6 Leadership Lessons in Guardians of the Galaxy and The Body of Christ

Guardians of the Galaxy has to be my favorite movie of the year. It’s not just because I like superheroes.

I love the messy world with imperfect heroes who work together and save everyone. Why do they succeed, despite the odds against them? They aren’t the perfect story book heroes. Nevertheless, they are a textbook example of effective teamwork. The most effective teams I have worked with share these characteristics.

  1. Divergent Backgrounds. When leaders make the mistake of assembling a team of like-minded people from the same circumstances, it makes sense in the short term because there is minimal conflict. Over time, these teams become stale, boring, and lose their edge. However, stronger teams are built from people from different backgrounds. They bring unique strengths, perspectives, and friends to the table. With nonprofits, this is particularly essential as each person from a different background bring potential volunteers from an entirely different circle. The wider the range of experiences in our circle, the more opportunities we have for creative solutions to unexpected problems.
  2. Difficult Past Challenges. Heartbreak, loss, and personal tragedies could have defined different guardians. They lost families and cultures, were tortured, were abused, and were used. Some would have been broken by these losses. But the Guardians work to overcome their pasts. Parts of their past come back to haunt them at times.
  3. Unique Abilities. The Guardians discover when they work together, the whole is stronger than their individual parts. Everyone, from the small racoon to the wooden Groot, can use those unique talents to solve problems. Some would underestimate their individual potential to help the team.
  4. Humor. We get by with a little help from our friends, and that’s a whole lot easier when we can laugh at ourselves.
  5. A Focus Towards the Future. Despite those past losses, the Guardians help each other keep a focus towards the future. As they help each other do that, the destructive potential of their toxic pasts diminishers.
  6. Self Sacrifice. Initially, Groot is a simple tree who can’t even talk. At the end, he’s the one who can save everyone else. He cares about the Guardians and willingly gives of himself to save everyone else.

Each of these things don’t just describe an effective team or why Guardians of the Galaxy save the day at the end of the team. They also describe the body of Christ and the real world in which I live.

The real world isn’t a place of perfect families and people that perfectly fit into neat boxes that are easily categorized. Instead, our world is often a mess of flawed, broken people in circumstances we cannot fathom.

With Jesus Christ, they and we are reminded of that flicker of light in each of us such that when we learn to use our talents and respect the talents of others around us, great things happen.

Jesus ate with thieves and spoke with prostitutes. When Pharisees tried to force him into their convenient little boxes, he turned their world on end. He didn’t let them stop him from serving others and teaching those around him. He teaches us today.

And when we let Him, He helps us work together as the Body of Christ, still making incredible things happen that transform the world.

And if we happen to laugh along the way with a great romp of a film like Guardians of the Galaxy, so much the better.



When Someone Who Should Love You Doesn’t

If we lived in a perfect land of unicorns leaping and feeding on marshmallows, we might have a best of all possible worlds where every child is born wanted, respected and loved.

Sadly, our world is different from that.

There are ways to survive and later to thrive, despite the lack of love from someone who should know better.

Even without realizing it, if you grow up with someone who should love you and doesn’t, you may go through the stages of grief:

  • Denial. This can take the form of pretending the world is perfect. It can also take the form of compartmentalizing. Sometimes the only way to survive the trauma of being unloved is to mentally or physically escape. This can take both constructive and destructive forms. It can also take the form of constant trying and attempting to be good enough or noble enough for that person to love you – and to let that person or those persons ignore all your personal boundaries.
  • Anger. If we deny the source of our grief, it is easy for it to come across as anger, sometimes in the form of displaced aggression.
  • Bargaining. This is an especially toxic stage for the person who tries for years if not decades to be good enough or to sacrifice enough to be loved. The risk is we can sacrifice ourselves and our souls into a toxic state where we have no personal boundaries. Another risk here is we learn a pattern of behavior and response that we may repeat with other people because this is what we grew up doing.
  • Depression. It is easy to internalize feelings of rejection and blame ourselves. Sometimes those who don’t love us will reinforce this by blaming us.

The challenge in maintaining relationships with toxic people who do not love us is that we will put ourselves into a self-imposed circle of hell, repeating cycles of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. It is easy to mistrust good people and attribute bad motives that aren’t there but are in our past.

  • Acceptance. This step can take a lifetime to reach. It’s when we realize this person does not love us and never did. Once we realize that, we can accept it. The time may come when we have to completely remove ourselves from toxic circumstances for our own self-preservation. There is no unwritten law that we must accept a lifetime of ridicule and insults. We deserve better. You deserve better. I deserve better. If we spend too much time on a self-destructive hamster wheel of the cycles listed above, it’s easy to get so consumed that we lack the time or energy to discover or cultivate positive relationships with people who will love us unconditionally.

The beauty of acceptance, or this final step, is that it’s possible to see how God took the pain and loss and found ways to bring other people in our lives to fill that gap. As Corrie ten Boom said, there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.

With acceptance comes the ability to move forward and rediscover joy. When we reach that stage, it may even progress to where we feel compassion for those who cannot love unconditionally.

When you have faced – and accepted – the sorrow of not being loved by those who should, you will better be able to reach out in empathy to others in the same situation. You will recognize others who have had to create themselves despite a missing, foundational puzzle piece. I especially find myself called to encourage young people. The skills I learned as a mom – to fix the scraped knee and wipe away tears, or help a child learn to laugh despite a tough situation – will be put to use for a lifetime.

Aeschylus described how we can recover from searing, soul-shattering pain (translated from ancient Greek):

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

His grace is not awful. It is sufficient. As the pain drips from our hearts, a drop at a time, it is replaced with a wisdom and understanding.

And then, those who were unloved can love others.

Heroic Dads

As we cleaned and reorganized this spring, preparing for an empty nest, I found an essay Nick wrote a few years ago, where Nick explained why his dad is his hero.

My children are now grown. Richard’s integrity is the biggest force in the formation of their character. I grew up without a good father role model and see the difference in my own kids’ hearts. His confidence in and devotion to our kids gives them something I never had. Nick’s words are the most fitting tribute I can make this Father’s Day.

Nick’s essay:

My Heroic Dad

My Dad is my hero for many reasons. When I was little, he played Thomas the Train with me and helped me set up train tracks all over the floor. Then we ran toy trains and had a lot of fun. Now that I am older, I see the other things he does. His hard work, his character, and his ability to put his family first are a few of the things I can learn from him. Even though he is not perfect and admits when he makes mistakes, my dad fills the role of hero extremely well as a man’s man.

Dad works hard running his own business. When he has work for clients, he sometimes works late on deadlines and does without sleep. But he never complains that he is tired. He works just as hard with chores, working until the job is completely done. When I get tired while doing yard work, he always keeps going. Dad is always there to take over if I get tired hand-sawing a limb, even though I know that he is as tired as I am.

Another thing heroic about Dad is his overall character. In a word, nice describes Dad. He is friendly to everyone and listens to people. Although we can all lose our tempers, it seems like dad never gets angry. He controls it very well. I know I can trust my dad because he is honest and keeps his word.

Family is always his first priority. Even if he’s on a tight deadline with his job, caring for his family is Dad’s primary objective. If I’m ever having trouble learning a song on guitar, I can just ask him for help. On the outside, he is a white-haired old man who is almost eligible for the senior discount at stores. But on the inside, he is a little kid who wants to play guitar and make many jokes. This is Dad. Also, if Mom is ever talking on TV or the radio, Dad goes out of his way to get up early in the morning, and watch or listen to her. In addition, he usually doesn’t buy anything for himself because he spends his money on his family, church, business, and friends.

One of my favorite memories is when Dad took me to Louisville so we could go to a Jeff Beck concert, our favorite guitarist. Dad introduced me to Jeff Beck so I would discover other types of music besides heavy metal. He introduced me to jazz from the 1920’s to the 1960’s and the Mississippi Delta blues. Listening to it at the concert is the best music I have ever heard.

In conclusion, a hero or man’s man has many admirable qualities. Dad’s qualities that stand out are his strong work ethic, strong character, and family focus. With the way he lives his life, he shows me the type of person I want to be as I become an adult – a hero.

The Cost and Value of Integrity

“You’ve lost your head over nothing,” someone ranted at me this spring as I made a difficult decision.

Sometimes, the cost of integrity is higher than others. Being honest sometimes has a material cost – it can be more expensive short term to follow the rules and do things right.

Other times, there is a personal cost. To follow our conscience, we occasionally make tough choices that cost us relationships.

St. Thomas More did lose his head over his integrity five hundred years ago. King Henry VIII usurped Church lands and authority in his quest to get a divorce and marry Anne Boleyn. More resigned his position as Chancellor of England and refused to acknowledge Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England.

More attempted to rely on a diplomatic course to hold to his conscience but not publicly oppose the king. As he wrote his daughter while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, “I am, said I, the King’s true faithful subject…and pray for his Highness and all his and all the realm. I do no­body harm, I say none harm, I think none harm, but wish everybody good.”

Sometimes the problem with keeping your integrity lies in those around you who do not keep their own. The king wanted More’s approval and lashed out against him for his refusal to compromise. 

Despite pressure from the king, his peers, his friends, and his family, More held steadfast in following his conscience. He was tried and convicted of treason and was beheaded. Before he died, More said, “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.”

This spring, I learned the high price integrity can cost. More’s example sustained me and reminded me to find solace and strength in my own faith.

Seventeen years ago, I converted to the Catholic faith. On Easter Vigil, I made my first communion and was confirmed. It was important to me at the time, but I didn’t realize how profoundly it would change my life. As I affirmed my faith in Jesus Christ with my whole heart, my Confirmation truly made an indelible mark on my soul.

St. Ambrose described this as “the Spirit of wisdom of understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and piety… Christ the Lord confirmed you and placed the Spirit in your hearts as a pledge.”

Now, I realize that my faith is what gave me the strength to pay a high cost for my own integrity.

And I realized that sometimes when we pay a high cost to take the path of integrity, we learn that the value of our integrity is priceless.

From Ashes to Beauty

Twenty-five years ago, on our first date, I knew Richard was different.

I was a she-woman man-hater with a chip on my shoulder that was more the size of a log than a chip. I had battle scars from being lied to, used and abused – and didn’t even realize how angry I was because I had been handled instead of loved most of my life. Richard gave me one look that pierced my soul and commented, “You’ve had a rough time.”

In that moment, I don’t know how, but he saw beyond the pain and the anger to the real me.

I had resolved to marry the opposite of my own father and did just that. I found an honest, decent guy.

Twenty-three years ago, we married. He quietly planted seeds of integrity and trust, which took years if not decades to take root. With his support, I found my faith.

Those vows of for richer for poorer, for better for worse, and in sickness and health resound with me more now. Together, we’ve worked our way through all of those. We both really enjoyed each phase of our raising a family together.

Our kids are raised, and a friend told me that I shouldn’t use the term empty nest. Instead, I should talk about our second honeymoon.

As I look back on the better half of my life, with Richard, what I appreciate most is the solid foundation he – and we – have given our kids. They have a rock solid foundation and grew up with an example of a quiet, simple man who works hard, tells the truth and puts his family’s needs above his own. Every single time.

Never underestimate the strength of integrity. His integrity helped me build a heart with hope and create something beautiful from the ashes of my childhood.

Yes, Virginia, There is Still Integrity

Dear Virginia,

Some people in this world encourage us to think integrity is a term of the past, and that the world we live in is too grey for basic moral standards. I am here to tell you that we can still choose to do the right thing.

Sometimes, the decisions we make really are a choice between doing what is right and either doing what is wrong or sitting back and saying nothing when something we know is wrong is being done.

Choosing the honest path can be difficult. As Saint Thomas More wrote, “Tribulation is a gift from God that He gives to his special friends.” So if you are chosen to take this path in a difficult way keep the long view that good things can come from your struggle.

Those who seek to compromise your integrity may try all sorts of things to stop you. Here are common tactics used:

  • Appeal to compassion and pity. They will try to convince you that if you follow your conscience you are mean or heartless. Use this appeal to think through a way to make honest decisions with compassion.
  • Appeal to the crowd. They will tell you everyone else is ok with making a decision that violates your conscience. “Everybody else does it” neither is nor will be a reason to compromise your integrity. If this tactic is used with you, recognize it and resolve that doing the right thing is not a popularity contest. Saint Thomas More, who died for his convictions, also wrote, “If honor were profitable, everyone would be honorable.”
  • Make you question yourself. You will be told that you are confused, or misunderstand circumstances. When this tactic is used, use it to do your homework and make sure you have a logical basis for your choices and actions.
  • Bully you. You may be bullied or threatened. This could be a sign that you really are doing the right thing. Don’t cave to it.
  • Harass those you love. This tactic was recently used by someone trying to stop me from doing the right thing. Hold firm to your course. In my case, it backfired and resulted in enlightening others that what I was doing was right.

At every step you make on an honest path, when you are faced with choices, do so with prayerful discernment.

Then you may make a stand for what is right and see that temporal justice does not prevail. Take heart. God may have called you to push a rock up a hill, but He didn’t call you to move it. He will move it in His time and in His plan which we may never see nor understand. When you take the path of integrity, the important battle in your own soul is won.

When you choose the path of integrity, at the end of that path, you will discover something wonderful. It’s not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

It is instead the strength that comes from living by the courage of your convictions. There is a sense of accomplishment and also a relief.  As a French proverb reminds us, “There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.”


Turn the Page – Mission Accomplished

A fifteen year chapter in the story of my life has now ended.

Fifteen years ago, I thought about homeschooling my kids. But the idea scared me because I didn’t know how to teach a kid to read.

Somehow that summer, my daughter taught herself to read. When it was time for her to begin kindergarten, she tried it in a perfect environment but asked to homeschool.

We said yes. We didn’t know anything or anyone who homeschooled. I bought her a workbook at Sam’s and looked at the What Your Kindergartener should know book. We figured we would try it a year and if it didn’t work, we would just have her repeat kindergarten. It was a leap of faith.

We ended up homeschooling for 15 years; my younger son has just finished high school.

Fourteen years ago, we decided to add to the homeschooling mix by starting a business from our home, which our husband still runs. I continued to work part-time to supplement our family’s income.

Thirteen years ago, two weeks after our school year began, when my son was in kindergarten and my daughter was in 2nd grade, our home and business burned.  The primary things salvaged in that fire were our books, our business, and the kids’ school supplies. We took that as a sign we were to continue schooling them.

We have since schooled through challenges including a tough economy, surgery for me, and a heart attack 18 months ago.

I can only credit the grace of God who worked in many ways to keep us going. He helped us by many different paths:

  • Help from friends. We made good friends who also homeschooled, and together we pooled our talents and resources to teach our kids. That is how my kids took classes in elementary school Latin, aerospace, and high school science.
  • Help from coops. Local cooperatives gave my kids opportunities in choir, drama, Spanish, speech, strings ensembles, art classes, guitar, handbells, self defense, and grilling.
  • 4-H. Our 4-H program gives its youth as much as they put into the program. We put a lot into 4-H and got far more out of it. In addition to the hard skills they learned through projects ranging from livestock to computers, they gained invaluable leadership and community experiences. Both of my kids went to Washington, D.C. multiple times through 4-H. My son flew to Atlanta for a trip, and my daughter got to participate in a team presentation at the U. S. Department of Agriculture. They both met Senators and Representatives as well as other government leaders.
  • Kolbe Academy. For their high school program, my kids enrolled in a classical Catholic curriculum based in California. We tailored it to what the kids needed.
  • Non-traditional learning opportunities. We’ve tried a lot of online options – Dive DVD’s to work with Saxon Math, Teaching Textbooks for high school math, and Kinetic Learning’s physics program. One semester, we tried a chemistry class through a virtual school. For one semester in high school, my daughter enrolled in our local Master Gardener’s program and called it botany. She credits that class with her success in courses she’s taken as a plant science minor in college. Both kids also successfully completed college classes in high school through bridge programs.
  • Community Opportunities. We’re blessed to live in a city with a fantastic library system and fine arts opportunities. We appreciated the Suzuki violin program as well as the Evansville Children’s Choir. Our YMCA offered outstanding fitness opportunities as well.

As this chapter closes, I think the biggest thing our kids got from their homeschool education was not the academics – mind you, those are very important. But the real intangibles were far bigger:

  • Family Bonding. We’ve hustled through tough times together and shared our talents. Our kids know we will do anything in the world for them, and that has given them a strong base.
  • Faith. During those early school years, every morning after breakfast started with family Bible time. When our daughter started high school, we decided to try reading the Bible aloud a couple of chapters a day start to finish. We only read when all 4 of us were there, and it took 4 years to finish. But we did read the Bible aloud together as a family – both the action stories and the rest.
  • Hard Work.  We had a whatever it takes attitude with running our business and schooling our kids. It was often a team effort that taught our kids to take care of as much themselves as possible. When our kids were little, we sold Bethlehem Books at conventions to raise funds to pay for their schoolbooks. Both kids were expected to help us sell, set up displays, and inventory the books for each convention. When I had my heart attack, my daughter came home from college for Christmas and worked through grading, prepping, and tutoring her brother to help him finish that semester.  Last fall, when we realized I would need to start working full-time 6 months ahead of schedule, we sat down as a family to figure out how Nick would finish his final semester with my being gone every business day. Both my husband and Nick worked together to make it happen. It helped that he was enrolled part-time in a college class. I see the fruits of their strong work ethic now as both my kids have pollinated corn for a summer job. My daughter worked in a distribution warehouse last summer and has just been certified as a forklift operator for her job this summer. My son worked food service part-time to both buy and pay for a car to work his way through college.

And now I understand why God had me start the next chapter of my life 6 months before this one ended. He knew I needed to focus on the future and new opportunities instead of mourning the passing of old ones.

When I was a kid, we listened to books on tape that said when a page was finished: Turn the page.

It is now time for me to turn the page as the final words on this chapter say: Mission accomplished.



How Grownups Positively Respond to Adult Bullies

Adult bullies can be as predictable as the ones we remember from childhood who roamed the playground looking for victims. Unfortunately, in our reality TV Jerry Springer World we do not often see positive role models for how to handle them.

Our challenge as grownups is how to respond to them so we minimize their damage and don’t let them detract from our joy. First, remember that broken people try to break other people and spread their misery. Develop tactics so this doesn’t happen to you.

The following are habits I have found in grownups who effectively handle the 3 most common tactics of adult bullies.

  1. Tactic: Intimidation and threats. Response: Evaluate whether the threat is valid and then take the steps necessary to protect yourself. But then move forward. Do what you have to to get the bully’s bad behavior and threats out of your head and your heart. Remember that to a bully, engaging in fights is their oxygen. The more you engage with the bully, the more you feed the bully. Work to remove yourself from the situation.
  2. Tactic: Demonizing the victim. When a bully selects a victim, the bully often tries to turn the victim into an object instead of a person. This can involves spreading lies or rumors about the victim. Bullies like to go after victims in packs. The bully will try to rally others to the cause of harming the victim much like a vigilante posse in the Western. This can happen in professional environments and can be magnified by social media. Response: As always, maintain your own safety. I look at other people’s response to this tactic as a Rorschach character test. Some will latch onto gossip and instantly believe it without checking it out with the victim first. They then join the posse and try to intimidate the victim. Yes, it can hurt when those you trust fall for this bully tactic. Reframe it in your head – you have learned who is a friend and who is not. Invest your time and energy into those who support you. Maintain your positive goals and character. Build your own posse – of trusted friends to develop positive changes in your community. Every time you learn of a rumor or tactic used against you, reflect it by finding someone else and building up that person. This will help you get your head out of your own problems and focused on others. The more we build up the other people around us, the less impact the bully’s demonizing can have upon us.
  3. Tactic: Blustering nonsense.  The less substantive base a bully has in facts, the more the bully will bluster and throw things into the pot which are utterly irrelevant. This is designed to distract and make sure you lose your focus. Response: Keep your focus on what is right and good in your life and your goals. Remember what is true and right. Spend your time building on that instead of tearing down falsehoods.

Bottom line: it takes 2 to have an argument. If nothing constructive will come of it, choose not to engage. Take the high road as much as possible, preferably away from the bully.

Our time on this planet is limited. Each day and every single moment is precious. Don’t waste them on the negative. Seek out positive people who believe in you and invest your time and energy with them.

The small steps we take today to be happier and healthier are huge steps in the rest of our lives.

Positively Better After a Heart Attack!

Don’t make the mistake I made and wait until you have a heart attack to reduce your stress.

If parts of your life just upset you or give you anxiety, do what you have to to reduce your stress. (Note – parenting kids is not included in this one.)

This is my new anthem for life – accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative.

I never realized how much of my energy was sapped dealing with negative forces. The problem with dealing with negative people and forces is that it puts you into either playing defense or offense. In defense mode, you’re trying to prevent yourself from being hurt or are trying to recover from the latest hurtful thing that was said or done. In offense mode, you’re standing up for yourself and fighting to be taken seriously.

And all that time in defense and offense mode removes your joy. It saps your energy and your ability to be happy in the moment.

When you latch onto the affirmative, it will be easier for you to not only spread joy but to feel it yourself.

You deserve to be happy. It’s a great prescription for better health.

Finding a Good Man on Easter

Lent is over – Easter arrived. When we give things up during Lent, I often think of how I can give up something that is distracting me. Little did  realize this Lent how I would be called to do that this year. And when I found the strength to remove bad things from my plate, I was able to see and better appreciate good things in my life.

I’ve not been a member of the She Woman Man Haters Club for decades. But I’ve read the story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and know many who repeat that phrase.

But I think we often underestimate the quiet men in our midst. My grandmother married a good man just after I was born. In the skewed worldview of my father who was no father, I learned to mentally dismiss him as a steady guy who wasn’t that sharp. When I was 30, in the last year of my grandmother’s life, I saw the power of a strong, quiet man who loved his wife. In his mid-80′s, with precarious health and a heart condition, Ray Dunbar stood up for his wife against my father. I saw his integrity and devotion to my grandmother. Ray was a hero.

I’ve known my husband for 25 years. He, too, is a quiet man. He saw potential on our first date – potential for us to get along well in addition to potential for problems. He focused on the good potential and resolved to weather the problems. I still don’t know why. I had a chip of resentment on my shoulder the size of a boulder, and Richard quietly loved that chip away. Eighteen years ago, I came back to the Lord with Richard’s silent support and witness.

As I dealt with the problems he had seen the potential for, his standard line was, “You should spend time with people who love you and value you.” With that statement, he would drop it and we would keep going.

Finally, this spring, the potential problems of 25 years burst forth, and I took action to remove them from our lives. For years if not decades, I have at times mourned the loss of things I didn’t have. When I watched Richard with our kids, I felt an unspoken ache that I’ve no idea what it is like to have a good father. It is easy to mourn the things we don’t have.

Richard helped me through it, just like he’s helped me through other challenges. In 25 years, we’ve lost a baby, worked our way through a home and business fire, and worked through my recovery after a heart attack. At the same time, we’ve raised 2 kids and built a business.

This weekend, I realized how lucky I am to have the steady support of a husband who isn’t leaving and has given our children a lifelong example of integrity.

In Doctor Who, Rory Williams first seemed like an aside to the strong character of Amy Pond. But he married her, and eventually through a story line he spent 1,894 years watching over Amy…because of his love and devotion to her.

I don’t know what that’s like. But this Easter, I realized Richard is my Rory. He’s stood by my side for 25 years, without complaint, dealing with whatever comes our way. He had faith in God when I had none. And he had faith in me before I had it in myself.

At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy learned her heart’s desire had always been in her own back yard.

I don’t need to click my heels 3 times, but I know there’s no place like home, no one like my husband and kids, and I’m one of the luckiest women on the planet. I found a good man 25 years ago, but today, on Easter Sunday, I appreciate him more than ever.

“The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”  - Saint Thomas More

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