Finding Wisdom in Unexpected Places

Dear Wise One,

When I was young, I didn’t think much about wisdom. But when I thought about wise people, I thought of an OLD person. Not just old, but male. But today I realize that wise people come in all ages, genders, and circumstances.

I remember Carl Koch’s voice the day he gave our Servant Leadership class this profound formula: Experience + Reflection = Wisdom. He explained that you can live many years, and have many experiences, but without reflection, or as Viktor Frankl (Holocaust survivor) would say, finding meaning in those experiences, you’d be like a very old toddler.

So it’s true, one needs to have a few years under the belt to evaluate the “gains” through each experience. Yet, there’s a social media video going around of a 7th grade girl reciting the slam poem she wrote. The topic is about why we don’t feel good enough. She shares that we all feel that way and ends by saying that we need to make sure we are true to ourselves.  She gives voice to her wisdom by creating this thought-provoking message, in spite of her years.

I also hear the voice of wisdom from my two women friends who live in prison. They know their incarceration has given them time to disconnect from the environment that landed them there. The accidental beauty is that they are able to help others because of their years of reflection, and the rock solid Spiritual connection they have established over time.

After two decades of incarceration, J. told me: “When you asked me what my day looks like in here, I had a hard time putting in words what can be accomplished from sunrise to sunset. Thinking on this, the best way to describe my day is ministry—not in the so called church sense, but in the daily grind sense. With so many lives here affected by this scenario (being in prison), personal needs on the emotional side, are high. We have established a common ‘known’ that we are available for crisis help, hugs, advice or just a sounding board for anyone and everyone.†It seems as if God’s work is alive and well through these dear souls.

It’s true that those who have lost a mother are really the only ones who can understand the devastation of this experience. Only those who have experienced child-birth can know what it’s really like. There are no words, no simulation to either prepare you for the experience, or tell about it with any accuracy. Only a combat veteran can know the devastation of war. Often, wisdom arrives on the wings of a painful experience.

I’m convinced of a two fold purpose for our unpleasant experiences. First, learn from them, and second, turn around to help someone else in a similar situation. I’d never wish a problem on anyone, yet the wounds that cause us grief also bond us in human compassion. Meaning is embedded into our lives when we appear to be the most broken.

The Serenity Prayer popped up in my journal today: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; to courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.†Yes, wisdom, because of experiences, guides us.

A few years ago, a YOUNG man, not an old one, gave me a thought to keep forever. The man was Chuck Long, University of Iowa’s star quarterback from years ago, as well as professional football player and now coach. When I asked him about the pressure of winning or losing a game by one last play—all on his shoulders—he said, “The great ones welcome the challenges of their lives as a way to test their character.â€

So my question is: Do I welcome challenges or do I run from them? When I don’t get my way, do I pout, stamp my feet and curse life as one problem after another? Do I host pity-parties for myself?  Or do I hear the voice of wisdom, telling me, “Search for the lesson. Embrace the meaning.â€

Be a great one. See your life as a tapestry of many wise and lovely colors.

Voice your wisdom,


















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