Wednesday, July 29, 2009

the gift of love

My children were invited to a birthday party the other evening for a classmate who happens to be the granddaughter of Jim Jackson, the principal I worked for in my early years of employment, and the man that I wrote about on this blog a few days back.

When I picked up Nathan and Sara, I had the opportunity to visit with Jim's son, James, who told me that his dad was most likely in his last few weeks of life here. He told me that his dad is ready and prepared, and then he shared a beautiful conversation that they had had. James was reading several emails and cards to his dad who kept looking down and shaking his head. There was one particular letter from a past student who wrote about how he had been a little hellion student and how Mr. Jackson had influenced his life. And then the conversation went something like this (not word for word, but close....)

Jim: I've been so lucky.
James: How, Dad?
Jim: I've been so lucky because God has been so generous with me.
James: In what ways?
Jim: He's given me so many opportunities.
James: Opportunities for what, Dad?
Jim: Opportunities to love so many.

And that really paints the truest picture of H. James. He honestly did love each of those kids that God placed in his life. And his staff too. According to James, his dad would often get ribbed by the director of elementary education who would say to him, "Your staff can't really be as good as you say they are, Jim." And Mr. J. would turn to him and say, "No, they're better." His genuine love and encouragement of people was His greatest gift and accomplishment.

" And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:13

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Crazy Enough to Care

Alvin Bibbs Sr. works in Chicago for Willow Creek Association and is going to be coming to our church in the fall to lead a CCDA institute regarding suburban-urban partnerships. I listened to Alvin in St. Louis a few years' back, and we're in the perfect place on our journey to have him come and speak into the life of our congregation and community.

Bibbs wrote a book recently called Crazy Enough to Care and it is actually a 12 session workbook that I am really loving. I've only completed 3 sessions, but I love the scenarios and questions that help a person or small group process and reflect on compassion, justice, and racial reconciliation. I think it's going to be an excellent tool to help us on our journey toward being more compassionate and Christlike! Check it out on Amazon. com.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jim Jackson on mission

H. James "Jim" Jackson was the first leader I worked for that taught me about the leadership of "being" more so than the leadership of "doing". I was a young 22 years old when I first came to teach under his leadership and knew little about formal leadership principles and practices. I did know, however, that I deeply respected him as my principal, I was inspired to be my best as a teacher working for him, and I loved to go to work everyday. Jim's life oozed with passion and compassion and advocacy for all children. He was infectious. He still is.

Jim and his wife, Joan, are now approaching their later years and both are in deep battles with cancer. I was able to speak with Jim on the phone a few months back and recently wrote him a letter. Today, I received a note back from him along with a poster of a parable that he has written. Even as he heads toward his final earthly days, he seeks to teach and inspire people to live for others and to be about the mission of love and the development of people. I would like to share his parable below and mention my gratitude for the gift that he's been on this earth to me and to so many.

"The Parable of the Two Gardeners" by H. James Jackson

Once there were two gardeners to whom their Master gave 24 plants to which they were to devote their labors over the growing season. Both gardeners had received training in the same gardening school and their resources with which to accomplish the task were the same. Both gardeners were given fertile beds for their plants.

The first gardener went about the business of planting immediately. Plants were placed in even rows to facilitate cultivation. An automatic watering device was utilized to make watering easier and all the plants were placed in the full sun to ensure plenty of sunlight, for this gardener believed that full sunlight was best for all plants. The first gardener reviewed his work, and satisfied that his system was in place, left to busy himself with other interests.

The second gardener sat down and studied her plants. She saw that they were not all the same. Se recognized that while they were plants, they had individual characteristics that made them all unique. She thought on this, and as she began to plant, she carefully placed some of the plants in partially shaded areas, for she saw their tender leaves would not do well in the searing sun. For some, she added some extra nutrients to the soil around them, for she noticed they were a bit underdeveloped and would spend too much of their energy drawing food from the soil to do well. Some plants she placed in full sun for she could see that they thrived on the light to which, even now, they seemed to reach. She saw too that some plants would require more or less water and so she opted to carry water to them rather than have the automatic sprinkler do the job. Once she had completed her work, she recorded what she had done and reflected on it.

In the days that followed, the first gardener, relying on his common environment, the speed with which he could cultivate, and the regularity of his watering system, spent very little time with his plants. He noted some growth among the plants and decided those that were not doing well were inferior plants. He took pride in those few plants that seemed to be thriving. Again, he went off and busied himself with other things.

The second gardener spent her days tending her plants, adding nutrients, watering carefully and in some cases transplanting into or out of the sun. The weeding and cultivating, while time consuming, gave the gardener more time to get to know the plants and observe their progress or lack of it. Her garden thrived. Each plant seemed to rejoice as its needs were met, responding to the tender and careful care as only it could, by growing. The gardener recorded her observations and actions and reflected on them.

As the growing season ended, the two gardeners looked over their plots. The first gardener saw that while 12 of the plants had done well, there were another 12 that had not developed properly and certainly would not win any prizes. Gathering only those best plants, the gardener went off to show his products to the Master.

The second gardener carefully gathered all 24 of her plants. While not everyone was perfect nor exactly alike, they had all done well and would provide joy for any who looked on them.

As the Master questioned his gardeners, the first gardener pointed out the quality of his 12 plants and blamed the failing of the other 12 on poor heredity factors and their inability to adapt to the environment he provided.

The second gardener, when asked how all 24 plants had done so well, replied that acting on knowledge, careful observation, and reflection had made it possible to make adjustments as plants' needs changed. By doing this each plant was able to achieve its potential.

The difference in the success of the two gardeners was whose needs were being met.

As models for young people, we must be careful gardeners, we must recognize that each child is unique and gain all the knowledge we can about the child. We must be willing to change our routine, and yes, even change our minds when knowledge and observation tell us we need to change.

Look around you! See the resources, the knowledge, the skill you have. Tend the plants well and remember that for this growing season, you are the gardener. You are the one on whom the children depend. You are the one who will make a difference for them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

quest for compassion

Bonnie P. just brought a website to my attention. It's

I'm hoping to explore it with Nathan and Sara in the near future. Check it out! It could be a good tool to use with your family to teach about global poverty and God's heart for the poor.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


I recently read the book This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley. I loved what he wrote on relevance, and will quote a little section below:

"...relevance is a consequence of kingdom living, not a cause. We become relevant when we are committed to being that signpost of heaven in some part of our world. When we study Scripture, we find that relevance happens naturally when we choose to be real people caring for other real people. Even real people who are not like us. Even the real people who don't hesitate to hate us. Authentic relationships make us relevant.

When my friend Laura started volunteering at a local AIDS hospice, I remember how emotional the experience got for her at times. She decided that doing tasks around the hospice wasn't enough. She would love her patients- and keep on loving them until they could feel it. Since she's a musician, she'd play music for them. Over time, the people she met became her friends, not simply her projects. When a patient died, she wept and mourned. The people at the hospice knew she loved them. She didn't have to work at being relevant because love given without any other agenda is always relevant. Relevance comes from relationship- it means we matter to someone, he or she matters to us, and we both know it."