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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.