Every year at Christmas, my siblings and I present every member of our family with a Legacy gift. These gifts are often times wood carved or handmade in nature and represent some type of tradition that our family carries.
A few years ago, when I was in charge of creating and presenting the Legacy gift, I created small wooden crosses with magnets on the back, so that they could be placed on each person’s refrigerator. The intended symbolism of the cross was twofold: First, it symbolized the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross as an act of Love, laying down His own life so that His friends could live. Second, it was to symbolize both the Legacy of Love we have inherited from the generations that came before us, as well as the Legacy of Love that we will pass on to all the generations that come after us. For though we may leave behind a couple of family heirlooms, our last name, or perhaps a financial inheritance, nothing is more valuable than the love that we invest in others.
Growing up, I assumed that every family was as close-knit as mine. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I truly started to realize that this wasn’t necessarily the case. As I grew into adulthood, I witnessed first-hand how my family would band together and support each other through the standard challenges of life. From new jobs, babies, and cross-country moves, to illness and divorces, my family has always stuck together in love. Through these experiences, I came to realize that brotherhood is my super power, Familia is my super power, and Love is my super power.
Fortunately, Love isn’t just “my” super power, it is “the” super power. Everlasting and in infinite supply, Love knows no bounds and is accessible to all who seek it. Patient and kind, never self-seeking, self-serving, envious, or proud, Love never fails.
To all struggles, to all challenges, to all doubts, and to all questions, Love is the answer.
When it comes to loving our neighbors, it is easy to compartmentalize our lives into the times when we are serving others and the times when we are serving ourselves. But rather than limit our service to the weekly volunteer hours that we put in at the YMCA or the Homeless Shelter, why not look for opportunities to serve everywhere we go, in every aspect of our lives? From the grocery store parking lot and the cafeteria at work, to the family picnic and our daily commute, what would the world look like if we all sought to serve each other as though every hour of our life was a ministry?
Instead of only thinking of ourselves and our agenda, what if we also actively looked for ways to lend a helping hand? For years, I’ve seen churches spend tens of thousands of dollars to send mission teams to other countries in order to complete simple service projects when there are people in their own neighborhoods that need help. In these situations, it is not a lack of resources that is the problem. It is a lack of vision, a lack of desire, and a lack of leadership that is to blame.
While most folks in Capitalist America might view leadership as “being in charge” and “telling everyone what to do,” Love leads differently. First and foremost, a loving leader seeks to serve those who are following them, to make sure that they are protected and taken care of. This Servant Leader doesn’t lead simply by shouting orders, but instead leads by example. They see it as their responsibility to ensure that their followers have the resources they need, and they work to remove as many obstacles as possible so that their followers can reach the desired destination. Servant Leaders give more credit than they take, and they accept full responsibility for their mistakes.
Though it may sound like these Servant Leaders are superhuman, I can assure you they are not. Instead of magical powers, what these amazing leaders have is an acute self- awareness of the support they need to be of utmost service, along with an understanding of what is at stake if they fail.
Regarding support, they take the steps necessary to care for themselves. Not only do they rest when they are tired, but they make life decisions that proactively keep them mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy. Additionally, they don’t hesitate to ask for help. Not only when they need help, but also when they can allow others to help, as mentorship creates a stronger community.
Regarding what is at stake, Servant Leaders believe that if they effectively execute their vision, there is an enormous potential to help someone change their life for the better. Helping change one life might not seem like a huge return on investment when you consider the countless hours of sacrifice a servant leader makes, but when you take into account the possibility that this one life could potentially inspire countless others for generations to come, it is beyond worth it.
Before Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington, and before Barack Obama was elected President, somebody somewhere inspired them. Somebody took the time to pull them aside and plant a seed in their hearts. Later on, someone else poured water on that seed and after that, someone else put that seedling in the sunlight so it could grow. Though each of these unknown characters had to be Servant Leaders with absolutely no clue their actions would result in world changing individuals, they took action anyway.
As a matter of fact, it is precisely because you never know who you might be speaking to, or who else might be listening, that Servant Leaders treat everyone as though they have all the potential in the world. For if just one life is changed for the better because of your actions, then all the sacrifice and all the effort would be justified. Chances are that we will usually just be a link in the chain for most of the life-change we get to influence, but every now and then we may be the one who plants the original seed, or is fortunate enough to be present for the harvest. Regardless, it is essential to recognize that each role is vitally important and that it takes a village to raise a child.
Regardless of what the title on our business card says, each of us is an expert in something. Perhaps it is in our educational field of study, our professional career, or our hobby. Either way, each of us is exceptionally knowledgeable about one topic or another. So why not share this knowledge?
Somebody somewhere is in need of the knowledge you have and has no idea where to start. Depending on the topic, classes may be available or even private lessons. With the advent of Google and YouTube, at least a small tutorial can be found about almost anything. But for many topics, the only way for most people to legitimately learn is to get their hands dirty and make some mistakes. That is, unless you have a mentor.
A mentor is so much more than a teacher in an online tutorial video or a professor in front of an auditorium full of students. They don’t just give instructions and provide information. On the contrary, a mentor invests their time and attention into their mentee. They answer questions and explore all of the angles of the subject with their mentee. They share their mistakes and go beyond the basics of the subject into the what ifs and why nots.
Above all things, a great mentor offers their services selflessly and often. They don’t do it for a paycheck or recognition. They do it solely in an effort to make someone else’s life better, be it a friend, relative, neighbor, or coworker.
As rewarding as mentorship is, it can also be incredibly challenging. For starters, the folks who need the most mentorship are often times the least likely to ask for or accept it. Second, though someone may ask for mentorship, that doesn’t mean that they are going to follow through with the advice they are given. Lastly, some simply won’t recognize the value that they are taking for granted. Even so, the ones who do take advantage of the opportunity make it all worthwhile!
Despite having offered my services to hundreds of people over the past twenty years, only a couple dozen have actually taken me up on it. But for those who did, I have had a front row seat to witness their extraordinary accomplishments. Though I’m beyond grateful for all the people that have allowed me to be a part of their life’s journey toward success, my efforts would have been more than justified if it was just one.
God Always Provides
Hanging on the wall above my kitchen table is a giant wooden sign that my brother Antonio made for me. In large script letters, it says “God Always Provides.” I developed this mantra right around the time that I quit my corporate job, so as to keep from stressing myself out. At the time, I had been living a lifestyle where I behaved as though I was in full control of everything around me. For the better part of a decade, I lived life thinking that with enough hustle and enough money, I could make anything happen. But, as I learned the hard way through my divorce, this isn’t actually the case.
Don’t get me wrong, hustle and money can get you a very long way, but I now see God as the true provider. From His love, grace, and mercy, to the air in my lungs and the beating of my heart, I am nothing without His provision. I couldn’t even wake up in the morning without His blessing, so it doesn’t make any sense for me to walk around all day as though I’m doing life alone and that I’m in full control.
Instead, it is far more beneficial for me and my family to join in partnership with God, where He has the plan and He does all the hard work, and we just follow His lead and do what He calls us to do. This isn’t to say that following God is easy. It’s actually ridiculously challenging. Just not as challenging as trying to live life on my own terms.
When I say God does all the hard work, I’m referring to the planning, the worrying, the judging, and the justice. Making the sun rise and the flowers bloom, the rivers run and the garden grow. I might be able to plant a seed and water it, but I can’t make it grow. That’s all Him.
Throughout my entire life, I have always had everything I needed. Not everything that I wanted, but exactly what I needed. From the failures that motivated me to succeed and the pain that taught me to rejoice in pleasure, God has always provided for my every need in His perfect timing.
Not sometimes. Not usually. Always. God Always Provides.
Though I came to this conclusion years ago that God Always Provides and have never experienced anything to the contrary, I still encounter opportunities to question this mantra on a daily basis.
“Yeah, I know that God has always come through in the past, but how do I know for sure that this time won’t be different?”
The truth is that I can’t know for sure. I can only choose to believe. That’s why it is called “having faith” and not “knowing facts.” Which is precisely why I created the mantra “God Always Provides” and hung a huge sign above my kitchen table – To constantly remind myself of the things I have experienced in the past and combat the doubts of the future.
Give Away Your Advantage
Years ago, I saw report on CNN where Anderson Cooper was interviewing Father Greg Boyle, a Catholic Priest and the founder of Homeboy Industries. When Father Greg initially started Homeboy Industries in 1988, the goal of the non-profit organization was simply to help former gang members in Los Angeles get jobs when they got out of jail. Today, the organization doesn’t just help find jobs, but they provide jobs to former gang members through their bakeries, cafes, custom apparel shops, and electronics recycling services.
In addition to employment opportunities, Boyle and his team of Homies (as he calls them) provide workforce development training, educational classes, mental health services, legal services, and even tattoo removal, all free of charge. When Anderson heard of all the services that Boyle was providing and who he was providing them to, he asked him a very straightforward question: “Do you ever worry that the people you are trying to help will take advantage of you?” To which Father Greg replied: “You can’t take advantage of someone who gives away their advantage upfront.”
It was at that point that my jaw hit the ground and my eyes welled up with tears. For a guy who tries to act tough, I cry a lot. Not tears of sadness or pain, but tears of inspiration tend to gush out of my eyes anytime I see Love being lived out in the flesh. Which is exactly what Homeboy Industries is: Love in action. This is exactly the type of thing that Jesus did.
Ever since that day, I have attempted to give away my advantage upfront. Rather than trying to only protect myself and suspecting the worst of others, I choose to give people the benefit of the doubt and second chances. Though I don’t always succeed, it is my goal to serve other people and leave each interaction better than I found it. Not because it’s my job or because I’m trying win some award, but because it is what Jesus did and it is what Love does today.
Give a Damn
Years ago, I went to the VA Hospital to visit the Veterans with a Young Professionals group from my church. This was something we did a few times a year, usually around the major holidays of Christmas, Easter, and 4th of July. In general, it was a pretty simple thing to do: We would walk in, shake some hands, sit for a few minutes, and wish them a happy holiday. Often times we would take “Thank You” cards and during our Christmas visit we would even sing a few carols.
In my mind, these visits were nothing more than simple gestures. But one time, the weekend before Valentine’s Day, our group had scheduled another visit. It was a last-second thing for me to go this time as I had other plans fall through, so I wasn’t really in the “service” mindset. Needless to say, I stayed at the back of the group as we all shuffled into the common room where the Vets were eating and hanging out. As I came through the door, one of the girls in our group was handing roses to each of us.
“Take these to the two old ladies in the back” she said, as she handed me two beautiful long stem roses.
As I approached the back of the room where the ladies sat, I smiled and asked them if they would like a rose.
Lady One: “Son of a bitch. Just when you think that nobody gives a damn, people like you guys show up.”
Lady Two: “I told you people still care.”
Their words left me completely speechless. Could such a small gesture actually mean that much to someone?
That day, those two old ladies literally changed my life for the better. Understanding that a kind word or a smile can exponentially brighten someone’s day and that a stern look or a snide remark can have the opposite effect, I decided to intentionally take advantage of every opportunity to give encouragement whenever possible. Even when it means going out of my way, but ESPECIALLY when it takes no effort at all. Often times, it’s the smallest gestures that count the most, especially when they’re not expected.
Imagine how different the world would be if we simply gave a damn about each other?
That said, here’s to smiling at the strangers on the street, to saying “please” and “thank you,” and to complimenting a friend’s new shirt/hat/shoes/haircut. Here’s to being patient in the checkout line at the store, to letting someone merge in traffic, and to holding the door open for a stranger, even if it slows you down.
Because people will always remember the way you made them feel.
Invest in People
Fame. Fortune. Status. Security. They are all worthless. Unless, you have someone to share them with.
In college, I remember one of the Jesuits (Mario Prieto) telling a story during the 10 pm Student Mass about how he and his 10 older siblings used to fight over the food at their dinner table. To combat their behavior and make sure that the little ones received enough to eat, Mario’s mother would constantly remind them: “Sabe mejor cuando se comparte.” “It tastes better when you share it.”
This quote and its sentiment have stuck with me ever since.
More often than not, the decisions I make with my best interests in mind are not the same decisions I would make if I were thinking about the best interests of my family, community, or society as a whole. Though there are times when it is in the best interest of everyone for me to put myself first, I believe that there needs to be a balance of these perspectives.
For example, I would have far more money in the bank if I didn’t care for my wife and kids, if I didn’t support charities, if I didn’t do pro-bono work, and if I didn’t invite my friends over for steaks & brews. Sure, I’d have more money, but what kind of life would that be? What would I have traded that money for?
As I reflect back on my life and recount the happiest of times, they all involve other people. From family vacations, to my wedding day, to the births of my children, I couldn’t have experienced any of them alone. This is not to say that I’ve never been happy in solitude, but when I’ve been the happiest, I’ve always been with loved ones.
So, rather than store my money away in an investment account or reserve my free time solely for personal ambitions, I choose to invest these resources in people. People who are in need of a helping hand, or a listening ear, or some money for gas just to get to work. People who have a dream to chase, or a story to tell, or simply a moment of time and a beer to share. Not because I’m a righteous humanitarian, but more so because I’m not. I invest in people, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but candidly because the dividends it pays are far greater than any stock ever could!
The reward of seeing a down-trodden spirit find encouragement, or a frustrated friend rant to relief, a student who finally understands, or a cash-strapped missionary serve one more day is simply beyond compare. Just the same, getting to share what’s good (and not so good) in my own life with others is an enormous blessing as well. That’s why people post pictures of their lunch, and their dog, and their baby, all over social media. Because alone, it was simply a “really good” salad. But, with my friends, the salad was ah-mazing!!! “Sabe mejor cuando se comparte”, even virtually.
The fact is, we all need each other. For love, for joy, and for meaning in our lives.
Forget the stock market. Invest in people.
Share What’s Good
Every day, whenever a student enters my classroom, I welcome each of them with the same greeting: “Happy Monday!” or “Happy Tuesday!” adjusting for whatever day of the week it is. Though they all enter with a straight face and their headphones on, most everyone will respond with a big smile and return the greeting. When a new student first starts, they are often times taken aback by the unusually positive greeting, but after a couple of weeks, I’ve found that students start to desire it from me.
As the characters promoting negativity within our society are usually doing so using their outside voices, I believe that every bit of optimism we can share with each other is of extraordinary benefit. Since trying to shout down the negativity only adds fuel to the fire, we have to drown it out one word, one thought, and one positive action at a time. This includes everything from smiling at strangers and using your turn signal, to leaving a hefty tip and reaching out to that old friend you’ve lost touch with.
Each morning as I’m getting ready for work and my kids are just waking up, I tell them that I’m super excited for the great day ahead and ask them if they are ready for a wonderful day too? Of course, they follow my lead and say that they are. Just like that, the expectation for the day has been set, the foundation has been laid, and we’re starting off on the right foot.
As there are only 168 hours in each week, it doesn’t make any sense to spend even one-second contributing to the negativity that already exists in the world. Especially when it is so easy to contribute positively! By simply swapping out the words we use and the perspective we choose, we can radically improve our own lives, along with the lives of all the people we interact with. Rather than talking about what you’re against, let people know what you’re for. Rather than saying “I can’t,” say “I’m not willing to” instead. And rather than complaining about the problem, try proposing a solution and ask others to do the same.
There is so much good in each of our lives. Though ignoring problems won’t make them go away, focusing on and sharing what’s good will definitely put those problems in perspective.
Don’t Miss It
Since I was a little kid, I’ve always been a dreamer. From what I would be when I grew up, to all the places I’d like to travel to. From what kind of car I would love to drive, to what my teenage kids would one day be like. The crazy part is that most all of my dreams eventually come true. From my first dream job as a Software Engineer in Silicon Valley, to my fourth dream job as an International Missionary in India, to my eighth job as an Educator in my hometown, getting to eat lunch with my elderly parents everyday – Whatever I was able to dream up and envision has eventually become my reality.
Though I still don’t have a ’57 Corvette and I still haven’t made it to Machu Picchu, I walk around with a confidence that it is only a matter of time standing in between me and whatever that next dream may be, which is amazing and an obstacle all at the same time.
While confidently believing that your dreams will almost always come true is a blessing for obvious reasons, this belief has the power to steal your focus. For every moment you spend thinking, planning, preparing, and working toward your future, you are sacrificing your time in the present. Even though this preparation and hard work is necessary, as dreams don’t become reality simply by wishing for them to come true, there is a fine line between working towards a goal and worrying about a future you can’t control.
One night, after Bonnie and I tucked our three daughters into bed, I laid down on the floor of their night-light lit room as we do every night until they have all fallen asleep. But this time, rather than just pull out my phone and surf, I decided to sit up and do a little meditation. As I relaxed to the sound of crashing waves coming from their white-noise sound machine, I focused on the still small voice of God that is always present, but often drowned out by the world.
After just a minute or two, I asked God what She wanted to tell me today and She immediately responded: “Don’t miss it”.
Yes, your dreams and desires are important and planning, hard work, and dedication are necessary for goals to be accomplished, but today you are living your dreams from ten years ago! What good is it to accomplish your dreams if you never take the time necessary to focus on both the fruits of your labor and the gifts God has blessed you with?
While you’ve had to work hard to provide food and shelter for your family, the miracle of your healthy children comes not by your hand. It is a divine gift that should be cherished wholeheartedly! So, work when it is time to work, but do not work when it is time to enjoy!
Now is the time to be present in your dreams that have already come to fruition. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Posifocus Mantra #19
Love is Always the Answer.
If you died tomorrow, what would be written on your tombstone? What is it that your loved ones will inherit from you, other than material possessions? How would you like to be remembered?
Live everyday like it is your last day on earth. Say you’re sorry, forgive those who have wronged you, and treat others the way you want to be treated.
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