Posted in Character, Faith

Put Away the Cookie Cutters

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My husband and I own a home-based pie business. This may surprise you—my husband is the one who makes the pies. I help where I can, but he is the one with the expertise for pie crusts and creating artisan pies. My primary job is to make the cut outs for the top. It’s fun to roll out dough and use cookies cutters to make decorative shapes. Throughout the month of February, I cut out dozens and dozens of hearts. Each heart was the same shape and size, and made a lovely pie crust. We have a pi symbol for National Pi Day. We have a cross for Easter. Cookie cutters are handy for baking, but not for our lives.

When I was a young woman in ministry, I assumed my journey would look like the journeys of my mentors and others I respected. I thought that successful ministry meant to lead a growing, thriving church or evangelistic organization. Humble beginnings were fine but only if it developed into something bigger and more notable. I myself was on the track to God-honoring success. At the age of 18, I was a featured soloist for Christian community events and led worship with a trio for evangelistic meetings with attendance of over 2,000 people. I believed that, as I followed Jesus in obedience, ministry would only increase. That’s what my cookie cutter for ministry looked like.

How shocking that God’s path went a completely different direction. By the time I was 24, I had four small children and was hidden away as a youth pastor’s wife in a tiny logging community. When I prayed about ministry opportunities that were offered to me, I sensed over and over again that I needed to decline. I would politely say “no” while arguing furiously with the Lord. This clearly did not fit my mold.

Eventually the doors were open for music ministry again. I loved leading worship for services and conferences. I wrote songs and recorded two CDs. Music was my passion and I thought it would be a part of my life forever. Then, four years ago I started to feel the stirrings of a new direction. It led away from music and church ministry altogether.

Today, I love serving Jesus as the Executive Director of a non-profit organization, a speaker and a writer. But it isn’t what I ever imagined myself doing. No cookie cutters for successful, vibrant ministry looked like this. But that’s okay.

Our heavenly Father has called us to an adventure with twists and turns that require trust. We keep our eyes on Him as He directs our next steps, with confidence that He truly knows what’s best for us and His Kingdom.

Have you followed a carefully charted course, and yet find yourself in a place that surprises you? Has life thrown some twists and turns your way? Do you believe you are where God wants you, but it doesn’t look like what you imagine? It’s okay. Put away the cookie cutters. Success isn’t measured by numbers, results, or position. It’s measured by loving obedience to our loving Father.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8, NIV).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT).
Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I praise You that Your plans are good. I surrender my life to You, and trust You to lead. Help me not to measure my success by the standards of this world. Help me measure it according to Your Word. Thank You for calling me to follow after You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Posted in Personal Development

Keep Learning No Matter What

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This phrase is generally used as an excuse for being too old to learn a new skill or habit. It may be true for a dog, but it doesn’t have to be true for us. In fact, no matter how old or educated we might be, we should always seek to learn and grow. How sad it is to be around others who are so set in their ways that they refuse to listen to new or different ideas. It isn’t just “the old folks” with this kind of attitude. There are plenty of “young ones” that fit in the closed mindset category, too.

People that thrive in life and as leaders are poised to learn. Learning leads to creativity and the ability to innovate. Being stagnant is draining to relationships. Maintaining the status quo is damaging to business. Growth and vitality come from the willingness and ability to change as needed.

Twenty-five years in non-profit ministry has shown me there isn’t just one right way of doing things. God’s Word remains the same, but there are a varieties of ways to express it. Just when a system is perfected, it’s time to tweak it to address a situation that arises. Thirty years of marriage has taught me that I need to find new ways to connect with my husband to keep our relationship solid. Resting on our laurels will take us to a dangerous place. We can’t just pat ourselves on the back because we’ve gained so much experience. We need to keep moving forward.

Transformation is produced from the consistent, on-going application of knowledge, whether it comes directly from the untarnished truths of God’s Word or from wise principles spoken by others.

We don’t have to go to school in order to learn. I enjoy academics and I love reading. However, I have found people to be the greatest resources for learning and transformation.

Mentors are older than I am or have walked where I want to go. They are farther along the road of life and can share their experiences. I recently had the opportunity to meet a former Executive Director of the organization I currently lead. She resigned 10 years ago. Things have changed remarkably since she was at the helm. However, I listened intently to her stories of how God met financial needs in the midst of difficult times. She inspired me, and showed me a dimension of faith I hadn’t seen before.

Reverse mentors are younger than I am and don’t have the breadth of experience that I have. However, they possess specific skills that I lack (i.e. social media savvy), or they have a particular perspective I want to understand. So they mentor me in an area I want to grow. The majority of people my organization serves are between the ages of 15 – 29. It’s important to connect with our clients. By engaging in conversations with young adults, I learn about their mindset, beliefs, and values. The knowledge helps me serve our clientele better.

Learning from others is enhanced when I glean from people that are different from me. Rather than surrounding myself only with people that agree with my beliefs or point of view, I welcome alternate opinions and ideas. Differences don’t need to create tension or alarm. Instead I try to look for principles that are beneficial. At the very least I come away with deeper understanding of somebody who is incredibly valued and loved by our heavenly Father, whether or not they know Him. As a committed follower of Christ, I took two classes in Eastern religion and philosophy for my undergraduate degree. I enjoyed robust conversations about a worldview quite different than my own. As a result, I emerged better equipped to be a Christian and live out my faith than before.

No matter your age or how much experience you have, remain teachable. Be open to the Lord and expect Him to use many kinds of teachers.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding (Proverbs 4:5-6).

Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning (Proverbs 9:9).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You for the gifts of wisdom and knowledge. Help me never feel that I have arrived, but rather seek to learn, improve, and grow. May my ears be open to Your instruction as you use many people along life’s way. May I be transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development, Vision & Goal Setting

Life Lessons from Disc Golf

This weekend I played disc golf for the first time. Two of my sons have played it for years and have collected quite an assortment of discs designed for specific throws and distances. They have invited me many times to join them, but I have declined for one reason or another. This weekend, however, I had no excuses and I was willing to give it a try.

I enjoyed disc golf so much I agreed to play again with one of my sons early on Sunday morning before church service when others refused. After two times, I am definitely a fan. Please don’t think that I love the game because I am a natural at it. To the contrary, my performance was dismal. I scored way over par. I also looked comical as the lone matronly figure among athletic young men.

To me disc golf is fun, because it is an activity with simple, clear rules. It is done in a pleasant outdoor setting, and it provides a positive challenge. While walking the course with my son in the beautiful sunshine and refreshing breeze, I realized I could apply some life principles to my new interest of disc golf.

Find a mentor. Mentors pass on what they know. They offer perspective on what is good and how to improve. Before this weekend, I knew nothing about disc golf. After just two times of play, I have learned a little about technique and strategy. While I might have been able to figure it out on my own (highly doubtful in my case), I gleaned from the experience of others. I was able to put their suggestions into practice.

Set realistic goals. When first starting out, set short term goals that can be accomplished easily. It is encouraging to meet a goal quickly, and it builds motivation to pursue long range goals. My long range goal is to be able to score par. However, it currently takes me several throws to get my disc close enough to the basket to putt. Instead of focusing on the basket, I set a goal of getting the disc to an intermediate location (the trees at the half way mark). Once I made it there, my next goal was the basket. This method eliminated discouragement and frustration.

Celebrate progress. When achieving a goal, take time to savor the moment and reflect on what got you there. Don’t rush off to the next achievement. Score keeping is a handy tool for reflection. After each basket I thought about how many throws it took, what each throw was like, and then looked over the course that I completed before advancing to the next pole hole.

Avoid comparisons. Looking at the ability of others is a sure way to lose incentive. While we may be in a position of competition, true progress must be measured in terms of our own personal growth. My son, Jason, has sheer power and can drive his disc close to the basket. My son, Joseph, demonstrates grace as he releases his disc to glide effortless through the air to its destination. If I compared myself to them, this fumbling, clumsy beginner would have quit within the first five minutes of the game. Instead I work on improving my own technique, striving to drive the disc a little farther and developing greater control.

Enjoy the learning process. It is important to resist the tyranny of perfectionism. The desire to be perfect creates an inability to be flexible and teachable. Rather than laughing at and learning from mistakes, it cripples us from growing and moving forward. As a young woman and avid tennis player, I used to get so enraged at myself for poorly executed strategy that I would throw my racquet in a fit of rage. Decades later, my response to disc golf was pleasantly remarkable. I made plenty of errors. At times it seemed like my mind and body were disconnected. My mind would think one thing and my body would do it entirely different. Nevertheless, I made adjustments, was willing to experiment with drives and approaches, and had a lot of fun.

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Of the principles mentioned above, which ones do you need to adopt to help you thrive in life and leadership?

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.
Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding (Proverbs 4:6-7, NIV).

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend (Proverbs 27:17, NLT).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, be the center of my life today. Teach me how to grow in wisdom and abilities. so that I may thrive in my vocation and relationships. Help me keep my focus on You, the author and finisher of faith, and to glorify You in all things. In Jesus’ name.

Posted in Servant Leadership, Teamwork

The Healing Power of Vulnerability

“How do you do it?” my staff member asked. As I turned toward her to give my full attention, she continued. “How do you work full time and get everything done at home? I work part time and struggle to do what I need to do.” Her body tensed at the thought of her heavy load.

With her eyes fixed upon me, I had a decision to make. How would I approach this opportunity?

  • I could give her pointers on effective time management.
  • I could share my strategy for setting priorities.
  • I could instruct her about the importance of cultivating a relationship with Jesus as a powerful way to deal with the stressors of life.

In that split second, however, I sensed the question was really revealing something deeper. The dear woman standing before me was opening up and being vulnerable. The best thing to do would be to share myself, to be vulnerable in return.

Vulnerability requires trust and a willingness to be authentic.

I can trust because I am secure in the Lord and where He has placed me. My desire is to build God’s Kingdom not my own. He is my Protector, so I can safely offer myself to others. Because I know that an effective team is founded on trust, I extend trust to my teammates.

I can be authentic, because I don’t need to make a good impression by acting all put together. “The wise don’t make a show of their knowledge” (Proverbs 12:23). I can share with humility, seeking to be led by the Holy Spirit, aware that I am still in the process of becoming more like Jesus.

I firmly believe that as a leader I have been granted position by the Lord. This gives me great responsibility and holds me to a high standard. This means I must use my position as a means to serve others, encouraging and equipping them to grow and thrive in what God has called them to do.

So how did I respond to the question?

I smiled and admitted, “You probably would be surprised by my home. I really don’t do much there. My husband is a lot of help. He gets home earlier than I do, and cooks most of the meals and takes care of the dishes. And I don’t have children at home who need me much any more. I honestly don’t think I could do this job without my husband’s support and if my kids were younger.”

She nodded and sighed with understanding, relieved and a bit more relaxed.

“The words of the wise bring healing” (Proverbs 12:18). I pray my words have that effect.

Posted in Character, Faith, Vision & Goal Setting

Re-write the Messages in Your Mind

What messages are in your mind? You and I aren’t often aware of the messages we entertain, but these stories in our head play a crucial role in our ability to fulfill God’s call on our lives. They will either sabotage or strengthen us. In order to move forward successfully, it is important to intentionally take control of the messages that play over and over again, and then re-write them.

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT).

In this verse, “heart” does not refer to the physical organ that drives the blood throughout the body. Rather it is used metaphorically to describe the center of our being that drives our decisions. At times, the Hebrew word is translated as “mind,” revealing that heart and mind are closely associated. Scripture teaches that our thoughts affect who we become. Romans 12:2 instructs: “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

It is necessary to change the messages in our mind when they interfere with God’s plans for us.

Early this year my leadership roles expanded. I began to feel a lot of anxiety. Even though I was placed in a position that matched my skills and strengths, nagging thoughts persisted. “I’m not capable. I don’t have what it takes.” The mental message took on a life of its own. Pretty soon I could visualize my complete failure. I could do nothing right. Everyone was either disappointed or angry at me. I was asked to step down and someone else took my place. I was rejected and felt utterly humiliated.

It took a few weeks before I realized what was happening. Once I identified the harmful message, I took those negative thoughts captive and began to declare the truth. “Wait a minute…God opened the door to this opportunity and others have confidence in my abilities. As I rely on the Lord, He will give me the wisdom and strength I need for a job well done.” During my devotional time I read a verse that resonated with me. I personalized it, memorized it, wrote it down, and declared it whenever anxious thoughts arose.

God has equipped me with all I need for doing his will. He produces in me, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that pleases him. (Hebrews 13:21)

Michael Hyatt (2013) provides five steps for changing the negative messages in our mind. I have adapted it to include a Biblical perspective, although the steps on their own are quite effective. Because God’s Word is the truth by which we live, it is powerful to re-write the messages according to God’s truth.

  1. Recognize the message in your mind. When are you most aware of this message?
  2. Jot down the message. This step is important, so you can actually see the message you have been believing.
  3. Evaluate whether the message is empowering. Does it agree with what God’s Word says?
  4. Write down a different message. Base your message on God’s Word, what He says about Himself and/or about you.
  5. Start telling yourself the new message. Keep it handy, so you can access it as often as you need.

Don’t allow negative messages to hinder what God has called you to do. You can accomplish what He has planned. Be intentional about dwelling on God’s messages about you.

Posted in Vision & Goal Setting

Six Questions to Ask About Your Goals

Welcome to March! The third month of 2014 has officially begun. Remember those goals you set at the beginning of the year? How is it going? With two months behind you, this is a great time to pause and reflect on your progress. Gain more clarity and momentum for achieving your goals by answering some important questions.

Are my goals written?
If your answer is “no,” write them down. Whenever I go to the grocery store, even for a couple items, I need a shopping list. I admit, sometimes I lose it before I get there. Whenever this happens, I get distracted by all the bargains. I wander down the aisles, trying to remember what I came for. I end up wasting money, because I buy things I don’t need (after all, it was all on sale), or I waste time because I have to go back for the things I forgot. In a similar way, without written goals it is easy to get distracted. It may even cost you time and money before you get back on track.

Writing down your goals does a number of things.

  • It helps you remember them.
  • It reinforces your commitment to them.
  • It makes you accountable.
  • It gives you focus.

How often should I revisit my goals?
Having a written plan is important, but the power lies in keeping the plan continually before you. Some people begin each day by reviewing their goals. Others review their goals once a week. Decide the frequency that works best for you.

Only a small percentage of businesses that invest in the strategic planning process actually accomplish them. By far, the biggest reason is that, once created, the plan simply sits on the shelf. They continue doing business as usual without referring to their well designed plan.

Next, take a look at each of your goals and re-evaluate them with these questions.

Is this a goal I believe God wants me to pursue?
This really is the bottom line. Does the goal honor the Lord? Does the goal align with the teachings in God’s Word? Would this goal be approved by trusted, mature believers? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, you have a goal that is not worth pursuing. If the Lord has indeed put the goal in your heart, He will help you accomplish it.

Is this a goal I am committed to?
It’s important to be honest with yourself. Goals are successfully accomplished through commitment. If you aren’t willing to persevere during challenges, your commitment level is low. In this case, it is better to change your goal to a good idea and focus on something else to which you will commit.

What obstacles am I facing in achieving my goal?
You’re committed to the goal, but you’re still having difficulty. Step back and objectively look at the situation. Identify the obstacles and problems. You may need to enlist support from a coach to ask questions to prompt discovery and learning.

What adjustments do I need to make?
In light of the obstacles, you may need to tweak your plan. You may need to change your time line. You may need to change your approach or take a detour. Ask God for His wisdom. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT).

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
If you can’t fly, then run.
If you can’t run, they walk.
If you can’t walk, them crawl.
But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.

Every choice you make is either bringing you closer to or farther away from achieving your goals. Choose wisely, and keep moving forward.

Posted in Faith, Vision & Goal Setting

The Most Important Step of Effective Goal Setting

I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I am all for making healthy and positive changes, but the statistics support my aversion. With a dismal 8 % success rate,1 I have personally committed to begin a new approach either before the year ends or well after the year has begun.

The biggest reason I avoid the New Year as a start date for change is this: New Year’s resolutions are seldom true resolutions based on the conviction and motivation necessary for success. They are typically good ideas based on what we think should happen. Rarely do they reflect a steadfast resolve to achieve something better, but rather are more like wishful thinking.

Nevertheless, January seems to be the prime time for leaders to set goals and engage in strategic planning. Regardless of the date on the calendar, it is crucial to consider your level of buy-in. Is this another good idea or passing fad, or are you deeply committed to doing what it takes to accomplish it over the long haul?

For the Christ-follower, the most important step of effective goal setting is to identify goals that are God-ideas instead of just good ideas. Make sure that your goals align with God’s direction. Books, seminars, and leadership blogs provide excellent tips and ideas. However, they may not necessarily work for you given your context and culture. They may not represent God’s mind for you and your organization during this particular season.

I realize there are volumes written about how to understand God’s will. Even with myriads of advice, it is still a topic that seems mysterious. After all, can we REALLY know His will? How can we distinguish God-ideas from good ideas? Admittedly, seeking God’s will is a faith venture, and I would never pretend to have the definitive answers. However, there are some simple steps that guide the process. I highly recommend keeping notes of your discoveries for easy reference.

  1. Ask the Lord for wisdom. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (NIV).
  2. Pay attention to inspirational thoughts during prayer. Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. Because we belong to Him, we can recognize His voice (John 10:1-16).
  3. Be open to guidance from the Word of God. God speaks through His Word. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105, NIV).
  4. Enlist input from respected, mature believers. Benefit from the wisdom and insight of others. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22, NIV).
  5. Pray for clear direction. Ask the Lord to open doors of opportunity and to close doors that are not potential areas of focus (Revelation 3:8).

Spend time pondering Proverbs 3:5-6, as you seek God-ideas for your plans and goals.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take (NLT).

When you trust in the Lord and seek His will, He will show you which path to take. He will reveal His goals to you, those God-ideas that are worth pursuing.

 

1. Dan Diamond, “Just 8 % of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s How They Do It,” Forbes.com. January 1, 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2013/01/01/just-8-of-people-achieve-their-new-years-resolutions-heres-how-they-did-it/2/