It Became Clear from the Balcony

It happened from the balcony, in a way similar to Ron Heifetz’ image from “Leadership without Easy Answers.” My spot in the balcony allowed me to see the whole sanctuary as people came in response to the pastor’s preaching—sure, but more to the response of something inside, beckoning them to step out, move down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary to accept a call by God to begin a new life.

Sitting in the balcony allowed me to view the whole scene in a way I could not from the floor—the proverbial forest for the trees. What flashed in my mind that morning was a question: “Why?” “Why are people responding?” Hundreds sat still while about five took the 100 foot walk. Why did they publicly move?

The response to my own internal question that burst in my head was “it’s the invitation.”

Being invited. We’ve all been invited to something at some juncture of our lives. Birthday parties, weddings, anniversary celebrations, bar mitzvah, or so many other celebrations that come during a life time. And for some reason, we responded to them. I’m always struck with words and their origins. And the word invitation is one.

The etymology of invitation comes from the Latin invitatio, which probably meant “be pleasant toward.” It may also come from a more ancient root word meaning “to go after something, pursue with vigor.” These roots in time morphed (as all language does) into the word from the Middle French inviter. The word invite thus came to mean “to ask politely or graciously to be present…to perform an action; a courteous solicitation.” There are synonyms to the word also like attract, allure, incitement, and attraction. All of these meanings are what I experienced that morning. People graciously asked to make a decision…to perform an action. It was on that day I changed the wording of my personal mission statement to include the verbal form inviting.

From the balcony, I had come to realize that I was inviting people to something when I lived out my mission statement. My mission at the time was “inviting people to abundant life by choosing God’s best.” I realized in all the years I had been working with people, I as inviting them to something. I never forced them, chided them, coerced them…I simply graciously invited them to make a choice about their lives. I was inviting them to choose abundant life and living well. That is always a personal choice. It is something that has to spark the heart. No matter what I said or did, it always came down to response freely chosen by a person.

So that is what I have done these many years, invited people to examine their lives and make decisions about how they want to live their time on this planet. And I have become aware, just like that Sunday morning, that hundreds who hear the invitation will sit quietly, while a handful will make a choice to do something different in and with their lives.

The experience from the balcony was actually freeing as the word became captured for me in that moment. In that split second, I realized I had no initial responsibility other than to share an invitation. The courage of the person and their self examination was the factor in determining that they would choose to do something different with life. They alone would have to make a deeply personal choice to walk those “100 feet” to something better. I would have responsibility to assist them in the time after their decisions, but that’s for another blog (or two or three—stay tuned).

Blessings to you for this day as you consider and hopefully accept the invitation to live well that these blogs have announced over a few years. Grace and peace to you for the days to come.

Me & Christopher Columbus

Two hundred and twenty five days was all it took for the history changing voyage. Christopher Columbus set sail with the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria from Palos, Spain on Aug 3, 1492 and by his return on March 15, 1493 had traversed round trip across the Atlantic Ocean, explored, named and claimed the Caribbean Islands for Ferdinand and Isabella, and opened the New World for future travelers. And as we say, “The rest is history.”

It’s been about 245 days since my last writing on May 11, 2012. I never meant to go that long in writing, but life unfolded in a way that has changed our family history and experience from this point forward. We have traversed uncharted waters for us personally and a new part of history is in the making.

My father-in-law died in late April, which little did we know would be the beginning of other events. By May 4, my wife had unexpected double bypass heart surgery with a summer spent recuperating; my in-laws’ house had to be cleared of all its contents so some future residents could make it their home; our daughter went off to college in August; and my mother -in-law moved further along the highway of dementia as she adjusted to her new home in a nursing facility.

Now with a full semester of teaching and administrative work complete at the graduate school I serve, all these things are reminders that my (our) world has changed significantly.
The older I get, the more I become aware that it is critical to savor the present moments because one’s “history” can be overwhelmingly reshaped in 200 days (give or take a few). Often we are lulled into a stupor of sameness believing that we have control over what will happen and we can guide the days to be similar in outcome from those of the past. But just as Columbus didn’t know he would lose two ships and survive a near mutiny, we do not know what each sunrise will bring in the hours that follow. A slip and fall three years ago which took nanoseconds broke my leg that now leaves me with a lifetime limp and daily ache. In a thirty second treadmill walk, my wife’s life changed with a rush from one hospital to another for open heart surgery. A telephone call in the night, a missed stoplight, being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” can change our worlds—our histories—forever.

I’m learning to hold each day as precious, not sweating the small stuff (as best I can), savoring each blessing I receive throughout the day, and spending time reflecting on the grace extended to me in a 24 hour period. It has made me somewhat more quiet and reflective—which I’ve been most of my life as an introvert—but now with a purpose, being more grateful and less judgmental of those around me than I had been throughout much of my life.

Christopher Columbus had a plan as do I. I have plans for the future that I hope will take me places that are good and the best for me, my family, and to those I am connected. But a lot of life is uncharted, providing adventure each day. So I’ve relearned the old “loose-tight” principle—holding onto things that matter as best I can but not so tightly that I edge into despair when the uncharted changes the course of life—at least for the moment.

Blessings to you all as you traverse open, uncharted waters of your own lives. May you mix courage to move forward in all life’s moments with the grace to learn all you can from each situation. May there be grace and peace in the next 245 days of our life.

All Grown Up Needs an ID Card

There are a number of cultural milestones we embrace in the West to signify we are adults or at least moving in that direction. Sixteen gets us a driver’s license, 18 is the time of graduating from high school and obtaining voting privileges. At 21 we are legally able to drink, at 22 or so to graduate from college and maybe in those years between 25 and 35 years of age we might land a “real” job, get married, have children and secure a mortgage.

But it is within the last few years I’ve learned that much of being all grown up is when your parents die, and by the fact of life, you become next in line on that lonesome trail.

My mother died 1 ½ years ago, my father-in-law in April 2012. My wife and I were with them in the long physical struggle of leaving this world. These are the grown up moments when the course of existence places one in the middle of ongoing life and the realities of death. A foot in both worlds, so to speak. A foot planted in the ongoing tasks of working, paying bills, being involved in one’s community, and the other foot lodged in the decisions of end of life health care, funeral preparations, and watching loved ones exhale the last gulp of earthly air. Being grown up comes at that moment, I think. It was a time when routine activities of earthly existence continued flowing ahead, while the demands and necessary assignments of preparing to die get intermingled. It is in these days that we are grown up—balancing, like the scale of Blind Justice, the now and not yet; what is and what is yet to come; with an energy that is a mixture of human sweat and fortitude with an element of divine grace and view of eternity.

I am grown up, as is my wife. We can now accept our place as adults. Maybe there should be an ID Card for this transformation just as there are for all the earlier life milestones we celebrate. Maybe a card to carry in our wallets and share with people when they ask to see some form of identification; a card identifying who we have become. When we share that ID card, they will know that we have weathered a great deal in life and realize that the lines on our faces or our graying hair match the events that drew and colored them.

Blessings to you all as you travel toward the grown up phase of life. May you acknowledge its difficulties, wisdom, endurance, commitments, and realities that come with age.

Grace and peace to you.
David Neidert