I was fortunate enough to receive a three-month sabbatical from my long-time job recently. I fully intended on getting back to work and falling right back into the rhythm. Oh, what little I knew... …
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I was fortunate enough to receive a three-month sabbatical from my long-time job recently. I fully intended on getting back to work and falling right back into the rhythm. Oh, what little I knew...
Besides being a curmudgeon and a once-in-awhile writer, I am the Executive Director of the Denver Inner City Parish (DICP), a non-profit organization serving low-income people in a variety of ways. DICP welcomes and empowers people in need through support, determination and community. Since 1960, DICP has been consistently renewing and enhancing lives—about 40,000 people per year are served in 10 different programs with its three locations. In 2016, we served over 178,000 meals, plus a lot more services. I arrived at DICP in August 1987 (almost 30 years ago).
A couple months prior to my sabbatical, I had been in a meeting in my office with a program officer from one of Denver’s bigger foundations and during our visit, she asked to see my succession plan. “Okay, I can reach into my filing cabinet and I can hand you the succession plan that I have submitted to your four previous predecessors, or I can tell you the truth. What would you prefer?” She somewhat reluctantly requested the truth. “My plan is to die in this chair. Then the very capable Board of DICP will find a great person to take my job.” I thought it was a funny line, and I truly believed that was how it was all going to play out. She didn’t laugh.
My sabbatical started out as a time of rest, but quickly became a time of deep reflection, with an emphasis on getting rejuvenated and living a healthier lifestyle. I spent time with daily meditation/prayer, exercise, journal writing and pointed, dedicated time for communication with my family. It was not always fun. In fact, there were times that it sucked, big-time, because for the first time in a very long time, I looked inward—and I mean really looked inside—and I didn’t like everything I was seeing.
I started individual therapy (a first for me). It occurred to me that I was about to celebrate 20-years of alcoholic sobriety, but there were some addictive behaviors that I had never dealt with. So, I went to a 12-step program for the first time in 20 years. It was hard—and wonderful—and I am still going on a weekly basis. My wife of 33 years and I started to communicate in ways that we had not in a very long time—not always easy—but it has been incredible and I am so lucky to be married to her.
Recently, a friend told me of a time when he was a teenager and his grandmother signed him up for a painting workshop with the legendary, afro-sporting PBS artist Bob Ross, who liked to paint his trees with happy smiles. Mr. Ross died in 1995, but his legacy and popularity continues today. After a quick demonstration from Bob, the workshop participants were directed to paint. My friend was intently going at it with his face only inches from the canvas, carefully applying paint. Mr. Ross gently put his hands on my friend’s shoulders and had him walk backwards about eight steps and then said, “Now you are an artist!”
My friend’s analogy had a huge impact on me. Tears came to my eyes. For almost 30 years, I have had my faced buried in the activities and the important work of the Denver Inner City Parish. Earlier that day, during my prayer and meditation time, I had read a passage from The Wise Heart by monk and author Jack Kornfield. He told the story of a woman who was an inner-city principal who would spend part of her evenings making and distributing sandwiches for people in the poorer parts of her community. She didn’t do it out of guilt, duty or external pressure. They had empty tummies and she had food. The local media heard what she was doing and printed a story about her. Instantly, she became a mini-celebrity. Many people started sending her money to support her mission. Much to their shock, she sent the money back to everyone with a handwritten note that said: “Make your own damn sandwiches!”
I have made a few sandwiches in my 30 years at the Parish and I don’t regret a single moment of my time there. But, as I cried like a schoolgirl in Hanson’s Restaurant upon hearing the Bob Ross story, my buddy grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “It is time!” I responded, “Holy Crap … it is time!” I went home and told my dear and wonderful wife the Bob Ross Story, tears reappeared, and she agreed. “It is time!”
The next day, I met with the Board President and resigned. Together, we formed a transition plan. Over the next five months, I will be transitioning away from DICP and towards my next chapter. The possibilities are wide open and I don’t know a lot about my next phase, but I do know that I won’t be retiring (I am only 61 and have a lot left in my tank), and I know that I am completely jazzed about this new adventure! DICP will continue to be a very important part of my life and I will always have a heart for that wonderful community and a heart for service. Here is what I do know, I am crystal clear that it is time.
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