Thursday, December 11, 2014

Professional or Confessional?


I’ve been working for a living most of my life. As a kid I was a dog walker, a babysitter, a camp counselor, a waitress, a busgirl, a housekeeper, a retail clerk, and I even learned to center condiments on a sesame seed bun at MacDonald's.  I ran the dorm switchboard in college, worked for a teacher's union and a newspaper office in Tallahassee, and finally, degree in hand,  got to teach school.  I took a few years off to raise our children, but even during that season, I was always trying to find a way to make ends meet.  It’s what most military spouses do.  We put our own careers on hold, in order to make a new home wherever the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, or Coast Guard sends us.  Placing a career on a back burner costs us something. 

First it renders our resume a complete mess;  we can appear flighty, shifty, even unstable, when in fact, we followed our spouse from one course on one coast to another class on another coast and so on.  Most of us have found work, but many times it’s at a lower pay grade or we’re starting at the bottom of the totem pole time and again.  Rarely do we get to walk in the door with a shiny curriculum vitae in hand and garner the top spot.  About the time we’ve got the pecking order figured out and networked ourselves up to where we want to be, our service member walks in the door with orders in hand.  It’s a life we volunteered for, but it’s a life that takes a toll on our employment-- past, present, and future. 

Living a military life means we get to meet people from all walks of life, with many different levels of experience.  I’ve worked with folks who’ve been promoted to their level of incompetence, and I’ve worked with those who definitely hide their lights under a bushel.  In between those two extremes, the word “professional” gets bandied about with a pretty cavalier interpretation.  I’m old school.  Professionalism still means something to me.

I have my parents to thank for that.  They always demonstrated a very strong work ethic.  From the time they were teens, they worked for every thing they had, and never took their own abilities for granted. They had confidence, but they also had humility.  Humble is not a word they would use to describe themselves, but I would and do. The first characteristic of professional behavior is humility.  A true professional recognizes that every single point of contact is a human being, with talents, gifts, and abilities that are unique and special.  A professional is a good steward of those relationships, working to build them, deepen them, and create an environment of mutual respect.  Their goal is not to advance their own agenda;  their aim is to advance the mission with confidence and competence, while respecting,  growing, and developing the human resources required.

My children and I often went round and round about respect when they were little.  I told them that every adult they encountered must be respected, and as they got older and a little ornery, they would counter with the idea that the adult in question needed to earn their respect.  I admit, sometimes I would correct that attitude with a wooden spoon.  But over the years, each of my children learned that respect is not a given;  it's a gift you offer to each person you meet.  And the recipient gets to keep that gift, you don't get to take it back, unless the receiver decides to trash it, in which case you just dust off your sandals and move on.

I think everyone can act professionally, but just because a person calls themselves a “professional” doesn’t make it so.  A professional by definition is someone who has cultivated a special competence or skill;  they’ve honed their knowledge, gifts,  and talents to the extent that they are no longer mediocre at their calling;  they have become an expert.  I meet people every day who call themselves professional, but therein lies the rub.  Who gets to decide?  My neighbor’s going through a nasty divorce with an attorney who calls himself a professional but uses pretty unscrupulous business practices to advance his agenda.  My friend has an agent who calls herself a professional but has trouble drawing a line between personal ambition and professional behavior, and it’s taking a toll on everyone involved.   My daughter maintains a professional relationship with her clients, upholding her oath to behave ethically, reliably, and openly with each and every one, regardless of their material wealth or earthly goods.  My son honors every agreement he makes, knowing that a professional is only as good as his word.  Who gets to decide which one of these folks is a “professional”?    Could it be that some folks who call themselves professional are really cons...using that word to advance their own goals and objectives...a confessional, or wolf in sheep's clothing so to speak? Is the word professional a word we can simply assign to ourselves, or is it a term that's earned.  Could it be that professionalism is, in fact, in the eye of the beholder?

I’m still old school in many of my work habits.   I value the hours I spend on my work, and I want my employer to do the same.  That’s not always an easy contract in an educational setting.  Many times we have to do things that are unpopular;  or we have to do things we don’t want to do.  We don’t get to call the shots very often.  At the end of the day, we have a boss, and he gets to tell us what to do.  But as a professional, I’m called to competently carry out my duties, and my boss has every right to expect me to do what he’s hired me to do.  If asked to do something illegal, immoral, or unethical, I would simply refuse, but otherwise, I get to do as I’m asked or told if I expect to last for long and pick up that paycheck.  But, as a professional, I get to decide when it’s time to hold ‘em, and when it’s time to show my cards and move on. 

For me, work is a privilege. I get to work with an amazing group of professionals, and the thing I love about my cohorts is our shared vision and common goals.  They don't insist on being called "professionals..." --they're actually too busy for all that.  They do insist on doing what's right and relevant, and together, we're all working on the work.  We each have our own talents and abilities, but we work together and over time, we have created a pretty well-oiled machine.  We want each other to succeed, but moreover, we want our mission to be successful. 

We all wanted to be "librarians" when we grew up, not realizing that our school district would end up doing away with librarians.  So now, we do the admin stuff that librarians do, and miss out on a lot of the fun, but nevertheless, over time, we hope to convince our school board and our community that the leader in the library is missing, and we need to bring her back.  We talk to kids all the time about what they want to “be” when they grow up;  but I think the conversation would be much more meaningful if we concentrated more on asking them who they want to “be.”  Situational ethics is averse to me.  I want to be known as someone who does the right thing, all the time.  I want children to learn this as well.  

We’ve started a “social contract” with our students this year.  When they violate one of the tenets of the contract, we’re to ask them, “What are you doing?”  We listen and learn.  Then we ask, “What were you supposed to be doing?”  We listen and learn again.  Finally we ask, “What can you or I do differently to insure you’re successful in doing what you’re supposed to do?”  Again, listen and learn, and hopefully reach an agreement and understanding of what new behaviors will replace the old.

I wish I could have that same dialogue with a lot of adults I meet in the business world or in the educational setting who call themselves “professional.”  I’d like to ask, “What are you doing?”  And find out how they view their behavior.  Then I’d ask, “What should you be doing?”  I think I could learn a lot from their answers to that question.  And finally, I’d like to ask, “What can I or you do differently to insure we’re successful in doing what we’re supposed to do?”  I think that conversation might bring about real change, real reform, and at least a much higher level of understanding. 

It’s something I’m going to experiment with…something tells me I might get some push back from a few of the “professionals” who are in my line of sight.  But I’m okay with that. I have a lot of experience under my belt, and I know more than I did when I was walking dogs and watching other people's kids. I know more than when my spouse presented me with a Plan B, C, or D,  with three weeks or three months to pack up and move to Germany, Georgia, or someplace in between.  No one’s walking in the door any more with a set of orders in his hands, ready to rescue me from what could be a professional morass.  I’m staying right where I am.  I’m willing to take the risks and to do the work to get the job done;  I’m willing to be the consummate professional, even if it costs me something in the process.  At the end of the day, it won’t matter what I call myself if those I serve see that my actions don’t match the words that come out of my mouth. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Is Grass Always Greener?

As a career educator and librarian, I’ve been curious about the impact of marijuana’s legalization on classrooms and schools in the affected areas.  Do these new tolerance laws impact the classroom, and if so, what are schools doing about it?

The research I found was pretty disturbing.

In 2012-13, over 700 students in Colorado high schools were expelled, and over 30% of those students were removed due to marijuana abuse at school.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse says while there’s a decrease in the use of drugs and alcohol by young people overall, there’s a significant increase in marijuana use. 

1% of 8th graders self-report using marijuana daily; 4% of 10th graders; 7% of 12th graders.  23% of America’s teenagers report using marijuana regularly. 

School resource officers in Colorado say they’ve seen a huge increase in marijuana-related incidents, and a sharp rise in drug-related disciplinary actions.  School reports indicate increased absences and drop-out rates.  In Greeley, Colorado, kids  in fourth grade were expelled for selling a dime bag to other fourth graders.  Some teens recognize the date 4/20 but can't identify the meaning of 11/11. 

Some doobie brothers would probably say, “Awesome.”

I think, “Not so much.”

I don’t like a drug and alcohol culture. I’ve seen what these uppers, downers, and in-betweeners do to people I love over the long haul, and I don’t embrace recreational medicine. In the case of marijuana, we know that it’s got THC, and THC alters the brain’s hippocampus, affecting learning and memory.  Potheads will tell you that’s not true.  But could it be that they can’t remember what they forgot?  

Marijuana slows reaction times, and may lead to depression or anxiety.  Red eyes are a side effect that many movies and TV shows use for comic fodder, but it’s a reflection of an increased or rapid heartbeat, not a healthy sidebar.

In adolescents, marijuana use leads to a lower IQ as well as cognitive and mental deficiencies.  There’s even a higher risk of stroke, depending upon what additives are in the weed.  “Spice” or synthetic marijuana, is laced with chemicals similar to THC.  Kids are using many alternative drugs and there’s a dramatic rise in edibles, a proliferation of food products made with marijuana.  These ‘green’ brownies, cookies, and cakes can easily make their way into kids’ hands, lunchboxes, and classrooms.

Teenage pregnancy is difficult enough;  but the infant of a teenage mother who regularly uses marijuana may demonstrate moderate to severe developmental delays or behavioral issues.  The teenage body is not well-developed, and research tells us marijuana is not physiologically healthy for teens or children.   

Second hand smoke from marijuana is not innocuous.  Researchers state it may be 4-30 times higher in carcinogens than regular cigarette smoke, at the rate of 2 cigarettes per hour.  Inhaling second hand smoke may result in difficulties passing a drug screen, depending upon the level of exposure.  Research is in progress about the affect of second-hand smoke from marijuana on younger children.

Ironically, Colorado has a huge youth drug abuse prevention campaign. But “Do as we say, not as we do,” is the message kids are hearing loud and clear, and it’s not working. Proponents of legalization will say their courtrooms have cleared out;  they’re no longer spending a ton of money on “frivolous” charges for recreational drug use.  I say they’re going to pay a pretty penny over time.   School psychologists report that when the perception of risk goes down, marijuana use goes up, and this seems to be the prevalent truth.

From a spiritual perspective, I see huge warning signs in our country as marijuana use is legalized in more areas of our nation.  It spells spiritual trouble.  What is the real hunger?  What is the child of the marijuana user seeing when his parent smokes weed to relax, unwind, recreate?  What does it say to our children when we legislate recreational drug use?  Is the term ‘recreational drug’, in itself, not an oxymoron?  Talk to the parent of the heroin user;  he’ll tell you it started with weed.  Talk to the spouse of an alcoholic;  she’ll tell you that like alcohol abuse, the chronic use of weed is just one more way to mask the pain of daily life.

God’s word says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.”  Not all things build up.  I’m not in favor of drug, alcohol, or marijuana use.  We have this one life to live.  I want to be clear-headed, sober-minded, and focused on what He asks me to do, what He asks me to give, where He wants me to go.  I want that for my children and grandchildren as well. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


He must increase;  I must decrease.  He has to become greater while I become less.  John 3:30 has something to say to me these days.  It’s a rather exciting time.  The book is set to launch in just a few days.  Shilo and I received our first copy.  He posted a photo of himself and Lizzie as they opened the book for the first time.  My children were visiting when I received mine, and we did the same thing.  We sent each other a long distance “pinch”—asking one another, can it be true?  Is it finally a reality?  Then we heard the warehouse will start shipping books off to hither and yon on August 12th.   And we spotted posts on both Barnes and Noble and Amazon that they’ll ship copies on September 1st.  What a dream come true. 

And yet.  And yet.

From day one, Shilo and I have prayed that someone would be touched, changed, encouraged, inspired, or lifted up by his story.  It has been one way God has impressed both of us with the idea that telling this story is not for our good;  it is for the greater good.

It’s been good for us nevertheless.  We’ve grown so close;  ours has become a friendship I treasure very much.  He’s taught me so much about devotion, commitment, the warrior ethos.  He’s very brave.  And every time I recount the explosion, and every surgery after the explosion, I think of his sweet spirit, and his will to not only survive, but thrive, and bring others into a greater relationship with our Maker.

In the days ahead, we are praying for the “one” as well as praying that we both decrease as He comes closer and closer to each one of our readers.  We are almost giddy about the launch, wanting so much to show one and all that mercy trumps tragedy every time.  For Kat and Shilo, the book represents the culmination of one very difficult journey and the commencement of another.  And on the way, we petition our Lord...less of us, more of You.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

About fathers

I want to hug my dad today. 

I want to wrap my arms around him to tell him one more time how much I love him, treasure him, adore him.

I want him to know what he always knew, that I love him through and through.

As far as dads go, he hit and missed the mark, as all dads do, no matter what the Hallmark cards say.  He knew how to be a father, learning the practical aspects from his own dad, a North Dakota farmer and banker.

He always had his priorities straight. He put the roof over our heads, and we never.ever.worried.about.shelter.

He put food in our bellies.  And the scales today tell me what I have always known…something I have never known…lack.

He put my mother first and cherished her.  I never heard my father yell, scream, throw things, insist upon his way.  He was always willing to give up what he might have wanted very badly.  He had a knowing about him—something about being willing to lay down your life for your brothers as a soldier made you willing to lay down your will for your family.  There was no guile in my father.

I wish I could remember sitting next to him in church;  I wish I had memories of him reading his Bible.  But his faith was internal, and he kept it there.  Oh, Dad, I would tell him today, don’t you know how much Jesus loved you?  When asked, he would always say, “God doesn’t owe me anything.”  I always wanted to tell him that was precisely the point.  But he knew…he knew.  The reassurance was my need, not his.

I have my father’s transistor radio.  It still works. When he was stationed in VietNam, he kept it in his pocket, and it connected him to us through the armed forces radio station.  He knew what was happening in our world when we knew so very little about what was happening in his.  I’m so grateful he was protected from harm, though he brought home scars from battle that he would never divulge.

I have my father’s first picture book.  Inside the front cover, scrawled in his earliest penmanship, is his name, Lauren.  I run my fingers over that crayon stain, wishing, wishing, that I could hold the little boy he was.  I can picture that boy sitting next to his mother, Julia, showing her the lamb, the cow, the duck.  He was a farmer’s boy—he could have looked out the window to see the same things.

I have my father’s autograph book.  His big brother, Al, whose life journey took him to combat with Merrill’s Marauders and down the deadly trail to Bataan, wrote this to my dad in 1940: “ Dear Lauren, I will always remember you as my fattest little brother…the guy who was always in the way when we were playing games because you were too fat to keep up.  Your biggest brother, Al. “  I have a huge smile as I write this—picturing the big humor and big smile of my dad as he probably took Al to the floor in a headlock. 

From his brother Pete came these words just three months after Al’s:  “Dear Lauren, Christmas comes but once a year, but a chance to write in your autobiography comes but once in a lifetime so I’ll sign my name, Mr. Marvin Overby, better known as Pete.”  Pete didn’t sign my father’s book again, succumbing to a brain tumor when he was still but a young man. 

In August of 1941, his brother George wrote:  “Dearest Brother, well boy, we better get this cake down and nectar too and go to bed.  We got the work to do and we’re just the guys to do it. And if any guys want to make anything of it, well let them do it.  We’re too tired.  Your brother pal, George.”   George sat beside my mother when we laid my father to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in 2004.

On April 8, 1941, my father’s mother wrote: “Dearest son Lauren, There is another album, filled with leaves of spotless white, where no name is ever tarnished, but forever pure and bright.  In the book of life-God’s album-may your name be penned with care, and may all who have written here write their names forever there.  Lovingly, Mother”

Happy Father’s Day, dad.
I miss you.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Doc Gunn

Horses graze in the bottom pasture, nudging tufts of grass with the spongy tips of their noses.  All whiskers, teeth, and chewing, they pull the verdant prairie grass from dark moist earth and chew methodically, grazing across a warm sunny acre through a day.

Do they know that atop the hill, the one who kept watch over them has left the loam behind?  While they rose from green earth at dawn, the spirit of their keeper departed in silence. In the dark of night he took his last breath and with that final inhalation left a life on an earth he’d loved so much; breathless to enter heaven in perfect form.

He was a boy in the great depression when food was scarce and family was stretched thin.
He was a man too young to go to war and too schooled to stay behind.
He was a husband and father who tried to find his way through heartache to happiness. 

We met him long after the ebb and flow that left deep wrinkles in his skin, kid-like wonder in his eyes, legs useless, adrift from his spine.  We could not say we knew him when or then…there was only now. 

Now was quite remarkable.  
Full of story and vim, he saw humor in chaos and laughter in the anarchy of a body unwilling to cooperate with aging. 

Tinkerer, fixer, mender, listener, never paralyzed. 

Never one to say look at me, look after me, or leave me be.   

He left earth in sleep,  taking nothing with him but goodbye.  

And what is to cease breathing
But to free the breath from its restless tides,
That it may rise and expand
And seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence
Shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the mountain top,
Then you shall begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your limbs,
Then shall you truly dance.

Kahlil Gibran

Friday, March 28, 2014


Falling leaves…

When I consider all the proof
I have that God exists in the world
I only have to think of your little goat hands
Or your laugh that makes tears trickle down your legs
Or your big feet that need big shoes
Or your crazy generosity on a piggy bank budget
Or your parachute laughter
And then I know that when I thought
The world caved in,
It was His way of showing me that

We would always dwell in the shelter of the most High King.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cedars of Lebanon

Ps. 92:12-15
The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.  They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall stay fresh and very green, proclaiming, "The Lord is upright; He is my rock,and there is no unrighteousness in Him.  

Lucky.  Blessed.  Call it what you want.

Once a week, I get to meet with a small group of seasoned and women who've known our Lord longer than I've been alive, or at least alive in Him.  They are showing me, by their example, as well as within the confines of their words, what it means to love Him for a lifetime.
They have become for me the cedars of Lebanon.  Strong. True. Evergreen.

Right now we're working our way through Romans.  It's slow-going, only because they have so much to say, hear, and learn.  There is a lot to know, and no waning of interest at 60, 70, 80, or pushing 90.

Their strength is revealed in tender ways.  They cannot refer to Jesus' death on the cross without tears in their eyes.  My prayer is that when I reach their ripe old age, I will still be broken and vulnerable when I consider the gift I've been given.

Their knowledge is real and relevant. I don't know if Habakuk comes before or after Malachi, but they do.  There's no pride in their tone;  it's simply a matter of knowing the path and stopping points along the way.  And the knowledge isn't about ordinal position;  it's about the message and where it falls in the grand scheme of things. Context matters, and they are showing me just how much.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;  Yes, the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
Ps. 29:5

Experience is a master teacher.  The men and women in this weekly study group know about studying every day in light of what life brings.  They know about fruits of the spirit because they've been a part of that growth from seedling to sapling to cedar.  They will tell you that the Lord sometimes must break us open, empty us, in order to fill us once again.  He will set us on fire, only to teach us how to persevere.  With a word, with His voice, the Lord spoke us into existence;  they know His voice intimately whether it comes in a gentle whisper or a grievous roar.  They trust the voice that will one day call each of us home, unto Him.

Prayer is a conversation;  reverent dialogue that is deeply personal.  I feel deeply blessed to hear them talk to God.  They tell me what prayer has done, not to change the heart of God, but to change their hearts as well as to lift up the lives of the mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandchildren and even grandchildren in their lives. It makes me understand how much I need Him now, and how much I'll need Him then.

Week by week, I bring my wants and needs to our group, and they bring their own as well.  We share a meal, a story, a lesson.  In confidence, we pour out our hearts before each other and before the Lord.  I treasure these cedars...they have shown me the bedrock divinity of God's word in their lives.