Precious Lord, Take My Hand

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Thomas Andrew Dorsey (not to be confused with Tommy Dorsey, famous trombonist and dance-band leader) was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, on July 1, 1899. He was a blues bandleader, but after becoming a Christian he turned to writing gospel music. In his lifetime he wrote more than 1,000 gospel hymns, including “Take My Hand” and “Peace in the Valley.” He died in Chicago on January 23, 1993 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Here is part of his story:

Back in 1932, I was a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie, and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s south side. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn’t want to go; Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child, but a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis. I kissed Nettie goodbye, clattered downstairs to our Model A and in a fresh Lake Michigan breeze, chugged out of Chicago on Route 66.

However, outside the city, I discovered that in my anxiety at leaving, I had forgotten my music case. I wheeled around and headed back. I found Nettie sleeping peacefully. I hesitated by her bed; something was strongly telling me to stay; but eager to get on my way and not wanting to disturb Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped out of the room with my music.

The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. People were happily singing and clapping around me, but I could hardly keep from crying out. I rushed to a phone and called home. All I could hear on the other end was “Nettie is dead. Nettie is dead.'”

When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that same night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs; I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well. But then, as I hunched alone in that dark apartment house, I thought back to the afternoon I went to St. Louis. Something kept telling me to stay with Nettie. Was that something God? Oh, if I had paid more attention to Him that day, I would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died.

From that moment on I vowed to listen more closely to Him. But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially one friend. The following Saturday evening he took me up to Annie Malone’s Poro College, a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys. Something happened to me then. I felt at peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody. Once in my head, the words just seemed to fall into place: “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand; I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord; lead me home.”

The Lord gave me these words and melody. He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest and when we are most open to His restoring power. And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.
– Thomas Andrew Dorsey

Not knowing who may be reading this article, I would imagine there are times in your life, as in mine, of joy and sorrow, blessing and difficulty, victory and defeat. As we approach the New Year, especially in times of sorrow, difficulty and defeat, I pray that you will pray what Thomas Dorsey prayed: “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand; I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord; lead me home.”

Terry and I express to you our hopes and prayers that God will grant you many blessings in the Year of our Lord 2016 and in the years to come, until the day he leads you home. Happy New Year!

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Reasons to be Joyful at Christmas!

Christmas OrnamentLast week I invited readers to submit their reasons to be joyful at Christmas. Here’s a summary:

  • Singing carols from the Karaoke channel.
  • Christmas cards that renew friendships from long ago.
  • Carolers’ smiles and contagious children’s joy!
  • Heart-warming flowers of the season (poinsettias, amaryllis).
  • Grandchildren walking with the Lord!
  • Family eating, singing carols and opening presents, with no iPhones or iPads allowed!
  • Being blessed by precious memories.
  • Remembering that God is still at work revealing His Son, Jesus, to us.
  • Knowing Christ is with us and we are never alone, regardless of our circumstances.
  • Giving and receiving from those near and dear to us.
  • Loved ones, by God’s grace, successfully battling cancer and other dread diseases.
  • Sensitivity for people who have a difficult time at Christmas.
  • Grandkids whose faces light up when seeing a tree full of presents.
  • Special late night candlelight worship services on Christmas Eve.
  • Silent night, holy night! All is calm all is bright! Thank you Lord!
  • Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given!
  • His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!
  • Preparation, giving, family time, joyful memories of childhood.
  • Embracing those who live alone or experience grief of any kind.
  • Welcoming the future, confident my Lord will lead in a time of uncertainty.
  • Offering support to those suffering from illness, abuse, or addiction.
  • Acceptance of those who are “different” from me.
  • Enjoying good food and drink (in moderation, of course).
  • Giving to help eradicate world hunger.
  • Seeing everyone pitch in the day after to restore normalcy.
  • Recalling the blessedness of another Christmas with precious family time together!

And here are a few of my own:

  • Worshiping and celebrating Christmas with family, including my 99 year old mother!
  • Watching family members read my personal Christmas letter to each of them, check enclosed!
  • Thanking God for peace in the midst of pandemonium, tranquility in a season of terror, freedom in the face of oppression, light in the darkness, forgiveness in a manger in Bethlehem!
  • Knowing that a thousand times in history a baby has become a king but only once in history did a King become a baby!

A very Blessed, Christ filled and Merry Christmas to you all!

‘Tis the Season …

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Credit: darkchyle via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

… to be jolly? That’s the way the song goes. In reality, lots of people are anything but jolly before, during or after Christmas. There are numerous reasons:

  1. Christmas preparation has many moving parts. Getting everything done creates tension.
  2. Christmas presents can be quite costly. Charging purchases is easy. Then the bill arrives.
  3. Christmas gatherings can be stressful. Family members don’t always play well together.
  4. Christmas interrupts the routine. People who normally go to school or to work are likely to be home, at the same time, for several days. That can be wonderful. Or not.
  5. Christmas reminds us of our childhood. If it was happy, memories are sweet. If it wasn’t, memories may likely be painful.
  6. Christmas for folks who are single, widowed or divorced is often spent alone. Being jolly is generally a team sport.
  7. Christmas is hard for families who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Grief is neither quickly nor easily conquered.
  8. Christmas exacerbates concern for the future, especially for those facing illness, surgery or other health issues, emotional turmoil or financial challenges.
  9. Christmas is tough for families living with abuse, addiction or missing family members.
  10. Christmas for most of us means food, usually lots of it. Girth expansion often results.
  11. Christmas brings to mind citizens of third world countries who don’t have that food problem. Why? Because they have no food. We seem not to know what to do about that.
  12. Christmas creates chaos. Lots of decisions need to be made. The kitchen is a wreck after the meal. The family room is a cluttered mess after presents have been opened.

Having said all that, I hasten to add that Christmas is a wonderful time of the year! While many reasons not to be jolly are listed above, there are others that produce the pure joy of the season.

Next week’s article will be: “Reasons to be Joyful at Christmas!” If you have some to suggest, send them to me before next Monday, December 21, and I’ll try to work them in. Be concise, please.

In the meantime, in these last days of Advent remember these words of the hymn writer, whether you’re experiencing jolly times or not:

“The advent of our King, our prayers must now employ,
And we must hymns of welcome sing, in strains of holy joy.”

“All glory to the Son, Who comes to set us free,
With Father, Spirit, ever one, through all eternity!”

A Blessed Advent to you and yours!

Characteristics of Healthy Leaders

Follow the Leader

As promised, today’s focus is on characteristics of healthy leaders. While not perfect, I’ve tried to fit characteristics neatly under a few general categories. These thoughts reflect my personal experience and what I’ve learned from others. Here we go with characteristics of healthy leaders:

  1. A Servant’s Heart: Only people capable of serving are capable of leading. Servant leadership emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and ethical use of power. Servant leaders will not ask subordinates or volunteers to do anything they themselves are unwilling to do. Servant leaders lead by example and are humble about their position. They look to the example of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.
  1. Trustworthiness: Trust is the basis for all relationships. To be trusted, leaders must be trustworthy. Trust is built over time but can be destroyed in an instant. A huge element of trust is follow-up and follow-through. Keeping promises builds trust. Leaders won’t be trusted until they show by attitude and conduct that they trust others.
  1. Humility: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Prov. 16:18 Humility is a necessary requisite for healthy, successful leaders. Leaders who take all the credit for themselves and do not understand the necessity of giving credit for success to co-workers will soon be resented by those they are trying to lead. Humble leaders find joy in authentic self-deprecation and genuine, generous affirmation of others.
  1. Integrity: Leaders lacking integrity say one thing and do the opposite. Leaders having integrity not only talk the talk, they also walk the walk, saying and doing privately what they say and do publicly. They communicate frankly and truthfully, regardless of their audience. Healthy leaders behave in a manner consistent with the image they portray.
  1. Transparency: Healthy leaders are open and vulnerable with those they lead. Leaders are responsible for defining reality, even when doing so calls for delivering bad news. Successful leaders cannot ignore the truth in an effort to make themselves look good but must speak the truth even when doing so is personally painful or politically inexpedient.
  1. Delegation: Great leaders are not indispensable and can’t succeed alone. Excellence is a team sport. Leaders can get more done if they share the burden through delegation. Healthy leaders trust people enough to delegate significant responsibilities to those who are qualified for the task. Delegation includes oversight but not micro-management.
  1. Courage: Healthy leaders almost always disappoint someone when diagnosing problems and taking steps to resolve them. Doing so almost always involves an element of risk. Healthy leaders are not afraid to take risks, but have the courage to act, not foolishly but wisely, after careful calculation and intentional evaluation of risk and reward.
  1. Prayer for Wisdom: The Bible says a lot about the power of prayer and the importance of praying for wisdom. God granted wisdom to Solomon, who didn’t ask for possessions, wealth, honor, or the death of his enemies. Solomon did not even ask God for long life. Healthy leaders pray, especially for others. They also pray, fervently, for wisdom.
  1. Conclusion: Healthy leaders are not always born leaders but earn their way into positions of responsibility and authority, by God’s grace. Successful healthy leaders inspire their followers through integrity, hard work, courage, faith, humility and confidence in God’s guidance.

God bless healthy leaders! May their number increase!

Three Rules for Secret Control Freaks

ControlSome time ago I heard about a book with that title, written by Jason Brooks. In my earlier life of yesteryear, I’m quite sure my now 99 year old mother must have told me never to call anyone a freak. So although I don’t like using that term, I must say that I agree with a bunch of things Mr. Brooks says about leaders who hold a vastly different perspective on leadership than do I.

Like Mr. Brooks, I’m fascinated by leadership, not necessarily from the academic perspective but more about the dynamics of how certain people attain leadership status and what they do with the privilege. There are lots of people in leadership who aren’t necessarily interested in leading. They’re more interested in control. Here are some things Brooks says about that:

“Some leaders are more concerned with fulfilling their vision than anything else. Everyone and everything under their leadership is a means to an end. Many leaders actually seem like nice people, the kind of folks you would want to serve under or with. So rule number one of bad leaders (or controllers) is simply: Play nice!”

“Playing nice is treating people one way in public and another way in private. It’s saying all the right things, but never doing any of the right things. You can call this behavior anything you want—deception, manipulation, abuse—but it comes down to the leader maintaining control over the people and environment he or she is called, elected or chosen to lead.”

That’s rule number two of bad leaders: Always maintain control! Such a leader may be a micromanager who’s constantly telling employees or followers what to do and how to get it done. But, says Brooks, “true controllers avoid the obvious (remember, rule #1 is play nice) so they freely give away control to anyone who wants it.

“People are welcome to step up and try new ideas, or take over existing projects that need a fresh spark of energy. But when the workers need new resources, or want to take their projects in a fresh direction, the controller flexes his or her might via one of his or her strongest weapons—the denial: “That’s a good idea, but we don’t have the money.” “Nice suggestion, but that doesn’t really line up with our core values.” “I like this, I really do, but I’m not so sure that it will get the wider support a project like this really needs.”

Notice the “but” in each statement. Everything before “but” is negated by everything after “but.” The controller uses those phrases to subtly remind the subordinate who actually has power. The unspoken statement is the one the controller wants heard: “I could fight for this. I could push for this, but I choose not to.”

That’s rule number three of bad leaders: Leave no trail!

Brooks says: “It’s all about the he said/she said. Let’s be honest—most employees don’t think to document every little conversation or exchange with their leaders. They operate on the assumption that trust is part of a healthy environment (and it is).”

“This trust is exploited by controllers. They don’t bother having anyone take minutes in a meeting, or document decisions made, because that creates an atmosphere where people have to trust one another for accountability. It also plays into the power dynamics of most offices: When in doubt, the higher authority wins.”

“Being a controller is not healthy. It damages people, kills momentum and vision, and ruins everything else a good organization strives to achieve. Healthy leaders are out there, and sometimes the only way to know them is to know what unhealthy leaders look like.”

Next week I’ll say some things about healthy leaders. Stay tuned. God bless your week!