By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
In two days I turn 70.
That’s not bragging. That’s taking a deep breath of gratitude. Without the graces of God and the miracles of modern medicine, I would have checked out from a heart attack on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2003, at age 55.
My obit would not have mentioned my 50th wedding anniversary, celebrated this past December. It would have said I was survived by five grandchildren, not 16.
It would not have mentioned my work with the Yeshua Institute or The Catholic Leader. My book, The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus: Introducing S3 Leadership – Servant, Steward, Shepherd, would never have been written.
As I slowly recovered from my emergency heart bypass surgery -- and two other surgeries the same day to fix complications from the earlier surgeries -- I began to ask myself why I had survived.
That inquiry became more deeply personal when a friend with heart problems died the day I came home from the hospital and two weeks later the father of one of my son’s college teammates, a man my age, died at home on his couch a few days after surviving a procedure almost identical to mine.
Why was I spared?
After a lot of prayer and introspection, I came up with an answer of sorts. God wanted me to devote my life, first, to being the best husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather I could possibly be. And second, He wanted me to devote my professional life to helping people become Jesus-like leaders.
Perhaps I was wrong. But I took these whispers as Gospel and acted accordingly.
Almost as soon as I was able to get back to work, I told my bishop I wanted to significantly cut back my work for his diocese so I could devote more time to Jesus-like leadership development. Thanks be to God and to him, he was agreeable, even supportive.
Long story short, those two roles I settled on 14 years ago have pretty much dominated my time and absorbed my energy in the grace of the ensuing years.
As we – my wife Jane and me, initially – began to envision the Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute back near the beginning of my second life, we developed a plan.
Every good organizational plan has to have an exit strategy, and ours was this: By the age of 70, we would hire someone to serve as full-time CEO and Executive Director, and we would step back and let our influence recede into our personal sunset.
Great plan! Except it didn’t work.
We can no more afford to hire a full-time CEO and pay her or him a just wage than we could buy a cruise ship and use it as our global headquarters. Perhaps someday ... or perhaps not. Not now. Not ever?
So how are we to proceed?
A friend of my same esteemed age recently sent me a funny email that proposed we seniors adopt a new strategy. It’s called SOS – meaning, it this case, Slower, Older, Smarter. Wonderful strategy!
After a little reflection, I think I’m two-thirds of the way there. Now all I have to do is get Smarter. Good luck to me.
Another dear friend and co-founder of the Lead Like Jesus Movement, Phil Hodges, offers some compelling advice in one of the videos we share with participants in our Encounter program. He asks: “What’s God’s mission for your life?” Then he says this:
“Keep doing what is in front of you until you get other instructions. And do it to His glory, because He will honor that.”
Thanks, Phil. I sure hope so. Because that’s exactly what I intend to do. I’ll treat your advice as a much cherished 70th birthday present.
Going forward full of gratitude
Going forward I’m going to keep doing what is in front of me. And all the while I’m going to keep looking for other instructions.
Plan A didn’t come to pass. But Plan B is here. I’m healthy and devoted – to God, to this ministry and to my family.
And I’m grateful – so very grateful, in measure beyond words – for the opportunities God has seen fit to entrust to me.
Please keep me and my efforts in your prayers. And be assured of my prayers for you and your efforts.
Together we can all be better leaders. And as better leaders, we can make this a better world ... for as long as we are given to draw breath.
Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, everyone.