Half-Page Entries on Life

JournalThe last page of a journal.  It’s just another day and just another page, but there is significance in that last journal entry.  It’s a marker.  This last week I filled the final page in my latest Levenger journal.

The first page of this journal was penned in November of 2012, just as I had applied for a Senior Vice President job.  A job that I did not get.  And, of course, this journal ends with my departure from a job in that same organization.  It’s interesting to note that two employment event bookend this season of journaling.

Between those bookends, I wrote about my studies from Dale Bruner’s commentary on Matthew, Oswald Chambers classic My Utmost for His Highest, Andrew Murray’s Abide in Christ and readings from through the Bible. I journaled through many interesting events, including camp assignments, evaluations and work challenges, vacations, high school and college graduations, sabbatical, trips to Mexica, Austria, Hong Kong and a whole lot of trips to Pullman, visiting my college-aged at Washington State University.

This completed journal is an fascinating and fun review.  I’m thankful for these brief, half-page entries, done on an attempted-everyday basis and their reflection of God in my life over time.

Now time to crack open a new journal…


Sacrosanct Suburan

SuburbanSo for my first business trip on my own, I got the upgrade.  The rental car company gave me a Chevy Suburban for my low-price reservation.  Leather.  Sunroof.  Bumping sound system.  Bucket seats that “goosed” me when I moseyed outside the lane (I admit to some intentional veering).  This was the kind of first-class ride that I always desired during my years of corporate travel and never got.

You must understand.  “Upgrade” is holiest of words to the corporate traveler.  It is sacrosanct. Never mess with the upgrade.

My career has been done via business travel on the cheap.  This being my first trip “on my own” took me too a new level of frugal.  I even packed a lunch to eat following my landing in Denver (I wish I was kidding…).

This fantastic rig for my first gig.  Awesome, right?  Not when you are starting a business which has yet to stream income.  This blessing becomes a curse at the Arco.

The nicer hotel room, move to first class and any other upgrade would usually fill my tank.  Until this sunny day outside DIA.  One of the most significant expenses of my trip was filling that tank.

Perspective.  I’m sure the young lady at the rental counter thought she was doing me a nice favor after our friendly exchange.  She didn’t know that the internet-bargain, previously-reserved mid-size would have been just perfect…and preferred.

Perspective.  It was a tank of gas in a season that a gallon of gas is basically half-price.  Did my mpg really have to taint the experience of the open sunroof and vibrating seats?

Laboring to Listening

My day opens with this email from a friend…  

Keep making space to listen. You’re in the whirlwind of practical concerns, pressures, desires, fears, and excitements. You need discernment with all those voices. Bless you brother. 

And then I open my devotional to read the following…

Be still, and know that I am God… —Psalm 46:10

I thought I had a lot to do today. Turns out there are only one thing – Listen.

Help Me with My Scrambled Eggs

I remember a childhood morning when the church’s Associate Pastor came to visit our home.  Some emergency meant that family had gathered and when the news reached the church office, the Associate Pastor was dispatched to visit.

A pastors visit wasn’t uncommon but was most certainly a special occasion.  The pastor was seen as high and lifted up.  He spoke from the pulpit.  He seemed to have special knowledge into all things holy. They may not have acted “holier than thou” but we sure did see them that way.

The pastoral visit usually came in response to a prayer request that landed on the always active church prayer chain (from listening to mom’s end of those prayer chain phone calls, it seemed more like gossip than godly).  The visit could also be triggered by writting something down in the little red portfolio of the pew, passed dutifully by the faithful each week.  That portfolio even a box to check if you wanted a pastor to visit.

This morning the Associate Pastor and my mom talked quietly in the living room while my aunt, who had come to town, cooked scrambled eggs for my sister and I.  This California aunt didn’t visit us rainy Washington folks very often so she wasn’t unaccustomed to the variables of the Rutledge kitchen.  One of those nuances was our frying pan the wood ScrambledEgghandle of which would swivel separate from the pan itself.

While mom and Pastor chatted, Aunt Maxine finished the eggs.  She pulled the pan from the stove.  The wood handle stayed firm in her grip and the rest of the pan reversed, sending the eggs in a 180-degree (as in an arc, not temperature…eggs only need to be cooked at 160) to the kitchen floor.  My non-church attending Aunt’s natural response, in spite of Pastors, children or her guest status in our home, was, “Shit.”

That wasn’t common language in our house and certainly was not language we used around the pastorate.

This, though, was real life.  That is how it was lived that morning in that situation with those players.  Welcome pastor.  We hope you enjoyed your trip from the pulpit to the flying eggs of our home…and we hope you didn’t plan to eat.

I’m sure that pastor had a nice conversation with my mom that morning.  He may have learned a lot, but I doubt he learned near as much in the conversation as he did in that scrambled moment and our response (which was one second of aghast followed by belly laughter).

Six weeks ago we had a little family emergency.  I left my job.  We don’t have a red portfolio at our church, but we do have prayer request cards.  One Sunday morning I filled one out.  I also sent emails to a couple of the pastoral staff (or their assistants because the pastor’s email isn’t public) letting them know of my change.

I wasn’t hoping to have a pastor visit my house for eggs that next morning, but I did have some level of expectation.  I’m guessing (but I don’t know) that my need has ended up on a prayer chain of some sort.  The living room visit is a lot to ask…but an email, phone call, meeting at Starbucks?

This isn’t a statement about my church as much as it is our world.  It’s not an uncommon story.  I have a friend whose son was in the hospital on a ventilator, fighting for their life.  This young adult was active in the church, even in small group leadership.  The mom reached out to the church and gave them the details of what was happening.  They got a card a week later, as their son was starting his new life in a wheelchair, that said, “Feel better.”  “Feel better?”  That was the best they could do.

I couldn’t even tell you what I’m looking for in a response for myself or my friend, but that’s not it.

Again this isn’t a statement against a church or even “the church” as much as it is a reflection on our world.  Today’s churches are evaluated by the metrics of this world – attendance, conversions, baptisms, number of campuses, “followers,” podcast, subscriptions, etc.

The value of pastoral invitation is lost.  I can understand.  Visiting someone in a hospital is not fun.  It personally can give me the heebee-geebees.  It’s also expensive.  Sending one salary all over town to meet with people is inefficient.  Finally, the need is huge, especially at mega-churches.  So who gets a visit?  Who gets a card?  Who makes the call?  How do you make these decisions and how do you handle the volume?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, we just need to do better.When I’m getting better care from my neighborhood community than I am from my church community, something is off.

I guess what I want is a church community that will help me pick up scrambled eggs from the kitchen floor.

In Awe of the Abundance Mentality

Taylor Swift and Ed SheeranI have to believe that Taylor Swift’s response to someone else winning an award and her resulting loss is genuine and honest.  She’s consistently shown as much, if not more excitement at another person’s win as her own.

I don’t think it is just her way of coping, hiding the tears behind that smile and hand-covered mouth.  It’s not a put on to keep her image as a golden child.  This is genuine TSwizel.  She’s in it for everyone.

I guess you could blame it on the everyone-wins-a-trophy age in which Taylor was raised.  If so, it sure didn’t rub off on Super Bowl-press-conference-walkout Cam Newton.  They are both 26.  Same age, much different response.  Could you image Cam covering his mouth with wide eyes on the sidelines at the end of the game saying, “Oh my goodness.”

Taylor has an abundance mentality.  It seems that everyone is a winner in her world.  That is a great way to live.

Note she did win album of the year by the end of the night…and I actually like her losing expression more than her winning.

Process of Finding a Job Fit

I’ve had a number of folks ask me about my life and how my search is going for “whatever is next.”  I thought I’d give a general update on my progress.

First, I have a team of about two dozen friends and mentors praying for me on a regular basis.  I’m actually sending them detailed updates each Monday.  These folks have been wonderful friends and encouragers.  They have also listened to God on my behalf and shared with me any words of life…and some challenging words, as well.  I also have an Executive Coach that is working with me regularly and a resume coach that is reworking my CV.

My game plan has been pretty simple – I’m working to meet an average of three people per work day, with two of those meetings being new introductions.  So far, I’ve been able to meet this goal and it’s been amazingly fruitful. More than anything the meetings have been very encouraging.  I’m having an absolute ball.  I told Brenda the other night, “I love what I’m doing right now…I just got to figure out how to get paid to do it.”

I basically ask three questions during these meetings, 1) What do you see going on in the Kingdom of God?  Where do you see God moving?  2) What do you see happening in the market, business world and Greater Seattle communities? and 3)  This is where I am helpful and successful, where do you see me fitting?

These meetings have kept me busy.  My 17-year old, Murdock, said the other day, “Dad is busier now than when he actually had a job.”  Love it.

I’ve already made a few discoveries in this process.  First, I’m open to either not-for-profit or for-profit opportunities.  I’m not looking for a job as much as a fit.  I need to be in big picture programs with a lot of opportunity.  Going, growing organizations.  I can either be in charge or defer to others when required, but there needs to be friendly affirmation, recognition.  I like face-pace and action.  I ‘m a doer and a driver.  I like and will even seek change.  I need to be in the discussion with opportunities to promote ideas and personal skills. While a confident person, I look to be a part of a team and will draw quality people to that team.  These are keys to the right job and a good fit.

When people talk to me about my job search they ask, “What would you really like to do?  What would be your dream job?”  After thinking about my life, where I’ve been and my skills, I’ve responded, “I’d like to find an entrepreneur with a good idea and help them make it great.”  Everyone has responded with a smile and nod, but most understand that possibility is a long shot.

Another friend said to me, “God will give you the desires of your heart.  Figure out what you want to do and then ask God to give you that opportunity.”  I’ve been holding on to that promise.

Also brought up in almost every conversation is consulting.  With my extensive portfolio and positive performance from my last job, that has been pretty natural conclusion for people.

There have been a number of over-arching themes during this season.  First, God is in charge, has a plan for me and is taking care of my life.  Second, I’m a new man, free, energized and ready for what’s next. Third, God is going to surprise me with how and who He brings into this process and my life moving forward.  Fourth, this is more than just a job search, it is a time to nurture my soul.  Finally, this is awesome.  We are aware that there will be rough days, but so far this has been a fantastic month plus.

Mason Skiing
Mason taking a break from the job search this week.

Speaking of a fantastic time, I’m actually in Whistler this week with my family.  It’s “week six.”  Brenda’s parents have a week six condo at Whistler.  I’ll be skiing hard this week.  Merrick is even flying up from Colorado and Madison is coming from Pullman for the long weekend.  As I do every year, I’m looking forward to this time, but having everyone together will make this extra special.

There are so many other stories I could tell.  God is good and present and alive.  This I know.  Thanks for praying for me and for keeping an eye out of job possibilities.

Mento’s Mission Statement

What are Mentos?  Don’t say candy because they taste like a breath-freshening mint. And don’t say mint because they chew like gum. And don’t say gum because they last like candy.

While I like Mentos, I don’t get Mentos. I usually think, “What am I doing here with this mint-candy-gum thing?”

Mentos do many things okay. It’s not the best mint, candy or gum, but it’s okay.

What is your focus?  What do you do best?  Do you run as a generalist, like Mentos, great at nothing but okay at a few things?  I actually believe we are all great at something – produced, purposed and positioned to perform and pass on to others.

What is that for you?  Where do you shine?  Everyone has that in them and most have a life-long pattern of performance and positive feedback around it.

The key is not to get stuck on trying to be a “mint” because they look so useful compared to be a “candy.”  And don’t try to be a “candy” because it seems so much more fun then “gum.” And don’t try to be a “gum” because it’s long lasting.

Find your designed purpose and go hard after that one design. Be great. Don’t try and be a Mento, only Mentos can pull off that kind of refreshing goodness.

Predicting Balance

In cleaning out my office and files, I found a prophetic email from 2005 which I had sent to my staff.  The email said,

I had a vision that every budget in our Region would end the year with their “Current Cash Month” balance at zero or better.

Predicting a balanced budget may not seem like a significant risk.  The issue was that we were in chronic deficit mode.  Over one half of the budgets within this operation were in deficit.  Most of the people I supervised were spending more than they were bringing in.  I was significant.

OscillatingOverall we were able to offset deficits with surplus, so the work continued.  The issue really rested in the staff.  When they lived in a reality where there was little cut.  The only cutting to really be made was to their salary.  This meant that month in and month out as they lived with this financial challenge it put pressure on them, pressure on their operations and pressure on their family.  They weren’t free to dream, shoot, most were barely free to meet the minimum operational expectations.

A change had to be made.  This was an organizational “moon shot.”

The vision for that massive operational change actually came during a seminar.  That is where the seed was planted, but it grew as I prayed for our operation and our people.  God impressed upon me the need for us to focus on this goal, although we had very important programmatic goals.

Our staff responded well to the vision.  Later in the email I wrote…

I shared this vision with you.  I said that this was a key focus for our first quarter of the fiscal year.  You responded.  You responded amazingly.  Every active Area in our Region put out a newsletter.  Some of you had call-a-thons.  All of you were intentional about meeting with major donors.  You developed to-do lists and more importantly not-to-do lists.  New Year’s Eve was a vacation day, but you were driving around picking up checks and getting them to FedEx.  It was awesome to watch our combined energy praying and working towards a single vision.

That was just the start of a fury of activity towards that vision.  The outcome a dozen years later is that the operation is now completely financially balanced.  There are small bumps along the way, but only a couple and not at key times.  The staff caught the vision and balanced the budgets.

What was the vision you had for your team or yourself at the start of the year?  Where was that seed planted?  How did it grow?  Did you have a sense of confirmation from God?

You should now have your financials or reports for the first month of the year.  How did it go?  Are you moving towards that “moon shot”?

At times it is difficult to measure outcomes, but it is never difficult to measure activity.  Did the activities

We can all live life out of balance, whether it is budgets, time, health, etc.  Use 2016 to “balance your budgets.”  Discover what God would like you to do and then get after it.  Evaluating along the way.

If you do that, you’ll look back in a dozen years and be amazed at what has been accomplished.

The Emotional Action of Evalutation

The expert stated, “Evaluations are always an emotional event.”  I had an emotional response to that statement.  “What?”  I was surprised to hear this news.  I had always found evaluations demanding, somewhat awkward and even unnerving.  And it didn’t matter on which side of the table I was sitting – evaluator or (say it deep and dark) the evaluated.  Mid-year, annual, full-360 or even project feedback, evaluations drum “stuff” within each of us.

EvaluationI get it.  I understand.  Everyone is giving it their best.  They are trying.  For the most part, the ability to determine a person’s effectiveness is challenging to calculate.  Most everyone is in it to do their best.  Evaluations should stir our hearts, minds, guts, emotions.

With all of this in mind, I prepared for my evaluation this last fall.  No meetings before and a long bike ride schedule after.  Even the schedule the day after my evaluation was light.  I left time to process not only the information of the eval but the feelings.

While there were a number of challenges during my evaluation, it was actually fairly affirming.  I was told that previous year’s “opportunities for growth” were actually strengths or affirmed this year.  Growth makes you feel good…especially when you are an old dog.

At the same time, there were many “new tricks” that I continue to learn.  Most of those flat sides were not news to me and would not be news to those with whom I work.  They are part of my life and have been long-term growth opportunities.

We are in the midst of the evaluation season with the close of 2015.  Take note that your evaluation is not simply an educational experience but at some level it is an emotional event.  This isn’t to scare you, but to ensure that you prepare your schedule, life and self for the time.  And also that you take time to process your evaluation.

Take the time to process and learn for your evaluation and the “evaluation event” — that is the actual evaluation and your response.  When the emotions have receded, take a period of time to review your evaluation. Get away for a half-day, if you can, or at least for an extended lunch.  Review your evaluation in detail.  Mark it up with notes and a highlighter.  Then take two piece of paper and on each…

On the first sheet, make a bullet-point list of what you learned from your evaluation.  These are your notes, so you don’t need to “go crazy.”  Just note the areas in which you need to grow.  Make sure you take time to note the areas in which you were affirmed or where you have improved.  It’s important to also note how you responded to the evaluation.  If it an emotional event, as our expert said, note your emotions.  Again, this is just for you.
On the second piece of paper you are going to develop a plan.  This plan is going to go to your boss when you are done.  Make it solid.  Make it impressive.  This document is going to ensure your supervisor that you received the evaluation and took it seriously.  This is an important, mostly missed, step.  This plan should outline:
  1. How you will grow your strengths.  What do you do well and what are your specific activities to work these healthy practices.
  2. Then outline a plan for how you are going to shore-up your weak sides.  Don’t be shy?  If you think no one is aware of your weakness, you are wrong.  Are there classes or training opportunities in which you are going to enroll?  List the specific actions you are going to take to improve.
You’ll see the word specific in the directions to both of these points.  It’s important to be as specific and programmatic as possible.  “I’m going to be nicer” means nothing.  “I’m going to schedule a birthday lunch with each person on my team” – better.  None of us grows without specific steps.  This kind of work does not happen by accident.  It happens because you work diligently.
The last step?  Give that page to your boss.  It shouldn’t be long, no longer than one-page.  It shouldn’t be complicated.  Keep it simple.  Also, don’t make it a contract (no one wants a contract with their boss as it could be perceived as a performance contract).  What we are doing here is simply good communication.  You are letting your boss know that you heard her and are taking action on what she said.
Do not live in the emotions of evaluation.  Live in the action of evaluation.  And have a great 2016.