Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord… Psalm 102:18 (NIV)
One of the silver linings of our family’s COVID plague has been the extended amount of time we’ve had with our grandson. This includes both moments of three-year-old hilarity and DEFCON FIVE toddler tantrums.
One of the more endearing developments has been Milo’s insistence on praying for our meal every night. Some nights he insists that we hold hands and pray two or three random times during the meal as he prays:
“God is grape. God is good. And we thank Him for the food.”
The sweetness melts this grandparent’s heart, of course. But for me it’s also witnessing the innocent openness and sensitivity of Spirit in the wee one.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 102, is another ancient Hebrew song lyric that was written during a time of intense illness. In fact, the songwriter was not sure that he was going to make it. The song begins with the writer calling out to God to hear and quickly respond, then he pours out the angst-filled description of his medical and emotional symptoms.
As the song proceeds, the tone of the lyric makes an abrupt switch. The writer stops focusing on his momentary circumstance and, instead, focuses on God’s eternal nature and the perpetuity of life. It’s as though the writer is saying “Even if this is it for me, and my number is up, life will go on. That which is eternal perseveres. The universe continues to expand. The next generation will emerge, then the next, and then the next.”
One of the oft-forgotten themes of the Great Story is that of descendence.
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” Genesis 1:28 “God said to Noah and his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and your descendants.’” Genesis 9:8-9 To Abram: “I will make you into a great nation.” Genesis 12:2 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NIV)
The Great Story is a story because it continues, it goes on even when my role is over and I make my final exit. Even in the most tragic and bleak dystopian imaginings, the premise is that Life endures and the story continues.
In the quiet this morning I feel the lingering effects of the virus on my body and realize that at this point in this life journey I don’t bounce back the way I once did. I listen to the unbridled energy of my grandson whose body felt none of the viral effects and who will live his earthly journey without remembering these weeks shut-in with Papa and Yaya.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, for him or for me. No matter the narrative of my story, life will continue in his story. Life gets handed off, a little bit each day, as we sit around the dinner table, holding hands and listening to that little voice say “God is grape.”
Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy. Psalm 99:9 (NIV)
While being in quarantine has frustrated my extroverted need for interpersonal interaction over the past ten days, I have also been mindful each day to appreciate the opportunity it has afforded Wendy and me to spend lots of time with our grandson, Milo, who normally resides across the pond in Scotland. Yesterday, my exercise monitor informed me that I’d set a new personal record for exercise in one day. If you’re having a hard time getting into that New Year’s workout routine, I suggest finding someone to loan you their three-year-old for a few days.
One of the more endearing developments during our extended time together has been Milo’s desire to go to sleep at night in Papa and Yaya’s bed. Last night, Wendy and I climbed onto the bed with Milo between us. We read three books together, then turned out the light. We sang softly in the darkness. Wendy reached over Milo and held my hand as we lay and sang with Milo nestled between us. Even with my hearing impairment, I could hear Milo’s deep breaths as he drifted to sleep. We then whispered a prayer over him before slipping out of the room.
That, my friend, was a special moment. I wanted to just stay in that moment forever. If only I could bottle it up and hold onto it. I immediately knew that it was a memory I will remember and cherish always.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 99, continues in this section of ancient Hebrew praise songs. They were likely used for liturgical purposes to call the Hebrews to worship in the temple. The lyricist of Psalm 99 layered this call to praise with metaphorical meaning that casual readers in English would never pick up.
Remember in yesterday’s post/podcast I shared that “everything is connected?” The Hebrews found spiritual connections with numbers. Each number had meaning. Seven was a number that meant “completeness.” Three was a number spiritually connected to the divine. There are three stanzas, each with four verses (4+3=7). Seven times the songwriter uses the Hebrew name of God, Yahweh. Seven times he uses Hebrew independent personal pronouns. Three times he refers to God as “holy” (Hebrew: qadosh).
I confess that “holy” is a word, and a spiritual concept, that I failed to fully understand, or flat out got wrong, for most of my journey. The concept of holiness as communicated by the institutional churches I’ve been involved in my whole life made holiness out to be simple moral purity in the utmost sense. The equation was “no sin” plus “going to church” equaled “holiness” (x + y = z). Which meant that holiness, unless you were Mother Theresa, was pretty much unattainable.
I have come to understand, however, that qadosh has a much larger meaning. There are moments in life in which everyone in the room knows there is something meaningful, something special, something larger that is happening in the moment.
Our daughter, Taylor, has an audiotape of the moment she entered the world in the delivery room. You hear her squeaky cries. You hear Dr. Shaw announce it‘s a girl. You hear me talking to her on the warming table. That moment is qadosh.
Last October I stood with our daughter, Madison, in a courtyard. We watched the congregation stand and turn toward us. The beautiful bride, whom I taught to walk, I now walked down the aisle to “give her away” to the man she loves. People smiled and wept. That moment was qadosh.
I sat in the dark room of the nursing home as my grandmother’s life ebbed away with each strained breath. Through the wee hours I kept watch over her. I held her hand. I sang her favorite hymn. I read the final chapter of the Great Story to her and I realized in the moment that it was like reading a travel brochure for the trip she was about to take. That moment was qadosh.
Last night as Wendy and I held hands and hovered over our peaceful, sleeping grandson lying in our bed. We sang. We prayed blessings over him. It was a holy moment. That’s qadosh.
Throughout the Great Story, when God made a special appearance (theologians call that a theophany) the person to whom God appears is mesmerized, speechless, dumbfounded, or overwhelmed. To be in the presence of God, described by lyricist of Psalm 99 as the royal King of Kings. That moment is qadosh.
When the psalmist calls me to worship, he’s not religiously demanding that I dutifully “go to church” in an effort to attain some pinnacle of moral purity. In fact, when I meditate on the fullness of all the qadosh moments I’ve recalled, then all my old notions of what it means to be “holy” are silly in their triteness. The psalmist is calling me into the mysterious, beautiful, meaningful moment of qadosh.
The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Psalm 97:1
Zion hears and rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, Lord. Psalm 97:8
This past week was among the most unique experiences of my entire journey. I spent the week in quarantine with Wendy, our daughter, and her family. While we were cooped up in the house together, the outside world here in the States seemed to sink deeper into a level of crazy I would have never thought possible were I not witnessing it. I have found the juxtaposition of those two realities are a bit strange and unsettling.
And yet, I sit here in the quiet at the beginning of another day, and a new work week. Each is a clean slate. Both are tiny reset buttons in this journey. Just as the prophet Jeremiah wrote as he sat amidst the chaotic rubble of Jerusalem, his life, and everything he had ever known:
Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIV)
Today’s chapter, Psalm 97, is another in a series of celebratory songs of praise. The editors of the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we know as the Psalms, put several of them together in this section we happen to be trekking through. Psalm 97 is a call to the listener to join in rejoicing and praising God.
This song is two thematic sections (vss 1-6; 8-12) that are hinged on a central verse (vs 7). What I found interesting as I read through it and meditated on it in the quiet this morning is that the first section recognizes God as Lord over creation, the universe, and literally everything. The second section brings things down to God being the Lord over Jerusalem, the little villages of Judah, and God’s people therein.
As I mulled this over, I was reminded of one of my recent posts and my morning pages. In my stream-of-consciousness journaling I discovered that I seem to have an easier time trusting God with the big things of the creation, time, and the universe. It’s in the small, personal things of my own personal journey that I tend to struggle.
The macro and the micro.
Chaos in the world outside and family quarantine here in our house.
In the quiet this morning, I hear God’s Spirit whispering to my spirit. The Spirit gently reminds me that, in both the macro and the micro, “I’ve got this.”
I simply have to listen, receive, embrace, and believe in each strange moment of the strange, present realities in which I find myself on both the macro and micro levels.
Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness…” Psalm 95:7-8 (NIV)
Greetings from quarantine. It’s official that COVID has entered our home. I’m happy to report that symptoms are very mild and it’s only one person. That said, the lockdown at Vander Well Manor has begun.
Some days simply get off to a rocky start, and the past couple of days have been that way. Routines get thrown out of whack when you’re quarantined with the three-year-old and a pandemic throws life into a perpetual state of questions.
Some months get off to a rocky start, and this month has been that way. I won’t bore you with the details, but unexpected issues with work have kept the stress level consistently higher than normal since New Year’s.
Some years simply get off to a rocky start, and the past couple of days have been that way. The political tensions of the past four years, once again, spill over into the streets, through mainstream media, and all over social media.
I can’t say I’ve experienced much quiet this morning. It’s mostly been activity, swapping kid duties so others can work, and trying to sneak in a perusal of today’s chapter. That said, one of the great things about this chapter-a-day journey is that it always meets me right where I am, in this moment, and at this waypoint on life’s road.
The ancient Hebrew song lyrics of Psalm 95 begin with a call to praise. The songwriters calls the listener to sing, shout, and bow down in worship of the Creator and sustainer of life. He then makes a sudden shift and presents a warning that is a mystery to most casual readers. He warns his listeners to learn from the past and refuse to “harden your hearts” as happened “at Meribah and Massah.”
Anyone can read about the event that inspired the lyrics in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. It happened as the Hebrews tribes escaped slavery in Egypt and struck out through the wilderness to the land God had promised. Even though God had repeatedly revealed His power in getting the Egyptians to let them go, to save them from the Egyptian army, and provide for their “daily bread,” they grumbled and complained.
I have written multiple times in these chapter-a-day posts about the Chain Reaction of Praise which begins with my decision to praise God in every circumstance which leads to activated faith which then leads to praying powerful prayers, which leads to overcoming evil with good, which leads to increasing spiritual life and maturity.
It struck me that what the songwriter of Psalm 95 is doing is calling me to the Chain Reaction of Praise. No matter what the circumstance, lead with praise. Choose to shout, sing, and bow down rather than grumble and complain. It goes against the grain of my human emotions, but that is the way of Jesus.
It’s been a rocky start to the day, the month, and the year. Life is not settling back into a peaceful, happy routine. I can grumble, complain and sink into despair. Or, I can follow the path of Jesus. I can follow the Spirit. I can choose to praise, to have faith, to pray, and to keep doing what is good and right in the moment despite my circumstances.
That’s what I’m endeavoring to do in this moment, on this day.
BTW: My daily posts and podcasts might be published sporadically, or not at all, for the next few weeks. Just sayin’. I’ll just be here praising and doing what’s good and right in each moment of quarantine.
The last time I shared an update of what the family has been up to, it was March. Wendy and I had just completed the longest stretch of travel in the shortest amount of time in our lives. Our sojourns included but were not limited to Madison’s wedding in Columbia, SC, Suzanna’s wedding in Mazatlan, Mexico, Christmas in London, New Year’s in Dublin, and our vacation and cruise in Florida and the Caribbean. That doesn’t include all of my work travel between those trips. Basically, between October and March, I was at home less than 50% of the time. So my last update on this blog happened after Wendy and I had just returned from a cruise with our friends and there was rising concern about this pesky little virus from China.
That seems like it was another lifetime. From non-stop travel to staying at home all the time. What a contrast.
So, I guess I should start off by letting everyone know that everyone in our family is healthy and safe. Living in a small town in rural Iowa has its advantages. For Wendy and me, that means a total of only 73 cases of COVID-19 in our county with zero deaths. A few of Wendy’s family members had the virus but quarantined and were fine.
So let’s go back in time…
(Love that meme!)
Right before our cruise and right before COVID lockdown, Wendy and I had been asked if we would allow our home to be the location for a special birthday blow-out for our friend, Sarah. Of course, we said “yes,” and we loved that our home could be used for the event. It was a great night of meeting lots of new people, serving as hosts to our friends and their guests, and celebrating Sarah’s big day.
Of course, right after we returned from our cruise the world stopped. All of my business travel was canceled. The lockdown also happened right before St. Patrick’s Day, which happens to be one of our favorite holidays. Thankfully, the Vander Well Pub right down the stairs in our basement. Wendy and I celebrated in a private affair.
For a couple of months, Wendy and I barely got out of the house. In some ways, it was a nice change from the plethora of travel we’d just finished. Like most people, we took the opportunity to accomplish tasks that had been on the to-do list for years. This included stringing up a shade-sail and lights over our patio. We were so excited to use the grill for the first time this spring.
Our kids, Madison and Garrett, made a brief weekend visit (they were the only passengers on the plane) to Iowa in early April. Because my parents (who had never met Garrett in person) were unable to attend the wedding in South Carolina and Garrett had never been to Pella, they wanted to make the trip and it was awesome to have them. Of course, they couldn’t actually meet my parents in lockdown, but they stood on the sidewalk and spoke to them through the folks’ second-story window. C’est la vie.
About that time, I was playing a little driveway basketball with m’man, Nathan, and took a tumble while chasing the basketball into the yard. In one swift move, age met with athletically-challenged coordination. I chipped an ankle bone, strained my Achilles tendon, and tore my calf. Ugh. Welcome to weeks of crutches and sleeping in a recliner followed by several weeks on hobbling in a bionic-boot.
I continue to teach on occasion among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and volunteer in leading the teaching team, but even that has been weird. Like most churches, we went to live-streaming the service from an empty sanctuary to those watching on YouTube at home. This year, Wendy made a lovely Easter breakfast and we ate as we attended Sunday services on the couch in our living room.
On a couple of occasions, I also got the chance to join our friend, Jenny, in hosting the eerily Today-like pre-and-post-service on-air chat.
Wendy and I made good use of the patio on my birthday. Of course, COVID meant that the celebration was limited, so we invited the VLs (who moved into the neighborhood! Woot! Woot!) over to cookout and celebrate one more orbit around the sun.
Of course, celebrating May fourth is always important.
Spring is when Wendy and I are usually busy portraying our town’s founding couple at the annual Pella Tulip Festival. The festival was canceled along with every other event in the known world, but by May things were starting to begin a scaled opening and we were desperately ready to get out of the house. Our friends Kev and Beck brought their kids to Pella for a day of enjoying the tulips, even if there was no festival.
While our business has been, understandably, slow, Wendy has kept busy this year working as the studio manager of a new yoga here in Pella: Selah Studio. The studio is owned by our friends the VLs and it has been holding classes in various rented spaces while they got the studio space uptown ready for prime time. Wendy and I were so excited when we got the opportunity to join them to pray over and bless the space.
In the world of COVID-correctness we tried very hard to balance being safe and wise with continuing to live life. While we stayed away from most social situations, we considered our inner-circle of friends the “family” with whom we do life. So it was, that Wendy and her girlfriends decided to have an old-fashioned girls’ sleepover at our house and I was politely asked to vacate the premises for a night and a day. So, my friend Kev and I took his son, Harry, to the lake for a little male rite-of-passage weekend before the young man headed off to forge his own path in life. This dudes weekend with father and son had been discussed for years. I was so glad we finally got to make it happen!
Our “family” normally spends Memorial Day at the lake together, so we kept up our tradition. Always a fun time with the crew.
My folks continue to hang in there through the COVID craziness. Their retirement community locked down pretty tight, but they were given a special dispensation to go to the lake for a long weekend with me and my sister. We tried to remember the last time we spent a weekend together, just the four of us, which we figured was probably sometime in the late 1980s. It was a great weekend reliving memories and spending time together at the Playhouse. Dad and I fixed the dock light together. Jody and I helped dad alter his Memoji so that it actually looked like him. We went for boat rides, spent the mornings on the deck and the afternoons on the dock. It was a great time of making memories.
As June continued we realized a years-long dream of getting the friends together for a Godfather night. The JPs and VLs came to VW Manor for a really amazing Italian dinner. Wendy made Chicken Parmesan (so good) and fresh-baked Italian bread (so, so good). Dinner was followed by a showing of the original Godfather. After the movie, we enjoyed Cannoli (yes, we left the gun) as we talked about the movie. It was awesome.
As for the rest of our crew: Tay, Clay, and Milo are still living in Edinburgh, Scotland (way too far away for Papa and Ya-Ya’s liking). A HUGE congratulations are in order for Clayton for finishing his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh while navigating life with a new and unexpected wee-one. Clay has been hired to participate in a three-year research project, and we’re really proud of him. Milo is two-and-a-half years old and is totally into dinosaurs and fire trucks. Taylor continues to work for storii.com and loves advancing the cause of care for Alzheimer’s and Dementia in our world. They recently got out of lockdown and celebrated Taylor’s 30th birthday with their favorite team of Iowa ex-pats in Scotland.
Meanwhile, Madison and Garrett purchased their first house in Columbia, South Carolina and they adopted our first-ever granddog, Bertha. Garrett continues in medical device sales and Madison continues to work in development for the Governor’s STEM high school in South Carolina.
So, that’s the skinny on February through June 2020. Cheers!
With the entire world in various forms of quarantine, the past couple of months Wendy and I have uttered repeated prayers of gratitude that we actually enjoy being with one another at home. I’ve thought long and hard about what effect “sheltering-at-home” has meant both for those who live with a crazymaker and for those who may have finally had an excuse to escape a crazymaker for a time. This post, originally from April 23, 2013, has generated quite a bit of interest over the years. I thought now would be a good time to put it back out there again.
Over the years I have learned: Just as important as choosing good companions for the journey, it is equally important to avoid sharing life’s sojourn (even for a season) with “crazymakers.” Like the troublemaker in the proverb above, crazymakers plant seeds of strife wherever they go. They waste our time and suck us into the black hole of their neediness. They passive-aggressively pit people against one another and stir up dissension.
In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julie Cameron nails it with her description of crazymakers:
Crazymakers break deals and destroy schedules. They show up two days early for your wedding and expect you to wait on them hand and foot. They rent a cabin bigger than the one agreed upon and expect you to foot the bill.
Crazymakers expect special treatment. They suffer a wide panopoly of mysterious ailments that require care and attention whenever you have a deadline looming.
Crazymakers discount your reality. No matter how important your deadline or how critical your work trajectory at the moment, crazymakers will violate your needs.
Crazymakers spend your time and money. If they borrow your car they return it late with an empty tank.
Crazymakers triangulate those they deal with. Because they thrive on energy (your energy), they set people against one another in order to maintain their own power position dead center.
Crazymakers are expert blamers. Nothing that goes wrong is ever their fault.
Crazymakers create dramas – but seldom where they belong. Whatever matters to you becomes trivialized into mere backdrop for the crazymaker’s personal plight.
Crazymakers hate schedules – except their own. If you claim a certain block of time as your own, your crazy maker will find a way to fight you for that time, to mysteriously need things (you) just when you need to be alone and focused on the task at hand.
Crazymakers hate order. Chaos serves their purposes. When you establish space that serves you for a project, they will abruptly invade that space with a project of their own.
Crazymakers deny that they are crazymakers. “I’m not what’s making you crazy,” they will say, “It’s just that … [add something else to blame].”
I have found that the only path to increased levels of life, growth, and understanding is the one path that leads me directly away from a crazymaker.
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 2 John 12
There is, in my office, a stack of letters and postcards, the culmination of many years of correspondence between me and one of my longest and dearest friends. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a writer of letters and postcards. I have always found that there is something special in receiving another person’s thoughts and expressions in their own unique handwriting. Email, texts, and social media have made interpersonal communication simple and easy, but that has only increased the value that I place on a note, postcard, or letter than someone has taken the time to pen in their own hand, address, stamp and place in the mail. As it becomes more rare, it increases in value.
The “Book” of 2 John is the chapter today, which is almost laughable. This “Book” is actually a short note written from “The Elder” to a woman whose home was one of the tens of thousands of homes in which the followers of Jesus gathered before the idea of a church building was conceived. Tradition holds that it was John who wrote the letter, though this has always been the subject of debate.
The tone of the brief correspondence is simple and somewhat hasty. The author admits there is so much more to write, but would rather wait and speak face-to-face so that “our joy may be complete.”
After a couple of months of quarantine and social distancing, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to see people, hug people, and chat with people face-to-face. Wendy and I are often the last people to walk out of the room when our local gathering of Jesus’ followers meets on Sunday mornings. Just the thought of a “normal” weekly gathering in which several pockets of people are spread around the room after our worship to talk together, laugh together, and pray together almost makes me emotional.
Here in Iowa, things are beginning to slowly return to normal. Our local gathering is giving it a few weeks before we, once again, meet together in person. I’m looking forward to that day. Meanwhile, during this quarantine, I have continued to jot the occasional postcard to loved ones. I trust that, in this time of social lockdown, it will bring a little extra joy than normal when it arrives. Maybe it won’t make joy “complete” like being there in person and giving them a hug, but sometimes the “incomplete” joy of a handwritten note is a much-needed shot of joy.
“Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: a servant who becomes king, a godless fool who gets plenty to eat, a contemptible woman who gets married, and a servant who displaces her mistress.” Proverbs 30:21-23 (NIV)
I don’t believe that I can truly appreciate just how blessed I am in this world, and in this time, compared with the general state of human existence throughout history. There are daily necessities for survival that I take completely for granted like fresh water out of a tap, secure shelter, heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer, and an abundance of food. There is also sanitation, security, safety, and health. Then there’s communication (I get to see and talk to my grandson on the other side of the world whenever I desire), transportation (I can fly through the air anywhere in the world), medicine, and the rule of law make living today easier, safer, cleaner, healthier, and more entertaining than any age in human history this side of the Garden of Eden.
In the ancient Middle East, a very high value was placed on social order. I’m not sure I can completely appreciate why it was so important. I do understand, however, that everyday life for the sage Agur (who wrote today’s chapter of wise sayings) was infinitely more tenuous than for me. His most basic needs for human survival (water, food, shelter) were never givens. If he got a virus, an infection, or had a heart attack he would die. His life expectancy was short. If there was a famine, a drought, or a flood there was no government assistance or subsidies. Agur would starve, or risk traveling to another country to beg, or his tribe might attack another tribe to plunder what they could. Life for Agur was not safe, not secure, and not easy. So, social order gave him and people of his day a sense of peace and sanity to an otherwise unpredictable existence.
Agur then speaks of “earth trembling” (think uncertainty, confusion, insecurity, and being out of control) when four things happen. The four things he lists might seem silly to us today, but they represented the social order of Agur’s world turned upside-down. They were things that brought unease, insecurity, and meant the already tenuous order of life was going to be even more out-of-sorts.
In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but find myself thinking of the “trembling” our “earth” has experienced in recent weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. The insanely easy and secure order life I enjoy has been briefly interrupted. I am inconvenienced. I will suffer a loss of income. But, as I meditated on what life must have been like for Agur, I imagined him traveling through time and arriving as a guest in my home. I imagine the wonder in his eyes as he sees how much room we have in our house (for only two people). I picture him walking around and seeing the food in my pantry (which could probably sustain us for weeks or months), our water faucet, the sanitary plumbing in my bathroom, the countless gadgets that entertain me, the library of books on our shelves, the safety of my nation and community, the modern apothecary and medical supplies in my medicine cabinet, the bed I sleep in, and the number of clothes in my drawer. I imagine him seeing all of this and taking it all in. Then I hear his incredulous scoff at my whining and complaints of the travails of quarantines, social distancing, and how inconvenienced I’ve been for a couple of weeks.
“Crisis” is a fascinating thing to experience. I find myself being continually reminded just how often Jesus told His followers not to be afraid, not to worry, and not to be anxious. And Jesus’ life was a lot more like Agur’s than mine. I find it ironic how easy it is to step into the fear trap, no matter how safe, secure, and well-provisioned I am.
Today, I want to keep seeing my life through Agur’s eyes.
Servants cannot be corrected by mere words; though they understand, they will not respond. Proverbs 29:19 (NIV)
A while back my company performed a “pilot” assessment of a client’s Customer Service team. We assessed a couple hundred phone calls between the Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) and their customers over a four week period of time. As with most of our initial assessments, data revealed the team to be pretty good. There was certainly inconsistency across the team. Some team members were naturally better than others. There was also a tremendous opportunity for improvement. Even the best CSR on the team had room to grow.
When that assessment was complete, we presented the results to the team, and targeted five key service skills for improvement. We trained them how to demonstrate these skills, provided examples, and gave them tactics of how to begin demonstrating these skills into their conversations with customers.
The plan had been for us to immediately begin an on-going assessment of calls for the team, so we could track the individual CSR’s progress, provide data on their individual development, and coach each one towards improvement. The client, however, implemented a change in their telephone system which meant we could not access recordings of the team’s calls for three months. By the time we finally had access to the team’s calls, four months had passed since our initial assessment.
So, how had the CSR done with the information and training we’d provided four months earlier?
Of the twelve CSRs on the team two of them did a bit better, two of them did a bit worse and eight of them were statistically the same. It was a perfect bell curve. Customers had not experienced any meaningful improvement in service.
In today’s chapter, the ancient Sage says that you can’t correct a person “with mere words.” A person may get what you’re saying, but they’re not motivated to actually change their behavior. That is going to require more than mere words and information.
Once our team was able to begin on-going assessments, CSRs were able to see how their service compared to their team each month. They were held accountable for their performance, and given the opportunities to receive cash bonuses if they performed at a high level. Suddenly, change began to happen. I’m happy to say that the team eventually became top-notch in providing service to their customers.
There’s a tremendous life lesson in this for me. Being complacent is the norm. Living each day simply driven by my appetites, habits, instincts, and emotions is really easy. Being disciplined, transforming old, unhealthy habits into healthy new ones, and learning to respond in wisdom rather than emotion are things that require intention, attention, and accountability. The Sage is right. I can read every self-help manual on Amazon and listen to every motivational podcast on the planet, but it’s another thing to actually make a change.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself in self-evaluation mode. How am I doing with the things I wanted to accomplish? Have I been able to actually change my behavior in order to progress towards the internal goals I’ve set for myself this week, this month, this year, in life? Honestly, it’s a mixed bag. I’ve progressed well in some things and haven’t moved an inch in others.
In this season of stay-at-home quarantine, I have the time and opportunity to review, recalibrate, and renew my efforts. My Enneagram Type Four temperament risks letting Resistance drag me into shame for all the things I haven’t done, then sic pessimism on me to convince me I’ll never actually do it. But, I know from previous experience on this earthly journey that shame and pessimism are wasted emotions. I can’t do anything about the past.