Critical Tasks of a Leader

As I learn about Lawrence Chamberlain and his faith in Christ, I note the letter he composes to his  wife when he believes his own death nears. He describes Christ as his all-sufficient savior and the peace his heart knows as a result of being forgiven by God.

Chamberlain survives and works for the healing of the nation as a true leader. In battle, I learn how, in the “fog of war” when we can’t see clearly, we do three things no matter what that Chamberlain demonstrates: care for people well, keep courage, and inspire fearless action. I think of one of the first Bible verses I loved from Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and of good courage, for the Lord your God goes with you. He will not fail or forsake you.” I think of what it means to serve as a courageous shepherd.

We study about what it means to bring those we lead into great, loving community that doesn’t end there. The goals of community focus outward to the battle, to the mission.

Good leaders devote themselves to the welfare of people and foster courageous action.



Learning from Battlefields

I’m in Gettysburg this weekend, and last night, I learned again the critical value of that first glance of terrain. The army that secures the high ground gains certain victory; they win clear vision, gravity’s assistance, time, and morale.

I consider what it means to gain the high ground in spiritual battle. I think about the high ground of understanding a view from eternity, about knowing scripture well, about seeing how the enemy advances, and about taking decisive, confident steps forward.

So much about the course of the three day battle of Gettysburg hinged on vantage point. So much depended on gaining high ground. One of my counselors told me the value of studying warfare tactics in our battle against the enemy of our souls. Nothing compares to seeing clearly, with the mind of Christ, from the high ground of scripture.


Teaching Joy

When students gain confidence as writers, some beautiful things start happening: They hold up their parade of Instagram posts to brag about vivid verbs and semicolons. They report writing risks like submitting articles for publication, and the class cheers for each other when they see their writing in print in the college newspaper.

They send thoughtful emails that they just might consider writing more because they enjoyed the Signature Story so much. They just might write more personal essays not required of them in class, and they just might send them along to me for feedback.

They begin inhabiting the writing life.

They say things like, “I really thought I could write before this class. But now I know what it means to write.”

They stand by my desk, laptops propped open like shark jaws balanced on their palms, and they point to the screen to celebrate a colon, an isolated sentence, and a perfect use of parentheses.

They send me links to something they read online because they noticed the authentic written voice. You’ll love it! Read this! Tell me what you think. 

They insist I read how complex that last sentence became–not just because of grammar, but because of how the grammar made the insightful thought come out on the page.

The writing lessons get to them. They get in them.

And now, they write what they alone can say.


Preparing for the Season

We ready ourselves for the changing seasons. Soon, the Pennsylvania landscape will explode with reds, yellows, burgundies, golds, and oranges. The valley will soon stun us all with autumn color.

We pull out the harvest decorations, the spiced candles, and the apple cider. We prepare different meals of rich soups and warm bread. We snuggle into the house after crisp evening walks. We paint acorns and leaves. We rake leaves into piles for jumping, and we’ll catch falling leaves for good luck. We’ll watch football and sit around the fire pit.

We’ll fall into fall. We’ll capture every sight, sound, smell, and taste of it.


Not Picking. Catching.

The raspberries grow so plump and heavy on the stalks that picking them becomes more like catching them. Coming near the harvest, I lift the leaves and let the berries fall into my bowl.

Sometimes, the fruit God ordains for our lives comes so easy, like we’re resting under a bough that delivers abundance into our hands. Other times, we wade through thorns and predators to gather what God appoints. We spend time preparing the soil, sowing seeds, nurturing the plants, and then harvesting. It’s labor. It’s hard but so rewarding. And then, some years, we work little but harvest much, and it’s a different feeling of reward.

I’m thankful for all kinds of work and all kinds of rest. I’m thankful for every kind of harvest.



Great Joy

I read in Psalm 126: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

I love thinking back on the “great things” the Lord has accomplished in my life, in the lives of others, and throughout the whole history of Israel to this very day. I think of the “great thing” of salvation and righteousness extended to us. I think of the the “great thing” of God’s presence and how He “gives the Spirit without limit” (John 3).

How could we not know joy? I’m so thankful for joy!


Travel Notes

Along with the rest of us weary 5:00 AM travelers in Asheville, I complain that the single coffee stand in the regional airport failed to open. How unified we all become in our bewilderment! No coffee? How? We strangers laugh about our addiction, embarrassed for our dependency. Together we deplane in Charlotte to race to the first coffee shop.

Traveling all day on little planes and roaming airports both tiny and enormous, I talk to people about their lives. I learn about careers and grandchildren. I hear about the time someone met Taylor Swift and about a high school senior trying to decide between Davidson and Boston College. Or maybe she’ll decide on the small school in Minnesota. I’m fully invested in her journey and learn about her dogs and the canoe trip she once took in Ontario (the one she wrote about for her college essay).

I learn from a grandmother about raising all her teen daughters whose best advice is to be “hard.” She says, “Make it so you aren’t their friend. Later, when they leave the house, they’ll be your best friends. But now, play it hard. Don’t let them mess around. Watch them like hawks. They won’t like you at all. And then they will.”

I take notes on all I’m learning. I munch on pricey chocolate and wait to board the smallest plane back to my life on land.

But mostly, I think of the joy of knowing people, of seeing the landscape below, and of noting how the sun rose up behind the North Carolina mountains, making everyone one of us turn gold.


Your Old Places

After the funeral of a truly extraordinary woman, Libby Miller, I went to the reception at Camp Greystone. I walked back to my first cabin with my first camper who happened to attend the funeral too. We both stood there in front of Cabin 5, both 23 years older.

I thought of the passage of time as I breathed in the scent of the camp that smelled just as I remembered. I thought of myself all those years ago and what it meant to have Libby help me grow. Now, standing next to the grown woman I knew as a young girl, I thought of Libby’s investment in the next generation. And I realized I want to live the rest of my life helping others grow. 


Your Pumpkin Update

With the hot, sunny days and crisp, cool nights, these pumpkins thrive. We’ve cut back the big leaves to give the pumpkins full access to the sunshine. And the results:


Turndown Service for Your Family

Lately, I’ve been joking that, since my daughters no longer want to be “tucked in” because they’re staying up late with homework, I might provide a “Turndown Service” like at an exclusive resort. No one ever turns down the Turndown Service! Just like the Warm Welcome after school (candles lit, fun music, a snack, and beverage), the Turndown Service contains certain activities actually taught in the hotel management field of study.

It goes like this:

The Turndown Service includes a quick tidy of the bedroom, helping to reset it for the next day. It involves, most essentially, that you turn down the sheets and comforter and plump the pillows to invite sleep; you spray lavender on the pillows; you provide a cool drink of water; perhaps you play soft music, set a fan on, or open the window for the evening breeze. And, just like at a hotel, you can announce breakfast possibilities. I’ve also learned that part of exceptional Turndown Service includes arranging slippers and providing a “turndown gift” of some kind of treat. While I don’t provide chocolates, mints, or any kind of toiletries or towels folded into exotic birds, I do love the idea of leaving a little love note on the pillow.

I would have been a great hotel manager! I love the Turndown Service.

What began as something silly to treat family members like royalty in a resort (and to spend some time with my daughters before I went to bed) now has become a lovely evening ritual. And it feels like another way to live with flair.