Monday, October 31, 2011

Time to Pray

Ever feel like you are too busy to pray?  Ever feel like a failure at prayer?  Yeah, I know.

Welcome, if you've stopped by after reading my devotion on this published today. Follow that link to read it if you missed it. Then feel free to leave a prayer request in the comments on this post. You know that I will pray for you. In fact, I already have prayed for each person that pauses here today.

In the devotion I talked about one of the realizations that makes the Christan's call to prayer less guilt-producing for me - less like a chore I forget to do or don't do well enough. It's the fact that I don't have to set aside large blocks of time to pray to be effective in prayer.

I can pray without ceasing as the biblical phrase goes.

What does that mean?  I can pray as I go.

Here's my take on it, heavily influenced by John Piper.

What does it mean to pray without ceasing?

1) It means that there is a spirit of dependence that should permeate all we do. So, even when we are not speaking consciously to God, there is a deep, abiding dependence on him that is woven into the heart of faith. In that sense, we "pray" or have the spirit of prayer continuously.

2) Praying without ceasing means praying often. The word for "without ceasing"  is "adialeiptos" and it is used other places like like Romans 1:9 when Paul said he prays for the Romans unceasingly. Surely Paul did not mention the Romans every minute of his prayers. Surely he prayed about other things. So "without ceasing" doesn't mean that verbally or mentally we have to be speaking prayers every minute of the day, but that we should pray often.

Again, not necessarily for a singular long period of time, but often throughout the day.

3) I also think praying without ceasing means not giving up on prayer. We should persevere in our prayers. Don't get to a point in your life where you cease to pray at all. Don't abandon the God of hope for whom anything is possible!

One of the fascinating things author John Piper has said is, "The key to delight is prayer. Or, more accurately, the key to delight is God's omnipotent, transforming grace laid hold on by prayer."

So, I'd be delighted to pray for you today.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Why Not Write?

Do you write? If not, do you want to?

I'm working now on a book project. My friend Ariel is furiously typing away on her novel.  And starting next week tens of thousands of people will begin writing a novel during National Novel Writing Month.

There comes a time in every would-be novelist’s life when most everything else gets ignored while the writer within is finally allowed to flourish. It's called November, or "NatNoWriMo." OK, “allowed" to flourish is probably not the most accurate description. You are pretty much forced to write daily to stay on top of your goal of completing a 50,000 word story in thirty days and nights.

But there will be lots of others forcing themselves to do the same crazy thing. Some every day at 5:00 AM. Others every night after dinner. Others all weekend.  Some even meet up locally throughout the month in their cities. And all that fosters camaraderie on the journey.

I would so jump in on the combination of camaraderie, accountability and motivation at NatNoWriMo and start on my first novel if I didn't have a non-fiction project I'm already in the middle of, with a looming deadline. Not to mention a lengthy trip to the west coast coming up for a speaking engagement.

But none of that is stopping you. Is it?

If you've dreamed of writing a book consider joining in the NatNoWriMo fun. It's free.  And who knows, you might just change the world with what you create.

"You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world.  ...The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way …people look at reality, then you can change it."
 ~James Baldwin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Ever feel like you are unimportant?

Or unremarkable?

"On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor." (1 Corinthians 12:22)

It's common to assume if you don't hold a prominent position or have an obvious-to-everyone talent that you're lacking somehow and unimportant.  That you're overlooked by everyone - even God. 

Not so. You are created for God's glory according to His good pleasure.

"Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." (Isaiah 43:6-7).

My friend Amy Carroll is with a team ministering to women in India right now.  She just sent me a quick update to say:

We finished our first 3-day conference in Siliguri, and it was absolutely glorious--so much more amazing than I even imagined.  One woman approached my friend Peggy at the end and said, "Thank you for making us important." 

Peggy replied with a smile, "God had already made you important, sweetheart." 

The woman said, "Yes, but we didn't know." 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Supersize Dreams

One evening this week at the university I listened to Morgan Spurlock talk about the making of his last documentary "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." Morgan is fascinating and a sharp thinker. 

He's witty too, which I love.

(This is the same guy that made the movie "Super Size Me" - perhaps you've heard of it?)

Besides the fact that companies actually paid money to place their product in a documentary that exposes the practice of placing products in films - it's more extensive than you realize. And besides the fact that no company was willing to do that in Morgan's latest film until some company agreed to do it first. (Ban deodorant got the ball rolling - no pun intended.) Besides all of that, it was a personal story of his that fascinated me most.

When Morgan was trying to get his NY-based film company off the ground he was going in the hole financially month after month. He knew he had some brilliant ideas. And he got nibbles on his projects and pilots but nothing had gone to contract.

He had great credit, so he just started charging everything on credit cards. Business stuff. Personal stuff.  Then he started paying his employees with advances on his credit cards. He racked up $250,000 in debit. Creditors were calling.

That's enough debit to make anyone without the last name Trump a bit nervous.

With new sources of credit drying up and Morgan on the verge of financial collapse, he made "Super Size Me." The film was a huge success - followed by additional successes.

His is a satisfying story because it turns out well. Rather than giving up on his dreams, he was willing to do whatever it took to see them through. What dedication.  What guts. What a success story.

But what if he'd failed? What if he hadn't gotten the idea and/or funding for "Super Size Me." Or what if that film flopped? What would we say about him then? A broke guy with nothing to show for those years.  What stupidity. What an idiot. What a ridiculous story.

We tend to judge decisions - the merit of someone's choices - on the outcome of those decisions.  Good outcome, good idea. Bad outcome, bad idea.

Even his big success generator, "Super Size Me," was an exercise in rather extreme risk. Morgan ate himself sick on fast food just to prove a point and make a movie about it.

What point am I trying to make here?  It's not clear.  I just know I'm fascinated by Morgan's story.  And though it fits the satisfying rags-to-riches genre, I don't really think the wisdom of one's decisions can be judged solely on the outcome.

I'm really glad, however, that Morgan is making films. Have you seen any of them?

(Besides the two mentioned here, he made another documentary called "What Would Jesus Buy?" about consumerism and Christmas.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Do You Take the Risk?

The bride was gorgeous.

The lodge was gorgeous.

And we had a great time with family and friends this weekend in Pennsylvania.

On the long drive back home to NC, I had a conversation with my dad that explained a lot about me. For the first several hours of the nearly 12 hour drive home, my dad was feeling talkative.  We'd pass something and he'd launch into a story. "St. Davids, PA ... I used to live there. Right across from the ball fields at Villanova..."  "Good ole' Baltimore. Lived here too. Looks like the Baltimore Ravens are playing over in that stadium. They were named the Ravens after a famous author who lived here and wrote a famous poem about a raven ..."

Then, as we passed the Delaware Memorial Bridge he casually remarked, "There's the memorial bridge. I once flew a plane under that bridge."

Knowing my dad was a pilot - private, not commercical - this statement sort of slid past me at first. He kept chatting.

Delaware Memorial Bridge

"Wait. Did you say you flew under the bridge?"

Suddenly I saw Kenny Logins' "Danger Zone" video play in my head as I pictured my dad flying like Maverick in Top Gun.

"Yep, under the bridge," he replied. "I saw them do that in that in the movie 30 Minutes over Tokyo. And I knew I'd have to try it myself one day."

I have an internal drive that pushes me to take risks.  Not ridiculous risks, mind you. Calculated risks. It's not there all the time - thank goodness! There are plenty of days I'm content to be in my recliner, under a blanket, surfing the web. Other days I want to kite surf and see how much air I can grab.

Do you ever feel an internal drive that pushes you out of your comfort zone? Maybe it's a personality type thing.

I didn't ask dad if flying under that bridge was illegal, mainly because I'm afraid of the answer. (Note: I do not condone reckless, illegal activity. And no animals were harmed in the filming of this blog post.) Plus my kids were in the car.

I did ask my husband Rick, "See where I get my crazy streak from?"

"I do, honey. At least you come by it honestly."

How about you, are you a risk-taker or risk-avoider?

Do you think there is a certain amount of risk-taking involved in living a life of faith? Can you recall the last time you took what you felt was a sizable risk?

The winner of this weekend's giveaway of "It's No Secret" is Tracy G. Send me your addy, Tracy!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Did You Hear?

Did you hear I have a devotion published this weekend with Proverbs 31 Ministries? About gossip.

Gossiping has left us all the side of wrong at some time or another.

If you stop by here often you might know I read academic journals - I teach communication at a university. One published study on the topic of gossip reported that up to 65% of people's daily conversation could be labeled as gossip. The researchers arrived at this conclusion after much eavesdropping on people's conversations in public places like trains, bars, restaurants and a university cafeteria.

You might be thinking that percentage is lower among Christians. Perhaps so. I hope so! But even cut by a quarter percent, that would make 40% of our conversations gossipy.

The Bible speaks to gossiping or slander quite a few times - like over 100.  Apparently this popular modern habit - with entire magazines and websites dedicated to celebrity gossip  - has been prevalent since the beginning of time.

Fired for Whispering

A few years ago 4 female employees that worked for the town of Hooksett, NH actually got fired for gossiping. People were outraged over that. Good Morning America covered the story. Between them the women had served the town for 46 years prior to this.

Then they were fired for discussing rumors of an improper relationship between another employee and the town administrator.

The administrator complained to the town council. After an investigation, the town council fired the women, saying, "Gossip, whispering, and an unfriendly environment are causing poor morale and interfering with the efficient performance of town business."

These women were shocked to be fired for this. Probably because it seemed to them a harmless act, or at least a common thing to do.  But I'm sure the objects of their gossip didn't think it was harmless.  I'm sure they didn't care how common gossiping is.

Turns out the rumors of the improper relationship were false. (Can you imagine trying to convince your spouse that the rumors are not true when the majority of the town is talking about the affair you are supposedly having?) 

So the women were discussing something about other people that turned out to be false. Just rumors and suspicions. But what if the accusations were true? What if there was an affair going on?

How would that change things? Would that change whether or not they should be fired for discussing it?

Nailing Down a Slippery Subject

What makes gossip gossip?  Is it whether the topic at hand is true or untrue? Or the whether it is known fact or presumed true? Or is it just the fact that the topic at hand is not really any of your personal business?

And when it's your boss, as in these people's case, is it then your business to some degree? What about when your boss is not just your manager but his job means he is also leading the whole town.  Does that change anything?

I'd love to know what you're thinking. How do we know when we're being discerning and when we're just serving dirt?

I'm sure the boss was thinking, Just come ask me if you suspect something wrong is going on. And I'm sure the employees would say in response, "Yeah right, and you'd tell me the truth if you were having an affair? And I'd not be in trouble for asking you that?

Sometimes I think people want to check and compare their assumptions with others before going straight to the source to ask if it is true. That is if they ever do go to the source, which takes courage. And perhaps risk. And should be motivated by a desire for truth in love.

Way too often gossiping is just a form of recreation. Dangerous recreation that seems safe and serves as a bonding point, but is so much more sinister than it seems.  So where's the line between reasonable communication and reckless talk?

I'm at a wedding in the Pocono Mountains this weekend, but I really do want to hear what you think about gossip. Do you struggle to tame your tongue? Have you been burned by gossip? What makes gossip gossip?  And do you think those women should've been fired? 

Comment and you may win a copy of the book It's No Secret.  Here's my promised favorite fall cheesecake.

Getting SOAPY in my Quiet Time

I'm using the SOAP method as I read and journal my way through the book of 1st John. The method is simple but effective.

Ever notice how the simple approaches to Bible reading or Christian growth can often be the most effective? I think sometimes we make it too complicated - and then we avoid doing it, assuming it too trying or too time-consuming. It doesn't have to be.

Here's how this method works:

  • Write out the Scripture.
  • Write down 2 or more Observations from the passage.
  •  Write down 2 or more Applications from the passage.
  •  Then Pray in response to what you read or learned.

That's it. Take a verse or two from whatever passage you are currently studying and try it. If you're not currently studying anything in the Bible, join me and these girls in the book of 1 John.

Wondering what I took away from my journaling time through the first four verses in 1st John?  Here are a couple of "bottom lines" I wrote:

Life is Jesus. Jesus is the Word of Life. If I want life, I want Jesus. And if I want Jesus, I want the Word of God. So if I'm thirsting for life, I'm thirsting for the Word of God. (1 John 1:1-2)

Christ is the Good Life. (1 John 1:1-4)

God has been impressing that last one on my heart - over and over for a couple years now.

What has the Bible been teaching you lately?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Help me fix this please.

My to-do list is kind of long today. I have work to complete. A cake to bake. Writing to do. Nails to paint. Pants to try to save. A grocery store run to make. Packing to begin. A Bible study lesson to complete for tonight. Emails from my college students to respond to. A retreat I'll lead next weekend to prepare for. And several errands to run as I get ready to leave town at the crack of Friday morning for a family wedding this weekend.

Oh, and I still don't know what shoes I'll wear to the wedding.  And I need to wrap the wedding gifts.

I like to be productive, but when my daily must-do list grows larger than about 4 things, I can get a little uneasy.  I usually head for the kitchen to swallow a Stress B-Complex vitamin.

I forgot to take my vitamin today so I found myself a few minutes ago just staring at the website of the resort we're heading to on Friday. I wanted to crawl through the screen it felt so peaceful. And nice music plays. The kind of piano playing that grabs you by the soul and whispers relax.  Not quite as lovely and soothing as the sounds that play at Ann's blog, but almost.

So I'm hoping maybe you can help me with one of the items on my to-do list today: Pants to save.  Rick has a great black suit with a really subtle micro-stripe to it.  Perfect for the wedding. (Plus I hate the color of his other suit - shhh don't tell him that.)  But he wore the black suit a couple weeks ago and then threw the pants in the wash.

The dry clean only pants.

They aren't totally ruined. Even though they are 100% wool, they didn't shrink. And they aren't puckered much at all. But they do now look a little less less shiny and smooth. Not majorly so, but enough to notice if you are really looking at him with the jacket on too. So ladies, is there anything I can do to these suit pants to make them look more smooth like the jacket? Any laundry product I can use?  Spray starch?  A cool iron? Should I take them to the dry cleaners and have them pressed? 

Will vinegar and baking soda work? Every household cleaning, Real Simple type article claims you can fix anything with either white vinegar or baking soda. :)

Clearly I need to hear your best advice.

Monday, October 10, 2011

October Reading List

I'm in the middle of a busy season. Lots of speaking events, lots of writing assignments and lots on the family calendar.  So my reading time is somewhat limited at the moment. But here are my current selections:

Fiction: The Baker’s Wife

Non-Fiction: Do More Great Work

(I'd like to buy the Evernote Essentials eBook but the steep $25 price is stopping me. Anyone read it?)

Bible: the book of 1st John

What are you reading? Is there something I should make room for on this list? Do you think me crazy for reading a Christmas ebook in October? If so, you might just need this ebook! :)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How I Learned (to Like) to Cook

In my devotion published this week, I mentioned that I had learned to cook and to like cooking.
If you wish you could experience that same transformation, read on. Maybe I can help. Or at least give you hope.

Growing up, both my parents worked. I'm told my mother went through a gourmet cooking phase before I was born. I never saw it. Or tasted it. And since my mom died early, I never learned it either. Mom's dinners usually consisted of supermarket fried chicken, or maybe Stouffeurs' lasagna and salad.

I married young, and went straight to grad school where I had classes many nights until 10 PM.  Dinner usually consisted of jars of Ragu or Old El Paso dinner kits. Cooking seemed like a chore - a chore often solved by restaurant dining - and honestly, I wasn't all that good at it.

The cooking, I mean, not the dining. I've always excelled at dining.

I had very little cooking knowledge or intuition. My knife skills were dismal (still not great). And I burned myself multiple times a month. I couldn't figure out how people thought this was fun. I assumed I just didn't have the domestic cooking gene.

Then I met a couple friends who checked cookbooks out from the library and read them for fun like novels. Whaatt?? They planned days in advance what they'd make for dinner. I reluctantly gave it thought each day around 5:00 PM.

One night I spent the night with my girlfriend Christy - author Charles Martin's wife and a great cook - while our husbands were out of town together. The next morning she wanted to watch Martha Stewart's show.  Martha was cooking with cranberries. I'd never seen a whole episode before, or a whole cranberry.

I decided there MUST be something to this cooking thing that I'm missing. And then I started reading in Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes talks a lot about food and drink and pleasure. It warns us not to base our life on such things, but it also advises us to learn to enjoy them in light of God who grants enjoyment.

So I made that my goal for a year. 

I read about the Slow Food Movement. And that year I chose the word SLOW as my one word.

Here's what I did that year:
  • I watched the Food Network, often.
  • I started looking at cooking books, though I still don't enjoy them as much as novels.
  • I went to cooking demonstrations at Williams & Sonoma
  • I found that a few cooking classes can make a big difference.
  • I read foodie novels and foodie memoirs such as A Homemade Life.
  • I began following the local foodie scene in Wilmington.
  • I gave myself permission to try and fail, and try again.
  • I remodeled my kitchen a little bit.
  • I bought a good sharp knife, and a new cutting board.
  • I starting playing music when I cook. Sometimes in the room, sometimes on my iPod.
  • I stopped at Farmers' Markets and roadside fruit stands.
  • I chose to be adventurous in tasting new things.
  • I decided that my goal was no longer to get meals made as quickly and efficiently as possible, but to enjoy the process of making them.

And somewhere in that year cooking became a form of relaxation, creativity and pleasure at the end of my day. I first realized this shift had happened while watching the employee at Williams & Sonoma demonstrate a new chopper/dicer gadget. I turned to the stranger standing beside me and said, "I think I'd rather just chop my own vegetables by hand." She nodded. We bonded over the fact that, for us, chopping is a zen-like experience we don't wish to forfeit.

When I chose SLOW as my one word, I labeled it as the thing I most wanted God to do in me that year. And He did it.

Now by late afternoon I am jonsing to get into the kitchen and start on dinner. To create it, smell it, taste it. And it tastes good, thanks to me and fresh ingredients rather than some large food company. There is something really satisfying about that.

So I'm living proof that a woman who didn't like to cook, didn't want to cook and wasn't good at it, can change.

How about you ... do you like to cook? Could you learn to?