Posted in Faith

My Experience Being Human Today

pexels-photo-556666Being human and alive are wonderful things! The Scripture aptly calls us God’s masterpiece or handiwork (Ephesians 2:10). We were not haphazardly thrown together. We were created with purpose and magnificence, every part of us—body, mind, emotions, soul, spirit. That is why today, on the second anniversary of our traumatic armed home invasion when I was held at gun point, I decided to take this day to celebrate the glorious gift of life.

I had it all planned out. Because I love Life Choices where God has called me to lead, and I work with a wonderful group of people, that despite their own personal challenges, lean on Jesus and are blessings to others, I really wanted to spend the day there. First, I would order my favorite drink, a hot vanilla chai with almond and coconut milk. I would lead our staff devotions and invite them to share in the joy of being alive. Next, I would complete the training of our newest presenters of an educational program for students that I am proud of. Then I would work on some strategic elements to help our organization move forward in expansion. During break times I would connect with my staff individually, express my appreciation for them, and listen attentively to what they had to say. Finally, after dinner I would do some reading and writing for an assignment due this weekend. Most people might not think I had a very good celebration planned. But to me it seemed the perfect way to spend the day, because my life was not cut short and I would be able to answer the Lord’s call through service.

However, this morning “being human” kicked in. From the moment I started spending time with Jesus, my emotions were stirred. I cried tears of deep gratitude for the Lord’s faithfulness to me. And the tears wouldn’t stop. I sang worship songs through tears. I got prepared to go to work through tears, but I left my house too late to make a latte stop. I arrived at work with a couple minutes to spare before staff devotions. Somehow I managed to give my speech on celebrating God’s gift of life and how thankful I am to be alive. Then I opened our devotional book to read. I finished one sentence before handing it to someone else to read. I buried my face in my arms, and started to cry again. My staff prayed for me and spoke words of affirmation and encouragement over me. Then they said I should go home. I complied. (Did I mention how much I love my staff?)

I swung by the coffee shop on my way home, and cried after getting my order. I took some boxes to Goodwill that had been cluttering the guest room for too many weeks, and worshiped and praised the Lord for His goodness through tears. As I played my piano and sang to the Lord through blubbering sobs, His presence was so sweet and near. I made paleo waffles, I went on a walk, and I took a nap. I enjoyed fruit smoothies seated around the table with my knight in shining armor, my daughters, and twin granddaughters. I left space for more tears or other emotions that needed release.

The Lord has brought me through so much healing the last two years. This year has been much easier than the first. While I would never wish such an event on anybody, the Lord has used it to change me at an inner level that is hard to describe. My weakness is to measure my human worth by my productivity, and by my ability to remain emotionally stoic in stressful situations. The Holy Spirit continues to tap me on the shoulder. Being human is more than my output and contributions, even when done for the glory of Christ. Being human is also expressed in quiet, contemplation, authenticity and honest emotion. My journey reminds me of the story of the Velveteen Rabbit and his quest to become “real.” Much of my shiny coat of performance and pretense has been worn off. I am free to be human, to feel, to be real. My “celebration” didn’t turn out the way I planned, but that’s just fine. It truly is good to be alive, tears and all. Simply human and alive.

“The LORD your God is among you; He is mighty to save. He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with His love; He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Posted in Vision & Goal Setting

Set the Record Straight

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As a young girl, the desire to set the record straight was perhaps one of my strongest traits. To me accurate facts and figures were absolute necessities. It was never good enough to give a ball park figure when the precise data was available. If something cost $1.09, one should never say it cost $1.00. I was quick to set the record straight.

Correct grammar, in written and spoken form, was even more important to me. Nobody was safe from my scrutiny. I adored my sixth grade teacher, but every so often she would misspell a word. I would approach her during recess when the other students were gone and point out the misspelled word on the board. She was very gracious, and sometimes she would disagree with me. Then, we would go to the dictionary. I was right every time! I felt so proud, not because I was smarter than the teacher, but because in some small way I had made the world a better place by setting the record straight.

My poor mom, however, was the recipient of treatment that was less than honoring. I was ready to pounce on any misspoken phrase.

“Dad and I, not Dad and me.”

“This time, it’s correct to say Dad and me.”

“Argh…don’t end a sentence with a preposition!”

Needless to say, my mom felt disrespected by me and exasperated at me. “Just let me speak!” she would exclaim.

I really wasn’t trying to be difficult. In my heart, I wanted to help my mom. I was driven to set the record straight.

Today accurate facts and proper grammar are still important to me, but I have learned more appropriate ways of addressing errors. Thankfully I have become more flexible and actually overlook mistakes from time to time.

Overlooking errors can be helpful in our relationships with others, but it is harmful when it comes to errors in our own thinking. We must be swift to set the record straight with negative and self-defeating thoughts that enter our minds.

At the start of every new year, there is a huge push to make a New Year’s resolution for better living. We are encouraged to develop new behaviors that eventually become healthy habits. However, before we can consistently change our actions, it is imperative to address the thoughts behind our actions.

Perhaps there is an inner critic who pummels your sense of worth.

Perhaps there is an inner skeptic who tells you how impossible your goal is and casts gloom on your pursuits.

Perhaps the Enemy unleashes fiery darts of condemnation until you feel ready to give up.

Or perhaps there is something else.

Whatever it is, we must pay attention to the lies that threaten to sabotage our progress, and then set the record straight with the truth.

One serious error in my own thinking comes in the form of believing I am too weak to accomplish what God asks of me. I am too weak; the task is too big. I use Scripture to set the record straight, and allow the Holy Spirit to redirect my attention to the truth.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me…For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10b).

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you (Romans 8:11).

Where do you get sidetracked in your thinking? What truth can you declare to set the record straight and thrive in your pursuits to grow and change?

I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:16-18).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I want to please You. I desire my life to reflect the image of Christ. As I set goals in this new year, help me identify the errors in my thinking and the lies I believe that stand in opposition to the truth. Help me set the record straight with Your Word, in order to grow in You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Take Time to Examine Your Motives

Motive-of-the-Heart

 

I don’t want recognition; I only want to make a difference.

 

Several years ago I woke up from a sound sleep with these words swirling around in my mind. It expressed the philosophy I really try to live by, and I wrote it down right away. To the core of my being I want to be an excellent servant leader, emulating the example of my Lord Jesus Christ. I yearn to serve others, free from the entrapment of being recognized for my efforts.

I truly believe in the “rightness” of servant leadership, and have dedicated myself to studying it. If I ever have the opportunity to enroll in a doctoral program, my dissertation will include some aspect of servant leadership.

Unfortunately, I am painfully aware that there is also the sinful nature to contend with. The sinful nature wants to be recognized, to fight its way to the top of the heap. It wants to ignore others and emerge as the winner. It reminds me of a class of kindergarteners, hands waving high in the air, crying in desperate tones, “Oh, oh, oh, pick me! Pick me!”

Our culture feeds into this yearning for recognition too. It’s easier than ever to publish a book or increase visibility. Social media, blogs, and YouTube exist to get the message out to the masses.

Anyone can become famous. It should be me. If I’m just at the right place at the right time and do the right things I can be the next big time speaker, blogger, author, pastor, you fill in the blank. The problems is I end up spending more energy on marketing, promotion, and advancement opportunities than serving. I may tell myself that I am serving others by getting the message out. However, when less than the masses are blessed by my work, I become discouraged and begin to second guess God’s call.

It is wonderful to step out in faith to do great things for Jesus. We must be about His business, to build His Kingdom for His glory. We must be passionate about what we do. Because of this we must frequently step back and evaluate our own motives. Who is in control of the why behind what we do—the Holy Spirit or the sinful nature?

I have been guilty of doing my Father’s business, with part of me looking over my shoulder, hoping that somebody “important” notices. When nobody sees (or at least acknowledges my noble efforts) the rejection stings. I get angry when I feel ignored. Or the lack of human validation takes the wind out of my sails.

Over the years I have learned that as I lick my wounds, I need to take pause and examine my own heart.

Am I doing what the Lord has asked?
Am I doing it to the best of my ability?
Am I aware of others and doing what I can to serve them?
Do I trust that Jesus opens the doors that He wants me to walk through?

I ask the Lord to help me make the adjustments so that I can truly say “yes” to each of these questions. I certainly can’t put the sinful nature to death on my own, but with His power I can get back on track. I live for and serve an audience of One. When He is pleased, then all is well.

Matthew 6:1 NLT
Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.

Philippians 2:3-5
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, You see me and You know where I am weak. I desire to serve You and others with pure motives. But sometimes my attention gets turned away to myself. Help me to do what You’ve called me to do, to lead where You’ve called me to lead, without the need for human praise. Bring me back to a place of trust in You and love for You, untainted by the ways of this world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Sometimes a Little Rant is Good for You

“God can handle you.” This is one of free lance writer Melissa Hawks’ favorite sayings. It expresses what I’ve known for a long time to be true. And it’s one of the reasons I treasure my relationship with the Lord so much.

Life can be disappointing. Our well laid plans take unexpected turns. Our dreams morph into something we do not recognize. During those times, it’s okay to say we don’t like the situation we’re in. We don’t have to pretend that we’re happy with an outcome when we’re not. It gives me great comfort to know that we can be real and honest with Jesus.

“God can handle you.” He already knows what you are thinking and feeling. Nothing you say is going to surprise or shock Him. Sometimes a little rant is good for you.

Right now I am in the middle of a life transition that has been difficult and confusing. This summer my husband and I resigned our pastorate at a church we have invested ourselves for 16 years. The Lord unmistakably led us here and we’ve done our best to be faithful, even though it has meant my husband has been bi-vocational most of our tenure. When things would get tough, we would pray and discuss with each other if it were time to leave. The answer had always been “no.” We were still called to serve there. However, during these conversations I would say something like, “When it’s time to go, I want to move away. It will be too hard to say goodbye to our church and then stay in the same town.” I had seen other close friends walk that road, and I didn’t want the pain. In my mind, resigning and relocating had to go together. Nothing else made sense.

Well, we resigned and guess where we live? In the same town, three blocks from the church! There are currently no other church ministry opportunities elsewhere, (Not that we are looking. We are in a season of rest.) and we continue working at our other jobs. Staying here is logical.

But it’s not what I wanted, and I was angry.

Thankfully I knew that I could rant to the Lord.

It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense. It hurts too much. Why are You doing this to me?

Scripture, especially in the Psalms, sets a good precedence for ranting.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)

You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy? (Psalm 43:2)

Once the rant is over, emotions calm and we can once again remind ourselves that God really does know best. We can reconnect with His faithful love toward us.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me (Psalm 13:5-6).

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 43:5).

After months of off-and-on wrestling with God, I am beginning to see the goodness of God in keeping us here in the same town.

  • He is providing for us financially through our good jobs. I have to commute, but it’s a lovely drive.
  • He protected us from the upheaval of changing everything at once. It takes a long time to adjust to starting over in a new location.
  • He has allowed us to continue to enjoy the friendships we developed with our former congregation, even though we no longer pastor their church.

Are you in the middle of a tough situation? You don’t have to pretend. Let Jesus know how you feel. He already knows anyway. A little rant will do you good.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, help me to be honest as I express my feelings to You. Thank You for walking with me through every difficult situation, and that You are never offended by what I share with You. Help me to trust You with every area of my life, including those that cause me anger and other intense emotions. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

How to Love Your Crazy Family–A Book Review

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I love books, and God has a way of speaking to me through them. In every area of life—spiritual growth, marriage, parenting, leadership, coaching—I often find the answers or the inspiration I need in the pages of a book. I just finished reading such a book and heartily recommend it to any woman desiring to thrive as she leads her family. It’s called How to Love Your Crazy Family: 52 Quick Reads for No Ordinary Days by Angela Howard.

Motherhood is a high calling, whether you are a career woman, stay-at-home mom, or somewhere in between. The influence of a mother reaches deeply into the lives of her children. And yet, with all the love and best intentions, marriage and family can feel crazy at times.

Angela Howard has discovered powerful truths that she passes on to the reader in a heart warming and down-to-earth way, offering practical inspiration for navigating every kind of crazy you may encounter with the family you love. It all begins with a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you want to love your crazy family, Christ must first be central in your own life. Angela’s writing style is humorous yet convicting, light-hearted yet challenging. Angela goes beyond the “what” and “how” of day-to-day tasks and relationships, and looks at the “why”—the motivation for your attitudes and actions.

Using vignettes of her own heart and home, Angela invites you to view real life examples up close and personal, along with important lessons learned. Each chapter provides encouraging insights that, when put into practice, will take your parenting, marriage, and life beyond ordinary. Angela emphasizes the power of Jesus to transform lives every day and the beauty of extending grace to those you love. The bonus chapter at the end shares Angela’s story and struggles with Bipolar disorder in her own marriage, offering hope through Christ to those walking through family difficulties.

Wherever you are in the marriage or parenting seasons, you will glean timeless wisdom from the pages of How to Love Your Crazy Family.

Find out how to purchase How to Love Your Crazy Family

Learn more about Angela Howard

 

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Exhausted or Empowered Leader? Part Three

The last two weeks, we have focused on healthy approaches to our leadership relationships. By making three simple adjustments, we can go from exhausted to empowered leadership.

The third concept that liberated me as a leader is “Caring” versus “Carrying.”

This is really another variation of taking proper responsibility. However, it provides a powerful picture. I believe the Lord showed it to me as an illustration while I was on a journey of healing, and I use it often with people who take ownership of others’ choices.

God has called us to care about others. He asks us to reach out in empathy, and serve with compassion. It is a good thing to minister with our hearts. Jesus’ ministry was marked by compassion. He had compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He taught them. He had compassion on them and healed them. He had compassion on them and provided miraculous fish and bread. Our Lord cared deeply about people, and we follow His example. Caring is good. It is what we were made to do. However, we were not made to carry people. It is God’s job to carry, not ours. When we are carrying, it gets too heavy. We get weighed down by this person’s bad choice, that person’s failure, this person’s poor attitude, that person’s family crisis. We become frustrated, angry, bitter, resentful, and eventually cannot move.

Rosemarie Kowalski tells a story which Joanna Weaver adapted in her book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. It’s about a man who willingly receives an assignment from the Lord to pull three stones in a wagon up the hill. As his journey progresses, in an attempt to help others, he adds more and more to his wagon–other people’s rocks, pebbles, and stones–until the weight is too heavy to bear. He can go no further.

“Let others shoulder their own belongings,” God said gently. “I know you were trying to help, but when you are weighed down with all these cares, you cannot do what I have asked of you.”

The man jumped to his feet, suddenly realizing the freedom God was offering. “You mean I only have to take the three stones after all?” he asked.

“That is what I asked you to do.” God smiled. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light. I will never ask you to carry more than you can bear.”

We often carry others because we care. But Jesus hasn’t asked us to carry them. Thankfully we can go to Jesus. He will unsaddle us from the weight of carrying. Then we will be free to care again.

A simple adjustment in perspective makes such a powerful difference!

Do you struggle with carrying others?

If so, identify some people you are carrying.

In what ways will your relationships change when you care about them rather than carry them?

To recap the last three weeks:

  • A goal is solely under your control; a desire is not. Goals for self; desires for others.
  • You are responsible to others, not for others.
  • God has asked you to care about others, not carry them.

May our Lord Jesus Christ fill you with His wisdom and knowledge to approach your relationships in healthy ways. May you walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and lead others from a sincere heart of love.

Joanna Weaver, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (Colorado Springs, Waterbrook Press, 2002) 48-51.

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Exhausted or Empowered Leader? Part Two

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Last week we started a discussion on making some simple adjustments in our approach  to those we lead.

During my tenure at a medical pregnancy network, first as a volunteer and then as the director, I learned some valuable concepts that I apply to my life and leadership settings. By making a shift in my thinking, I am able to view my leadership influence in a new way. When I am actively engaged in this way of thinking, I am able to go from being an exhausted leader to an empowered leader.

The second concept that liberated me as a leader is understanding the difference between being “responsible to others” versus being “responsible for others.”

Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend have written several books about healthy boundaries. In a nutshell: We are responsible for our own choices. We are not responsible for other people’s choices. In terms of natural consequences, I know that   A + B = C. However, I may still think to myself, “If I had only been more convincing, Mary would not have done “A” and then she wouldn’t be in this mess. In reality though, Mary’s poor choice rests entirely on her. She is completely responsible for her decisions. Her decision may sadden or inconvenience me, but I don’t own responsibility for it.

We are only responsible for others when they are entirely dependent on us for survival. Very few people fall into that category. Newborn babies, severely disabled people, and elderly people unable to function need our attention for survival. If we fail to care for them, or provide others for the task, they will die. For everyone else, though, we are responsible to them.

Here are the important distinctions:

When I am responsible for others, I have unhealthy boundaries.
My job is to carry, protect, and rescue them. I personalize their feelings. I focus on ME, and am more concerned about finding solutions and right performance than listening. I expect them (although I may never say it out loud) to live up to my expectations and goals. As a result I feel anxious, even fearful, and exhausted. The weight of others’ choices is on me.

When I am responsible to others, I have healthy boundaries.
My job is to empathize and encourage, to speak the truth in love and challenge them to make good decisions. I focus on THEM. I am concerned about listening to them and really hearing them, showing unconditional love. I am a helper-guide or coach, trusting God and letting go of the outcome. As a result I feel relaxed, confident, and empowered.

I have a long history of believing I was responsible for others. I carried responsibility for others into my family and ministry relationships. When things were difficult, I lamented that I hadn’t prayed harder, taught the Bible better, or loved the people more. The reverse was also true. When my children achieved great things, it was an indication of my success. When people of our church experienced breakthroughs in their relationship with God, it showed off our ministry abilities. The pressure of being responsible for so many people was enormous, and I suffered under the weight of it. God, in His mercy, began to teach me about healthy boundaries. Ten years ago, while training at the pregnancy center, I learned the difference between “being responsible to others vs. being responsible for others.” The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the many ways I had taken the responsibility for the choices of others, whether good or bad. By understanding this simple idea of being responsible to others, I began to experience freedom.

Next week we will take a look at the concept: “Caring” versus “Carrying.”

Do you struggle with taking responsibility for others?

If so, identify some people you have taken responsibility for.

In what ways will your relationships change when you are responsible to them instead of responsible for them?

Ask the Lord for wisdom to relate with people in healthy ways.