Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

It’s not time to hang up the bee shoes yet.

26 days ago my company offered an early retirement incentive to those of us who qualify based on age and years of service. Last night at midnight was the deadline to apply for it. I didn’t apply. I thought about it – a LOT. I weighed the pros and cons and sometimes felt like a pinball being thrust back and forth by flippers that changed the direction of my thinking regularly.

In the end, it wasn’t the right decision for me to retire for a variety of reasons. I’m sure it is the right decision for a number of my colleagues across the company, and I wish them well in their next chapter of life. They will be missed in many ways.

The process of thinking through the retirement option was something new for me, so I thought I’d give others a peek into my experience these past 26 days. You’ll likely face the same choices some day if you haven’t already.

First Reactions

When the program was announced, it was the first time for me to be forced into thinking about retirement. My wife and I have both assumed we will work many more years until we are 70 or so. That’s another 9-10 years away for us. Retirement wasn’t on our radar and isn’t an option financially at this time. But I’ve never had a company offer me seven months salary plus benefits to not work for them. (Based on my years of service, it worked out to seven months for me. Others’ packages would be based on their years of service.) Having the offer put in front of me required that I at least consider it.

The Pros

Several things were attractive about the offer:

  • Earning my full salary plus health, dental and vision benefits during the seven-month payout period;
  • The possibility of earning a double salary for that time should I be able to walk immediately into another full-time role elsewhere (especially attractive given the debt we took on buying our home last year and then adding to it the building of a carriage house behind our home this year);
  • The excitement that comes from doing something new and different;
  • The opportunity to reinvent myself again at age 60;
  • The possibility of taking what I’ve learned in 14+ years at my current company and applying it to a company in need, perhaps building an online community from scratch;
  • The possibility that voluntary retirement would save the job of someone else since the company has announced plans for some involuntary layoffs soon. The number of layoffs will be impacted by the number of us voluntarily leaving first.
  • I liked the idea of having input in naming my successor (who I have had selected for years) and in training him for the job, helping him take a nice jump in his career path.
  • Maybe doing this would allow me to work out some arrangement for my dream role – Minister of Education at my beloved Walnut Street Baptist Church.

Occasionally nudging me toward the retirement option was the thought of stepping out on faith. I like the sentiment of a painted rock I have at the house that reads “Leap and the net will appear.” Images of Indiana Jones stepping out on faith in “The Last Crusade” come to mind. I don’t like living life with all answers certain and no risks taken. Where’s the faith in that? Where’s the adventure?

But with every pinball bounce to the pro-retirement line of thought would come equal or greater reasons not to travel that path, so I pondered…

The Cons

  • I love what I do and the people I get to do it with at my company. Why leave a nearly ideal situation?
  • 25 days is too little time for a 60-year-old to secure another equal, full-time opportunity that would guarantee uninterrupted work.
  • Jobs like mine are few and far between. I partially left it briefly in 2015-16 and was miserable, eager to return to it later in 2016. Why take a chance on making the same mistake again?
  • While I got a few nibbles on the bait I publicly and privately cast during the past 25 days, none matched the long-term prospects of continuing exactly where I am.
  • It would be seriously short-sighted to trade what may well be a decade more of work I love for seven months’ salary to not work.
  • In the worst case scenario of not taking the early retirement incentive and then being involuntarily let go, I would still get the same package in a severance package plus career assistance and eligibility for unemployment.
  • One of my basic life principles that has served me well is “When in doubt, don’t.”
  • Another principle I’ve heard for years is “The best retirement plan is to keep on working.”

The Decision

If I was within a year or two of my planned retirement, it would be a no-brainer. I would have taken the incentive and been as happy as a lark. But with retirement 5-10 years away, that wasn’t the case. The final clarifying thought in the closing days came from asking and answering the simple question: “Which offer on the table is best for me and my wife for the longest period into the future?” The clear answer was staying where I am.

It would have been nice to put out feelers and be mobbed with offers from other companies to bring me on board. I did put out feelers. I wasn’t mobbed with offers. I wrote a few key people in my profession to let them know about my situation and interest in making a move. I discussed it with several people at a conference of the top practitioners in my profession. That conference serendipitously fell on the calendar the week after the offer was announced. I posted about it on LinkedIn and had over 12,000 people see that post. However, I didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time pursuing other options these past few weeks. I did my regular 50+ hours of work per week. If no significant offers appeared without taking time away from my work, then that was quite alright by me.

The result of casting that bait for 24 days was the sound of crickets chirping – not exactly the most affirming career experience I’ve had. Insecure thoughts came to mind: “Are my skills not marketable? Am I experiencing ageism that we all know happens but nobody admits to where I’m too old and expensive for companies who can hire someone half my age at half my price (with less than half my knowledge and experience)?” I started understanding really well Henry Kissinger’s quote from the late 1970’s: “The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.” Indeed. Fortunately, I got three nibbles on my bait the day before the deadline – two of which may still come to pass in some form, but none enticing enough to pull the trigger on this retirement offer.

The Assurance

My Christian faith is a defining part of who I am. No big decision happens apart from prayer, discussion with trusted mentors and family members, and seeking the truth of God’s Word. My prayer throughout this process was that God would open the right doors, close the wrong ones, and give me assurance that what comes to pass is exactly what He wants for me. I take this path of continuing where I am as His answer and I am completely content with that. Closed doors are wonderful answers to prayer. We shouldn’t bust through them.

So the bee shoes shown at the top of this post are not being put away any time soon. They’re part of my uniform and identity as “The Buzz Guy” where I work leading our internal social platform called Buzz. I love my job. I love so many awesome people I get to work with daily. I believe in my company, Humana, and its leaders to move us forward in ways that make a positive difference in the lives of the millions of people we serve. There is purpose in that, and personal fulfillment.

Time to get back to work…

Im-Not-Thankful-EnoughThis week has been a mixed bag of emotions for me. With the American Thanksgiving holiday yesterday, there have certainly been more than the usual number of moments reflecting on all for which I am thankful. But some of the week was dominated by other less-than-admirable emotions of anger, of disgust with what I was watching in the news, and of times when I spoke or wrote out of those emotions when I should have probably just kept my thoughts to myself.

What I should have demonstrated for the week was an ongoing attitude of gratitude. What I actually demonstrated was a far cry from that. I resonated immediately, therefore, with my friend, Jay’s, post on Facebook last night when he wrote, “I’m thankful, but not often enough. It’s good to have a day to be reminded.”

I really do have so much to be thankful for:

  • a family who loves me and whom I love;
  • my first grandson and second grandchild on the way, due in April;
  • a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood in a city we’ve enjoyed living in for almost 30 years;
  • a job and career that is fun and fulfilling and a joy to invest my time and professional life in daily;
  • all the food and necessities of life a man needs – so much more than what is typical throughout the world;
  • a country that in spite of its challenges is where I prefer to live;
  • good health that allows me to do what I want when and where I want;
  • a church and church family I have loved since our second week in Louisville in 1985;
  • a relationship with the living God that provides ultimate meaning, purpose and hope for this life and the next;
  • the opportunity to freely read, study and apply God’s Word to my life;
  • opportunities to serve God and others every week in a variety of ways;
  • and even the best canine friend and companion I’ve ever had in my nearly 58 years.

When I look at the above list, I am in awe at the blessings I enjoy. And I am simultaneously embarrassed by the times I allow an unhealthy focus on other matters to steal that joy. I am ashamed that I could for a moment look past these giant gifts only to focus elsewhere. I regret that I fail to be a consistent source of a good and encouraging word to others, choosing instead to sound off about my latest emotional reaction to news or events of the day. I feel remorse for getting angry at those with whom I disagree rather than seeking to understand and show the love of Christ in the midst of those differences. I realize after the fact far too often that I have failed to be Christ’s ambassador when I spew from my mouth the venom that I allow to fester in my heart, for “the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Matthew 12:34), and that overflow is too often sewage rather than life-giving water.

So on this day after Thanksgiving, please know that this ongoing work in progress called Jeff is truly grateful and thankful for so much. Also know that I am truly sorry for those moments when I am far less than what I can and should be. I am called to be conformed to His image, and I have a long, long way to go.

rattlesnakeSome of you may have heard about the Appalachian snake-handling pastor who died several days ago from a snake bite. Here are my thoughts on the matter…

While I applaud the exercise of faith in any professing Christian, there is a difference between exercising faith and laying down on the railroad tracks and daring a train to come by. Surely God expects us to use our brain and accumulated knowledge in matters clearly known (such as the fact that poisonous snakes can kill you) and not waste our time putting God to some magic genie test. In fact, Matthew 4 tells Jesus’ response to Satan’s temptation where Jesus was basically asked to prove himself by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple without getting hurt. Jesus replied, “Do not test the Lord your God.” So those who center their faith around such silly tests are not only misguided in their focus, but are, in fact, not following the example and command of Jesus.

Also, while it may make the heads of some of my fellow conservative Christians explode, it is thought by many biblical scholars that Mark 16:9-20 which contains the snake handling passage was not originally part of Mark’s gospel. That is why several translations either omit it completely or place it in brackets to note its uncertain origin. To center one’s faith and practice around some of the very few disputed verses in the Bible is woefully misguided.

And if the passage was considered to be authoritative and taken literally, don’t you think there would be some history of that happening in the first 1900 years of the church rather than strangely appearing in Appalachia a century ago? Here’s a clue, folks: when practices and beliefs emerge a couple thousand years after the history of the church has done otherwise, it is inevitably the new divergence that is astray and not the countless generations that came before.

If the pastor was truly a man of Christian faith – and I have no reason to believe otherwise in spite of our very different take on snake handling – then I believe he has passed from this life to an eternal one in the presence of his Lord. However, I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ first words to him after death were “What were you thinking?”

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Christmas exists to remember and celebrate the first coming of Christ to a world in need of a savior. As a colleague at work said this week, he’d prefer to call it Incarnation Day instead of Christmas, but he’s right in suspecting that won’t catch on. While most biblical scholars agree that Jesus wasn’t born anywhere close to December 25, it’s still fitting to set aside a day to remember his coming and its purpose.

Christ has always existed. He didn’t come into being in that manger in Bethlehem. He always was and he always will be. All that we see and enjoy in this universe was created by him, including humankind.

Because humans willfully chose to rebel against a holy God, we suffered the just consequences of that sin, and our world has suffered death, deterioration and decay ever since. If left separated from a holy God at death, then the judge of the universe gives us the just reward (punishment) for our rebellion. Like wages earned from our jobs, it is the wage we earn for our unforgiven sunfulness.

But the God of the universe created us initially for right relationship with him. God loves us. It is not his will that anyone perish, but that all come to repentance. Therefore, he did what he did not have to do following our separation from him, and he chose to come in the form of a human – fully man and fully God – to live a perfect, sinless life, to suffer a horrible death that we deserved, and to rise again, conquering death.

The manger was never meant to be celebrated without also remembering the cross and what followed.

Through his selfless act, God has provided a way for the great chasm between God and men to be bridged. All that turn from their sin and place their trust solely in what Christ has done on their behalf, surrendering their will to his, can receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.

Since today is Christmas, I will receive several gifts. I will take great pleasure in them and be grateful for the gift and the giver. But no gift can ever equal that offered by the Giver of life. His gift is eternal. His gift is truly life-changing. His gift changes one from the inside out. His gift is incomparable.

For those readers who already know Christ and have surrendered their lives to him, my wish for you is to continue growing in holiness and living life faithfully for him day by day. For all others on this Christmas Day – this Incarnation Day – my wish is that you will receive from our Creator his gift of repentance, of faith, of salvation, of eternal life, and that you will begin the transforming journey of becoming who you were created to be.

Now that would make for a very merry Christmas.

A Life Well Lived

Posted: December 16, 2013 in Behavior
Tags: , , , ,

A-Life-Well-LivedI attended the funeral today for a wonderful, sweet, giving, godly, 94-year-old woman from my church. Her equally kind and faithful husband preceded her in death several years ago. I greatly admire their whole family – their closeness, example, faith, and their love for each other.

As I sat in the service today and listened, remembering interactions in years past with this great couple, it struck me that every remembrance – every remembrance without exception – of this man and woman is a good one. Never did I see anything but love and graciousness from either of them. Never did I hear an unkind word from their lips. In life they were a model for others to emulate, and in death their memory is a challenge to be a better person.

When people like these two saints pass from this life to the next, it serves as a reminder that lives can be well lived, but to do so is the exception rather than the rule. Each of us considers himself good, but to whom do we compare ourselves? We can always find others whose behavior is less admirable in some ways than our own, leaving ourselves with an inflated sense of goodness and pride. But it is when we look to those rare, exceptional models that we realize how far we have to go to become all that we might.

Today I am thankful for these two examples of grace and faith, for their lives well lived, and for the challenge their example is to others, including me. May the God who transformed them do the same in all his children.