Wedding Day!

The wedding could best be described with one word.

Hot.

(I refer to the temperature of the air).

I don’t know if that word (hot) captures all of the grandeur, beauty, joy and love that abounded at the big wedding, but it was most certainly hot while all that other stuff happened. I’m not complaining, I’m just wondering if your memory is affected by heat. If it is, I can’t remember.

The wedding was between Ben and Jeannette, who, according to God’s plan for marriage, are now one: JeanBen. TennBen. Bennette. And I had the honor of renting a tuxedo for the event, sitting at a head table, driving from church to hall to church, to hall, to hall again, to church, to hotel, to church. Actually, Emily did most of the driving. She’s a good wife who thoughtfully left all the perspiration to me. She may have sweated too, but as far as I’ve been told, girls don’t sweat. She was working hard, though. If she did sweat, it was because she was lifting candle stands and various flowers. I was sweating because I was sitting around wearing 9 layers of tuxedo. This didn’t help the heat situation.

But I’m not complaining (I’m really not!). I’m just saying that it was delightfully warm. Warm enough for cake to melt and flowers to burst into flame, both of which actually took place. The temperature condition was not helped by the church building. A beautiful place, it was constructed in an era when stained glass technology was at its pinnacle and air conditioning was considered witchcraft. They have not upgraded since 1926. But they did make sure that these enormous stained glass windows had at least a 2″ opening to allow fresh air in. Or maybe it was just to let air out, only to be replaced with the stench of warm humans. I’m not sure.

I was honored to be a part of it. I really was. It was, in my book, one of the finest weddings ever. Someone said “it really set the bar high”, to which I agree. If a wedding could be given an award, the JBenn wedding would get a plaque that said something like “You Work To Be the BEST”. It really was nice. The best. Second only to mine and Emily’s wedding, which did not have stained glass but did have plenty of air conditioning. That’s just the way it worked out. Nonetheless, I truly was honored to be part of this wedding. It’s so great to see a friend “tie the knot”. And I’m not talking about the rope that holds his bumper on.

The reality is that I would sweat quite a bit for these people. I would stand in the same place with cardboard-soled shoes for days on end, smile for the photographer until my teeth hurt, walk up and down and up an aisle as much as needed, break into a church library with a dull steak knife, drive hither and yon to transport flowers and yes — soak my undershirt to the point of flammability.

I love these people and would pretty much do whatever needed to be done. And this shall continue long after the tux is returned. And probably burned.

The Clinic

This weekend marks a splendid occasion of wedding joys for a friend and his new lady friend, a lady who is now our friend but most certainly not our lady friend.

I just wanna make that clear.

Emily and I are both helping with this wedding, what with the renting of a tuxedo and the management of floral arrangements. I hope you can guess which one of us is doing which. And no, Emily isn’t wearing a tux and I’m not arranging flowers. That would be absurd, though I don’t look down on people who do such things.

That’s also not the point.

The point is that we have the opportunity for a kid free weekend. No more Handy Manny. No more colorful plastic toys. No more screaming, puppets on TV or doctor’s office visits for runny noses. The children are nestled, all snug in their beds… at Grandma’s house. This means that Emily and I can live the high life of parenthood without the parenting; a weekend filled with relaxation, a full nights sleep and the bounty of not having to handle someone else’s waste.

This was the scenario until about 4 hours ago.

Emily woke up and didn’t feel right. No, it wasn’t the missing sound of screaming or the lack of cheerios on the kitchen floor that made her uncomfortable. Something was up. I’m not going to go into detail, since HIPA regulations are quite clear. I will say, though, that the people at the Holland Hospital Urgent Care center are exceedingly kind, especially given our circumstance of being 2 hours from home and needing to get on with a friends wedding.

And that’s where we sat on Saturday morning. Kid free. The waiting room of the urgent care center.

While Handy Manny was on the clinic TV.

While little kids ran around and screamed. Probably Mad Cow disease.

While we waited to see a medical professional, just like when the kids have a cough, sneeze or wheeze.

And so on.

You see the irony, right? We get this choice opportunity to get away, celebrate the marriage of great friends and give our kids a break from us? And there we are — 2 hours away from home — doing the EXACT same thing we always do. Ha! Right?

Right?

Abs Eternal

I’m reading a book right now that I thought I would never buy because it’s about a topic that I’ve never cared all that much about: Abs.

Sure, I wish it was about Anit-Lock-Brakes, but it’s not. “The Abs Diet” is about your abdomen muscles and their visual proof of existence, which, the book argues, will lead to a healthier and longer life. Healthier. Longer. I think both would be pretty good. This comes on the heels of using an app on my iPhone that, as the title promises, helped me to “LoseIt” (running tally — about 62 pounds). Counting calories is a great way to drop weight. So is running/lifting/waking/biking. But I’ve grown weary of two things in my current eating scheme:

1. I know it can’t be OK to count a spoonful of sugar as only 5 calories. It is — it really is — but the other affects on my physical situation haven’t really been addressed until now. Incidentally, it really does help the medicine to go down. To where, I’m not sure. Perhaps my shoes.

2. Aerobics are fun and all, but I like the idea of lifting weights. The issue that comes to my mind is whether or not I will get the same kind of weight loss results by throwing steel vs. running from an imaginary wolf that only I can see.

Enter the book. The book that I thought I would never buy. I’m looking at it right now. And it’s about Abs. A fad. A book about how to do things, things that are written in capital letters for full effect. Things like:

LOSE THAT PESKY 5 POUNDS!!!! (…and keep it off!)

WANT WASHBOARD ABS? TRY EATING A WASHBOARD!!!!

are SITUPS BAD FOR YOU? Doctors say “PROBABLY NOT!”

We’ll see where this goes. WHERE WILL THIS GO? READ ON TO FIND OUT! (p.47)

Malachi’s Lucky Charms

Malachi (age 4) is learning the joys of dehydrated marshmallows. “Dehydrated marshmallows?” you may be asking? With your vocal inflection going up? at the end?

Yes. Dehydrated marshmallows. As found in the breakfast cereal Lucky Charms (r).

I walked into the kitchen last week and thought to myself “I sure would like some Lucky Charms!” I reached for the box, which was faithfully standing by in our pantry. Whilst grabbing a bowl, spoon and jug of skim milk, I began to make up a song. They lyrics went something like this:

“Oh, I wonder why charms are lucky
And where that leprechaun went
And how they dehydrate marshmallows
Hey, wait. This spoon is bent.”

I grabbed another spoon and proceeded to pour Lucky Charms ™ from its box to its new home, a bowl. I noticed the obligatory oats, yes. Plentiful were the oats. Have you noticed that the oats seem to be rejects from AlphaBits cereal? Is that a semicolon? Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice that what poured out of the box was less Lucky Charm and more Unlucky Ampersand. My song continued:

“Oh, I wonder why charms are lucky
And where those lucky charms went
And who took all the marshmallows
And where they all were sent.”

Upon closer inspection I did see one Lucky Charm. Just one. In a sea of terrible oats. These oats depend on the Charms to defuse their blandness. And they were gone.

Just gone.

“Perhaps I can send the box back to the General Mills factory for repair” I thought aloud, this time electing not to sing. My Lucky Charm levels were too low, especially for a song. I know you’ve all been there. “I wonder if these charms are in a separate bag, like when you make one of those instant wok meals where you add the sauce 10 minutes LATER.” Again, not there. No charms. No sauce, either. It was not looking good.

Because we’re on a grocery budget, I elected to eat the bowl of Lucky Charms, which was now the antithesis of Lucky since all the charms were gone. As I ate the oats, I wondered. I even sang my wonder aloud, like this:

“Oh, I wonder why charms are lucky
And if these oats feel sad
Sad that charms are missing
Hey, I need to give a call to Dad.”

After remembering that I needed to call Dad, I went back to pondering the case of the missing Charms of Luck (A Nancy Drew book). My bowl of lonely oats was now gone. I put the bowl in the sink and moved on with my day, which, looking back, contained an acceptable amount of luck.

A few days later, the mystery was solved. I walked into the kitchen and saw a child — Malachi — holding another bag of Lucky Charms in one hand and using his free hand to harvest charms. Charms ONLY, I might add. He elected to do what every child has done since that shady leprechaun made his debut on cereal boxes around the world. Eat the marshmallows only. Let’s face it: the oats are filler. And who elects to eat filler?

Adults, that’s who. We do what’s right, even when it tastes like horse hair.

The boy and I had a good talk regarding the importance of the cereal balance of the universe as well as the thoughtfulness of eating an appropriate oat-charm ratio in order for the next person to do the same. He seemed to understand, his spittle being rainbow in color and his dehydrated marshmallow levels being rather elevated.

“Oh, I wonder why charms are lucky
Oh, I think I found out why
Charms are lucky ‘cuz they taste real good
Especially to Malachi.”

Some Words on LOST

Today I’d like to say something about the TV show “LOST”, or, as the ABC network puts it, L O S T.

Emily and I have found great joy in watching this show together. We are united by our love of sitting and doing nothing while the children sleep. Emily gets to exercise her seemingly instant understanding of knotty fiction as she explains basic plot development to me. I’m much more comfortable in a non-fiction setting. That’s why we work well together. Plus, we like the same TV show.

I first saw LOST on ABC back in the olden days of Season 3. And olden days they were, especially compared to what we know now that the series is over. After seeing just one episode, an episode that was chock full of antics from Ben and faithspeak from Locke as well as references to this strange DHARMA phenomenon, I knew I’d be in. And I was. Not long after, Emily joined team L O S T. We got H O O K E D. (See what I did there?)

But we had to catch up with our new family of LOST fans. This meant putting down the big bucks to rent earlier seasons. I would guess that we contributed to Blockbuster keeping their lights on for at least a few more days, especially at $4 per disc. Wow. Thanks, Netflix. I just realized that you’re great.

After catching up and watching seasons 1 through 3 (back to back, no less), it was time to enter into season 4 with both feet. The biggest challenge was waiting for an entire W E E K to pass between episodes. Watching LOST on DVD offers a certain luxury that traditional network TV just can’t match. Again, Netflix — thanks, buddy.

We tracked together through the last seasons. Emily and I sat and watched, gasped audibly, looked at each other with furrowed brow regularly and then discussed. Later that week we would compare our predictions for the next episode. I would rush home from work to be there right at 9pm, because missing even one eye-opening scene start could be detrimental, like only having 99 out of 100 puzzle pieces. Oh, and by the way – that puzzle says “L O S T”.
(See what I did there?)

The puzzle is now complete. LOST is D O N E. As it turns out, it was just a scripted TV show. Emily had to use little words to explain to me that it wasn’t a reality show –Survivor Aloha — after all. Oh.

OK.

We’re going to watch it again (three times a lady, Netflix) and probably gasp audibly again and again. It’s chock full of intelligence, wit, multifaceted references and rewards. LOST led me to read new books, think about cultural history, consider physics and even buy a Daniel Faraday-style notebook.

To put it simply, LOST is a great show. I’m sad that it’s over and glad that it ended well. I guess that some shows end bittersweetly. I mean… B I T T E R S W E E T L Y.

Leaders Do This: Take Whatever Yogurt is Given to Them

I just ate some yogurt. And let’s be honest: it was good but not great. It was pre-mixed and NOT in the classic frut-on-the-bottom style. Pre-mixed yogurt may be convenient for some, but I don’t like some person at Danon mixing MY yogurt. Fruit on the bottom is ideal because you are the designated mixer. You decide how much stirring happens, and you decide when. It’s all about control with fruit on the bottom.

Does it mean that you are a control freak if you like fruit on the bottom yogurt instead of pre-mixed? Or is it simply that you have a certain culinary taste and/or ability? Perhaps control tendencies aren’t even a factor. Then again, if someone like me demands that I GET TO BE THE ONE to stir the fruit into the yogurt… well… draw your own conclusions about me and my personality.

What is the perfect balance of control and freedom for the leader? Leaders who are branded as “control freaks” aren’t branded as such because of their excellent management skills. That’s why the “freak” part is attached to the phrase. To be a freak — to be extreme — is never the goal of the leader. I’m not even sure if it’s good to be overly passionate. Someone might boldly (tongue-in-cheek) say “Oh, I’m a freak alright — a passion freak (smile)”. Nice. Thanks, Michael Scott.

I struggle with the balance between control and freedom in my leadership context. I want to equip and let go, but, at the same time, I know that my job is to have at least some control over the deal. Too much is bad (control freak). Not enough is bad (does he/she even care?) Sometimes avoiding responsibility can be billed as not being a control freak, but that’s not good, either. Finding the balance between control and freedom isn’t easy. I’m still finding the balance. Here’s what I’m learning:

1. Control is good. It’s all about where your hand is in the whole mix. Don’t control details, but be in control of who’s contorlling those details. That way, you do your job as a leader of being responsible for your stuff, but you’re also allowing your people to do their jobs without you micromanaging. Offer encouragement and support to those whom you’ve delegated the details to. Ask questions like “how can I serve you better”. Cast vision and make sure that what you’re saying can be applied to their job descriptions so that they know where they fit in the organization.

2. Don’t control/micromanage things just because you think you can do it better. Even if you can perform a certain task with greater ease and skill, you’ve failed as a leader. Trust your people. Guide and correct, but do so from a distance. Your control mechanism has entered the picture earlier, long before they get around to doing something. If you set them up for success, you shouldn’t find yourself trying to do their job. If this happens, it’s not their fault. It’s yours.

3. Be a control freak. A self-control freak, that is. Great leaders combine the burden of knowledge and the discipline of self-control. Knowing when to say something and when to shut it is a fine art that correlates directly with the balance between control and freedom.

I guess that a truly free person might take whatever yogurt is given to them.

Leaders Do This: Define Reality

One of my favorite leadership quotes comes from Max DePree:

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with this quote, but I do hear it from time to time in a variety of works. I think it’s true — a leader has the primary task of defining reality, that is, to state clearly what is happening in an organization. This job is vital to the health of a team because reality is the most real thing (wow — thanks, “The Matrix”). What I mean is that if the real thing is misunderstood, then there’s no common ground. Defining reality is not easy because it assumes that the leader has the ability to see things from pretty much all angles and make a concise statement about what’s up.

I think that the Gulf Oil spill/gush is a great example. With all of the voices — politicians, commentators, academics, executives — we need someone to say what’s really going on. Followers need to know, quite honestly, what should concern them. Leaders that define reality are like the cerebral cortex of an organization, naming and classifying a situation so that we know how best to function. Look at the cry of the people right now: will someone tell us what’s going on with offshore drilling? Should I cancel my trip to Florida? Are fossil fuels sustainable? Will Rush Limbaugh keep laughing demonically?

Politics aside, I really think that President Obama is displaying good leadership in this whole BP Gulf Oil Spill. Even though we’re still surrounded by questions, he’s defining reality. He’s taking action which means that he must nail down some facts. That is the responsibility of the president, the CEO and the Pastor.

If we don’t define reality, people run amok. There is no grounding, no basis, no calming truth. Leaders who avoid calling things like they are, hesitate to say what’s harsh and hold back because it might offend are not defining reality. They are merely being diplomats. There is a major difference. We don’t need diplomats. Leaders make decisions and people dislike the decisions, perhaps even turning their dislike toward the leader. It’s no fun. But it must be done.

Courageously define reality. This is the best way to serve your people.

Here’s how it really is. And here’s why it matters. And now, as a team with a common view of reality, let’s figure out the next best step.

Call it like it is. May the Holy Spirit guide you as you serve.

PS: The rest of Max’s quote often gets left off. Here’s the whole thing:

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.
The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.