Life Includes Necessary Endings

IMG_0349I love this time of year for many reasons. It is a wonderful time to celebrate life, enjoy relationships and look forward to a new year, which could mean a new “do over” if we felt the past year was tough. I especially enjoy taking time to reflect on what I would change and how I will strive to be a better person next year.

Added in the mix this year is my love for my crazy dog, Louie! This time last year, we had been together for a couple months and were still figuring each other out. Now, I look at him and wonder what his life would have been like had we not met. We still have a lot of work to do together, but I believe he is so much better off today than he was this time last year.

I am also reminded of the relationships I no longer have. Louie would not be with me if I still had my sweet little Bichon, Cece. And what would life be like if my mom and dad were still alive to see MY grandchildren? Both my parents have been gone 20+ years, yet I still miss them and remember clearly the Christmases we shared.

Our little Cape Cod home nestled in a suburban cul-de-sac brimmed with energy for weeks, beginning with Christmas Eve. We would have a large celebratory meal and all eight of us would pile into the Edsel to go midnight mass. Afterwards, family and friends would come to our home while we kids were hustled off to bed so we wouldn’t “delay” Santa.

We would awake predawn and run down the stairs. We realize now that our parents stayed up all night putting toys and bikes together to surprise us. With six children and a father who was an officer for Cincinnati Police Department, that was a magical feat in itself. But surprise us, they did. And there was always a really “big” gift that would take our breath away at the end of our wrapping paper frenzy. Even our faithful dog, Smokie, would join in on the fun discovering the dog treats my mom wrapped for him to uncover.

More family and friends would come over for a brunch that would last for hours. Once again, we’d pile in the car and head to our grandparents’ home for another large meal and fun times. We sometimes stopped at an uncle’s home and once we kids called it a night, there were even more people who would come and visit with mom and dad.

I can’t imagine how they did it all, but my mom and dad enjoyed life to the fullest, and I will always appreciate that about them. I honor their memories by celebrating Christmas with the same vigor, love, laughter and life.

Sadly, life includes necessary endings. Saying goodbye to my parents, experiencing other tragic losses too painful to mention, and bidding farewell to one too many furbabies I’ve carried in my arms means I have closed the chapter on a part of my life but am opening a door on another. Louie represents one more chapter in my life, and he brings me incredible joy. And each chapter just keeps getting better, as I’ve shared with my daughter Marisa. I’ve enjoyed every stage of her life, but I believe this stage is the best so far!

As we close out this year, I am thankful for the life with which God has blessed me. I am reminded of the life God breathed into our world through Jesus Christ and the necessary ending he allowed so that we may have eternal life and have it abundantly. I stand amazed at the humble beginnings of a King and the necessary ending of a humble servant just so you and I can live life to the fullest. Don’t let searching for things that can’t last cause you to miss that remarkable miracle.

I pray you and your family have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Louie and I will see you in 2015.

Our gift to you: The Best Stage In Life!

I’m Not Jumping Through Hoops Anymore!

Agiligty PicI’ve noticed Louie has an odd habit when we walk. He walks on the street curb like he is walking on a balance beam. And he’s quite good! In fact, many times he will run on the curb and not miss a beat. I joked with our trainer, Zig, that we should get Louie into agility training. Zig kindly reminded me that Louie would need more obedience training before he could handle an agility class.

It was wise advice, but curiosity got the better of me. I looked into a place that has an easy-to-use obstacle course where dogs chase a lead through tunnels and over bars, and they don’t need prior training. So my six-year-old granddaughter, Evi, joined Louie and I as we checked out this fun adventure.

It was obvious from the start that Louie would have nothing to do with chasing a silly lead on a wire aimed at getting him to jump or run. I’m sure if the lead had a treat on it, he might have been persuaded, but that was not part of the plan. So Evi jumped into the ring and started running with him, and the two of them had a blast. That lasted one cycle until his attention went elsewhere. Evi tried to get him to chase her, but Louie was done. He clearly was not going to jump through any more hoops and in fact, desperately tried to find a way to escape.

And escape he did. He found a small opening in the fence and took off running through the outside area that didn’t appear to be enclosed. Zig told me never to chase Louie if he gets loose because he’ll think it’s a game. But I was afraid of what could happen if he ran into the busy street. As Louie’s ears flapped in the wind and his tongue hung out to the side, the chase was on. I jumped over a small fence and ran at high speed to tackle him and bring him safely back into the ring. I did all this while yelling at Evi to stay put because I didn’t want to worry about her as well. But she was too enthralled by the sight of my running and jumping that she wasn’t going anywhere.

As we were driving home, I asked Louie, “Why do you run away from me? Do you realize if you run away I will not be behind you? You’ll be lost! Don’t you remember what it was like being on the streets all alone?” Evi chimed in with a sad face, “Yeah, Louie, that was scary. Don’t ever do that again!” I smiled as I looked at my pup through the rear view mirror, his tongue still hanging out and a big smile on his face as though he had achieved a major accomplishment. But I said, “I can’t blame you, Lou! I don’t like to jump through hoops either.” Louie sat regally staring out the window as we drove in silence toward home.

As I reflected on that incident, I realized that Louie was not going to jump through hoops or run around a path and, like most humans, he looked for the quickest escape route. I was reminded of an organization I once worked with that was one of the most toxic cultures I had ever experienced because the leader expected the employees to jump through hoops on a continual basis. What made it so toxic was that the image portrayed to the public was completely different than that of the actual culture. Every employee walked on eggshells out of fear of the employer and they knew that if they spoke the truth they could be out of a job.

Over the years, I have seen and heard about many toxic workplaces. How do you know when a culture is toxic and a leader is self-serving? It is not so easy to determine just by observing. It takes experiencing the culture and often, by the time the determination is made, the damage is done. But here are some signs:

  • People are afraid to be themselves and honest conversations are a rarity.
  • The leader works hard at displaying a perfect image outside the organization and “talks” about how great the culture is.
  • There is a revolving door of employees (Turnover numbers can be masked).
  • There is a pattern of disgruntled employees and broken relationships.
  • The team picture changes every year because the team is totally different every year.
  • When employees leave, relationships end (heaven forbid should the outside world truly know what’s going on inside)
  • Employees are nervous and stop trying to please the leader because they know nothing ever will.
  • Words of affirmation are rarely given.
  • The leader only shares stories that cast him or her in a positive light.
  • There are small blips of successes here and there but over all, growth is stagnant.
  • They cultivate an image to hide their insecurities and fears.
  • A self-serving leader reads this list and says, “Thank goodness I’m nothing like that.”
  • The servant leader reads this list and says, “But for the grace of God, there go I!”

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. There are many wonderful leaders who have a servant’s heart, and care more for others than themselves. And because they are servant leaders, their businesses continue to enjoy sustainable growth, and employees are recognized for their part in the success. Their employees enjoy going to work in the morning instead of getting that knotted feeling every Sunday evening because of what they have to face on Monday. The best servant leaders are those who have removed their egos, are authentic and focused on others . Be intentional about being a servant leader.

As for Louie…well, we’ll work on his agility. I believe Zig was right that he needs a bit more obedience training. Ok, he needs MUCH more obedience training!

VIDEO: The Great Escape!