Core changes are the hardest to make.  They require providing ample time for people to sort through their thinking and feelings on a matter.  Communication becomes vital as people must be convinced of the vision before they will embrace taking an action that will create a “new normal” for them.  The process is delicate and the stakes are high – but these changes also have the most potential for high impact.  If you want to make a core change you had better do your homework AND get the bulk of the people on board.

Cosmetic changes are much easier to make.  In any situation some simple improvements can usually be found and implemented. And these provide both good feelings and a sense of momentum.  Things feel new and fresh.  People are energized and excited.  This is a great place to build some positive buzz.

Unnecessary changes typically look like cosmetic changes – but they have the opposite effect.  They don’t excite people; rather they tend to annoy people as the change feels more like an inconvenience than a good idea.  When people don’t feel like something is amiss they’re usually not particularly pumped about fixing it.  Unnecessary changes on a core level can be devastating.

The challenge of leadership is to know what kind of change you are talking about.  If it is core change, proceed with care.  If it is cosmetic change, get after it – but just make sure that you haven’t miscalculated.  If the followers see the change as unnecessary, it’s going to cost the leader.

Mornings at Panera

This is my new morning routine.

1.  I get up, shower, get dressed.
2.  I eat a couple of bowls of cereal, then pack my lunch.
3.  I pray with Kelly (most mornings).
4.  I drive 50 miles to work and use that time to think about…well, not much of anything (it’s too early to think).
5.  I stop at Panera on the “Hill.”

The “Hill” is the nickname of the shopping plaza down the street from my office.      I try to get started early enough to weather the traffic and still make it for my Panera time.

I’ve become a regular – like the older couple who always sit at the table right next to the counter; I guess it’s so that they can see everyone who comes in.  He always wears a tie.  I think it’s their big event of the morning. They can make a bagel and a coffee last a long time.

There are other regulars.  There’s a woman who usually sleeps in the middle booth on the one side.  There are the father and son (I’m assuming here) who meet every morning for their coffee and conversation.  And there’s me.

I don’t come for the coffee.  I’m not a coffee drinker (that’s a bit of a sore spot with my wife, too).   And since I come with two bowls of cereal under my belt, I don’t ever buy a bagel.  It seems that I’m just a free loader taking advantage of a place to hang out in the space.  But the real reason I come is to meet someone.

Panera is now the place where God and I get together in the morning.  After an hour in the car and bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-96, I’m pretty much awake.  So I’m ready to have some serious conversation with the Father.  Usually I write a few notes in my journal.  Then I pray.  And I read my Bible some.  And I try to listen.

As of now we don’t have a favorite booth – but still it’s our place.   And I love having a place.  It used to be the living room couch (there was no Panera on my used-to-be 1-mile commute); now it’s the bread store.  And I look forward to getting there every morning.  When the traffic is light – that’s even better.  That means a few extra minutes to spend with God.  I walk in the door and feel like God is waiting there for me.

Have you ever noticed how people in the Bible seemed to find places where they connected with God?  Abraham found a place on Mount Moriah.  Jacob?  His place was Bethel.  Moses had his desert place and his burning bush.  Jesus seemed to have his places, too, like the Garden of Gethsemane.

I love the idea of having a rendezvous with God.  A place where we can just sit down and visit.  A place that can be ours.  A place that reminds me that I have a God who loves to spend time with me.

Saying goodbye

Yesterday thousands of people traveled to Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers.  But they didn’t go to see a game – they went to say good bye.  To Ernie Harwell.

To anyone who is a sports fan, particularly a baseball fan, Ernie Harwell is likely a familiar name.  But he was not a player.  He was the broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers.  For over 50 years he called their games on radio and TV.  Chances are you have probably heard his voice even though most of his work was on a local and not a national basis.

Ernie Harwell was a great baseball announcer, but other great broadcasters have passed on without the outpouring of affection that Harwell received.  But I think that’s because he wasn’t just a great announcer, he was a great person.  Everybody respected him.  Everybody liked him.   No one had anything bad to say about him.  It wasn’t what he did that made him so popular; it was who he was.

Ernie Harwell was also a man of faith, a Christ-follower.

The Detroit News offered this quote:

[Tiger General Manager] Dombrowski said Harwell and team officials met in September about a viewing or memorial. Dombrowski said he has never seen a man so comfortable talking about his own death.

“I think it was because he knew where he was going,” Dombrowski joked during what was an otherwise somber press conference.

I’m not sure whether or not there’s baseball in heaven, but if there is I”m thinking Ernie Harwell might be calling his first game today.

Teacher talk

School was never my thing.  I never struggled – my grades were always good – it’s just that I didn’t really enjoy it.  I always looked forward to the day that I would graduate from college and be done with school.

So what did I do for the next twenty-three years?  I taught school.  Full time at first, then only a class or two here and there.  And I found that I liked it a lot better the second time around – when I was the one up front doing the talking.

A few years back I gave a message on the idea of wisdom as found in the book of Proverbs.  In digging through some files I found those notes which included a contrast between the Hebrew style of teaching and the style we employ in most settings today.  I think they are worth considering for anyone who is a teacher (parent, youth leader, pastor, boss, etc.) in life.

1.  Relationship-driven vs. content-driven. The Hebrew model put much more emphasis on who was teaching than on what was being taught.  That’s why the rabbis would invite students to “follow me.”  And that’s why I’m guessing that you remember your great teachers more than you remember any great lectures.

2.  Experiences vs. curriculum. Most of us spend hours studying to develop our content and then deliver it during the next class session.  (Can you say lesson plans?)  The Hebrew model was more likely to address a current event or something going on nearby – and pulling the life lessons from it.  This was certainly what Jesus did – think kids or bread or a widow giving her two mites.

3.  Active vs. passive. We learn some by listening.  We learn much more by doing.  But generally we test over what a student can remember rather than what he can do.  That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed teaching Speech.  It wasn’t a big deal that you memorized the material, what mattered was your ability to practice it.

4.  Memorable vs. informational. This is the one of the big ideas behind the book of Proverbs.  Solomon put truth into a saying that could be easily remembered.  Lessons that I remember were delivered in unique and unusual ways that allowed me to lock in.  I still remember the guy in college who gave a sermon on running the race (Hebrews 12) while wearing jogging shoes and running in place for thirty minutes.

5.  Continual vs. segmented. We tend to break learning into little segments -whether by subject or by blocks of time or by purpose.  And when we’ve covered a topic we move on to the next one.  The Hebrew model was much more integrated.  I admit, that may be a bit tough to do at times, but our teaching might be more effective if we could do a better job of tying it to real life.

So the next time you prepare to teach – why not try using some aspect of the Hebrew model?

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