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[everything in brackets can be skipped over for a more fluid reading experience.]

it started out as a grand idea: I’ll go to a retreat center for 24 hours!

it became a simple and beautiful reality after not making the time to reserve a spot at a retreat center and achieving desperation the night before my scheduled retreat day. i hopefully facebooked a few fellow campus minister friends and went to bed confident that somehow God would help me figure it all out in the morning. 

[don’t be like me; plan ahead!]

thursday dawned and with it came facebook replies with several suggestions, one of which was Remedy, a coffee shop in downtown Knoxville. you may be thinking, “A retreat at a coffee shop? How’s that possible?” well, it’s certainly not for everyone but coffee shops have, for many years, been the space in which i’m able to calm down and focus. i don’t drink coffee for various reasons including the fact that it always gives me a stomach ache but i do drink tea and Remedy is the sort of coffee shop you can hang out in for hours on end and not feel the pressure (of chain coffee shops) to continue buying drink after drink, scone after scone. and Remedy isn’t (or at least wasn’t that day) bustling with people at all times or filled with obnoxious music. it was an ideal space for an idealist-creative with Moleskine notebooks and a fluid blue-inked pen in hand.

[i may go to Whitestone next time. you can walk around their property and use the common spaces for free. just have to call ahead to make sure nothing major is going on and prepare to drive 2 hours round trip. another reason why Remedy was such a great option: short commute. i don’t believe in always traveling far for quality time.]

the thought of leaving my laptop behind was both charming and slightly disarming. what if….??? so i left it in my trunk versus my house. if i REALLY needed to write an epic email, i’d have to walk to the parking lot and the thought of that wasn’t attractive so there it stayed. 

[i actually forgot it was there until i got to work this morning, pulled out all my regular bags and thought, “oh no, i left my comp at home!” relief was sweet when i remembered the trunk.]

the original retreat game plan was to review my 6-month goals. several months ago i began a coaching process where i first discovered my core values and then created 3-5 year goals and then 6-month goals. retreat day seemed ideal for 6-month reflection and revision. unfortunately, i forgot to pack the printout. frustration kicked in pretty quickly as i sat in a comfy leather chair, facing away from the window so as to minimize distractions. i’m the person who, once i’ve said i’m going to do something, gets frustrated when i realize it’s not gonna happen. and it’s not because the task is necessarily so incredible but because i like to stick to my word, even to myself. 

thankfully the very idea of a retreat had me in a better mental/emotional space, one that was much more conducive to flexibility. so i was able to quickly stop the whining and ask God, “what now?” going back home to get the goal sheet wasn’t an option. 

[and it didn’t even dawn on me till this very moment that i could have gone to my car, retrieved my laptop and pulled up the file. that cluelessness is so exciting to me now because i know that once i opened up that laptop, the ability to truly focus would have been torturous. and i probably wouldn’t be writing this reflection with the same excitement.]

God helped me figure out plan b: core values. i’d searched my phone, hoping that i’d emailed the 6-month file to my coach and could retrieve it that way. in my search i came across my core values list. since they weren’t what i wanted, it took me a minute to finally realized that they were worth my time. 

hours later my right hand began to cramp and the right side of my pinky finger, just above the top joint, was sore from the pressure of hand placement while writing. i wrote about each core value in a wonderfully systematic way. i enjoy systems, smooth flowing systems. note taking on my laptop became so freeing while i was a student because i could easily adjust text to create a smooth flowing system. thankfully, i immediately figured out a system in my notebook–no major crossing out required. just writing. first my gut reaction to the core value and then an indented section of deeper exploration. the values are grouped in sets of three so after each set, i took up some space reflecting on all three and deciding why they were worth keeping or tossing.

when the cramps began, i put down the pen and picked up a book i’d found on the coffee shop shelves. Leadership Is An Art by Max DePree. Remedy has a book system whereby you can freely take a book for keeps as long as you replace it with one you’ve brought. i had nothing to leave so i returned the book before departure but not before one section prompted the premature use of my hand…it was just so good not to write down.

“In a day when so much energy seems to be spent on maintenance and marvels, on bureaucracy and meaningless quantification, to be a leader is to enjoy the special privileges of complexity, of ambiguity, of diversity. But to be a leader means, especially, having the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who permit leaders to lead.” pg 22

and i typically do enjoy the complexity, the ambiguity, the diversity while figuring out the maintenance, quantification, and such. but making a meaningful difference is not something that can be systematized or quantified and it’s not always comfortable enough to be enjoyed. yet i’ve been given permission to lead.

my retreat day was spent figuring out how my core values impact my ability to lead, impact the opportunity i’m given and energy i commit to making a meaningful difference in the lives of those who’ve permitted me to lead. i left Remedy with more realistic expectations for how i lead and also for how i simply live because my core values aren’t just about work, aren’t just about leadership. they’re also about family, friendships, creativity and a desire to be God’s disciple–first. 

[i won’t share any more specifics about my core values but if you’re interested in discovering your own, let me know and i can put a great resource in your inbox. the last thing i want is to reveal so much about my own journey that it seems prescriptive. i also don’t want to talk through stuff that could be easily misconstrued and used against me. 🙂 you may start your exploration with core values or with something else just as you may retreat in a local coffee shop or on a mountain. may all these words above simply inspire you to carve out some time to seek God. remember, there’s no such thing as “no time”–we always find time for what we really want…]

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