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10 Questions and An Hour of Your Life

Charles and I used to have some friends over on New Year's Eve for an hour of reflection.  We did this for many years until New Year's Eve morphed into having our kids's friends over, or driving our kids to various party's, etc.  We still take time for reflection.  We just do it differently now.

I think this time of the year, after Christmas and before the New Year, feels what I call a little "squishy".  I think that's because it is a time of transition.  Leaving one year behind and looking to the next. Endings and New Beginnings can be squishy times.   The squishi-ness we feel creates a fertile environment for doing some soulful reflection. 

So, set some uninterrupted time aside, light a few candles, turn on some quiet music, create an environment that helps you to reflect and have fun with these questions:

1. What was the highlight of this past year?  

2.  What was the low point of this past year, something that was hard, painful, disappointing, felt like failure?

3.  In what ways did you grow as a person this past year?   Were these  related to your greatest joy or your greatest pain?

4.  What is something you would like to learn this year, or grow in?

5.  Do you have anyone you need to forgive before you start a new year?  Bitterness or resentment to let go of?

6.  Who were the significant people in your life this past year?  How has your life been shaped by these people?

7.  Who do you want to go with you on the journey this next year?  What will you do to continue to build those relationships?

8. What do you want more of this next year in order to be most healthy and fully alive?  

9.  What can you give more of this year?  To those nearest you, your community, and/ or the world?

10.  What is your greatest hope for this next year? 

Of course, there's a whole bunch of questions that could be asked, but these have been some that have been meaningful to us.  

Don't try to make this more or less than it is.  Just let it be what it is.  I'd love to hear how it goes!  

Playing it Unsafe

If everyone gets what you do and understands what you are about, you might be playing it too safe.  Sometimes that fact that people don't really get you, or understand what you are about, may be a sign that you are doing exactly the right thing.  I believe that sometimes God calls us into uncharted territory. He leads us to unexpected places. Places we've never been before. Places in life that, at times, we ourselves can hardly understand, let alone explain to others. (Think, Abraham). And I'm not just talking about physical places.

When I was the lead pastor of our church for a few years, I'm pretty sure people didn't always get that.    "What are you doing these days?", I would be asked.

"I'm the Lead Pastor of a church." I would say.

Blank stare in response.  Then, "Nice weather we're having, huh?"

It's amusing to me now. It wasn't so much then.

Here's some examples of people I know that are willing to risk being misunderstood:
  • A 17 year old High School girl is giving up excelling in sports and doing all of the usual teenage stuff to start an organization to bless girls in foster care.
  • A family with young children moves to another country to provide homes for orphans of AIDS.
  • A man who has been a pastor for many years gives up a secure ministry position out of a sense of God's leading.
  • An empty nest couple sells their home and possessions and follows a sense of call to build relationships with young artists in the LA area.
I'm quite certain each of these people know what it's like for others to not fully get them or understand what they are about.  But that's alright.

I'm only sharing this to encourage you that sometimes being misunderstood goes with the territory of radical obedience to God.  Are you willing to risk it?

Live Extravagantly

Merry Christmas!

My hope for all of us on this Christmas Morning is this:  in the way that all of humanity has been given extravagant gifts from God, may we each live out an extravagant life this year!  Not just spending money wildly, because that's not at all the spirit of God's gifts to the world, but finding ways to...

Love Extravagantly
Dream Extravagantly
Be filled with Extravagant Passion
Willing to take Extravagant Risks as led by the Spirit
Be Extravagantly Generous

As God has gone over and above in every way for us, may we live the same way towards others.  And in doing so, give the best gift of all that we can give to those we love and the world around us.

Love you all!

Day 11

I love moments that stand out beyond the ordinary events of the day.  But I find they don't just happen.  Seems like a special moment has to be created, or in some way requires inconvenience, creativity, sacrifice and/ or extra energy. The mornings I have spent sitting in the quiet of the Christmas lights have been special moments.  But I had to leave the comfort of my bed, not to mention lose some sleep, to experience it.

Tonight, after a long day filled with last minute preparations and just activity in general, Charles and I drove to the heart of our town to take a walk in the historic district.  It would have been so much easier to just stay home and be warm.  But we got all bundled up, got in the car and drove to the historic neighborhoods to walk, admire the Christmas decorations and imagine the events taking place inside of the homes that were lit up.

There's not that much that seems significant about this other than that it was a beautiful walk, together, on a very special evening,  A memorable moment, for sure.

Day 10, An Idea for the Christmas Season

In case you're wondering what it is exactly that I'm keeping track of, this is the 10th morning of being up early to sit in quiet and peace by the light of the Christmas tree (and that's the idea, too).  It's my remedy for the craziness of this season.  It's a mini-retreat each morning before the day kicks into full gear.

The other piece is that during my break from teaching at the college, I committed to writing every single day leading up to Christmas.

As a girl, I was in Girl Scouts.  Early in my time as a Girl Scout, each girl was required to create a poster and present it to all of the parents and grandparents who came to watch each girl do the same.  As my turn was approaching, I felt myself starting to panic at the thought of being in front of that room full of people (maybe 30 in all, but it may as well have been 3000).  As I walked to the front with my poster in front of me, I felt my throat tightening up and when I tried to start my speech, I literally could not get a sound out.  I hid my face momentarily behind my poster to try to get a grip.  After a few seconds of literally hiding behind the poster in front of everyone, I lowered it again to give my speech another attempt.  Again, not a single word would come out of my mouth. At this point, I was so embarrassed.  So embarrassed that all I could do was to start laughing!  And laugh I did...hysterically.  I laughed so hard for so long that I finally had to be escorted off of the little stage! It's a wonder I didn't wet my  pants, too!

I've had many embarrassing moments in my life, but that one stands out in my memory as one of the worst.  It's ironic that now a large part of what I do in life involves speaking in front of others!

Anyways, all of that to say that but for a few exceptions, we rarely get "talkers block". (I had it bad that day.)  But  it's  because we talk every day.  Its just what we do.  We do it naturally and without a lot of thought.  Yet, "writer's block" seems to keep millions of people who would like to be writing from writing.

Writing daily is me pushing myself against the natural tendency towards "writer's block".

So how about you... what is something you are deliberately doing every day because it matters to you?

Day 9, Anticipation....

This morning as I sat in quiet by the light of the Christmas tree, I thought about  these words from the Bible:

"For a child is born to us,
      a son is given to us.
   The government will rest on his shoulders.
      And he will be called:
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
              (Isaiah 9)

These words were spoken long before Jesus was actually born.  The people who knew of these words lived in anticipation of the day when this promise would come true.  They lived in the awareness of great things ahead..

Anticipation seems to be one of the major underlying, yet significant themes of scripture.  The Bible is filled with stories of promises spoken, and then folks like you and I waiting and believing for great things to come.

We continue to live in anticipation. Yes, Jesus has come to the world but we anticipate so much more yet.  So much more of what he came to bring... Peace, Joy, Beauty, Restoration, Justice, and more. Even Jesus lived with this reality.  He prayed, "Your (God's) will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  We don't have to simply anticipate great things on the other side of Heaven, but we anticipate great things now on earth.

I want to live with more anticipation.  Anticipation keeps us focused, willing to take risks, believing, hope-filled and faith-full.

May we each, this Christmas season, be filled with an even greater anticipation for all that God wants to do and bring to the world through us.

Day 8

Andre doesn't have early morning practices this week because of finals.  So, this morning when my alarm went off at the 'earlier than I would really  need to get up' time, I had a choice to make.

The thought of staying in my nice warm bed a little longer seemed so appealing.  But then the thought of the sweetness that awaited me by the light of the Christmas tree came to mind.  This was the invitation that I needed to get out of bed.

So glad I did.

Another beautiful morning.

Day 7

The gifts under the tree have taken on a new symbolism this year
Here's how the past 7 mornings have been going:  getting up early, going downstairs, turning the Christmas tree lights on, making coffee, and simply sitting in the quiet by the light of the Christmas tree (while I drink my coffee, of course).
Simply sitting.  
In quiet.
Heart wide open.  
Just Being.

It's been fantastic to have space to simply allow thoughts and impressions to swirl through my head and heart.  These moments are giving me a fresh perspective on how important times of quiet and solitude really are.  No screens, no music, no voices, nothing to read.  It's the best.  And to sound completely cliche-ish, "The best things in life are free."

An Idea for the Christmas Season, Day 6

Chicago's Rookery Building, designed by Burnham 
Dream no small dreams, for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”  This quote is often attributed to Daniel Burnham, the famous Chicago architect. (But may have originally been said by Goethe, a German artist.)

It was this very statement that  inspired and drove some of the greater architectural wonders of Chicago, as well as influenced the development of the modern skyscraper.  As I sat in quiet and solitude by the light of the Christmas tree this morning, I thought more about Burnham's statement.

I try to evaluate statements like Burnham's in light of a Biblical world view.  While I'm sure much could be said, here's the skinny version of 2 thoughts I had:

1)  God's hope for humanity is probably the biggest dream there ever was... its a dream to see everyone who ever lived, and will live, transformed by the reality of God's Love for all people.  That dream has powerfully moved millions to not only experience that Love firsthand, but to wrap their lives around spreading that Love to others through courageous acts of love and sacrifice.

2)    There are alot of stories in the Bible of regular people who did big things that moved others to join in what God was doing.  These folks seemed to be responding to God's initiative.  It was God who set the dream in motion in the first place by placing it in the heart of someone.

How about you?  I bet you have a dream in your heart that seems too big to ever be realized!  Don't hold back or give up on it!  If God gave you the dream, you can be sure he's even more interested than even you are to see it realized!  

So, may we be people who are not only moved by God's big dreams, but ready to respond to His initiative in our lives.

An Idea for the Christmas Season, Day 5

Charles joined me this morning. We sat together on the sofa, drank coffee by the lights of the tree and talked. So, it wasn't a time of silence and solitude, but it was peaceful and so wonderful to be able to have time together before the kids got up. We have a sense of expectation and anticipation for things to come, and yet we are choosing to fully embrace this season of our lives and the gift it is.

It's always good to know that for all of us, God's plans for us are good. Profoundly Good.

An Idea for the Christmas Season, Day 4

The idea I'm practicing every day and sharing with you is nothing snazzy or new. Its nothing about the latest Christmas trend or "must have" or latest decorating tip.  The idea is one that's been around for a long time: simply taking time every day for quiet, solitude and to simply "be" and see what might happen in our hearts in preparation for Christmas (you know, good ol' expectation for God to show up).

Today is Day 4 of "peace and quiet"  leading up to Christmas.  Yesterday as I sat in the early morning quiet by the light of the Christmas tree, I was drawn towards expressing gratitude for the many gifts in our lives (see previous post and comments at the bottom). I also sensed God saying, "You have conversations from the day before that aren't finished.  There's more that I want to do."  I was reminded of a difficult conversation with one of our kids.  We had to tell this child "no" to something that was very important to this person. There were 2 reasons for which we felt to say "no", but we only shared one. And with further thought and reflection, I see now why its utterly important for lots of reasons that we share it all.... get it all out in the open.  It will bring the most transformation, learning and growth.  It's an opportunity for us as parents to model being completely transparent, open and honest. At least that's the hope! So when I shared this with Charles later in the day, he was sensing the same thing!

A friend reminded me the other day of a verse "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)  This beloved phrase has taken on new meaning this week.  Its been in the silence that I have come to know God's heart and desire for this situation that I have described above.  It's times like this that I see how God has my back.  Always looking out for us and guiding us and helping us to learn, grow, and develop into the people/ parents that we are meant to be.

I hope you can join me around the Christmas tree as we sit together in peace and quiet. Who knows what God might do.  Whatever it is, I'm pretty certain it will be Good.

An Idea for the Christmas Season

My lit up living room this morning
Andre has joined the swimming and diving team at the high school this year. Early morning practices are "optional" but it seems as though everyone on the team participates. Which has meant getting up
super early to make sure he's awake, conscious, and arrives at the school by 6 AM.

While I'm not thrilled by early morning practices, I have discovered a bright side. That being, that I have much more time in the mornings for the things that I love: writing, reading, reflecting, (the 3 r's!).

However, this morning I decided to simply sit in the silence of the lit Christmas tree. With my coffee, of course. No music, no screens. Simply quiet.  It was magical.  It was peace-filled. It was a gift. And it was free!

For the rest of Advent, which isn't all that long yet, I want to continue to do this in the mornings. It makes sense to me given how much noise there is surrounding this season.  This is one way of keeping closer to the things that matter most.

If you decide to give this idea a try, I would love to hear what you experience.

But if not this, may you find your heart prepared for the gift of the Savior King.

To My Daughter on Her 12th Birthday

Joelle is 12 today!
Dear Joelle,

I don't think it's a coincidence that you were born in December, the month we celebrate Jesus's birth. Just as God picked Mary out of all of the girls in that day for a very special role, we believe that God has chosen you for special things.  He has seen you and known you, even before you were born, to be His child and to do great things that demonstrate God's love for all people!

You bring so much joy to our lives and we are immensely proud of you.  Here are some of the things that I love about you and celebrate on this day:
  • You are so funny and I love how we can laugh, hard, about all kinds of crazy things!!
  • I love how creative you are; you know just how to put a little extra spin on something to give it that artistic touch
  • You are wise and already have alot of common sense for your age.  And because of that...
  • Others your age are influenced in good ways by you.  That makes you a leader!
  • I love how you enjoy traveling, and seeing the world, and imagining big possibilities
  • You have big dreams for your life and aren't content to settle for little dreams.
  • I appreciate how you encourage me in my big dreams, too!  That's been a real joy.
  • You are smart, willing to work hard at school and sports.
  • People like to be around you.
  • Your red hair rocks!!  And I wish I could be as tall as you.
  • Most importantly, you are wrapping your life around Jesus and the things he has for you.  
On this day, your birthday, know that your mom and dad are so proud of you and so happy that you are a part of our family.  You have made the world a better place, already.

With much love,


Weeds along the path take on a new beauty

The Bridge over the Mill Race at Plymouth Avenue

The Path Not Taken, today at least

Nature has a question to ask
Friday mornings I usually walk with a good friend.  On yesterday's walk, though, we were given the gift of a gentle snow falling.  The path could not have been more picturesque.  Our trek through the snow evoked thoughts of a Winter Wonderland. Simply Wonder-full.  Fortunately I had the foresight to grab my camera as I headed out the door, so I was able to capture some of the highlights. Often, it's nature that delivers the best gifts.

Will the Star Quality Transfer?

We're Albert Pujols fans at our house.  Not only is he a great ballplayer, but he seems to be a pretty decent guy.  So, we hope him the best as he moves to the Angels. However, star quality doesn't always transfer well.

I once heard Bill Hybels cite new research that found that that top performers, high capacity leaders, the "stars" aren't always "stars" in other environments.  He was challenging a pattern he was seeing among larger churches of trying to recruit the best leaders from other churches believing that the great things he or she achieved in the other environment could be achieved by that same person in the new environment.  Bill Hybels said that the research shows that many people rise to the top of an organization simply because of that very environment and the people they are surrounded by.  He said that there's no guarantee that just because someone is a star in one environment, that they will be one in the next.

I think this is important because its easy to think that we can be something more "if only I was there" or "if only I was surrounded by those people".... "just think what I could become!"  Well, maybe exactly where you are is exactly the best place to be.

So time will tell and certainly we will be cheering Pujols on.  Just maybe he will not fit the research predictors.

Get Those Feet on the Floor!

Joelle getting those feet on the floor!
This is what I say to my daughter pretty much every morning.  I know that if she doesn't get her feet to actually touch the ground, she'll never be able to get her day going.  She literally will just keep falling back to sleep.

Isn't that how it is with everything, though?  If we don't make one decision, take one step, one action, we don't go anywhere. We just keep on sleeping!  I've been thinking about this a lot these days as I've been working on life goals.  Whatever it is that we are called to do, or to be, we have to take one little step in that direction every day or won't see our dreams realized.  Baby steps are better than no steps.  In fact, its the little steps every day that really do add up over the long haul to affect the greatest change and/or bring the greatest impact.

So here's to getting our feet on the ground today as we  take steps towards our dreams.

Signs Along the Way

I am just crazy enough to believe that God is trying to speak to us all of the time- give us signs and messages of his love for us- if we pay attention.  And how best to do that but through everyday experiences?

I have a friend who, every time she sees a red cardinal, is reminded of God's love for her.  She has literally seen cardinals in the oddest places and at the strangest times, but often when she most needed to be reminded of God's love for her.

Notice the purple heart inscribed on the other side of the tree
I can't say that I have a particular thing that reminds me of God's love, but I try to remain open to the many and diverse ways that God speaks to us.  Yesterday as I was walking, I saw this message spray-painted on the side of an old abandoned building. Somehow I was immediately reminded of God's love for me.  Even though I am not the intended recipient of the message (Charles said he didn't write it!), God used it to speak to me... to remind me that he longs for closeness and intimacy with me just because his love is that personal and real.

I know, this might sound downright silly.  But what do you have to lose? If you are open to it, you might want to ask God to show you how crazy about you he is!  And then walk through the day with your eyes wide open and your ears tuned in.... I'm pretty sure at just the right time you will see something or hear something that says, "I love you."

Be the Best You that You Can Be

The day I graduated from High School I walked away from the auditorium with a huge sense of accomplishment.  Not so much because I had a diploma in hand with academic honors, but that I had survived High School being me. Probably one of the greatest struggles of my life in terms of staying true to who I am took place in Middle School and High School.  It was worth fighting the battle back then because I think it may have helped me to gain some stronger "sense of self" muscles, if you will, that have sustained me during other times when the pressure was on to become either more than I am, or less than I am, or something other than I am.

A friend introduced me to a poem by e.e. cummings (1894-1962)  that has stuck with me over time:

"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, day and night, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting."

I think in our culture we focus a lot of attention on being the best basketball player, or the best pianist, or the best designer with all of the attention being on the mastery of technical skills alone.  The status of "the best" at something will be achieved by a very select few, making it nearly an unattainable goal. There can be only one "the best" at something.

But the thing we can each be the best at is being who we are.   You alone hold the power to be the best you you can be.  No one else can do that for you.  The world needs you to be richly and authentically you if you want to leave a meaningful legacy.  And you need you to be richly and authentically you if you desire joy, purpose and meaning.

Be you today.  And be the best at it you can possibly be!

Hope, Dream, Love, Believe. Anyway.

I'm always amazed at all of the places that truth shows up.  One of the contestants on American Idol sang  this song by Martina McBride last night:
You can spend your whole life buildin'
Something from nothin'
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway

You can chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway

God is great, but sometimes life ain't good
When I pray it doesn't always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anyway

This world's gone crazy and its hard to believe
That tomorrow will be better than today
Believe it anyway
You can pour your soul out singing
A song you believe in
That tomorrow they'll forget you ever sang
Sing it anyway
Yeah, sing it anyway
I sing, I dream, I love

This song speaks to a commitment that I have made to myself to choose hope, as best as I can.  I choose hope because I would rather live my life hopeful than not. Why not, as the song suggests, believe for the most, live for the most, seize the most, love the most, hope for the most.  Isn't that a much better way to live than the alternative?

I've lived long enough to know that life gets marked by seasons. During those seasons, God is working to develop us, grow us and prepare us for what's ahead,  in ways that we can't often see until we're well past that season of our lives. I would say that we are in one of those seasons right now:  we're right where we're supposed to be, but its not entirely clear what is ahead or specifically what God is doing in our lives.  So, while its difficult for me to always see what this season is about, I do know that one day I'll be able to look back on this season and say, "Oh, so THAT's what was going on and THAT's what God was doing!" What I don't want to do, upon looking back, is this:  "Oh, so THAT's what God was up to!  Well, if I had only known that, I would have been more hopeful all along!"  No, I want to live each day filled with maximum hope  simply because of who God is and how God works in our lives.    So, even though I don't see it all right now, I choose hope.... Anyway.

May we all, no matter what season of life we are in, choose to live life fully.  Hoping, Dreaming, Loving, Believing.... Anyway.

My Town Waking Up

One of the things that makes me not mind the shorter days of fall and winter is to, before the sun has fully come up, drive by homes, businesses and places where people are beginning their day.  I love to see the lights on inside of buildings, and sometimes catch a glimpse of the activity within.  I know, it sounds kinda strange!  But I can't help it... there's just such a good feeling that comes from the scene that is created.  There is something really beautiful to me about the sense I get of those inside who are up, anticipating all that a new day brings, ready to go, willing to work hard and do the things they do each day to find purpose and meaning.  I especially enjoy the scene created by the lights from within glowing in places where people are gathering for conversation and community.
Normal Rockwell
I'm sure I have been influenced by this Norman Rockwell painting, which has been one of my favorites since I was a kid.  I always thought it looked so interesting to be those people inside.  I always wondered what they talked about, what their lives were like.  The picture would always get me dreaming about the story being lived out on the painted canvas.

 This morning, I happened to have my camera with me and caught a few places that I thought looked especially inviting in the light of dawn in my own town.
A well known coffee shop downtown, where people were having coffee together
City Hall.  I wonder what decisions will be made today.

Inside the owner is preparing tasteful yet simple breakfasts for those who will come..  

A place where people with disabilities gather for community and meaning

A quiet entrance to the science building on the campus where I work

Lights are on in the Ad Building on campus as  folks inside get ready for the day.

"So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work.  Then I realized that this pleasure is from the hand of God."  (Ecclesiastes 2:24)

Today may we each enjoy the little things that make life satisfying.

Life is Good

I've always liked this saying
No matter what, life is good.  Good because we know that all things work together for good.  Good because we have a God who takes the brokenness, pain and hurt of our lives and turns it into something beautiful in time.  Good because we can choose, and we can choose  to be happy.  Life is good because there's always second chances... and third and fourth and fiftieth.... Life is good.

Life is good because there is beauty everywhere if we choose to see it.  Good because we are loved.  Even if no one on earth loves us, which is highly unlikely, we have a Creator whose love for us knows no limits.  Life is good because until we take our last breath, we can learn.  And because we can learn there really are no failures, only successes as we learn from our mistakes.

Life is good.  Whether laughter, tears, joy, or sorrow.. life is good.

Resistance, Part 2

For quite a long time I have believed that women can use their gifts of leadership and teaching in whatever capacity God calls them to in the church.  I realize we don't all see eye to eye on that and I respect the position of others who feel differently as long as it comes from an honest examination of Scriptures. However, when I was invited to step into the lead pastor role at the church we belonged to, I recall how immediate the  resistance was that came rushing to the surface of my mind from way down deep inside of me somewhere.  It sounded like this: "Can God do that? Call me, a woman, to lead a church?  Is that really allowed?  I can't possibly say 'yes'...what will people think of me?"

That's called a crisis of belief!  What I had said I believed was suddenly being challenged by the resistance from within that came, in part, to ways that I had been conditioned by my upbringing, previous experiences and the messages that I had internalized more than I realized that said, "Women can't do that."

Sometimes the resistance we feel is a clue that there is more work to be done in terms of owning our beliefs, convictions, and sense of call. More work to be done recognizing the subtle and not so subtle ways we've been conditioned to think that then influence our decisions in life more than we realize.  I believe this matters if we are to live out, the best we can, who God has made us to be and what God has for us to do.

The resistance I have had to work through won't look like the resistance you face.  But my hope is that we can be a people who recognize the resistance, name it for what it is, face it and overcome it that we may live lives that are true to who God made us to be.


     “Imagine wanting to be a gardener or a carpenter in a family that is disdainful of making a living by manual labor…Imagine you’re a woman who feels called to be a minster in a religious community that doesn’t believe God calls women to be ministers.  Naturally, people are going to treat you like you’re blowing your nose on their prayer flags, and spitting in their holy water. Naturally, you’re going to think twice about following that call.”  (Gregg Levoy,  "Callings").  

I     I appreciate this quote because not only does it ring true in some ways to my own experience of saying 'yes' to the call to be the lead pastor of a church for a season, but because it reminds me of how there will always be resistence to stepping outside of the norm, the expected, what others think we should do, what we ourselves have been conditioned to think about ourselves and our calls.

    The resistance, which can either come from within or without, sounds like this:

      I'm not smart enough, rich enough or good enough
      I'm too tall, too fat, too skinny, not pretty enough or handsome enough
      I'm too old or too young
      It (whatever the call might be) is too hard
      I'm not "allowed" to do that  (that might be true, but often its not)
      If only I had more money, more resources, better connections
      My friends and family won't understand
      The risks are too great

    And on the list goes of all of the ways we believe we're inadequate, not enough or the cost too high.

    Yet, the resistance can be the clue that we're on to something important, something that we are meant to do, a call that is uniquely ours to follow.

     I can't think of too many examples of people who stepped out to do significant things in the world that didn't experience a great deal of resistance.  We just don't tend to think about that part of it.  And of course, we want the big calling without the big price tag. But it doesn't work that way in real life.

     I write this to remind myself to not take the easy route, to settle for the lesser calls, but to pay attention to the resistance and remain open to whatever it might be that God would ask me to do.


Thoughts On a Tragedy

This past week a colleague on the campus I teach at was brutally attacked and murdered at his own home.  His wife was seriously injured in the attack as well.  My colleague leaves 3 children, 2 that are still in High School.

Not only has the campus been shaken to the core over this, but the entire community.  These things don't happen where I live. The night we first learned of this tragedy, my daughter wanted to sleep on the floor in our room.  I get that.  Of course you can sleep on our floor.  I want us all to be together, too.

My colleague was killed early Sunday morning.  Monday was an extremely difficult day on campus.  It's as though we all were numb.  It was noticeably quieter on campus.  Less laughter.  Students and faculty spoke to one another in hushed tones.  People walked with eyes to the ground.  Occasionally I would see spontaneous hugs as tears would suddenly begin to flow once again.  At 10 we had a campus wide gathering in the chapel to pray and come together in our confusion and bewilderment.  We remembered God's love, his goodness and faithfulness even in these times.  Especially in these times.  There was time given for sharing memories about our colleague and professor which included not only tears, but laughter as stories were recounted of his funny and quirky ways.  Clearly this man... father, teacher, friend, son, brother, colleague....was well loved. Because he loved well.

Tragedies like this have a way of eliciting deeper reflection, of giving us a window to see truth in a way that we don't usually see in the normal course of life.  Times like this cause one to see the things that are most important in life... like loving each other, valuing each other, sacrificing for each other, putting other's interests above my own, because its those around us that make life truly meaningful. And we just never know how much time we will have.  I see more clearly how less important "my rights" are, how "my interests" aren't as big of a deal as I tend to think.  This event has caused me to want to hug more freely, encourage others profusely, tell those around me more frequently how much I love them, bless others with kindness, and so much more. I know others are also sensing similar things. So while I am deeply grieved by what has happened this week and the unspeakable pain and suffering this has caused, I am amazed at the ways that I have seen Love springing up.

Karl Shelly an adjunct professor on campus said this: “Two things I know to be true: this world is filled with remarkable beauty and love. And this world is filled with unspeakable violence and pain. We live in between both; with glimpses of heaven and of hell; of darkness and of light. As one who seeks to transform conflict and violence, I will live by the proposition, and walk in the hope, that violence and pain never have the final word ...”

Beauty in the world

There's alot about this world that is hard, ugly, painful and broken.  Just watch the news or read headlines and that becomes immediately clear.  Or have a heart to heart talk with someone and it won't be long before once again you are reminded of the pain and brokenness of the world as that conversation goes beneath the surface to the tender and vulnerable places of people's lives.  Or simply think about our own personal stories.  Failures, missed opportunities, hurts either imposed by others or that we imposed, and so on.  It can be downright discouraging.

A shift that I have sensed occurring in my own life over the last several years is to be able to see beyond the brokenness of the world in a whole new way.  Increasingly, as I view the world I see Beauty. There really is Beauty in the world.  It was there all along, I'm sure, and I just wasn't able to see it as clearly as I do now. Maybe its a result of getting older, or maybe its an answer to prayers I've prayed over the years to be able to view the world around me through the eyes of the Creator. I don't really know, I just know I find myself amazed throughout the day.  It matters because I see people, life and situations in a different light. Small things seem so amazingly beautiful.  Here are some examples from just the past few days:

  • Laying next to my daughter at bedtime and listening to old Christmas classics together on the iPad before she goes to sleep
  • Watching one of my students interact with a very sick elderly lady in such a caring and compassionate manner
  • Seeing the love on the husband's wrinkled face for this same elderly lady
  • The way the sun comes streaming in through a window to shine light on the bed of a sick person
  • Sitting and drinking coffee in the quiet of the early morning hours before everyone is up
  • Bringing eggrolls home, thanks to my mom, from the Relief Sale for my son and seeing how happy he is (he LOVES eggrolls)
  • Gazing out the window and being drawn in by the various shades of color and textures of living things
  • Looking up into the vast blue sky and noticing the shapes and contours of the clouds above the busyness below
  • Watching things move in the wind
  • Seeing people able to laugh and smile through their own personal pain.
Maybe, too, why this might matter is that part of how God makes all things new is simply by helping us to see things in a new way.  At any rate, may we each be able to see the incredible beauty in this world.

Finally, I leave you with one of my all time favorite songs....Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong

Goal Setting 101: Begin with the end in mind

I am currently supervising student nurses in a long term care facility.  Today was our clinical day on a large unit of beautiful elderly people. It's an environment that I am unexpectedly finding to be conducive to the personal goal-setting process that I'm in the midst of.

I talked with one elderly gentleman in particular today who sits by the nurses station, talks with anyone who goes by and is really very pleasant and friendly. While his strength is failing, his mind is completely intact. Today after we had talked a bit I asked him if he had ever been married. He said he had and then became emotional when he went on to tell me that his wife had died after 50 years of marriage.  I said,
"That must have left a big hole in your life."
 He agreed and went on to say, "Now I just sit and wait."
"For what?", I asked.
"For the next thing. For whatever happens next."

Watching these precious elderly folks, and listening to them, makes me reflect quite a bit on what I want the end of my life to look like.  Of course none of us really know what's ahead and many people end up in places and situations that might have occurred only in their worst nightmares but I do think there is some wisdom in at least attempting to look ahead and envision what perhaps could be in those final years.  I think that if we don't, we may end up just waiting for the next thing to define the moment, the day, the week, the year for us.  As Stephen Covey says, "Begin with the end in mind."  In other words, what do I want the end of my life to look like and then back up from there to know what I need to be doing  now to get there.

Even in old age [the godly] will still produce fruit.  They will remain vital and green. Psalm 92:14


I've been thinking lately that it's time to establish more goals for my life.  I could perhaps have another 40-50 years  to live life (by the year 2050, it's projected that there will be at least a million people over the age of 100).  Right now, I have about 10 very specific goals (or, dreams)  that I have identified that have not yet been fulfilled.  So if you do the math, that means I'm accomplishing 1 goal every 4 or 5 years.  Hmmm... I think I can do better than that.  In fact, I think I need to do better than that.  Having a sense of purpose and a vision for our lives is part of what leads to a fulfilling, alive, and God-honoring life.  So, I've been prayerfully thinking about all of this, writing down thoughts and refining some of the goals I have had to be very specific and measurable.  I'm also working on identifying goals that I haven't ever really clearly articulated before.

 With God, all things are possible (Jesus)
On top of that, I'm challenged to identify goals/ dreams that go beyond what I am capable of accomplishing in my own strength and know-how.  Many of the goals I am working on are  big enough that if they happen it will only be because of God.

Bill Gates has said, "People overestimate what they can accomplish in one year and underestimate what they can accomplish in 10 years."  It seems that most of us have busy schedules and its easy to get caught in the trap of not taking the time to think beyond what happens this day.  Writing  goals down and keeping them visible can serve as a daily reminder to us of what is important.  So, when 10 years goes we can look back and celebrate the accomplishments of that decade.

Currently, these are the goal categories:
  • Family
  • Influence
  • Service
  • Gifts, talents and skills
I'm also aware that what we do comes out of who we are.  So I'm doing the background work of asking myself what kind of person I want and need to be in order to achieve the things that I want to do in life.

And, finally and most importantly, anything worthwhile ultimately comes out of that place of knowing and walking with God.  Jesus said, 'Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15)

I Found It

Years ago, before I was married and moved, I lived in Muncie, Indiana, near the campus of Ball State University. I also happened to live near a historic neighborhood of streets lined with large oaks and old homes (mansions to me) where many of the influential families of Muncie lived.  Given my love for architecture, and especially historical architecture, it was so much fun to walk through that neighborhood, especially at night when I could maybe get a glimpse inside the lit up windows.  And then on the other side of that neighborhood was a Catholic Church that always reminded me of the pictures I had seen of old European cathedrals.  The church had extensive grounds and at the back was a garden area with statues of the saints and a gazebo. I spent many hours in that gazebo that overlooked the manicured gardens. From the gazebo, I could also see in the distance the old structure of the church, with a spire that seemed to reach up to heaven.  Add a full moon to the experience and it was nothing short of transcendent.

There was a period of time in Muncie, after I had graduated from Ball State and many of my friends had moved away, that life was really tough.  Looking back, I can see how formative those years were for me.  God was processing me, sharpening my sense of values and call, and deepening me. If you've been through a season like that- a dark night of the soul- you know how dang hard it can be. Walking to the Catholic church  after dark, through that old historic neighborhood, became a real haven for me at that time. Looking back, I realize it probably wasn't the safest thing for a young woman to be hanging out in lonely dark places at night,  but I can say that I met God in significant ways in that garden behind the church after dark. Even though its been many years since I've been there, I can still see it clearly in my mind because it became such a special place to me. A place where I met God.

After I moved away from Muncie, for many years I felt the loss of a place that I could go and experience God in such meaningful ways. A place that seemed like it had just been tailor made for me to spend time thinking and praying.

This morning, however, as I was taking a walk on the Mill Race it occurred to me how that path really  has become a place for me to walk and experience God, especially in the mornings. This morning was just perfect:  the crisp, early fall air was filled with the bright sunshine of a crystal clear day.  Although the path isn't nearly as private as the gazebo in Muncie at night, it really is such a gift to have a place to go that I can expect to meet God, to hear God's voice and to know his presence.  For whatever reason, it seems like its taken a long time to feel as though I have found a meaningful place to go to be with God, but I can say I have finally found it. And I am so glad.

What about you?  Do you have a place that is special to you that you can go to be alone, think, and pray?  I would love to hear about it!

Wrong Question=Wrong Answer

I know in school they tell you that there is no such thing as a bad question.  In part, that's true because its always better to ask questions than to not ask questions.  Asking questions is a very important tool for continuing to learn, to understand others, to improve and sharpen your game.

However, there is such a thing as asking the wrong question.  And unfortunately, asking the wrong question will lead to the wrong answer.  Let's say I am experiencing a great deal of job dissatisfaction.  It'd be tempting to ask myself, "Should I quit or should I stay with this job?"  When, really, the better question might be, what specifically is not working for me about this job and what can I do about that? When all of the possible solutions have been explored and implemented and there is still  job dissatisfaction, then it might be time to ask whether its time to quit.  But jumping to that conclusion without first doing the work of exploring the right questions perhaps could lead in the wrong direction.

I know for myself that at times I have needed help from others to even know what the right questions to ask really are.  I think identifying the best questions to ask in any given situation, happens best in community.  One of the downfalls of our individualistic society is that we tend to go it alone when making decisions, or we invite people in to help us discern but the questions that are posed by us in the first place aren't even the right questions because we developed the set of questions on our own. We say, "Help me know whether I should (fill in the blank) or if I should (fill in the blank)" when there may be a different set of questions that would be more helpful.  Backing up a step, and saying, "Together, let's figure out what are the questions that need to be asked in this situation" is more likely to lead towards a path with more optimal, growth producing outcomes.

Download from God

Before the days of  Facebook and social networking, it was easier (relatively speaking) for me to get up in the morning and have some quiet and alone time to read, think, pray, and journal.  Now, because I  use my computer or iPad for much of my journaling and even reading, I've noticed how easy it is to check my e-mail inbox and Facebook status first thing;  why not, my computer is on anyways?!  This in itself wouldn't be all that bad I suppose, except that at times I've become so caught up in it all that I use up the time I had on that.

I noticed this past winter that it was becoming a daily trend.  In analyzing what was happening,  I came to see that what I was looking for was something first thing in the morning to give me a sense of meaning, purpose, something interesting to engage my heart and mind, to make the winter day seem like not just another ordinary day.  Of course, not once did I ever find something that could truly fill the need.  When I really thought about it, I didn't know what, really, I thought I would find.  Because the truth is, what I was looking for can only come from One Source.

To stay true to who God has made me to be, with the unique imprint of the creator on my life, why would I compromise that by getting "fed" from other sources than the one who created me?  As they say, "you are what you eat"... if I feed my spirit with sources other than the source of LIFE itself, what do I become other than something less than what I could be. My sense of purpose and where I belong in God's story will be reduced to the story found in whatever Facebook posts I happen to read that day!

So my renewed heart and prayer has been to receive a fresh download from God every day.  Something from the Source of Life, from God's own heart that reminds me of and connects me to this greater story we find ourselves in.  When I take the time to seek that, it seems that God is ready to give me the download. That is where ultimately I find the meaning and purpose that I am looking for and need for my life.

"Only insofar as you eat and drink flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, do you have life within you."  John 6:53

I know, this all sounds so basic.  I love the way, though,  The Message version of the Bible quotes Paul, "To be mature is to be basic.  Christ!  No more, no less!" (Col 1:26).  Maybe basic isn't so bad afterall.

Out of the Ashes

I've been writing  lately about the more positive side of having hopes and dreams.  You know, like we all have dreams, dreams do come true, go after your dreams, your dreams matter.  While all that is true, there is another side to dreams; the all too real and too frequent side of dreams that we each experience at some point in our lives.  The fact is,  probably for every dream that is realized, its likely that there are even more that die.  

We've all experienced the death of a dream(s) in one way or the other.  Hopes we had for accomplishing something, seeing something come to be, or becoming something ourselves. Maybe its a marriage that didn't work out, a business that failed, a vision that was never fulfilled, children that were never born to us or a child that was taken from the earth before our hopes and dreams for that child were realized.  This is the hard, cold reality of the world  we find ourselves in.

I would guess that Jesus's disciples felt as though all of their hopes and dreams were slipping through their fingers as they watched Jesus slowly dying on the cross.  Everything that they had thought was going to happen through Jesus's life was suddenly being lost before their eyes through his death.  It had to be the ultimate let down.  I'm sure the hours following Jesus's death had to be some of the darkest hours in the life of Jesus's friends and followers. Everything that they cared about, this person they trusted, the dream they had for living the Jesus way, was gone.  Or so it seemed. You probably know the rest of the story.

But what I love about the rest of the story is that it speaks to a profound truth.  It's often out of those times when we experience deep, personal loss- when all hope seems gone- that renewal can take place.  The story of Jesus is a story of bringing life to what was dead, hope out of despair, and even beauty out of the ashes of our lives.  Isaiah (61) speaks of what Jesus would one day do and be about.  Its there that the promise is given that the ashes of our lives would one day be replaced with beauty.

I guess I'm thinking about all of this because I recently learned of a deep, personal loss a friend is going through; the loss of dreams on multiple levels. While right now all seems to be lost....ahead, I believe, there is Beauty.

"Action Trumps Everything"

There's one conference a year that I try to take in and that's the Global Leadership Summit hosted by Willowcreek Community Church. I really appreciate the posture of The Summit:  we can learn from those who are doing things well from many different spheres. I love that the speakers are a real mixture and variety of people and backgrounds. So, last week, I got to take in the Summit again.

One of my favorite sessions was by Len Schlesinger, the President of the leading school for entrepreneurship, Babson College. I've always been fascinated and intrigued by what it means to be an entrepreneur, and what makes one an entrepreneur.  I think we tend to believe that entrepreneurs are only a small, select kind of people. The kind we could never be.  But what if that weren't true? I've thought that if there's a way more of us could figure out what it means to be an entrepreneur and actually take steps in that direction, that there's a whole lot of Kingdom potential that could be released.  What I loved about this session was that Len Schlesinger dismantled many of our widely accepted perceptions about entrepreneurs.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Many entrepreneurs don't start with a big, clear vision.  They just do something, learn from it, and keep on doing it.
  • Entrepreneurs are not actually all that excited about risk; in fact, the good ones know how to avoid it.
  • Research has shown that entrepreneurs aren't more decisive and self-confident than others.
  • We think a true entrepreneur is someone like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg but in reality an entrepreneur is more likely to be someone who sees something being done and they just do it better.
  • Being an entrepreneur is a discipline, and like any other discipline it can be learned.
  • If you can't predict the future, create it.
  • In the face of unknowability, you can sit and think, or you can act.
  • How do you start something?  Start with something you care about.
  • Many great enterprises have been started by 2 people who like each other deciding to just do something together.
  • Failure doesn't mean "game over", it means learn from it and try again.
  • When you fail, its quite likely you've just learned something that no one else knows that will help you do it better the next time.
  • Stop obsessing about what you think you need and don't have, just act with what you have.

Dream Wide Awake

Joelle created this collage following our trip
A couple of years ago, my daughter and I took a road trip out to Washington DC for a week of sightseeing and mother daughter time. On the way out, in the midst of our many conversations, we stumbled on this phrase: Dream Wide Awake.  While probably not original to us (even though we think it might be!), we thought it was pretty cool because not only was it kinda catchy, it also spoke to the importance of being fully alert, alive and engaged in the world around us.  Obviously, dreaming while asleep has its place, but dreaming wide awake opens the world up to all kinds of possibilities and potential that could otherwise be missed. 

I think life is best lived when we are alert to every possibility and opportunity that lies before us.  I know I often fail to see what could be in every situation and every moment of every day.  What if, in every single moment that we've been given, we develop the eyes to really see the possibilities, to see the potential and to dream of what God might be doing in that particular moment in time.  And then, get in step with that to the best of our ability allowing the Light, Life, and Love of God to land on this earth through us.

If there's someone that I can think of that embodied life in this manner, it has to be Jesus.  It seems that with every encounter, Jesus was alert and wide awake to the things that God was doing in that moment, getting in step with God's dream for creation.  Paul knew how much our tendency was to sleepwalk- to go through the motions of every day without being fully alert and alive to the world around us- that he wrote "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead!" (Ephesians 5)  Perhaps 'the dead' were those who weren't physically dead, but just going through the motions of life barely conscious to all the possibilities and potential.

I know I have my days when I feel pretty dead, if you will; numbed by a full schedule, much less dreaming of what could be. I guess I hope that day by day I will grow to more deeply Dream Wide Awake. I think its part of what it means for me to be like Jesus. And the alternative isn't very appealing anyways.

More on Dreams

Yesterday I saw an article in our town's newspaper written by a local columnist that caught my attention.  The article was about dreams. I read it with great interest, as the topic of pursuing dreams is one I'm particularly drawn to.

As a parent, the author wrote how all of her big, lofty (to use her term) dreams had been traded in for dreams of:
"...the day when the white shower curtain stays white.  When no muddy hand prints appear two hours after its been bleached...I dream of the the day when the counters are free of milk that Nobody spilled.  When the Oreos don't have to be locked into a cast iron safe to prevent "evaporation". When a simple phone conversation isn't broken up by an ominous game of charades."  
On one hand, I loved the honesty of the article!  I so get where she's coming from and can relate entirely!  On the other hand, the article reminded me of why we have to fight for those larger, long term dreams that often lie deep within our hearts.  If we don't hold onto those, even if they have to be put on the back burner for a different season of life, we will completely lose site of them in the day to day of the immediate.  I would like to say to the author, "you can hold onto your 'loftier' dreams and still fulfill the dreams you have as a  parent".

Life has a way of causing us to forget our "loftier" dreams if we allow it. We can forget the "more" we were created for as we wipe the counters day in and day out, pick up the scattered socks, and make sure the homework gets done.  I'm reminded that there are short term and long term dreams.  The long term dreams don't need to give way to the immediacy of the short term, but it takes intentionality to not lose sight of the long term dreams in the midst of the day to day.

For me, writing for this blog is part of a longer term dream I have. Right now, there are about 50 things I can think of that I need to do, but those will have to wait because doing this, right now, is part of me acting on something that I believe I'm to be about as part of a longer term dream.

So, today, in the midst of all we have to do, may we each take an intentional step towards the more we were created for.

Chocolate, Coffee and Makeovers

I wonder what you think of when you read those words: chocolate, coffee and makeovers?  Maybe you thought, "Those are things that women enjoy!" or, "Those are things that bring women together."  My son, who was just looking over my shoulder at the title said, "That's all stuff girls like."  I wonder if he would have said that if he had seen words like justice, passion for God and others, risk and adventure, sacrifice and obedience.

If you didn't think "women's ministry", maybe you should have. Increasingly, I've been noticing that Christian women's ministries have really picked up on all of this. In church bulletins I see blurbs about women coming together around one or all of the above; chocolate, coffee and or makeovers.  A visit to a Christian bookstore will reveal whole packets of materials for planning and implementing a women's event that comes replete with a plan for chocolate, coffee and or makeovers.

I'm not opposed to any of these activities (eating chocolate, drinking coffee, getting a makeover), but I am opposed to the lack of balance I see.  There's so much more to being a Christian woman and so much more that can bring us together. Where are the events, then, that empower women to live significant lives, change the world, pursue big hairy audacious dreams for God?  There's a time and a place for chocolate, coffee and makeovers; it just can't be all there is to women's ministries.  We were made for more and we can be more than that.

Gals, I love chocolate and coffee (not so much makeovers even though I could probably use one!) just like the rest of you, so please hear my heart.  What I'm saying is that I think we can be known for more than that.  Let's be known for pursuing God sized dreams and visions, for being willing to take risks and step out in obedience and to see things happen that are bigger than ourselves. I know many of you are already trying to live this way and I would love to hear more about that.  I think we need to hear each other's stories and in so doing encourage each other to keep pursuing more and all that God has for each of us.

Dream On, Mama!

I am one who does better when I have a clear dream that I'm working towards.  I wilt when I lose sight of something more. I think that's true of all of us, though.  It's easy to get caught up in the routines of life, the tasks at hand, all of the things that demand our time and attention in the here and now, and simply lose touch of the dreams we carry  on our hearts. It takes a pretty high level of intentionality to stay in touch with those dreams and even more deliberate work to keep moving towards them.  There is probably no greater and more important work that I can do daily but to stay in touch with the dreams and visions that God has placed in my heart, carefully listening for next steps, and acting on what I know to do.

My daughter, who was 9 at the time, told me once to "Dream On, Mama!"  She meant it not in a cynical way, but in the purest sense. She's wired a bit like me; she has big ideas and big dreams for her life.  This struck me as encouraging because not only did it affirm my sense of dreaming and believing for more, but it reminded me of how much those around us need us to keep dreaming.  I think our culture has a way of neutering our dreams.  If we're not careful, we can unconsciously begin to opt for status quo and we can easily trade in our God-Given Dreams for the American Dream. Our families, friends, communities and the world need me, and you,  to be fully alive in our dreams and visions. Not only do we make a difference in the lives of others as we pursue our God given dreams, hopefully we are reflecting a piece of God's heart to the world around us.

Today, may our souls awaken to not only the God given dreams on our hearts, but to the things that we haven't yet dreamed of.

Lessons from Monkeys

Here's how you trap a monkey:  secure a dried, hollowed out gourd to a tree and place a piece of fruit on the inside of the gourd.  What happens is that a monkey will reach his hand into the gourd, grab tightly to the fruit, only to find that the hole is too small to get his clutched fist out through it.  Of course, the monkey doesn't realize that if he'd simply let go, he could be free.  This practice is used in some Asian cultures to capture monkeys to eat.

I'm reminded of the importance of surrendering, letting go, being willing to give up the transitory for the sake of the transcendent. Jesus said,  "If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will find it" (Mt. 10:39).  Many cultures and religious traditions have wisely associated surrender and sacrifice with redemption and renewal.

Its so easy to fiercely clutch those things that are important to us.  I know I'm capable of holding onto something so tightly that I can miss the bigger thing that could occur by letting go.

I visited the National Cathedral in Washington DC and took this picture. Interesting how a piece of carpeting could speak so clearly to me...God uses the most unsuspecting things at times!  Anyways, the imagery reminds me that only if a grain of wheat dies, will it eventually produce bread just as grapes can't produce wine without losing their identity as grapes (Jesus's words, from John 12). Being willing to let go can be what allows for the "more" that God may want to bring.

“What are you willing to give up to ensure your own unfolding, and the unfolding of what is holy in your life?” (Gregg Levoy, Callings)