Yes, you really can
Finding the middle spot in the dim room between round tables draped in white, I push high heels into the carpet under a ceiling of twinkle lights and speak to women seated around china tea cups and glass plates of cookies. They've asked me to tell them about the Sabbath Society.
I share about my weekly email sent to a group of nearly 300 Sabbath-keepers who observe rest as a routine instead of something that suits convenience. How disciplines are easier in the embrace of community—dieting, Bible reading, exercise—when accomplished with accountability.
The weekly encouragement is proving life-changing for many, transformational for relationships and physically healing in some instances.
My eyes shift to the pastor's wife leaning over her empty cup balanced between both hands, mouth slightly open. A handful of volunteers sit nearby. Pausing, I know what their blank stares are saying. I've heard the question echo among ministry leaders in many cities.
How do you do it?
Reclaiming Eve's place in history means claiming our own
Hot tears splashed down my cheeks as my new husband stared at me in confusion. I had been studying the creation story when I stumbled across the strong Hebrew word God used when creating Eve: the ezer. In that moment, God's intentions leapt off of the printed page and started a revolution in my heart. I never would have guessed how highly God thinks of his daughters. I hadn't understood how invaluable we are to his kingdom. I felt a strange combination of exhilaration and anxiety about what it would mean to stand shoulder to shoulder with my Christian brothers, instead of taking my usual safer back row seat.
The tears eventually dried, but the question remained: Would I be willing to follow the blueprint I discovered in God's Word, or would I shrink back in fear? The journey for me would mean reevaluating why I wasn't using some of my spiritual gifts, asking what God meant for my marriage relationship, and reimagining how I and my sister-ezers could more effectively join with our brothers in Christ to better serve a world that desperately needs God's love.
When we express our doubts, we’re in faithful company
Fish sticker on the car bumper? Check.
Kid who can buzz in with "begotten!" for VBS Bible relay? Check.
Woman who should know better but still, sometimes, just a little, wonders? About, um, God?
There. I said it.
4 ways to redefine work as creativity instead of achievement
I didn't understand why I was having panic attacks.
Writing a book wasn't easy, but I was writing a Bible study guide to explore the topic of rest. If there was anything I knew how to do, it was unpacking Scripture.
Yet here I was lying on my bed, unable to sleep, my brain muddled with worries. I found it difficult to breathe, a tightness clamped around my chest. If I dozed, my pounding heart would jolt me awake with rapid-fire palpitations.
You couldn't tell from the outside looking in, but I was exhausted. I didn't want to see anyone or do anything. I just wanted to pull down the shutters and stay in bed.
A dual temptation winks at every leader
Would you sell your soul to wield more influence, to become a Christian celebrity? I imagine that most of us would answer with an emphatic "No!" But the temptation is there.
Not long ago I read a very honest blog post by Preston Yancey. It was one of the first of his pieces that I've ever read. My friend Sharon passed it along. He titled it, "When This Is Some Real Talk About Blogging." In it he confesses:
What I do know is that for awhile now I have written content that gets all the shares but I'm not always proud of. I know that for awhile I wrote things that were designed to get people to share them, tweet them, like them, because what I really wanted was for people to like me.
You don’t need another program; you need a person
I recently watched a movie called Chasing Mavericks. It was about a young man who wanted to surf one of the biggest waves in the world. He approached an experienced surfer in his town to coach him. The coach told him he would need to secure four pillars in his life. The first was physical. He would need to develop the strength to paddle a surf board across the California bay. The second pillar was mental. He would need to observe details because the winds and waves could change in seconds and he would need to change accordingly. The third pillar was emotional. If he hid any fears in his heart, he would need to deal with them. The coach said when a wave crashes on a surfer's head, there is no question he will be afraid. The question is what he does when he's afraid. He must learn to keep going in spite of his fear. And the fourth pillar was spiritual. He needed to settle whether this was his purpose, and only God could settle that with him.
Leading begins with following
In Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic movie The Sound of Music, Maria, the new nanny for the von Trapp family, finds that the children don't know how to sing. So she teaches them the musical scale in song: "Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C. When you sing you begin with do-re-mi."
Suppose Jesus came to earth to find that God's children didn't know how to lead. What do you think he might identify as "a very good place to start"? Where did he, in fact, teach us to start?
Do what is yours to do
A fairly famous point-the-finger-in-blame moment started the day Eve handed Adam that piece of fruit and said, "Go for it."
The text doesn't say that he resisted. At all. It reads like this: "Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too" (Genesis 3:6).
Possibly they were honeymooners at that point, so maybe she was really nice about it. "Honey—go for it."
Or maybe she was grouchy and from her tone he thought he'd better do it or else. "No, seriously. Go. For. It."
Whatever the case, he ate. And later he looked around for somebody to blame.
When your faith feels weak ... keep the faith anyway.
I recently heard a sermon about a man who possessed incredible faith: Jairus. And his daughter was about to die.
Just as one would expect from a sermon, Jairus sought out Jesus, found him, secured a few one-on-one moments with him, and asked him for help.
Jesus said yes, followed Jairus home, said a few choice words, and ta-da! Daughter was healed. ACTUALLY daughter was brought back to LIFE.
Just like that.
Is it really God you’re following?
Walking beside the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called to four fishermen, "Follow me." Simon and Andrew "left their nets at once and followed him." James and John "followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind." All four responded to Jesus immediately (Matthew 4:18-22).
As they physically walked behind Jesus from place to place, they found that following him means so much more. For example, if their feet followed, but their hearts did not, God didn't count it as "following."
Still the first disciples had a visible, tangible starting place for learning to follow Jesus. Because our Lord doesn't walk the earth today, we may talk about following Jesus without knowing at all how it looks. We may think we're following him when, in fact, we've been fooled by counterfeits.
Believing the truth is a team sport
Raise your hand if you can get behind a cause called "Discernment Is Not for the Faint of Heart."
For honorary president, I recommend Tamar.
Tamar was a woman who showed up early in the Bible. She married Judah's son. He died. She then married Judah's other son. He died. Judah promised she could marry his third son. But he lied.
And Tamar decided, "I'm not taking this any more."
Tamar was a widowed woman circa 2000 BC. That made her fish chum on the food chain of that culture. But that didn't excuse Judah, who knew as much as there was to know about God at the time. He was supposed to be one of the good guys. Tamar discerned that she was not being treated right, and that gave her strength to do something about it.
Buckle up because it was not pretty.
An interview with Executive Director for Engage International, Mindy Caliguire
What are the top three things women leaders need to know about soul care?
On thing is they just need to decide what they want. That may sound a little too simplistic, but a lot of times we think that spiritual formation, or living from a place of soul health, is going to require some radical change. And in some people’s lives maybe it would, but often the more radical change is inside us, declaring, I don’t want to live this way anymore. When we decide what we want, that unleashes all kinds of spiritual resources to help us solve it. It requires desire and vision well within reach of a woman leader.
The second thing is that it’s their responsibility. They’re not victims of their environment. I stayed in a victim place way too long, and I blamed everybody else for my pace of life, what was not working, etc. Some of us feel like everything is outside of our control or outside our power.
The third thing is that it changes constantly, at least in my life. There is not some fixed solution or prescription. For example, just the other day, something came up that made me think, Wow, that’s the kind of thing that I might devote some fasting to. I don’t think I’ve fasted in six years, whereas it was huge in some seasons of my life. So some things come and go as needed. Sometimes silence is a huge part of our life and then other times it’s very much about study or meditation, any number of things.
An interview with Executive Director for Engage International, Mindy Caliguire
At Gifted for Leadership, we’re all about encouraging women to understand that God has gifted many of us specifically for leadership and that if we have that gift it’s not really our choice whether or not we use it; it’s just a matter of where and how and whether we put it to good use. How has God called you to use the leadership gifts he has given you?
Like many women, I was a bit of a reluctant leader. I have a lot of ideas but I wasn’t used to being the person who was looked to. Over time, God very gently called me, through the validation of community where people were giving voice to how my input was helping either the organization or their lives specifically. People were coming to me and saying, “Why are you not stepping out? Everyone is looking to you for guidance in this scenario and yet you’re not stepping up.” So it took a bit of prodding from the community.
I was so busy serving, I lost sight of God.
When I became a Christian, the biggest thing that changed about me was my self-centeredness. Before becoming a Christian, I mistakenly thought I was an extrovert because I befriended people who I thought would be useful to me or who made me feel good about myself. After I became a Christian, I realized I was an introvert. My attitude toward people changed when I understood I was here to serve them, not the reverse. Suddenly people became draining rather than invigorating.
In spite of that, I threw myself wholeheartedly into ministry. Those who led me to Christ pounded into me that the only thing that lasted on earth was people, so if I was not investing in people, my time on earth was wasted. Even though being with people started to feel like it was sucking the life out of me, I felt compelled to be as involved as I possibly could with those in our church, which translated into volunteering for any need that was obvious. If someone needed a children’s worship leader, I volunteered, even though working with kids wasn’t my forte. When it was pointed out that we should have a women’s ministry in our church, I took it on, even though I’d had no experience in such things. Occasionally I even did things I liked, such as teaching an adult Bible study, but those opportunities were hit and miss. I just felt lucky when I actually enjoyed something I was doing. It never occurred to me that should have been the norm rather than the exception.
…or did I?
When I was first invited to write an article for Gifted for Leadership on the topic of “health,” my initial reaction was hesitation.
It’s not that I don’t love the topic. I have long been a strong proponent of intentionality in the areas of physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational health. These areas are all interrelated. God has created us as whole persons. When one area is out of whack, the others are impacted as well. If I don’t get enough rest or don’t eat well, it affects my mood. If I have unresolved conflict in a human relationship, it troubles my soul. If I am stressed, it is difficult to experience God’s peace and my emotions will manifest themselves in physical symptoms such as sleeplessness and knotted muscles in the back of my neck.
Leadership demands we make a commitment to rest
Busy leader, do yourself a favor. Stop to breathe.
Before reading past this paragraph, take three slow, deep breaths. Notice the sensation in your body each time you inhale, then exhale. Notice what happens in your inner being as you pause to take those breaths. Now…breathe.
Busy leader, did something within you resist stopping to breathe? Even if you did it, did something in you fight against it? Did something insist, “I don’t have time”?
It’s just one of the respectable sins we find easy to hide while it poisons us
Christian leaders struggle with all sorts of temptations. We fool ourselves if we think otherwise. It’s how we handle those temptations that determine whether or not lives will be destroyed.
Often when we think of Christian leaders and their temptations, we think about the so-called “big” sins, those usually having to do with sexual immorality. But there are many more temptations than meet the eye—temptations to commit respectable sins, or sins we’re prone tolerate, as Jerry Bridges notes. These are often sins that are easier to hide, at least initially. One not talked about nearly enough is envy.
When we envy people, we believe something they possess, or something we think they possess, makes them superior to us. Not only do we want what they have, we want to outshine them. Maybe it’s…
Watch out for the many faces of this destructive sin
In an op-ed column in the New York Times, Frank Bruni had these admiring words to say about Pope Francis on the heels of the pontiff’s interview with Fr. Anthony Spadaro, S.J.: “It was the sweetness in his timbre, the meekness of his posture. It was the revelation that a man can wear the loftiest of miters without having his head swell to fit it, and can hold an office to which the term “infallible” is often attached without forgetting his failings…Instead of commanding people to follow him, he invited them to join him. And did so gently, in what felt like a whisper. What a surprising portrait of modesty in a church that had lost touch with it. And what a refreshing example of humility in a world with too little of it.”
Bruni speaks well of Pope Francis even though he opposes the Holy Father and Roman Catholic Church on several key issues. It’s the pope’s kindness and humility that have drawn Bruni, and so many others, to him. Those who were previously unwilling to listen to what the Roman Catholic Church had to say find themselves waiting in anticipation for whatever proceeds out of Pope Francis’s mouth. It would behoove more protestant leaders to take the pope’s humble posture instead of vainglorious and prideful ones.
Often masked as something else, the sin of leaders can hide in plain sight
I remember sitting at the lunch table with one of my friends in college when he dropped a bomb on me: “I’d say that at least 50 percent of the Bible majors are addicted to porn.”
“What? You mean to tell me that half of those seeking to be pastors are addicted to porn?”
“Yes,” he said.
I was thoroughly upset and demoralized. “Well, they’d better not enter the ministry until they’ve detoxed from porn. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a porn-addicted pastor,” I declared.
Like Moses, I must resist the temptation to add my own requirements to God’s
Over a holiday dinner once, I heard one family member tell another that drinking wine was forbidden by Jesus.
“Forbidden?” the first person asked.
Here we go, I thought.
“Forbidden,” the second person said.
“Wasn’t Jesus’ first miracle turning water into wine?” the first asked.
“Oh yes,” said the second person. “But it was weak wine and anyway they drank it because back then the water was so bad.”
God has a plan for everyone, even broken and hurting people like me (and you)
Most of the last two decades of my life have been spent as the “odd woman out”: out of love, out of hope, and out of control. As the “odd” one, I found myself either ignored by others or noticed, but regardless, I found pain waiting for me. Thankfully, I did not remain “out.” God’s mercy, hope, and love found me, leading me to become the “odd woman in.”
Webster’s Dictionary defines odd as “different from what is usual or expected.” As a 9-year-old little girl, I certainly was odd and so was my life. Having lost my father, and my mother being emotionally unavailable, my 9-year-old heart and mind were left to figure out life and love on their own. While friends played with Barbie dolls or spent an afternoon playing dress-up, I spent the day creating ways to have people notice and love me—even my friends’ parents. This pursuit continued throughout my life. In fact, this pursuit became a way of life for me.
How hard is it for a woman in ministry to fall into sexual sin such as adultery? Easier than you think. How many are tempted? More than we know, because no one talks about it due to the shame that surrounds the subject. The problem with the lack of a safe place to be honest about these struggles means there is an opening for the underground schemes of immorality to take the lives of great leaders in our midst.
For that reason, I am about to tell you about my own struggles with temptation to sexual sin in leadership, in an attempt to bring out into the open what many feel they need to hide. I have told my story openly at women’s conferences and retreats, but I told myself I would never write about it due to the fear that my story would get into the hands of those who could destroy my life. I realize now the deception shame has. It tells you that if you keep your secrets, you are safe. Oh but friend, you are far from safe in secrecy. You are bait. I pray my choice to be brave and put my story out there will give you courage to tell your story if you are struggling, and the brave courage to listen to a soul in torment without judgment if she approaches you.
10 things I did to recover and rediscover my calling
After four years of seminary and three-and-a-half years in ministry, only two words could describe me at my graduation: burned out. When I entered school, I never thought that upon my completion, I would feel so defeated and drained. I was supposed to be at the zenith of my spiritual journey. Instead, I barely wanted to sit down to study God’s Word.
Upon graduation, my husband and I moved back to his hometown and I took a sabbatical from ministry. I knew I needed to allow God to fill me and help me understand where I’d faltered. I began searching Scripture. I studied the ministry of Paul. For all he went through, he continued to persevere with joy. Compared to the apostle, my trials had been a cakewalk. Yet I’d wilted like a pansy. Instead of dwelling in defeat, I began to glean principles from Scripture in order to prepare for the next assignment God had for me. Below is a summary of what God taught me through my own weaknesses and through an examination of his Word.
Why Routine Spiritual Practices are Still a Good Idea, Part 2
I knew, by simple intuition, that it was the voice of God I was hearing. He—who had named light and sky, sun and moon, male and female, the very same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—called my name one hot July day as I stood overlooking a lake in northern Ohio.
I was 16—and planning for my prodigal return much later when I would be ripe for domestic life and repentance. And although I’d grown up in a pew and, as a little girl, wondered when my dangling legs would stretch long enough to touch the floor, as a teenager I decided I was growing out of sermons and hymns as if they were crinkled, crayoned Sunday school papers.
What for most people requires the better part of a decade (or at the very least, a four-year university experience), I had managed to accomplish in two short years, between the ages of 14 and 16. At 16, I was not old enough to buy cigarettes, but apparently, I could have regrets free of charge.
Why routine spiritual practices are still a good idea
Two years ago, our family traded our suburban conveniences for city life. We moved from our Chicago suburb to Toronto, and I remember all the clumsiness of those first several months, especially when it came to errands as simple as returning library books or getting cash from an ATM. I recall my conspicuously poor attempts at parallel parking and my awkward maneuvering of public transit, all my visible ignorance of parking meters and parking signs. Oh, how I pined for the land of drive-thrus!
It’s been only two years now that we’ve lived in Toronto, but the troubling sense that everything is new and different and that I am awkward and ignorant has finally ceded to a consoling familiarity. I realized this even more distinctly weeks ago, when we were back in the Chicago suburbs visiting friends and family for spring break. I was turning left at a stoplight, and although there was no pedestrian within sight, I inched my car forward with an instinctive slowness, hesitating to turn, waiting for the inconspicuous someone to dart in front of my car.
I guess I’ve learned to drive like a city girl. And although this isn’t something I have consciously practiced or rehearsed (notwithstanding, of course, the scores of times I’ve backed into an impossibly narrow spot in front of my favorite butcher), two years of navigating city streets and Toronto’s brazen pedestrians have formed in me a sensibility about the road that is now instinctive.
Personal transformation is always critical for leaders
Six years ago we moved from the inner city to a three-acre plot with multiple fruit trees. I never realized how much work these trees require, naively assuming they produced their bountiful harvests year after year, sans intervention. I had much to learn. Fruit trees must be trimmed twice a year as well as repaired after any storm damage. They need to be sprayed multiple times per season to combat the unrelenting pests (or utilize more time-consuming organic methods). Cherry trees need to be draped with netting, or the birds will enjoy an ongoing feast. During times of drought, every tree must be watered. I have found it exhausting, time consuming, and in some seasons, hardly worth the effort.
While we might not see the obvious connection, leadership requires a similar intentionality. Regardless of our experience, if we hope to produce good fruit for the long haul, we must prioritize our own leadership growth and personal transformation above leading others in the same. Failure to do so may result in both a withered soul and contaminated produce.
Leadership growth and personal transformation are deeply interconnected but not necessarily synonymous. From the vantage point of one who’s led for more than 25 years, the former refers to acquiring the skills, information, and knowledge necessary to succeed in the task at hand. Many organizations tend to focus on leadership growth, almost to the exclusion of personal transformation. I hope to convey that our success as leaders depends upon both components.
Three practices for leaders (or anyone)
I want more of God. Although I write and speak on spiritual formation, work with other Christians, have friends who encourage my faith, am married to a Christian man with whom I’ve raised Christian children, I still sometimes feel lonely. Not just emotionally lonely, but spiritually lonely—disconnected from God and my faith.
Leaders walk a lonely road. The leader of any enterprise, from a corporation to a small group, must ultimately make decisions that may be unpopular. Even if they consider others’ opinions and feelings, leaders, by definition, must take responsibility and make decisions. That can feel lonely.
A position of spiritual leadership can add another layer of isolation. When you are caring for and mentoring others, guiding them spiritually, questions often nag at the back of your mind: Who’s mentoring me? Where do I take my questions and doubts? If I’m supposed to be a role model/leader/encourager, who does that for me? And there’s nothing like doubt to make you feel alone.
Even the northern lights are merely a glimpse into the vast expanse of God’s love
Several years ago while travelling by ferry overnight in Alaska a scene unfolded that I suspect caused at least one angel to gasp: the expanse of the sky transformed from inky blackness into an infinite canvas on which brushstrokes of apricot, sapphire, and emerald painted themselves into the night sky. Like an oil painting in progress, the colors refused to stand still. The hues danced as if listening to jazz. Iridescent shades sharpened then faded with wild fervor.
Aware of the privilege of watching God’s creation unfold its glorious mysteries, I didn’t want to miss a millisecond of the aurora borealis, or northern lights. Wonderstruck by my Creator, this moment of spiritual awakening stirred in me a longing to experience more of God. If these lights were so beautiful, how much more stunning must their maker be? What kind of God paints the sky in such effulgent hues? For some, the northern lights are a tourist attraction, but for me, they are a portal to the very heart of God. My lips remained motionless, but my soul sang as I witnessed this revival in the night sky.
Despite this and other breathtaking moments of God that I’ve experienced, all too often I find myself like so many of the other passengers on the ferry, deep in sleep, missing the moment. I succumb to exhaustion rather than remain alert to the wondrous displays that reveal more of God.
4 ways to restore your awe of God
…Continued from Part 1.
As passionate followers of Christ committed to serving others, we must be intentional about nurturing a sense of wonder in our lives and discovering God as “wonderful” each and every day.
The gospels ground us in the truth that those who encountered Jesus were left in wild amazement. Those who encountered Christ were awestruck by his teachings, healings, and mind-bending miracles. Words like “awe,” “wonder,” and “marvel” followed him almost everywhere he went (particularly in the Gospel of Luke).
If you’ve misplaced your sense of marvel somewhere along the way, or perhaps if you just want to nurture an even greater sense of awe, here are four ways to begin living wonderstruck as a leader:
4 things that prevent you from living in awe of God
As leaders, we are meant to toss back the covers, climb out of bed, and drink in the fullness of life God intended for us. We are called to live alert to the wonders all around us and within us that expand our desire to know God more. Yet a focus on the functionality of ministry combined with an increased sense of familiarity can numb us to the marvelous work to which we’ve been called—encouraging people to walk in the fullness of all God has called and created them to be through Jesus Christ.
Here are a handful of things that can pull us away from living wonderstruck and experiencing the daily splendor of knowing Jesus as we lead:
1. We become absorbed by inner workings. Every church and ministry requires systems to function. Before I became more involved in the church, I honestly believed that the worship leader selected songs on the spot and played for as long (or short) as they felt led by the Holy Spirit. No one told me they had precisely 17:30 minutes to perform their four pre-selected songs that tied into the sermon.
A book review
I have read a lot of books over the years, many of them on spiritual topics. I read books on Bible study methods, prayer, small-group leadership, and sharing your faith. I thought they would help me build skills that, as a nerd and introvert, don’t come naturally. Most of them had steps to follow, goals to set, and acronyms to remember. Those are great tools. They give me structure and clear goals. However, I am learning that using a formula and following steps do not guarantee success.
I confess, in the evangelism department I should get an F. I can count on one hand the people I’ve told about Jesus who said yes to his invitation. I have never felt comfortable walking up to some stranger and asking, "If you died today, where would you spend eternity?" I don’t leave a little booklet on the restaurant table with my tip. It's not that I don't love Jesus. I just feel like a used-car salesman. Reading all those books about evangelism did not improve matters, either. They only left me feeling guilty.
I've been missing something. The Sacrament of Evangelism, by Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie (Moody Publishers, 2011), helped me see what it is: relationship. My relationship with God, my relationships with those around me, and God's relationship with them.
Hero or thief, I need the power of confession
As a kid, I dreamed that people could be divided into two teams: heroes and thieves; beggars and heirs. At night, beneath a ceiling of glow-in-the-dark stars, I fully expected to be a heroine. (Everyone intends to be superman—not the victim who needs saving.) Now I know better. “Not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world where everything fits,” I am what Annie Dillard called a “frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world.”
It sounds as if I have some dramatic story to tell. That’s not true—my life story is no more or less dramatic than your average person. Sin ravages us all, though in different ways. It took some years before I realized I am no heroine. I am unable to fix or save anyone. And yet I am called (as every believer is) to have a ministry of reconciliation to the world. Not washed and beautiful—but commissioned to represent Christ.
How does someone like me carry that out? How do I serve? More than in books or articles, composed of paper and ink, but in my mood-swinging, fallible existence how do I contribute to the Christian community? What ought to be the anthem of the heroes, who find themselves truly thieves?
If you don’t know how God is leading you, you won’t know how to lead others
Leaders of churches and Christian organizations are often successful in the secular marketplace, or even church ministry, but have had little instruction in or preparation for the process of discernment. They might not even understand discernment to be part of what they have been asked to do. In this kind of scenario, a Christian leadership team might be composed of:
• A successful investment banker who is very sincere and has a lot of money to contribute, but is such a young Christian that he barely knows what discernment is, let alone how to practice it in a leadership setting.
• An attorney whose approach to leadership is shaped more by her training as a lawyer than by any spiritual preparation.
• A construction company owner who was raised in the church his family helped plant. He stopped growing long ago and is committed to maintaining things “the way they’ve always been.”
• An executive who climbed the corporate ladder by thinking strategically and learning how to “work the system.” While he is a committed Christian and is enthusiastic about the mission of the organization, he relies primarily on his ability to think strategically. Since he came to faith fairly recently, there is very little integration of his business experience and practice with his spirituality. The idea that the wisdom of God is foolishness to this world is fairly incomprehensible.
• The pragmatist who has not yet had an experience of God that is beyond her own comprehension. She believes in the Holy Spirit in theory but is uncomfortable with the idea that the Spirit actually speaks to us today. In fact, she believes too much talk of the Spirit leads to mysticism.
Such individuals do have valuable gifts to bring to the leadership setting, and our churches and organizations would be impoverished without them. The problem, however, is when individuals bring only the training, experience and influences of a secular mindset without preparation in the areas of spiritual discernment. Without spiritual discernment it won’t matter whether you have a clearly articulated discernment process, use Robert’s Rules of Order, or just offer perfunctory prayers to bookend your meetings—discernment is not going to happen! The people aren’t right and they’re not ready.
Knowing and accepting yourself helps you be fully present without pretense
Some of my earliest memories find me sitting barefoot and cross-legged under a large tree in our neighbor’s backyard. My girlfriends and I were making purses out of large leaves, weaving the stiff stems through the fleshy edges. I enjoyed nature and creating beauty with my hands. I was a tenderhearted, very compliant, artistic little girl, who loved beauty from an early age.
Unfortunately, that gentle essence was pretty much out of line with the values in my immediate environment. I was raised in a part of the country whose entire economy was based on the exploitation of natural resources. Refinery fumes invaded our homes and non-air-conditioned schools as well as paid the bills. Our family culture valued important things like thrift, achievement, discipline, academic excellence, and faithfulness, but did not invest much in beauty, emotion, or the more tender aspects of life. There was little money for music lessons, ballet, frilly bedroom décor, store-bought clothes, or musical instruments. Makeup was discouraged; fashion was for others. Nor was there much interest in nature or travel.
Enriched by the family strengths and values present, I learned to be a very good student. Along the way, God provided manna for the more beauty-bent parts of me through neighbors and friends, books, art electives at school, youth group trips around the state, and teachers who encouraged me to write. But by and large, conscious awareness of that beauty-loving, tender part of my personal identity faded almost completely, going underground only to be resurrected at age thirty-five.
We must understand the dynamics of discernment
At some point we are faced with a decision that requires us to make a choice in which we are aware of our desire to discern the will of God in the matter. Now we discover that discernment is also a spiritual practice that does what all spiritual disciplines do: it offers us a concrete way of opening to the activity of God beyond what we can do for ourselves.
While it is beyond the scope of this article to outline the practice of personal discernment in detail, I will describe several dynamics of discernment that can be practiced personally in such a way as to prepare individuals for discernment at the leadership level.
The prayer for indifference. The first and most essential dynamic of discernment is the movement toward indifference. In the context of spiritual discernment, indifference is a positive term signifying that “I am indifferent to anything but God’s will.” This is “interior freedom” or a state of openness to God in which we are free from undue attachment to any particular outcome. There is a capacity to relinquish whatever might keep us from choosing God and love, and we have come to a place where we want God and God’s will more than anything—more than ego gratification, more than wanting to look good in the eyes of others, more than personal ownership, comfort or advantage. We ask God to bring us to a place where we want “God’s will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else” so that we can pray the prayer of indifference—“Not my will but thine be done.”
Look and listen for God in the ordinary and everyday
Do you ever wonder why some things seem invisible? Why don’t you see the salsa in the refrigerator door? How can you walk right by someone you know and not see them until they say your name? You see right through them. It is an irony, I suppose, that even the sighted can be blind. And the hearing can be deaf, too. You tell a friend, “I didn’t know!” They respond, “But I told you.”
Our deafness deeply concerned Jesus. He repeatedly asked his disciples why they didn’t see or hear. Why they seemed to hear but “not understand.” Why they could see but “learn nothing” (Mark 4:12). It seems revelation is around us and no one is noticing.
Have you ever considered that every spiritual practice begins with noticing? Paying attention to God opens the door to prayer. Giving and receiving love is a transaction in noticing someone besides yourself. And unless you are tuning your awareness, you won’t recognize God’s word even when it is as near as your own breath.
It is virtually impossible to notice things when we are on autopilot. If we think we know what we will see, if we have already been there and done that, we tend to miss things. We aren’t expecting the voice of God, or the veil to lift on things transcendent. Everything is the same old same old.
We are all screwed up
There are a lot of things about God and Christianity that are a worthwhile debate, but the fact that we all sin is typically not one of them. I have never met a person so brave as to say he was perfect, but I have met a lot of people who think they are good people.
What do they mean by that? Do they mean they have good motives, do good things? Or do they mean they are just good, like warm chocolate chip cookies are always just good? I get the impression when they say that about themselves, they are saying, “God thinks I am okay.”
On a core level, are we really as “good” as we think we are? Despite my impressive script performance, I’ve rarely felt deep, deep in my bones as though I’m a truly good person. I didn’t perceive myself as being as bad as others, and I worked to maintain the respect of people with my external behavior, but I always knew, even on my best day, how far from good I really was. There has always been a dichotomy inside of me.
A person can learn the right behavior for any character quality. Though some of my behavior came from a pretty sincere place, the truth has always been that without God’s intervention, I am selfish and prideful every minute of every day. I care what others think because deep down I want to be seen as great—I want to matter. I find it impossible to forgive; to truly be able to forgive people who hurt us must be one of God’s greatest miracles. And I belittle the God of the universe by worrying as if he is not really in control. Inside, my soul seems prone to slant toward every quality I would never want to possess. I live assuming I am not alone in these weaknesses. Mostly because I know a lot of people.
Life in God’s kingdom isn’t always glamorous.
This is one of my favorite C. S. Lewis quotations, from Mere Christianity:
“Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
Maybe it’s my non-conformist streak (OK, it’s more than a streak). Maybe it’s my generational disillusionment with this planet and its inhabitants. Maybe it’s that longing we all have to be part of something great, to make big mark on the world. Whatever the reason, I just love the idea that God is calling us to subversive activity in his name, to help turn the world upside down, just as Jesus did when he walked this earth. It’s poetic, grandiose, and dangerous, and it captures my imagination.
Unfortunately, though, my imagination likes to spend most of its time in worlds unlike the real one where I actually live. And when I stop to think about what this quotation means in practical terms, I have to ask myself: What are these great acts of sabotage? Am I engaged in this campaign, resisting the mindless living prescribed by the world around me? How might the world be different if we all lived as cultural saboteurs?
Suddenly this whole idea seems a lot less glamorous.
God can use your brokenness to help others.
Behind the veneer of spiritual leadership, some of us carry deep struggles or dark secrets: pain from past abuse, guilt over sin, or a sense of spiritual failure. Should we tell others about our struggles? If so, how?
It can be difficult to know when we should share our struggles, sins, and failures in a public forum. There definitely is a time and place to talk about areas of brokenness in our lives, but it’s not up to us to initiate. On the journey of transformation, God is the one who will prompt us and reveal to us when we should share with others what’s been going on in our lives. It’s our job to listen…and be obedient.
When God prompts us to go public, it’s important to think about how to best communicate our story. When the focus is entirely on failure, it ends up being a story that can sensationalize sin. Instead, when we share, it’s vital we focus on God’s redeeming narrative, emphasizing what he has done and is doing in our lives.
A book review
I must admit right off the bat, I’d never been one to buy into “spiritual warfare.” Though I’ve long believed evil was as real as the hand in front of my face and that Satan has his own grubby hands at work in this world, when people would claim they were “under attack” from dark forces, I worked hard not to roll my eyes.
Under attack seemed a bit much. Especially for the bits of dumb bad luck they’d go on to regale. But then I wrote a book called Grumble Hallelujah and went around speaking about our need to lament—to grieve but then grumble our, well, hallelujahs when life gets rough. And each time I’d share a story of finding God’s goodness or faithfulness in the midst of misery, wham! A fresh batch of misery would hit. Each time, it hit a little harder, pushed me down a little further. Each time came a wicked whisper: Gonna praise him now?
Then I was foolish enough to claim increase as my word for 2012—and go public with my longing for God to “increase my faith” (and bank account, if he wanted!). Where life had begun to feel on the “upswing,” circumstances took rough right turns. Where I had longed for greater faith, suddenly situations pressed me to doubt God’s very existence. Questions like Does he even hear you? Is he even there? looped through my brain as I prayed.
We must embrace and teach the first two-thirds of the Bible
The Bible I’ve owned since college is coffee-spill-stained, underlined in a rainbow of colors, re-bound with packing tape. Margin notes sit like altars erected along the journey, commemorating encounters with God.
A curious phenomenon: pages of the last third of this book are worn, dog-eared, dingy, graffiti’d with yellow highlighter and pencil. The first two-thirds, not so much. I’m much more comfortable navigating the New Testament than the Old. But in recent years, that’s been changing, slowly but surely, as I discover the hidden treasures of the text Philip Yancey called, “The Bible Jesus Read.”
If we claim to be “Bible-believing Christians,” we cannot ignore the first two-thirds of that book, or only dabble in Psalms and Proverbs. As leaders, if we are to teach a Bible study or preach a sermon, do we always default to the Gospels or Epistles? What if we were brave enough to excavate the gems of the Old Testament?
Community’s not just a good idea—it’s essential!
I walked off the stage, the title to my presentation—Community in Leadership—in bold at the top of my speaking notes. I had just spent 40 minutes convincing women leaders of the power and importance of being intimately involved in community with others.
Ironically, or perhaps hypocritically, I was the loneliest, most isolated person I knew. Mentally, I knew leadership and relationships weren’t mutually exclusive. I just couldn’t convince my lonely heart. As I battled feelings of loneliness, I realized I harbored several patterns of thinking that kept me feeling alone.
Lonely for God. I was doing all the right things–praying, reading my Bible, serving Jesus in ministry. Yet here I was, lonely. It seemed like God had abandoned me. Wasn’t he supposed to meet all my needs? Had I done something wrong? Or not done enough for him?
Say no to busyness, and yes to quiet waiting and wondering
The emails flying back and forth create a picture, comical yet somehow sad: “Would love to see you all, but can’t do tomorrow, maybe the 10th?” and “I can’t do the 10th, how about the 19th?”
Five of us, my closest girlfriends, are trying to find a time to get together during December. Just us, we wouldn’t even dare attempt trying to include spouses or kids. So far we have intentions, but no two-hour window when all of us are free.
Our calendars groan under the weight of obligations. The church calendar, meanwhile, declares the season of Advent (from the Latin adventus, “coming”), a season of waiting. More than a countdown to Christmas, Advent anticipates—not just a day of feasting and presents, but the quiet miracle of the incarnation.
How do we care for our souls in Advent? How do we watch for the light of Jesus? For ministry leaders, everything from children’s Christmas pageants to planning multiple Christmas services can make the month of December a time of stress and busyness that leaves us feeling worn out, rather than reflective. We are trying to slog through December, and the only thing we are waiting for is for it to be over.
Your ability to be fully present with the people or children you lead will depend on your ability to be present with God. This is true not just in Advent but all year long. It just gets harder in this season—and therefore more crucial.
Building a long-term memory for God
How’s your memory? More specifically, how’s your faith-memory, your ability to remember and hold onto powerful moments with God long after they’ve passed? Turns out that reminding ourselves—and helping others do the same—builds the kind of faith that pleases God.
How did this great evangelical leader affect your life?
Gifted for Leadership's parent site ChristianityToday.com has run several stories following the death of John Stott, long-time theologian and evangelical leader.
According to their recent article, "Global Reactions to John Stott's Death," "His death has elicited a broad range of tributes from Christian leaders throughout North America. But acknowledging the influence of Stott's ministry on North American Christians does not accurately portray the scope of his work. Stott's contributions to discipleship, biblical scholarship, and the equipping of leaders spanned the world, invigorating hundreds of nascent ministries in previously unchurched regions.
N.T. Wright, professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, said Stott's personal approach helped forge a new landscape in British and global Christianity during the 20th century. 'To say that we thank God for him is putting it much too gently...we have all benefited enormously; may we be worthy of that legacy,' he said."
Read more "Global Reactions to John Stott's Death" on ChristianityToday.com, and then come back to GiftedforLeadership.com and share how John Stott's life and ministry work shaped your faith.
What makes us hungry for God?
As leaders, it's so easy to get distracted by the demands on our everyday—the deadlines, the unforeseen circumstances that sap our time and energy. In the midst of our packed schedules, we can find ourselves chasing after that which is most pressing rather than that which is most necessary. We need to be intentional about pursuing God and seeking his voice in our lives. We need to stir up a hunger for God. And as we cultivate a hunger for him in our own lives, those around us will naturally become more spiritually hungry too.
Many leaders believe that to lead well they have to superimpose winning strategies upon themselves. In reality, great leadership flows from a healed heart. The best thing you can do for your “followers” (whether that be in work, friendships or family) is to run after personal healing.
Cheryl learned this difficult lesson when she worked for a ministry leader who appeared to be the hallmark of good leadership. At first everything he said matched Scripture, perfectly so. He had a verse for everything, and he demanded excellence from her. But as Cheryl watched his life and saw how his actions didn’t meet up to his well-scripted words, she grew confused.
As his story of past abuse leaked out, Cheryl realized he hadn’t truly dealt with his haunted childhood, and those very ghosts he’d run from became his issues in the present. Cheryl had to help this leader see his need for healing, and she watched his painful devastation surface as he left the ministry. His departure hurt him, yes, but it also made Cheryl deeply confused in the process and disillusioned in the end.
So how can we avoid something like that—both for ourselves and the people we work with? Why is it important to deal with our past? Aren’t we all messes anyway? And, what does our messiness have to do with how we lead today?
A deadline looms. A project hangs over my head, unfinished. The to-do list stretches by the minute. The laundry pile grows, and the dishes overflow the sink. And I just can't focus enough to finish anything.
I bet you know the feeling.
The guilt of what’s left undone starts to get the best of me. I begin to beat myself up over my lack of focus and discipline. I give myself all the appropriate pep talks, and yet I stare into space and feel even more miserable for my lack of productivity.
Sometimes it is a focus issue, but every once in awhile I realize what I really need is rest. I have exhausted myself, and I have nothing left. I'm running on empty and no amount of self-discipline is going to get it done.
I’d been mindlessly flipping through cable channels when I caught a quick glimpse of TV hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly bursting through the doors of an ornate cathedral, followed by a choir singing The Hallelujah Chorus. When my Spidey senses warned me that something was not right, against my better judgment, I lingered.
A young priest, at the front of the sanctuary, was addressing a packed congregation. Though twenty-seven year old Rev. Emily Bloemker had been told that she was speaking to a crowd gathered to fighting extreme poverty—which made me like her immediately—she was actually being featured on the show What Not To Wear and being given $5,000 to go shopping.
The big idea of What Not To Wear is that some unsuspecting person, who’s been turned in to the fashion police by someone “who cares,” is humiliated on national TV for wearing last decade’s styles or baggy oversized clothes that are really comfortable. The premise of the show, reflecting what is true of our culture, is that bodies are made to be viewed.
Thanksgiving: that time of year when dreams of stuffing, jello molds, and bean casseroles reign supreme. The season for finding a circle of people with whom to give a toast, say a prayer and give abundant thanks. Momenta to reminisce and recall God’s provision, even in hardship. A holiday filled with good practices for us frantic Americans.
And while I honor these traditions and believe the sentiment behind this holiday is so very close to the heartbeat of God, I will confess to getting more than a little bit bored by all the chatter about giving thanks this time of year.
I suspect I am not alone.
All I wanted was a friend. A best friend. My family had just moved from Northern Maine to suburban Philadelphia after my 5th birthday. Friends, I thought, I‘d finally have friends. Who doesn’t want a best friend, or long for a lifelong friend? You know, the kind you make in kindergarten who stays loyal and true for a lifetime.
I don’t know about you, but neither “best friend” nor “lifelong friend” is on my friends list. As a Pastor’s kid who moved several times in my lifetime, those relationships didn’t move with me. In adulthood I have a tapestry of friends who are crisscrossed around the country but the deeper question is how many of those who have woven themselves into my life am I open and real with? How many do I communicate with about the real stuff of life?
The deep cry of most women’s hearts that I come in contact with has to do with authentic relationships. Most of us have amassed a long list of acquaintances that we pass off as friends. And those of us in leadership have an even longer list. We throw around the term “community” yet I think a deep experience of community and authentic relationships is elusive for most of us. So how do we develop authentic community? How do we know others and allow ourselves to be known? I’m in the middle of this journey.
Last spring, after I was asked to consider running for the board at my kids’ school, I prayed this: God, you know how much I’d love to do this. But I just don’t have time to be president of a school board…..
Go ahead and roll your eyes. I’m sure God did too. Because, of course, no one was asking me to be president. They were asking me to consider a nomination to be a member. Quite a different thing. And yet, I know myself well: Once I get involved in something, I get involved. I don’t like loose affiliations or peripheries. I don’t like to dip a toe; I like to dive in. I don’t want to stand by; I want to stand out. I don’t want to a part; I want to in charge. Hence, my prayer.
For the longest time I credited this drive to be the one to set agendas and cast visions to my leadership gifts, but this ridiculous prayer opened my eyes to something else that goes on in my “gifted” brain. And it’s nothing short of a control freak tendency.
I never realized that’s what it was because, honestly, I’m not a control freak in most areas of my life. I don’t micro-manage my kids. Or my husband. Or my home. I don’t try to run my friends’ lives. I don’t hassle my neighbors. I don’t butt into everyone else’s business.
The problem is with my own business.
As a child I often felt driven not only to succeed, but also to be noticed by my parents and my peers. I wanted others to see me as good enough, worthy and outstanding. As I grew older and became a Christian these drives didn’t disappear. They became christianized. I wanted to show my Heavenly Father that he should be glad he saved me, and that his grace was not poured on me in vain.
Sincerity was not the issue. Rather, self-consciousness and self-focus were. This bothered me because my sin and pride were tightly woven throughout. Once the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to this attitude, I wanted God to control this area of my life. So I prayed and read God’s Word for answers, but was still left with many questions.
Some Scriptures said to focus my ministry and my life on God and God alone. I agreed with those Scriptures. I pursued God and gave him the credit when he used me. Phrases such as, “It wasn’t me; it was Christ working through me,” and “Praise God, praise God” became frequent mantras. Sometimes, however, they sounded pious and insincere. Some people felt awkward when I used those phrases. I began to feel the same.
The idea that men and women are created differently, in ways that complement each other, sounds okay. But often, this “equal but different” thinking results in a hierarchy that can lead to distortions of truth, or even emotional and physical abuse.
For years, I thought that as with many theological side issues, sincere Christians can agree to disagree when it comes to gender roles. Some churches let women lead and teach the whole congregation, others interpret the Bible to say that women can only lead and teach other women, and in some cases, there are limits beyond even that. (I’ve heard of one church that doesn’t allow a woman to be the head of women’s ministries.)
I disagreed with this view, known as Complementarianism, but I figured, well, if that’s how they roll, then okay. But now, I’m starting to change my mind: often, it is not okay. Because if you take Complementarianism to the extreme, it becomes destructive.
Over the past couple of weeks, I've had about three instances where someone has brought up Eve and her knack for being "easily deceived." In two of the cases, it was brought up in a way that made the people conclude that women shouldn't lead - because of this "genetic" deceivability. In the other case, it also had to do with why women shouldn't wear gold or pearls and will be saved via childbearing (okay, so one of these people was St. Paul).
But anyway, all this talk about Eve got me thinking:
What exactly do people mean when they talk about Eve being so easily deceived? When we say it's "no wonder" that Satan chose Eve (as someone recently commented on a post here), what exactly does that "no wonder" imply? Are we right to assume that Satan chose Eve to slither up to (or hang down toward) because she - not Adam - reflected the gullible, easily duped side of God? That just doesn't seem right. Does it?
Now, I have to warn you: What I'm about to write could be complete heresy. So please keep your grace handy - ready to toss at me as you feel led. But I write this in a genuine attempt to understand how God created women to be and how he longs for us to live. So here goes:
Last month during a meeting of the Chicagoland Christian Writers Group, a member spoke about fear of success coming from the sneaky suspicion that our writing is not as good as it ought to be. Maybe we suffer from a Moses complex, you know, "Surely God has made a mistake - shouldn't someone else carry this message?" She spoke about giving ourselves over to the belief that God is the author of our talents and has made no mistake.
As I listened, I realized that I don't suffer from a Moses complex. Yes, I fear success, but for an entirely different reason. My fear is wrapped up in pride.
Pride has been an on-going sin-problem for me. It seems that most everything I've undertaken to do reaped praise, and I've not been quick to give God the glory. Rather, I tend to exhibit a peacock complex: preening rather than praising. I wonder, "If I attain success, will I lose all humility and suffer the displeasure of God?" I wonder, "Is all pride sin?"
One thing I've been discovering is the role of unintended consequences in my life. My husband, Leif, and I talk about this a lot. He tends to look at people and think that if someone chooses something, then it's their responsibility to live with the consequences. While I think there's some real truth in that idea, I also see many people who if they knew the full breadth of the consequences would have made a different decision. These are the unintended consequences of our decisions - and they happen in my life and everyone I know.
I have to make dozens of decision every day and while I can predict a percentage of the outcomes with certainty, the reality is there are all kinds of outcomes that are simply unintended.
Some good. Some bad.
While running on a treadmill one morning, I found myself focusing on the red-lettered warning on the display panel. It cautioned: To Avoid Injury: "Read Owner's Manual first; Stop if you feel faint, dizzy, or short of breath." At first they seemed unnecessary; but then it struck me: While the instructions held obvious application to my physical condition, they also held subtle application to my spiritual condition. As we run the "race marked out for us," here's how we might protect against spiritual injury.
Read Owner's Manual first. Each one of us has been wonderfully made, specially designed, and set apart for specific purposes. To best understand who we are, how we operate, and how we're to serve in the Body, we need to carefully examine the Scriptures and understand our Maker's intentions. His thoughts on us are the ones that matter in this race. If we jump into running without a clear understanding of him and his will, we risk injury to ourselves, and to those we serve.
Are you taking the warning seriously? 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the [wo]man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." How are you being equipped on a daily basis for the run ahead of you?
Editor's note: I read this passage in Rep. Marsha Blackburn's new book, Life Equity a few months back, on a gray, cold Chicago day. But these words brightened my mood right up. In fact, this passage fired me up, made me want to shoot off firecrackers and wave a flag. But because it was a gray, cold day (and I actually have no idea how to shoot off firecrackers), I stayed put in my cozy office and instead slapped a sticky note on the book's page with a scribble: "GFL. 4th of July." Hope you enjoy this passage too. - Caryn Rivadeneira
In a day in which we face unprecedented challenges - locally, nationally, and globally - far too many prospective women leaders are standing in the shallows. They look with half-longing, half-trepidation at the deeper waters.
They long to dive into the challenges and make a difference. But holding them back are questionsâ€¦
"How do I break into, or get around, the good ol' boy network?"
"Where are the mentors that can show me the way?"
"Where do I start?"
In late winter, a new Salvation Army store opened with surprising fanfare in my mid-Michigan hometown. At the Grand Opening, bargain shoppers started lining up outside in 30 degree weather at 7 a.m. and patiently waited two hours for the manager to unlock the doors. When he did, it took 20 minutes for the crowd to file inside.
Throughout the day, shoppers again waited in lines to purchase the goods that filled their carts to overflowing. The lines wrapped around the perimeter of the store while hundreds of cars clogged the once deserted parking lot.
By closing time, the store that offers items with the average sale price of $2.09 had made $30,000. Twirling lights from a sky tracker sliced through the darkened skies, signaling to the world that a new business had successfully launched.
It's tempting to believe that shoppers who sifted through the carefully sorted clothing and household goods did so out of dire need. But I'm afraid my local Salvation Army's slammin' success is more indicative of the downward slide of the American shopper. Sometime in the past year, Macy's shoppers became J.C. Penney shoppers who became Wal-Mart shoppers who became Salvation Army shoppers.
As friends and I met for dinner to enjoy pictures of mutual friends' wedding, their four-year-old joined in the fun. At one stage I asked this child which picture was her favorite, and she quickly pointed to one saying "This one!" When I asked why, she pointed again and said the name of her best friend. Her parents and I strained our eyes to have another look. We'd been focusing on the images of adults and failed to observe a little girl - her best friend - poking her head just slightly around her mother's knee. We all broke into laughter, realizing we had missed something precious to this child. This little girl noticed an individual similar to herself in the photograph while the adults were looking only at the other adults. It was one of those profound moments when you realize how experience shapes observation.
The same is true when women read Scripture. Women tend to observe other women. It should not surprise us that as women entered universities in the 1800s, they were among the first to note women evangelists (Mark 7:24-30, John 4:5-42, John 20:17, Phil. 4:2-3); deacons (Rom. 16:1-2); teachers (Acts 18:24-26, Col. 3:16); leaders of house churches (Acts 16:13-15, 40; Acts 18: 1-3, 18, 24-26; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:15; Phil. 1-2; and 2 John 1:1); Junia the apostle (Rom.16:7), and women like Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis who "worked hard in the Lord" (Rom. 16:12). To "work hard in the Lord" is how Paul describes his own missionary work.
Women were also at the forefront of recovering the contributions of women throughout church history. Here are a few examples:
One of the most taxing things one encounters when mothering a three-year old boy is the whining: the use of an annoyingly complaining voice. One would think - and many experts assert - that if a child is never given the item for which he whines and is always required to rephrase his request politely, the behavior would eventually be extinguished. But no such luck in our household. Our myriad anti-whining strategies have met with no real success to date.
In a recent chat with a close mom friend about parenting our preschoolers, I raised our whining dilemma. What else could I try to stop it? Was there no solution (and if not, could my sanity be preserved)? After listening for a while my friend gently - and correctly - pointed out that I was, in essence, whining about my son's whining problem.
Complaining, in essence, is saying: "This isn't working out for me. I'm annoyed that I don't have - or am not getting - what I want right now." It's what my kidâ€˜s doing when he asks for a drink in an unhappy voice. And it's what I'm doing when I'm telling my friend that ongoing effort to address this parenting challenge is killing me.
"How long will it be before I am better?" I asked a trusted mentor and advisor. He thought for a moment and replied, "If you are really careful, I expect you'll be somewhat recovered and almost back to normal in about eight months." I blinked in disbelief. Eight months? It was not the answer I wanted or expected. A week, a month, at most, but eight months? It didn't seem possible; he must be mistaken.
For the last three years, I had been following God's call and pursuing a doctorate degree at Talbot Theological Seminary. In addition to my full-time studies, I worked at least fifty hours a week teaching, mentoring and advising students at a neighboring university, and running my own writing and editing business. Somewhere in the midst of that crazy schedule, I still found time to spend with my husband and run or hike 30 to 40 miles a week. Each day, I woke up pulsating with energy, ready to tackle the day and the ever-growing list of to-do items in my Franklin-Covey planner. I was fueled by my passion for learning, my love for students, and my commitment to communicate God's truth in ways that would be meaningful to others.
But in the last few months, I had grown weary. I was more than exhausted; I was tired straight down to the marrow in my bones. My passion was running dry and my patience and compassion for others waned. My relationship with God suffered. I couldn't hear his voice as clearly and or sense his presence as often. Sleep did not revitalize me and the old self-renewal tricks like weekend getaways and nature hikes did not restore me.
We've all encountered those moments in ministry and life when we feel spent, empty, with nothing else to give. Maybe lived on exhaust one gasp too long. Maybe burning the candle on both ends and in the middle wasn't such a great idea. Maybe a series of sleepless nights got the best of us. Whatever the cause, we have nothing left to give and for just a few more hours - whether it's a Sunday service, a Wednesday night gathering, or the conference that still has a day to wrap up - we must hang on. But to what?
I've encountered this scenario all too often, and despite multiple attempts to schedule more downtime, be more intentional about rest, carve out time with Jesus every day, and live a healthy-paced life, there are still times that things outside of our control push us to the point of exhaustion. How do we walk with grace when we have no grace?
Lately I've been walking a 5-km route through a residential area where I pass lots of houses. I take a good look at the gardens, see who is on the porch, and what I can see through the window. It occurred to me the other day that each family in each house has a story to tell. How long have they lived there? Why would they pick that house of all of them on the street? There is always a story. Who is that visiting? What is their story? Of course the individuals all within the house have a story too, and they all contribute to each others' story!
Then I began to notice the people passing me on the sidewalk. (No, I'm not that slow. They were walking toward me!) What is their story? Why does that woman walk several paces behind the man who appears to be her husband? What is that student facing at school or in their home? You know, they could be wondering the same about me: What is my story? Why am I out at this time of the day, and where do I come from?
As leaders it serves us well to remember that each person we interact with has a story to tell.
This morning I read through John 19. Typical Good Friday reading since it tells the story of the sentencing and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Of course, I've read this passage a zillion times before, but this morning, I had this blog on my mind and the drastically different images of leadership - in relationship to love and pride - struck me, particularly in the verses 17 through 30.
Check it out:
"So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. And Pilate posted a sign over him that read, ?Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.' The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.
"Then the leading priests objected and said to Pilate, ?Change it from "The King of the Jews" to "He said, I am King of the Jews."'
"Pilate replied, ?No, what I have written, I have written.'
In his book, Oh, the Places You'll Go, Dr. Seuss writes about something he calls "a most useless place:" The Waiting Place. It is "for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting."
While I'm not waiting around for public transportation or a new hairstyle, The Waiting Place is where I find myself reluctantly lingering these days. Ironically, I've been waiting to snap out of it.
I admit: I love girl-talk. Add a comfy booth and coffee and I'm in heaven. When I head out the door to meet a friend for coffee, I know I'm really heading out for a couple of hours of encouragement, sharing, and the give and take of conversation. Good stuff!
But not too long ago, I began wondering about these "gab-fests." What do I really hope to gain from all these? A sympathetic ear? Womenly advice? Shared wisdom? Yes, all of that. And yet, beyond the temporary relief of getting it all off my chest, something is lacking.
Maybe it's not really something, maybe it's Someone.
You see, for all the talk-talk-talking, we do, my friends and I don't pray together. Oh, we share prayer requests, and I have no doubt that we do pray for each other, but we don't sit side-by-side, joined by the power of the Holy Spirit, in prayer. I wonder why.
Three months ago, I learned a new word. I think. Honestly, the meaning is still vague, but when a conference speaker sketched a simple box with four quadrants that she called a rubric, it struck a nerve. It's an assessment that shows how well we meet our standards. If your dot is plotted in the upper right box (the higher the better) your assessment matches the standard; your confidence soars, and you're queen for the day. The opposite is true if you land in the lower left quadrant (the lower the worse), leaving a sinking feeling of failure that permeates pretty much every aspect of your life.
As she spoke, my mind drifted. A mental checklist - not as a leader, but as a woman - overtook my thoughts. The musing went something like this:
The day starts at 6 a.m. with a calorie-disintegrating spin class, a liter of water, and a protein shake. Lunch is a salad and another eight ounces. By seven, my favorite pair of jeans and fitted black turtleneck slip on flawlessly, a good hair day gets better and with a dab of lip gloss, I can't wait to cozy up in a dark booth and enjoy the intimacy of a night with the girls. For a reason I can't define, but also can't deny, these evenings are made sweeter when I like how I look. This is a magic, upper-right-hand-quadrant kind of night. The standards are high, but my assessment's a near match.
And then the rubric makes a violent shift.
My laptop crashes to the tile, a work-at-home mother's nightmare scenario. I turn from my cutting board to see the recipe-bearing screen lying face-down on the floor. The cord, left within my 15-month old daughter's reach, had proved too enticing.
I had to replace the trashed hard drive and rebuild the laptop (serious feat for tech-rookie me). Two days, four hundred dollars, and some lost data later, I was back up and running. But it was trying to re-connect the printer back that really brought me to my knees.
Hour after hour I did battle with my HP - installing, uninstalling, rebooting - to no avail. I seethed, raged, and re-doubled my efforts. The computer crash was expensive enough; I wasn't about to fund a new printer too! But each time, same error message: "connection attempt failed." I was irate.
Here's the thing: I loathe spending time doing things that bear no result. Loathe it. Built into my psyche is the belief that I should be able to make time work to achieve my goals. When I can't, I feel robbed and violated.
So I - not technology woes - I am the real problem.
It seems like it's pretty hard to go anywhere lately without hearing talk of the current economic downturn. Even though part of my New Year's resolution was to reduce my daily intake of news, people are talking about it at church, at work, even at the little deli I shop at every morning. Christian universities have tightened budgets and implemented temporary hiring freezes. Churches and non-profits are buckling under the strain of reduced donations. According to one expert, churches alone will experience a 3 to 6 billion dollar loss in expected donations over a single quarter.
In a survey posted last month, The Barna Group reported that two out of every three families, including over 150 million adults, have already been affected by the economic downturn. By the time the economy starts to turn around, most of us will know someone affected by the recession - friends and family that have lost homes, lost jobs, lost hope. For many, what once seemed so stable was not so firm and sure after all.
The stark realities of the current economic crisis have caused me to think deeply about other kinds of recessions we face as believers - specifically the emotional and spiritual recessions that are an inevitable part of the Christian life.
The theme of my life and ministry seems to be MORE! That is, God has more for each of us. I can go way back in my walk with God to see his more.
Since I was eight years old I had wanted to be a writer and then a magazine editor. When I joined Campus Crusade for Christ staff, I gave up that dream - wanting God's will more than my dream. Two months later I was asked to begin working on Collegiate Challenge magazine. That began fourteen years of writing and magazine editing - for God and his kingdom. What he had planned, and the eternal value of it, was so much more than I had dreamed.
Or I can go to the past few weeks. The primary focus of my ministry has been our staff women. I love encouraging them and challenging them to believe God for more. But sometimes I miss working with young believers. Lately, not only have I had the privilege of watching my new sister in Christ, my daughter-in-law, Brandon, learn and grow, but my husband Steve and I are helping to plant a church primarily for college students and recent graduates. Every Sunday evening I am talking to another young woman about knowing and trusting God. God has more than I was expecting!
For the final day of our Devotional Journey, Laurie McIntyre writes that what growing Christians need is not a new idea but a commitment to put into practice what we already know. This commitment, she writes, is similar to trying to lose weight. Laurie says,
"I liken it to the multi-billion dollar dieting industry?Those of us who struggle with unwanted pounds are always on the lookout for some new strategy, breakthrough method, or even the ever-hoped-for magic pill that will melt the pounds away and somehow eliminate the hard work of denying ourselves and hitting the gym. In truth, there is no easy way and no one can do it for us."
Her bottom line: There are no shortcuts to spiritual intimacy with God.
It's not often that I laugh out loud in the opener of a devotional. But Angie had me laughing. I mean, isn't her image of the "ideal" Christian woman dead on? The coffee. The nook. The light streaming in. It's the way I imagine it should be too.
But like Angie, it's not at all the way my life looks. Frankly, I've found much of my spiritual formation has come out of the crazy and the chaotic - and not quite the peace and tranquil. Which is not to say my spirit has been formed a better way because of it. It's just the way my life is right now.
I can definitely relate to Kirsten's beautiful narrative today. In fact, this story is really just a continuation of what I wrote about on Day 2 of our Journey. If you'll remember, I confessed to you that I was a perfectionist and ball of nerves when it came to academic achievement. I'm not like that anymore, and here's the brief story of how that came about:
I attended a reputable and challenging Christian college and spent my freshman year miserably battling insomnia, anxiety attacks, and general sadness and disappointment. I did get my straight A's, and yet was deeply unfulfilled. I was doing exactly what it seemed my life was building to, and yet had never felt more lost, and never had God been so silent.
It's so typical that this is the entry for today. A day - if you must know - that has already been filled with "tasks" - one of which happens to be to write an entry for our shared devotional journey. (If you're just joining us, click here to download the FREE devotional booklet.)
In fact, in the 20 minutes after I sat down at my desk, I was cranking: I responded to five emails, confirmed a speaking date, revised a schedule for this blog, and written notes for a new book proposal. Once I checked those off my little to-do widget on the side of my screen, I headed to the devotional (I'm a day ahead of you guys so I can have this up in the morning. I probably wouldn't beat a lot of you out of bed otherwise!). It took no further than the title to convict me.
Boy, I know what this one is about. I have fallen into this trap repeatedly. Maybe it's because I grew up in a pastor's family and constant unquestioned service - filling whatever roles weren't already filled - was a way of life. I still tend to see a ministry opportunity or need and ask myself, "Could I possibly do that?" rather than "Should I do that?" or "Am I the best person to do that?" or "Does God want me to do that?" or "Has God gifted me to do that?"
That question - "Could I possibly do that?" - almost always leads to "Yes" and to a bad experience.
Like the time when I volunteered - out of guilt - to serve as cook for a high school retreat when I was 8 months pregnant. Could I possibly do that? Yes. Should I have done it? No. I don't possess any of the gifts needed for effectively serving in that role: hospitality, service, preparing food, making kind-hearted conversation with surly teenagers while my hormonal condition made me want to smack them, spending two sleepless and painful nights sleeping on the floor while my nearly-born youngster kicked my ribs and stomped on my bladder. No, I don't have those gifts. Bad experience.
Today's devotion, "The Sin of Humility" (available by clicking here if you're just joining us) got me thinking - more than reflecting. Particularly because Heidi writes that she believes men may lean more toward the sin of pride and women more toward the sin of humility. So I'm busy here thinking backward and forward in my own life and my own experiences to see if that's true.
And I don't know. While I'm certainly not a boastful person - I don't walk around trying to convince other people how great I am because of my achievements (or at least, I HOPE I don't), I wrestle with pride - no doubt about that! When I do something well, I feel great. I start thinking it's more my doing than God's and all that bad stuff. When things are swimming along for me accomplishment-wise, I get happier in that all-puffed-up-with-my-own-greatness sort of way. So there's that.
The topic of today's devotional, intellectualism, has been hotly debated among Christians for centuries. The debate is not new to me. I was baptized Lutheran, went to Episcopalian churches as a child, a nondenominational church as a teen, a Reformed college for my freshman year, and an Assemblies of God school for missions. As a result, I've experienced a wide range of opinions and biblical teachings on the importance of an intellectual faith.
I'm just going to jump right in with and say this in response to today's reading, "The Heart of a Servant Leader": I'm a gung-ho, work-hard, give-it-all-I-got kind of leader. But if I look at the state of my heart - as Jaye suggests we do - I'm not such a hot servant leader. More of a struggling servant leader.
This is not to say I don't "aim to please" - because I do, actually. But mostly that pleasing is less about serving than it is making people like me - or think better of me. God included.
So, one of today's questions asks, "What non-servant heart attitudes do you need to confess?" For me, it's really that in my leadership I focus more on my abilities and results and on what people think of my efforts than the people I lead and the One whom I serve. And that's not right.
Speaking of work and the workplace, we now have scientific proof that one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch. A recent episode of National Public Radio's "This American Life" featured researcher Will Felps, who identified three types of bad apples (below) when it comes to group dynamics. He hired an actor to play each of the parts below and surreptitiously placed him in motivated small groups working on a business project. After you've been thinking about your work today, see if any of these types sound familiar:
When I was the editor of Marriage Partnership magazine, I used to tease my husband: "You know I'll never leave you, Babe. It would kill my career!" While I wouldn't have left him anyway (love that guy!), I have to admit there was an ounce of truth to my joking. I mean, how much of an advocate for marriage could I have been if I were to have thrown in the towel in my own marriage?
But I didn't have to throw in the towel to doubt my effectiveness as an advocate for marriage on those days (weeks or months) when our marriage was less than stellar.
That's why I liked this set of Reflect questions from today's devo: "Have you felt pressure to present an exemplary, ideal marriage to those you lead? How have idealistic ideas about marriage had a positive or negative effect on your relationship with your spouse?"
It's Day 4. Are you starting to notice any themes in these Bible studies? One message I've noticed cropping us it that we are to fix ourselves solely on the Lord and not his work. Being spiritual and holy is all about "to be" instead of "to do." Consider these excerpts:
Day 1: "Our sole focus should be on the compelling beauty of our Lord, and what moves us forward is only our desire for him. So my advice is: don't seek an improved spirituality, or even a better prayer life. Just seek the Lord Jesus Christ, and keep your eyes on him."
I'm acutely aware of my need for God's help in loving others. Some people seem specially gifted and naturally inclined to love others - even the unlovable. My husband, a counselor, is one of those people. Unfortunately, I'm not. Instead, I seem naturally inclined toward competition, self-protection, revenge, jealousy, and winning at all costs. I sometimes find it hard to love the lovable, let alone the unlovable.
Knowing this, I beg on a daily basis for God's grace to infuse and inform my relationships with others. As all leaders know, every day carries the potential for serious and unexpected challenges in relationships with others, especially those we lead. And God is faithful in answering my prayers and granting me the grace I need.
So in reading today's devotional, I was struck by its reminder that begging for God's help isn't the only way - or perhaps even the best way - to exhibit his love in leading others. In Verses 1 through 3, John establishes Jesus' frame of mind as he sits down to the evening meal with his disciples:
Did you feel like Sally had you in mind when she wrote today's devotion? I sure did. As soon as I read her introduction to today's devotion, I felt like this could be a prophetic nudge from the Lord about an all-too-familiar topic.
Because, you see, I've always been someone who wants to be not only good at things, but distinctively the best. I'm naturally driven and inquisitive, and find peace in lists and accomplishments. My default is please others and follows the rules. This propensity to overachieve easily went in to hyper-drive when it came to school. In fact, the only intentionally disobedient thing I remember doing in elementary school was to sneak into the forbidden teacher's lounge and steal extra homework from the recycling bins. Later in high school, I took high-level classes and worked hard for straight A's. When people at church told me God would take care of all my needs, I would sneer, "Oh yeah? God's going to write this paper for me?"
Welcome, everybody! I hope you're excited about this 14-day devotional journey together. It's not too late to join us. If you'd like to download the free GFL devotional, just click here and follow the prompts!
Okay, so Day 1: "Spirituality vs. Jesus." I don't know about you, but this one hit me. While I've never been the sort to describe myself as "spiritual" when describing my faith, I certainly have fallen prey to this "consumer" mentality of practicing religion that Frederica writes about: "What appears to be very intentional involvement with spiritual things can actually be simply
the taking up of a new beauty regimen." And I'm just about as good as sticking to the practicing of spiritual things as I am about sticking to new beauty regimens. Which - since most of you don't know me all that well - is not very good.
But I love her antidote to this ugly self-centered spirituality - focusing on the "compelling beauty of our Lord." Now that's something that's easy to stick with. Because once you really seek - and then see - the face of Jesus, once you see how he interacted with people, how he loved (and loves!), it IS hard to look away.
One of my mentors tells me, "You have all the time you need to do the things that God has called you to do." I tend to doubt her. I write books and articles, I travel the country to speak at retreats and events. I describe my job as "full-time freelance ministry." I also devote time to building my relationships with my children, my husband, and friends. I lead and mentor and teach at my church. I often feel that I have anything but all the time I needed.
But unpack that statement for a moment. None of us has all the time we need to do everything everyone else wants us to do, or even all the time we need to do the things we think we want to do. In order to have all the time you need, you must begin by listening to the call of God.
No offense, but I'm crossing your name off my list with a big black Sharpie.
I'm not crossing you out of my life—just off my list.
It's not crossing you off because you're unimportant or because I don't care or because I don't think you're cool.
Blackening your name off isn't easy for me, but I've got to do it.
It's not you; it's me.
And I'm not superwoman.
Sorry, but I've got to do this?
Screech? (Sound of Sharpie on paper.)
People often mistake forgiveness for a feeling, but fundamentally forgiveness is a choice, an act of the will. That's why we are commanded to forgive. Forgiving involves acknowledging your own hurt, releasing your thoughts about the violation and giving up the desire to pay the offender back. If you are the spouse who has been wronged, it may seem strange that the burden of this stage of healing falls to you. But forgiving has more to do with the health of your spiritual and mental life than it does with your spouse's. Forgiving releases your spouse from your wrath, but - more importantly - it frees you from the destructive bondage of unforgiveness.
I watched, helpless, as the minivan careened down the hill into a giant tree. The passenger's side was demolished, injuring one of my closest friends. I ran down the hill to see if my friend was alive and well. She was alive but she wasn't well; she was covered in blood where the tree had torn through the vehicle on her side. Someone called 911 and I gave her a cotton cloth to wipe the blood off her body, but since she could not move I had to reach through the window to help her. By the time the ambulance had arrived, her head had fallen to her shoulder, then to her chest, and finally the seatbelt supported her entire weight. She had died; I saw her die.
We had been friends since we were 15. My husband and I are "Nino" and "Nina" (terms of endearment in Spanish for "Godfather" and "Godmother") to her children. I grieved for these children; I grieved for her husband; I grieved for myself.
And then I woke up.
Scripture says to wait expectantly on the Lord. Day after day I did just that as I sat quietly in the early morning with my Bible open to Job and Psalms. I read Scripture and prayed honest, struggling prayers. I was desperate to hear some direction and assurance from God. More than a response to my unanswered prayer, I needed to reconnect deeply with him.
Food, glorious food! It's the time of year for eating. I imagine most of our Thanksgiving turkey gobbled up and the leftovers transformed into dishes like Real Simple's recommendation: turkey barbeque sandwiches.
Food has power over our health. Earlier this week my husband, Dale, re-lived the poisonous side of food. His favorite meal, pizza, was ruined. It was, unfortunately, during the wee hours of the morning, at the start of our long drive from Los Angeles to home in Colorado. The food poisoning he experienced completely overhauled his body, leaving him weak, annoyed by the embarrassing inconvenience.
Food has power to unite us. Earlier this year Dale and I started a house church with another family. We have three rules, we eat together, we pray together and we share spiritual and financial resources together. The church has since doubled in size. Every week we rotate who will host, who will provide the main dish and who will cook up our "soul food." So far, I've learned more about how to follow Jesus, more about love and unity than I've learned in years spent in my church pew. Even the kids participate.
I have this weird rule for myself. It is one that requires great discipline and mental fortitude. Here it is: I refuse to listen to any Christmas music before Thanksgiving weekend. Okay, this may not seem very ambitious to you, but have you tried doing this in our society? We laud the wonders of the Starbucks gingersnap latte (whatever happened to the gingerbread latte, anyway?) before Election Day has come. And after Halloween, I find it impossible to walk through any department store without being inundated with baubles and festoons of holiday delight. These obstacles make my no pre-yuletide music rule difficult.
Why does our culture feel the need to jump into this season immediately after we finish trick-or-treating? Well, quite truthfully, preparing for Christmas is fun! I love getting swept up in the flurry of preparation. The hustle and bustle of shopping, cooking, eating, and longtime family traditions—in their best moments—make us joyful and nostalgic.
This period of expectancy is exciting for all who celebrate Christmas but especially for us as Christians. We anticipate the delights of Christmas and most importantly await the birth of our Savior, the mystery of the Word made flesh.
My friend and I sat on my patio, drinking tea and catching up with life. She had just moved to a new situation, away from familiar work, beautiful spaces and valued friends, and she was experiencing the exhausting emptiness of a job that was too full, a context where she felt undervalued and a place where friends were not naturally found. The tears filled her eyes as she spoke of her weariness, her disillusionment, and her anger. My friend is a fighter: she wants to right wrongs for herself and others, she wants to demand a human pace and human respect. She wants to know and be known. And she has been fighting hard for what she wants.
After the first cup of tea, I offered her this observation from Dorothy Sayers. "Life is not a problem to be solved, but a medium for creation." And I suggested, "Perhaps it is time to drop your sword and pick up your paint brush."
And we were off, exploring the internal battles that we so often fight with others even when they never experience the swordplay in our souls.
Almost everyone I know loathes moving - the packing, hauling, unpacking, and inability to find anything for days. It's no fun. Still, moving is part of virtually all of our lives. More than 40 million Americans move each year, and about a quarter of these undertake a significant, out-of-state move.
My father was a businessman employed by an international company, so when I was a girl my family made overseas moves every few years. "When you're new to a country and don't speak the language well," my father said, "you lose your personality. Your humor, intellect, interests - you can't communicate any of them." I experienced this firsthand during a college summer spent in Germany and found it one of the most frustrating parts of being a foreigner.
Having just moved my own family across the country, however, I'm seeing that the loss-of-self experience doesn't only apply to foreign moves and language barriers. It's part of the process of being transplanted. I'm used to the people in my day-to-day life knowing me - my personality, views, character. But suddenly they're all are invisible to those around me. Of course they emerge as I form new relationships, but it's a plodding process that requires time. And the months of establishing community and a life can be lonely and draining.
In 2 Corinthians 9:7 Paul says we should give what we decide in our hearts to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver. This verse is often applied to financial giving, but I believe it applies to any resource we give away - our time, or energy, or skills. I recognized that during a season of over-extension, most of my "gives" had been reluctant or under compulsion. I felt I had to help, had to serve, or had to solve the problem. But when we attempt to give what we do not have, we cross a boundary. We trespass into joylessness.
A few years back, our local Christian radio station ran a poll asking whether Halloween is spiritually harmful. The response from a predominantly evangelical audience here in Ohio was two-to-one against Halloween. This did not surprise me. It is now popular in some Christian circles to repudiate any celebration of All Hallows Eve - Halloween.
On the calendar of events for the Christian college where I teach, October 31 sits in a dark square with no acknowledgment that there is anything special about the date.
"It's Satan's Holiday, Dr. Rearick," affirmed one of my students. "Didn't you know?"
The Lord helped me gain, deep within my heart, a greater understanding of his nature. He is good. I know there will be questions and struggles in the future. I don't have all the answers, but I feel better equipped to handle the questions.
Earlier this year, I underlined this passage out of Jonalyn Grace Fincher's book, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home:
"We say we want Christ to come in and make us new all the way to the center of our souls, but we really don't let him change this weight on women. We just settle for the feeling that this is our lot in life, hoping for better, but expecting the never-ending struggle with our identity and place as women" (page 180).
After rereading it, I added "really?" in the margin. It might have ended there, if Jonalyn wasn't one of our Gifted For Leadership contributors. But since I kept wondering what this meant for women in leadership, I emailed her. Her answers to my questions follow:
Caryn: You make an interesting point, and in many ways I agree. But as I kept thinking about this, I wondered what you were really saying here. Do you really think we WANT this struggle, this fight?
Growing up in what I realize now was a rather conservative culture, windows into female sexuality were pretty limited. I never saw a woman lead worship though I heard plenty of soprano solos, which I assumed was what a woman should sound like. My chocolate contralto felt odd and out of place. I didn't know any women with male friends without brow-furrowed conversations about boundaries and inevitable temptations. I wondered if I should question the profoundly nourishing relationships I had built over the years with members of the opposite sex. I have distinct memories of quilted Bible covers, Proverbs 31 plaques, and row upon row of books about praying women, strong women, bad women, beautiful women?you get the picture. All of these things fit neatly into Category A.
Then there was my mother: confident, beautiful, sensual, and ambitious. Mom knew which rules to break and which rules to bend if you wanted to get ahead. I often felt like a sloth in light of her clear-cut goals and pragmatism. The first woman to attain an executive management position at a luxury hotel in our city, she was a leader in a man's world. She was not afraid to use her beauty or her brains to move ahead. As a young girl, I remember watching the tender parts of her become calloused as she maintained what people called a "man's perspective" in business. It was here that I established Category B.
As a little girl I had a Barbie doll. Not one of the many derivatives of Barbie made today, but the very first Barbie. She was made out of hard plastic and had heavily painted eyelids and impossible physical proportions. She had a wardrobe that included a perfectly miniature snap on bra. I loved her. She was perfect.
Like most girls in the 1960s, I played with her for hours. I dreamed of someday growing up to look like her and have her clothes, complete with my very own snap on bra. I wanted to be her and I was certain that being her would make my life perfect, and therefore I would have peace and contentment.
Needless to say I didn't grow up to be Barbie. At four foot eleven I didn't even come close to her stature let alone her bra size. And you can forget about her waist!
But growing up admiring my perfect Barbie and other "perfect" things took its toll.
[S]he who has never hoped, can never despair.
--George Bernard Shaw
It seems we can't have one without the other - hope and despair. But truth-be-told, we don't want that package deal. We're afraid to hope precisely because we do not want to know despair, pain, suffering, disappointment. We work to keep our hearts intact and (hopefully) despair-free. This kind of tentative hope though, has profound impact - on our identity, our relationships, and our actions.
Tentative Identity. Have you noticed how much easier it is to name your sins, failings, and deficiencies, than your beauty, talent, and desire. We dare not speak with hope about or for ourselves. It's self-centered and presumptuous, isn't it? So we compromise. We tone ourselves down. We rarely acknowledge our deepest longings because they create potential for disappointment. We can't dare to believe that we can be, offer and do so much more. We still hope, sort-of, but only tentatively.
Remember the song Ado Annie sings in Rogers and Hammerstein's musical Oklahoma? "I Can't Say No"? Some of the lines go like this: "I'm jist a girl who cain't say no; I'm in a turrible fix. I always say, ?Come on, let's go,' jist when I orta say nix!" The song's about relationships, or physical intimacy more specifically, but I think a lot of women who don't have a problem saying no to men can identify with Ado Annie's dilemma because we also like to say yes. We say yes to other things, though: yes to people, to church, to responsibility, to requests for favors, to real and imagined needs.
It feels good to say yes because it feels good to be needed, and it feels even better to be able to respond to those needs.
If I say, "vegetable farm," do you think, "passion"? My friend Michelle does. She's a P.R. consultant to a prominent company, and her husband is an engineer. But responding to God's call, they're trading in their jobs and corporate incomes to take over her family's vegetable farm. She loves whole foods, natural living, cooking ? a perfect fit. It's a great example of how God can use and work through our passions for his purposes.
In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren defines passion as the "bundle of desires, hopes, interests, ambitions, dreams, and affections you have? what you love to do and what you care about most."
Our passions are customized gifts to us from God. We feel alive and fulfilled when we engage in them. And through them, we meet and revel in God. When we embrace our passions and live them out well and to God's glory, we display him to the world. And conversely, ignoring or minimizing our passions disserves God, ourselves, and the people in our lives.
But what about when we O.D. on our passions?
The house was perfect. The four-bedroom tract house in a kid-friendly subdivision was what our family needed. I loved the retro-feeling kitchen with the big window that looked out at the backyard, and our children were thrilled that the chain-link fence all but guaranteed them a dog.
The one thing that concerned me was the three-foot concrete statue of Mother Mary standing in the overgrown flowerbed in the back of the property. Don't get me wrong, I like Mother Mary. My Catholic upbringing taught me to respect her and, before I became Protestant, pray the rosary. I just never imagined her concrete likeness standing in the middle of my Black-eyed Susans.
After negotiating price and repairs with the sellers, we happily approached our moving date. But we left the closing table in tears when, as we sat across from Joseph and Jouella, the former owners, we realized that our new home signified a beginning for us and an ending for them.
Earlier this summer, my husband, Rafi, was the target of a series of blog "attacks" (Is there a word for this? Blattack? Blogack?). The raging blogger was a woman who wasn't thrilled that Rafi had written letters to the editors (yes, he is one of those people) of some local papers offering a version of a presidential candidate's closed-door event (which they both attended) that differed drastically from the one she had shared with the press.
While I understand that no one likes to be called a liar (although he never used those words), this woman got angry and mean in a hurry. All of a sudden, we were getting emails from friends and acquaintances who had stumbled upon her off-color put-downs, name-calling, and taunts in various blogs across the web.
Rafi was nonplussed, finding it all mildly amusing. But while he was able to laugh it off (like when she misspelled words in the midst of "accusing" him of not being able to read or speak English as the reason he was so clueless), I had a harder time. After all, this was my husband she was trashing. When people go after my family, I get very mama bear.
Do you do Facebook? Are you LinkedIn? What about a MySpace page, do you have one of those?
I have to admit, I came into the whole social networking scene a little late. I only started a Facebook page this year (gasp!). I honestly just didn't feel like I had the time or energy for it. But after much peer pressure, I gave in. And of course now that I have one, I enjoy spending time on it - putting up my favorite books and movies, playing Scrabble, posting photos, keeping up with friends, and even finding some old high school friends I'd lost track of.
I often wonder about the draw of social networking. Just what is it that's made the whole thing so popular? I mean, sure, there's the "social" part of it - seeing what your friends are up to, communicating easily with them (even over long distances), finding out interesting insights about them. You feel connected and like you're part of?well, a network of friends.
But I also think part of the appeal is the opportunity to define yourself. These spaces are all about personalizing. You get to choose your friends, your games, your applications. You decide what you want to display and where you want it displayed. On MySpace, you can even choose from hundreds of backgrounds - making your page as colorful, eclectic, or artsy as you want it to be. As you consider yourself to be.
What a relief to know I no longer need to fight this battle myself, since the Lord stands ready, willing, and able to conquer my sin through the power of his Spirit. "The Lord is sovereign, and we cannot add one inch to our stature, physically or any other way," a good friend recently reminded me. "He guides us every step and his ways are perfect. It has nothing to do with us!"
Eleven women huddled on the paint-chipped picnic benches of a state park about an hour away from their homes. It was a beautiful day, and we all looked with anticipation on the 24 hours that would follow. Once a year I take our Children's Ministry Staff away on an overnight planning retreat to prepare for the coming ministry year. They were ready to have fun, ready to brainstorm ministry initiatives, probably even prepared for the leadership training they knew I would include as part of the retreat. But were they ready to hear from God?
I could sense their hesitation as I explained how we were going to begin our retreat. It wasn't that they didn't want to participate; it's that they were afraid it wouldn't work. One told me later, "I just knew I was going to have to come back to the table and make something up because I doubted I'd really hear something from God."
See for the last few weeks I'd been thinking about the phrase, "The Word of the Lord." Sure, most times when we come across that phrase in Scripture it refers to the written Word, but I was thinking of the instances when that Word came as some sort of vision or audible voice or recognizable presence.
Matthew 5:42 says, "Give to those who ask, and don't turn away from those who want to borrow."
That seems easy enough. Most believers are happy to give to those who have the courage to ask. But what should your response be when the need is obvious, yet the request is unspoken? And, how do you follow Jesus' command to meet the needs of others when you can barely meet your own?
I asked myself those questions while buying diapers at a local grocery store. A few weeks prior, my husband and I had moved with our six-month-old son to center city Philadelphia to begin a new church and "save Philly for Jesus!" Brad and I were young, in love with the ministry, and felt ready to serve God in a radical way.
In short, we were passionately clueless.
Whew! I'm tired.
All day today I helped with the renovation process at an elementary school not far from our house. My husband has been there all week, and today I left my desk and my computer and joined him in the labor.
And I'm tired.
Now, I'm not new to the construction world. My parents own several rental properties, and when I was a kid, I often spent weekends and summers helping my dad paint, build porches, and just generally fix whatever needed fixing. And a few weeks after Mark and I got married, we started our first do-it-yourself project. One that spawned six years of almost non-stop home projects: including the complete renovation of an old home from the studs out.
Of course, as familiar as I might be with a construction site, I am an editor. I did not choose a career as a builder. But I have to admit - as much as I love what I do - sometimes I just want to shut off my computer, slide my chair under the desk, turn out the lights and go build something.
Do you ever feel that way?
Two nights ago, I set my kitchen timer for five minutes, sat in a lawn chair on my deck, and stared at the stars.
This was my feeble attempt at self-care, something I'm trying to incorporate into my life. Nearly two weeks ago, someone challenged me to engage in some intentional self-care, in a way that made me feel slightly uncomfortable. I'm surprised at how difficult it was for me to find a way - and make the time - to do this.
You may be in a period of deep questioning right now. A new year is beginning. Perhaps your children are going to be starting school soon. The summer wasn't near what it could have been, that dream of family closeness never achieved. Perhaps you will be changing jobs or ministry positions. Yet, what should be a time of adventure - of new possibilities - feels oddly leaden and life-less. Maybe you're in the same old place - in your job, your marriage, as a single parent, or as a single human. The routine has become deafening and stifling, just as God is becoming more distant and unreachable.
We all know that speaking too quickly isn't the best idea. "Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him," says Proverbs 29:20. A quick reply is usually a thoughtless one, and often the words we speak are later regretted.
But what about taking a lot of time before replying?
There is such a thing as ?rehearsal' for a conversation - I frequently catch my husband in the act. We'll be tidying the kitchen or driving in the car, and I'll notice his lips moving as if he were speaking - only he's silent. "Who are you pretending to talk to?" I'll ask him, and he'll cough up the imagined conversation partner and topic.
I do this too, minus the moving lips. For me it goes like this:
After the divorce, I moved in with my parents for financial reasons. Their yard was dotted with tall trees where birds performed tiny morning symphonies outside my window. Every evening I watched the sinking sun light up their lawn with a golden glow. Somehow, admiring the strength of their huge oak tree gave me incredible comfort. Life did go on - leaves fell, birds sang, squirrels rummaged. And as each day passed, I realized I could go on, too.
I have a neighbor who is obsessed with the size of my house. Every time we visit it comes up. At first I thought it was just me observing something weird, maybe imagined, but then she said something to my husband and his head is on straighter than mine, so I knew it really was an obsession. Case in point: Last week we saw her at a local antique shop. "Filling up your big house?" she asked. I didn't know how to reply, so I told her the boring truth. We were there because some visiting family members had wanted to stop by.
So I started obsessing about the whole thing, making up dialogue and back-stories. I wondered if, perhaps, she grew up in a tiny house like my grandmother - four girls sharing the same double bed, wearing hand-me-downs, working for the Woman in the Big House (like mine). I started thinking, "No matter her history, her present house is no smaller than mine; I've seen it. It may be even be larger."
But this isn't about square footage, or even personal history. This is about me obsessing about her obsession, me formulating some caustic response, telling her not to identify me with my house. "I have to go now," I imagined telling her. "I have to spend time thinking about my enormous house." Or, best yet, "Our big house is full, but our monstrous empty new cottage up north is in great need of expensive antique furniture." "That'll get her," I thought. "That'll make her shut up about something that's none of her business." (My sin nature is very evident in my inner monologue.)
Last month I posted a blog about my irritation over a fundraising auction item for "gentlemen" to golf at an all-male golf club. I appreciated all the wonderful, thoughtful responses (even the one saying that said God didn't create men and women "equal." Did men get more of the image of God? Yes, we're different - praise the Lord - but how can we not be equal?) But I digress?.
Over this past month, I've spent time digesting these comments, praying about the issue, and thinking through some possible reasons why an all-male golf club bothers me and yet I'm great with a doctor who only sees women patients delivering my babies. The title of my post asked, "Is Men- and Women-Only Ever Okay?" Of course, it was an over-the-top question, and I absolutely think men- and women-only are often okay - with some stipulations. So I came up with some "guidelines" or rationales for when gender-only events work and when they ought to happen. Feel free to let me know where I'm off-base or what I've missed, but here are four benefits of gender-exclusive events that make them "okay":
1.Privacy. We're talking bathrooms, locker room, changing rooms, this sort of thing. Though some universities and the like have tried the unisex thing here, I don't go for that. Come on; that's just gross.
I don't play poker, but maybe I should. I've got the face for it.
I developed my "poker face" early in life, but my leadership roles have helped me to perfect it. My ability to keep my emotions off my face - and to maintain a steady exterior - has seen me though many sticky situations. Like any skill, this is a tool I can use for good. My emotional control has granted me time to cool off when I otherwise might have blown up at someone. It has kept me from exposing weaknesses to people who might have exploited them to hurt me or my employer. It has helped me inspire in others a sense of confidence they might not otherwise have felt.
But in other ways, exercising this skill is like wearing armor at the beach: it does more harm than good. It protects me from threats that don't exist. It prevents me from enjoying some of life's greatest gifts. It makes me feel unknown and unaccepted. It actually becomes a liability. Sure, the poker face protects me from the vulnerability of letting others know when I feel overwhelmed, inadequate, confused, or simply sad. But it also keeps me from the normalizing discovery that others feel the same way. And it keeps me from showing when I'm happy, excited, and grateful.
Beware of pride. There is always a great spiritual danger in thinking that if in some area we have satisfied a specific, concrete demand we have done everything that God requires. Ten percent is a lot of money to some folks; to others it's not very much. Isn't that one of the lessons to be learned from Jesus' comments about the widow's mite? To suppose that God demands 10 percent - and nothing more - can itself foster a remarkably independent and idolatrous attitude: "This bit is for God, and the rest is mine by right." Likewise, if you choose to give more than 10 percent, you may become inebriated from the contemplation of your own generosity.
Yesterday in our weekly team meeting we prayed again for three people we know who are dying from cancer.
Later that day I received an email requesting prayer for Steven Curtis Chapman and his family as they face the tragic death of their youngest daughter.
Today, on my walk home there was a tiny bird squeaking in the grass - its wing broken. I don't know if it will make it.
Sometimes the world just seems to press in on you; taking your breath away as it confronts you with sorrow upon sorrow. There's no avoiding it, no looking away and smelling the flowers. It's just too awful?and your heart can't take it. You groan for a new heaven and a new earth. This one is just so broken.
130,000 dead in Myanmar. 2 million more homeless.
Over 55,000 dead in China. 25,000 more unaccounted for. 4,000 children orphaned.
Who can stand in the face of such tragedy?
Today I have more questions than answers.
From Hillary to Miley to Condi to Britney, I find most discussion about female role models in popular culture pretty idiotic. There's always some big "controversy" brewing in the media about women in the limelight: Too emotional or too robotic? Way too sexy or too pear-shaped in a pantsuit? Overly assertive or too demure? Too many dates or too many pounds?
Despite all the controversy and chit-chat about prominent women in the media, there's one arena in which pop culture has gotten it right: fiction. In recent years, movies, books, and TV shows have presented us with some amazing female characters deserving of our admiration. In their honest depictions of the complexity of what it means to be flawed and human, these fictional women are as real as it gets. So here's my personal toast to 5 great female characters and the traits that make them work emulating:
There are a lot of myths concerning modesty. One of them is that modesty is Victorian. But, in fact, it dates back way before the Victorian era. It's in the Bible. As long as we've been human we've needed modesty, because as humans we don't just have sex; we also have emotions and vulnerability. Modesty prevented us from being vulnerable with the wrong people. It also protected deep, erotic connections between the right people. When you're young, modesty protects innocence, but when you're older it protects profound connections.
When you forgive someone, you slice away the wrong from the person who did it. You disengage that person from his hurtful act. You recreate him. At one moment you identify him inerradicably as the person who did you wrong. The next moment you change that identity. He is remade in your memory.
You think of him now not as the person who hurt you, but as a person who needs you. You feel him now not as the person who alienated you, but as the person who belongs to you. Once you branded him as a person powerful in evil, but now you see him as a person weak in his needs. You recreated your past by recreating the person whose wrong made your past painful.
Lately, I've been reflecting on the topic of "organization" - living an orderly, well-managed life in every respect. Organization is something that's never been easy for me. I should say, it's something that's never been for me. I go from day to day "reinventing the wheel" so to speak - always trying to discover the best way to keep up with myself and the things I have to accomplish as a busy mom, housewife, ministry leader, freelancer, homeschooler, cook, laundry maid, and whatever else I'm sure I've forgotten.
While I constantly deal with my "management-challenged" lifestyle, I also combat the desire for complete perfection in all aspects of my life at all times. So that makes me a disorganized perfectionist. I suppose this could explain a lot of my troubles.
Holiness calls me to live by faith, not by sight. Because God gives us principles rather than specific rules for living a holy life, his kingdom can be lived in some measure here on earth in all generations, in all cultures, in all times. How these eternal principles are applied will look different in each circumstance, but God's principles never change. One person may be a vegetarian, for example, while another eats meat, yet both honor God (Romans 14:2-3). To live a holy life means I must constantly go back to God for direction on how to live out these principles.
Did you know that April is National Poetry Month?
I love poetry: to read it, to write it, to get lost in the language and the pictures. To savor the fragment that doesn't seem big enough or long enough, and yet it captures everything.
I love poetry, and in honor of National Poetry Month ? and in keeping with the spirit of poetry, a shared, often oral tradition ? I want to share with you a poem that has recently captured me. A poem that startled me with its haunting picture of simple generosity. Here it is:
Jesus and his 12 stinky fisherman friends spent more time at the beach than at a synagogue. Their hillside picnics probably felt more like church than most days at the temple. Every social gathering was a feast of friendship and faith. Even today, a circle of friends - with Christ at the center - is one of God's desires for his church. He continually sows seeds of community, whether we're scheduling play dates or coffee breaks, joining book clubs or Bible studies. Yet too often we rely more on our frenetic pace than on faith-inspiring friendships to serve our souls.
The snow whipped around my home in the Rocky Mountains. The night wind howled and woke me. My husband, Dale, heard it too but in our sturdy home, reliable furnace, and warm comforter we just snuggled closer.
Yet, put me back before electricity, fuel, and birth control and a storm like that could shake me up. I'd be more dependent on Dale for food and warmth, possibly pregnant, definitely cold. And I sincerely doubt I would be a writer/speaker working alongside my husband. This world without our modern inventions affects how men and women interact. Without protection a harsher environment actually segregates women from men.
Let me explain. As David Gilmore of the State University of New York has observed (Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity), in most cultures men must earn and maintain their masculinity through stressful testing. Women are granted safer jobs that allow for the bearing and nursing of children. Therefore, in case of danger, the men may be sacrificed first and are easily replaced. So our biological distributions predispose women for safety and men for risk. Women are essential; men are expendable, as practices in the animal kingdom (one male with a harem) and polygamy indicate. But, Gilmore is quick to assert, men are not naturally noble, nor more eager for the job. Men must be pushed into risk. Boys are coerced, and when required, shamed, into manhood making obstacles and male rites of passage, to prove they are real men.
Susannah Heschel is the daughter of Abraham J. Heschel, an esteemed Jewish scholar, professor, and author. She wrote the introduction to her father's 1962 tome, The Prophets, and begins with these words:
"What manner of man is the prophet?" asks my father in the opening pages?A person of agony, whose "life and soul are at stake in what he says," yet who is also able to perceive "the silent sigh" of human anguish?For my father, the importance of prophecy lies not only in the message, but in the role of the prophet as a witness, someone who is able to make God audible?The prophet hears God's voice and looks at the world from God's perspective.
To make God audible. A message. A witness. Speaking, weeping, wailing, and often raging. All are part and parcel with the prophet's call to utter words on God's behalf - to reveal God's heart to the people.
Heschel continues by saying, "[the prophet] said No to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism. He was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected."
I decided to fast. Instead of giving up food, I eliminated my time stealers for 30 days. I checked my e-mail only twice a day. Computer games were gone. I set limits on the number of programs I watched and refused to turn the television on at all during the day. This forced me to choose a couple of favorite shows, which I watched in the evening with my husband. During the day I popped in a CD and filled my home with my favorite worship music.
As the fast concluded, I looked at what I'd gained. My life hadn't changed, just the management of my time. I still had the same 24 hours available to me each day. I still was busy. I still had deadlines. But I'd uncovered pockets of precious moments that I chose to fill carefully. I spent a portion of my morning reading my Bible and talking with God. I took long walks with my husband in the evening or worked outside with our horses. Because my writing and tasks for the day were complete, I could enjoy these things with a clear focus and without guilt. Several of these "luxuries" I'd often neglected in the past because I had "too much to do" and "not enough time."
Easter is one of my favorite holidays of the year. It's one of those great days that is ripe with nostalgia, with family, and with deepening meaning as I grow older and the clamoring voices grow quieter. I was recently reflecting that it's funny how you can hear a story so many times as a child and yet it can take on a new life and a new voice as the hearer becomes a woman.
This was my experience of Luke's narrative of Mary Magdalene's encounter with the risen Jesus on that first Easter dawn. Perhaps most of us have sat in a Holy Week service or leaned in to some familial storyteller and heard about that Easter morning when Mary arrived at the tomb, her eyes damp with tears, and mistook the Christ for a common gardener in her grief. More often than not, this narrative was mixed in with the many other accounts of eyewitness testimony - some of them charming, some of them fantastical.
Somewhere in the demanding schedule there must be a place for becoming refreshed in spirit. As important as it is to be recognized for what we do, there must be a time - regularly - for the sweeter experience of being loved just for who we are.
Imagine you're Jesus on the ministry circuit, age 32. Where will you sleep tonight? What will you eat? Where along the way can you replace your threadbare tunic? What town should you and your crew hit next week, once you're ready to move on from your current locale? And beyond that, since you know your time is coming soon? What is the end going to look like? Will you make it to the cross? How will you make your point clear to your followers and be sure they get it?
We tend to assume that Jesus, as God, was immune from this line of thinking. But I don't think so. Since Jesus is fully human, he "has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin." (Heb. 4:15) This means that Jesus must have felt overwhelmed sometimes by his life circumstances. He must have wrestled with the temptation to worry. He must have faced moments when he wondered if he could accomplish the work he had to do - in the big ways, and maybe also the small ones.
Feeling overwhelmed isn't a sin, but it is a case of distorted perspective. When we feel overwhelmed, we look into the future and believe that it contains more than we can handle. More demands, more decisions, more stress. As we look past today and live out tomorrow's challenges in our minds, we become fearful.
Should crusaders strive to "stay angry"? It's a bad idea. Someone once said that staying angry is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. If your cause is just, you would still find the energy to fight for it even without anger. You just wouldn't be self-righteous about it. The worst effect of self-righteous anger is the inner damage. It distorts your clarity about your own sinfulness and undermines your humility. Jesus told us to love our enemies and demonstrated it by asking his Father to forgive his murderers. Christians' failure to emulate such forgiveness is one of the clearest examples of G. K. Chesterton's line that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.
When I tell people I'm a recovering alcoholic, I get a variety of responses. Some say, "Good for you!" Others say, "I always knew there was something weird about you." Some Christians say, "Isn't God capable of curing you? Why do you have to label yourself so negatively?"
My answers are simple. I'm neither hero nor victim. I don't deserve a badge of honor for remaining sober. It's merely part of my daily Christian walk. I wish I'd been smart enough to avoid the problem altogether. I pray my children will be.
There is a person in our neighborhood that defies and therefore defines our hustle-bustle culture. He is seen during my normal driving route that takes my son to and from school.
I call him Waving Man.
He is a tall man in his late 30s. Judging by the expression that is always on his face, he was born with an IQ that falls short of society's acceptable standards. His behavior also reveals that he is different. He stands on the street and waves. He waves at the cars that go by. He stands in the same place, next to the mailbox just outside the house in which he lives, usually wearing a shirt with evidence of spilled food just under his chin. He stands there in the fall and when it snows. I have even seen him standing in the rain. Always waving. The first few times I saw him I thought he was selling firewood. Then after seeing him a hundred times I decided he just likes to wave.
Typically, traffic would whiz right by him but today the traffic was bogged down and going slow enough for passing drivers to see him. About three cars ahead of me I noticed something. I saw the driver wave back at the man. Two cars ahead of me, same thing. One car ahead of mine, the woman waved.
Macrina Weidekehr, in her book The Song of the Seed, tells of when she was young how she used to enjoy sending coded messages to her friends by typing letters without using the space bar. Without the spaces the words were hard to decipher. The spaces were needed to make sense of the message. She makes the comparison that the same is true in our lives, "It's the spaces in between that help us understand life."
I have found that one of the most powerful tools God has used to sculpt me in my spiritual life has been solitude, extended times set aside to be just with God. It was nearly 15 years ago that an older woman at the church I attended invited me to join her and others going to a park to spend a half day in prayer. I remember thinking I was pretty sure I couldn't pray for that long, but still, something about it drew me. Perhaps it was the compelling, gentle spirit of the woman who invited me.
As a parent, it seems I spend the vast majority of my day telling my children "no." After consistently receiving this response, they mope and moan until eventually my four-year old reminds me that he deserves certain perks because he "has been a good boy." As a preschooler he already has a sense of entitlement that will carry over into adulthood, as did most of us.
Blame it on our parents, history, or that good old Protestant Work Ethic we inherited, but ours is a culture that believes if you work hard you will be rewarded. We participate in a system built upon incentives, praises, and bonuses. According to the UN International Labor Organization, on average Americans work 1,978 hours per year. This is 100 hours more than our Canadian and Japanese counterparts, 250 more than most Brazilians, and 500 more than Germans. Americans average two weeks of vacation per year compared with Europeans who receive four to six. At the end of this extravagant workload is the expectation that our efforts will pay off; we would be na?ve to miss the reality that our obsession with reward transfers into our spiritual lives.
So how do we lead when despite our best efforts God says "no" to the reward?
I can't recall an election year that has generated more interest and excitement than the current one. One of the "moments" that captured a lot of attention (as well as considerable flack) was when Hillary Clinton, campaigning in New Hampshire, dropped her professionalism and her stump speech to speak simply and transparently from her heart. You can see what happened here.
Looking back on that moment, the senator in her primary victory speech reflected, "Over the last week I listened to you; in the process, I found my own voice."
Whatever the pundits may be saying about Hillary finding her voice in New Hampshire (and many believe it turned the election in her favor), I am personally fascinated by what happened to her and troubled by the notion that it is actually possible for us, like Hillary, to do a lot of speaking, teaching, writing, communicating, not of politics, but of the gospel without finding and employing our own voices.
When I read through our new download for this week, I thought: Great, my first week contributing to Gifted For Leadership and we're discussing one of my nemesis: Self-image. Of course, I suppose I also could have thought: Wow! This must be a God-thing?I've learned a lot about this issue over the past year. Yes, that probably would have been the better way to approach it. So, here we go?
It started last year about this time when I was challenged at a conference to fast from something for forty days. I wasn't taking the whole thing very seriously, until God decided I needed to. And it really was one of those moments when his voice was crystal clear and completely undeniable. Make-up. Yup, it settled like a dead-weight on my chest. I was going to fast from make-up for forty days: no foundation, no blush, no mascara. Nothing.
The downside to our personal pietistic tradition in the Western church is that devotionally minded people can become lost in themselves. My spiritual development should not be just for my own sake, but for the sake of the church as well. It is the church that calls me into ministry, that confirms my ordination. It is the church that Jesus is coming for someday.
The New Testament writers adopted agape as the standard word for love. We think this means that agape must also have some softer meanings besides sacrifice, death on a cross, giving away our possessions, and giving our body to be burned. But agape didn't make the Cross; the Cross made agape. The Cross isn't a subset of agape; agape is a subset of the Cross. The fact that the writers chose agape as the primary, defining word for love in the New Testament, and thus for life in the Christian community, shows how radically the New Testament redefines love from the perspective of the Cross.
It also shows how radically the New Testament defines our concepts of friendship. For Jesus tells his disciples: "This is my commandment, that you love [agape] one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends [philos] (John 15:12?13).
"We will reproduce what we are." That statement, made by Wayne Cordiero at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit 2006, proved to be a turning point for me as a leader. Like most leaders, my type-A, high-capacity leadership gifting has me traveling pretty fast most of the time. If I'm honest with myself, I tend to like it that way. After listening to Wayne's message, however, I'm not so sure God likes it that way.
Hearts at Home started out as a small church event for moms 15 years ago. Now this international ministry that I lead reaches thousands of moms all over the world. The demands for speaking and writing feel overwhelming at times. And if that wasn't enough, I'm a pastor's wife and mother of five. There's a lot to do and a lot of responsibility to manage.
As leaders, we are in the reproducing business. Any leader has influence and influence leads to reproduction in some way. We will reproduce what we are.
I liken emotional healing to a tunnel that links a barren land with a pristine forest. We'll never drink from the forest's mountain spring if we don't go through the tunnel. But most of us feel too afraid to step inside for fear of the dark; and the barren land - bleak as it is - has a staid familiarity about it. The truth? It's dark in the tunnel. The hurt is intensified, especially when we can't see the other side.
When I became a Christian at 15, I clung to the apostle Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 5:17: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" I decided I'd been healed of all emotional wounds when I became a Christian and viewed others who struggled as lacking faith. But my emotional world fell apart in college and I became a struggler. I cried a lot. God sent many friends who simply listened and prayed for me.
In Life Verses: The Bible's Impact on Famous Lives, Volume 2, by F. W. Boreham, the author tells the spiritual journey of William Penn, Quaker, Philanthropist, and founder of Pennsylvania. Son of Admiral William Penn, the younger William was a contemporary of the Puritans. Milton was putting finishing touches to Paradise Lost, and John Bunyan was writing Pilgrims' Progress while languishing in Bedford Jail for his faith. All influenced Penn, but it was Thomas Loe, a simple Quaker preacher who was preaching the gospel in the British Isles as Penn grew up that God used as the catalyst to revolutionize this man for good and for God. Three times their paths crossed, and God used this simple preacher with fire in his bones and the love of God in his heart.
The first time Penn heard the Quaker preach was in Cork in Ireland, the town where Penn grew up on his Fathers' Irish estate. He was 12 years old. His father, hearing that the preacher had the town flocking to his meetings, invited him to the estate to speak to his household. As the 12-year- old Penn looked around he saw a servant deeply moved. He looked at the Admiral and to his amazement saw tears running down his father's face. He wondered greatly about the God that lived in and through Loes, un- compromising preaching and its powerful effect on the people that day.
The second time Loe was used in Penn's spiritual journey was a turning point for him. I can think of pivotal sermons that have winged their way through my defenses and found a resting place in my heart, setting my sails in another direction that I had ever thought I would go. Like sitting in the great Harringay Arena in London as a student, listening to a young evangelist from America named Billy Graham calling the youth of England to find out the plan God had for their lives and do it! The Lord used that night to turn my attention to a world outside mine that needed reaching for Christ.
My wife and I read Psalm 74 last night. It was a strange choice - a break from Advent passages about anticipating Christ's coming. One particular phrase lodged itself in our minds: "Have regard for your covenant, for the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence."
Our minds went first to Rwanda, a country that lives in the shadow of a genocide that killed nearly a million people. My wife, Stephanie, spent time living in Rwanda. She understands better than most the cry for God that goes up from people who are weary of violence. It is a cry that goes up from Darfur and Sudan, Yugoslavia, Kashmir, and many other places. This week, it is a cry that goes up close to home - from Colorado.
In his best-selling book, Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore describes the soul as that which makes us human. "Soul," he writes, "is revealed in attachment, love, and community, as well as in retreat on behalf of inner communing and intimacy?. Tradition teaches that soul is in the middle (between the material and the spiritual) holding together mind and body, ideas and life, spirituality and the world. And it remains patiently in the present, close to life as it presents itself day by day? .
"Care of the soul speaks to the longings we feel and to the symptoms that drive us crazy ? . A soulful personality is complicated, multifaceted, and shaped by both pain and pleasure, success and failure. Life lived soulfully is not without its moments of darkness and periods of foolishness. Care of the soul is not solving the puzzle of life ?it is an appreciation of the paradoxical mysteries that blend light and darkness into the grandeur of what human life and culture can be? . Care of the soul is an application of poetics to everyday life, the re-imagination of those things we think we already understand."
As I read this passage, I couldn't help wonder if our expressions of Christianity could use a bit more soulfulness. A bit more of the "inbetween-ness" and the "patiently present, closeness to life" Moore describes. Does spirituality really need to be so distant and "other"? Does it need to be as we so often experience it in contemporary worship settings: removed from the world, with eyes closed, shut off from everyone else in the room, and shut off from the world?
At a very early age I came to understand that as a female, I was born to follow. "Men lead. Women follow." That's what I was taught. It didn't matter that I was the pastor's daughter, even though PK's are often leader-types. My three brothers each took a turn as president of the youth group at church. Not me. I knew my place. Girls aren't supposed to lead. Even being in the first class of women at Dallas Theological Seminary didn't dislodge me from the conviction that as a woman I was born to follow - follow my husband (if one showed up) and follow male leadership in the church.
Oh, sure, I knew about Deborah, Esther, and Priscilla. But their stories were always accompanied by the explanation that these women were "exceptions." Christian women weren't supposed to get any big ideas from studying their lives. Usually one or more qualifiers followed: They weren't actually doing as much as it seems; they were stepping into a male leadership vacuum and actually were a punishment on the men; this was a unique moment in time and not intended to establish any pattern. So these strong female leaders were carefully set aside as role models for women today.
What surprises me, as I think back over my life, is the fact that having the follower mentality drummed into me was actually a great way to prepare me for the day I would discover God created women to be leaders too. The first and most important lesson in leadership is not being told you were born to lead (or participating in competitive sports), but learning you were born to follow.
Stillness offers me the distinct beauty of hearing God whisper my name, as only he can do it. The words quiet, alone, and undistracted do not describe the vast majority of my waking hours. It is in this mixture, however, that God often makes himself known. God shouts to us through the glories of his creation, but when calling our name, he speaks with a quiet voice.
Living in a world of iPods, cell phones, and CNN, it’s hard to turn down the volume. But going away to a quiet place is a routine 21st-century Christians would do well to cultivate. God treasures these intimate hours with us.
Femininity has gone through the ringer.
I asked a group of Christian college students from the University of Boulder to explain femininity. They used words like catty, submissive, quiet, modest, emotional, weaker and lesser. With such a definition would you rush to claim your feminine identity? Even women like my grandmother who can out-tailor, knit, embroider, cook, clean, hostess, decorate, and shop most women don't like being called "feminine." When I asked her why, she said, "That word reminds me of feminine products." Oh dear.
I remember learning to act feminine. Like when my first grade P.E. teacher told me stop hanging upside down on the monkey bars: "If you are not wearing shorts under your skirt, everyone can see your underwear."
Gossip - that chatty talk about other people's intimate matters - is a favorite pastime around many office lunch tables and water coolers. If asked point-blank, most of us would say gossip is a bad habit, yet our culture treats it lightly. Every day we can access websites, watch television shows, or read tabloids to get the latest scandal scoop on celebrities and politicians. Some websites even send you an e-mail alert on late-breaking gossip. In our voyeuristic world of reality TV, being privy to intimate details of a person's life is socially acceptable.
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about sex - specifically, what does a person's sex have to do with how they function in the world? If we could remove everything we learn about being male and female from the cultures that shape us, would there be any significant differences to what it means to be male and female? If there aren't, what does that mean for leadership? And if there are, what does that mean for leadership?
Many of you are going to run straight to your Bibles to answer the question of sex and difference. Sure, the Bible talks a lot about sex. About being created male and female. But it doesn't talk as definitively on it as we might think. If it did, the site you're on wouldn't have pages and pages of blogs with such fierce and passionate debate about the subject.
From the moment my husband brought home The Dangerous Book for Boys, he and our son have been doing some serious bonding. The premise of The Dangerous Book for Boys is to resurrect some of the classic boy activities of yesteryear - things our grandfathers did as boys that boys today just don't do (like make their own bows and arrows or catch frogs in the creek). Since getting the book, my husband and son have mapped out the battle of Waterloo with green Army men, played an old-fashioned game of marbles, learned to tie sailor's knots, performed magic tricks, and folded the best paper airplanes in the world.
I think my son sensed my jealousy as I've watched this flurry of daily activity. With a serious look on his face, he said, "Don't feel bad, Mom. Maybe they can make a book for you. Maybe they can make The Dangerous Book for Women."
That got me thinking. What in the world would I include in a "dangerous book for girls" (and grown-up girls like me!)?
Last weekend, I marched on the streets of my town in support of the giftedness of women. Okay, so that's a bit of a stretch, but I DID take advantage of one of the most glorious fall days ever to walk the half-mile or so to my church to attend a "town hall" meeting to share my thoughts on women holding the offices of elder and deacon.
As I crunched through newly fallen leaves and enjoyed the warm wind that blew through the cooled air, I prayed - a lot. I asked God to bless my words, to keep my nerves at bay, and to help me speak clearly. I prayed that I be a little bit funny, disarming, yet convincing, and not come off as some raving, fringe feminist hell-bent on empowering women at all costs.
I prayed that he'd help me share my story of my high school catechism teacher (at this same church) who told us it was a sin for women to go to college (what a waste if you're meant to stay home, he said!), and how much it shaped the teenage me when my church immediately barred him from teaching and affirmed and valued my gifts and gender. And I prayed that God would use the men who currently sit on our church's counsel and who will be voting on this issue to hold open the door for the women of our church.
An infestation of fleas in our house. A large, newly identified plantar wart on my foot. A persistent and painful overgrowth of yeast afflicting my seven-week old daughter's mouth and my breast. Welcome to my life last week: invasion of the parasites.
My budding pest situation reminded a friend of the Egyptians' 10 plagues in Exodus when Pharaoh wouldn't give the Israelites their freedom. I heartily agreed. (Meanwhile that same week, my friend's toddler son stuck a coin in her computer DVD drive and killed her computer, her car engine died, and her house was broken into. Oh, and she's eight months pregnant and has raging sciatic pain.)
Why is life so difficult sometimes? We feel needled to death by a thousand aggravations and annoyances sucking the air out of us like leaky balloons. Worse, a patch of frustrating circumstances often generates a doomsday mindset in which we constantly wonder what will go wrong next.
I had been at my job for nearly 10 years when I got the call from my boss. He wanted to know why Helen, one of my co-workers, would be under the impression that I'd used company money to purchase a plane ticket for personal use. As he explained Helen's accusation, I realized where her assumption had come from - I had to fly to Oregon for work, my ticket was on Alaska Airlines, and my brother lives in Alaska. So Helen saw the ticket in my in-box, noticed the Alaska part, and jumped to the conclusion that I was on my way to see my brother using the company dime.
As my boss and I talked through this misunderstanding, I felt myself growing more and more angry with Helen. It was bad enough that she'd gone to my boss without talking to me first. But what really got me was that she made a very serious accusation of immoral - and illegal - action on my part. By the time we hung up, I was livid.
How do we respond when we serve in a spiritual leadership position and face a crisis of faith? During these trials of seemingly unanswered prayer and unrelenting circumstances, we are shaken to the core. This can become so severe that we wonder if we've been betrayed by God himself. We reason that we are doing our best to fulfill our commitment to Christ, but it doesn't seem that he is pulling for us, but instead against us. Unanswered questions nag at our hearts: Is God really who he says he is? Can God do what he says he can do?
For years we have taught others that God is good, loving, and faithful. Now we wonder if it is really true. Besides our inner struggle we realize there are people who look to us as an example during these hardships.
I became fed up and very angry when I faced my own crisis of faith. A profound sense of abandonment settled over me. My prayers seemed distant and hollow. I didn't know what to do or how to how to respond.
Your goal is to "ignite a passion for reconciliation." What do women in leadership need to understand about this?
Women especially ought to take racial reconciliation seriously because we've got sisters all around the world for whom reconciliation is not an option.
What do you mean?
Wherever there has been violence, war, genocide, and atrocities the men have been dragged off, killed in war, and wounded in battle. Sons have been taken from families and left far away from homes in ditches and left for dead. The people who are left to put back the pieces, often after having survived trauma themselves of being raped and having seen their family members killed, are women.
It's true in South America; it's true in South Africa. It's the mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters who have gone to find the dead, who are there who are left behind to rebuild the community, who's there to say, "Let's stop the violence; let's stop the fighting; let's stop the killing. Let's forgive; let's extend grace; let's get on with life." It's those women who bear new children and keep a hope alive.
Every organization has its dominant personalities. Some people simply have a need to control, whether it's the direction of conversations, projects, or entire organizations. Often, these are people with well-above-average skills and intelligence, so they have a fair amount to contribute that is valuable. Their minds work like lasers, cutting through vast amounts of material in a single swipe. While others may be stuck cogitating in a cul de sac of minutia, bright dominants can be the ones who create new paths forward.
It can be frustrating to be around co-workers on the extreme side of dominance. They tend to control their image at all costs and continually offer up whatever they've accomplished for display. They also tend to take up a great deal of emotional space, leaving others with precious little. Having worked with plenty of extreme dominants, I'm also familiar with the feeling of loss: loss of voice, loss of confidence, loss of self. It's as if big chunks fall away - sort of like an iceberg, sheering off its edges as the heat rises.
In August, I wrote about the black hole of fear. The following offers a way into the light:
Several insights of wisdom are helping me to steer away from fear and internal anxiety. One is the fact that I don't need to fear if someone else feels threatened by me. I need to repent, of course, if I have sin that is threatening other people. But if I'm following God's call and someone decides to protest against me, I can keep perspective by resting in the fact that truth itself is threatening. Sadly, some people in the church feel threatened by the truth of who women are. We are women! We are human! We are made in the image of God! We are ezers (helpers; Gen 2:18) designed to co-rule the earth with men! It's predictable, then, that the truth of who we are is going to seem threatening to everyone who believes that it's "not a woman's place" to lead.
Another important insight that I like to hold onto is that womanhood is a gift from God. If any of us women ever feel ashamed of our femininity, that is, if we try to minimize our femininity by distancing ourselves from other women or by trying to legitimize ourselves by saying we're "more like men," then we have fallen into fear once again. It is not the way of wisdom to deny the truth of our womanhood.
We're sleeping peacefully through the night again. Air travel may be fraught with long lines, delays, and inconveniences in the aftermath of 9/11. But once the cabin door slams shut and the plane rolls onto the tarmac, we're back to reading books again, dozing off for in-flight naps, and laughing out loud over comedy re-runs. We're no longer nervously assessing other passengers or having our blood run cold at every thump of turbulence or unfamiliar noise.
Sometimes a fading memory can be a blessing. Sleepless nights and fear of flying can be debilitating. Sometimes, however, fading memories take away too much from us. We may be feeling better. But have we timidly tiptoed away from important questions we're supposed to be asking? Have we politely excused ourselves from wrestling with God when a smoldering Ground Zero compels us to engage?
I once heard a boy brag about his father locking his mother in a room until she repented for "not being submissive." He was my teammate on a teen mission trip to Venezuela. At 16, already harboring anger toward men, it was not what I needed to hear.
The church has not always championed women, and growing up, I suffered for it. Christian girls were supposed to be "gentle and quiet." But, I wasn't quiet. I had things to say - important things. How could I be docile when I had ambitions to change the world? This clash caused deep wounds that are still healing today. It also required me to forgive.
Where do you go when you feel low, empty, spent? When you feel beaten down by your circumstances or just by your day?
At nine months pregnant with our second child, I experience moodiness and exhaustion as norms in my life now. But of course, I have plenty of non-pregnancy-related experience in feeling down too. We all do; we're human. And as women, we often experience our emotions fairly close to the surface - accentuated by a host of hormonal shifts that we encounter throughout much of our lives.
I've found that there are two contrasting responses that I and others often adopt when feeling empty or low - equally unhelpful and both, ultimately, of the Enemy.
In his book, Dark Nights of the Soul, Thomas Moore speaks of both the mystery and necessity of the soul's darkness. I don't know about you, but my usual response to the dark is to switch on the biggest spotlight I can find. Yet, Moore reminds us that a life worth living (defined here as one that is changing ever more into the likeness of Christ) is full of barely-lit places. True transformation is nothing less than a deep alchemy, taking place in dim and murky places.
Read only a few of the Psalms, and you see this theme played out: Disorientation and doubt are gestational to faith. We may think that the certainty displayed in "leading the throng to God's house" is the quintessential picture of conviction. But consider the trust displayed by the downcast and disturbed soul. Enveloped in a seemingly infinite expanse of questions, the uncertain pilgrim stretches forward to know and to see beyond herself. Beyond knowing. Beyond sight. Beyond the tangible. Just as darkness is the womb of being, so it is the beginning of faith. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).
Within the past 12 months, I've been going around in my travels having casual conversations with groups of Christian women and asking them to list the women leaders they can think of who don't seem scared to them. No one ever answers immediately, except to say, "They're aren't any!" Typically it takes about 20 seconds before someone comes up with a serious suggestion.
So I clarified the question: "Can anyone think of a woman who leads both women and men in a sphere that isn't traditionally led by women and who doesn't seem afraid?"
I am married to a jazz musician. I have to admit that there was a certain romantic notion swirling around the thought of life with an artist. We shared a love and study of music, albeit two very different styles. I was a classically trained pianist whose concept of jazz was limited to the elevator variety. He was a be-bop fanatic who thought the Eagles were a group of ball players in Philly. Needless to say, through the last few years we have contributed much to each other's musical universe, but it wasn't until my husband convinced me to study a little jazz piano that my creative world was really turned inside out.
Of course, my first thought was that playing jazz couldn't be that different from how I'd played music all my life. Give me the music and an hour and I'll give you one fabulous jazz piano performance. My husband would discreetly pull at his hair and then gently remind me that I was missing out on the essence of jazz music - that the beauty is in the journey. That sounded like sentimental musical hooey to me, so I would nod and then continue on in the way I secretly knew was best.
Perhaps I do not need to explain at this point why those jazz lessons contributed to not a few tense marital moments.
Mariah is 13. She eschews Harry Potter for everything Tolkien. Just because. When her nose isn't in a book, she's mostly fused to her iPod, but can frequently be found playing the video game, Diablo.
She loves to draw. (Draws tattoos on her dog, Elle). Writes in her journal faithfully. Pages and pages. Avoids social situations as much as possible. Would rather observe than be observed, listen than talk. Seeks out quiet, secret places whenever she can. Has a few good friends, but mostly, Mariah is by herself.
She layers her clothes in odd pairings. Tube tops over tee shirts, skirts over leggings. Jewelry on rawhide. Orange is her favorite color.
Every Wednesday morning Toshiko Yamamoto takes a washbasin and towels to the roughest part of Vancouver, British Columbia. There she washes the feet of women at a drop-in center. Her clients are often infected with HIV or Hepatitis C. Their feet are sometimes dirty and covered with sores or needle marks. The women are almost always drug addicts who sell sex to pay for their next fix.
I inherited an old trunk that sat in my grandma's basement. It had belonged to the generation before, who had used it to bring their possessions across the sea from Sweden. It sits in my dining room. It smells a little musty, but I treasure it as a link to my heritage.
I was thrilled to receive the trunk, but even happier when I opened it and saw my bonus surprise. The bottom was lined with pages of a newspaper from May 14, 1912. I framed these pages and hung them on a wall in my house. Whenever I look at these pages, I find something amusing. They're full of advertisements for remedies to cure everything from kidney trouble to headaches, dandruff, and excessive perspiration. They contain news stories that remind me of the fleeting nature of some of the things that seem newsworthy today. They also remind me that some things never change. But Page 7, the Society page, makes me a little sad.
If you're not thrilled to know that this past weekend, I joined millions of other Harry Potter fans around the globe and sequestered myself from media, friends, and family (well, they were around me) and spent hour upon hour anxiously turning pages to discover the secrets I've waited years to learn, you're not going to appreciate this post.
And if you don't think it was right that I brought my kids with me early Friday morning to get a wristband to secure my place in line at the local Borders so I could snag my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as close to its release at midnight as possible, then you're really not going to like what I write next.
You may want to stop reading right here. (Attention fans: Don't worry. No spoiling ahead!)
I was recently confronted with a former version of myself. I spent last weekend at a reunion of former staff and campers at the Bible camp I attended for nine years and worked at for six. This camp is the place where I learned how to live out my faith. It's the place where I developed most of my most enduring friendships. It's the place where I discovered that I could lead people. More than any other experience in my life, my years at camp made me the person I am today. It is a place so dear to my heart that it physically hurts when I leave.
It was fantastic to spend a couple of days with people I hadn't seen in years. People I'd known as young children were there with young children of their own. I introduced my wonderful husband to the guy I had crush on when I was 17. A woman who had been one of my former campers told me she had gone into full-time youth ministry in part because she wanted to impact students the way I had impacted her. With every hug and remembered story, I kept thinking, This was me at my best - funny, confident, creative.
But in the days since, as I've replayed my conversations with old friends, I've been struck by something:
She sat in the second row. Long brown hair. A high-school look to her, and yet, her eyes belied way too many journeys to fit into a 16-year-old time frame.
I was teaching a class about ministry and dark places. Not so much about ministry in dark places, but about the darkness we and/or our spouses bring with us into ministry. I started the hour by saying, "Unfortunately, I'm qualified to teach this class." (For more about that, see my Leadership Journal article.)
"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ?I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do."
- Eleanor Roosevelt in You Learn by Living
No doubt hardships strengthen us. In my experience, some of the best leaders are those who have come through great difficulty or tragedy and carry the depth of their experience with them. And for those who follow Christ, difficulties do more than build our own confidence. In fact, sometimes we're at our strongest when we don't feel confident or strong or whole. Sometimes it's not about growing stronger but about knowing we're weak.
If you're a mother, you can relate: Between caring for kids, managing the house, and tackling work or other responsibilities, the idyllic quietness of heart and deep communion with God we long for can seem like a mirage, a perpetually unattainable goal. Real life with real kids is seldom quiet, and dedicated moms are hardly ever alone. For us, even using the bathroom can become a family affair! Of all the classic spiritual disciplines, silence and solitude can seem the most unrealistic for a mother with young children.
In many ways these disciplines are incongruous with parenthood. It's not possible to live as a hermit and bond with your children. It's not possible to take a vow of silence and simultaneously supply your children with the verbal affirmation, songs, and bedtime stories they need.
An excerpt from Leading with Confidence, a downloadable resource from GiftedForLeadership.com:
Paul's entire reason for confidence is rooted in the character of God himself - not what Paul did or didn't see going on around him. He's absolutely certain of one thing: God is in control. Period.
This, of course, is a great mystery to us. How does God take into account Satan's fierce, evil opposition, along with the free will he gave humans, and still promise he can work everything together for good?
I have no idea. God never promises I'll understand him, but he does ask me to trust him. Believing that God is sovereign is vital for confident living. We know from all his writings that Paul trusted not only that God is sovereign, but also that his character is faithful and good (1 Thessalonians 5:24). It's critical for Christians to believe this, too. Why?
When God chose to speak to Moses out of the burning bush, it was for a specific purpose. He had a plan for Moses' life, and he was about to tell Moses exactly how to start carrying it out. Once Moses had properly positioned himself to hear from God, the Lord spoke: "I am sending you to Pharoah to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt" (Exodus 3:10).
Moses had hid his face - now he wanted to hide the rest of his body! Though he had made the proper response to God's glory, he blew it when it came to obedience. "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" he asked God.
In "Women and the Church," a new downloadable resource from GiftedForLeadership.com, Jill Briscoe shares this:
"I accept headship as a biblical concept. I also accept equality as another biblical concept. And just as I cannot bring predestination and free will together, I cannot bring headship and equality together, but I embrace them both. And sometimes I model submission to my husband as head, and sometimes I model equality with my husband. Just as sometimes, if I'm in trouble, I'm a Calvinist. And if I'm talking to someone on the plane, I'm an Arminian, because I'm going to lead him to Christ, and I believe he's got a free will. At that moment, I cannot reconcile both predestination and free will. And so my husband, in his headship, makes sure I'm equal, but it's no less headship for that."
Throughout history, women have created ways to bond with each other. Without a whole lot of prodding, we seem to know how to help each navigate the whitewaters of our journeys, how to mark life's passages, large and small, how to listen, and how to simply be present. In the re-enacted rituals of female banter, we explore the intricacies of our relationships and the complexity of our life situations. At our core, we seem to understand that life is predominantly mystery. No, we will never "figure it all out." We will never arrive at the perfect friendship, the perfect marriage, or the perfect anything. But, somehow, that is okay. What we long for is a persistent connectedness as we live the mystery.
But there's a flip side to female bonding. Let's admit it. For some of us, connections with other women don't come as easily as we'd like. We may want to have more women friends, but we've worked long and hard developing certain strengths and we don't want to have to check them at the door. And maybe when we imagine "feminine" bonding, we see "Kleenex retreats" with pink decorations, crafts, and make-up tips.
I succumb to a number of leadership pitfalls. One of those is the neglect of presence, translated: I'm so busy doing the work of leadership that I sacrifice being for doing, and worse, believe the lie that success rests entirely on my shoulders. It is the Elijah syndrome - the overachievement complex - and I have it.
One of the sure antidotes to an unhealthy focus on self-determination is prayer and meditation. But that's hard for a Type A to do. When I finally carve out the time to be quiet, how can I shut off my overdeveloped left brain? I'm either trying to unravel what happened yesterday (making a list of the problems) or engineering the future, making an equally long list of solutions. Yep, that's me?analyzer and a fixer. And enough of a loner that my mantra tends to be "Unless I do it, it's not going to get done." Sound familiar? As if us trees really move the wind.
The image of a dark, overcrowded broom closet comes to me periodically as a picture of my life. All manner of things are jammed in haphazardly, and everything is apt to topple perilously down into a heap when the door is opened.
I am a productive, organized, and fast-moving person; I do a lot and get a lot done in a short time. This is one of my greatest strengths - and almost surely my greatest weakness. It's a weakness because I so quickly turn my capacity for productivity into an idol. My completed to-do list with tasks checked off feels so gratifying that it's easy to find my worth in what I'm getting done instead of in God. The fact that many of the things I am accomplishing are worthwhile, God-honoring activities only serves to mask my sin.
I have exciting news! Gifted for Leadership is now more than just a blog and an e-mail newsletter. As if we didn't have enough excitement around here?This week, we're launching our very first downloadable resource created specifically for women leaders. These short booklets offer collections of expert advice, biblical perspective, stories, practical ideas, and leadership tools to inspire and challenge you.
In a previous post, I mentioned Henri Nouwen's book In the Name of Jesus, which presents a powerful summary of what it means to be servant leaders. Nouwen used the story of Jesus' temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11) to show how we as leaders are tempted, and how we must embrace Christ's attitude of humility and service to others.
Nouwen describes Jesus' second temptation as "the temptation to be spectacular." Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself off the highest point of the temple, making a spectacular scene as angels came to his rescue and accompanied him gently to the ground in the heart of Jerusalem. This would have grabbed people's attention! It would have put Jesus' face on every magazine, newspaper, and blog in the ancient world. He might even have had a call from Oprah.
Each spring, I can't help thinking about a fresh start. In his book, Heart Shift, John Trent retells his conversation with a NASA engineer about tolerances in the trajectories of rockets headed for the moon. The engineer said, "Be just two degrees off from when you blast off, and roughly taking into account the time and distance traveled,?and you'll miss not only your point of orbital entry, but you'll miss the moon by a measly 11,121 miles."
Somehow, in the course of a year, it seems those two degree shifts happen in my life, and I find myself somewhere I didn't intend to be. It seems a good time to "recalibrate" both as a leader and as a follower of Christ.
A leader's life can be lonely. Whether we get paid to lead or not, our role as influencers sets us apart. For better or worse, there is a distance between us and those we supervise. And it is a gap that can dictate everything from our circle of friends, whether or not we seek marital counseling in the same town, to a higher (maybe even impossible) standard of behavior for our children.
Some would challenge the idea that leaders have to be "other." They ask, "Aren't the best leaders those who lead out of their ordinary lives?" Citing the Mother Teresas and Gandhis of the world, they argue that the strongest influence is primarily by example. When leaders can be exactly who they are, that's their power.
As I sifted through a new stack of mail the other afternoon, a cover blurb on the latest copy of my denomination's magazine, The Banner? caught my eye. While the words Healed to Lead weren't compelling enough to make me turn to the article immediately (sorry, Banner editors!), the words intrigued me as a concept. In the midst of the million little tasks that occupied the rest of that day, I kept thinking, How have I been healed to lead?
I thought about the things from which I'd been healed: all those migraines, that horrible bout with mono in college, the broken nose, and, eck, those episiotomies! I had experienced plenty of ailments or injuries that God had mercifully healed, but had anything made me a better leader?
Walk into any Christian bookstore and case the shelves of books on women's issues, family living, and patterns of leadership. You will be hard put to find little or anything written on the role of the mind or the importance of the intellect in developing and maintaining a sturdy, healthy faith in and walk with God. Go to any women's retreat or women's leadership conference. Speakers and seminars appealing to women's hearts and souls and talking about spiritual disciplines abound. Discussion of women's roles as mothers, daughters, single women, keepers of the home, and as home-schoolers dominates the teaching hours. But is there much or any focus on the importance of the mind, of the crucial role that good reading and responsible study play in its development? Is there much mention of becoming an intellectual as well as a spiritual disciple of Christ?
Not long ago, after agreeing to address an audience of Christian leaders on the topic of staying connected to God, I immediately regretted my decision. My deep-seated misgivings did not stem from normal issues of over-commitment but from an insatiable realization that something was wrong with the idea that mature believers needed to know how to stay fresh spiritually. What gnawed at my soul was that we don't need fresh how-to's, but rather a proverbial kick in the pants to do the hard work of practicing spiritual disciplines. Although we cry out for more information, what we really need is more application of what we already know.
I liken it to the multi-billion dollar dieting industry, regularly promoting yet the newest fad in weight loss. Those of us who struggle with unwanted pounds are always on the lookout for some new strategy, breakthrough method, or even the ever-hoped-for magic pill that will melt the pounds away and somehow eliminate the hard work of denying ourselves and hitting the gym. In truth, there is no easy way and no one can do it for us.
Theologians tell us that the quintessential sin is rebellion against God - or pride. The 16th century reformer Martin Luther described pride as "man bent in upon himself." Not unlike the little child who prayed: "Dear God: My dad thinks he's you. Please straighten him out." The sin of pride is thinking too much of ourselves, of thinking we're God. It's the sin from which many of us need to be straightened out.
English pastor and Greek scholar J. B. Philips, who was something of a Eugene Peterson in his day, became a household word with his translation of The New Testament in Modern English (my first introduction to the Gospels as a new Christian over 30 years ago). In his autobiography Philips acknowledges he was at the height of his glory back in the 1950s, experiencing unimaginable notoriety and success when he realized it was all going to his head. He knew it had to stop. Finally one day he prayed, "Lord, make me humble?but not yet."
When I first started observing the Sabbath 25 years ago, it wasn't by choice. My husband and I lived in Tel Aviv, Israel, at the time, and everything in our neighborhood - stores, movie theaters, and restaurants - closed from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. At first we struggled to find activities for Friday evenings and Saturdays. But after a few months, we began to enjoy a day with few entertainment options. We read, we walked, we talked. My husband sometimes went bird-watching in the field near our apartment. I wrote long letters. We napped. Sometimes we prayed together leisurely. We simply slowed down. We rested in God's love and experienced his grace.
Our Sabbaths in Israel became God's gift to us individually, and enriched our life as a couple. Through Sabbath-keeping, we experienced the truth that God's love for us isn't based on what we do. We yearned to keep growing in our ability to receive that unconditional love once we returned to the U.S.
Welcome to Gifted for Leadership! This blog is designed specifically for Christian women who are capable, called, and gifted leaders. Unfortunately, many Christian women in leadership feel alone in their calling. They need a place where they can converse about the issues they face, encourage one another, and challenge each other. They want something different from the women's ministry resources and events that discuss issues unique to women. They want tools that visit topics that are not unique to women, but that approach them from a woman's perspective.
That's why we're producing a free monthly e-mail newsletter (have you signed up?), this blog, and - coming soon - a collection of downloadable booklets. These tools will equip, encourage, challenge, and unite women who exercise leadership gifts in church and parachurch ministry, in business, and at home. They'll also build a community of women with leadership gifts who can challenge and support one another and grow together.
This site is a resource of Christianity Today International, produced in partnership with the editors of LEADERSHIP JOURNAL. I'm very excited to launch this blog and to tell you about our Gifted for Leadership philosophy:
Humans have found their vocal chords. Long silenced by the engineered anonymity of the Industrial Age, homo sapiens are now talking to each other at unprecedented levels. When we can connect globally by phone at the push of a button, when our e-mails can cross continents and language barriers in nano-seconds, when we can blog or pod-cast our most mundane thoughts to the rest of humanity or broadcast the home video of our cat?well, let's just say the world has changed. A lot. From MySpace.com to YouTube to Craigslist, who we are matters.
I don't like the word spirituality. It sounds so external, so optional. It isn't a concept I find in the first millennium, or anywhere in Eastern Christianity. As far as I can tell, what Christians today mean by "spirituality" is what St. Paul meant by "life in Christ."
This is a transformation that every Christian is supposed to be experiencing, because we are all "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). As we partake of the life of Christ and discipline ourselves, seeking to assimilate that life, it affects both our souls and bodies. His light spreads within us like fire spreading through coal, and so we become Christ-bearers to the world. This is such an essential, foundational element of life in Christ that to extract it and label it seems to deaden it.
When I moved to New York, I visited churches for a year. One of the reasons I settled at the church I joined is that it doesn't have a singles ministry. No one asked me to serve on the worship team of the singles service or teach in the singles Sunday-school class; my pastor instead asked me to serve on the education committee. And no one invited me to a singles mixer; instead, I mingle with married friends, engaged friends, widowed friends, and other single 20-somethings at the church suppers on Sunday evenings.
I didn't want to be part of a singles ministry because the majority of my needs don't have anything to do with being single. I need prayer. I need to serve others. I need to be held accountable for my sins. And I figure married people need those things, too. I don't want to be segregated with people who, superficially, are just like me. The eye cannot say to the hand, after all, "I don't need you."