Among all the greatest assets needed for work, relationships, and life—is this one that stands head and shoulders above the rest.  Let me be blunt.  Adaptability, now more than ever, is essential.  Change has been coming at record pace.  Some change is not our choiceit’s required. And some change we get to design, innovate, and build.  Either way, adaptability is at the top of the list: above knowledge, creative thinking dexterities, communication skills, negotiation talents or social proficiencies.

In the business world, adaptability means one is able to quickly respond to changing trends, innovation, destabilization, industry shifts and so forth.  This 2020 pandemic is separating the adaptable companies from the ones who cling to the way it has always been done.  The same is true of non-profits, churches, government agencies and more.

Adaptability also applies to our personal lives, our families and friendships. Are you adaptable? In his article in Forbes entitled, “14 Signs of an Adaptable Person,” Jeff Boss identifies the following traits of adaptable people: they experiment, see opportunity where others see failures, they are resourceful, they think ahead, don’t whine, talk to themselves, and don’t blame others. They also don’t claim fame, are curious, open their minds, see systems, and stay current.

Did you realize you can train yourself to be more adaptable?  If adaptability and flexibility aren’t your most natural traits, you can be intentional about increasing this asset in your skill portfolio.  Let me suggest several.

Intentionally Adjust Your Thought Process.  Be purposeful about letting go of the “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality.  While change can be scary and intimidating, work at embracing it and look at change as an opportunity to improve, learn, and grow.  It can open the door to creativity as well.  This also means, however, being open to the thoughts and opinions of others and different perspectives.

Challenge Yourself Toward Risk-Taking.  Little progress is made without risk. For some, the idea of risk is so adverse that they will run from it as fast as they can, but taking risks is key to being adaptable. Start small.  If you always order the same thing on a menu at the same restaurant, order something new.  And then try a new restaurant the next time to increase the comfort of risk-taking. Buy a bold-colored shirt or blouse that is outside your go-to color palette.  Mix up your morning routine.  Whatever.  Try stepping outside your comfort zone. Vincent Van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

Embrace Learning.  As noted in the Forbes article above, people who are curious and stay current tend to be adaptable. This means you need to chase learning. Read up about new technologies and protocols in your chosen career.  Attend classes or sign up for webinars and blogs in a new area of interest.  Read an article or book from another field you know very little about.  Connect with colleagues who have adaptability and learn from them, read what they read, etc.

Pursue Humility.  Increasing this top-of-the-list asset of adaptability requires humility.  Arrogance ignores and rejects ideas from others – humility welcomes them.  Closed ears indicate arrogant hearts.  Inflexible people think they know everything they need to know.  Humility drives us toward improvement through learning.  My greatest hero is Jesus.  Here’s how He lived: Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Philippians 2:5-8 (The Living Bible).  Humility is not only the way of Jesus and for His followers, it is common sense. None of us is an expert in everything, so we understand our limits and thus need unpretentiousness. Humility is also generative. It leads to new ideas. Humility has been formative for scientific investigation and for business theory and practice. The position of humility is where flourishing happens. Humility breeds adaptability.

Adaptability flows out of humility, learning, risk-taking and intentional adjustment of our thought processes.  Which of one of these four will you be intentional about today? (share it in the comment section below)

What surpasses education, skills, charisma, and even talent? The surprising answer is self-awareness. One Cornell University study found it was the “strongest predictor of overall success” among top leaders.  I first heard this on a podcast by Michael Hyatt about three years ago.  And the more I’ve paid attention, it’s not just for leaders of organizations. I’ve watched it in relationships, marriage, parenting, the every-day work world and more.  Self-awareness builds success.

We all know what self-unawareness looks like. We’ve watched people who are clueless about their own demeanor, their behaviors, their quirks, their management style.  Maybe it’s that they always have to have the last word, no matter what or where—at work, at home, in every conversation.  Always correcting, always a story to top someone else’s story.  We see it in others and we are irritated by it.  But what if we are missing important clues in our own lives that are obvious to most everyone around us?

Self-assurance that shows up as confidence can be a really great thing in life.  Especially in a leadership role.  But if you dial it up a couple notches and it becomes sort of that invincible sense; “I’m always right,” “I’m never wrong,” “I have amazing insight,” then it becomes arrogance. Arrogance can lead to over-confidence.  Over-confidence can lead to an inflated view of our abilities. Power-tripping, diminishing the input of our peers, inerrant, immutable become the norm.  I am so self-assured that I become arrogant and I close down the perspectives of everyone around me at home, at work or wherever. And I’m often oblivious as to how I come across to others. 

Let me suggest four things that can help us move toward stronger self-awareness:

Know the Symptoms – Being aware of the symptoms is key to diagnosing and treating an illness.  Likewise, paying attention to what’s going on around you is critical to your growth in self-awareness.  If your teammates or family frequently seem irritated with you, or your peers start working around you and leave you out of the conversation, pay close attention.  If you find you have troubled relationships with the people that are the well-liked and the easiest to get along with, maybe you have a problem.  If your peers or teammates never seem excited or enthusiastic when you suggest something, maybe you are unaware of how you are coming across.

Do Self-Inventory – There are many great tools to help us take an inward look.  Some of my favorites that have helped me get a better look at myself are:  StrengthsFinder 2.0, Myers-Briggs, DISC Profile, and Enneagram.  When you see your strengths, tendencies, personality type and gifting, you will be encouraged and these tools are also designed to make you more aware of the downside potentials of your unique wiring.

Reflect Regularly – Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Routinely slowing down the pace, pushing pause and intentionally reflecting on your life, activities, attitudes and actions pays huge dividends. Start the day by looking at your schedule and choosing to be intentional about adding value to the lives of the people closest to you as well as strangers.  At the end of the day ask yourself, “Did I make more deposits into other people’s lives than I did withdrawals?”  Mindfulness, meditation, prayer and journaling are all excellent practices.  I use the Scriptures as a mirror for my life to see how I’m doing with practicing the attitudes and actions Jesus regularly modeled in his relationships and leadership.  Regular reflection enables more awareness of where I need to adjust and change.

Invite Fearless Feedback – Most of us thrive on affirmation and praise.  We generally avoid criticism.  Why would I want to invite someone to point out my flaws and weaknesses?  Only if I want to improve and become a better person, a better teammate, a better spouse, a better parent, or a better leader.  There is no comfort in growth and no growth without change.  And change is always uncomfortable.  I have a personal “board of directors” who have my permission to give me fearless feedback.  And I try to be intentional to invite my wife to give me feedback.  And sometimes, she gives it when I don’t ask for it.  Questions to my peers or my teammates could include: “What can I do to be a better leader?”  “What am I missing?” is always better than “What am I doing wrong?” Asking the right questions in the right way will help the fearless feedback to be constructive and not destructive.  In most settings, other than with those closest to you, (who will tell you what they think even if you don’t want to know), you will have to invite it to receive it. Fearless feedback will increase your self-awareness and can be a powerful tool for growth and improvement.

All four of the above practices take one not-so-common attitude: humility.  Self-awareness requires humility.  The willingness to learn, to grow, to acknowledge mistakes and failures is the fruit of humility. Since humiliation is just involuntary humility, I plan to always choose humility.  Humility is inspiring. If someone is aloof, I don’t feel like I can really follow in their footsteps, as they’re too different. I just admire them. But if someone is humble and open, I feel I can be like them. They are human enough. Some of the most inspiring leaders in history had no organizational authority. Jesus comes to mind.

The pursuit of self-awareness will lead to the best for yourself and for those you live with, work with and serve.  Self-awareness is not reached with a sprint, but a marathon.  It’s a life-long journey of choosing humility over arrogance and servanthood over being served.  I pray you’ll experience the joy of the journey. 

QUESTION: What would you add for additional ways to become more self-aware? I’d love to hear it in the comment section.

Disruption.  That’s pretty much the whole last few months.  A disruption.  Nearly everything in our lives and world have been disrupted.  For me, my work week has changed, my office is now my kitchen table, two international trips have been postponed, meetings are by video, and so on.  You name it for yourself.  Kids home from school, vacation postponed, personal protection equipment required, and much more.

Have you ever thought of a disruption as a blessing?  Most of us resist change.  We get comfortable with routines and habits.  As a long-time police chaplain, I remember when our department first started putting computers in the patrol cars.  A few early adopters couldn’t wait.  Others had a ‘wait and see’ attitude.  But I mostly remember the loud complaints and all the reasons why it would be such a pain to switch to computers.  Now, I don’t know of any officer who would not want a computer in their patrol car to have instantaneous GPS, looking up a car tag while stopped at a traffic light, writing reports on scene, using a driver’s license reader, printing a traffic citation and so much more.  The disruption of change created a blessing.

When I read the scriptures, there are so many examples where a disruption became a blessing.  Four hundred years of slavery of the Jewish nation in Egypt was disrupted by ten plagues and Moses leading them into the wilderness toward the Promised Land.  Joseph being sold by his brothers to slave traders and later becoming Prince of Egypt. David being anointed as the future king of Israel but spending more than a decade hiding in desert caves while being hunted down by a jealous King Saul.  All of these Biblical stories include disruption and blessing.

Is there a possibility that our current world-wide disruption could lead to blessing?  What if it led to more gratitude and less taking things for granted, more time for family meals around the table and less of a hurried pace rushing off to the next soccer practice, more appreciation of our teachers and less criticism of the school system, more thankfulness for our medical providers and less denunciation of our health-care organizations? What if disruption actually leads to blessing?

Helen Keller said it well, “A bend in the road is not the end of the road… unless you fail to make the turn.”  Someone else had a slightly different angle on a similar thought, “It’s not a dead end if it takes you somewhere you needed to go.”  A disruption is an opportunity.  I’ve seen it many times.  Career disruptions often lead to previously unimagined job or starting a business opportunity.  Health disruptions sometimes jar us to new levels of self-care.  Relationship disruptions may force us to deal with an addiction or a bad habit.  A pandemic disruption can help us establish a healthier pace of life.  Never waste a crisis…it’s always an opportunity for growth. 

As a pastor, I’m convinced that God excels at using disruptions to bring blessings.  He has a very long history using that style.  One of my favorite first-century stories comes from the life of Apostle Paul.  He was totally focused on going to the crossroad city of Rome to share his faith because of the immense potential for widespread impact (Romans 1:10-11; 15:22ff).  Turns out, since he was a ringleader of the spread of Christianity, Emperor Nero made sure Paul got a free ride to a Roman prison where he eventually died. Little did he realize, exactly how his goal would be fulfilled in the providential scheme of things.  When he writes from the Roman jail to the Jesus-followers who lived in Philippi, he views his two-year imprisonment as a minor inconvenience compared to the unexpected opportunity to impact Rome through personal witness and through writing epistles (letters).  It turns out, that because he had plenty of time to slow down and sit in jail, Paul left a written legacy in many of the other churches he had started throughout Europe and the Middle East (Philippians 1:12-26).  The blessing of disruption.

As we prepare to move toward “the way things used to be,” let’s not forget the things that need to be different.  However, there is no comfort in growth and no growth in comfort.  So, no one will ever finish well by accident. Cory Demmel reminds us, “We have uphill hopes and downhill habits.”  You will have to be intentional if you want to experience the blessing of disruption.

QUESTION: Have you ever had a disruption that led to a blessing? Would you share it with me in the comment section below?

While there are so many things not to like about the last couple months of the shutdown of sports and gatherings, stay-at-home orders, closings of businesses and restaurants, social distancing, shortage of toilet paper and more, I hear people talking about a few things they do like.  I’ve been listening to my friends writing and talking about cooking and eating dinner together at home with their families, enjoying walks, bike rides and table games in the evenings and not needing to rush off to soccer, dance, baseball, gymnastics, rehearsals and practices or tournaments and competitions on the weekends. In summary, they like the pause of over-loaded schedules and the slower pace of daily life.

Back in the 1950’s, cardiologist Dr. Meyer Friedman was doing research on the causes of heart disease.  Dr. Friedman was the one who identified the “Type A personality” – the urgent go-getter who finds it hard to slow down.  During that same time period, he coined the phrase “Hurry Sickness” and defined it as, “a behaviour pattern characterized by continual rushing and anxiousness; an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency.”  And that was during a time period before microwaves, internet, email, texts and smart phones existed.  Don’t forget that the sales pitch of technology in our time is that we will be able to think faster, talk faster, and act faster. 

Reflection Lake in the Mt. Rainier National Park
(GingerichPhotoArt.com displays Dennis’ most preferred way of slowing the pace)

Cory Demmel, my successor at Cape Christian, asked the question last week in his message, “Is the Pace OF my life draining the Peace IN my life?” That’s a great question for all of us to ask ourselves during this time as we see hopeful signs of restrictions being lifted, businesses unlocking their doors and life going back to “normal.” But what if we created a new normal that paid attention to the pace of our lives?

What if, this pandemic experience is a providential opportunity for us to re-examine a way of living that we have never even thought to question?  What if hurry sickness has caused greater loss than COVID-19? What if the great American myths of “If you work harder, I will get everything I want,” and “The busier I am the more productive or successful I must be” are just that, myths?  What if the pace of my life is draining the peace in my life?

Pastor Cory Demmel made a memorable statement that I won’t forget: “Most of our problems are either caused or made worse because we are going too fast, for too long.”  Think about it.  Our relationships suffer when we no longer have unhurried conversations.  Our finances suffer when we get in a hurry, are impulsive and don’t take time to make a well-informed decision. Our health suffers when we don’t get enough rest, take a day off each week or take vacations. The best advice I received over 30 years ago was from Rick Warren when he said, “Divert Daily, Withdraw Weekly and Abandon Annually.”

Here’s the problem.  When you’re in a constant state of urgency, your brain is stuck in a constant state of fight or flight mode. You’re flooded with cortisol and it’s difficult to access the executive level functions in your brain.  “Working at breakneck speed for extended periods of time does not enhance productivity; it reduces it,” says Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! “When we work too fast for too long, we get tired, become inefficient, make mistakes, and become unable to think clearly and sharply.”

Let’s choose a new normal going forward. We need to find the sweet spot in the tension between periods of busy achievement and periods of ease and enjoyment.  It will take intentionality. Practice doing something slowly, like eating a meal over a period of 30 minutes, without checking your phone.  And deal with the fear of what might happen if you slow down and pace yourself.  If you don’t get everything done today, what will happen?  Not everything is life-and-death.  Ask what is the best and the worst that could happen if you slow down and pace yourself?

Don’t forget, even Jesus found that the high demands of crowds of people wanting his help didn’t require him to always say “yes” to them. Mark 6:45-46 is one of multiple examples where he told the crowds to go home as he slipped away alone on the side of a mountain or out on a boat, recharging and finding peace.  Jesus realized that his pace predicted his peace. If Jesus modeled it, I choose to follow the same pattern.  How about you?

Dennis

P.S. If you want to watch Pastor Cory Demmel’s excellent message on pace, go to https://vimeo.com/411581301

QUESTION: I’d love to hear how you intentionally slow down your pace of life? Please share it in the Comment section below.

Have you ever thought about getting a new vehicle (truck, car, boat or motorcycle) and all of a sudden you start seeing that dream vehicle everywhere you go?  There are way more of them on the road or in the water than you previously noticed?  Somehow, your focus determines your reality.

The other day, I heard Mark Batterson talk about something that made this “focus determines reality” concept come alive for me.  He was speaking about the reticular activating system (RAS), a short, pencil-sized piece of the brain located just above where the spinal cord is attached to the brain.  It acts as the gatekeeper of information between most of our sensory systems and the conscious mind.  It is the attention center in the brain. It is the key to “turning on your brain” The RAS filters out unnecessary information so the important stuff gets through. In the same way, the RAS seeks information that validates your beliefs.  I did some research and learned you can deliberately program the reticular activating system by choosing the exact messages you send from your conscious mind. For example, you can set goals, or say affirmations, or visualize your goals.  It’s very fascinating to me.

In so many ways, our focus becomes our reality.  If I focus on the blessings in my life, I will generally see more good things happening around me.  If I focus on a negative happening in my life, I will usually see lots of other negativity in my environment.  We’ve all experienced this.  Our focus becomes our reality.

We’ve all met them.  People who see the bad in everything.  A couple weeks ago, I posted on social media a few celebrative pictures of our care team at Cape Christian saying “thank you” by delivering 120 dozen donuts to many of our frontline medical workers.  Our team went to our local hospital emergency department, the medical personnel who are caring for the COVID-19 patients and about a dozen other doctor offices across our city, expressing appreciation to them for their dedicated service.  In the middle of all the positive comments, an individual posted a critique about one of the pictures, questioning if the volunteers were too close to each other and possibly not properly following the social distancing rules.  There was no mention of the blessings to hundreds and hundreds of medical workers.  Only criticism from a negative person that didn’t even look closely at the picture.  I knew the setting where the picture was taken and looked carefully to see that there was significant distance between the volunteers by the way they were staggered from back to front.  But focus becomes reality.  This same individual found something negative in another positive post of mine about 18 months ago.  Focus becomes reality.

And then we have all met the person who sees something positive in everything.  They see the dark clouds of a thunderstorm and they immediately look for the rainbow.  They are like my dad who would often say on his later birthdays in his upper 80’s, “I’m not complaining about getting old, it’s a lot better than the alternative.”  Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re correct.”  Focus determines reality.

This is not a new concept.  Rewind back two thousand years ago and read Apostle Paul’s story and writings.  He was positive in the middle of all kinds of difficulties. One particular time, while he was in jail for sharing his faith in public, Paul wrote about how to reduce anxiety and find peace in the middle of a crisis.  He wrote, “So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.  Follow the example of all that we have imparted to you and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” Philippians 4:8-9 (The Passion Translation).  Focus determines reality.

What are you focusing on during this challenging time of a new normal?  In this time of crisis, the first thing I’ve been trying to focus on is solving the new challenges that exist with all the changes.  Secondly, I’m doing my best to leverage the new opportunities that this crisis brings.  That’s it.  Those two things.  My goal isn’t to just try to survive this season.  My goal is to be aware of the opportunities that will make be better on the other side. I never want to waste a crisis.  There is always something to learn and there are always ways I can grow when there is pressure in my life.  Pressure reveals what is on the inside.  Do I like what is being revealed or is it an opportunity for growth and change? What I focus on will become my reality.  And the same for you.

Blessings and Peace to You and Your Loved Ones,

Dennis

QUESTION: What are some ways you have found helpful to stay positive during difficult times? We would love to learn from you. Share them in the comment section below.

Change is inevitable. Just when you think you’re getting comfortable transition occurs. If you treat tomorrow as if it was yesterday, then you will miss out on the value of transitions.  We tend to think that people go through seasons of transition and seasons of staying the same. However, everyone, including you, is constantly changing! 

Our emotions, bodies, minds, relationships and environments are continually transitioning.  That couldn’t be more evident than right now during this COVID-19 pandemic.  The reality that everyone and everything is in transition is obvious.  Protocols and procedures for medical personnel and other first responders are in transition.  Businesses are in transition.  Churches are in transition.  Restaurants only serve curbside.  School is online.  Nothing is static.  Everybody and everything is in transition.  And, you were created to be dynamic.  Once we accept this, we’ll be able to make the most of the change happening right now—today!

This season of our lives, our community, our country and our world is unique and unsettling.  But the truth is, while we notice it more and it has all transitioned quickly and significantly in a short period of a few weeks, everything has always been in transition.  You are not what you were yesterday.  Tomorrow will be different than today.  I’m thinking differently now than I did a few months ago.  I’m responding to people different than I did a few weeks ago. I value my face-to-face connections to my family differently than I did a month ago.  I now see the importance of certain routines and practices that I previously took for granted.  Because, I’m in transition.

Think about it.  My mind is in transition.  My body is in transition (I have more wisdom highlights in my hair than I had a year ago).  My emotions are in transition.  My relationships are in transition. My marriage is in transition.  My children and grandchildren are in transition.  Literally, everything around me is in transition. However, when I become conscious of the reality that everyone around me is also in transition, it helps immensely.  We are in this transition time together. 

There’s something about life where it refuses to keep you in a stagnant place. Life is often a rollercoaster of ups and downs, a ride of love, laughter and tears. Whether you’re preparing for a new baby, about to make a career leap, taking care of your parents, or emerging from the ashes of a relational wreck, life is always prodding and pulling on us to grow. Either you will get complacent or life will force you to make a maneuvering change.  Many of us have been rudely required to a transition we didn’t invite or welcome.  

But let me suggest this, while there’s a learning curve to preparing for the sometimes sudden transitions in life, expecting change will come is half of the battle. All good comfort zones must come to an end. Life will never let you get too comfortable and just when you think you have everything all figured out, you will be confronted with something that challenges your coveted, familiar comforts. The worst thing we can do is get complacent and comfortable, because that usually means life is coming to shake things up.  This time around, we have been in a shake-up that most of our world never saw coming.

This is what helps me most during transition.  We have a God whom we can turn to that understands our reluctance toward change.  James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” James 1:17.  God’s character never changes.  He is always good, faithful, caring and the ultimate example of love.  His power never changes.  His promises never change.  His purpose never changes.  And, He will always provide the anchors of strength, safety, stamina and serenity for us when we lean into Him.

Transition and change?  Don’t fight back, but instead give in. Don’t keep reaching and stretching back for the past.  Instead, move along with the changes and transitions.  You’ll be a much healthier person.  Learn to channel all the emotional energy over the anxiety of change into productive energy that propels you onto the next level.  There is no growth in comfort.  There is no growth without change.  Embracing transition is never easy but always good for us.  

P.S. – One of my mentors, Sam Chand, wrote a great blog on mastering eight types of transition several months ago.  Here’s the link: Mastering Transition

This is new territory for all of us.  Unexpected, unplanned, uncertain, unpredictable—all are words that describe my feelings about this new reality created by COVID-19.  Especially for those of us who are in public service, medical care, business or ministry leadership… we tend to step up, gear up, adapt and adjust so we can carry out our responsibilities in this unprecedented experience happening in our world right now.  

Our priorities have been shifted around.  Protocols and procedures have changed.  Delivery of our products and services have transitioned. But let me suggest one priority that should not get pushed to the bottom of the ever-changing list of responsibilities.  If we are going to help others deal with the uncertainty and change happening, we need to practice good self-care.  If we don’t care well for ourselves, then we compromise our ability and capability to care for others—in the workplace, in our community and at home. 

The Milky Way barely visible between the clouds at Blind Pass on Sanibel Island, FL

Here are a few practical suggestions that can help with the necessity of self-care during this unusually stressful time:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of a connection with God.  Regardless of your faith story or personal spiritual journey, you are more than a physical, emotional being.  Every human is designed to link up with our Creator.  This is literally your “lifeline.”  How else could one explain the desperate pleas, the bargaining, the crying out to a Supernatural power that goes on in every human being in moments of deep need or crisis?  That is a part of our design—a connection with God.  You can nurture that connection during this season with prayer, Scripture reading, inspirational blogs and online worship (https://capechristian.com).
  •  Get outside daily.  I walk two miles every morning while the sun is preparing to come up.  Birds are singing.  Spring has not cancelled its bloom.  Sunshine, clouds, a fresh breeze and some greenery are good for the soul.  Walking or working out daily is good for the body and spirit.  All of the “happy chemicals” of Endorphin, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin are released into every part of our being. 
  • Practice Gratitude.  List the top three things that you are grateful each day.  Gratefulness is one of the keys to overcoming anxiety.  It reminds us to focus on our blessings and not our burdens.  Gratitude energizes hope.  
  • Stay connected to family and friends.  Phone calls, texts, email, Facetime, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Google Duo or whatever works for you.  Use this time to check on neighbors who are especially vulnerable.  Relationships are extremely valuable in the middle of crisis or forced isolation.
  • Monitor your rest.  Plenty of sleep will keep your immune system strong.  Practice healthy bedtime routines.  Limit your blue light (screen) exposure late in the evening.  I set my iPhone to automatically move toward a warmer light in the evening.  My goal is at least 7-8 hours hours of solid sleep.
  • Limit the information intake.  It just isn’t healthy to listen to non-stop reports of infections and deaths from COVID-19.  Get your daily update and then move on to something uplifting.  None of us need a constant feed of fear.
  • Be intentional about hydration.  When we are distracted by all the news and out of our routines, we sometimes forget the simplest things.  Staying hydrated is good for the body and helps flush out the toxins.  Drink lots of water. Be extremely careful about the temptation to increase your intake of stimulant or relaxant beverages due to the changes in schedule or extra stress. 

Baby Burrowing Owl in Cape Coral, FL (www.GingerichPhotoArt.com)

  • Do something fun.  Play a game.  Work a puzzle.  Watch a comedy.  Create a craft project.  Cook something special.  Go fishing.  Go kayaking.  Listen to your favorite music.  Go through old photos.  Or in my case, I create photos because that is my go-to hobby and stress-reducer.  Week before last, I called a photographer friend and we each drove separately out to Blind Pass (practicing social distancing) as we captured the Milky Way from 2-5am. Earlier this week, I spent a couple hours at sunrise sitting in my car 15 feet from a Burrowing Owl’s nest, getting some shots of the newly hatched fuzzy babies checking out their new surroundings.  Last night, I traveled to a nearly vacant marina to photograph the rising Super Moon.

It’s not possible to continue caring for or leading others if we are not taking care of ourselves.  Be intentional about taking care of your own body, soul and spirit.  Self-care is not selfish, it’s healthy.  It must be at the top of the priority list during times like this.

QUESTION: What are your most helpful practices of self-care? Sharing your experience below in the comment section will move someone else toward self-care. Thank you! ~ Dennis

This is a slightly edited version of a weekly “Chaplain’s Chat” that I did recently for the employees of Cape Coral Police Department where I serve as Lead Chaplain — Dennis

You don’t have to be a police officer or a communications call-taker to know that when stress goes up it also puts pressure on many of our relationships.  Turbulent times stress our relationships.  Couples tend to fight more, neighbors can be touchy, teens and parents battle when quarantined in the same home for days on end, and even grocery store brawls erupt over the last bundle of toilet paper.  Loads of cortisol and adrenalin get dumped into our systems through constant negative news, fear of the future, potential loss of job or the demands of extra work brought on by the current pandemic.  Even the word pandemic brings stress because it feels like it’s a combination of pandemonium and epidemic (it’s actually a combo of “pan” as in broad-based and epidemic).

However, these circumstances present us with extraordinary opportunities to deepen our most important connections, both professionally and personally.  Let me encourage you to be intentional about strengthening your relationships during this time.  And do know what one of the most powerful tools are for doing this?  Asking great questions.

As simple as it may sound, asking great questions is one of the very best ways to strengthen your relationships. Think about it.  We’ve all met that person who rarely stops talking about themselves.  If you have no one in mind, I’m sorry to break the news to you but you might be “that person.”  And you aren’t very self-aware.  All joking aside, you aren’t usually drawn toward spending more time with the person who doesn’t ever let you get a word in edgewise.  Or if every short story you tell leads them to tell a long story that is bigger and better than what you told; you soon start to avoid that relationship.

But if a person shows an interest in your life by asking you questions, you like hanging around them.  That’s true at work.  It’s true at home.  It’s true with friends.  We all like the opportunity to talk about ourselves, at least in moderation, right? 

Jesus was the master of asking questions.  Some of his greatest thought-provoking questions were, “Who do you say that I am?”;  “Do you believe?”;  “Do you want to get well?”;  “Why are you so afraid?”; “Why do you doubt?”; “Do you love me?” and many, many more.  He gives us a lot of help in the kind of questions to ask.  

While not at all exhaustive, let me share three types of questions to use with intentionality in strengthening your relationships:

  • Open-Ended Questions – They invite conversation, not a yes-or-no answer.  An example would be, “Are you concerned about the Governor’s new Stay-at-Home order?”  That’s a yes or no question.  An open-ended question would be “How are you being impacted by the new Stay-at-Home order from the Governor?” 
  • Fresh and Surprising Questions – They make the other person stop and think before responding.  Rather than the cliché question of “What keeps you up at night?” we could ask the more interesting question, “What gets you up in the morning?”
  • Help Me Understand Questions – This preface can lead to great conversation.  Asking, “Why did you speak to me that way?” can come across as condemning or accusing.  A “Help me to understand…” approach can communicate a desire to learn how the other person thinks and what was going on in their mind that led to a particular comment or action.  Humility with a desire to genuinely learn the other person’s perspective will bring great dividends to your relationships.

There’s much more to be said about asking powerful and effective questions, but this is a start.  It takes effort to develop strong questions.  But good questions always lead to closer connections to those we work with and do life with.  Rewarding communication leads to reduced stress.  Healthy conversations lead to growth in our relational bonds.  Stronger relationships outfit all of us with greater resilience to withstand the challenges we are confronted with these days. 

May God’s grace be more than enough each and every day for this journey ahead ~ Dennis

P.S. – I’d love to hear (in the Comment section below) how you are using questions to strengthen your relationships.

This is an exceptional time in history.  The COVID-19 virus has entire countries paralyzed, borders shut, flights cancelled, businesses closed, people confined to their homes.  I spoke with a friend from Germany this morning and he told me 650 people died in their neighboring country, Italy, just yesterday.  I don’t know how many usually die in Italy each day. But just hearing a statement like that along with all the other 24-7 “breaking news” bulletins about the Coronavirus outbreak, spreads the most contagious virus of all—fear.  Fear brings worry. And worry is like a plague to our body. It attacks our mind, then our heart, and over time, it can consume our overall health. Continuous worry leads to a state of anxiety, where you rarely have periods of the day when you aren’t worried.  A lot of people in our world, our community, our families—are worried right now.

One of my long-time mentors, Dr. John C. Maxwell, said it so well.  “The Pessimist complains about the wind.  The Optimist expects it to change.  The Leader adjusts the sails.”  You may not see yourself as a leader.  Your title may not be boss, supervisor, owner, president, pastor, doctor, sergeant, chief or CEO.  But anyone who influences anyone else is a leader.  Teachers are leaders.  Parents are leaders. Cops are leaders. Store clerks are leaders. Older siblings are leaders to the younger ones in the family.  Leadership is influence.  How are you doing at leading right now?

The wind is blowing.  It may not be in the direction we would like it to be. Truthfully, it’s rather stormy in our world right now.  We can complain.  We can do nothing except hope maybe something will change soon.  Or, we can adjust the sails.  What does adjusting the sails look like for you in your situation?  Here are four things that can help.

FLEXIBILITY – those who are willing to break out of their routines and habits will see the best results at a time like this.  The old saying is, “those who are flexible won’t get bent out of shape.”  The sails on a boat are not fixed and rigid for a reason.  They are meant to be adjusted to maximize the performance of the sailboat.  Whether it’s dealing with the kids who are home from school for an indefinite period of time, a job that is now uncertain, closed beaches, a shortage of toilet paper, travel bans or who knows what, flexibility will definitely help.

FUN – Don’t forget to have fun during this season.  There’s a time to be serious but laughter, exercise, and pleasurable activities release the “happiness” chemicals (Endorphin, Dopamine, Serotonin & Oxytocin) into our brains and bodies.  For sure, stress will release plenty of cortisol and adrenaline into your body.  This become a vicious cycle: your hormones cause anxiety, the anxiety causes more hormones to be released, and so on.  Fun will counteract and offset the stress.

FORGIVENESS – Remember that being anxious, afraid, worried and stressed can create extra frustrations with others.  Be patient.  Be kind.  Forgive frequently.  Scripture reminds us, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if an any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).  Forgiveness also releases the happiness chemicals into your body.

FAITH – We are more than just physical and emotional beings.  We are designed with a spiritual component of that is designed to link up with the Creator of the Universe.  Trusting in God is key in reducing fear and worry.  “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2) Apostle Paul wrote.  He also added, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5b-7).  As in any relationship, the closer we are to God, the more we are assured we can trust him.  This pandemic didn’t catch God by surprise.  What does He want you and me to learn from it?  I think if we will ask and then listen, He will give us some answers. 

So, how will you adjust your sails today?  Next week?  Who in your sphere of influence needs to see or hear your calm example in the middle of the storm they (and we) are in?  What is one way you could be more flexible?  Who needs to have some fun right now? Is there anyone you need to forgive?  Are there any areas you need more faith and trust in God?  What will you do first to build more faith and trust in God?  I’d love to hear from you in the Comments section below.  Blessings!  ~Dennis

When my sons were young, I would always ask them to hold my ladder if I was changing a battery in one of the smoke detectors or a light bulb on one of our two cathedral ceilings. Now days, if my adult sons in their 40’s are visiting and something needs to be reached up high, I hold the ladder and they climb up to switch out the battery or the bulb.  And that all seems pretty normal.

In leadership, I’ve noticed it’s not so ordinary.  Instead, I see business leaders, pastors, non-profit leaders in their 60’s, 70’s and beyond still climbing the ladder and expecting all the younger people around to hold their ladder.  I don’t get it. Just look at history. Two of my favorite characters of Torah-fame, are Moses and Joshua.

For many decades during their long journey, Moses had invested in Joshua. Moses entrusted him to build an army (Exodus 17:8–13); he spoke the word of God to Joshua (Exodus 17:14–16); Moses leaned on Joshua as a servant (Exodus 24:13; 33:11; Numbers 11:28); and Joshua was always nearby whenever Moses spoke with God face-to-face (Exodus 33:7–11).  So when it came time for the Israelites to enter Canaan, Joshua was the obvious and prepared choice as the new leader for God’s mission. 

Dr. John C. Maxwell wrote in a Leadershift devotional“In a world that tells you to ‘get ahead’, it’s tempting to believe that advancing yourself is the best way to become a leader. Climbing the corporate ladder is just the price you pay—and people will understand if you have to step on a few fingers as you make your way to the top.  Except the question leaders should ask isn’t “How far can I go?”, but ‘How far can I help others go?’  Or—even better—’How far can I take the mission, and then how can I help others take the mission beyond my best work?’

These days, when I pause to reflect on my last 40 years in leadership, I sincerely believe that the best leadership decision I have ever made was to start developing a succession plan in my late 40’s and to implement it in my mid-50’s. While “climbing the ladder” may help you prove yourself in order to gain influence, I would counter that you take your leadership to a whole new level when you hold other people’s ladders as they begin their climb. In the organization I founded, others are taking Cape Christian far beyond my best work.

What about you? Are you holding the ladder for others? Are you actively working to invest in the leaders who will come after you?  Nothing is more tragic for a leader than to get to the top of the ladder and realize you’re there… all alone. Invest in others. 

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:

Who held your ladder for you as you climbed it to where you are now? How did their help encourage and better prepare you for what lay ahead?

Who in your life stands out as someone specific to invest in helping to climb their ladder? How will doing so help your overall mission? 

I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

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