Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Always Leave a Place Better Than You Found It

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My grandpa, Fred Stiverson, peacefully passed away June 6, 2017. Last Friday (July 21st) our family gathered together to celebrate his life. Throughout my childhood I affectionately called my grandpa “Gong Gong,” a Cantonese term for grandfather. My Chinese grandfather had passed away when my father was a boy, and “Gong Gong” accepted my name for him as a badge of honor.

I loved my grandpa dearly. He was like a father to me, especially during my tumultuous teen years, providing security and stability that were greatly needed. A man of integrity, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, loved ones, and friends knew Fred Stiverson as “a lover, a peacemaker, a problem solver, always looking for the higher ground which would bring the greater peace and good to all involved” (quote from Joyce Berry, my mom). He lived a long, meaningful life of 97 years, and he finished well.

One of the big lessons my grandpa taught his family was to always leave a place better than they found it. I value this principle which was also passed on to me, because it is a hallmark of servant leadership.

Always leave a place better than you found it.

As leaders we must do more than climb up the corporate ladder. We do what we can to make our sphere of influence a better place. We invest in those around us to encourage their personal and professional growth. We share the love of Jesus through actions everywhere we go.

Mother Teresa extended my grandpa’s principle even further by saying, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better.”

Like my grandpa before me, I want to leave a lasting legacy to my children and grandchildren (and hopefully beyond). I want to be remembered as a person of faith and integrity. At the end of my life, I want to leave this world better than I found it.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).


Heavenly Father, thank You for sacrificing Your Son on my behalf. Help me to get the focus off myself and to live sacrificially for others, sharing Your love and kindness, and following Your example. Empower me by Your Spirit to leave every place I go better than I found it. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Vision & Goal Setting

How Looking at Death Can Make Your Life Better

As a pastor in ministry for 25 years, I have been involved in many funerals and memorial services. In most of them, the sharing of memories is included in the order of service. This aspect is truly telling. In some services there is awkward, even oppressive, silence. People grapple with their memories and emotions, and a few brave souls may venture forth to share a good word. In other services, people almost fight for the microphone. Their loved one had a positive, lasting influence on them, and they are eager to share. Intense emotions are still present, but memory after memory is described in an atmosphere of joy.

Some times the audience’s lack of sharing is caused by shyness, coupled with the inability to navigate intense emotions. However, it has been my experience over the years that silence is more commonly caused by a lack of something to share. One person confided to me, “My mother’s funeral was so hard. Nobody wanted to dishonor her memory, especially there. But there was nothing good to say, and you have to tell the truth.”

Thankfully most situations are not as tragic as this one, but the fact remains–all of us will leave behind some kind of legacy. There is simply no way around it. Unless Jesus returns during our life time, we will all face death one day. Our death is outside our control. What we have control over is the type of legacy we leave.

A powerful exercise used to help people develop a life plan is having them imagine their own funeral. While this may sound morbid or unpleasant, it causes people to pause and really think about where their current choices are leading as they grapple with questions like these…

What do you want your family to say about you at your funeral? Your friends? Your colleagues?

Are your current choices and lifestyle going to get you there?

Discovering the answers allows people to get in touch with their values, their God-given callings, and what is truly important to them.

I have yet to meet anyone at the end of their life who says they wished they had spent more time building their career or making more money. Rather, regrets center on failure to invest in important relationships and in making a positive difference in their world. Things might have been different if they had identified their priorities before facing a life-threatening health challenge.

I personally make a point of telling each family member, “I love you,” before leaving the house even if I plan to be gone for a short time. My husband and two of my five kids are the only ones at home now (and the adult son living with me is rarely around), however, if something unforeseen should happen to me, I want “I love you” to be the last words they remember hearing. I don’t live under the fear of impending doom. I simply realize that my choices, even small ones, build the legacy I want to leave.

By taking a look at death, we have the opportunity to make the most of the life God has given us. We can make each day count by our intentional actions to build a God-honoring legacy.

O Lord, “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 NIV).