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.