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Creating Our Own Magic

It’s spring break for my girls and what better way to spend it but at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. This will be Leah’s second trip and Katie’s first to the Magic Kingdom. This will be my third trip (first as a 7 year old, second and third as an adult) and it’s interesting to experience it again. It’s during this trip that I’m finally enjoying the park for what it is: a place where magic can happen. Yeah, I know…that’s rather naive and counter to the cynical notion of the corporate artificiality of Disney. But, magic can happen if we allow it.

As a kid, I remember being enchanted by the Swiss Family Treehouse located in Adventureland. What young boy wouldn’t want to live in a huge treehouse? Now, as an adult, I tried to relive that magic, but it was strange. The whole experience was just climbing steps to the top and seeing the Robinson’s sleeping quarters, a dining room, and a sitting room. I kept wondering if that was all there was. And for me, that was really all there was.

This morning, my wife got an email from a friend of hers who lives with multiple sclerosis. In their communication, Caroline mentioned that we climbed the Swiss Family Treehouse and her friend offered a whole new perspective on this place in the Magic Kingdom. Turns out that she was told she couldn’t climb the treehouse due to her condition. She laughed and replied that that was all she needed to hear. She got out of her wheelchair, slowly climbed to the top, took a few minutes to savor her personal victory, and then slowly descended to the bottom.

I can’t help but see that treehouse in a whole new light.

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We Learn So Much About Life From Death

Things have been chaotic and emotional for our family over the past week. On Monday, my wife’s grandfather, J.W. Starr (known to his grandkids and great-grandkids affectionately as Papop), died at age 85 after a very sudden diagnosis of terminal cancer. Turns out the cancer had been incubating silently within him for a while only to make it’s full presence known at the end. The time from when we first heard the heartbreaking news to the moment he died was less than a week.

Fortunately, my wife scheduled a flight a couple of days before he died and arrived in time to see him and hold his hand one last time. Shortly after he died on Monday, Caroline called me and told me to pack up the kids for the 1000 mile drive from Austin to Albany, GA.

That long drive-time in the car sparked an internal dialogue and reflection on Papop’s remarkable life and the wonderful legacy he left for all of us. He taught us so many lessons just through his simple actions. He modeled the values he felt were most important without ever needing to preach. He gave us the blessing of showing us how to live.

Have the courage to follow your faith even when it may not make sense to others
When he was in his early twenties, Papop volunteered for the military and fought in World War II as a bomber pilot in the Pacific. But before he completed his pilot training, he made the fateful decision to propose to and marry the love of his life, Mary Smith (who we all now call Mimi). Mimi held on to the letter that Papop sent to his own parents announcing his intentions and in that letter he acknowledged that their decision to marry may not make sense to their parents. In particular, Mimi’s parents reasonably feared that she might find herself a war widow before their first anniversary. However, Papop had faith that this was the right decision and knew that it was their love that would bring him home safely. Papop and Mimi were married for 62 years and their relationship is known in our family as “The Great Romance.” Together, they offered a model of what a strong marriage is for all who knew them.

It’s never too late to find your passion
One of Papop’s great legacies is his artwork. His paintings can be found in each family member’s home as well as the homes of art collectors throughout Georgia. He primarily painted landscape scenes of his life: the beaches, lowlands, and marshes of South Carolina and Georgia. As we sorted through some of his unframed works in his attic studio this week, we also discovered some lesser known works, such as portraits and still-life. The amazing thing is that this passion didn’t come out until he was much older. When we asked Mimi about how Papop started painting, she told us a story that surprised all of us. When she was a schoolteacher she had to grade papers. At that time, Papop enjoyed watching television, but it was distracting to her papergrading. So Mimi bought him some paints and brushes and hoped that this less noisy diversion would keep him busy. Turns out it not only kept him busy, but unleashed a vibrant yet untapped talent that inspired him throughout the rest of his life.

Soulful work can last a lifetime
After returning from WWII, Papop continued his education by getting a Master’s degree in Social Work and served as the Director of The Family Service in High Point, NC and then worked for the Federal Probationary Office in Macon, GA. Eventually, he and Mimi came to Albany, GA in 1952 and there he worked in his father’s typewriter sales business. Not too long ago, he retired, but continued to work in the Career Development Office of a local college. He often told us that his work helping young college students figure out their future plans was the most fulfilling work that he had ever done. Papop also gave his time to his church community that meant so much to him. For Papop, work wasn’t something to be shunned or avoided, but something that gave meaning to his life. It was his way of sharing the blessings he had with others.

These are just highlights. Putting Papop’s life into a brief retrospective is nearly impossible, though my sister-in-law managed to do this in what must be one of the all-time great eulogies ever delivered.

We talk about living a full life with no regrets. We talk about how to live in service to others. We talk about leaving a legacy behind us. It’s a blessing to encounter a role model who shows us how to do these things with grace, love, and humility. By reflecting on their lives, we’re challenged to find the magic in each day, to give far more than we get in return, to be the type of individual who makes a positive impact on each person they encounter. One way of thinking about Papop that has stayed with me is that it didn’t matter whether you knew him for an hour or a lifetime, he left a lasting impression that made you want to be a better person.

We all miss him and were blessed to know him.

John Walter Starr (1922-2007)

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Lost Is Just A State Of Mind

Yesterday afternoon, I flew into Manchester, NH and rented a car to drive down to Nashua where I’m spending the night. I had my Google-mapped trajectory all laid out, but shortly after leaving the rental car lot I must have made a wrong turn somewhere. This became clear when the two lane road started winding through some truly beautiful country beside the Merrimack River.

There are some folks who would freak out if they discovered they were lost in a strange place. I’ve never felt that way. Honestly, I’ve been known to seek out occasions to get lost and see if I can find my way out (oh, and by the way, I’m a typical guy when it comes to asking for directions – I don’t). This instance was no different. While there were no distinguishable road signs cluing me in on where I was going, I knew I was heading south toward Nashua.

Along the way, I started to ponder what lost really is. Sometimes we talk about what it is to be lost, but is it actually a state of being? Or rather, is it a state of mind? We may not always know where we are and we may not always know exactly where we’re going. And yet, whether we determine that we’re lost is in our own minds. It just might be that where we are and where we’re going will lead us to where we need to go. It’s opening ourselves up to the universe and a greater power to guide us. And along the way, we might see some really neat scenery or discover a cool little roadside vegetable stand. As J.R.R. Tolkien writes, "Not all those who wander are lost."

Consider chucking the maps and the GPS once in a while. Put away those books written by the various gurus and experts. What would happen if you developed a more intimate relationship with your own intuition and instincts? It just might be that you know exactly where you are and the place you’re heading…if only we’ll ask ourselves for direction.

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What’s Your Ministry?

I’m doing some reorganizing in my home office and I found a stack of Fast Company magazines. I started looking through them and and discovered that I read only the first half of the May issue. Toward the end of the issue is an article called God and Mammon at Harvard and discusses how the Divinity School is producing some top level business leaders.

What struck me was the story of Tom Chappell, CEO of Tom’s of Maine, and his soulful path:

[Chappell] had come to the divinity school at age 43, after an aggressive growth period in his company that had left him emotionally and spiritually drained. The business was thriving, but he was finding more emptiness than fulfillment in success, he says. Many entrepreneurs would argue that when you reach that point, it’s time to flip the business, buy a sailboat, and travel the world. But Chappell was haunted by a comment from his pastor’s wife: “What makes you think Tom’s of Maine isn’t your ministry?” she asked.

We can read ministry in any number of ways (personally, I don’t think the ministry has to be religious), but I think Chappell was being challenged to reconsider and transform himself and his purpose. I thought about that line a lot today. Some interesting and perplexing issues surfaced at work today that might have caused me to feel discontented and disillusioned with my job role. And yet, I was equally haunted by the notion that my work in my current organization is my own ministry. I believe that my work is to encourage a joy-full attitude, cultivate a positive organizational culture, inspire new leadership qualities in my colleagues, and strengthen the organization so that it can achieve its core mission.

Do you have a ministry?

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The Path To Our Goals Can Be Irregular And Uneven

We had a pretty nasty storm here last evening: hail, high wind, blinding rain, thunder, and  plenty of lightning. While my daughters are not big fans of noisy storms, I love them. I’m one of those dopey people who gets close to the window to watch nature’s light show. This morning, I visited Doug Thompson’s Blue Ridge Muse blog (I guarantee that five minutes at Doug’s blog will make you want to visit this area of the United States) and he had a fantastic picture of the storm as it hit the southern part of Virginia.

It got me wondering about a very elementary question: why does lightning travel in a jagged line rather than a direct line to the ground? I had an idea, but wanted to check it out. A google search took me to a webpage produced by WV Lightning. Using a simple experiment that would work great for teaching children, the explanation is that the bolt takes the path of least resistance to its destination.

The lightning knows where it needs to go. It doesn’t struggle through the small stuff in its way. It doesn’t complain about the twists and turns it needs to take as it moves. It understands its environment completely and works with it. The path to the ground may be irregular and uneven and yet it finds a way to its goal.

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Developing Chaordic Confidence

Chris Corrigan at Open Space has a fantastic post from a week ago called Values, tools and authentic facilitation. What immediately pulled me into the post was this:

Work as practice. And by practice I mean something akin to a spiritual practice, whereby one undertakes a life of value and meaning through living in a particular way. When I feel my facilitation practice deepening, I notice that what I do is becoming more and more aligned with who I am.

I can think of no more noble way to approach our work than that. It’s about taking pride in our chosen craft and finding ourselves in our profession.

But, then Chris took it deeper and discussed chaordic confidence, the idea that we have the ability to stay in chaos and trust that order will emerge. Scary, terrifying, liberating, and ultimately a source of the greatest creativity we can generate. It seems to be more than what we do and even how we go about doing it; it’s about getting to the why behind what we do. In terms of Chris’s work as a facilitator, he describes it like this:

Developing chaordic confidence is more than acquiring more tools. It is about integrating an approach to life and work that is anchored in a set of principles and values that serves our clients. For me these values include believing in the wisdom of the group, trusting that chaos produces higher levels of order and seeing conflict as passion that can be harnessed in the service of progress.

He offers a couple of powerful points of reflection…Do we know what our principles and values are? Do they anchor our own approach to life as well as work? Are they principles and values that serve others? Brilliant questions to consider over the weekend.

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There Is More Between Heaven and Earth

I keep coming back to this story and find myself amazed by what happened. It’s the recent story about the 17 year old girl who drove over her car into a ravine in Washington state. Two things are absolutely miraculous: one, that she survived (we learned today that dehydration may have saved her from dying of a blood clot in her brain); two, and the point of my post, is how she was found.

A volunteer searcher who said she had had several vivid dreams of a wooded area found the wrecked car in the trees Sunday…Hatch’s parents organized a volunteer search Saturday, and that night Sha Nohr, the mother of Hatch’s friend, said she had dreams of a wooded area and heard the message, “Keep going, keep going.”

This absolutely amazes me, as well as inspires me because there is so much that we still do not understand about ourselves as humans and our capabilities. What would you call Sha Nohr’s experience? To me, it relates to a second conception of “intuition.” There is a more rational view of intuition which is the mind’s ability to take various bits of information and fill in the blanks on a subconscious level. But this goes beyond rational. Another view of intuition is that it is an act of receiving information from a deeper level of reality. Deepak Chopra might say that it is communicating with the quantum level, that space which exists between physical reality and the spiritual reality of God.

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