The Good Doctor

In early November, I learned via Facebook that a favorite professor of mine from college, Dr. Markowicz, was on his death bed, with only a couple of days to live. Dr. M. was notoriously difficult in the classroom–he would fail a major assignment for a simple grammatical error. After about a year of thoroughly not enjoying his methods, I realized that his high standard would elevate my skill set, and I requested that he become my assigned faculty advisor.

Over the years, I got to know Dr. Markowicz outside the classroom as well. I invited him to lunch at my apartment, and he came. He invited me to play tennis, and I went. He came to my graduation party at my parents home, I saw him around town occasionally, I emailed him for advice and he answered. And so when I learned he was in his last days, I was truly saddened.

On a phone call with my father, I mentioned the professors condition, to which my dad replied that I should call him. Ah, the wisdom of a man who has been stung by death.  After I hung up with my Dad, I felt a strong nudge to call Dr. M., and even more so to ensure he knew there is a God in his last days. Mind you, while I love Jesus, I have never ministered to or prayed with the dying and the idea of it freaked me out. What will I say? What if he doesn’t know God? With my heart beating hard, I told my wife I needed to leave the house to make the call, and I went into the car and prayed, “Jesus, help me now, give me some words.” I turned on the radio for a minute of inspiration and I heard this verse from Matt Redmond’s “10,000 Reasons”:

And on that day when my strength is failing

The end draws near and my time has come

Still my soul will sing Your praise unending

Ten thousand years and then forevermore

And so I had a peace that on Dr. Markowicz’ last day, I was going to call him for no other reason than to praise God. I called him, and he picked up right away.  I introduced myself and between coughs he told me that he was about to leave this world. I told him how much I appreciated him as a teacher and he replied that he appreciated me too. He brought up my sister who was killed when I was a freshman, and he said he knew what my family had gone through, and that he had followed my travels online.

I told him my life was exciting now mostly because of what Jesus had done in it and I said that I cared for him enough to want to be sure he knew there is a God. Then, I asked if he wanted to pray and he said he was good on all that spiritual stuff. I told him I wasn’t sure how to say goodbye, and I wished him great peace. I hung up and wanted to cry, not because I was sad at being rejected in a way, but because God showed me His heart for this man, and showed me how important it is to minister to the dying, to simply be there. The weight of it pulled in my gut like never before.

Over the next couple of days, I kept thinking about Dr. M. I prayed for him and two days later he died. When I told a friend about this phone call, he said that above else, I was faithful to God’s tug on my heart to call him, and to rest in that. I had a sense that there was a bigger picture, one that I could never see fully. I was happy that I got to talk to him, I thought it was a beautiful exchange with a dear man, so much so that when a memorial cropped up online, I wrote a short post about my talk with him:

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 4.01.24 AM

Then, I let the sadness of his passing go. It felt good, it felt right, he was at peace, so was I. Then a month or so later, I happened upon an obituary for Dr. Markowicz on the college’s website. As I read it, I cried because it became clear to me that this was a man of faith and all of a sudden things became clear to me, and I felt I knew him better than ever before. Dr. Markowicz, it turns out, had gone through seminary, but he was denied ordination. This was a man who, like Jesus, was rejected by the church, and organized religion very likely did not sit well with him. He had a healthy skepticism of it, he held his faith close to his heart, its likely that many did not know. He was even ministering to the homeless as part of his extracurricular activities, he launched programs to help people, I’m certain many did not know these things. Never was it so true to me what it says in Proverbs 20:5 “the purposes of a man’s heart are like deep waters…”   I found myself praising God for Dr. M. anew. I found myself praising God for the lesson that I learned, a lesson about holding the tug in my gut from God lightly, not presupposing I know what it means, even if it seems clear. I learned I cannot judge how God is using someone, whether they want to pray with you or not.

Christmas Carol

Christmas Day and Whitney and I settled in to watch a movie after a Christmas dinner with our pastor and his family. As Whitney turned on the television and looked for a festive flick, I took our pacing puppy Archie out for a pee.

He tugged toward the front yard, and let out a low growl. “It’s okay, Archie,” I assured him–a cat was likely lurking I assumed.

Though, right after I said these pacifying words to the pup, I felt a tug in my gut that something was up. Literally up. I looked at the high wall that separates my yard from a business park next door–I had a sense to look over it.  I stepped onto an oversized flowerpot and peered into the darkness. Not much visible, just a dumpster to the left and what appeared to be a pile of trash to the right.

I continued to the front yard; but still, the pull in my gut persisted, as if to say look again, and so I did, and once again found nothing.

Archie did his business, but I had a nagging sense that mine was not finished. I walked around the wall into the business complex to look from another angle. Again, nothing out of the usual.

Back around the wall I went to my house to watch a movie with my waiting wife, who was most likely wondering where I was. But this pull, it wouldn’t quit. So, for a  fourth time I looked over the wall, and this time I called into the darkness, “is somebody there?”

“I’m here,” a head popped out of the pile of trash. “I’m here too,” another head lifted next to the first. A woman had responded first, and she immediately began to explain that she and her friend were not doing anything, they were in separate sleeping bags even, it was just so cold that they needed to be close.

Carol's sleeping location.

Carol’s sleeping location.

To ease her fear that I would call the cops, I told her I work for a company called Cityteam that works with the homeless. Her blunt reply to me was, “God sent you to me!”

“Wow,” I thought, “what is going on?”

“Merry Christmas,” I said next. “You must be cold, can I get you something warm to drink and are you hungry?” I asked. “Yes, yes I am hungry,” she said. “Okay, let me get you something to eat, I’ll be back soon.”

Back inside the house, I saw my bride ready to snuggle, but it would have to wait. I filled her in and she snapped into action preparing dinner and a bag full of provisions.

Back outside, I walked around the wall and knelt down to the two sleeping bags. I learned their names were Carol and Bill. I prodded to learn more about how they ended up in this place on Christmas Day. Carol told me that she has been homeless for over 15 years, a severe alcoholic unable to stop drinking. She fears for her life every day from either lack of alcohol, medical issues, or violence on the streets. In fact, she was in this place, she said, because her camp next to a creek was burned up with all of her possessions a few days prior. Bill insisted he was not homeless, that he was just visiting his friend, Carol. As Carol talked more about her life and her children, I had a strong sense to tell her that she needs Jesus, and so I said just that. Up until this point in my life, I had never said this to someone before.

After a pause, Carol said I was right. She even knew something about Jesus, but I could tell her mind was not clear enough to have a spiritual conversation. I asked if I could pray, and they said yes, and so we held hands and I prayed. I prayed that God would move in that place that very night, and move in Carol and take away her addiction, and move in her in such a way that she could not deny it. All while I was praying, I envisioned Jesus coming into the world in conditions similar to the encampment where I now kneeled.  There was power in that prayer–I felt it. When I was done, Carol told me tearfully that she wanted to change, she was sick of her life, she was sick of being unable to help her children who had also fallen into addiction and trouble. I told her I wanted to help.

I returned to the house to gather up the food, sandwiches, chips, fruit, vegetables, homemade hummus, candy, two Target gift cards, and more that Whitney had assembled. When I brought it all back, Carol was thankful, we talked a bit more, and then I left her with my business card and a challenge to call me the next day if she was serious about wanting to make a change in her life. This was not my first time making this offer to someone on the street, and I knew the chance of a call from her was slim.

The next day, Carol called…and she kept calling. When we spoke, she confirmed she was ready for change–but what should she do? Seeing that I worked for a company that operates addiction treatment centers, you’d think I would have a fast answer. But I needed to inquire with colleagues about how best to proceed, so I started making calls. I learned that in San Jose the best way for Carol was to do a medically supervised detox and then enter a long-term recovery program. I passed on to Carol the number to call and encouraged her and prayed with her again.

Every couple of days, Carol called me with an update. She started to tell me that something was strangely different in her life. In one call, her exact words were, “ever since you peeked your head over that fence with your wife’s hummus and prayed with me, something is going on, you changed my life!” I told her it was not me, but the Holy Spirit of God inside me that made me look over that wall four times, and that God himself moved in her when we prayed.

 

The entrance into the San Jose Gateway program requires patience and persistence, especially for an addict. Carol had days where she was ready to give up, she would yell on the phone, and I would encourage her and remind her I was on her team and she would calm down. It was also during this time she introduced me to Bruce, a friend who was helping her–he let her use his phone, would drive her places, buy her food and other supplies. Bruce had been through recovery himself several years prior and was now eager to see Carol do the same.

One day I got a call from Carol with a report that she was officially on a waiting list to enter a clinic for detox. Great news! She had anywhere from a week to ten days until she would be admitted. I knew there was going to be a fierce battle for Carol’s soul, satan wants nothing more than to keep her trapped in the gutter, the darkness, wet and filthy, on the brink of death. I began to pray for Carol even more than I had previously, Whitney and I prayed for her at each meal.

A few days later, to encourage Carol, I asked her what she needed to make it until she was accepted into detox. She said she needed gloves and socks and a few other things, including a Bible. I was surprised by the request, and Whitney and I went shopping for the supplies. When we found Carol’s tent tucked in the back of a vacant lot next to a Safeway grocery store, she was clearly drunk. She rifled through the bag of goodies, not seeming all that grateful. Then she pulled out the Bible, and perked up and said, “You brought me a Bible!, you brought me a Bible!” She held it close to her chest, and I thought to myself that I had never seen someone react to receiving a Bible like this, and that God was surely up to something in drawing this woman.

Carols Tent

Then, one early Tuesday morning, as I gathered with a group of guys to pray as I often do, I had a hunch to have them pray for Carol. These men love to pray and when we do together we have seen miracles happen! And so when another guy in the group mentioned an encounter with a homeless person, it reminded me to mention Carol, who was impatiently awaiting admission to a clinic. We prayed that God would open doors for Carol that very day.

Later that day, as I laid down for a nap, the phone rang. I recognized the number and picked up just before I fell asleep and would have missed the call. It was Carol and she was overjoyed to tell me that she has just received a call that the next day at 11 a.m. she was to be accepted into a six month detoxification and addiction recovery program.

I told her that that very morning I prayed for her with a bunch of guys that God would open doors for her, she couldn’t believe it. Ecstatic is an understatement. She said things like: “no way!,” and “this thing God is doing in my life is….I can’t knock it out….its undeniable,” and “God is amazing, He is changing my whole life.”

To top it off, she told me that it was her birthday. I asked her about her favorite cake (its cinnamon coffee cake), and Whitney and I bought one and dropped it at her tent to celebrate her new life.

 

Birthday cake and card for Carol

Birthday cake and card for Carol

Make no mistake, all of this was a miracle. That a woman who has been homeless for over 15 years living in the largest and most violent encampment in the country would be found by me on Christmas Day due to a nagging sensation in my gut, and after a powerful prayer over her that night she would call me to report an unmistakeable draw on her life to beat addiction and homelessness, that she would then jump for joy upon receiving a Bible, and now, on her birthday, the same day 15 guys prayed for an open door for her, that she would get a call to enter a program…. these are the ways of life that cause people to throw their arms up and say PRAISE GOD! Any one of these events is unlikely, together they are so far beyond coincidence as to become certainly the hand of God working in a supernatural way.

I kept praying: Lord, keep Carol in the palm of your hand, be her strength amidst her weakness as she heals from years of destruction, and Lord, destroy the enemy, that dirty devil, from having any way in her life right now. Amen.

Again, I just knew that Carol was going to face a battle in this next big step. But I knew that I could not force Carol, she had to choose to show up for detox. I resolved to simply pray for her when the time came to go to detox at 10 a.m. the next day. And as I did, at 9:50 a.m. my phone rang, it was Carol, and she said she was not going. My heart sank, and I inquired how this could be. Carol told me that she needed a certain kind of drug to aide her detox, and if she didn’t have it she would die. Someone had told her this on the street, and it became the absolute truth to Carol, despite the detox facility telling her otherwise.

Carol said she could not go without this medication. Her plan, she told me, was to go to the Emergency Room to get a prescription, and then she would return to detox as planned. I told her to hold on the phone while I asked a colleague if this was realistic. What I learned is that this is never done, and I urged Carol to go to detox, she hung up the phone.

Not even two hours later, Carol called me back, she had her prescription and was back to detox. She thanked me, she said she was scared, but she was going to do it, she was ready. I told Carol that I was proud of her, and that she had to know it was going to be difficult, that she might even face spiritual attack, but that she should just open her Bible and read it, or pray to God like he is her friend sitting next to her. Then I hung up the phone and I praised God for opening doors for Carol that nobody thought possible.

For the next week I got an occasional report from Bruce about Carol’s condition. He visited as much as they would allow, and said she was doing well. Seven, eight, nine days went by–Bruce was delighted, I could hear it in his voice. She was making it. He revealed to me that he too believed God was behind all of this too. I asked him why, and he explained how that as he went through the Alcoholics Anonymous program, he used to read his AA “Big Book” next to a lake, and where the book says to believe in a “higher power” and he often saw geese flying over, so he made the geese his higher power. It worked for him, he said, and when he dropped Carol off, just as she walked into the detox center, a flock of geese flew over, and he broke into tears.

On the tenth day, disappointment set-in, Carol left. Why? Bruce said that Carol was waiting in a van for a ride to the hospital for a check-up and a woman in the seat behind her freaked out and started kicking her seat, and she couldn’t handle it, in that moment of weakness she left.

When I spoke to Carol, she was angry, she trying to explain and place blame. I tried to encourage her to try again, to pray, to tap into that pull in her that changed her heart. She didn’t want to hear it now, she shouted into the phone, we parted ways. I knew I could not force Carol to do anything, I resolved to pray for her more, but it sank in that ultimately Carol had to choose God back. He moved in her and she had to accept him and turn to him when things got rough. My time watching Carol’s life change so clearly through things that cannot be explained my worldly measures, that happen against all odds, gave me a renewed sense that God hears our prayers. And seeing the outcome reminded me too that we have free will and ultimately a relationship with God, like with any other person, to flourish it has to be reciprocal.

God Named My Son

Its true, God gave us the name for our son, Boden Wiley Derfler, before we even knew he was a boy. But before I get to that, I want to share the real, practical ways we felt God’s presence in the pregnancy that led up to the naming.

My wife, Whitney Elizabeth, was born to be a mom. As a young girl, she carried baby dolls around the house as a pretend mother to them. She played house, like many girls do, but she gave extra care to it all. Through her school years and even while entering the working world, her desire was always to be a mom. She became a nanny to two small children for a few years and exhibited a natural instinct with them. And so, that she got pregnant right away was a miracle itself, any woman who has struggled to get pregnant would attest. God was fulfilling His plan and design for Whitney on the first try!

But, before we knew that a baby was on the way, and a week before any kind of test could verify the pregnancy, Whitney got a loud and clear confirmation one day. She sat on the floor praying for her friends, and right in the middle of it all, she heard in her thoughts, “You’re pregnant.” Whitney rarely makes firm statements like this. For example, she would say “maybe I’m pregnant,” even if she took a test and it said she was pregnant she wouldn’t be so sure. So the fact that what she heard was matter of fact, it helped her to know it was not her own thoughts. A test a couple weeks later, on Christmas Day, verified that what she heard was true.

Newly pregnant, both Whitney and I could hardly contain our excitement. And yet, we waited a few weeks to tell anyone to allow it to be special news for just the two of us and to wait until the chance that the baby could be lost was lower. Yet, before we told anyone, our neighbor approached me while I was walking our puppy Archie and excitedly blurted out “Whitney is pregnant,” through a heavy Iranian accent. My puzzled look back to her as I wondered how she could know this was met with a follow-up, “I had a dream and I saw this.” Back in the house, I confirmed with Whitney that she had told nobody–we were the only one’s that knew, or so we thought.

A couple months into the pregnancy, we weren’t thinking too much about names.  And, the names we did toss around for ideas were for girls, because we mainly thought it was going to be a girl. Then, one night, Whitney woke up and heard the word “Boden” three times, not audibly, but as clear as day in her mind. Her first thought was, “What?” Because she didn’t know it was a name–she had never heard it before. The next morning she looked up the meaning and it gave her goose bumps. You see, Whitney had been praying for this baby all along for all kinds of things such as that s/he would be healthy and strong, kind- hearted to people and animals, social and funny, and much more. When she saw the meaning of the name Boden on the computer screen–shelter and messenger–she was immediately struck that God had taken strong qualities of our two characters. Whitney, with her care for all living things–be it people or pets or plants–and her nurturing way, combined with my social nature, love of hospitality, and desire to share stories–the perfect name blending our qualities was this one that meant shelter and messenger. God had provided a name that was better than she could have imagined and she loved it!

It was a couple of days until Whitney came to me with the news. And when I heard it, my first thought was that it was unique for sure, and then I wondered what kind of nickname he would have. Then, a light went off in my memory! A couple weeks prior, we had gone to hear a band called Need to Breathe, and the lead singers are brothers named Bear and Bo. As we drove home from the concert, I remarked that if we had a son we should call him something manly like Bo, because that would have a ring to it, Bo Derfler. Whitney squashed the idea. Well, now that we had this name Boden, I pointed out that our son would be called Bo for short, just as I had wanted. She agreed that, yes, he could be called Bo, but her nickname for him would be Bodie.

Mind you, all of this happened before we knew we were having a boy. And, I should add that our experience was that when it became known we were pregnant, almost everyone (family, friend, and stranger alike) started to weigh in on the sex of the baby.  And a large percentage, I’ll say 75% or more, were telling us they thought it was going to be a girl. They would say that they could see clearly that the baby was sitting in the belly a certain way, we spun a ring above her belly and it spun in such a way that indicated a girl was in there. But this name Boden, which we were increasingly feeling like it was from God, wouldn’t work for a girl. So, this story about getting a name from God was not one that we were telling to anyone, not wanting to look like a fool should we be wrong. Also, neither Whitney or I were of the understanding that God was in the habit of naming babies nowadays. Sure, in the Bible He clearly did, but we just hadn’t heard much about it happening anymore. That all changed very quickly.

A few weeks after the name was revealed, I attended the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast. Modeled after the National Prayer Breakfast held in Washington D.C. each year, it’s a big deal in the San Francisco Bay Area, often attracting well-known speakers like Condolezza Rice and hundreds of attendees. You can imagine my surprise when the keynote speaker, Hollywood producer Mark Joseph, spoke about how God had named his daughter during his speech. Did God reeaallly name my son? It began to look more and more like a possibility.

Then, within another week, as I shared the story with a colleague at work, he quickly remarked that God had named two of his children. And He had equally amazing stories to tell me about it. As I heard them, it was solidified in my mind that God had named my son Boden, and I then knew with 100% certainty that we were going to have a son. At this point, I began to tell the story. I now had complete faith that this was all from God, and I just had to share it. We found out a month later via ultrasound that we were due to have a baby boy.

God names children, I am not sure why He does with some and not others. But this much is true, He does it and in our case it was such a comforting experience. After all, if God names a baby, then there is a reassurance that His hand is on that baby through the pregnancy and that was so helpful for us since we navigated this our first pregnancy on the opposite side of the country from our family and friends.

God continued to provide peace of mind to us. Even with His confirmation in prayer that we were pregnant and with a name given to us, we still had anxiety about the delivery. About five months into the pregnancy, a friend casually suggested that we might come meet her doula, who was going to help her through her delivery. We didn’t even know what a doula was, but we went anyway, and we met Tara, who would greatly impact our peace of mind about the birth, in a most remarkable way.

Tara, we learned, was a Christian too. Even more importantly, she has a really calming presence and she knows a whole lot about giving birth, the mother of five herself. When she came to our home to get to know Whitney and talk about a birth plan, we were surprised that our puppy Archie didn’t even bark when she came in the door. In fact, he ran right up to her and licked her foot–pet owners might appreciate such a vote of confidence. Long story short, the idea that we would have Tara in our corner to help us through the delivery gave us a peace of mind through that pregnancy that made things seem safer.  Also, Tara, who normally charges over $1,000 for her services, informed us that she would not take our money when we asked her about the payment details. She told us that in our case, God nudged her to provide her services to us as a gift and she wouldn’t budge.

There is more to our feeling blessed through this pregnancy than is even captured here. For example, toward the end of it I kept coming across the verse Psalm 139, which included the verses 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

These verses were presented in a Bible study one night, then it popped up in conversations, and when I opened my Bible randomly for inspiration, there it was. I find that for me, God often works by putting the same verse in my path repeatedly to truly write it in my heart.

So, all of these occurrences gave us a strong sense that God was involved in this pregnancy in a very personal way. It left us feeling compelled to share this story with you, because it is so important to us that He gets the glory for this baby boy in our life–we thank Him all the time; and we relay to you son, dear Boden Wiley Derfler, that you are blessed, that God named you, and we pray that He continues to bless you, establish your ways, and grow you as His very own shelter and messenger.

Ryan Derfler ’04 Finds Fulfillment Through Faith and Nonprofit Work

Since graduating from Lebanon Valley College, Ryan Derfler ’04 has been on what he describes as a “wild ride.”

As a student at LVC, Derfler maximized his experience by participating in several unique opportunities—studying abroad in Perugia, Italy, spending a semester in Key West, and even helping develop a mural-making course at the College. “LVC was willing to entertain my passions and wild ideas,” he said.

Derfler stands as proof for how the customizable liberal arts education made available at LVC prepares students not only for their first job after graduation, but for a lifetime of opportunities and success.

Read the full article at the Lebanon Valley College website.

God is Not Efficient

As I was driving into Washington D.C. for the New Canaan Society & Wilberforce Conferences, I called Michael, who I was set to room with for the night. Michael had planned for a nap, he said, and my arrival was set to be right in the middle of it, so would I mind delaying a bit. “No problem,” I responded; and I thought to catch up on work in the business center. Minutes after the call with just a few miles to the hotel, I found myself driving along beautiful Rock Creek. I felt like I should pray at that moment, so I pulled off the road, hopped down the bank, and found my way to a large rock in the middle of the creek. There, I threw up my hands to God and admitted to Him that my heart was not “in” these conferences…I saw them as a work obligation, not as a chance to praise and glorify Him.

As I sat there feeling spent, I told God that I talk enough and would He  please put something on my heart…teach me! Minutes passed by…so did joggers…I soaked up the sun and the sound of the rushing water. Then, right before me, a great message was delivered in the form of two currents that ran counter to the creek. Literally, two sections of water ran back against the flow–literally uphill–to create a small pool right at my feet.

As I saw this I received with it the lesson that God’s design is so high, so Holy, so Perfect, that it must be trusted fully. God is in control and, most important, it can be terribly inefficient in a worldly sense. In the end, the creek runs exactly where God wants it to run. Holding up efficiency as a grand measure, as I often do, was not an across-the-board virtue, at least in God’s design, that much was clear. This came all at once in a remarkable way, so much so that I took out my phone and videotaped the scene.

This was to be a private lesson just for me but then on the last night of the conference Michael introduced me to a friend of his who spoke about his difficulty in always wanting to be efficient. I found myself blurting out that I think God gave me a lesson for him, and at the risk of looking foolish, I showed him my little creek-side video. It resonated with him for sure, but there watching next to him, Michael remarked that it had a strong application for him too. The next day, as we talked more, Michael added that perhaps this story should be shared with our team at work at an upcoming retreat.

I have taken the core message from this day to heart, that I must focus my vision on God’s design and not worldly design, and certainly not on what appears most efficient. I have since balanced research and strategy development with seeking God’s will in prayer, fasting, reading the Bible, and seeking council from other believers. As a result, I have become more patient, understanding, and gentle in handling times when I face inefficiency.

Drop (Work) Like Its Hot

Once I have “learned the ropes” in a job, I start to look for ways to eliminate the actual work involved.
When I know I will never again have to do something I don’t like doing, it brings me great satisfaction. For example, two years ago I (as well as the rest of my team) became tired of faxing contracts to a key transportation partner. I challenged an intern: find a way for us to never have to fax another contract. Thirty minutes later, we discovered that with a small upgrade to our Adobe software, we could sign contracts electronically, save the documents in a searchable database, and reduce our paper use and cost by about 1,500 sheets per year.

It was cause for a “wine-thirty,” a time to pull out a bottle of wine and toast the office mates for making our work life easier!

On another occasion, we were dismayed that we could not afford to produce a promotional video, and none of us had the ability to make one. So we Googled: “how to make a free promotional video,” and learned about a cool software called Animoto, which we have used now for two years and have made scores of slick videos. One of our little homemade videos even won a contest by Comcast and is now aired
nationally. We cut out the work of finding, paying, and waiting for an agency to get the job done.

There are countless examples like this in our office. We ask ourselves and each other, how can we eliminate doing each aspect of our work that we don’t like to do? Regularly make time to ask this question, tune in to your employees and your own “pain points” in your work, and spend just 30 minutes searching for a solution. Nine times out of ten there’s a way to do it, often using a free technology tool.

The hottest technology is the one that helps you work less so you can focus on what you enjoy and what’s most beneficial to the organization. In closing, here are technology tools I’ve leveraged recently to eliminate work I don’t like:

Google Docs & Sites – Information portal and document sharing for groups I manage

Survey Monkey – getting and analyzing feedback from internal & external partners

Doodle – finding the best date for a meeting with a bunch of people

Adobe – electronic document signing and storage – eliminate paper files

Square – take credit card payments anywhere for fraction of the price of traditional processors

http://www.99designs.com – submit a concept for a design you want (logo, graphic, etc.) and have
50 designs to choose from in 24 hours

“The Four-Hour Work Week” – Good book to read to get into the “eliminate, automate” mindset

Originally published in the Philadelphia Meeting Professionals MPItoEye Magazine.

How I Came to Believe in Heaven 110%

The phone rang, it was late, I heard one of my parents get up to answer it in the hallway just outside my bedroom door. Then rustling around and footsteps down the stairs.

Back to bed, though I didn’t really sleep, already eery. Then more ringing, I hopped up and answered, I heard my Dad say come to the hospital. Got Daren out of his bed, into the car, driving and praying, not sure what’s going on, hypotheticals in the mind.

Arrive, park, into the building, somehow it seems we know right where to go, people have looks in their eyes like they know something we don’t, the hall opens into a lobby, our parents are sobbing, immediately we are awash in sorrow. Not sure what’s going on, told it’s not good, she doesn’t look good, a decision to pull her off support will have to be made, let’s go in to see her.

Tubes, machines, swollen, black, blue, a sight i will never forget, make your way to the side of the bed, hold her hands boys, they are so swollen, as soon as we do, she dies.

Everyone crying, doctors, nurses, parents, me. A blur of tears. A blur of everything. Eventually, we exit the building, into the parking lot, the sun is coming up, traffic is building, cool air, the Earth is still spinning, it feels odd that it is.

Drive home…ringing, many phone calls, soon many flowers, it smells like a flourist. People visit, so many people, they bring food. They cry. They sit and talk and listen. So many cards in the mail.

Soon a funeral. A flood of tears, I learned to cry so hard. Damn, man, my sister, my big sister, she’s not showing up anymore.

Days, a daze. Enough for me, I need to get back to something. I need to get back to college, my freshman year. How will I sleep? I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept for a week. I’m going to try…I lay down to sleep, and I do.

And then I’m awake. Oh my God! Hop out of bed, right next to me, there she is, my sister in full color! Immediate tears. I’m sobbing. I wrap my arms around here as tight as I can. Right away I ask over and over, “Are you okay?” She says nothing. I keep asking, she keeps saying nothing.

Then I lift my head and turn right to see her, to verify. I look right into her hair. It’s glowing and flowing. Oh my God! She’s wearing a red Gap hoodie, the same one she is known for wearing, we buried her in it. This is unreal…even as I type this, the words cannot express the sight, the feeling, the realness.

Then, she asks me one thing, “Where is Daren?” I tell her I don’t know, and then, she’s gone.

I jerk awake…sit up completely. I am completely shocked. What just happened. My sister is not in the room, but something is. There is a breeze…a poster hanging above my bed has a corner loose, it’s waving in a breeze that otherwise does not exist. I wipe my face, which is soaked in tears.

On my God! I notice the time, just after five in the morning. Do I write this down, will I forget? I can’t move for an hour. And yet eventually I return to sleep.

The next morning, I get up, shower, dress for school. I go down stairs to leave the house. I walk past the family room, and I see my brother Daren sleeping on the couch. It hits me like a wave…a sense of emotion and peace and understanding and so much more washes over me. Daren, my brother, is known for always sleeping in his bed. Many sleepovers growing up, Daren always retreats to his bed. Many guests visiting the house at this moment, they all insist we sleep in our beds. And yet, there is Daren sleeping on the couch, he’s not in his bed, this is completely abnormal. “Where is Daren,” the question Danielle asked me now makes complete sense to me.

I walk over to the whiteboard in the kitchen, and I write Danielle is okay, tears flowing from my face.

Off to school, walking on air, because I have an unexplainable sense that my sister, who had died one week earlier (and I would later confirm this vision was exactly one week to the minute after her death) was okay, she was in Heaven.

__________________________

Another week goes by. This time, I’m out driving with friends. This is what we do to “get away,” we drive around the back roads of Lebanon County, PA, not caring if we get lost, and it’s not too hard to get lost because there aren’t many landmarks when it’s all fields and pitch black. We just drive, listen to tunes, shoot the breeze. So, I’m driving, one friend up front, another in the back, when I make a right hand turn, and then all of a sudden, it happens.

High above me, and yet visible to me even as I’m driving, my sister, again. She’s glowing, she’s white, she isn’t really a figure anymore, but more of a presence in the clouds. She’s clearly in another place, again, words don’t work to describe this. And she says to me, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry this happened. Tell everyone I’m sorry. And then, she’s gone. All this while I’m driving, and just when it ends, I look up to see a road marker and realize this all happened right when I had turned onto the same back country road where she was killed, just a mile down the road.

__________________________

These two things that I saw, what happened to me in this story, this gave me the most incredible sense of peace I could ever have over my sisters death. Even more importantly, it gave me a 100% certainty that there is a Heaven. And later in life, I started to work backward from this belief in Heaven to analyze the reality of God, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. Even though I was raised going to church and learned the lessons, it never really sank in to a soul level, it didn’t sink in until I later poured over it, questioned it, and experienced it in this way, and many other ways since. Now my faith is central to who I am, I know that even through the death of my sister, God is so good, and his plan is far greater than I can understand. I now believe that God works through visions like these all the time, and he does miracles far greater than we will ever understand. And so, my sister’s death, while a terribly sad occurrence that changed my family forever in deep ways, is also part of the foundation of my faith, and in that way, it is among the biggest gifts I’ve ever received.

Who Are You Behind?

You can be an advocate for Heinz ketchup. Or your favorite children’s book, coffee shop, or clothing brand. Not to mention your favorite non-profit, even your employer. In this day and age, you’re just a Facebook “like” or Foursquare “check-in” from broadcasting your preferences to everyone you know (or claim to know).

It used to be that a happy customer told one person about the experience, an unhappy customer ten. Now, both are just as likely to spread the word to one hundred or more. Savvy organizations and brands have made it easy for others to show their support in a way that remains visible forever on the web. They have developed social media channels and online template letters where you simply enter your email address into a form and click “submit” to petition your legislator.

Advocacy is easier now than ever before, resonates exponentially, and is serving as a trusted gauge of quality. With a tightened economy and greater global competition everyone needs huge numbers of advocates. Those with active public followers, advocates with word-of-web influence, are exponentially recognized for their popularity and see increased business as a result.

Organizations of all types know that it’s vitally important to–one by one–generate modern day advocates. So this all leads to the question, who are you behind?

Originally published in the Philadelphia Meeting Professionals MPItoEye magazine.

So to Shed

Uproot

So to shed

Son

light

On The

Bare

Deep

Banal

 

My routes.

Not without

a bit

Of abandon

Cold dirty messes

A hole To

Be Filled.

 

Cuts at angles

That which dangles

Snip off

What

Drags

 

Wrap

My heart

Into a ball

to be

Lifted away

Small

Then gone

Nothing at all.

 

In another

place

Sons rays

are  There

As

Everywhere

 

So to plant

Supplant

Supplement

 

Even when I cant

I must

I do

I know

 

This growing season

was brief now done

Just enough for

Pollinating

Color leafs

Tired

Roots

Hidden

In earth

Exalt the Son.

Drilling for Alternate Energy

What do you call a power failure?
Answer: A current event.

Sorry for the bad energy joke; though, if you’ve read my column before you shouldn’t be too shocked.

All jokes aside, right now PAMPI is surging and it’s essential that we, as our new President David Jackson, CMP, remarked at the gala, “get plugged in.” There are a multitude of ways to get plugged in at work. For this article, I’m going to focus on the ability of some individuals to physically find energy to work extremely hard. After all, doesn’t it seem that the people who truly excel are those driven by an invisible, seemingly endless, energy supply?

Luckily, I’m surrounded by outstanding examples of this mysterious personal energy in my own office. What follows is a profile of three colleagues, and their response to my question: “Where the heck do
you find the energy to work the way you do?”

Jane Golden (my boss’s boss) — The driving force at the Mural Arts Program since 1984. She’s supervised the completion of over 3,000 murals, and the education of over 35,000 youth. Jane is sought after internationally, with several honorary doctorates, numerous awards including the Philadelphia Award and an Eisenhower Fellowship, and the Philadelphia Daily News named her one of the 75 Greatest Living Philadelphians. Jane also lives with an energy-draining disease called lupus, which makes it all the more impressive that emails, ideas, and leadership come from her at all hours of the day.

What drives Jane – “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and seeing the evidence change,” she quotes, adding that seeing change in people and communities over the years gives her hope
that truly the universe bends toward justice, and helps her to overcome cynicism and exhaustion to make the most of each day.

Kathryn Ott Lovell (my boss) — The mother of a two year-old, she also raises a $6 million dollar budget through endless proposals, events, and public relations. At my interview, she said it best, “Working at Mural Arts is like working for a political campaign the week before the election, and the election never comes.”

What drives Kathryn – “A love for Philadelphia,” Kathryn states right away. It’s a big city, but Kathryn seems to know endless details about its people and places — no surprise since she’s lived
here her whole life. “It’s tremendously rewarding to be able to work with amazing people here and give back to the city at the same time.

Nancy Davis (my assistant) — Nancy’s a retiree who’s busier now than ever. She works at Mural Arts because she loves the mission and the people. In addition to overseeing a never-ending guide training and scheduling program, rarely a month goes by when she isn’t skiing in Vail, at a show in New York, or entertaining guests at her home in the Northeast. She walks four miles round-trip from the train station each day to work, and runs circles around office interns 1/3 her age.

What drives Nancy? – “I like action,” is Nancy’s response. She adds that a sense of curiosity has led to new experiences, interesting people, and gives her a sense of being alive.

Jane, Kathryn, and Nancy show us how they get plugged in to do great work–now go out and be electric in all that you do.