Silence over a Year

It’s been one year and sixteen days since I last wrote a blog. An eternity in the world of the internet. And a way to make oneself irrelevant in that same media. But it’s been one of those kinds of years in my life. During these 381 days, I’ve come to understand a number of things important to my well-being.  Maybe they will strike a cord with you, too.

The World Now has too many words:

I’ve been exhausted by the amount of words and media coming at me every day. Some of this is because I am an introvert and prefer more quiet moments, but in reality I get hundreds of emails a week in my workplace, notices on Facebook, and thousands of 140 character blurbs scroll past my Twitter feed in the same time frame. Everyone wants something of me and I have only a finite amount of time to read, respond and give to these requests. So I have been quiet in adding my own words to the mix.  One more voice in a expanding universe of words that is growing, as Buzz Light Year heralds, “to infinity and beyond.”

Learning to Focus in the Universe of Words:

While the amount of words is overwhelming to me, I’ve learned another lesson. Focus on the words and the ones sharing them that make the most sense to you and to the value they add to life and well-being. I follow less than 100 people on Twitter. I know you are supposed to follow many in exchange for those following you, but in the sea of words that are essential for me to know and understand, I don’t need to see someone’s food, hear of their latest breakup, or read political banter and prejudices that don’t really add to public debate or resolution of the world’s ills. I am looking for thoughts and suggestions that add meaning to life. So I follow the few I’ve found that add quality.  And I tweet or pass along this information only if it will be of value to another. I also discriminate Facebook friendship requests. I have over 200 requests sitting in my inbox. My method of screening is “If I wouldn’t sit and have an extended coffee break in conversation, I probably would not “friend” you.  I know we may have many people in common, but I value time together….not more words about things without meaningful conversation.  In Facebook, I even created a category called “Who I want to See.” I’ve gone through my entire FB friend list and checked those I want in this category.  I now go to it regularly as the place to start.  I may get to the trending or most recent, but those I want to see get priority.

Focus on Family and Relationships:

Over the past four years of my life, my mother and my in-laws have died. It is that age in life (now I’m 60) when all rapidly changes.  I’ve decided that focusing on family has the greatest rewards and benefits. I know focus on my children, grandchildren, siblings, and my dad….who is the last. I love him and want to spend quality time with him. I’ve learned it all changes in a telephone call. I want to live my life with no regrets when asked to give a eulogy. No relationship regrets….say it all when the time is right and live it all when the moments are present. My dad, who is in his 80s, reminds me that every day is a gift…no guarantees. I am applying this wisdom to every relationship I have right now.  No waiting.

Attending to the work that matters:

As I said, I’m 60. I may have six to eight active working years remaining. I want to give value to these years. Thus I am focusing in my work on what matters to future generations. I have the privilege of working in higher education. My current focus is on reducing student debt through a major grant. I know that a student going to college will earn in a lifetime at least 50% more than those who do not. But that comes with a price they should also not have to bear. My work is now focused on helping them graduate with little to no debt. That is a major gift. Also, I am focusing on those things that will give me joy in my retirement years. Peter Drucker counseled to create your second career while in your first. I am focusing now more on research, writing, and those hobbies that I’ve had on the side for a few years. I am also attending to my financial matters of retirement. My wife and I know the realities of a less than well financed retirement as we have witnessed it in others we know and in family members. It is heartbreaking to watch…make this a priority of life from age twenty…it does matter.

Health:

What can I say…health matters. If you are not healthy all the rest is irrelevant. I’ve watched vibrant, active people reduced to a bed in semi conscious states and pain over this past year. When your health goes, all the rest is totally irrelevant.  Period.

I trust 2015 will be a great year for those who read this blog. I hope in it there is wisdom for yourself and others. I plan on continuing action on what I’ve learned in the last 381 days. May you also find what matters and stick to it. Grace and peace to you in this opening day of 2015.

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.

“A Box of Crayons Changed Everything”

I know the answer to the question, “Where were you on the day JFK was shot?” I was getting ready to leave my fourth grade classroom with Mrs. Hoffman and my classmates at Jackson Elementary School in Ohio to head home from a day of student toil. The announcement came from the principal over the brown, wooden, high gloss varnished loud speaker box that hung above the chalkboard in every classroom. That speaker was there for daily announcements that all little kids needed to know (like what’s for lunch), and for sharing important announcements (like parent teacher conferences) or the siren that occasionally blared ‘telling’ us to hurry to the bomb shelters to practice our nuclear holocaust drills.

I grew up in a sea of change in the United States from 1954 to my high school graduation in 1973. I didn’t know how turbulent the times where. It is only in retrospect that we learn the lessons of our lives and the power of those days unfolding around us.

These years carried many national events that changed this country and the world. In 1960, American advisers were sent to South Vietnam and would be followed by US troops in 1965. In 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to orbit Earth in a spacecraft and the race was on toward the heavens. Kennedy was shot in 1963. The first men landed on the moon in 1969 (I was in Washington DC that night at my mom’s relative Joyce’s house while we were on family vacation; the landing beaming at us from the Black and White TV set), and Woodstock drew 400,000 people to experience flower power and love. In 1970, Ohio National Guard soldiers fired on (and killed) Kent State University students protesting against the US invasion of Cambodia (just a stone’s throw from my home and where my mother graduated from college) and Vietnam ended for the US in 1973 (and I was thankful as a high school senior since my selective service draft number was in the top ten to go to Southeast Asia to serve in an unpopular war).

But there was a part of my life I didn’t know anything about growing up in an all white world. I didn’t really understand the civil rights movement. It was happening around me, but I was not paying attention to it because of school, football, girls, and well, girls. There were society altering events going on like the Jobs and Freedom March on Washington in 1963, the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968. Except for Kennedy’s death, the social plight of my fellow Americans went undetected by me as I tried to make sense of a white teenager’s life.

I sit now, at another point in my life….where the world has converged and I have chosen to know that history of the civil rights and the freedoms sought and fought for by my African American brothers and sisters. It was sparked by my now 18 year old biracial African American daughter when she was only 5 years old. We were coloring a picture one day after a preschool lesson on MLK when she said, “Martin Luther King was a great man.” “Yes,” I replied…”a very great man,” figuring this had been the subject of some preschool celebration. “I am glad he worked hard,” she continued. “Yes,” I replied as we filled in the lines of the picture. “I am glad he lived so I could not be afraid and be free.” That statement from my brown skinned African American daughter startled me. At five, she had connected with a time in history I knew nothing about because she already, somehow, identified with the skin tone of MLK and what he preached 30 years before her birth. Tears began softly rolling down my cheeks. “Yes,” I said…”you don’t have to be afraid and you are free.” That exchange over a box of Crayola Crayons changed my life and brought me fully into the time I had overlooked as a young man growing up in a world I did not really understand.

I have chosen these last 13 years to honor MLK day, not just on that day alone, but by reading books written by African Americans, and trying to understand this time in the history of our nation (and world). I try to understand this world from the perspective of my African American son-in-law for the sake of him and for my biracial grandsons. And I choose to consider this for my 18 year old daughter who is “free and does not need to be afraid.” I need to protect that for her and others intentionally….not simply by chance.

So on this day, I invite you to begin by watching the “I Have a Dream” speech of MLK from August 1963 in Washington DC. These 17 minutes are an important place to start. The speech of Martin Luther King Jr., is essential for us all. As he says in it “our destinies and freedom are intertwined.” It is a truth I missed long ago, which I will not miss again.

Blessings to you for this day. Grace and peace as you more fully come to understand the fullest meaning of our Declaration of Independence when our fore bearers wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” July 4, 1776

David Neidert