New Year's Resolutions

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Don’t do it ! Every year about this time, many of us take a look back at the year about to close and a look ahead to the new year. Some make a list of things they’re going to accomplish or change; others don’t. My take is that we usually set ourselves up for failure. We think if we can just grit our teeth a little harder, we’ll make it work this time.

It may be just the opposite of gritting our teeth. It may be that the way to go is to loose our grip, exhale, relax, slow down, don’t sweat the small stuff, focus on what matters (people), and maintain an eternal perspective.

If you are inclined toward resolutions, give yourself a break and make them achievable. Rather than say “I’m going to lose 50 pounds or exercise every day for 365 days”, tell yourself “I’m going to exercise 3 times a week in January and see if the habit sticks”. Rather than say “I’m going to read the Bible (or other inspirational book) every day for 15 minutes whether I feel like it or not”, why not give yourself a little flexibility and accomplish about the same thing – “I’m going to read the book of Genesis in January”. Build on small successes.

Another approach (borrowed from Lou Holtz in a Wall Street Journal article from about 20 years ago) – Don’t focus so much on the coming year as on the rest of your life. What are the 100 things you want to do or see before you die ? I did make out a list back then. Without being too anal, I’ve probably gotten about halfway through it. It included world travel and signature sporting events, most of which I’ve done, to more time-consuming aspirations, like writing a book or teaching a college course, which I have not done. One item was to live in or near a world-class city. So when the opportunity arose in ’95 to move to the New York area, this list was somewhat influential in the decision to take the plunge.

It’s all about balance. There is value in goal-setting and list-making as long as they don’t become obsessions.

What are your New Year’s resolutions ? What’s on your list of 100 ?


Sunday, December 21, 2008

I want to wish everyone ______ _______. I think the debate here over words has been overblown. What matters is the sentiment behind the words. I acknowledge the tension – writing openly about my Christian faith while not imposing it on anyone. This reflects the wider debate in our society – how faith is exercised publicly without infringing on the rights of those who don’t share common views.

As a Christian, I offer a sincere wish to my non-Christian friends and colleagues for a joyful, peaceful, relaxing, memorable, fun-filled holiday time with family and friends. That’s my same wish for my Christian friends and colleagues. Additionally, we share in the celebration of the birth of Christ, who is the centerpiece of our faith.

I believe the Bible has two fundamental, inter-related themes – God’s zealous pursuit of the hearts of men and women, and Christ’s life on earth as the culmination of this pursuit. Christ is referred to as the Alpha and Omega. He is with God, the Father, at creation, when God says “Let us make man in our own image.” And Scripture closes with a plea for Christ to return. In between….

Isaiah prophesies about the suffering servant. The gospel of Matthew says that He taught as one who had authority. While He lived humbly, He did not hesitate to say who He was: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” “I am the living water; whoever drinks of the water I give him will never thirst.” “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” He was crucified between two criminals, one of whom mocked Him and one of whom pleaded: “remember me”, maybe the greatest split-second decision in history.

What does Paul say about Christ ? “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but instead emptied Himself.”

The author of Hebrews says: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His son.”

This is the One whose birth my family and I will celebrate on December 25.

The World

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sometimes it takes a while for that light bulb above our heads to turn on. I was at a conference in 1993 with hundreds of other Citibankers from all corners of the globe. The background theme song throughout was Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”. I was 38 at the time and had spent most of my life bounded by the Sabine, Rio Grande and Red Rivers. But I got to wondering if Louie was right – what if it is a wonderful world and because of my limited perspective, I’ve only tasted the tiniest sliver. So I set out to investigate.

It turns out Louie is right. People in every country share similar hopes and fears. They dream similar dreams for their children. They welcome strangers. Like Americans, people the world over are deeply patriotic and when you visit their countries and experience their cultures, you understand why.

These similarities mask one major difference – resources. The US accounts for roughly 25% of world GDP, but only about 5% of its population. We are blessed simply by virtue of our birthplace. How we choose to respond defines us as individuals and as a country. Our government doesn’t do too well, irrespective of which party is in power, but I’ll save that for a future blog.

I believe a Rwandan life or a Peruvian life or a Ukrainian life is equal to an American life in God’s eyes. Do you agree ?

And while we have poverty in the US, it pales in comparison to that found in the developing world, whose governments are frequently unable to provide the basics. No safety nets exist.

Personally and professionally, I want my effort to go where I can have maximum impact and encourage others to do the same. So who are the most marginalized, who are those without any hope that we can impact ? One of these groups is undoubtedly the world’s 143,000,000 orphans. We can make a difference – one orphan at a time; one orphanage at a time; one country at a time until there are no more orphans.

Can any one of us change the world ? Absolutely yes, although we can be even more effective when we band together. Why do I readily say “yes” to a question that often elicits skepticism ? Because we don’t usually see the ripple effect of what we do. Maybe the orphan you support today will one day lead his or her country and will do so with compassion and vision because of your generosity.

Russell Crowe captured this sentiment well in the movie, Master and Commander - “What we do in this life echoes throughout eternity.”


Sunday, December 7, 2008

When we hear the word “stewardship”, our first inclination may be to run for the hills. For many of us, it calls to mind the annual sermon on tithing. Several pastors weave in the importance of being good stewards of our time, gifts and talents, as well as our money. This is a positive and balanced way to look at stewardship, but I’d like to take it another step.

I view myself as the steward of my life; not necessarily the owner. In fact, the Apostle Paul reminds us: “You are not your own.” This may sound like nonsense to some, but to me it makes perfect sense. If we are simply the stewards of our lives, we see our lives as a gift. With that mindset, we should live for bigger purposes than ourselves, be other-centered, seek to live sacrificially, and be more motivated to make each day count. “Sacrificial” may also sound like nonsense; it sounds painful. But I think sacrifice is the secret to joy.

I digress, but I guess I can do that in my own blog. Back to stewardship.

So, how does stewardship relate to parenting, and more specifically, to being adoptive parents ? I see my wife and me in a stewardship role with respect to our three kids, who are now 21, 17 and 15. We have been given a gift; three gifts, in fact, and with these gifts, a responsibility to prepare them for life, hopefully from a balanced blend of love and discipline. We play this stewardship role for about 18 years and then our kids are unleashed to the world. By God’s grace, our mistakes are covered and our kids confidently transition to independence and to the opportunity to reach their full potential. We transition as well – from parents and stewards to counselors and friends.

Is it different with adopted kids and biological kids ? We have two adopted and one biological, so I do have a perspective. Yes and no. There’s no difference in terms of seeing each one of our three kids as gifts, as unique and equal gifts. However, two were handed to us in a very sudden fashion as nicely wrapped bundles versus the nine-month wait to deliver a baby who was pretty discolored and messy looking in the first few minutes of his life. (No offense, Sam.) Simply from the first visual and physical contact, the way a baby or older child enters one’s family via adoption may make it easier to embrace the notion of him or her as a gift. And if that’s the case, it may in turn be more comfortable to view your parental role as one of stewardship.

I encourage all of us to apply the concept of stewardship more broadly. Among other benefits, it frees us up to be responsible for the process, but puts the results in the hands of the one who gave us these gifts in the first place.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Timing is everything. As I now post just my second blog, I read Michael Kinsley’s essay in the December 1 issue of TIME where he asks: “How many blogs does the world need ? There is already blog gridlock.” This is consistent with me entering the stock market at its peak. When I get in, that’s a signal for everyone else to get out. However, now that I’ve taken the blog plunge, I plan to stick around for awhile. So…..

Do you have any regrets ? I try not to dwell on the past; I like to call to mind Satchel Paige’s advice: “Don’t look back; someone might be gaining on you.” Nonetheless, I do have two regrets. The first is that I didn’t spend a year after college traveling the world.

The second regret is that I didn’t start to think about passion until I was in my 40’s. The other side of the coin is that I am grateful that I started thinking about passion in my 40’s rather than my 60’s, 70’s or never.

I am passionate about family and about vulnerable children around the world – society’s marginalized; Jesus’s “the least of these”. To lead the Gladney Center for Adoption into the next decade is such a humbling and awesome opportunity for me, because now I wake up every day, and my passion and my job are one and the same.

In the movie “Braveheart”, Mel Gibson screams one word before he dies – “freedom”. If you were to scream one word (a noun, not a name) at the end of your life, what would it be ? For me, it would be “passion”.

Besides figuring out what we are passionate about, I think we are also called to live passionately. What does this look like ? It involves risk – it means purposely placing yourself in situations that aren’t always comfortable; that cause you to reach beyond yourself.

Tim McGraw’s song encourages us to “Live Like You’re Dying”. Good advice, since it applies to all of us. Our days are numbered. Maybe in order to live passionately, the question to be asked is: How do you want to die ? I want to die broke, having just given away my last dollar. I hope to die with no regrets. (I’m gaining ground on the two I mentioned previously.) I want to die with scars and bumps and bruises because I went into uncomfortable places. I want to collapse at the finish line, with no gas left in the tank.

Let me know if these thoughts resonate with you.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

With these comments, I am entering the blogosphere. My intent is to write a weekly blog that I hope fellow-travelers will find interesting and relevant. It’s kind of scary - like buying a stock online for the first time or using eBay.

As Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I want to reflect on gratitude. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday – Football, Food and Family. Wait… I mean Family, Football and Food. It’s a time to take a step back and acknowledge all that we have to be grateful for.

The opposite of gratitude could well be entitlement. As our kids get older, they may express their sense of entitlement - to a certain vacation or a car or the latest cell phone or iPod. But if I’m honest, I feel entitled, too. I’ve worked hard and basically stayed out of trouble. Life must owe me something. Well, I’ve learned it really doesn’t.

Chuck Swindoll reminds us that we are not in control of our circumstances, but we are in charge of our attitudes. Starting with myself, I’d like to encourage each one of us to have grateful attitudes. Hey, people say life isn’t fair and I agree ! It isn’t fair that I was born in America, have a wonderful family and never have to worry about food on the table when over a billion people around the world struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day. It’s sobering to travel to the least developed countries and see what “less than a dollar a day” really looks like.

An attitude of gratitude enables us to live from the inside out, allowing a grateful heart to release us from being captive to our circumstances. Such an attitude compels us to give back. This Thanksgiving, as we dwell on our blessings, let’s go beyond acknowledgement to response. We are indeed blessed to be a blessing to others, especially those without a voice – orphans, the homeless, the poor and destitute.

I think this mindset can apply to organizations as well as individuals. The Gladney Center has been blessed in so many ways during our 120 year history. And we strive to give back – both to our communities and to the world. In countries where we work, we are just as focused on helping children who will not find permanent homes as those who will. As you think about your response to your blessings this Thanksgiving, please consider joining Gladney on our journey to positively impact children’s lives all over the world. It’s an exhilarating and urgent adventure.