When Sons Become Men

I had the great pleasure of having my eldest son, his wife and their children stay with me for five days over the Easter weekend. My wife is in LA visiting her family, so it was wonderful having my end of our clan with me in our empty house. Let’s face it, any holiday without family is really not a holiday at all. When they come and fill the air with that glorious chaos, it’s always a reason to pour on the love, celebrate the joy of life together and enjoy one another while that fleeting time lasts.

We see many of our kids through the year but our eldest is closest so we see his family the most. They only live about 3 ½ hours west of us, but even that short distance, and the time we spend apart, has been quite a change. Several of our kids and grandkids have always lived just down the street, a block or two away or just over in the next community. However, due to job promotions, military careers or job losses in the past two years they are all now scattered across the nation. My eldest lives in New York, another is in Georgia, another in South Dakota and the rest are in California. The family has been hit like seeds scattered in the wind and we really don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.

When we do get together with any of them it’s always a time to reconnect, get caught up and reinforce the bonds every family has to have, if they are healthy. We praise the grandkids for how they have grown. We learn about the new job and discover how the new house is going. We watch our kids and look to see how their lives and marriages are developing. Are they finding that place of peace and stable maturity? Will the lessons we taught them and the ones they learned since leaving our care last a life time? Most of all, are they happy, are they plugged into a good church and are they settled in their relationship with God?

These are profoundly important questions. They are the bedrock of solid, productive, happy families. So, when our kids are at such great distances the answers to these questions may not always be clear. Thus, when they come home, or we go there, we want to…. we have to… we need to know they are on track and moving in the right direction.  How that knowledge is uncovered may come as a surprise, but however it comes, it is essential to the well-being of dad and mom’s mental health, and the focus of our prayer life until the next visit.

During this visit my son touched me deeply in a way I had never experienced before. We had several quiet times alone together when his wife took their children to visit friends on play dates. One of those days we had breakfast at my favorite out of the way family-run diner. I then revealed the location of one of my “secret” trout streams, and then we sat in the sun and just connected on a heart to heart basis.  It was an amazing time orchestrated by God that built a memory we both will hold for a lifetime.

What impacted me deepest was the genuine wisdom my son wanted to share with me, once he discovered I was willing to listen. I stepped out of the “you’re the son and I’m the father and I have the answer” frame of reference, and allowed him as a man, to share with me what he had learned about life. He started hesitantly and with an uncertainty as to whether I would even listen. However, when I realized what he was doing, I sat back quietly and out came a flood of insight, concern and instruction that made me proud.

In all honestly, I had to fight back tears several times as he spoke. For 37 years I had seen him as a son who needed to be taught. But, in that moment I realized, though he was still my son who had made his mistakes, he had grown into a fine man who could now teach others what he had learned, and that included me. Because I decided to listen and embrace my son as a man, we were both forever changed, but I found something more, I found my place of honor!

Fathers, do your best and then let your sons (and daughters) grow up as best they can. Believe in them, and in what you have put in them. When the time is right, sit back and let them talk. Listen with an open heart and keep an attentive ear to their voice. Once they trust you enough to share what is living within them it’s amazing what can happen. As they being to speak, you will be shocked and deeply touched, as I was, at just how much they really did learn and have to offer. Why is that so important? Because, when you know your sons have become men, then you as a father find your place of honor. Trust me when I tell you that there is no better place to be!

The Power Of Choice

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My father was a very quiet man, but he also expressed his love for my mother and us freely. His undying faithfulness to his family was truly remarkable. That being said, once he made his mind up to something, that’s just the way it was. I am sure his determination came quite naturally since he was one of the last old Adirondack guides, and a Scotsman through and through. His ancestors had come from Vermont and settled our community in the Adirondacks after fighting in the Revolutionary and the Civil wars. The rugged independence, and resourcefulness they use to beat every foe, was the same strength they needed to settle this untamed wilderness.

As a result, dad’s way of looking at life, and living it, was well established through quite a few Emmons generations. In one sense, who we were as a family was almost set in place by our long family history.  Dad was a guide, a hunter and an outdoorsmen. It was his gun and fishing pole that continually put food on our table. Thus, there was an unspoken expectation that I would do the same. Don’t misunderstand me, I love the outdoors, as do all of my sons. This is just built within us. However, when I had a dramatic conversion to Christ on July 11th 1976, God took me in another direction, and that event changed everything.

In all honesty, my father did not understand my conversion, or the choice I had made to not follow in his footsteps. In fact, the power of that choice really rocked his world. I never realized just how much until years after his death. My cousin Charlie Emmons showed me a letter that dad had written to him not long before he died. As he was nearing death, dad wrote to him that I had gotten “religion”. He closed that last letter with these disapproving words, “Bill has decided to become a minister. Well, better a minister than a drunk. Far be it from me to tell that boy how to live his life”.

As hard as it was for him, it was the change that came from my conversion that deeply impacted him as well. He saw me go from being a drinker and a dope smoker to one who was totally sold out to Christ. I was his only son, and he could never get away from the power of that choice, and the change it brought. The funny thing is, because of it I learned from dad that his mother and father had also known Christ. They were “shouting Methodist” and the entire family, but him, had been saved in the late 1800’s during the great Methodist revival. That fact was something he had kept secret his whole life, and no one in the family but him knew about it. However, my salvation pulled it out of him one day as we were talking.

Six weeks before he died, dad also accepted Christ as his savior when my pastor led him to Christ. The decision to receive Jesus into his heart also changed him radically. It lifted the weight and burden of sin off him and filled him with the love and peace of a forgiving Savior. It actually gave him a hunger and a desire to read his Bible, and I had never seen him do that before. In fact I was singing “The Old Rugged Cross” one day and dad said, with a tear in his eye, that his mother used to sing that very song when he was a little boy.  He remembered her on her knees, crying and singing that song as she scrubbed her kitchen floor. The best change of all was that his salvation took away his fear about dying. It replaced everything in him with an anticipation of meeting the Lord and his whole family in heaven.

We all have the power to choose and that choice matters! Whether you know it or not, others are impacted by what you do. This is a gift that God gave to each of us and we must use it well. My hope this Easter season is that you will begin to consider the choices you make and realize they have the power to change lives. Use this power wisely because you never know what the final outcome may be. In fact, the life you change may be the very one you love the most. When everything is said and done, that makes it all worth while!

What Are You Leaving Behind?

I was in the woods not long ago, making my way to a trout stream, and stepped on a few bones that had once belonged to some small creature. It had apparently been there for quite some time as they were all bleached white from being exposed to the elements. It looked to be the remains of a rabbit by the fur that was all around, and it made me wonder what had happened here. The thought crossed my mind, “how had the animal died”?  Even more interesting to me was the idea that the bones and fur which remained actually defined how had it lived.

Whenever I come across things like this it is a sober reminder that ultimately we all end up just like that rabbit. Every one of you reading this blog will eventually be just a pile of silent bones. However, every life is a process and what we leave behind may often be a lot more than we have considered. That reality can be either good or bad, depending on how well we have lived the life we have been given.

Several months ago I did a funeral for a very dear friend and fellow minster. He was 85 and had lived a rich, well-rounded life as both a teacher and a minister. He touched a lot of lives in his classroom, and served God with all his heart in our congregation. However, as he was nearing death there were things he wanted me to take care of. Some were very personal and some were very practical, but it was clear to me he wanted to wrap them all up before it was too late. In other words, he needed me to help him make sure nothing was left behind that he would regret.

A week or so before he died, he called me on the phone and asked that I come to his bedside. When I arrived at his home he immediately shooed his wife out of the room. I pulled a chair up beside him and waited as he composed himself to share the secrets of his life and heart. During that two hours he began to bare his soul about regrets he had and mistakes he had made. Most of all he had a deep desire for his family to be united and going to the same church. This had actually happened at one point a few years earlier. However, a demonic deceiver in our congregation brought a division to the family and because of him, the family was split and some had left the church.

Our conversation touched me deeply and we both wept and prayed until he found the peace to let it all go into God’s hands. What really got to me was his concern for all the things that were left undone. Some were taken care of that very day, while others are still in process. There were things he asked me to throw out that he deemed “unsavory”, but others would never give a second thought to. There were requests to be his voice to his family at his funeral in hopes of exposing the lie that had divided them. And… there was the request to keep praying for his family until there was unity. The bottom line was simple. I wanted him to die knowing all his request would be honored and everything left undone would be taken care of.

What has been left undone in your life? If you were to die today, are there things that would be left behind you would be embarrassed or sad about? Have you put off certain tasks that really need to be taken care of? Why not make a “to do” list and post it where you will see it and pray over it daily. Put on it the things you always needed to do, or planned to do, but just never got around to. Enlist the help of others like my friend did, if necessary. Just do whatever is necessary while you still can. You might be amazed at how life changes as you check things off your list. Best of all you will find peace and be really happy about the things you are leaving behind.

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The Amazing Power Of Others

I was brought up in the northern Adirondacks and I really love the mountains, streams and lakes of that region. They have a very distinct character of their own that you just don’t find in any other region of the United States. The climate is classified as alpine and that means it has a long cold winter, lush spring and summer and a vibrant, colorful fall. This magnificent variety is what gives the area its divers character and it gives the people their rugged independence.

The code that Adirondackers have always lived by, and this includes me, is “just do it yourself ”. This iron-willed, self-sufficiency may serve a purpose in that harsh climate, but I have discovered it does not lend itself so well to building a healthy, productive, collaborative team. The problem is that the nature of people on a team quite often reinforces the “just do it yourself” mentality. They arrive late, they don’t fulfill their obligations, they neglect their responsibilities and they often have their priorities in the wrong order. In short, they just don’t do what they said they would. Thus I, or other team members, have often been forced into double duty because we had to pick up the slack.

Here is the rub. In a normal company you could fire an employee who demonstrated such behavior and no one would think twice about it. In fact they would breathe a huge sigh of relief. However, it’s not that easy when your team is made up of volunteers.  They are doing it because they want to help and the fact is they probably should be doing something else when they are helping you. The key that unlocks this difficult situation is quite simple….. it’s vision!

If a team has a clear vision, and each member understands how they play a vital part in fulfilling that vision, you have won half the battle. What is my part? Why is my part so important? How does it affect the whole team if I don’t do my part? How does it affect the organization if my part is left undone? When every person on your team can answer those questions, and believes in their importance, you have set the gold standard for excellence and this changes everything.

A genuine leader builds a team that knows what it’s there to do, and every member is fully invested in doing it. This is what unlocks the amazing power of others. No matter how skilled you are, how dedicated you are or how gifted you are, it always takes others.  It takes others for each of us to reach our full potential. It takes others for every team to fulfill their vision. It takes others to reach the high place where we all serve in excellence as one, and achieve the goal that has been set before us.

Perhaps today is the day you need to rethink your leadership strategy. Lay aside your frustrations, reject the “I’ll-just-do–it-myself” mentality, and begin to recast the vision with clarity into those around you. Take the time to consider how to pull out the untapped potential of others. If you do, you may once again find that wonderful passion you had when you first began. Best of all, you will unleash the amazing power of others to do what only they can do, and that is what team work was always meant to be.

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Critical Mass

In physics there is a term call “critical mass”. This is the amount of material needed for a specific atomic reaction to occur. Until that point is reached the reaction will not begin or be self-sustained. In the business world this same concept is called the “tipping point”. Once you hit it, things just start to happen on their own. The name actually comes from the idea of pouring water out of a bucket. Once the mass of the water overbalances the mass of the bucket it tips over from that point all on its own.

When you think about it everything, and that especially includes people, has it’s own tipping point. People are unique in this area simply because theirs is more emotional than physical. That is, they put up with things for only so long and then, “snap”, something happens and they are over the edge. When I was in 7th grade I hit my tipping point one day and it had a profound impact on me.

I was a skinny little 7th grader in a Catholic school, among other skinny little 7th graders, and into our class came Jimmy Goodman. He was a foot taller than the rest of us, he had muscles, a girlfriend and actually had to shave! In some ways we were in awe of his male prowess, but in other ways we knew he was trouble. He quickly took the “alpha male” position of the pack and the rest of us were left to pick up the scraps he left behind.

I was never a scrap eater, and even at the age of 12 it was in me to buck the system and go my own way. I did this either by stealth or by simply using my brain to analyze people and manipulate them into following my lead. Jimmy, however was too ignorant for stealth and to brutish to be manipulated. His idea of leadership was to pulverize any threat and openly challenge anyone who dared go with what he did not agree. Thus I ended up in his cross hairs more than once but quickly learned how to blend into the background and avoid trouble.

However one fine spring day I had reached my tipping point. Jimmy entered our classroom well before the nun who was teaching, and proceeded to walk down each row.  He gave every boy a sold fist in the back just to announce the fact that he was there. As he approached my seat, I could feel his eyes bearing down on me and I knew his sledge-hammer of a fist was raised and about to connect with my backbone. At the last moment I jumped to my feet and glared him right in the face. The room fell silent, and to the shock of everyone, so was Jimmy.

I heard myself saying “go ahead Goodman, show everyone just how powerful you are.. Wow you are such a big man, you can punch people. Go ahead, be a big man and punch me”. There was a momentary pause as Jimmy took a step back from this encounter with open resistance. My words had actually penetrated the thick bones of his skull and for a moment a question and a look of disbelief flickered across is eyes. Then it was gone and his fist slammed into my unsuspecting stomach. .

Every bit of  life-giving breath was driven out of my lungs. I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes and was gasping for air like a fish out of water. However, to my amazement, that act of violence had finally turned the tables. Four of the other boys in the class jumped from their seats and knocked that Neanderthal to the ground. They were on top of him, giving him a dose of his own medicine when in walked our teacher, Sister Thadeus. We were all frozen in place and fully expecting the wrath of God to fall from heaven.  To our surprise she simply gave a smile, went and sat behind her desk and after a few moments said “well….. get in your seats”.

From that day forward Jimmy Goodman’s reign of terror was over. His iron fist never hit another person. Best of all he had been outsmarted, but was unable to figure out why. That fact alone was a sweet, satisfying victory I greatly enjoyed every time I saw him.  Why did it happen? It had happened just because I finally hit my tipping point, my place of critical mass.

How about you? In your life situation when will you finally have enough and begin to do what must be done? One thing I know for sure, as long as the “Jimmy” in your life goes unchallenged,  it will continue to rule. If it’s to find a job, then go out and begin to look with fresh eyes. Reinvent yourself and look in places you have never considered before. If it’s to have favor on the job then step up to the plate and do more than what is required. No matter what it is, face your giant, step out and take a risk. You might be shocked at how good things will turn out. Yes, you may get punched, but it’s well worth the rewards that come to those who dare to try!

Your Best Investment

What would you consider to be your best investment? For some it is a portfolio of blue-chip stocks or solid bonds that have a good rate of return. These will undergo long-term, financial growth and provide a comfortable retirement. For others it is a home they purchased at pennies on a dollar. This will be “flipped” after doing some quick and relatively inexpensive upgrades. The increase in property value will net a hefty profit for the sellers in a very short time.

There is no doubt that these are both time-tested ways to invest your time and money in order to secure the future for yourself. That being said, the question I have for you is a relatively simple one, and few ever ask it. When all is said and done, and you are nearing your last days, will you be filled with a sense of deep, rich satisfaction from all your investments? For many, the answer is no!

Several years ago I began to consider this very thing. I asked myself a question and the answer I had to face was quite disturbing. What am I investing in and is it really bringing me satisfaction? The conclusion I came up with told me in no uncertain terms that it was time for a change. I felt a great void within as I began to examine how my investment choices were impacting me, and those around me. In other words, I got the shock of my life when I realized my best investment was not in a promising stock or a 401-k. My best investment was never into my own life. It was and always had been into the lives of others!

This weekend I received the amazing dividends that come from this kind of “other-centered” investment. My wife and I are frequently asked to do outside ministry. We are called upon by other pastors and leave our own church to minister in theirs. This past Saturday and Sunday is one such example. We were gone from our home church and went to Ticonderoga, in upstate NY. For two meetings several churches gathered in hopes of developing their vision and fuel their hunger to go deeper into a more Spirit-lead kind of worship. For two other meetings my wife and I preached and did prophetic ministry over many who came.

In order to do the above, two other things had to happen first. To begin with, we had to have someone minister in our own church on Sunday. Secondly, I asked the worship team from our church join us on Saturday, so we could demonstrate the things I would be teaching. These were possible for one reason only. My wife and I had taken the time to invest our lives and hearts in our spiritual sons and daughters. I can tell you with an absolute certainty that we were not disappointed.

The reports that we received from both places were wonderful. Those who came with us learned how to connect with other churches and how to help other worship teams go deeper. Those who did the Sunday morning service at our home church also did a fantastic job in our absence. Talk about a proud moment for dad and mom! Our investment had paid off in a big way and it will continue to do so for generations to come. In other words we have made a difference and we are feeling very satisfied.

If you are going through personal re-evaluation and you are wondering about your investments, this might be one place to start. What kind of return are you getting, and is it the kind you really want? If you don’t like your answer, then take heart in the realization that it’s never too late to start a new investment strategy. Begin to pour into the lives of those around you who are teachable. Encourage and water those who are growing under your care. Mentor and support those who are following in your foot steps. If you do, you will see what we have. You will behold the future unfolding before your eyes and that vision brings a satisfaction no money can buy, and no stock market crash can take. For us, this will always be the best investment!