Survivor’s Guilt is Real. I’ve never survived a severe trauma such as a major accident where others died. But as a pastor and a police chaplain for many decades, I have spent time listening to survivors of incredible trauma (Holocaust survivors, war veterans, air-plane crash survivors, natural disaster survivors) describe the guilt they feel and the many questions they have about why they are still alive.  My story isn’t dramatic.  But none the less, I felt a few of the same emotions that I’ve heard expressed.

I Survived Hurricane Ian. Actually. I was out of the country during the hurricane.  I was on a one month sabbatical.  I was enjoying the beauty of traveling across Italy.  On top of it all, I came back to a nearly perfect unshuttered house and yard.  No trees down.  No storm surge.  Screened lanai undamaged. No roof leaks.  Only beat-up shrubs and one roof tile cap missing but even that was found unbroken in the front yard.  I was utterly amazed at how unscathed our home was.  Even our two melodious wind chimes hanging off our lanai, were safely nestled in the rain gutter above the lanai.

But Our Neighbors and Friends? Badly damaged roofs.  Trees uprooted.  Homes flooded.  Boats sunk. Cars underwater. Businesses demolished.  All their earthly belongings destroyed.  Homes unlivable.  Some were traumatized by nine hours of hiding in a closet.  Others watched neighbors die.  One friend I visited in the hospital was trapped under heavy furniture for four days and then had his toes, foot, and ankle amputated. And finally, after the fifth surgery in 10 days, he showed me the stub of his leg… amputated just below his knee. 

Why Me, I Asked? There are many possible answers.  Some are so-so.  Some are very bad views of the way God works.  Some make others feel inferior and devalued.  So I choose not to try to figure out the “whys” of the situation.  Instead, a month post-hurricane, I daily choose the “what” of the situation.

Here are four things I’ve found to be helpful:

  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – I just call it what it is.  I have felt a level of survivor’s guilt.  And then I make a choice to shift my perspective.  I move from guilt to the reality of the situation.  I need not have any shame for choosing nine months earlier to be gone on September 28, 2022.  I do not need to feel guilty for having no damage.  It was what it was.  It is what it is.  And it will be what it will be.  
  • GRATITUDE – I daily choose to be grateful that I didn’t return home to find a heap of debris.  I’m grateful that I have the physical energy and emotional reserves to serve others who have been devastated by the storm. I don’t have my own problems of fatigue and depression to deal with.  I’m grateful that I don’t have to spend hours on the phone daily trying to schedule adjusters, contractors and more to clean up and fix a mess.  I choose gratitude that all my landscape trees and plants are budding and on their way to thriving again.  I choose to give thanks when I see a butterfly flitting by or when I hear the twitter of migrating birds arriving to their winter sanctuary.
  • COMPASSION – I choose to find to find ways to show compassion to those who have had extreme loss.  I choose to carefully listen to their stories of trauma.  I choose to try to identify with the depths of their fatigue and stress.  I choose to intentionally value the things that are more important than my stuff.  I choose to do my best to be patient on the road with all of the hurried work trucks trying to get to the next hurricane clean-up job.  I choose to not join the gripers who complain daily about the debris not being cleaned up in front of our homes.  
  • GENEROSITY – I choose to give my time, my talent and my treasure to those who have greater needs than I do right now.  It’s my choice to refuse to allow my neighbor to refill my gas cans that he borrowed to keep his generator running.  I’m grateful that I had an unused generator in my garage that my neighbor could use when his generator died a couple days post-hurricane.  I choose to give to disaster relief efforts.  I choose to give an extra-large tip to the server who missed several days of work due to the power outages.  I choose to pay the extra dental bill of a monthly-sponsored teenager in a Bolivian orphanage because I have no large insurance deductibles to pay.  I choose generosity because I’ve been given the gift of survival.

So there you go. I can attest that Survivor’s Guilt is real, even though my case is a mild one compared to what some others have had to deal with.  And, so much of life is about choices.  In this case, choices to deal with the negative and bad in life and choices to respond to positive and good things in our lives.  I’m grateful for choices.  At all times.  Concerning all things. 

QUESTION: Have you ever had Survivor’s Guilt and what additional things could you add in dealing with it?  (Please a comment below).  Thanks. 

I’ve been back in the office and back on social media for three days now after being away on a sabbatical for the last 30 days.  Before I get too caught up in the busyness of work routines, I wanted to take a bit to reflect and share a few learnings or re-learnings.

By the way, a sabbatical is not the same as a vacation. It is a time to break away from the routines and the usual to change the tempo of life.  I’m grateful that our church gives our pastors a month off every five years of service.  Working every weekend, working long hours, giving ourselves to serve and support others in their deepest time of need does create a unique fatigue that needs special times for rest and recharging. 

So, my wife Linda and I chose to spend three out of the four weeks doing what recharges us the most.  Traveling.  And here are some thoughts that we wrote down along the way.  These are good for us to remember every day.  And, maybe they will help you as well. 

Slow Down…Take Life in Small Doses – After arriving in the Dolomite mountains of Italy the day before, our first full morning was a lesson in this very principle.  At home, we are used to brewing our ten cups of coffee and each of us having two large mugs of coffee as we leisurely start our day with a scripture-based devotional, a short email recap of the news of the previous day, a few glances of our social media channels, looking ahead at our schedules for the day, etc.  This first full day of our sabbatical, we wanted to go explore the amazing beauty of the Dolomites. But we needed to start the day with our usual coffee.  Our hotel coffee shop gave us one teeny tiny little mug that was about three swallows at the most.  So, we stopped at a second coffee shop five miles down the road and got a second tiny little cup of coffee. And another five miles down the road, we found a third coffee shop that gave us their largest size available, another very tiny cup of coffee.   God smiled and made us smile with this thought, we Americans need to learn to slow down and take life in small sips instead of the large gulps we are used to.

The largest of the three cups of coffee that morning.

Anticipate Change – I’ve known and taught that change is a good thing.  Spending a week in the Dolomites, reinforced that in a powerful way.  One day while visiting the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo, we experienced incredible changes from fog to sun, showers to rainbows and more. The regular changes became a beautiful experience when we finally started anticipating it instead of lamenting that we couldn’t see what we wanted to see.  As a photographer, I was able to capture some of those changes and it was a powerful lesson of how boring life would be if there was not change and everything looked the same all day and all year.

The Climb is Difficult… But Worth it – One day we decided to hike to the distant waterfall that we could see each morning from our hotel room window.  The climb wasn’t easy.  Steep roadways, rocks and roots were the norm.  But the waterfall at the end was so worth it.  The trail of life is similar.  It’s not always smooth and it’s often difficult.  But when we persevere, we see the beauty that God has for us.  And the path back to our hotel in the valley was much easier.

Seeds become trees – As we hiked to the waterfall mentioned above, we were reminded that some of the steepest parts of the trail, were made more difficult by the roots of established trees.  We reflected with deep gratitude on the seeds we started planting in our community over 36 years ago when we moved there to start Cape Christian.  Our successors are now able to use those roots (large campus, flexible buildings, community leader relationships, etc.) as steppingstones to make a powerful recovery impact in the wake of a devastating hurricane that happened while we were away.

Grace is Always Needed – My beautiful wife Linda and I have been married nearly 48 years, but we still need to give each other grace.  We had one or two miscommunication situations over the month where she needed to extend a boatload of grace to me.  My intense desire as a photographer to get a great shot (ironically now one of her most favorite pictures of the entire trip) led me on a half mile trek down a narrow winding road on the edge of a cliff while she stayed in the car.  However, when I didn’t return in the time she anticipated, she was extremely alarmed and concerned about my safety.  I didn’t communicate to her well what I was thinking or planning, and she was deeply shaken and upset about my possible demise.  In every relationship, grace is needed.

The Risky Capture

God Cares About the Details – We found that to be true many times in our 30-day journey, God took care of so many details.  We traveled by plane, car and train and repeatedly, we arrived just in time, or we talked to just the right person that knew which line to get in or which choice was our best option for one thing or another. We were even blessed with the first snow of the season in the mountains that beautifully changed the scenery and photographic opportunities. We had one rainy day where we had to adjust our plans, but it turned into a great day of much-needed rest, and time for reading and processing hundreds of pictures.  We felt God’s care frequently.  From a change of plans due to a hurricane-cancelled flight to finding our windchimes had been safely protected up in the rain gutter of our home during Hurricane Ian, God showed us he cares, even about not-so-important details.

These six reminders have been good for us while on a sabbatical and, in everyday life.  Writing them down helps us.  And, just maybe, one or more of the six is something you need to hear right now. 

QUESTION:  Which one of the six is a needed reminder for you right now? (I’d love to have you make a note in the comment section). 

I’ve heard that descriptive statement time and time again the last dozen years or more.  “I’m not wired that way.”  It is often said in response to me answering a question about my current role on the staff of the church that I started over 35 years ago.  When I explain that I created and executed a leadership succession plan and moved out of the driver’s seat to another seat on the bus, I hear some slight variation of this repeated phrase. “I don’t think I could do that.  I’m just different.  My Type A personality wouldn’t let me do that.  I’m not wired that way.”  

Let me share something that my wife has known for a very long time.  I’m not wired that way either.  It is not natural for me.  I’m used to being in charge.  I prefer my own way of doing things.  I have opinions.  In my mind, there is often one superior way to do things and the others are all inferior.  Yes, me too. I’m not wired that way.

In Philippians 2:5-8, I am confronted with these words: 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

I just reread the above scripture.  I’m not wired that way.  I do not automatically have the same mindset as Jesus.  It’s very hard to make myself nothing and serve others.  I don’t naturally gravitate toward humbling myself and putting myself in the background and moving someone else to the forefront.  My personality type doesn’t want to do any of the above.

But I’m grateful.  I’m profoundly thankful that God’s great grace and His strength enables me to be a part of team that I no longer lead.  I’m filled with appreciativeness that I can joyfully sit in another seat on the bus and let someone else do the driving.  I’m blessed.  I have over thirteen years of looking back and identifying that leadership succession plan as the best leadership decision I’ve ever made.

Is it easy?  No.  Is it possible?  Yes.  There is a bigger vision and there are daily choices I can make.  In spite of the way I’m wired, I can choose to be rewired by the Holy Spirit and have the same mindset as Jesus.  I can choose to humble myself.  I can choose to be a servant.  I can choose to not be offended if I’m not honored in the way I would prefer.  I can choose to kneel and wash someone one else’s feet as Jesus did (John 13).  I can choose to leave a legacy. I get to see the organization I started, still flourishing without me, instead of focusing on my emotions of the moment. 

I’m not a superhero.  I’m not a saint.  It isn’t in my wiring to think less of me and more of others.  Yet, I make daily choices to die to my own selfish desires and ask for God’s transformational power to live in the likeness of the one who gave His life for me.  And, I love the long-term results, in me, in the others who’ve succeeded me, and in the organization that I started.  All of us are thriving.  To God be the glory! 

QUESTION: What is the hardest aspect of replicating Jesus’ actions and attitudes in your own life? I’d love to learn from you in the comment section below.

 

Thirty-five years ago, (April 19, 1987 on Easter Sunday) my wife Linda and I had the privilege of being spiritual mid-wives. We helped God birth one of His churches, Cape Christian. Along with two other couples, we locked our arms in a common vision to reach young unchurched families. Starting the first church in Cape Coral, Florida that was entirely focused on using contemporary worship music, down-to-earth messages, and relevant ministry to inspire and transform families, we have been Loving God and Loving People for well over three decades now. This past weekend, thousands of people gathered on our campus to worship the Resurrected Christ! I’m never surprised, but always in awe. God is good, so good. I’m blessed, very blessed!

2022 Easter Weekend – One of Seven Worship Services

Some ask, what is the secret? Are there a few keys to the success of Cape Christian? I’ve written about a lot of them in this blog over the last years. But on this 35th anniversary, here are 35 simple axioms I’ve learned and tried to live by over the last 35 years:

  • Enjoy the journey. Live with a sense of awe and gratitude each day of the journey. 
  • God is always up to something new so embrace it instead of resisting it.
  • “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” ~John Maxwell
  • “The most powerful tool a leader has is personal example.” ~John Wooden
  • “Humility is the first chapter in the book of success.” ~Mark Batterson
  • Little things matter.
  • You only get one chance to make a first impression.
  • Every stage of an organization’s growth is unique and every stage is important.
  • Organizations never grow in a straight line. There are many peaks and valleys, zigs and zags.
  • We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period and underestimate what we can accomplish over a long period of time.
  • Everything we do takes more time than we expect.
  • Commit for the long haul. “Overnight successes,” usually happen through years of persistence by someone.
  • Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Work hard. “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  ~Thomas Edison
  • Become a lifelong learner. My capacity to lead is determined by my capacity to grow.
  • Explain the why, not just the what, when and how. People lose their way when they lose their why.
  • Make the hard decisions when necessary. “Leadership is an extreme sport…requiring both courage and humility.”  ~Cheryl Bachelder
  • The higher you go in leadership, the higher your character needs to be and the fewer options you will have.
  • The higher you go in leadership, the greater your self-awareness needs to grow.
  • Don’t try to be the hero. Be the guide.
  • Great leaders take adequate time for reflection and rest.
  • Blessing follows obedience and risk.
  • Leadership is more about relationships than it is about results. In the long run, results are in proportion to the quality of your relationships.
  • Giving leadership away is ultimately better than keeping it for yourself.
  • The best leadership decision I ever made in 35 years was to develop a succession plan and execute it 13 years ago.
  • The best leaders are servants. They help others succeed. 
  • If you are not intentionally choosing to grow, you are choosing to decline. 
  • Leaders determine their brand. You will be known for something. Choose wisely. 
  • Great leaders build teams that build great organizations. Great leaders grow leaders.
  • Great leaders realize they stand on the shoulders of others who’ve gone before them. 
  • The best leaders have more questions than they have answers. 
  • If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. Keep the main thing the main thing.
  • “Starting strong is good. Finishing strong is epic.” ~Robin Sharma  
  • Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn in the right direction.  
  • My marriage and my family are my most important calling and my ultimate measure of success.

QUESTION:  Which would be your top three axioms out of these thirty-five?  I’m sure I’ve missed many, what would you add?  Share it in the comment section below. Thanks!

Since this is the next-to-the-top viewed (over 3,000 times) of all my nearly 300 posts over the last decade, I thought it might be good for a rerun. Happy Valentine’s Day 2022!

According to Hallmark’s research department, 145 million cards will be exchanged, making Valentine’s Day the second-most popular greeting-card-giving occasion. This total excludes packaged kids valentines for classroom exchanges which, when included, goes up to 1 billion cards.  I can’t find the numbers now but way back in 2010, an additional estimated 15 million e-cards were sent. An interesting tidbit is that Valentine’s Day is a procrastinator’s delight. Over 50% of all Valentine’s Day cards are purchased in the six days prior to the observance.

Valentine's Day

And while we are on fun facts about Valentines, did you know there are more than 40,000 Americans employed at chocolate companies. Why so many? Because we will buy 58 million pounds of chocolate for Valentine’s Day according to sweet-tooth researchers. That doesn’t include the unknown amount of chocolate consumed in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia—because they also celebrate Valentine’s Day.

There’s quite a bit of mystery surrounding the history of Valentine’s Day and the story of its patron saint. We know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day contains both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. The holiday began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. The most popular legend is that Saint Valentine was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. Related to this legendary account of St. Valentine, during his imprisonment he is said to have healed the daughter of the jailer and before his execution in AD 269, he wrote a note “from your Valentine” as a farewell to her.

The association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love grew in the Middle Ages and on through the 15th century when the tradition of courtly love flourished and Geoffrey Chaucer wrote romantic poetry and linked it to February 14 when St. Valentine was being honored in the Catholic Church.  The day evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, candy or sending greetings cards, known as “valentines.” Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. And, over the centuries as Valentine’s Day was celebrated in various countries and traditions, hearts, roses, love birds, and cupids were woven into the symbolism and traditions.

As a pastor, I’ve had the privilege of doing two Valentine weddings on the same day, and many other weddings and vow renewals on this special day. Let’s certainly not lose this tradition of romance and expressing love to each other.

Praying Hands Couple

But let me suggest that we consider investing in our relationships with our significant others throughout the entire year and not just one day. Express love daily to your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, family members and friends. Acts of sacrificial love like St. Valentine demonstrated are just as powerful the other 364 days of the year. Cards, flowers and chocolate will be welcomed by most people any day of the year—especially when it is unexpected and for no particular “reason.” And let me give you guys a couple hints:  roses are significantly cheaper outside the week of Valentine’s Day and one rose each month is often more appreciated than a dozen on Valentine’s Day. Happy Valentine’s Day!

QUESTION: What suggestions do you have to add to the significance of Valentine’s Day? Share them in the Comment section below.

For over four decades, I’ve been serving in leadership roles. And, I’ve learned at least one small thing that always leads to big things. Now, I’ve seen loads of good intentions. I’ve read the written goals. I’ve heard the New Year’s resolutions. I’ve listened to the commitments. But in my experience, this one small thing, is the big thing.

You’ve probably seen it too. Every station and every machine at the gym are full the first two weeks of January. Many are talking about their new diet or a new weight-loss program. People show up in church that I haven’t seen since last January. New faces are visible at business networking meetings. Weekly recovery meetings have a bump in attendance. On and on. But, by February and March, it is back to the same old, same old. Nothing has changed.

Here is the one new tip for the new year. It is called,“The Consistency Effect.” It is really quite simple. But not very easy. Here it is: “Small things done consistently, over time, lead to big things.” Now, don’t misunderstand. Commitment is good. Commitment will get you to the starting line. It can set your intention. It can get you through January and maybe even February. But consistency will get you to July, September, and next December. You can change your life with small, consistent steps in the right direction.

“I got to be a part of something really big by doing something really SMALL.”

“Small things done consistently, over time, lead to big things.” Thirty-five years ago, my wife and I started a church for our community. It was very small church. We had only two other couples in our core group at the very beginning. And, by the end of the first year, when we were ready for our public launch, only 18 adults and 19 kids, 37 total people were committed to the effort. But then we launched, and 60 new people showed up at our first worship service. But still, we only averaged 65 the first year. And it was 90 the next year. Small things done consistently, over time, can lead to bigger things. In our third year, we broke 100 in our average attendance. Now we measure attendance in thousands every weekend. But we were consistent. Day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, we leveraged the consistency effect.

Don’t forget, consistency isn’t always a good thing. Consistency can go either way. I’m talking about consistency in the good habits, not the bad habits. We’ve all seen consistent poor service, mediocre effort, bad attitudes, rotten behaviors, or irrelevant methods and they definitely won’t grow something great. Only consistent excellence, quality, relevance and authenticity will lead to growth and effectiveness of an organization or one’s personal sphere of influence.

So where do you need consistency this year? Is it in your work life? Family life? Relationships? Health? Exercise? Developing your spiritual life? Enlarging your knowledge? Expanding your leadership footprint? Growing your business? A hobby? Increasing your emotional well-being?

What is one small thing you could do more consistently this year? You probably already know what the one thing is that you intend to do or to change every year but by February or March, you’ve not followed through with it. If you don’t know what that one thing is, ask a friend, a counselor, a dietician, a chaplain, a pastor, a co-worker or a coach. They can probably help you to know what it is with a 30-minute meeting. Schedule it now. That one small thing, might have a huge impact in your life over the next decade. Leveraging the consistency effect can create the big thing you have been dreaming of for years and years!

And, finally, the most consistent help you can get to be consistent is from God himself. He wants you to be the best version of yourself. He has said,“let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”(Galatians 6:9). And with our consistent effort, we can always count on His strength to be readily available in increasing measure when we lean into Him and trust Him.

What is one thing you want to be more consistent in during 2022? Would you mind sharing your “one thing” in the comment section below?

I’m a pastor and a chaplain.  For over four decades, I’ve been praying for people.  I’ve prayed for people when they are distraught, angry, hurt, sick or struggling. I’ve prayed with people who are grateful, happy and rejoicing about their circumstances.

My most favorite prayer is this one.

24 “The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
 – Numbers 6:24-26 (NIV)

First the context.  It is sometimes called the “priestly blessing” or the “Aaronic blessing.”  God instructed Moses to tell his brother, Aaron and his sons who were priests, “This the way you shall bless the children of Israel.”  To this very day, this prayer is still prayed in synagogues and churches around the globe.  That’s the background of the prayer. Now, let’s take a closer look at the prayer.

An image Dennis Gingerich captured at Glacier National Park. (www.GingerichPhotoArt.com)

“The Lord bless you.” God loves to bless people.  He loves to have leaders who want their followers to be blessed.  It’s a reminder that blessings come from God.  And we remember that God’s blessing has always in mind our greatest and highest potential.  We often expect blessing to mean a world of comfort and ease.  But that isn’t always for our greatest and highest good.  I love the fact that God knows how you and I need to be blessed, even if you or I do not.  We often want to settle for happiness or comfort or wealth.  True blessing from God is higher than happiness, or wealth or comfort.

“And Keep You,” the prayer goes on to say.  Some are “kept” by their own choices that have become chains and prisons. Some are “kept” by their own bitterness, anger, or greed.  But to be “kept” by the Lord, insures life, peace and ultimate success.

“The Lord make His face to shine upon you.”  There is no greater joy that seeing the face of God smiling at you.  Not always because of what you have done or who you are, but because He is who He is.  It is tied to the next part of the line in this prayer, “And be gracious to you.” Grace is often defined as God’s undeserved favor. It’s hard to wrap our human minds around the thought that God shows mercy and care to us, even when we don’t deserve it.  I long for every person in our world to see God’s smile and understand His grace. I pray that for you today and the next 364.

“The Lord turn His face toward you” begins the final line of the prayer.  To know that God is paying attention to you, looking you in the eye, staring deep into your soul, is powerful.  God isn’t just some distant deity that is keeping all the planets spinning is space.  He knows you by name.  He cares about you and what you are dreaming about, where you hurt, your pain, your sadness, your disappointments and your fears about the coming year.  

“And give you peace,” the final part of the last line of the prayer.  The Hebrew word is “shalom,” which is a whole lot more an end of hostility.  It is much more than a cordial greeting to a stranger on the streets of Jerusalem.  This is God’s word for wholeness and goodness and total satisfaction of life.  This is the same thing as the “abundant life” that Jesus promised to His followers (John 10:10).

My heart for you this year is expressed in this prayer.  That you will know that God wants to bless YOU, not just someone else whom you happen to think deserves it more.  Six times in this prayer, the word “you” is mentioned.  It’s not them, they, him, or her.  It’s you.  He wants to bless you. Will you open yourself up to Him and accept His blessing?  His blessing will transform your life.  Welcome it. 

Have a Blessed New Year!  

Dennis

This past week, my “landscaper” neighbor who trims my shrubs and mows my lawn, planted a Jatropha tree outside our master bedroom window.  The original tree in that spot died about two years ago.  I’m thrilled that this empty space is now occupied by flora that blooms all year and tends to attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. 

The planting of a tree made me remember a Greek Proverb that goes like this, “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.”   In my situation, I’ll most likely get to sit in some of the shade from this tree.  At the least, it will shade the southern exposed master bedroom windows next summer and beyond.  But I love this proverb.  And here is why.

Alva, Florida by Dennis Gingerich www.GingerichPhotoArt.com

There is a grim absence of visionary shade-tree planters in our culture right now.  Most are living for their own moment, with little thought for the future of others.  We see it in record-high personal financial debt and record-low personal savings.  It is a prominent theme in a lot of governmental decision-making.  Leaders of companies, non-profits and religious bodies seldom develop plans for succession and the future value of their organization.  Parents rarely keep the end in mind while raising their children. 

Five years ago, I wrote a Forward-Thinking Leaders blog.   It was based on the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.  Visionaries like President Wilson, President Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and Stephen T. Mather created pristine places for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of America and far beyond.  

Take inventory of your own life.  Am I just thinking about myself?  Do I only plan for today, this week, this year, or even just for my lifetime?  Am I setting up the next generations for blessing and success?  Am I investing my life to leave the world around me a better place or am I just a consumer, taking all I can get?  Will my grandchildren have more to enjoy or less to enjoy because of my decisions today?  These questions are just a start for our self-evaluation.  

I love this scripture that puts it all into perspective.  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.   So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  It is so easy to get caught up in only what we can see at the moment.  We must be very intentional if we are going to focus on things that aren’t in our immediate vision.  My heart and desire is to help build a great community that plants “shade trees” that I will never sit under.  How about you?  Will you join me?

Since a recent blog called “Here’s to Good Health,” I’ve had multiple people wonder how I could just get away for two weeks at a time and take a “real” vacation.  Then they usually go on to excuse their own inability to get away by making note of my older age and assume that I’m “sort of” retired (that’s a whole other topic) and therefore can more easily take time off.  I’ve been reflecting.  Why is it that some, especially those higher up in organizational leadership, have difficulty getting away from work and keeping a healthy pace that includes vacation time?  

There could be multiple answers to the question I’ve raised above.  It might be a seasonal matter.  Peak times of demand.  A temporary shortness of others to cover their job.  A type of work that is done by only a few with a very unique skill set.  And there could be another answer.  One of my favorite bloggers, Carey Nieuwhof, recently wrote about why some leaders never get a break.  It was spot on.  This is a trap leaders fall in to.  I’ve fought my whole life trying to stay out of it.  It’s hard.  The more successful you become, the more difficult it is.  It comes down to one basic thing.  A need to be needed.

Nieuwhoff writes about the signs to look for in yourself and your organization if you can never seem to get away and take time off.  A look in the mirror might be what is needed most.  We’ll look more at that in a moment.  But two things happen when you can’t take time away.  It can add up to a big personal cost over time.  And, it can put a lid on your personal growth and the growth of your organization.

So what are some key signs that you might be a leader who needs to be needed.  Carey mentions five:

You Have a Hard Time Taking Time Off – You might be a leader who needs to be needed if you either don’t want to leave or something always comes up to disrupt your plans.  If you are a part of every decision and needed for everything, maybe you haven’t given away enough responsibility and authority to others around you.

You Like to Be Liked – Most healthy people like to be liked.  But, let’s be honest.  Many unhealthy people would rather be liked above everything else so they inevitably won’t do anything to disappoint people—like not be available for a week or two or even a month.  If everyone else’s emergency or lack of planning controls your schedule, maybe you need to look inside as to why you allow that to happen.

You Don’t Like Quiet – Silence makes you nervous.  You are an adrenaline junkie.  You feel something is missing when things are calm and not running at a frantic pace.  I know people who are on vacation who check in with their work just to see what’s going on because they can’t disconnect and enjoy the solitude or the change of pace.  Frankly, that’s an internal problem that I would explore with a counselor.

You Have a Hard Time Delegating – This is hard for a lot of leaders.  It’s nearly impossible for leaders who need to be needed.  We have our reasons.  People rely on me.  I have no one who can really do that for me.  I just don’t have the team yet.  Yes, I’ve built an organization from the ground up.  All of those can be true.  But it’s a tape that plays repeatedly with leaders who need to be needed.

You Want to Know Everything – This is a huge challenge for us who founded organizations.  And it’s a problem for small organizations.  Actually, it’s one of the main reasons organizations stay small. But, if you are going to grow an organization, it has to change.  The top leader is ultimately responsible for what happens, but you don’t have to know everything that is going on.  I had to let that go multiple times in multiple ways so I didn’t become the lid for the organization I started.  Nieuwhof rightly concludes, “If your need to know is bigger than your desire to grow, you won’t grow.”  And, I will add, you won’t be able to get away and take some time off, missing all the health benefits previously mentioned.  And eventually, it will cost you: personal health, family health and organizational health.

Now that you’ve had time to do a little self-reflectionwhat are your next steps if you discovered that you have an unhealthy need to be needed?  Self-awareness is always the first and most important step of growth.  A next step might be to do some reading by Dr. Steve Rose who discusses this topic quite a bit.  And, I always find it helpful to talk with a skilled professional counselor who can help me sort it all out.  Most often, the answers are within me, I just need some assistance finding those answers.  Maybe you do too.

QUESTION: How have you battled with the “need to be needed” over the years? I’d love to know what steps you would advise others to take. Please share with me in the comments section below.

The next two weeks, I’ll be on vacation.  Most of us, look forward to vacations.  I sure do.  This vacation is extra special in that it’s the third one of our “7 Year-Old Grandchild Trips.”  This time, with our grandtwins, Noah and Haley. 

We started the tradition with our oldest granddaughter when she turned 7.  Now, she is nearly 16.  A trip to Oregon, alone with Grandpa and Grandma.  Given that all five of our grandkids live in Florida, even the seven-hours of flying diagonally from corner to corner of our country is special and unique.  And, it is one entire week when it is all about them.  Listening to the pounding surf of the majestic Pacific Ocean.  Riding a hot-rod open sand rail on the steep dunes of the Oregon Coast.  Playing in the snow of the Cascade mountains.  Seeing the taller than tall fir trees of the Northwest.  Hiking in the woods to a hundred foot plus tall series of waterfalls.  It’s magical.  At then at the end, the “grandpaparazzi” photographer and his assistant (my wife), create a custom-made photo book for each grandchild with the photo highlights of their week full of special memories with their grandparents.   

And for a bit of background.  Why Oregon? I grew up in Oregon.  All my family still live on the West Coast.  So, my grandkids who have grown up in Florida, get to spend precious time with my mom (their great grandmother), my siblings (their great uncles and aunts), and a myriad of cousins they haven’t met before.  And, it’s all in a totally different climate and environment that is very dissimilar to southwest Florida.  Mountains instead of flat land.  Thunderous towering ocean waves instead of a lake-like Gulf of Mexico.  Cool nights and warm summer days that remind them of a Florida winter. Tall evergreen trees instead of tropical palms.  And more.  

This is one of our family traditions for making memories.  What are yours?  I hope you will get some time this summer to make some memories of your own.  Do you go to a cabin in the mountains?  Do you go camping?  Fishing?  Boating? Beach? Theme park? A road trip? Do you go visit relatives in another state?  Do you travel to a new country or a new part of our country?  It is very important to take breaks.  Get away from work and the daily routines of life.  Will you be taking a vacation this summer? 

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People in the U.S. are working more hours and taking less time off, bringing on various mental and physical health challenges.  I recently read that 212 million vacation days get forfeited annually.  There are incredible benefits from taking vacation time. Especially during the past year of stress-filled pandemic uncertainties, a vacation may just be exactly what you need this summer.  

Here’s why according to Dr. Kathryn Isham: 

1.    Improved Physical Health – Stress can contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure.  Studies show that taking a vacation at least every two years compared to every six will lessen the risk of heart attacks.  If that is true, why not take one or two vacations every year? 

2.    Improved Mental Health – Neuroscientists have found that chronic stress can alter your brain structure and bring on anxiety and depress.  Vacations relieve stress and allow your body and mind to heal in ways it can’t while your are under pressure. 

3.    Greater Well-Being – According to a Gallup study, just three days after a vacation starts, physical complaints, quality of sleep and moved improved compared to before vacation.  These gains were still present five weeks later. 

4.    Increased Mental Motivation – Many who return from vacation are more focused and productive.  Taking time off is like getting a brain tune-up. 

5.    Improved Family Relationships – Spending time enjoying life with loved ones can strengthen your relationships.  A study in Arizona discovered that women who took vacations were more satisfied with their marriages. 

6.    Decreased Burnout – Employees who take regular vacations are less likely to experience burnout, making them more creative and productive than their overworked, under-rested counterparts.  

7.    Boosted Happiness – Research shows that even planning a vacation can boost your happiness.  Some people experience an elevated mood up to eight weeks before their time away. 

The bottom line is, take a vacation this Summer or Fall if you possibly can.  When you take time away, you will most likely improve your physical, mental and relational health.  On top of it, your job performance and perspective toward work has a good chance of benefitting too because you have been recharged and refreshed.  If you haven’t scheduled a time away, start planning now because, even that, will get you started toward more overall satisfaction and all-around good health.   

QUESTION: What are your vacation plans this summer/fall? I shared some of mine and I’d love to hear yours in the comment section below.

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