Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas Devotionals


Welcome to Advent!

Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is today, and continues through Christmas Eve.



“Advent” means "coming" or "arrival." The focus of the season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus in his First Advent, and the anticipation of his return in his Second Advent. Traditionally, Advent is marked by a spirit of anticipation, preparation and expectation.

Sounds like I’m describing the celebration of the holiday of Christmas, doesn’t it?

Anticipation. Preparation. Expectation. Sounds like we’re taking about shopping lists and wrapping, decorating and meal planning. And about wondering what might be under the tree.


But advent’s focus is different. It’s holy. It’s about celebrating the incarnation and presence of Christ. It includes an emphasis on His faithfulness to come and rescue us from sin, as well as His judgment of sin, and the hope He provides for eternal life through grace.

With a double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of each of us as we affirm that Christ has come, that He is present (if unseen) with us today, and that He will come again in power.

That truth should renew in us a motivation to live as grateful, responsible stewards of what God has entrusted to us in this time in between His Advents. It's meant to awaken in us a profound sense of thankfulness and charity.

One of the ways I try to remember advent is with Christmas-focused devotional readings. Here are some for you to check out – all are free.


CHRISTMAS DEVOTIONS:


Encouragement for Today – For women, by women. These devotions run year-round but focus on Christmas themes in the month of December.

Bible Gateway’s Christmas Devotionals – Choose from a focus on advent, joy, hymns, or the Christmas story. Or sign up for more than one. These devotions run through the Advent season only.

Christmas Devotionals from Crosswalk.com – Written by a variety of authors, pastors and leaders with a focus squarely on the Christmas season.

Billy Graham’s Advent Devotional – Download this free guide called “Arrival: Preparing to Celebrate Christ's Birth.”

Good Morning Girl’s Advent Devotional & Study - Download the free eBook which includes weekly devotions, scripture readings, suggested dally family activities, recipes and journal pages.


As the culture celebrates a year-end time of feasting and fun, the church celebrates God’s breaking into time, space and flesh. I’m aiming to celebrate both in the weeks to come.


Happy Advent!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Creative Spaces

My One Word this year is CREATE. It's November 16th so you are probably tired by now of hearing me open a post with that statement. But it's relevant ...

I came across a cool Pinterest board this week of women's creative spaces. Mostly home offices. They all look cool. Some look more"busy' that I would want in my writing space but would work for me in a crafting type space. Take a look and see what you think.




This is a pic I like from the board. I think it's the blanket that seals the deal for me. I have a thing for blankets that feel soft. For anything that feels soft - I'm very tactile. Rick calls me "Sensation Barbie" because anything I pass by that looks soft, I have to touch. In a store, or in a restaurant, wherever. I've been know to touch someone else' coat on the back of their chair as I walked by!

Check out the Pinterst board and see if gives you some ideas for your home office. It inspired me to tidy mine up!

http://pinterest.com/melissahdesign/creative-work-spaces/

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

From Spent to Spurred On

Ever have one of those days when so much is on your plate you wake up wondering how you will get it all done? 



Yeah, I'm on my ninth day in a row like that. This is a particularly busy season for me. Everything that's on my plate is good stuff. It's all things I want on my plate. It's just that there is a lot of it all at once.

I can't see my plate for all the stuff on top- which reminds me of Thanksgiving. Which by the way, gets added to my plate next week.

I generally do OK with lots to do. But there is a point. A tipping point. I can reach critical mass, and once there, I just want to crawl in bed and sleep. For two days. And watch sappy movies on the Lifetime network.

I about hit that tipping point this morning. But I didn't have the time to go back to bed or to watch movies. So I did my best to plow ahead.  Only my best wasn't very good this morning. I couldn't muster up my usual spunk. And I had little margin for anything that presented additional problems or frustration.

My friend looked at me with concern this morning and said, "I've never seen you this way." All I could say in response was just, "I'm spent." They prayed for me.

Shorly after, I talked to another friend who prayed for me.

This afternoon I had a personal coaching call scheduled with one of my clients. What do you do when you are the coach and you feel spent? I did what I do every week before I get on that phone: I prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to do the coaching through me.

Turns out this was a breakthrough week for my client. An awesome turning point for both her and her family. I'm so proud of her! And when I hung up the phone I was nearly jumping up and down excited. Because empowering others and witnessing life change fuels me.

All my issues and to-dos paled in comparison. They'll all get done in due time.

I texted my friend and said I was feeling much better now, because I'd just gotten off a great call with one of my coaching clients. My friend texted back, "We help people. That's all it's really about."

I couldn't agree more.

Are you feeling stuck? Spent? Done?

Maybe try investing yourself in helping someone else. I'm so grateful for my opportunities to do so. 

Or try reaching out for prayer. I'm also grateful for my friends who prayed for me today. Is there something I can pray about today for you?

Friday, November 9, 2012

The President, Donuts, My One Word and God's Provision

Happy post election. Some of you, perhaps even most of you, are not happy about the post election results. But I am rejoicing because with the closing of the polls on Tuesday evening, my phone now lets me live and work in peace.

I live in North Carolina. Battleground state. State where the Republican National Convention called my house easily six times a day, seven days a week (yes even Sundays), for the last month. Mitt called my house several times. So did Ann. Seriously, I would now recognize Ann Romney's voice if she were talking behind me on the subway.

That's assuming Ann Romney would ever ride a subway. And I happened to be in the city at the same time ... sorry, I'm digressing.

Obama even sent someone to my door on Tuesday. In the rain. He did not deliver pizza or donuts though. If you want to swing some votes, you should show up with chocolate. I'm just sayin.





So here's my update for this week. I told you in this post - I'm Torn - that I was on the fence about participating in NaNoWriMo this month because I have too much to do marketing-wise (in addition to my other jobs) for my book releasing next month. I let my one word for 2012 - CREATE - guide my decision on that.

I signed up and I went to the write-in on the very first day.

A girl in the back of the room didn't have a copy of the "getting started" packet, so I invited her to come sit beside me and look off mine. Turns out, she is a student at UNCW where I teach. Turns out she wants to teach college too. Turns out she is a marketing major. Turns out she goes to my church. And she obviously loves words and writing because there she sat beside me typing her novel.

So as I was in the process of being "obedient" to my one word at NaNoWriMo, God, in His Providence, hand-delivered me the perfect marketing assistant. She can do an internship with me for academic credit at the college while helping me launch My One Word: Change Your Life With Just One Word.

So God provided for My One Word through my obedience to my one word. That's pretty cool.

Even better than chocolate donuts I'd say.

What is God calling you to do through your one word? How has God provided through your one word, or in response to prayer? Maybe it's time to ask Him for what you need.

Legal Disclaimer: Writer is not responsible for any additional calories the reader may consume after viewing this post. (Donuts courtesy of Dunkin Donuts.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

What NOT to do tomorrow

In case you've been vacationing for the last couple of months on another planet, tomorrow is election day. I don't know about you, but sometimes I find entering that voting booth a little nerve wracking. 

Here's what NOT to do in the voting booth.




 
 
This was produced by the brilliant media team at my church. They rock.
 
And by the way, if you are nervous about who will win the election, just remember that no matter who sits in the oval office, Jesus sits on the throne at the right hand of God.
 
 
Now get out there tomorrow and vote your conscious. Oh, and use a pencil!
 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Taking the Nanowrimo Plunge

 
Remember this post: I'm Torn

Well, I decided around 8 PM on 10/31 to sign up for and start national novel writing month the next day (yesterday). Nothing like putting a decision off until the last minute, eh? I literally decided in between door opens for trick or treaters.

NaMoWriMo, for those uninitiated, is a program whereby approximately 300,000 would-be novelists attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I'm told about 3% of them actually complete the task.

I very likely will be one of the 97% who do not.

That's because if I showed you my to-do list for the next three weeks it would look like one of those ancient scrolls that when unrolled, extends down from the hand, onto and rolls out across the floor. It's that long. You think that is a metaphor. It's not.

But my one word for 2012 is CREATE. And I want to create a novel. So I signed up and began, putting little pressure on myself to finish 50K words. If I get to the end of November and I've only written 20,000 of the 50,000 words ... well, that's 20,000 more than I had yesterday morning. So I'll count that as gain.

What are you doing, needing to do, or wanting to do, that you think if you can't do it 100% you shouldn't bother at all? Maybe you are correct. Or maybe you should just lower your expectations.

Yesterday was day one. And I was too busying working on work all day to work on the novel. No worries, we had a local nanowrimo "write in." You go sit in a room for 2 hours with other lunatics fine people who are also trying to write a novel in 30 days. You pick each other's brains. Trade ideas about how to kill characters. And challenge each other to write 435 words in 15 minutes.

Those who hit the mark even won prizes - Starbucks gift cards or Barnes and Noble gift cards. These are soooo my kind of people.

My posts here might be a little short, or a little sporadic this month while I'm nanowrimoing. Then again they might be my most creative yet. Maybe I'll poll you guys to see what you think my characters should do.

I'm off to work on the novel. You go think about that question I posed in bold earlier.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Farewell, Sandy

This morning finds my hometown of Wilmington, NC fully out of Hurricane Sandy's strike zone, relatively unscathed. But make no mistake, we've stared into the eye of many a storm. And storms have taught me a few lessons.




For a while we were nicknamed "Hurricane Alley" as storm after storm rolled up the coast and into us, like a bowling ball in a bowling lane. I grew so accustomed to doing hurricane preparation, I no longer needed the "hurricane checklist" I'd made after moving here.

We've lost trees, shingles, power, and freezers worth of food. I've learned to prep food in advance, fill the bathtubs with water, and determine just how long my fridge can go before we need to hook it to the generator for an hour.  I've also learned NOT to tape my modern storm windows (#notneeded, #useless).

But no matter how many times I've hunkered through a storm, it has the same effect. It reminds me of the fragility of life. It reminds me I'm not guaranteed tomorrow. Much less a sunny, happy, prosperous, trouble-free tomorrow.

At least not here on earth.

It reminds me of the importance of people. Relationships. Friendships. Family.

And it pulls my often-warped sense of blessing out of the hands of capitalism and Madison Ave. and places it back where it belongs: bowed on bended knee before God.




A whole lot of people fared worse in Storm Sandy that we did here -- and I'm praying for them. For them to be safe, to stay dry, and to be fed and warm. I pray they will weather the losses well. But most of all I am praying that this experience drags our point of view off of ourselves, off of our dire circumstances, and onto the Lord.

Because I've learned that is the greatest blessing to come out of such a tragedy.

So today I say farewell to Sandy, and hello to an adjusted sense of gratitude.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Power of Confession


In the movies, I can usually tell the good guys from the bad guys.  The good guys wear white and want justice. The bad guys wear black and seek their own selfish gain. Some movies I’ve seen, however, surprise me at the end with who is really on which side.  Jesus told a story like that in Luke 8 verses 10-14.

 
[good guys wear white]
 

Jesus tells of two men who went into the temple to pray.  We learn that the first guy is a ministry worker. They were known to carefully follow God’s laws and encourage others to as well. We learn that the second guy does not work in the service of God, but for the government in a job widely known to be filled with corruption. They had a reputation for abusing the system and swindling the citizens for their own profit. 

 
From Jesus’ description of their jobs, I picture the first guy looking clean-cut, praying with sincerity in his voice, and maybe even wearing a white robe. The second man I picture as somewhat dirty and gruff, with dark, intimidating eyes. I imagine him going through the motions of prayer – for show, but not really meaning it.

 
Not only does Jesus tell us the two men’s occupations, but He also reveals exactly what they prayed. The first guy’s prayer was traditional for rabbis according to the Talmud. He gives thanks to God that he is set apart as a holy man, unlike the government employee on the other side of the room.  He prayed, God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12, NASB).

 
The other man, however, wouldn’t even approach the alter. Jesus said he stood at a distance, refusing to lift his eyes up to heaven to address God directly.  This man was not going through the motions as I would imagine, he was feeling quite emotional. He beat against his chest with his fist, very aware of his need for God as he begged, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13b, NASB). 


Jesus said it was this man and not the first who left that temple having been made right with God.

 
The ending of this story was a shocker to Jesus’ audience. God didn’t justify the religious leader of the Jewish people who had fasted and tithed, but the tax collector for the Roman government who’d stolen from God’s people. Why? 

Because good actions are never enough to save our souls from the sins we commit. We need grace. And notice that the tax collector was the only one of the two who actually acknowledged he had sinned and asked to be forgiven. 
 
****
 
The lesson in their story remindes me of God's words in Hosea 6:6, "I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings." (NLT)
 
If we're honest, often we just want to ignore our sin until we can forget about it. Pretend it isn't there, because we feel shameful when we face it. But shame has a way of building up and clouding the complexion of our hearts.
 
We become mired in the notion that who we are or what we’ve done is so bad that God can’t or won’t forgive us. There is nothing biblical about that – God delights in forgiving repentant sinners! We simply ask with genuine sorrow for the sin and with faith that He will cleanse it.
 
  
"Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ's blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water."  (Hebrews 10:22, NLT)
 
 
Once we are in Christ, our salvation doesn't depend on confession of every sin. But I strongly beleive our spiritual vitality can.

Confession washes the grime of shame from a believer's heart, restoring her spiritual complexion to a sparkling status. And allowing her to better see God.
 
 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I'm Torn

Today, I'm torn.

Torn between what I want to do, and what I want to do.

I have two competing desires. And I don't think I can do them both. So I have to choose.



I hate choosing. In the "either/or" questions of life, I prefer to be an "AND" girl. As in have the cake and eat it too.

When I was younger, maybe 12, I remember sitting in the dressing room for half-an-hour while my mom repeatedly held up items of clothing I'd just tried on. "You can't get them all so which three do you want? Pick three."  It felt like she was telling me I couldn't keep both my legs so I'd need to choose which one I wanted to keep. I didn't know which to choose.

My situation today is a little bit different. I'm not choosing between things - for one of them I must do. It's a given. An obligation. And that's ok because I want to do it. And I want to do it well. REALLY well.

The problem is I also want to do this other thing - this optional desire. At the same time. And if I do that thing too, I'm afraid I won't be able to do the first obligation REALLY WELL. Plus, I might not do such a hot job with the second thing, or enjoy the process as much, because I already have the first obligation on my plate.

So I'm torn. Can you relate?

The easiest and perhaps smartest thing to do would be to just do obligation #1 and do it well. Leave desire #2 for another time when I can do it well. And that would be my decision - it would be a painful one to make, but it would be my decision - except for my one word.

When I think and think on something and I'm still not sure what course to take, I consult my one word for the year. This year that one word is CREATE. And wouldn't you know, desire #2 is the quintessential outcome of my one word. At least in my head it is.

But obligation #1 is the first outcome of this year's one word. Here's the deal. Obligation #1 is spending November preparing to launch my new book My One Word: Change Your Life with Just One Word and it's accompanying speaking topics and life coaching package. The book releases in December. And I. AM. SO. STOKED. for what this book will do!

Meanwhile, desire #2 is to spend the month of November creating a novel with NaNoWriMo because November is national novel writing month. It is crazy to write a novel - much less your first - in one month. That will take so much focus and time. But my heart yearns to try it. And it would be so fun to do in the group process that is NaNoWriMo. (I dig fun.)

Yet I don't want to hinder in any way the launch of my best creation of my year with CREATE - My One Word.

So I remain torn, but trusting I will find my way into the right decision as I lean on the verses below. Maybe they will help you today too.

"For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding." ~Proverbs 2:6

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." ~James 1:5

"To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness..." ~Ecclesiastes 2:26

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." ~Proverbs 16:9

I am praying to have wisdom and peace with my decision. If you can relate to any of this and you want me to pray for one of your decisions too, leave me a comment. This "and girl" would be happy to pray over my choice and yours. Anybody else out there doing NatNoWriMo?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lynn Cowell - how one girl gets things done

A couple weeks ago I shared with you how my seriously productive writer friend Marybeth Whalen gets things done. This week I invited my P31 teammate Lynn Cowell to tell us how she gets things done.
 
I know that Lynn pours intentional time and effort into shepherding her teen girls and young women. So I asked her how she makes room for that among all the other duties in her life. Below is her response in her own words.

Lynn and her girls
 
Last night while I was folding laundry, while cooking supper, while helping my daughter with her homework, while waiting for my husband to come home…I took a very deep breath. I felt that weight that comes when life is spinning with so many things to do.

I’m sure you know how it feels…you probably felt it last night too.

With the pressures we feel as moms, daughters, wives, employees and all our other titles, “discipler” (I know it’s not a word, but let’s pretend for today it is) is the one thing that often gets thrown to the side. Instead of doing it ourselves, we hope that the youth director, youth pastor or the Bible teacher at school is covering that one for us.

For too long, I would crawl in bed each night, feeling like I had failed again becasue my children were no closer to understanding the Bible than they were the day before. God calls us to teach our children God’s Word, and I just wasn’t making that happen. I knew I had to do something to change that.

So over the past few years, I have begun to disciple my girls in three different ways:

1.     Read God’s Word over Breakfast

Breakfast is a great time to read God’s Word to your children because you have a captive audience! While they fill their stomach, I fill their hearts and minds with God’s truth. Some days it is a few verses from Proverbs. Other days it is a word from a devotional. I then pray over them, making them aware that the Holy Spirit will walk with them as they go through the double doors of their high school.

2.     Small Group Study

Every Monday after school, my youngest daughter and four of her friends from softball get together at my home. Gathering around my kitchen table, we chat about the day while we munch on a snack. Then we study the Bible. We might go through a book, or study a book of the Bible together. Right now we’re studying the book of John. This is a great way to not only invest in my girl, but in my girl’s friends as well.

3.     Just Chat

Any chance I get, I share with my kids what God is doing in my life. It might be a prayer that was answered, a surprise gift from Jesus, or a sin I tripped on and had to ask forgiveness for. I try to have a mix of it all. Isn’t that the way our life is anyway? I want them to see Jesus in my life – indeed that Jesus is my life!

This is how I get done the calling to teach my kids about Jesus. My girls don’t know every story in the Bible, nor can they quote many verses with the reference too. Each day, though, they are having their hearts filled with God’s unconditional, perfect love.

When could you find time to pour God’s truth into your child? Is over breakfast a good time? Or, over dinner? Maybe as they crawl into bed, or maybe in the car on the way to school is a better fit. The time of day is not important. What is important is that we find the time in the day.
 
So that's how Lynn, as a mother, gets one of life' most precious tasks done.  How are you dicipling your child?

PS. Lynn’s new book, Devotions for a Revolutionary Year might be just the tool you are looking for to invest in the lives of the young women close to you. She also has some free resources at her website - just click here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dreaming and Creativity

My one word for 2012 is CREATE. So this year I've been paying attention to what seems to spark my creativity, and what seems to squelch it.

For instance, last month I talked about physical space and how a little "white space" in my environment can clear the way for my creativity to blossom. So when I need a creativity boost, I declutter.

Later that very week I found evidence of another creativity booster. I watched a science channel show that confirmed what I've long suspected: that sleep {specifically dreaming} can boost creativity.




Research is showing that REM sleep {the time when you are dreaming} improves people's ability to find connections among seemingly unrelated things. This is a key feature in creativity - being able to see and combine things in new, unexpected ways. In fact, REM sleep seems to make our reasoning more fluid and our thinking more original.

Not only that but lack of REM sleep impairs creativity.

In a broad sense, dreams mimic a critical stage of creativity: brainstorming the range of possibilities, or what psychoanalysts call "free association."

"To be creative, you need a way to let those circuits float free and really be open to alternatives that you would normally overlook," explains Dr. Robert Stickgold, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard. He adds, "Several features of REM sleep predispose the brain to this activity."

I don't know about you, but I want to predispose my brain to think creatively. To solve problems creatively. To see connections I otherwise might have missed.

Two things I excel at are sleeping and brainstorming ideas. Now I know why - they are linked!

I'm an avid napper. I take naps two, often three or four, days out of the week. I've even been know to take two naps in one day during particularly busy writing seasons. But the thing is, while cat naps help, you generally have to sleep over an hour to enter REM stage.

My husband once got me a nightshirt that says, "I sleep hard, and I dream harder!" I'm now thinking that's an excellent motto to live by.

Apparently dreaming hard helps me not just work harder but work smarter - more creatively. There's more I could say about the benefits of napping - and here's a link to some of the science - but all this talk of naps is making me sleepy. I might head to the recliner for a bit.

What about you, are you a nap taker? Should you be?




Monday, October 15, 2012

Stir, and Stir in Grace

I enjoyed this weekend's conference on becoming a Proverbs 31 Woman.

We studied the passage some. Talked some about its history. And discussed ways to apply it in our modern homes and families.

And then I preached grace.



I believe to preach Proverbs 31 without also preaching grace is to set women up for comparison, guilt and feelings of failure. Counter productive feelings.

Each of us will naturally excel at different verbs in the verses of Proverbs 31:10-31. Some will excel at the cooking. Some will excel at the organizing. Some will excel at the making and selling of products. Some will excel at the decorating. Some will excel at the speaking and teaching. Some will excel at the care taking of others. Some will excel at the sewing.

For a lot of us that last one - sewing to provide clothes and bed coverings - has morphed from sewing them to shopping for them already sewn. We can at least claim we excel at shopping!



Except my friend Suzie. I've never seen a woman who hates to shop for clothes as much as Suzie. And she very rarely does it, only then with some prodding and usually a couple friends along to help. But, wow can Suzie ever sew!

I think I got sidetracked there on my friend Suzie. Anyway, my point is don't put pressure on yourself to do all of these things equally well. Or equally as well as someone else. Take inspiration from them but then look at where God has gifted you and stir up that gift.

Odds are that's the gift that is tied somehow to your specific God-given purpose or calling.

Of course we can't ignore all the other verbs in the passage - we still have to feed ourself or our family even if we hate to cook. But that's why they jar spaghetti sauce. And why people with cooking talent write cookbooks.

And it's why they do those demonstrations at Williams-Sonoma. (Well, not entirely ... they also do them to sell products. But you don't have to buy.) I now send those ladies Christmas cards because they've taught me to cook. And cooking was not part of my natural skill set. At all.

I think I digressed a moment again. What's my take-away application here? Oh, here is it is ...

Whatever your "Proverbs 31 gift(s)" is, do something today to stir it up.  And ask God to help you cover the bases on the rest of the verbs. Because His grace is sufficient for you, and it shows up best where you are weakest (2 Cor 12:9).

I'm off to grade papers and prep for this afternoon's class (part of my teaching giftings). {Oh, and to listen to Bob Marley's song Stir it Up because that's now on my mind.} Let me know what you'll be doing today that taps into something you're skilled for.

And if you're not sure what you're innately skilled for - I can probably help you find that out.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Street Cred

I'm leaving town today to speak at a conference this weekend on "The Proverbs 31 Woman."



I have the main sessions, and I understand there will be break-out sessions on marriage, homemaking, frugality and parenting.

So you know that means I cannot leave here today without first driving my son to school rather than putting him on the bus, doing the dishes, cleaning the bathrooms, leaving my husband a love note, and stopping at the grocery store to bring food from afar (with coupons).

I mean, if you're going to speak on Proverbs 31:10-31, you need to feel like you have some degree of street cred. You know what I'm sayin'?

It's 9:45 AM and so far I've done the dishes, bathrooms, grocery store run, took Caleb to school and even brought the emptied recycling bins in from the curb. I've also cleaned my car top to bottom, inside and out.

Rick always cleans my car for me before I leave on a trip. Well 99% of the time. This week he's in the 1%. But he's got me spoiled... I feel like I can't enter a highway unless my car is clean. So I went out to the driveway this morning and washed and vacuumed it myself. (Using environment-friendly soap.)




Driving to a car wash might have be easier, but this was more frugal.  Plus, some nice man walking past my house decided to stop and talk to me. He is here from Lexington, NC to visit family. I was informed Lexington is the BBQ capital of NC. Apparently they have a BBQ festival there every October that attracts 250,000 people. Who knew?  I do now.

And now, he's going to bring us some BBQ when he comes back to visit at Thanksgiving.  Bonus!

Now that's how you bring food from a far. You stop your work to chat.

Unfortunately, it's time for me to stop chatting here and go print out my speaking notes. Pray with me that I speak with the law of kindness and that faithful instruction will be on my tongue tomorrow.

And also, that I don't forget to pack a razor since I'll be wearing a dress. A dress and heels = more street cred when speaking on Proverbs 31. Every little bit helps.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Art is the Gift

If you've spent any time around here this year, you know that my one word for 2012 is CREATE.



So this post by my friend Ariel Lawhon today - and Tolkien's words specifically - connected with my heart. Big time.

In fact, I threw my head back against my chair, closed my eyes, and let the waves of identification, truth, realization and hope wash over me.

If you are a creative type, or even long to be. Indeed if you dream of creating something and yet never quite complete it. Or never quite capture in your creation the beauty and glory that it has in your mind. Ariel's post is for you.

Yes, I'm aware that my punctuation in that last paragraph is wonky. But I'm too tingly after reading Ariel's post to care. Go now and read it. See if it gives you the tingles too.

Thanks, Ari. Your words made my day.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Marybeth's notebooks - how one girl gets things done

A favorite question I like to ask people is, "So how do you ensure you get things done?"



I asked this the other week of my friend Marybeth Whalen.  Marybeth and I worked together for a number of years. I was editor of a publication she regularly wrote for. Of all the writers for this publication, she was the most on-time and consistent of the entire group.

Did I mention she also has six kids?

And writes for other publications? And writes novels?

Marybeth described to me a two-list system she employs using a simple spiral notebook and a smaller notebook.

In the larger notebook she lists everything - absolutely everything she has to, or would like to, or is considering doing that month. One notebook per month and everything goes into here.

Then she takes the smaller notebook and she pulls tasks out of the larger one to make a daily to-do list. She makes sure just a handful of tasks goes on each day's to-do, paying attention to which ones are pressing or time-sensitive. 

If she finishes her to-do list for the day quickly she'll often return to the large notebook and pull some more tasks onto the day's list.  If she doesn't get to everything on that day's list, she turns the page at day's end and places the unfinished tasks on tomorrow's list ... then adds a few more tasks from the larger notebook.

 

Marybeth's method is simple and inexpensive - buy a stack of notebooks each year at the back-to-school clearence sales and you're good to go. Maybe get some colored pens on sale too if you want to color-code your tasks into "personal" and "professional" catagories.

Let's take a quick informal poll: How do you make your to-do lists?

A) On Paper (notepad, notebook, planner, scrap paper)
B) Electronically (in a computer software program, or with a phone app)
C) On the Wall  (on a whiteboard or chalk board)
D) I Don't!  (I rarely make to-do lists, or not in any consistent way)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Count the small things

Success builds upon success.

Right choices build upon right choices.

That's the principal bouncing around inside my head today.

What's the application? Find and embrace your small daily accomplishments - each decision you make to do the right thing. And let that fuel you forward to keep up the good work.  Don't break the chain.

So with that, I'm heading to the gym ...


What accomplishment or positive step can you celebrate today?

Monday, October 1, 2012

How Green Grass Lies

In my last post I mentioned that I can easily kill my own passion (zest, zeal, energy, love) for what I've been entrusted with (my work, my family, my writing, my home, my influence) by comparing it to someone else's.

Ever feel great about what you're doing -- until you see someone doing it better?

Ever get jazzed about a new idea you have for a new direction -- only to find someone has already been doing that for years?

Ever peer from the outside into someone else's life/job/ministry and assume it must be great?

When that happens, I can become uninspired. I can grow apathetic or even resentful. That positions me to appreciate and accomplish little. All because I'm looking elsewhere.




Here's the deal. And you may have heard this before but it bears repeating. Because it's imperative that we understand how green grass lies.

The grass isn't greener on the other side of the fence where "they" live or work; because it's theirs or it's some how a better breed of grass. It's greener where it's being watered, weeded and fertilized. They are not necessarily an intrinsically better gardener than you.  Green grass is the result of effort and focus over time.

If you and I were to have their "lawn," and we showed up to it the same way we are showing up to our lawn now, we'd soon see the same results we've been getting in our yard.

Are you tracking with this metaphor? (Note: we are not talking about blades of grass and dandelions.)

Green grass is a matter of how you tend it. Tend it with passion. And avoid things that drain that passion.

Avoiding the Drain

If comparing your stuff to others' can at times inspire you but at times drain you, you've got to be hyper-aware of when the latter is happening.

As you read on the Internet, or watch HGTV, study your business competition, or watch or think about someone else's life, train yourself to periodically stop and ask, "Is this inspiring me in a helpful way, or is this draining my energy, making me envious?"

Be careful ... sometimes we will drain our optimism for our own work (or appreciation for our own life) when studying someone else's while telling ourselves, "This is helping me. I'm learning from them."

Even if the content you are learning from them is good, if it doesn't also inspire you to apply it (or to continue doing your own thing with zeal), it's not really helping you at this time. It's likely stalling you.

When I ask myself the is-this-inspiring-me-or-draining-me question and I realize I'm feeling interested but overwhelmed or drained, I know I need to take my eyes off of that for now. At least until I can renew my mind about it and approach it or see it differently.



Bottom Line:

I know from experience, comparison is the fastest way to kill your passion.

So stop that, now.

Focus on your art, your craft, your audience, your spouse, your Bible. You get the picture.

Because change is possible, but focus is required. And passion fuels our focus.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What Drains Your Passion?


What diminishes your passion?

It's important you know the answer to this.

Without passion, life is a chore. A bore. And soon becomes little more than a blur of mindless, minimum, routine activity (with a heavy focus on television watching).




Since God calls us to become good stewards - careful managers - of the time, talents and gifts He has given us, a passion-less life is a problem. It's a hindrance to being all we can be in Christ.

I'm not talking about physical, romantic passion. Not necessarily. Though this applies there too.  I'm talking about your passion for life, for work, for nurturing others. Your passion for growth and spiritual fruit.

So what it is that diminishes that in you?


I'll tell you two things I know drains my passion.

1) CRITICISM -  I love being taught, coached, and helped to improve! But I hate feeling judged or criticized for my lack or my failures. Criticism definitely drains me. 

Often the difference is a matter of how the person approaches me with their correction.  How they phrase it or frame it. And whether I feel there is respect and caring behind what they're saying about me or my work.

Interestingly, criticism can fuel some people - they get charged up to prove the person wrong. To do what they said can't be done. But it doesn't quite work that way for me. I need to feel valued if not supported.

When I feel valued and supported, I can typically run through brick walls. When I don't, I'm likely to quit. And go eat chocolate.


2) COMPARISON - One of the fastest ways I kill my own passion - for my work, my home, my hobby, my family, my body, my ministry, or even the quality of my walk with God - is to compare it with someone else's.

There is a line between learning from others, getting ideas from others, getting inspired by others to fuel your own efforts, and digging your passion a grave with the tombstone engraved: I'll never be like them.

There's a continuum that on the right side side says "Wow, that's inspiring! I want to do my work well too," and on the left side says, "Why bother! Everyone is already doing it so well that I don't have a chance."

It's helpful for me to take inspiration from others, but full-on envy withers my passion like grass in a drought. I have to watch out for that.


I don't have a lot of control over how constructively someone critiques me. Or how they might compare me to themselves or someone else. I can't control their assessment of me. And my gut reaction is likely to feel drained if it feels harsh.

But I can choose how I will respond to it, even if I feel drained.

And I have lots of control over how I critique myself, and how I compare myself to others. I just have to exercise it. That's what I'm personally working on right now.

What drains me may not drain you, and vice versa. But it's important to know what drains you and if or how you can counter that. I'll talk more in my next post about my process on learning to counter it.

As I said on Monday, burn out is common, but it's also curable. Thank God for that!

Monday, September 24, 2012

When You Don't Want to Work

Are you ready to work, serve, or create with passion today?

Or is your passion for what you do gone?

Feeling ...



I know that feeling. I've felt burnt out on teaching before. Burnt out on writing before. Burnt out on house-keeping before. Burnt out on blogging before. It's an awful feeling and a worse way to live.

"Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant.

Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down. 

Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody. Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone."

  ~ Romans 12:11-12 (MSG)  


Obviously this passage is talking about our attempts to love and live like Christ. But I think it contains good advice we could apply to any situation in which we've lost our zeal.

It is saying, if you want to regain your zeal you're going to have to make some choices and changes.

If you want to fall back into love - with your work, your home, your hobby, your family, your life, or even your walk with God - you have to show up to it differently than you have been.

Let's pull some adjectives and verbs from this passage for some ideas of how to show up differently. According to this passage, we need to show up cheerful, expectant, not quitting, praying, helping others, creative or inventive, hospitable, talking positively, laughing, happy, empathetic, getting along, humble and not quarrelsome, or seeking to see the beauty in people.

So which part of that have you been skipping?

The first part of the passage tells us to keep ourselves {our passion and zeal} fueled and aflame. We can't expect passion to always be there just because it once was lit. There's an active fueling and refueling to it to keep it alive. An active tending of it.

Mother Teresa said, "To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it."  Exactly.

Look at the list we made above from Romans 12 and decide what you can do today to do put some  oil into it. How can you make your work fun?  How can you be cheerful while working? How can you get creative or inventive with it? Or, how much could simply speaking positively about your work begin to retrain your thoughts and feelings about it?

Maybe zeal is something we bring to our work, rather than our work bringing to us. How can you and I approach our work with zeal instead of just waiting for it to hopefully emerge?

If this post doesn't help answer that, pray and ask God to answer it. He cares about your work, whether it's raising a child or designing a website, running PTA or running a marathon, cooking for your family or cooking for customers.

Burn out is common, but it's also curable. When you don't want to work, acknowledge that reality, but then think about how you can show up to it differently. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Revolutionary Love


Today when my daughter Alaina gets home from high school I will hand her a new devotional book by my P31 teammate Lynn Cowell. It's called “Devotions for a Revolutionary Year; 365 Days of Jesus’ Radical Love for You.” I asked Lynn to write Alaina a letter to accompany the book, and I'm posting that letter here today because I think it's good advice for all of us.

 
 
Dear Alaina,

I bet you can’t believe you’re in school already! Summer was so fun and free! Days of pony tails and swimsuits; every day carefree. No worries about make-up. No concerns about your wardrobe.

But now that school is back, the fight is on to hang on to your carefree self. You can probably feel the pull to worry about other people’s opinions, and other people’s pressures.

I want to encourage you to do one thing: pre-decide.

Pre-decide who you are and what you’re going to do.

Now, at the beginning of the school year, make up your mind that you are going to live a life that honors God. A life that stays true to who you are and who God has created you to be: a girl He is wild about (Psalm 45:11).

Pre-decide how you will honor God. Where you will go, what you will do, and who you will be with.

See, when you pre-decide, it takes the emotion out of it. The guy in Algebra that is so cute but definitely not someone you should be crushing on is not texting you about Friday night right now. The group of girls you hang with are not at this moment deciding what to do after the football game. You’re not sitting in Biology right next to the class brain while you are struggling for the answers on the test. You’re not in any of those situations right this moment. So this is a good time to pre-decide how you will handle them.

Decide right now that you won’t look to any guy to fill the love gap in your heart; only Jesus can do that.

Decide right now that at/after football games you’ll only do things you wouldn’t be ashamed for your parents to know about.

Decide right now that you would rather take the F on the test than an A you don’t deserve.

Then, when the situation arises, just stick to that decision you already made, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, live it out.

I don’t mean to make it sound easy; it is anything but. But I will say it is worth it.

I pre-decided. I pre-decided to save my body for my husband one day. That was worth it. I pre-decided not to get involved in things I would be ashamed of later, and my life has had very few regrets. Tests scores? Sure, I could have gotten better grades, but the grades I got were the grades I earned and I felt no guilt about them.

I’m not saying my life is perfect, but it is a blessed life. And I love it!  This is what I want for you, your friends, and the girls of your generation.

Alain, if you want a little encouragement to help you stick to what you pre-decide each day? I’ve got just the tool! I created a 7 Day Faith Builder. For 7 days you can get just what you need to remind yourself of whose you are and why you are making wise decisions each day. Just sigh up online (click here: http://www.lynncowell.com/7-day-faith-builder/)

 Have a terrific year, Alaina! I know that Jesus will be with you all the way!

 ~ Lynn


Note:  To celebrate the release of Lynn's new book, we are giving away over $75 in free content with each purchase of the book. Simply purchase Devotions for a Revolutionary Year for a girl or young woman in your life before October 1st and email your receipt to freebies@lynncowell.com. You will receive an email with a link to this special free content on Lynn’s website at www.LynnCowell.com. Pop over to her site today and check it out all the good stuff she has to offer.


Happy Weekend, Everyone.

 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Don't Break the Chain

Someone once asked Jerry Seinfeld {this is when he was a touring stand-up comic just breaking out as a sit-com star} what his secret was to coming up with such great material. Jerry pointed to a calendar. The large wall kind that has the entire year on one page.

Jerry explained that he believed to improve as a comedy writer, he'd need to write comedy every day.

So each day that Jerry wrote, he drew a red X on the day's block on the calendar. Several days of writing would form a long chain of Xs. And not breaking the chain became its own motivation to keep writing.



 
Jerry improved greatly by writing daily. And he wrote daily by trying to keep his writing streak alive ... as evidenced by the chain of Xs.

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking some Xs on a calender wouldn't really be enough motivation for you. I figure you're thinking that because it occurred to me too.

Like our brains are some how more complicated and advanced than Jerry Seinfeld's?

Why This Works

Often there's a lot of mental resistance we have to overcome to begin doing something we actually wish we'd do. (Strange and frustrating, huh?) Like writing or cleaning or exercising daily. (Anyone want to amen?) We want to do it but we-don't-wanna, and we're stubborn.

The beauty of the "don't break the chain" method is that it lets us divert our stubbornness away from the "I don't wannas" and redirect it towards not wanting to mess up a good winning streak.

Raise your hand if when you're on a roll, you're highly motivated to keep rolling. 

I thought so.

You can put your hand down now. (Seriously, if you are at work or in a coffee shop, please put your hand down.)

If you want scientific reasoning for why this works, I'll tell you what clinical neurologist Dr. Daniel Amen says. (Can I get another amen? Just kidding - I should let Jerry write the jokes.) Dr. Amen explains that:

"The chart appeals to your logical PFC; but the series of Xs, signifying accomplishment, gives your limbic system a little rush of good feelings."


And we tend to continue doing anything that gives us a rush of good feelings. Don't we?




So, could you be only one pen and one calender page away from improving at something? Or from creating a good habit? Only a chain of Xs away from a daily quiet time routine or a daily walk after work?  Try it and see.

I'm going to try it. Like Jerry, I'm going to mark an X for each day that I write since my one word is CREATE. And I'm going to see if my brain buys in to the concept of keeping the streak alive.


I want you and I to become the kind of person that keeps our good streaks going. So I'm encouraging you today to think about what you could try using this method to do. A daily quiet time? More home-cooked meals? Training for marathon? ...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pray and Don't Give Up

Hey there, glad you stopped by. Welcome to Monday Morning Motivation.

I do these posts each most Mondays as a sort of shot in the arm to get you going on your week. I think of them as productivity jump-starters. But you can think of them as posts designed to reduce your need for a third second cup of coffee. (subscribe in the side bar)



If you've come over from my devotion published today, you know today I'm talking about faith. And prayer. And not giving up. So this one is a shot in the arm for your prayer life.

Only I won't give the shot to you so much as Jesus will.

If you haven't already read the devo yet, be sure and do that so that 1) you'll understand why my neighbors think I'm erratic but I'm not, and 2) so your arm will be prepped for this next dose.

OK. I love me some parables. But I especially love it when Jesus spells things out plainly for us. He does that in Matthew 7:7-11.  Give me your arm, this won't hurt a bit ...

Ask, Seek, Knock

 

 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"  (Matt 7:7-11, NIV)




If you do word studies on the verbs "ask," "seek," "knock" you'll discover that the tense they were written in would have you translate this as: "Ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking ... " In other words: PRAY ALWAYS AND DON'T GIVE UP.

Both this passage and the parable in the devotion communicate to us that sometimes in life you have to persist to see the outcome materialize. We don't always know why but apparently it is so. So make up your mind now to persist.

These passages also remind us that if a parent will give good things to the child they love, and even a cranky, corrupt judge will do the right thing when pressed to, of course your Heavenly Father will give you what you need when you come to Him in faith.

So stay at it while expecting results. That's the faith part.

{Desperation drives us to prayer. But it's faith that keeps us at it, expecting results.}

It's worth noting that the provision of the good gifts is probably a reference to the wisdom, blessing and guidance of God supplied in response to repeated requests. The teaching as a whole doesn't imply that we get everything we want, but that God gives the good that we need.

Case in point: I do not have a beach house in Malibu. Nor have I grown a single inch past my 5'2" frame.

If you want to read more on this passage in Matthew, I recommend Matthew Henry's excellent commentary on it. But if this shot in the arm is all you needed to close your eyes and seek God in prayer today - and again tomorrow - my work here is done.

What did you stop praying for?  What did you once seek, but give up on?

Tell me in a comment here, or on my Facebook post, and I'll join you in praying for it!