Feeling Vulnerable?

Throughout my career, there was always a huge chip on my shoulder. It went everywhere with me, and anyone who would notice it, or dare comment on it, would get an earful in response. My entrance into the corporate world was different than most. So much so, that the theme song for most of my life was “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” by my favorite band, The Kinks.

The chip on my shoulder set me apart from everyone else; making me more confident the further my career advanced. Most of my peers had acquired an achievement that eluded me. They had a high school diploma.  My high school dropout chip was initially covered in shame. Then, by God’s favor, my career exploded. With my new-found success, the shame of my chip transformed into pride. The farther up the corporate ladder, and the more education my peers had, the more boasting about my lack of a formal education. Until God’s plan introduced me to Chuck.

Chuck was the CEO of a small technology company in the Graphic Arts field. With Chuck’s guidance, a handful of the best scientists and engineers in the Graphic Arts community carved out a unique slice in the industry. They were the pioneers that introduced Computer Generated Graphics to most of the world: Built on technology originally created to produce 35mm slides for business presentations (Remember the “slide carousel”?An essential tool in any business presentation before PowerPoint!). As often happens, someone with a keen, innovative eye saw a different use for their technology. How about using the same expertise to convert computer graphics to the 16mm film used in Hollywood? Boom! Mass-market Computer-Generated Imaging (CGI) was born. The idea soon found its way to Hollywood and was used in the second TERMINATOR movie. If you know the movie, there were a few seconds of liquid silver used to morph the next-gen Terminator back into shape. Well this little technology company, and a very deserving engineer, won an Academy Award for that few seconds of 16mm film. Not long after the T-1000 regenerated itself, Hollywood became enamored with CGI, introducing Toy Story and a host of 100%-created CGI movies. Straight from the computer to the Silver Screen. … and as they say, the rest is history!

My meeting with Chuck was after all the hoopla of the Academy Awards. Imagine my feelings of inadequacy when walking into that unassuming office for the first time. There, as you walked in the front door, was a huge glass display case. Almost floor to ceiling shelves, full of awards and photographs, displaying the accolades of this little company’s accomplishments. Other than this one impressive shrine, the company looked more like an office in a rural Iowa town, than a breakthrough tech company. Then Chuck walked out of his office.

My first thought was, “This is Chuck?!” Not your typical tech guru. No splash, flash, or excitement. He extended his hand for a feeble handshake with eyes that did everything they could to not look at me. For a minute, he reminded me of “Corporal LeBeau,” played by Holocaust survivor Robert Clary, on the TV series Hogan’s Heroes. True to his French ancestry as small in stature, Chuck was as unassuming as his office. In a faint voice fitting his disposition, he invited me in to talk.

After meeting the company’s Vice President of Marketing at a trade show, Chuck agreed to interview me for a job. Recently jobless due to the failure of a startup; it was imperative for me to find work. Especially with a wife and four little mouths to feed.

While the VP told me that the interview was more of a formality than anything and that the job was mine, Chuck had other ideas. Sitting down to talk, this unpretentious man seemed overly nervous. His demeanor confused me.

As the meeting progressed it became clear that Chuck had misgivings about hiring me. However, the more we talked, the easier it got, and our discourse culminated into his proud recall of the company’s Academy Award triumphs. Emboldened by his success story, Chuck finally looks me in the eye, he says, “I can’t hire you.” Working to regain my composure, images of my wife and kids bouncing around in my head leading me to ask, “Why Not?”

Chuck’s retort was quick. “Because of your lack of education.” He said it like it was an obvious answer. Fighting the temptation to let the chip on my shoulder and its vitriol take over while biting my lip and asking, “Why? What do you mean?”

Chuck explained to me how everyone in the company – from the receptionist to the shipping guys – had college degrees. Referring to the scientists and PhD’s on staff, he quietly said, “How could I do that to them? What would they think?” Then his eyes widened, like he just discovered gold. “Besides, what can you do for me, that someone with a college degree can’t do?”

Well, with that, the chip on my shoulder took over. What came out of my mouth was, “Well Chuck, thirty days from today, this high school dropout will have the Senior Vice President of Technology for a Forty-Billion Dollar, Fortune 500 Company sitting right here in your office. They don’t teach that in college!” Surprisingly, he was not impressed. He got up from his desk and escorted me out the door. On my ride home, realizing that it was time to look for something else to do. Thanks to my chip, this sure thing didn’t look to be so sure.

Long story short, the VP of Marketing compelled Chuck to bring me on board, anyway. Together, without a lot of support from the boss, we reinvented the company, rocking the printing industry with technology that is still used today.

It was at that job, working with all those talented people in Chuck’s company, that my chip finally found respect for the brilliance that can be nurtured and guided through academics. Some of the fondest memories of my career are those brainstorming sessions and passionate debates over technology, marketing, and strategies with all the Brainiacs.

For the first few years, the VP of Marketing was my colleague, my mentor and at times a protégé. We seemed inseparable. He taught me so much about marketing strategy. Thinking of him always gives me pause to thank God for bringing him into my life. On the other hand, Chuck did all he could to avoid me. Except for giving me an office across the hall from his – albeit an office that had been converted out of a closet. While Chuck probably got a chuckle seeing me in the Five-foot-wide, twelve-foot-deep office, it was plenty big for me and my chip!

My relationship with Chuck was tenuous at best. Eventually, we found ourselves in a contentious discussion, resulting in me getting fired or quitting. Neither of us knows who did or said what, but it was the end of my time with Chuck.

On that particular day, we were embroiled in a passionate debate over the direction of the company. My chip was full of passion and dedication to my beliefs. For once, Chuck was showing fervent passion as well.

Up to this point, we had never seen eye to eye on anything. His academic bigotry always seemed to infuriate my chip. Not this day. Chuck’s passion was fueled by something different. Gone were the vague references to the significance of the educated. Spilling out of Chuck’s office and into the hallway, the argument could be heard throughout the office. Now nose-to-nose, Chuck yelled in my face, “If I make a mistake it will hurt everyone in this company!” With that, and seeing Chuck’s eyes tear up, it hit me. Chuck’s passion was centered in caring for the people of his company. Money and my lack of education had nothing to do with it. That was the day the chip on my shoulder was put to rest.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.    

Proverbs 16:18

Walking back to my office to pack up my stuff was emotional. Knowing it was the end and filled with sadness and disappointment. This project had been such a big part of my life, and now it would be born without me. Still, Chuck’s last words bounced back and forth between my heart and my head. Never had the CEO of a company showed so much love and caring for the people in their charge. My previous discussions with Chuck always centered on how much revenue our project would bring to his company. Until now, he had never shown his strong commitment to those who worked for him.

Throughout my career, when working with owners or CEO/Presidents of companies, my experience always taught me to talk with them about increased revenue or reduced expenses, nothing else.

It was now clear to me why the two of us never “clicked,” nor got along. That one comment showed me a side of my former boss as a leader who was radically different. Chuck loved his employees like a father loves his family; like any father, he would never hurt them for money.

Looking back, that event was one of God’s pivot points in my life. What seemed disastrous to me, turned out to be a powerful blessing masked in chaos, turmoil and doubt. Like so many other times, the pain heralded God’s impending Grace, Favor, and Promise to come.

From that day forward, the chip on my shoulder was no longer a badge of pride. It was just another bump in the road of my life that God used to strengthen me and my resolve. To this day, my heart overflows with thankfulness that God used my time with Chuck to knock that chip off my shoulder. Without my Un-Educated prejudice, it became easy for me to accept people for who they were, educated or not.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

Philippians 2:3

Building on my new recognition of people for who they were, empowered me for the rest of my career. Starting a position at a classic “Silicon Valley” tech company. It was my pleasure to work with a group of people who impressed me as some of the brightest technologists on the planet. You know those smartest guys in the room types? In this case, my team was filled with a couple dozen smartest guys in the room, including PhDs, scientists, inventors, and a collection of engineers that Steve Jobs would envy.

Often, sitting in brainstorming sessions, my mind would wander off to my tussles with Chuck and my struggles in school, leading me to ponder how these Brainiac’s endured decades in school. Over lunch they would tell me how much they enjoyed the academic environment and often talked about dreams of teaching someday. Their appreciation and dreams were as foreign to me as my stories of growing up in Iowa were to them. Still, our love for creation and innovation bonded us together in the universe of possibilities, which eventually led me to getting a patent for our innovation.

My time with Chuck taught me that kindness is an act of love. An act that is born in understanding and unconditional love. We are all human and most use our impressions of others to shape our beliefs, ultimately holding others accountable for thoughts they never had.

Renowned bestselling author and social psychologist, Dr. Amy Cuddy, refers to this as “Imprinting” in her bestselling book, “PRESENCE.” Simply stated, “Imprinting” is when we create a thought or belief in our head that we believe someone else thinks about us. Then we hold that person accountable for a thought or belief they never had. It is only when we take time to fully understand their beliefs or thoughts, that we can begin to truly be kind to them.

“A truly confident person does not require arrogance, which is nothing more than a smoke screen for insecurity.”

Amy Cuddy

In my relationship with Chuck, the chip on my shoulder was a brick wall that stood between us. A wall that was put in place by my insecurities and not his thoughts.

It was only when understanding Chuck’s beliefs and the loving kindness that he demonstrated with extraordinary and extreme passion, that his purpose-driven motivation became crystal clear to me.

How often is our relationship with God thwarted by a brick wall that we put between us? In Christ, we let our pride, our shame, and perceived inadequacies stand as obstacles between the One who created us, and our understanding of the beautiful creation He made. Like the chip on my shoulder, everything we are is God’s design. It is only in our perception that we see strength or weakness in who we are.

Chuck’s passionate caring for those in his charge, along with my shame of a lack of a college degree were viewed by both of us as vulnerabilities, weaknesses, not strengths. All the while, these experiences were powerful assets that God designed in us both before time began. It is only when we become aware of the strength these traits give us, and no longer conceal our vulnerabilities, can we tear down the walls and fully, genuinely communicate.

So, Let Go! Let God build and empower the person that He sees in you!

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

When we let go of the perception of our ability, and how others view us, we understand who we truly are in Christ. Letting go of all things of the world, you realize that every part of your life on Earth is fueled by God’s Supernatural Power. It is in this belief we find the Passion that comes from a peace that passes all understanding.

Always Love!

The Rock

“For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.”

2 Corinthians 8:21

What would you say is the most important trait of the people in your life? How would you describe the people closest to you? Does loving, kind and generous come to mind? Is that enough? What about integrity and trust? If you are like most of us, trust is at the top of the list for those true, deep relationships.

Without trust, is there really a relationship?

How would you describe Trust? Is there a word you can you think of to replace the word trust? How about confidence? Faith or hope? Would caring or reliability explain how we trust each other? Trust is one of those words that stands alone. Like describing a color or a beautiful sunrise, words alone cannot explain what trust is. Isn’t Trust something we just know or feel; our “gut” feeling? Is that gnawing in our gut, really about trust? Describing words like trust is like trying to describe something green. While there is a myriad of variations, green is green, but we can’t explain it without a comparison to another color or something green.

The two words that seem to fit trust for me are relationship and love. Not the friendship kinda’ love, but the unconditional love that a parent has for a child. More than just friendship or acquaintance, but the deep, best friend kind of a relationship we reserve for those special few. Hopefully we all have those friends we would trust with our lives, or the lives of our families. That’s the kind of relationship scripture tells us Jesus wants to have with us.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

 Proverbs 3:5

Aren’t all great relationships built on trust? Trust cannot happen without a relationship, and relationships only exists through empathy, love and compassion for one another. It is when we take our focus off ourselves and concentrate on others, we find their trust. We are all vulnerable at times; helping others when they are vulnerable, builds trust with one another. Without trust, there is only friendship or acquaintance.

When we first meet someone, we don’t automatically find trust. It takes time and devotion to build history and understanding with one another. While most of us have some trust when we meet someone new; typically, it is not that “Lay Down My Life for You!” kind of trust. Most of us have faith others will do “the right Thing.” It is only when we to see our new acquaintance earn our trust over time, our relationship grows strong. Trust is not about one big event, instead, we develop trust in small actions added to one another over time. When our trust is broken, it’s next to impossible to revive, if it can be rebuilt at all.

In my early twenties, with the prospect of a growing family and little mouths to feed. We made the decision to change jobs. Leaving my beloved music industry to become a representative for a regional home appliance distributor. It was a dramatic change; leaving an industry that was second nature to me, for a job calling on refrigerator and TV dealers in southern Iowa and Illinois. After my first year, the company made a change in territory management and added the “river cities” in southern Iowa and Illinois to my territory.

Change never caused anxiety for me, the new business would be a welcomed and exciting addition. No longer would my territory consist of the smaller “Mom & Pop” dealers in towns like Ottumwa, Oskaloosa and Grinnell. Finally, there were sprawling metro areas like Burlington, Keokuk and Muscatine. Probably not considered cities by most, for this Iowa boy, these sprawling towns were almost as exciting as my hometown, Des Moines.

With the bigger cities, came BIG dealers! Well that’s what everyone told me. The part they left out was BIG dealers carry “tier one” brands like Zenith, RCA, Maytag and Amana. While my products, Quasar, Panasonic and Gibson were great, they were “tier two”. It was almost an insult for a tier two guy to call on a tier one dealer. Added to my frustration, was finding out the owners of those BIG dealerships, were all exceptionally busy. Keeping up with their hordes of customers made them hard to pin down. That’s who Bob was, a BIG, busy, Tier One Dealer.

Owner of a huge appliance and furniture store in one of the bigger river cities, Bob was a third-generation proprietor of an entrenched merchant family. His store was so big, it even had an elevator, something almost unheard of in any store in his town, or most others in Iowa.

Bob’s family had started the business decades earlier with an extreme focus on serving customer needs as a “Pay as You Go” sales company. Everything in the store could be bought with weekly payments; no credit required. Truly, trusting strangers was their unique value-add in the small community. “A happy customer always shops here first!” Bob would constantly proclaim with a huge smile. It always impressed me that Bob’s dealership was such a benefactor for the area. If your refrigerator broke, you could get the latest greatest model with no money down and weekly payments.

Meeting with the sales rep who had the territory before me, we talked about all the dealers and all the towns. When we got to Bob, the rep made it clear it would be a waste of time and energy to even call on Bob once. “That guy’s a jerk! No time for anyone, he takes pleasure in belittling anyone he talks to.” The rep continued, “besides, he doesn’t need anything we sell, and you’ll NEVER sell him anything!” The rep might as well have just smacked me with a glove and challenged me to a duel at sunrise. The game was now afoot!

Planning my next week’s travel, Bob was at the top of the list. Arriving in town the night before. After checking into my hotel, it was time to cruise by Bob’s store and get the “lay of the land” before my cold call the next day.

Driving by the closed store a little after 9 p.m., it looked dark and deserted. The store was a classic small-town storefront on main street, all brick, five stories tall and it seemed as deep as it was tall. Looking in through the storefront window it was pitch black; except for a single light leaking onto the showroom floor from a room hidden to the street. Thinking that the store didn’t seem so huge, it was back to the hotel to prepare for the big day.

Early morning breakfasts in Iowa were the best. Farm fresh everything; eggs, cheese, hash browns, pancakes and all the trimmings. Small town hotel restaurants were superb people observation venues. Watching regulars, travelers and visitors intermingling in a festival of morning ritual. A travel tradition when preparing my strategies for the day. This day had no strategy, just resolve. Resolve to knock this big bird off his perch. With a deep breath and a full stomach, it was off to meet the day!

Walking in the front door of the store, there was the loud clang of a bell hanging atop the door. With that, everyone in the store turned to give me the once over. No customers were in the store this early, just a gaggle of hungry salesmen by a coffee machine; coffee cup in one hand and cigarette in the other. Making my way through the long showroom with refrigerators lined up both sides, most of the salesmen turned away, figuring out that they weren’t going to sell me anything. Except for that one eager guy that squeezed through the crowd. With a nervous smile, voice trembling, saying “Welcome, are you looking for a white refrigerator or is our new Avocado more to your liking?” Shaking hands, his nerves were made more obvious with the dampness of his palm. Asking, “Is Bob in,” my question seemed to increase his anxiety.

Almost whispering, he quivered back, “Mr. Hettinger is in his office, but he’s not seeing anyone today.” With that, a short stout man appeared from the back office where the light was the night before. “Tommy, who the hell is that?” he grumbled, walking closer, sporting a Charlie Chaplin mustache, the charred remains of a cigarette hanging off his lower lip. Refilling a paper coffee cup, ashes falling in the cup he continued yelling… “Tell that !#&#! to get the hell out of here! We don’t need any of his crap!” Slamming the door as he swaggered back into the office.

“That’s Bob,” Tommy said with a humiliated smile. Spending the next hour talking to Tommy, he told me that Bob was his uncle. It seemed Tommy’s dad couldn’t work with Bob and sent Tommy in to learn the family business.

It’s still not clear to me why; walking out the door and hearing myself shout back, “thanks Tommy, see you in two weeks!” made me think … “What was that?” Possibly some deep seeded competitive ambition? Looking back today, it seems it was more divine intervention. Spending the rest of the week in my territory, staring at the windshield of my car between stops, Tommy’s puzzled face looking back at me, always brought a smile.

Two weeks on the dot, that bell above the door clanged, as it did twice a month, for the next year. Always the same scene, a gaggle of salesmen, Tommy always emerging to greet me. As time went on, Tommy looked happy to see me. We would share stories about selling appliances. Tommy would spice up our talks with tales of his uncle and his latest victims of vitriol. When, and where possible, it became my mission to teach Tommy whatever possible. Occasionally, Bob would pop out onto the floor shouting some disparagement at me like, “how are sales?!” or “we sold thirty refrigerators yesterday, about you!?” Realizing that this one dealer was selling more in one day than my whole territory did in a week, was frustrating. Bob knew my sales numbers and truly enjoyed the provocation, seeming to feed off the cheap shots and my unwillingness to push back. Bob would spend more time on the floor when it was my day to show up. Like a peacock, strutting around, showing off this and that, while relentlessly teasing me. As we got to know each other, it was easy to see that he really knew his stuff. It wasn’t just hot air he was blowing; Bob clearly knew the cold hard facts of the appliance world.

One day walking in the door, with the clanging of the bell, starting out just like the rest. Except on this day, Bob was on the floor waiting for me. “Come back to my office, I gotta’ ask you something.” Bewildered, feeling like a peasant going into the King’s court; or a pig going to slaughter, wondering what prank Bob had up his sleeve. Walking into the dimly lit, smokey room, bookcases lining the walls; each one overstuffed with three ring binders crammed in every nook and cranny. Sitting behind a huge desk covered in newspapers, a massive ash tray off to one side, looking as if it had never been emptied. A green banker’s lamp shedding light on Bob’s latest ad. Brushing away cigarette ash he asked, “what do you think of this week’s ad?” Full of doubt, my first thought was, what’s the joke, where’s the trap? After looking things over it seemed legit, it was a great ad.

Bob didn’t know that as a kid, my Dad taught me ad composition as part of my job helping with his business. Like Bob, my skills were strong. Pointing out a few flow issues with his layout seemed to impress Bob.

Well, from that day forward my visits at Bob’s store always started in his office, we became close friends as he always sought my advice. It was my pleasure and honor to help. Little steps that built a strong, trusting relationship.

A year and half after hearing that bell clang the first time, sitting in Bob’s office, going over the latest ad. He reclined in his chair, looking me in the eye questioning “What the Hell do you do this for?” Shaking his head in confusion, “You come here like clockwork; helping with my ads. Why?” You might think that question was expected, it wasn’t. Looking for words to say, my mouth just started moving, saying, “Well, I want you to know what kind of service and support you’ll get when you’re my dealer.” Pushing back the humiliation of my sappy comment and surprised to see a small tear in Bob’s eye. He barked, “I think you’re nuts! But I’m glad you started coming in.”

You’ve probably already guessed, Bob continued to be a great friend and a revered mentor. In the following year, Bob became one of my biggest dealers and my favorite success story.

Like my relationship with Bob, Trust is built one small step at a time. When we build our relationships on a rock of trust; the foundation will support you through every storm in life. The rock of Bob’s and my relationship was built in trust, it was only after building that relationship, Bob could trust me. He knew that my focus was on him, his business, and most important; his customers. Bob had comfort knowing he could trust me with the business his family had entrusted to him.

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock …”

 Matthew 7:24-25

The rock that Jesus taught us to stand on, to build our house on, is that rock of trust. We are not to build our house on our confidence, our faith or our hope in Him or in each other. We are to build our relationships on Trust. Trust in each other and Trust in Him.

Always Love!

You Can’t Sit Here!

“Never let go of loyalty and faithfulness. Tie them around your neck; write them on your heart. If you do this, both God and people will be pleased with you.”

Proverbs 3:3-4 GNT

Would your friends, family and loved ones describe you as Devoted? How would you define Devotion in others? Is it only about love, friendship and relationships?

Can we be Devoted to someone we have never met?

According to the dictionary, Devotion is all about being loyal, faithful, true, staunch, steadfast, constant, committed, and dedicated. We can add to this the emotionally driven Devotion of someone who is loving, affectionate, caring, attentive, warm and passionate. So, technically, a Devoted person is loving with commitment. Makes me think of the “Boy Scouts” pledge. All that’s missing is being joyful. Can we be Devoted without Joy?

In my research, it surprised me to find that a root word for Devotion is vow. Makes perfect sense. After all, aren’t our marriage vows all about love and commitment -Devotion? Hopefully with a little bit of Joy sprinkled on top! Sadly, it seems, commitment has been eliminated from the practice of our marriage vows, leaving only a contract that can be broken at the first sign of trouble. Recently celebrating our forty-fourth wedding anniversary, my bride would probably tell you there were plenty of troubled times that tested our marriage and our commitment. It was only our Devotion to each other, and to God, that carried us through the storms.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Proverbs 4:23

When we decided to get married, it was important to both of us to not follow the burgeoning divorce trends that have dominated our world today. With that in mind, we decided to make our marriage vows a covenant with God. The covenant made us both accountable to God, positioning Him as the ultimate arbitrator for all our impasses. When our Devotion to each other would wain in the sight of trouble, our Devotion to God would give us strength to persevere. He always showed us a clear path forward.

So, it seems to me that Devotion has another characteristic: Accountability. Not so much being held accountable, as just knowing that someone is watching.

Throughout my career, it has been my joy and my honor to work with some very Devoted people. These experiences have bolstered my belief that Devotion to a cause, idea, or group of people is a cornerstone of all success in business, organizations or relationships. Without Devotion, it is simply too easy to bail out and move on to something new.

“Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation.”

Proverbs 3:3-4

In one of my first roles working for a Fortune 500 Company, it was my pleasure to work with two of these leaders in a small division that had recently been acquired by a Global company with annual revenues of $40-$50 Billion. These two leaders were the entrepreneurial team that built the company that had been acquired. Formerly the CEO and COO of their own company, they were now Executive Vice Presidents of the division that was created out of their former company. Like most successful acquisitions, the parent company had worked hard to keep the management team together, along with most of the employees.

While now a small division in a huge company, the day to day operations were still very independent of the home office. The separation from the corporate offices of over two thousand miles seemed to strengthen the entrepreneurial spirit. Instead of dissolving it as many believed might happen; the strength and resolve of these two leaders kept the division intact and growing as a mostly independent entity. Well, at least in the beginning.

When faced with an insurmountable force growing up, my father would always say “Where does an Elephant sit? Anywhere he wants to”, he would chuckle. After years of contemplation, my Dad’s comment always served to remind me of the sheer power of size, making me cautious of Elephants and Gorillas in my path. Well, it wasn’t long before the corporate elephant came to sit on our little division.

Complaining about difficulties in communication, and the maverick operations of the division and its leaders, Corporate had decided to shut down the operation and move the business to the corporate headquarters where it would be simpler to manage (control). Truth be known, it was more about the power of adding forty plus jobs to the Senior VP’s direct reports at corporate, giving her more power and clout amongst her peers. Sadly, elephants can be people; with a lot of reports as well.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:21

All of us were shocked and confused, especially our two leaders. After all, we were not only meeting milestones, we were blowing them away at every step. As entrepreneurs oft times do, our leaders looked at the irrational decision of corporate as a huge mistake. It was. However, the bigger the elephant, the more times it seems to sit down in its own dung heap.

Our two leaders had already “cashed in” when selling the business. Both could have sat by and watched headquarters shut down the division. Both had been paid well for their parts of the company and the move would free them to pursue other interests. Not these two. Instead, their devotion to the people that helped them build the company, fueled their passion to fight back and stop the demise of the business they had all built together.

“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Acts 20:35

A call was made to corporate that resulted in a one-shot attempt to make our case to the powers that be. The next few weeks taught me so much about leadership, business and Devotion, that it probably warrants an article, or possibly even a book, of its own. The only word that describes the two leaders is Devotion. Clearly driven by their love and commitment for a group of employees that had worked together as a team, elbow to elbow to build the company. Quietly, everyone watched in clear anxiousness  as the management team worked sequestered in a conference room day after day until the corporate heads showed up to render their decision. A decision that, quite frankly, had probably already been made.

Prior to the day of decision, the time in the conference room (9-5 every day for weeks) was spent analyzing, arguing, dreaming and planning. One PowerPoint after another, spreadsheets stacked to the ceiling exposing every miniscule aspect of past, present and projected business. Each night the team would go home, say hi to their family, eat dinner, and then jump right back into planning for the discussion the next day. Looking back, it always reminds me of what it must have been like to be in the “War Room” with Patton or Churchill. Our leader’s passion and Devotion drove all of us to deliver our absolute best.

Well, we won. Not a timid victory, but a victory that is still talked about today. This little group of entrepreneurs took on the $40 Billion Elephant. Standing under the looming shadow of that huge pachyderm’s posterior we shouted…

“You Can’t Sit Here!”

An unexpected result from the weeks in the conference room was the unshakable unity and resolve of the management team. Armed with all the knowledge and understanding forged in the planning sessions, our team had the facts and were overflowing with passion full of Devotion to push back any doubts or argument. This victory was realized not through strength or power.

It was won only by sheer Devotion. Devotion of the leaders and the Devotion of the people working with them.

Loyalty to a fault? Well, maybe in the eyes of an Elephant.

“God blesses us, not for ourselves, …

 …He blesses us so that we may bless others”.

Always Love!

VICTORY

There is No Victory Without Surrender!

So many times, it seems we are tangled in struggles. Fearful that we will never see the light of day. Victory is a fleeting hope that fades with every confrontation. Have you been there? Caught in a relentless battle; draining every part of your will to win. A battle that leaves you mired in a puddle of doubt and uncertainty. Yet, somehow, we persevere. As Christians we know it’s when we have nothing left,
God is all we need.

When we are vulnerable, that’s when God is strong!

Scripture tells us that with God, all the problems and barriers thrown in our path, will fortify us, making us stronger. All the while, strengthening our faith. At the same time God works to build our character, while preparing us for challenges and tough times. More importantly, walking in faith builds our trust in God, while our obedience builds His trust in us.

So, the next time you are overwhelmed with trouble, or hard times, be thankful, and know that with God, you are getting stronger!

There is no growth without friction!

Think of how our bodies were created to deal with stress and injury. Getting off the couch, you grab a shovel, and head to the backyard for some Gardening. Typically, what is the first thing that happens? Blisters!

Just saying the word brings pain. You work hard all day long to provide some food or beauty, and what’s the result? Your hands and knees are covered in those bubbles just under your skin. If one pops, you know the pain that follows. In addition to the blisters, the muscles throughout your body feel like you just finished a game of Football, and you were the Football!

Why?

You’ve changed your routine and started using your hands and body for physical labor. Your body is simply protecting you from doing major damage. While the painful blisters and muscles slow you down for healing, your body is recreating itself to endure your new activities in the Garden. God never promised there wouldn’t be pain. Instead, God designed our bodies to become what we need them to be going forward, to handle the task at hand. The circumstances of our lives are no different. Sure, there are times when we feel like we can’t take one more step; that there is no clear path to a good ending. Like the blisters, it hurts. Sometimes the pain is unbearable.

In my career there were so many times that it felt as if everything in my life was working against me. Trouble and strife at work would be followed by nights full of family discord and friction. Day after day, night after night, one kick in the teeth followed by a punch in the stomach. The conflicts would wear on me until it seemed there was no way to climb out of the muck and mire. In prayer, God always led me to hang on. Not with immediate answers to prayer. The seas never parted, nor did angels herald my deliverance. Instead, it always felt like God simply had his arm around me saying; it’s going to be okay. The same way my dad would comfort me after loosing a ball game. No promise of victory, no excuses for what happened. Just a simple hug full of comfort.

For me, that was all it took to not give up. Slowly, my life changed with one small victory after another. God would go to work knocking down barriers and changing hearts. The successes were so small sometimes, they were hard to see. It was only when looking back at the steps of my life that God’s guidance and protection became crystal clear.

Through it all, it was those events, the tough ones. The unbearable times when it was the hardest to hold on, that always seemed to create the best parts of my life. Amid all the strife and conflict, my biggest blessings were born. 

Several years ago, it was God’s plan for me to experience Brain surgery and the extensive recovery that follows.

After a God filled trip to the Emergency room of the Mayo Clinic Hospital and a miraculous surgery to remove a brain bleed, it was necessary for me to learn to use my hands and walk again. So off to a rehabilitation/therapy clinic. It was my first time to be transported from one medical facility to another by ambulance. The trip helped me realize just how much the surgery had altered my ability to function normally. Simple tasks like walking or using my hands were now an ordeal that needed focus and concentration.

Upon arrival, sitting in the bed that would be my new home for the next few weeks. My thoughts were flooded with questions and concerns. Would my life ever be normal again? Were walkers, wheelchairs and scooters going to be my new mode of transportation? How would my wife cope with an invalid? Scary is too small of a word to describe my anxiety.

Then, the door to my room flew wide open. In walked this kind but authoritative nurse. Turned out, she wasn’t a nurse at all. Announcing that she was the lead therapist on my case she asked, “What brings you here?” Scurrying around the room, she proceeded to organize everything in my room to make it more efficient for me.

After listening to a brief recap of my story. She walked up to the side of my bed, looking me in the eyes and taking my hand, she said, “My name is Betty, and don’t you worry about a thing. It’s my job to make sure you walk out of here as if you never went through surgery. And, you should know, I’m pretty good at my job.”

It felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off me, allowing me to roll over and sleep like a baby.

Even with all my experiences staying in Hotels and Hospitals it was still always a little weird sleeping in a strange bed, especially in a hospital. After a tough year of being in one hospital or another, it had become easier to get some real sleep. Still anxious, waking up as the sun was peeking through the shades, my thoughts began to wonder what my first day in rehab would be like.

The door to my room flew open and in with a flood of sunlight walked Betty. “Good Morning! Are you ready to get out of here yet? We’ve got a busy day planned for you!”

In wonder, my first question was, “How long do you think it’ll take to re-train the muscles in my Hands and Legs? “Ha!” she exclaimed with a big grin. “Sugar, rehabilitation has nuttin’ to do with muscles, ‘cept maybe the muscle between your ears.”

“Rehab is all about belief. Belief in your ability to walk, not belief in your muscles.” She went on to explain. “When you sit down, do you think about your butt? Do you focus on how your leg muscles are bending your knees?” Almost preaching now she continued, “Do you even wonder if the chair will hold you? Heck no! You just sit down.”

“That’s how you will walk out of this place.” Oozing confidence she continued. “When you walk through that door, you’re gonna be thinking about hugging your bride and kids, not your next step! Now, let’s get started!”

With my new understanding of the power of faith in things unknown and unseen, it was only a few weeks later we were saying our goodbyes while walking out the door to hug my wife and kids.

While that experience was horrific at so many levels, it taught me that it is the friction in life that strengthens our faith. Every time we have a victory, small or large, we are emboldened to take a step of faith again. Each time we step in faith, our belief grows. Our Faith is strengthened, and we trust that God will cover and protect us. God uses our faith and trust to show us that He loves us and will always be there for us. Like sitting in a chair, eventually our faith becomes a complete and unquestioning trust in God, and His promises. Like those blisters, God give us what we need to persevere.

God knows your pain and like any loving Father, He would do anything to eliminate your agony. Your body uses pain to slow you down while building your new body. In the same way, God will slow you down with the pain and frustrations of life. Not to hurt or punish you. God uses our pain to make us stronger, more resilient. God created us to become stronger and more resistant through tough times. Always remember that we are conquerors and that when God is in it, there is no limit. Have faith in God; listening for his Still, Quiet voice for direction, and Persevere!

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:4

There is no victory without first fighting a battle. With God, there is no victory without surrender. Surrendering all to God, giving Him your complete and unconditional trust. It is in our complete surrender that we find God’s Grace and Courage.

…Courage, Purified like Silver in the Fires of Surrender & Humility

…Courage, Strengthened Like Steel in the Furnace of Struggle

…Courage, Polished Through the Friction of Strife, Like a Pearl

Held Up

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11 NAS

As a high school dropout who never went back to school, my life has been abundantly blessed in so many ways, even without a “sheepskin” hanging on my wall. My many blessings included numerous Mentors who believed in me and shared with me things that weren’t taught in school.

At the ripe old age of nineteen, my life was not like my friends who were still struggling with school, girls and part-time jobs. Instead, due to the trust of my first mentor, Jack, my life was exploding with opportunity and prosperity. Personally, God had blessed me with the love of my life, who would become my bride of over 40 years.

Working in a warehouse job after dropping out of school, except for meeting my soon to be bride, my prospects seemed bleak. Until Jack.

Jack was a classic ‘50-‘60’s era salesman that had worked hard and smart all of his life in the record (music) business. You know, what people call “vinyl” today. When we first met; Jack was the national sales manager for a fledgling distribution company working to disrupt the industry. In the early 1970’s this little company had the foresight to implement computer-based stock control for automated re-ordering of inventory. Cleary their vision was genius. Think Amazon level controls in the 1970’s! Well, their business exploded, with Jack at the helm of the sales force.

In those days, Jack was always out walking around in the warehouse. It seemed when he wasn’t traveling, he was in the warehouse. Not the front office. That’s how we got to know each other. He always impressed me with the genuine interest that he showed in the people working “in the back”. Jack seemed to take a liking to me when he learned about my love of music.

It really shocked him one day when our conversation turned to my appreciation of classic musicals. Especially “The Music Man”, Jack’s favorite. Telling Jack how the movie had inspired me to play trombone, Jack exclaimed, “That record paid for my first convertible!” From that point forward, we were buddies. An event, and friendship, that would wonderfully bless my life.

One day Jack called me into his office. Thinking the worst, my mind went through a detailed recall for anything that might jeopardize my job. Nothing came to mind.

Jack always had a good poker face, however, this time there was a crack of a smile coming through as he said, Do you like working here?”

Well, that didn’t help my anxiety. “Yes”, I said, with a quiver in my voice. He continued, “We have done an extensive evaluation of you.”

My lips must have been trembling as well, but that crooked smile on his face had me puzzled. Could he really enjoy firing someone this much?

Jack went on to say, “With your work ethic, and obvious love for music, we believe you would make an excellent sales representative for our company.”

His smile was now ear to ear as he went on to say “We have an opening in our Western territory and would like to offer you the position. “

The feelings that exploded inside of me were intense. Doing everything possible not to cry. Jack’s belief and trust were one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;”

2 Corinthians 9:8

Just think, while most of my friends were still going to school; this high school dropout, at the age of nineteen, would have a company car, expense account and a salary. No more punching a time clock! Above all, was this wonderful feeling of being trusted! Trusted to represent a multi-million-dollar company and trusted to get the job done. Not only by the mucky-mucks high up in the company, but, more importantly, trusted by Jack.

My relationship with Jack quickly morphed from casual friend to Mentor-Protégé. Jack took me under his wing teaching me the core of my business knowledge. Simple things like what to eat for breakfast, and how to eat with customers. Complex things like how to read a spreadsheet. Through his patience and kindness, Jack taught me things no one else could. Today, most of my business knowledge is traceable to, and started with Jack.

One of the many lessons that Jack taught me paved the way for so many great relationships as a Mentor, and as a Protégé. One day, as we were calling on a giant discount retailer, Jack led me to walk right past the office and all the way back to the warehouse at the very end of the building.

On our way Jack said, “Always remember, get to know the people in the back, as well as, if not better than, the people in the front office. From time to time you’ll need their help. And, in my experience, they’ll rarely let you down.”

Looking back, that simple statement, guided the steps of my career. From that day forward most of my time was spent in the back warehouse instead of the front office of my customers. Oft times it made me think of Jack. Albeit, Jack probably would have told me to focus on the task and quit daydreaming.

One day, several years after working with Jack, God and my career led me to a small technology company in Minneapolis while my wife and kids stayed on the east coast to finish out the school year. The company had a phenomenal plan for self-education on their products. With my family so far away, there was ample time at night to work on the training. As a result, I spent night after night, alone in the office, “schooling” myself.

One night, a recruit named Bruce showed up. Looking like a direct descendant of Paul Bunyan, this burly guy from the woods of Northern Minnesota had no clue about computers – nor technology. He just needed a job to provide for a growing family of his own.

My first reaction to Bruce was to ignore him. Maybe he’d just go away, taking his many hunting stories with him. However, Jack’s “people in the back” lesson kept gnawing at me like one of Bruce’s bear stories. After a while the two of us began nightly meetings. Our goal? Teach Bruce enough to pass the employment test and as much as we could about computers and technology.

We both passed the test and went our separate ways. For me, my career with the company blossomed. It seemed that almost instantly, my wife and family had joined me in our new house, and the company had moved me into management roles. With all that was happening, Bruce was not on my radar screen. Other than an occasional lunchroom encounter, our paths rarely crossed.

As the years went by, the company promoted me to the position as a Regional Sales Manager with an inside sales team of ten to twelve reps. Working to hit our sales quota every month kept me focused on my territory on the East Coast. Bruce worked in the West, so we rarely saw each other. While we both went to work in Minneapolis, we now worked in different time zones.

One day, my boss asked me to change territories. It seems the West Coast was in turmoil and sales were plummeting.  At the core of the turmoil? You guessed it. Bruce. My number one job. Get rid of Bruce! In talking with everyone from the President of the company, to the sales reps on the floor, they were all saying the same thing: Get rid of Bruce!

From the stories that the team was telling me, Bruce was intimidating everyone in the company. Everyone except me. He always treated me with exceptional respect. Those days working late together in the beginning, set an early relationship based in trust. It was that trust that led me to talk with Bruce and not just let him go.

There we sat, eyeball to eyeball. My goal was to understand what was going on with Bruce; knowing that he was better than what people were telling me. Starting our meeting and asking Bruce to envision my hand around his neck and me holding him over a deep abyss. He looked at me with unexpected terror in his eyes.

Then, looking Bruce square in the eyes asking…

“Do you want me to let go?”
“Everyone in this building wants me to let go of you.”
“What do You want me to do, Bruce?”

He responded with stories of mistreatment and verbal abuse. Then almost begging, he told me how much he needed the job.

Building on our bond of trust, together we worked out a plan for him to stay. He was to build a territory in the Canadian territories that had never bought a single product from the company. In my experience, when people are put on a performance plan, they usually take the time to find a new job. Or, occasionally, they hunker down and get back on track. That’s what Bruce did. Within a year, that territory was consistently in the running for the number one territory in the region. Kudos to Bruce for persevering. By that time, most had forgotten the chaos. Funny what success can do to bad memories.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another…”

John 13:34

Bruce is just one of the many blessings during my corporate life resulting from Mentor/Protégé relationships. Christ teaches us to Love One Another; front office, warehouse or street corner. No matter if you are on your way up, or going down, leading with Love will always make the ride smoother. When you focus on helping others succeed, you can’t help but to succeed as well.

God blesses us, not for ourselves,…

…He blesses us so that we may bless others”.

Always Love!

Reprinted with permission of God’s Good News Gazette

© God’s Good News Gazette 2019 – www.godsgoodnewsgazette.com

My Testimony June 21, 2019

Mark McCuen Testimony, Celebrate Recovery June 21, 2019

Adding my testimony from our Celebrate Recovery meeting on June 21, 2019. God has blessed me richly throughout my life, covering and protecting me from the beginning.

It was such a pleasure to offer my testimony in hopes that it will bless others that are struggling. As an added blessing, this was my bride’s and my 44th wedding anniversary. Check it out!

The Key…

“You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.”

James 2:22 NLT

Aren’t we all looking for that Key? The Key that unlocks all the mysteries of life, that opens the door to an unrestricted life? One, simple understanding that lifts the burden of obligation? Ah, to never have to balance a check book again. That perfect marriage to that perfect person. Complete acceptance in any social situation. Never wondering how I am going to do that, how do I fit in, or, what do “They” think?

Getting the key is oft times a monumental step, albeit daunting. Dad giving you the keys to the family car, the bank giving you the key to your first house. Your boss giving you a key to your first private office-or getting the key to your first business. Handing the keys to your car to your sixteen-year-old. Daunting indeed!

As Christians, because we are saved, comfortable in our eternal home, we often believe we have things completely figured out. Still, we need to balance check books, relationships with friends and loved ones can be difficult, and most of us can still fall victim to peer pressure. Knowing that we are a continual work in progress, Christians strive to be better every day. However, life can be tough. It seems we apply all we learn in Church, yet the world continues to punch us in the face.

Like most of you, my life has been full of problems, pressure, and conflict. For decades; through it all, God has been working with me, lighting my path. Teaching me to come closer to him and farther away from the stuff of the World. Looking back, through the turmoil, God has shown me a simple understanding that has helped tremendously in my life, eliminating a host of hardships.

Do you remember playing “Tug-O-War” as kids? Maybe you still play. It’s been a while for me, but it was one of my favorite games. A ruckus team sport that was usually played over a muddy pit. Initially we believed that the game was winnable only through brute strength. As our team got better, we realized it was more of a “head” game. Turns out that “Tug-O-War” was all about strategy and how to take the best advantage of the strength available. Our strategies always included “Psyching” out our opponents before the match. Mainly so that they would start the game doubting their abilities. However, my favorite move was what we called the “fake out”. That glorious move when all at once, our team would give some slack in the rope to the other team. Instantly, thinking they “had” us, the other team would often let up at the first sign of a relaxing in the rope. With a shout, our team would pull back with everything we had. “Hooking” them like a fish on the line. We won more matches with that move than any other.

You might be wondering what does “tug-o-war” have to do with a key to life’s problems? Think of it as a simple analogy of our walk with God. We start life thinking that our “Brute Strength” will get us through everything in life. Then, when we accept Christ as our savior and learn more about God’s grace. We learn that when things go wrong, we need to submit all to Christ. Do we submit? Completely?

Whether we are pulling on the rope; asking God for what WE believe WE need. Or, those times when we truly give it all to God, praying, “Your Will, Not Mine”. Still, aren’t we usually still holding tightly to the rope; fully ready to yank back when WE believe it’s needed. Isn’t “The Key” to let go of the rope? Truly give all our troubles and life to God!

In my experience, it’s all about trust. Trusting God to take us by the hand, so that when we let go of the rope, we don’t fall. The more we trust God, the more we see Him do in our lives. The more we see Him do in our lives, the more we trust Him.

Throughout my life, when letting go of the rope and letting God have it, He has never let me down. When we weren’t sure where the next dollar was coming from, where would we live, how would we find food to eat? Giving it all to God, He always had our backs. Without fail. We weren’t dripping in money, gold, and diamonds, but He always provided.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33

Dropping out of High School, it seemed my life was never going to match my dreams. Scared and frustrated, my fear led me to give it all to God, asking for guidance and help. Looking back, it was that single event — dropping out of school — that led me to meet the love of my life, my bride for over 40 years now. Unquestionably, through some very tough times, God provided and ordered our steps into a wonderful and blessed life together. Recently, when giving up alcohol and pain pills. God led me to my knees, fearing the loss everything. Again, giving it all to God and begging for His help. He not only grabbed my hand taking me out of my addictions, but from that day forward, all desire for alcohol and thought of using opiates are gone. Wiped out entirely. That is the God Factor for me. When you give it completely to Him, fear, doubt, and anxiety go away. Completely. Like it never existed.

Planning things on my own, not giving it to God, always seemed to lead me into chaos. Sure, my thoughts and prayers were with God, always asking for help; but giving in to my plans and my understanding, not His will. Things might have worked, and sometimes even got better, but it was never without strife and disorder. Looking back, it was me holding on to the rope that created the chaos while working to control the outcome.

Letting go of the rope continues to be a battle for me. It’s ALL about trust and faith. Believing that God will grab my hand, place me on His solid Rock, and see me through. He has always been there for me.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23

The Key?…

“Let Go and Let God!
God’s Got This & Grace Got You!”

I’d Be Dead

Growing up, My Sister, Brother and I were so Blessed to have a wonderful mother that believed in each one of us deeply, giving us all so much strength. She always wanted us to live our lives to the fullest; and would never miss an opportunity to tell us that we could do and be anything we wanted.

mom

A little over a decade ago, my Mom was dying. She had fought the good fight and showed us all, what it meant to always work to be a better person.

Her last battles started with lung cancer some fifteen years before she passed. Then after beating the Cancer in her lungs, it creeped into her brain causing a tumor and subsequent brain surgery. Like the trooper she always was; she fought back, and gained five more years with her beloved Grandkids, and the family she was so dedicated to.

Now, on her death bed, she was succumbing to another bout with brain cancer. Knowing her fate, she held my hand and said “Mark, please promise me that you’ll lose all the weight and take care of yourself.” “Your family loves you, and needs you.”

m2mThat was so much like her. Here she was dying… and her main concern was about me, my health and my future! I miss that lady every day.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:
The old has gone, the new is here!.” -Luke 11:36

So, the end of the story is that I promised her I would lose the weight. No doubt, if I hadn’t, I’d be dead. Turns out that was just the beginning of my personal reformation. All glory to God as he was “Ordering” my steps even through the loss of my wonderful Mom.

Life Is Very Short

With all the hate, violence and vitriol going around. I was moved to re-post this from a while ago…

Life Is Very Short…

All my Adult life I have worked to follow the teachings of Jesus, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and yes John & Paul.

All taught one simple lesson, love,… one another.

Imagine that? (Pun Intended).

It’s not always easy, but it is always the right thing.

For all of you out there fighting with friends and loved ones over the current political environment, please head the words of these lifelong friends that were unable to resolve their differences before time ran out.

Life Is Short