Pimping Your Profile: Top 25 Tips

November 20, 2009 3:10 PM

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I had the pleasure to participate in the "Pimping Your Profile" session at aimWest's Midwest Social Media Confab held November 19, 2009 at Grand Rapids' JW Marriott. Below are some practical pointers that peppered my riffing with fellow panelists Kevin Dean and Laura Bergells. 


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1. Engage in social media's Big 3: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.


2. Maximize your presence on Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter (aim for 100% complete). Use the many FREE tools and widgets available.


3. Link information, updates, content, etc. across platforms.


4. Drive traffic from platform to platform as well as to your blog and website.


5. Make your online presence E.P.I.C. (Experiential, Participative, Interactive, and Communal). From Len Sweet.


6. Let your true personality come through. Who are you individually, professionally, relationally? Upload a photo.


7. Position yourself in a meaningful way and differentiate yourself from others.


8. Embrace better ways to communicate (e.g., instant messaging, texting, status updates, tweets).


9. Use social media to start, build, resurrect, and maintain personal and professional relationships.


10. YOU may control what to say and share but friends, connections, and followers decide what's relevant, compelling, meaningful, and useful to THEM.


11. Free tools are available to aggregate, monitor, measure, and optimize your social networks and help manage your time.


12. Your presence in various social media may be less important to "prospects" then your absence from it.


13. To start and/or increase your social media presence, you should decrease and/or stop doing somethings.


14. Before meeting someone new, check 'em out and send invite to connect. Saves time and helps breed familiarity.


15. Professional and personal lines are blurring in the social media, embrace it but take care.


16. People want "real" over "contrived." Social media allows a fuller dimensionalization of your reality.


17. Successful Careers built on: 1) Your Network; 2) Your Wisdom; and 3) Your Compassion. From "Love is the Killer App." 


18. Business and relationships will come from people you don't know but who want to know you better. Be accessible.


19. Align your Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter presence and activities with the features, benefits, and experiences they deliver.


20. We are all subject matter experts--not just at work. Your life and life experiences have something to offer others.


21. Consider a fan page as well as a profile on Facebook.


22. Build a company profile as well as an individual profile on LinkedIn.


23. Maximize recommendations on LinkedIn. Remember that branding isn't what YOU say you are but who THEY say you are.


24. Optimize link sharing across your platforms as well as within a single platform. Be ubiquitous.


25. Repurpose, repeat, and retweet content across your social networks but vary and version when it makes sense.

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What Now. What Next.

September 4, 2009 7:17 PM

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It's early evening and I am somewhere over Michigan or Ohio. Not sure of the route Delta flies from Grand Rapids to Atlanta. Come to think of it, I can't recall when I last flew through Atlanta on an outbound leg of a trip. Guess I could look in the inflight magazine but I really don't care where I am at the moment. I do care about where I am going.  


About this time tomorrow I will be touching down in Tel Aviv. 


I have yet to process the trip. It came on a little fast as business trips often do. Then there were all the last minute details like pulling together essential papers, portable electronics, travel docs, etc. And packing my suitcase, briefcase, and rucksack. 


So now I'm taking advantage of the quiet of the cabin and 3:40 left of battery life on my Mac to begin sharing news about professional changes that few folks are aware of. Events unfolded rather quickly so only those I am or have been or will be working with are "in the know."


Recently I began serving as president for EthnoGraphic Media (EGM), a 501c(3) educational nonprofit formed in 2007 to explore the critical issues of our time through film and new media. The community of writers, artists, strategists, and filmmakers that embody EGM capture true stories of theological virtues moving through the human condition. EGM hopes those who see, hear, and experience these stories will gain a deeper understanding and heighten sensitivity that moves them to meaningful action. http://www.egmfilms.org  


The role of president entails championing EGM's mission, vision, and values; solidifying its strategic direction and tactical plans; encouraging a team of talented industry professionals; fostering mutually-beneficial relationships and partnerships; and driving EGM toward its objectives.


For those who know me, you know I have always been drawn to organizations with a relentless pursuit of achieving the seemingly unachievable: "changing the world" at University of Texas at Austin; "reaching for the stars" at Leo Burnett; "advancing humanity" at Hanon McKendry; and "living life inspired" at Zondervan.


So I invite you to explore the work of EthnoGraphic Media and get to know the folks who are part of its community. More importantly, I hope you will encounter a story, issue, situation, or person that connects with you in a meaningful way.


Hey, gotta run!


A Daughter's Gift Remembered

August 16, 2009 7:14 PM

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My daughter, Kate, loves to write. Several years ago I received a poem from her that I have now read probably a hundred times. I expect that I will read it a hundred times more as our heart song plays on.     



Two Pieces of Twine 

by Kate Oechsler (Age 10) 


He held me when I was born, and he did not mourn.

He helped me learn to ride a trike, 

And then on to a two-wheeled bike.


He taught me words to say when I would need to pray.

He loves me very much, and I love his warm touch.

We are like pieces of twine, I am his and he is mine.


We went to the zoo and saw a giraffe, 

It licked our hands and made us laugh.

I will grow up someday, find a dream and fly away.

But he will still be mine, just like twisted pieces of twine.


He'll walk me down the aisle, with a happy smile.

I'll be covered with silk and lace, and a grin on my face.

He will cry some though, but they're tears of joy I know.

They're for his little girl, and inside his heart he's doing a twirl.


I'll take the love he'll give, then go and live.

And when his life comes to an end, 

He'll still be my very best friend.


Me and my Daddy are pieces of glad twisted twine, 

Because I am his, and he is mine.



Author's Note: God inspired me to write this poem and some of my ideas came from the song, "Butterfly Kisses."

Balancing Business Relationships

July 5, 2009 2:37 PM

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Upon entering publishing some years back I remember receiving some wise counsel which I believe has relevance and broad application for most professionals regardless of industry.  

"Publishing is a relational business," my new boss stressed during our first one-on-one. A few days later over coffee my mentor and leadership team peer emphasized, "Ours is a business built upon a fragile ecosystem of relationships." So my marching orders were clear. Of highest priority and immediate need was getting relationships right: if broken, fix them; if weak, strengthen them; and if new, establish them. And while all relationships were important, some were of utmost importance. 

I liken it to juggling many balls of varying size and weight. Now some of these balls are made of rubber and bounce back when dropped while others are made of crystal and will shatter if allowed to fall. You must decide what your relationships are made of, then manage accordingly. 

My relationship philosophy is pretty simple... be fully engaged. One cannot afford to be passive. If you want a relationship to work, you must work at it. And if you're doing it right, for all the right reasons, then it shouldn't even feel like work. It's a little like what my wife, Stacy, and I remind our kids, "You want to have friends? Then you need to be a friend." 

Fortunately, I'm kind of a relational guy, a character trait that has proven instrumental for finding fulfillment, having fun, and making more than a few friends across a career spaning several service-oriented, customer-centric industries. 

Truth be told, I have heard on several occasions that I'd make an excellent greeter at Wal-Mart. Absolutely! "Hi. Welcome to Wal-Mart. Thanks for coming in. How y'all doing this morning?" Of course, it helps to use your best southern accent. And if you have to ask why southern, then you probably have not lived, worked, or spent enough time in places like Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Tennessee. Remember the welcome that the wife of young attorney Mitch McDeere received in Sydney Pollack's film adaptation of John Grisham's The Firm? "Abby this is the South, we encumber you with hospitality." Over the years this little saying has become the "gold standard" I set with my teams. If our clients, guests, partners, etc. don't feel "encumbered" by our hospitality, then we're not trying hard enough. 

Given all the challenges businesses face today, perhaps a little more attention to these "fragile ecosystems" is in order. A greater investment of time, energy, emotion, and empathy is guaranteed to pay dividends not always found on a balance sheet.   



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Celebrating Father's Day '09: Five Times Over

June 21, 2009 3:11 PM

Today is a bit different with the recent addition of two new family members. For those who have been following our journey (or have traveled a similar road), you know that we are settling--somewhat smoothly but not without stumbles and struggles--into what has been aptly called, our "new normal." 


In celebration of fatherhood, I wanted to share some "behind-the-scenes" adoption moments accompanied by the wit, wisdom, and whimsey of others.


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I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection. Sigmund Freud



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So long as little children are allowed to suffer, there is no true love in this world. Isadora Duncan



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It takes a village to raise a child. 

African Proverb



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A man never stands as tall as when he kneels to help a child. 

Knights of Pythagoras



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It is much easier to become a father than to be one. 

Kent Nerburn



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A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty. Unknown



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Our children give us the opportunity to become the parents we always wished we'd had. Louise Hart



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Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father!

Lydia M. Child



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The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. David O. McKay



The Long Awaited Homecoming

June 5, 2009 11:06 PM

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Grand Rapids, Michigan 

May 29th, 2009

Day 1336



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Great News!

May 28, 2009 2:43 PM

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Stacy, Rosalinda, and Rebeca Arrive FRIDAY NITE @ GRR (CO2887) @ 11:18PM. CYA There!!

Almost Home

May 26, 2009 10:36 AM

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I returned late last night from Nicaragua with Ryan, Sam, and Kate. It was incredibly difficult to leave Stacy and the girls in Managua for the second time in as many months. But as difficult as it was for me, it was that much harder for Stacy. As most of you know, she has been away from her home, friends, family, and support network for nearly a dozen weeks.


While we have appreciated the opportunity that Stacy has been given to bond with Rosalinda and Rebeca and them with her, they are ALL ready to be here. Last details include obtaining the adoption sentence, birth certificates, medical clearances, visas, passports, and (rebooked) airline tickets. Such crucial steps demand a sense of urgency, high level of accuracy, inexhaustible patience, and enormous favor (not to mention even more time, energy, and money). So please continue to pray that Stacy can finally return home so that Rosalinda and Rebeca can finally know a home of their own.


Again, we appreciate so much the love, encouragement, and generosity you all have shown over this very long and very exciting journey. Honestly, we could not imagine doing this without that.


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It's Official!

May 22, 2009 5:37 PM

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A little before 10:00 AM Nicaragua time on May 22nd, 2009, we legally adopted Rosalinda Ava and Rebeca Sara into the Oechsler family. The day was made even more special with the presence and participation of our three biological children--Ryan, Sam, and Kate. Our meeting took place in a small, interior office within Jinotepe's simple but bustling courthouse. It was officiated by the attorney general, a presiding judge, and local Mi Familia designate who we found to be very professional, respectful, and gracious. With our attorney, Martha, by our side each one of us (save the youngest) signed the last of the paperwork.


When validated for our willingness to bring two more children into our home, we explained that now we are "una familia completa" since "siete es el número perfecto." 



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Leadership Lessons: Style, Substance, Success.

April 29, 2009 7:42 PM

prodigal2.jpgEarlier this week I spoke with students at Cornerstone University. It was my tenth class and fifth college that I've guest lectured in this semester... fun times! I was asked to talk specifically on the topic of leadership. To make the most of our time together, questions were submitted to me in advance. Below are three that seemed to make sense addressing as a set.


Questions From The Class:

1. In your opinion, is a great leader born or can a great leader be made?

2. Should leadership be sought after, or if in fact an individual is gifted in the area of leadership, will he or she be sought after?

3. Based upon your experience is it easier to be a leader or a follower?



My Response:


If you are seasoned in your career, chances are you've already experienced a variety of management and leadership styles. And chances are your own style has been evident to those you've led and managed. Three of the most prevalent leadership styles that I've experienced over my career include: those who lead as if born to it (natural); those who lead others as they have been led (nurtured); and those who lead through fear, intimidation, and manipulation (neutered).

The "Natural"

Whether or not you believe in the concept of "born to lead," it would appear some among us are more predisposed than others. For example, the 5% of the population whose Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is ENTJ (Extraverted-iNtuitive-Thinking-Judging). These folks are described as "Executive" or "Leader" material. I'm pretty sure that ENTJs don't dominate the leadership ranks in organizations (that would be mathematically impossible) but I would venture to guess that ENTJs over-index as a percentage of all business leaders relative to their percentage in the population.  

The "Nurtured"

In his classic work on social learning theory, Stanford behaviorist Dr. Alfred Bandura found that people learn new behaviors by: 1) observing the actions of role models they can identify with; 2) approximating the behavior they've observed; and 3) receiving reinforcement for their adopted behaviors. His early studies recorded children reacting to aggressive television programming by punching a "Bobo" doll (those who watched Mr. Green Jeans and Romper Room should recall this near-life-sized, sand-in-the-base, bounces-back-up, inflatable doll). Like Bandura's laboratory observations, it is easy to see how the workplace can provide an environment of modeling, mirroring, and reinforcement leading to learned leadership behaviors--good, bad, and ugly.

The "Neutered"

While this type of leadership can be very effective in achieving short-term organization goals, the means (e.g., fear, intimidation, manipulation) can overtime damage an organization's climate, culture, and cohesion. One powerful yet poignant scene from Mel Gibson's "We Were Soldiers" illustrates this well. Commanding officers observe as new recruits are put through field exercises led by two very different patrol leaders--one who verbally abuses his men, the other willing to stop the exercise to tenderly check the physical condition of one of his men. The viewer is left with no doubt on which patrol leader the commanders will ultimately affirm, promote, and entrust. He is the one best able to accomplish the mission while garnering the respect of those he'll lead into battle.

Finally, I left the class with a few tips as current and future leaders:

Be Real: Avoid hypocrisy at all costs if you hope to earn respect, build trust, and gain loyalty amongst your team.

Encourage: Your team needs to be positively challenged to dig deep within themselves and driven to give their very best. They need to have ownership in the hits as well as the misses.

Attitude: Have fun! Really, if you are not enjoying the process and your people, you will never fully appreciate the outcomes.



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Together Yet Apart

April 25, 2009 1:13 PM

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Spring Break '09 will definitely go down in our family's record book. During one week: Sam and I went skiing out West to celebrate his 16th birthday; Kate vacationed in Florida with moms and daughters from the neighborhood; Ryan was back in Miami at the U; and Stacy, Rosalinda, and Rebeca enjoyed a weekend at the beach in Nicaragua. 


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The following week Stacy and I celebrated our 25th Anniversary. You know, we had always planned to spend this one (unlike ALL the other anniversaries) in some romantic locale such as Paris or Venice or Kauai. Instead we iChatted with each other, sharing cake and ice cream as a really extended family. The highlight was Stacy and the girls "blowing" out candles in Michigan all the way from Managua.  


And now, five plus weeks into our unavoidable "separation" we're all slowly settling into our routines. I am trying to learn (without permanently damaging) the "Floral Street" routine that Stacy has spent years building and refining. Being "Mr. Mom" (as Michael Keaton's character, Jack, can attest) is not easy but often humorous. On a regular basis I hear myself saying, "You're doing it wrong!" The kids stay up too late which makes them hard to get up in the morning. Who knew? I spent three consecutive days at the D&W pharmacy picking up prescriptions (suspect I could have done it in one trip). Then there is dance practice and lacrosse games (you should actually read the team's newsletter PRIOR to your turn for travel snacks).


Meals have been... interesting on several fronts: 1) we have grown to love cereal as much as Jerry Seinfeld; 2) breaking bread with friends, family, and neighbors is fun; 3) having friends, family, and neighbors deliver meals is less humbling than it is greatly appreciated; and 4) restaurants are not the same when you're missing a main ingredient (mom). Oh, I also found out yesterday that bills need to be paid (and paid on time) or they send something called a "shut off" notice (helpful hint: you can use your debit card over the phone).


As some of you know, I was raised by a single/working mom who had to learn how to drive at 50, went back to night school at Crossland High to learn typing and stenography, and struggled to make a living while raising two young boys in a small apartment off Pennsylvania Avenue (extended) in PG County, Maryland. At age 12, this latchkey kid became "chief cook and bottle washer" and took on babysitting in our complex to make spending money. All this to say, I have always had a great appreciation for single parents and now have a much greater appreciation for my wife/partner/best friend and all she does for me and the kids.   


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In Nicaragua, Stacy is establishing a "Carratera Masaya" routine for the very first time. Routine, she will tell you, is extremely important for Rosalinda and Rebeca. The girls get up at 6:00 every day and are in bed at 8:00 most nights. They fall asleep to either lullabies in English or Nicaraguan children's songs.


Two showers a day are typical, especially with temps topping 100 degrees. On MWF we have a tutor who visits to teach both girls English and work on math concepts with Rosalinda. They are both very bright and eager to learn. Stacy prepares three meals each day but the girls get healthy snacks in between. Favorites foods include corn flakes, hot dogs, and personal pan pizza ("personal" simply because the kitchen only has a toaster oven).


The girls have additional friends now temporarily living in the "family compound" so free time includes arts & crafts, playing games, movies, soccer, etc. Special outings include: walking to Tip Top for chicken fingers, french fries, and an air conditioned playscape; visiting the Hilton in town where buying lunch means you can use the hotel pool; impromptu but difficult to coordinate get-togethers with other adopting families; and church on Sundays.    


So that's the day-to-day until the day we are able to all be together in one place. After almost six weeks we know there are many more weeks to go before the adoption is finalized. We pray that every meeting bears much fruit, that each review and report is favorable, and that a sense of urgency would permeate proceedings. We also pray for protection and provision for all those involved in this adoption. And we thank each of you who have joined us on our journey. 


As a family we are learning much, growing deeper, getting closer, and living larger. Such is life. 


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Gotta Serve Somebody

April 15, 2009 7:40 PM

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My time in retail was the best on-the-job, customer service training I've ever received. And the work itself proved to be a great fit for me. Being in my twenties, retail offered a flexible schedule and steady income punctuated by overtime pay for working above and beyond. 

I didn't seek out retail it found me. I had been working nights and weekends at a Mobil station while attending Prince George's Community College in Largo, Maryland. One late Fall Saturday night a buddy from high school pulled in for gas. These were the days of "full service" so with a smile I filled him up, checked his oil, and squeegeed the windshield.  

Leaning against his car while I worked away, Mike told me it was too cold and wet to be working outside all winter long. He suggested I talk to his boss at Memco, a membership department store (remember those) just down the road. So I did and got the job as a stock boy just 30-something shopping days 'til Christmas.

My retail career spanned ten years. I worked for three different retailers at nine different stores in four states. There really is nothing like working retail, especially during the holidays. Beginning Black Friday (Thanksgiving Day +1) life as you know it significantly changes. At work, "busy" just doesn't describe it. "Chaotic" is a little better but my favorite descriptors come from friends working restaurants... slammed, 86ed, in the weeds. Often you get so busy on the floor that you forget to eat, take a break, or go to the bathroom. That's when you know that you are "in the zone." 

Typical customer encounters from behind the counter go something like this: You step up to a pressing throng of holiday shoppers, eyes beckon, "over here." They beg, "pick me!" and seem to scream, "I'm next" or scream at you, "HEY, I was next!" A single directed phrase from you quiets the crowd, "how may I help YOU?" Now you focus on your customer, addressing his or her needs one-on-one, making the best of the situation as well as making the sale.  

A person can grow to really love this kind of work. I did. You can even grow to love the people you meet. I found that "regular" customers can become much more than that. While working in Southern California there was women in her mid- to late-seventies named Barbara who would stop in several times a week. Sometimes we would grab a cup of coffee and just chat. She liked to share stories about growing up in Orange County "in the day." She had worked at Knott's Berry Farm for many years and had lived within walking distance. She didn't talk much about her husband who had died awhile back nor her children who had grown and moved off to somewhere.

She lived in a small but tidy mobile home park with palm trees and narrow little streets. I remember one Mother's Day when my wife Stacy and I took Barbara out for dinner to a nice restaurant near our home. She got all dressed up and we brought her flowers. Later when we dropped her off she insisted on giving us a huge brick of government-issued cheese to take back with us (I guess newly married couples can never get enough cheese and 70ish widows can only eat so much). 

When Stacy and I moved from Southern California she gave us about a dozen pieces of pale green and light pink Depression Glass. These small plates and cups, Barbara's heirlooms, have been a part of our home for a quarter century and still grace the corner hutch in our dining room. One customer who became a regular and then a friend also has remained a small part of a family.  

If it were in my power, I would create a special form of Selective Service (emphasis on the idea of "service" as in serving others). My program would call up young men and women into a season of working in a store, hotel, restaurant, or the like. I'm pretty sure it would help shape them personally, relationally, and professionally. Hopefully, they will meet a few customers like Barbara.


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Marketing: Rules for the Road

April 14, 2009 11:34 PM

I recently participated in an Advertising & eCommerce Advisory Board meeting at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. During the discussion I shared with the group a few insights/observations about being a marketer of goods, services, ideas, and brands.

It went something like this: 

"Marketing is fast-paced and deadline-driven. It's equal parts science and art. Your work is highly subjective. Everyone has an opinion on everything you do and they don't mind sharing it (but not always with you). 

Marketing serves many masters, both inside and outside the company. It must produce results in the short-term but has long-term benefits that you may never fully realize. There is a complex network of pieces, parts, and people that must be efficiently and effectively orchestrated. 

Very high (sometimes unrealistic) expectations must be either met or managed. And there will never be enough time, money, people, energy, and creativity to accomplish all that is possible."

I believe it was American daredevil Evil Knievil who said, "There are two types of motorcyclists--those that have gone down and those that are going down." Applying that reality to a "successful" career in marketing, my hope is that you dig the thrills, survive the spills, and enjoy the ride.

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And Now We Dance

April 10, 2009 5:25 PM

As many of you know, Stacy and I are currently "fostering" our two girls down in Managua, Nicaragua. Initially the thought of spending an extended and fairly open-ended time away from friends and family was overwhelming. We also realized that the investment of resources, both tangible and intangible, would be significant. But such concerns are tempered after waiting so long, coming so far, and then finally receiving "the call" to travel. At that point you make arrangements as fast as you can and just pray you haven't forgotten anything "critical" as you pull out of the driveway and head to the airport. 


Almost a month into this "assimilation" period, we have grown to appreciate how the process is helping form initial bonds and stronger attachments with Rosalinda and Rebeca. Stacy describes it as "learning how to dance with one another." Our own parenting skills and style are also being observed and assessed by those in Nicaragua ultimately responsible for the health and well-being of these very special little girls. 


While Stacy remains in Nicaragua caring for Rosalinda and Rebeca, I recently returned to Michigan to care for our older kids, maintain the home, and continue my work. It was on the eve of my return that I had a profound "dad" moment with Rosalinda.


My two pieces of carry-on luggage were packed and lined up against the wall under the large windows that each morning let our bedroom flood with sunlight filtered through the stand of mature mango, avocado, and palm trees just outside our temporary home. On top of one bag I had placed a notebook-sized portfolio containing my itinerary and other travel-related papers. Inside the portfolio, Rosalinda had secretly placed a note. 


She had folded it in half, then in half again, then in half once more. On the outside it was addressed "Para: Papá De: Rosa" and sealed with "Te Quiero" which means "I love you." I unfolded and read the message Rosa wanted me to travel with. She again told me she loved me, that I was a good dad, and that she had always wanted to have a dad like me.


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Adoption begins with a leap, is measured in small methodical steps, takes many turns, and ends in an embrace. I have carried my daughter's note with me everyday, folded in my wallet and forever in my heart. "Rosalinda, tú eres mi hija y te amo. Papá." 

First & Lasting Impressions

April 1, 2009 11:27 PM

On the road to Masaya from Managua, Rosalinda quietly busied herself with pen and paper. She wrote. She drew. She doodled. Rebeca had fallen asleep against her. We've since discovered that Rebeca can't seem to stay awake while riding in a car, regardless of how short the ride, crowded the backseat, or hot the day. 


Happy to escape the capital city's busyness, Stacy and I quietly appreciated the views of the Nicaraguan countryside. We were heading out on our first family outing which included a visit to Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya. It was called "La Boca del Infierno" or "The Mouth of Hell" by the Spanish who in the 16th century placed a cross at the active volcano's crater lip to exorcise the Devil. 


Our compact Toyoto Yaris strained as we climbed the mountain toward the volcano's viewing area. Stacy barely noticed as Rosalinda took her hand and began gently writing something on her open palm. In a minute Rosalinda was done. She had simply written, "MOM." 


The moment left Stacy feeling very tender. She says It was as though she had been "claimed and named" by Rosalinda. "She chose me. I am 'MOM.' Mom to Rosalinda." Stacy recognizes that moment as marking a beginning, "it was our first day as mother and daughter." Rosalinda's simple act left her in awe and took Stacy to an even deeper level of commitment. For that she is incredibly thankful, honored, and humbled.


There are precious few defining moments in a relationship. Even the seemingly small ones can be powerful and everlasting.


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Nicaragua: A Place We'll Call Home

March 24, 2009 3:58 PM

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I grew up a military brat, more specifically, an Air Force brat. My early claim to fame (so I've been told) was being the first boy born at the new hospital on Dover Air Force Base. Supposedly, my mom beat the odds and won $50 from the OB nurses (seems all previous births had been girls). We lived for a short time in Lewes Beach, Delaware, a quiet coastal town connected to New Jersey by the Cape May Ferry. 

Like most military families, we didn't stay long in any one place. Dad was transferred to Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio, Cigli Air Station in Izmir, Turkey, Langley AFB in Tidewater Virginia, and Andrews AFB in Maryland. Being good troopers, we fell in line behind the Colonel and marshaled on.

Stacy grew up a nomad as well. She was a computer brat (yes, a made up term). Her dad was there during the halcyon days of office computing, when computers filled entire rooms and the United States landed a man on the moon using the total computing power of a five-function pocket calculator. 

Various sales positions with companies such as Singer and IBM moved them from Cherry Hill (NJ) to Cincinnati to Moraga (CA) to Atlanta. Stacy's family finally settled in Houston where her dad opened his own computer company just before the dawn of personal computers.

Houston is where Stacy and I would meet, fall in love, and get married--all in very short order. In our first 12½ years of marriage we moved from Houston to Stockton, CA to Brea, CA to San Antonio to Austin to Chicago. We would often joke that after six months in a new place we longed for the smell of corrugated cardboard and the sound of box tape! 

During the second 12½ of marriage we have lived in one house on one street in one community in West Michigan. Our friends who visit from other cities call East Grand Rapids "Norman Rockwellville." Truly it is a great place to live and an even greater place to raise a family. Very soon it will be the new home of little Rebeca and Rosalinda. 

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We expect that the transition will be overwhelming at times for the girls. Stacy and I can kind of empathize. On a much smaller scale and for a much shorter time, we have been transported to and transplanted in an unfamiliar country that has a unique culture where people speak another language. New smells, tastes, sights, sounds, etc. It's not bad... just different.

If our short time here has convinced us of anything, it's that our girls need to experience Nicaragua (their current home) before beginning a life in the United States (currently our home). Moreover, we know that our three biological children need to visit the homeland of their sisters. I fly home soon but plan to come back with Kate and Sam in May, joining Stacy and the girls closer to the time the adoption is hopefully finalized. 

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Our oldest, Ryan, already spent a week with us here in Nicaragua over his spring break. The night before he returned to Miami, he commented that his stay here was different than taking a vacation. A big reason was the time he spent in the orphanage with his little sisters and the other children. Ryan played the role of big brother well, demonstrating the patience of Job and the playfulness of Tigger. Another reason was that he lived, shopped, conversed, and (most importantly) ate "como Nica."

Stacy and I have agreed that we must come back as a family, early and often. We can easily see ourselves spending a month here each year or every other year. We love the people, the culture, the land, the history, and the food. Most importantly, part of our family is from here and that makes it a little part of all of us. 


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The Divine In The Daily

March 16, 2009 11:31 PM

Day Two

Sometimes we are so busy with life, we miss the little things. A look. A smile. A hug.
In no particular order of importance or occurrence, here are a few little things that have brought us joy since we arrived in Nicaragua:

Chanting "Queremos Ryan! Queremos Ryan! Queremos Ryan!" on the way to pick up el hermano mayor from the airport.

The girls first time ever in an airport that also included a first time playing with puertas automaticas and drinking from a water fountain.

Chanting "Queremos Pizza! Queremos Pizza! Queremos Pizza!" after picking Ryan up and heading to our first meal out (Pizza Hut was the special request from the girls).

Stacy rocking with Rebeca on Sunday morning on the veranda.

iChatting with Kate and Sam in Michigan.

Rosalinda saying grace before a meal (will tell the "rest of the story" regarding her name in a future blog post).

Playing fútbol with the kids from el "Proyecto."

Prayers from home.

Fresh baked pan from la panería nueva.

Friends and family back home taking care of Sam and Kate. THANK YOU!!

The girls in their pijamas asleep in their new bed.

Cold Rojita after a long, hot, dusty day.

Eskimo o helado o sorbete.

Gallo Pinto.

Pollo frito con arroz y friljoles rojos.

Taking turns reading La Historia de Timoteo as a family devotion.

Ryan playing tag and hide 'n' seek with the girls.

Making bead necklaces.

Fruto: Our driver, guide, interpreter, and friend.

Watching Dora the Explorer and The Incredibles in Spanish.

A cold Cacoa en el mercado de Masaya.

Warm sun and cool breezes.

Palm trees. Avocado trees. Hibiscus in bloom.

Milk in a bag. Sliced Jalepeños in a bag. Water in a box.

Spending a morning with 600+ school children and then being treated like rock stars--signing autographs and posing for photographs when we left.

Our guesthouse and the hospitality we have been shown by Marta and her family.

Realizing the amount of love and care that has been given Rosita y Rebequita (we have a high bar to live up to).

 

 

 

 

How Do You Begin To Write About A Miracle?

March 13, 2009 11:29 PM

Stacy and I were up and out of the guesthouse a little past seven. 

We chatted anxiously with our attorney as she negotiated Managua's morning rush hour traffic. We were heading to our first appointment in what would turn out to be a very full first day. None of us really knew what the next few hours would bring. We only knew that we had been brought together for just such a day.

Of course there was much excitement... three and a half years of waiting and wondering, hoping and praying will do that to you.

We passed large buses and smaller "expresos" packed tightly with workers making their way downtown. Motorcycles and scooters zipped on either side of us creating extra lanes of traffic. After a half an hour the bigness of the city gave way to smaller neighborhoods. Little stores (tiendas) dotted the sidewalks. The narrow, congested streets were lined on both sides with uniform-clad children walking to school (public not private we were told).

Arriving on time, we parked in front of the agency that was handling our adoption. Stacy and I said a prayer before stepping out to follow our attorney through the gates and inside. Everyone was very professional and gracious. They seemed like people who took their jobs seriously which we appreciated because their work is vitally important. We did notice that the area with the most activity was a closet-sized room off reception that housed the coffeemaker. It appears that the start of the business day ritual is without borders.

We were introduced to several members of the staff including the new executive director. About 8:15 the person assigned to our case greeted us in a warm business-like manner. She held our case file against her chest like a mother holding a baby. The legal-sized folder was easily four inches thick and as we made our way to the cars she commented that everything about us and about our girls was contained inside. How many hands had its contents passed through? How many sets of eyes had scanned its pages? How many signatures had been required and stamps needed just to get us to this morning? Yes, senora, hold onto it tightly because we are so close now.

"That seemed to go well," we said back in the car. Some short introductions, a few pleasantries, and then instructions on how the next few hours were to go. The ride to where the girls lived took about 45 minutes. Leaving Managua proper we went further and further into the interior.

Along the way we talked about the length of the process and the theological virtue of "patient endurance." Only that morning could we more fully appreciate how our hearts had been prepared during this time of anticipation and hoping. We shared an experience we'd just had at Ada Bible the Sunday before leaving for Nicaragua. In his teaching from Genesis that morning, Jeff talked about Joseph's excruciatingly long imprisonment. He said that your faith is either forged or dashed during times such as these. We were humbled by how Joseph's faith was strengthened to the point where he was able to serve and offer comfort to others despite his own pain and suffering. After more than a decade as a prisoner, Joseph fully expected to be released after interpreting the cupbearer's dream. But he was forgotten and remained in prison a full two years more.

During the sermon Jeff used as one of his examples, "almost adopting." He also used the term "resolution." While both had special meaning to Stacy and me, the latter was of special significance since this was the actual term used to describe the critical judgment we had just received from Nicaragua that allowed us to meet and be with our girls. It was just one more word of confirmation that told us, "Go, until or unless you hear a no."

The last few miles of the journey led us through narrow and deeply rutted, dirt roads. We came to a walled off compound with large metal gates. Inside were our girls. They had also been waiting a long time for us. And their hearts too had been prepared. "Mama y Papa!"

 

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O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your Name; For You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago in perfect faithfulness! Isaiah 25

Update: All Is Well In Nicaragua

March 13, 2009 8:30 AM

Stacy and I met our two little girls yesterday. It was a very emotional day for everyone but I can tell you that many prayers were answered, both in the U.S. and here in Nicaragua. We are heading back to the center now so I must run. Stacy and I promise a detailed post in the next 24 hours. Thanks for following and keeping our entire family in your thoughts and prayers.    


Some Career Advice (For What It's Worth)

March 8, 2009 11:02 PM

I struck out on my own one year ago this week. Much of my early success and ongoing satisfaction can be directly attributed to those who reached out to me as I tried to find/make my own way. While some folks I'd known over the years, others represented newly-formed relationships. Almost to the person I felt their genuine concern for me and a desire to help.


I have been trying to do the same, that is, investing in others as others have invested in me. While I am neither an executive coach nor trained mentor, I have been dispensing individual doses of advice to those "in transition."


Amidst all the professional upheaval many are experiencing, it seems people are longing for someone to listen to them, empathize, provide perspective, challenge them, and encourage. More and more, these "conversations" are taking place online via email, IM, texting, and social networks. But call me "old school," I still prefer talking over a good cup of freshly-brewed coffee. 


Below are two "stream of consciousness" missives I recently sent. The first was to a seasoned professional asking, "what next?" The second was for a young man about to enter the workforce and wondering, "what now?"



Advice for a Seasoned Professional:

"...don't just get "on" LinkedIn, become a power user. Your relationships (don't think 'networks') are key. Everyone you know, everywhere you've lived, every job you've held, etc. Request recommendations. Your online profile becomes your resume. Push it out to people when they ask. Link with people or check out their profiles before you meet with them. Follow other power users and draft behind them. Repurpose your content across social media/networks. Also get on Facebook (175M and growing). Don't be afraid to ask for and give advice, freely. Go out for coffee with folks (a lot). Consider consulting. Set up an LLC and get a separate checking account/credit card for business. Stay optimistic. Do something creative you have always wanted to do (e.g., teach, speak, write) that makes a difference. Oh, invests in others." 



Thoughts for a College Senior:

"A good start is just asking others that have gone before you, walked the trail so to speak. Of course, it's hard to know just what you want to do, are best suited to do, and what you will be doing 5-10-15 years down the road. So dream big, be willing to change, be O.K. with that. Don't make excuses. Apologize and learn from your mistakes and be willing to step out and risk failure. ASK YOURSELF: 1) What am I passionate about?; 2) How am I gifted?; and 3) Where can I impact? Also, what can challenge and grow you in the ways that are healthy, positive, and God-honoring? Don't compromise your integrity. I recommend you take the "Strength Finders 2.0" assessment. Buy the book, take the test, send me a copy of your top five strengths, then read the book on your own time. Play to those strengths. Make a "start doing" AND "stop doing" list. You are more than your career... meaning your title or position or office or money or perks should not define you (so guard your heart and head against drawing your identity from them). Don't compare yourself to others (stifles self-determination). Become part of a project, idea, initiative, or effort that is powerful and makes a difference in some way. I also believe in adding value to something as in being a small part of something really big. Oh, I learned a lot of this stuff the hard way."


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