Grandma’s Empty Story Chair

Grandma's Empty Story ChairMy favorite chair sits empty today, crowded in by boxes of stuff I collected over the years. Some of it will see its demise in the dumpster out back, while the more contemporary pieces will be given a home thanks to a local mission or charity.

When I left this world, I was freed from the days I spent in darkness. Having perfect sight again makes this new life extraordinary. My skin is silky smooth and my new body has no stretch marks from the excess weight I once carried on earth. I wish my great grandkids could see me this way.

I can barely remember the fear in the little one’s eyes as she reached out to touch my aged, wrinkled skin. The discoloration from medication gave my arm an eerie and deathly bluish shade. The texture alone was enough to startle any three year old, but I was glad she screwed her courage to the sticking place.

My heart raced with joy when her soft fingers touched my fragile skin. Caution was quickly voiced from my kids for my skin could be too easily torn—but I needed my great granddaughter’s touch regardless of the risk. Her loving, yet hesitant touch, gently slipped away and I fell back into my distant prison of old age. Always feeling alive, while trapped in a decaying body that no longer responded as I willed.

Now, glancing at my empty chair brings a subtle note of joy. I was glad for the opportunities I had, although few, to share stories from a time long ago. My son listened attentively to each tale and responded with questions that taxed my memory, as he searched for enough detail to remember my younger years going forward.

My daughter was also eager to learn more about my life including the love interest I had before meeting her father. She was the most empathetic person that listened to my stories and understood the value of each object I amassed over the years. The symbols were reminiscent of several life-impacting stories that I lived out and my daughter could retell most of them just by looking at the piece collected.

But today the boxes are being tossed because the grandkids and great grandkids see no value in any of it. My stories are fading as each representation rusts away or turns to dust. My empty story chair will soon be pitched, as its worn-torn look no longer matches the decorative styles of the day. And with it, I’m afraid family members will no longer cherish my remarkable stories.

Oh, my daughter will continue to share several stories, and my son will even share a few, too. But even he will one day contemplate the waning interest by his children and their kids. His time will become finite and he will have to choose between sharing one of my wonderful stories or making sure his grandkids listen to one of his. I would never wish that frustration on him.

Instead, if I could encourage him right now, I’d say…

Grandma’s story chair is empty and the artifacts surrounding it no longer speak of the thrilling life I led, so say goodbye to me once again, not fearing that I’ll permanently fade from your memories, and speak into the lives of your kids, grandkids and their kids. For you are of great value to me and I want your stories to resound with compassion and wisdom that will bless our family for generations to come.

NOTE: The sketch illustration was created by CJ in an attempt to make his story feel real. While not an illustration artist, CJ used his Bamboo drawing tablet to sketch elements from his mother’s living room.

© 2017 by CJ Powers
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Dialog must be Relational

Conversation is about Relationship, Not Information.

pexels-photo-89873There are talkers and there are listeners that will hopefully never meet. They’re missing the chief cornerstone of relationship when only focused on half of the equation. Talking and listening actively is relationship.

Talkers can never learn or be satisfied until they listen equally as well. The listeners will bust at the seams until they share the valuable information stored within their heart. Communication is the only relational tool that unites the human race and forms culture.

During one film shoot, I directed a group of actors who were very different from their characters. The joy on set was high, as the talent played with roles that stretched their imagination beyond the stereotypical. After great contemplation they delivered heartfelt performances that opened our eyes to new perspectives.

One woman, who was an intellectual, played a ditzy blonde type that had a heart for kids. Her research brought the perception that “ditzy” was based on circumstances of how the person addressed the unknown. Curtailing the stereotype, she resisted playing the person that when jolted by a comment would say the first words that came to her.

She entered the scene as a brunette who led with undefined empathy, which became clear by the end of the scene. The actor’s choice gave the feeling of “ditzy,” but without showing a lack of intelligence. This resulted in the character coming across as empathetic and what I called squishy-warmhearted.

This empathetic quality came out because of the conversation between her and another leader. The dialog revealed the heart of both people and their relationship. It was more than just an exchange of information. The expressions of each character’s souls were on the line, demonstrating their courage in conversing.

Ursula K. Le Guin in her essay titled “Telling is Listening” published in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, shared the following complexities of human communication:

“In most cases of people actually talking to one another, human communication cannot be reduced to information. The message not only involves, it is, a relationship between speaker and hearer. The medium in which the message is embedded is immensely complex, infinitely more than a code: it is a language, a function of a society, a culture, in which the language, the speaker, and the hearer are all embedded.”

The film was powerful because each character did more than communicate information. Their expressions and backstory came through in how they presented each comment. Even their reaction shots revealed how they were impacted through the courageous interchange.

The audience was mesmerized and fascinated by the dialog, not because it was written well, but because of how it was crafted using the embedded elements of each character within the exchange. The dialog was far more than words or information. It was real in everyway.

I made an interesting note the night after the shoot that read, “Dialog is about relationship, not information.” Whether a discussion occurs in real life or on screen, it is only of value if it develops the relationship. Talkers who talk without listening and listeners who listen without sharing are not interesting because they are only focused on themselves.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

A Mere Man

a mere manMy travels took me on an adventure that I’ll never forget. The wisdom I gleaned as the trip events unfolded took me from the somber depths of death to the invigorating honor of eternal life. I saw what few men today have an opportunity to witness and yet it came without pomp and circumstance.

To support a special friend of mine, one who has endured much and was still found with love in her heart toward mankind, I hopped in my car and headed off on what a map program suggested would be a five hour trip. Eight hours later I arrived at the funeral parlor where her father’s viewing had gathered countless souls.

I quietly stepped into the room. The polish on my shoes looked dull compared to the luminous look of joy on my friend’s face. We embraced, as long time friends do, and she scurried me off to meet members of her family that I had never met. Each face reflected thankfulness for my long journey and desire to be of encouragement. But it was I who was encouraged.

One sister attempted to share the value of my attendance, but her eyes suggested that her words fell short in explaining what the moment meant to her sister and family. Her eyes seemed to search for better words, but all she could do was give my hand a gentle squeeze and share a genuine smile.

Her mother received me with open arms and a warm heart. In the midst of her grieving she temporarily set her pain from the loss of her husband aside and showed me compassion. She too was generous with encouraging words and I realized that my presence meant more than any feeble attempt I might make speaking words of comfort.

The generosity of shared love within the room was overwhelming and I quickly forgot I was in a funeral parlor. Somber comments mixed with the jovial soon filled the air as people took their seats and listened to many shared life experiences with my friend’s father. Each talked about their encounter with him and the changes he instilled in their lives. And a few, after sharing their personal growth, pointed out his humorous idiosyncrasies.

Laughter filling the room did everyone’s heart good like medicine. The humble setting was permeated with honor for this man of God. All in attendance recognized his humility. Those who heeded his advice to pray and read the Word of God daily gave amazing testimonies. The number of miracles I heard caused my head to spin.

And yet, he was a mere man.

Eager to hear every life-changing story, I mingled for some time after the service ended. I listened attentively to numerous people and shared few words of my own. My confidence in this man’s legacy was resolute. He indeed was a god-fearing man that was led by the Spirit of the Living God. I had no doubt and I wanted to be a mere man, too.

Moments later I found myself chatting with a woman whose life had been ravaged for the past several years. In a last ditch effort to survive the stream of abuse she endured, she filed for divorce. Our conversation reminded her of what “life” was supposed to look like, which greatly contrasted her present conditions.

Relief came over her face and a glint of hope sparkled in her eyes. It had been too long since she had something to look forward to in life, but on this day hope welled up within her soul. She sensed that the next chapter in her life might be about beauty in place of ashes. She thanked God for our divine appointment and left with great expectations to see what He had in store for her life going forward.

“A divine appointment.” That’s what she called it. Something astonishing had happened and I knew it had nothing to do with me. I felt like a mere man.

Then it dawned on me.

My friend’s father was a man who believed in truth, spoke words of love into the lives of those around him, and made himself available to be an encouragement during their times of need. He was far more than a mere man—He was a man who chose to engage with those that needed encouragement.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Learning Leaders Commit to 3 Ideas

Plumber Attention © jokatoonsIt was a night of terrible storms that sent hundreds with flooding basements to local hardware stores for new sump pumps. The plumbing aisle was packed with eager customers, where I witnessed a leadership opportunity. The situation was volatile for the lone employee trying to respond to dozens of desperate people crowding in.

The employee (I’ll call him Bob) was a professional plumber that tried to make a few extra bucks selling supplies at night. He asked his manager to help twice, but received no help. An employee (I’ll call her Anne) from another department saw the crowd and started to help Bob. Within minutes the shelves were empty.

Bob climbed the ladder to the overstock area and passed sump pumps down to Anne. The eager crowd grabbed the sump pumps before she could set them down. Another wave of people entered the plumbing aisle and Anne called the manager for help, but wasn’t able to convince him to participate.

A continuous onslaught of people bombarded the two workers. Anne asked Bob what she should do to help and Bob quickly subdivided their workload. He sold the sump pumps, connectors and pipes, while Anne sold immersible utility pumps and hoses.

Another surge of people overwhelmed Bob with foolish questions. Their urgent agenda didn’t allow time for listening to Bob’s expert advice in solving their crisis. He acquiesced to their foolish demands, knowing they’d return within the hour.

Anne knew the ramifications and called the manager. She demanded that he help in the plumbing aisle or send two employees in his place. She hung up, to help another handful of people, before he could respond. Anne shifted over to yet another group needing help and noticed that the manager stepped into the far end of the aisle, helped one person and then left.

A short lull hit the aisle for a few minutes. During that time the manager returned and pulled Anne for other duties. He had her move cleaning supplies to the front of the store for the people’s anticipated return after their projects were finished.

Anne started setting up a display and noticed more people headed to the plumbing aisle. She immediately headed back to plumbing and the manager asked where she was going. She replied, “The aisle is filled with customers and I have to help Bob.” The manager responded in a shocked tone, ”Really?” As Anne disappeared into the aisle, the manager shouted out, “I’ll support that.”

Bob and Anne continued handing out various pumps until the shelves and overstock areas were empty – fifteen minutes past the store’s closing time.

I walked slowly toward checkout and heard the manager start to chum around with the two workers, as if he had participated in the workload. Then he exclaimed, “I can’t understand why hardly any of the pumps from the palette I put up front sold.”

“What?” shrieked Bob. “We told customers that we were out. Why would you take them up front?”

“To save them a trip to the plumbing aisle,” said the manager.

Bob countered, “But they’d have to come to plumbing anyway for the connectors.”

The next day, I purchased cleaning supplies and bumped into Bob and suggested the night before was kind of crazy.

Bob Responded, “Yeah, we sold close to a years worth of sump pumps in one night.”

“It’s a good thing you had help,” I reminded him.

“You’re not kidding,” he said. “I had just made the decision to quit and walk out, but I stopped when Anne started helping me. She was a godsend.”

“That wouldn’t have been too good of an idea, would it?” I questioned.

“What else could I do,” Bob exclaimed. “I was going crazy and my supervisor refused to help. I don’t need this kind of pressure in my life with what little I get paid. Besides, I learned this morning that there were several employees last night sitting on their hands because their departments didn’t have any customers.”

I felt for Bob and Anne. They would‘ve benefited from a Learning Leader – A leader who commits to three ideas in supporting their employees.

THE PERSON IN NEED DEFINES WHAT SUPPORT LOOKS LIKE

A Learning Leader seeks the advice of the expert in order to streamline workflow and avert crisis. Bob was the only expert that could determine the best way to handle the unexpected demand brought on by the flood. Taking advantage of the moment to learn what things should and should not happen during a future crisis will make the Learning Leader invaluable.

Bob was also the only one who could assign tasks to get everyone through the crisis. When Anne volunteered, he quickly assigned her something simple based on her background or lack thereof. Bob knew what items required Q&A to determine the best solution and what items could be supplied with little information. He was the only one in a position to define what help looked like for a volunteer.

DOING YOUR OWN THING TO HELP IS NO HELP AT ALL

The manager had no idea that he hindered sales by moving sump pumps to the front of the store – Out of sight for those making a beeline to the plumbing aisle. His idea to help the customer avoid the crowds was illogical because of the needed connectors. Had he first asked Bob, “What can I do to help?” Bob would’ve told him to hunt for every pump in the overheads and loading dock, and bring it to the middle of the aisle for customers.

The Learning Leader would’ve gained the knowledge that in a crisis everyone heads to where the answer resides, not where the product is stored. The vast majority of people headed to the expert to learn what they needed from the shelf. A Learning Leader would’ve realized that his expert was important to the customer looking for a solution, which could then be pulled from the shelf by any volunteer.

GIVE KUDOS TO EMPLOYEES FOR AVERTING (NOT SURVIVING) A CRISIS

Comraderie is common after a crisis especially if the employees commiserate together. However, its more profitable for the manager to encourage everything the employees did in advance that prevented a greater crisis. These elements can be easily picked up by a manager willing to listen to what could’ve been done better or what was averted because of Bob’s common practices.

A Learning Leader would immediately follow up a crisis with questions about what worked well and what daily preparation diminished the crisis. This is the opposite of the manager looking for attention. He would rather speak of how he and his team put out a fire – The sexy thing to do when vying for a promotion.

Only leaders that are willing to learn from their people know how to manage during a crisis. They learn what helps and doesn’t hinder. They also gain wisdom for next year’s crisis.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers