A few years ago I took my family to Washington D.C. I’ve been there before, but this trip was unique. This time I knew several people who lived and worked in Washington.
Drew Allen grew up in Owasso. He graduated Owasso High School with my wife, Londa. He is a Lt. Commander in the U.S. Air Force and at the time of our trip was stationed at the Pentagon.
The 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon is open to the public. But, as you can imagine, the interior of the Pentagon is not. When we told Drew we had plans to visit we were surprised to discover that he was available to take us inside the Pentagon.
It was a remarkable experience. Because Drew was available to help us through security and walk with us through the building we were able to go places most civilians will never go. We spent most of a day with Drew inside the Pentagon. He took us to the private chapel inside the Pentagon that serves as a military memorial for what happened on 9/11. At one point he asked us to get on an elevator. He pushed the down arrow. I could barely contain my excitement because we’ve all learned from the movies that all the coolest parts of the Pentagon are underground. And we were about to see it.
When the doors opened I was shocked. Hundreds of military personnel were seated around tables eating lunch in the food court. That’s right, there’s a food court in the basement of the Pentagon. We ate at Subway.
After lunch Drew took us down the hall past the office of Air Force Chief of Staff, the highest ranking officer in the Air Force and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At this time my youngest was still a baby. Just as we walked past his office Dawson started to cry. And it was loud.
Londa and I panicked. We thought, best case scenario, Drew gets in trouble for bringing a family with a baby inside the Pentagon, worst case someone slips, pushes the wrong button, and it’s so long Seattle! While we’re rushing to calm the baby an Airman comes out of the office. She wasn’t mad or frustrated. She looked at us and said, “I thought I heard a baby.” She introduced herself and took a moment with Dawson. He quickly calmed down and Drew explained why we were there. With that she paused and said, “You’re on a tour? The Chief of Staff isn’t in the office right now. Would you like to see it?” YES!
Because Drew and this Airman made themselves available my family has been places and seen things most people will never see. We’ve been in the office of the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force.
That wasn’t the only amazing thing that happened on our trip to D.C.
Robert Palmer is a friend from college. He now serves as a bugler at Arlington Nation Cemetery. He was available to give us a behind the scenes tour of that sacred ground. We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then Robert took us into the barracks and we were able to visit with those soldiers who stand that honored post. It was a meaningful and memorable experience.
As amazing as those opportunities were I think the one that topped them all is when we visited Representative James Lankford. Today he is one of our Senators, but at that time he was a member of the House of Representatives.
We caught up with Representative Lankford in his office. We visited for awhile and then a bell went off in the hallway. He told us that bell was to remind the Representatives that it was time to vote. He got up from his desk and said, “Come with me.”
We took the elevator to the basement of the House Office building and walked through the tunnel that leads to the Capital. Inside the Capital he took us to the gallery and helped us find a seat. What happened next was amazing. He asked if my three oldest children could come with him for a few minutes.
Not two minutes later Londa and I sat in the gallery and watched as our children walked onto the floor of the House. Representative Lankford introduced them to several other Representatives and they all sat together. When the vote was called I watched as he leaned over and said something to my daughter. She reached out to push a button and the vote was cast. Apparently he had asked a couple of the other Representatives to be available to do the same thing because both of my boys, when told, reached out to cast a vote. It’s amazing to consider, but three of my children have cast votes in the United States House of Representatives.
Now don’t worry. It was just a procedural vote. They didn’t create any new taxes or cut any funding. But we did have an experience none of us will ever forget.
The character trait of the month is AVAILABILITY.
Availability is being ready, willing and able to use who you are and what you have for the benefit of others.
People who are available are thoughtful. They see the needs and possibilities in their circle of influence. They do more than empathize with others. Once they see a need or a possibility, they move to act. They make time for people. They are present in this moment, in this conversation. Their attention sees beyond the task to the people they serve and serve with.
Andy Stanley once said, “The value of your life, the value of your leadership, will ultimately be measured by how you leverage your influence for the sake of others.”
I’ve heard someone say, “Decisions are made by those who show up.”
Your influence begins when you make yourself available.