learning to be thankful

ID-10087368I’m not very good at being thankful. Well, maybe I’m not that bad when it means saying “thank you” to the waitress or the hotel clerk. I do that pretty well. I am less quick to express my gratitude to those closest to me… my husband, my family, my God. That is a bit ironic since they are the ones who give me the most and the best of themselves. They give over a long period of time. They give well.

I suppose it is that very consistency that leads me to take them for granted. I hardly notice the effort, or I deem it expected and obligatory… just an ordinary part of life.

But love and sacrifice are so not ordinary.

When a husband stays with his wife through hard times and sad times and keeps loving and laughing and giving and forgiving, that is something special. When children respect and enjoy their parents… and each other… in spite of hurts and differences and distance and time, that is something special. When God loves without limits, unconditionally and unendingly, that is something special.

Not to be taken for granted.

I want to notice these special gifts and be more grateful. Thanksgiving is such a wonderful reflective time of year. It so frequently gets lost in between the other holidays, and yet it is so important for me. I need the continual reminder.

So I don’t just expect and assume with those I love… so I remember to say “thank you”.

Who do you want to thank today? 

who do you trust?

Easter is one of the most reflective seasons of the year. Many people consider faith options during this time, searching for truth, peace, and purpose. When I was in college, I found these things for my life in a personal relationship with God. I took time to investigate options, ask questions, study further… eventually I trusted in what Christ did for me on the cross, rather than in my own efforts. That decision changed my life; it gives me hope for each day and security for my eternal future.

If you are searching, questioning or studying… I offer you this video as part of your process. Our ministry, cru, created these four minutes of powerful visual images to help people understand God’s love and forgiveness, and the reason we celebrate Easter = Christ’s death and resurrection for us. I hope you enjoy it and that it is helpful for your own personal journey. Let me know what you think!

St Patrick – an example of forgiveness

shamrockI’m not great at forgiving. I usually need time to let the pain or anger dissipate before I am willing to re-connect with the person that hurt me. Sometimes I struggle with reappearing memories of the wrongs done, or I want to talk badly about the other person(s).  It takes even longer for me to want to do good for that person. St. Patrick is a good example for me. Little is known of Patrick’s early life, though it is known that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church.

At the age of sixteen, Irish raiders attacked his family’s estate, kidnapped him and took him captive to Ireland as a slave. He was held somewhere on the west coast of Ireland, possibly Mayo, but the exact location is not known. It is believed that he worked as a shepherd, and that he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devote Christian. Six years later, according to his confession, God told him in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast, where he would board a ship and return to Britain. Upon returning, he joined the Church in Auxerre in Gaul and studied for years to enter the priesthood.

If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God
so as to teach these peoples;
even though some of them still look down on me.
Saint Patrick

In 432, he claimed that God called him back to Ireland, now as a bishop, to share God’s love with the Irish people – returning with a gift of good news to the country that had wronged him. Irish folklore tells that one of his teaching methods included using the shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish people. After nearly 30 years of serving the Irish people, he died on the March 17, 461, and according to tradition, was buried at Downpatrick.

Although there were other more successful missions to Ireland from Rome, Patrick endured as the principal champion of Irish Christianity, is held in esteem in the Irish Church, and his life and ministry are still celebrated today.

An amazing legacy… because he did not hold a grudge against a people… because he didn’t focus on the wrongs done but was willing to forgive and do good. I can learn a lot from St. Patrick.

Do you ever struggle with forgiveness? What helps you forgive?



process ’til the end

Last week I wrote a bit about “the process“… focusing mainly on the early years with a young family and times of growth and development. I am still in that process.

Sadly, this week I have been reminded more of the other side of the process… the years when life is coming to an end and it is time to prepare for a home-going.

Although I am not in that process personally just yet, I love very dear ones who are there. Their struggles cause me to reflect on life and challenge me to…

  • Live life to the fullest. This is not a new idea for me – I have heard it so many times.  But how very quickly I forget to really treasure the moment, the people in my life, and the blessings I have received each day. I lose focus easily and worry about the most insignificant things. I want to learn to get less frazzled about little things and take more time to give a hug and a smile… listen to the birds and the rain… smell the flowers and the freshly baked bread… see the good in people and respond to their needs… While I have energy and health, I want to work hard at the right things with great people and honor Him with each day.
  • Let go of the petty.  Recently I also read a sweet blog by a friend of mine about her interview with Corrie Ten Boom. It was such a powerful reminder of how important it is to forgive those that hurt me. I tend to take things personally and care too much about what people think about me. I get frustrated by indifference, criticism, gossip, lack of support. These are such small issues, but my bitterness can rob me of emotional energy and spiritual peace. I don’t want to lose precious time because of my stubbornness and unwillingness to forgive.
  • Train for the long haul.  Although it is true that good physical health may prove irrelevant at my eventual death, it is also true that good health will be a plus if I have to fight a disease at some time… and good health enables me to fully engaged in my life process today. If I exercise and eat well, I have more energy during the day and sleep better at night. I have better intellectual capacity, more stable emotions, and a better attitude for daily challenges. I don’t know how much time I have left in this world; I think it is a good idea to plan for a long ride.
  • Prepare the heart. I have already lived more years than a lot of people. I am grateful for the incredible, exciting adventure that I have had. I am especially thankful for the eternal security I have in my relationship with God. Coming to know Him in college has given purpose to my life and peace to my soul. I want to help others know Him.  I want to live for Him while I am on earth in such a way that I am ready to go home with Him whenever He calls.

So, until then, the process continues…

What is important in your process? Are you ready if your home-going is today?

what I am learning from a yard sale

We are moving after almost 20 years in the same place.  My home has been a haven for four children and countless visitors and long-term guests. For many years, it was also an office for the national campus ministry and a home-schooling headquarters. The back patio was “party-central” for hundreds of fiestas and cook-outs.  We served to up to 50 people for Thanksgiving dinners, and snacks, meals and desserts to 1000’s more.

We have been so blessed in this home.  We have laughed and cried and fought and forgiven. We have studied, played, worked, and prayed. We have grown in understanding God’s grace and truth… there are so many memories!

… And we have accumulated A LOT of stuff!

Our yard sale is a big one… almost everything will go. All the children are growing up and moving on with their lives.  We no longer hold an important position in the ministry here, and it is time for a change… well, lots of changes.

I am learning in the process.

First, stuff is just that – stuff. I can really let go of almost anything.  Some things “sting” a little to let go; with others it is so fun to watch them bring joy and provision to someone else.  We will keep a few special things for each child and some personal items… but most everything else will go. We don’t need nearly so much stuff, especially in this new stage of life.  A good friend reminded me again that God has provided so perfectly through the years – that will not change – He will provide in our new place as well.

Second, change is good.  It is refreshing to go through a “cleansing” like this and be reminded of what is most important. I don’t ever want to get too comfortable where I am; I want always to take challenging faith steps that cause me to depend on God. I want to continually learn and grow. I don’t ever want to depend on things, or a certain lifestyle, or even people; letting them go, trusting only in God for my needs, is good for me. I don’t want others to depend on me either; I want them to depend on God. Change is good for them too.

Third, it is OK to grieve what is past and what is lost. Investing and building into people for eternity is why we were here. Looking back at the transformed lives is satisfying and encouraging, but those special people are also what is hardest to leave. I will greatly miss dear friends – some I will probably never see again. That is painful, and there will be many tearful goodbyes. I have finished the “full-house” stage of life – it was a blast while it lasted, and I will miss it, but it is time for others to fulfill that role. I get to take the pictures with me… and the memories have engraved themselves on my heart forever.

The future is full of hope! The future is unknown and uncertain; it will certainly differ from the past.  But I can face the future with peace because I know that God’s loving-kindness is new every morning (Lam 3:22-23), and He has good plans for me. (Jer. 29:11). When I look back on all that God has done before – His provision, His care, His direction – I have no doubt that He will be intimately involved in my future. So… take it all away! I am ready for something new!

How about you? Do you have too much stuff? Does it hold you back? 

How do you handle change? I’d love to hear from you!

authentic – my word for 2012

Lots of people are picking a defining word for this next year… so I decided to ask God to give me one too.  This is what I heard – AUTHENTIC – my word for 2012.

                                     Authentic means: not false or copied; genuine; real.                               Also entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy and true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

authentic emotions – We are going through a lot of change this year – moving from our 17+ year international home in Mexico back to the States. This huge change creates anticipation and loss. In the next months, I want to be authentic about what I feel – not pretend to feel more than I do…not pretend to feel less… It is not easy for me to say good-bye’s; sometimes I want to stuff the pain. This year I want to genuinely grieve and let people know how much I have appreciated their impact in my life and how much I will miss them.

authentic fears – Change is hard. I am often afraid that I will not measure up to new expectations; I won’t have something worthwhile to contribute to new situations; I won’t know enough for the task. I wonder if I will “fit” in the new place; will I like it? Usually I control and conquer those fears and take on the challenge anyway, but this year I would like to be more real about the process and the struggle I go through.

authentic needs – I don’t like to feel stupid, uninformed or un-involved in important causes (a bit of a pride issue here?). I like to do things well, and I don’t like having to ask for help. The truth is, however, that I have a lot to learn, and there are many who can help teach me. I want to read more this year and ask more questions. I want to discuss what I am reading with others and learn from them. I want to make difference with my life, and I want to do it together with others. I will need to honestly admit my needs to do that.

authentic me – I want people to like me and enjoy time with me. I want people to ask my opinion and read what I write.  Sometimes I pretend to be more like others – and less like the real me – so that they will like me. Sometimes I want to believe that I have it all together instead of considering what others actually see in me. Sometimes I want to be like someone else, but in 2012 I am going to work on being “ok” with being me – true to my personality, spirit and character.

authentic relationship with God – This will be the most important area and the basis for all the issues above. It should be easier, since He already knows what I am really like. I wonder if God shakes His head and rolls His eyes when He sees me faking it? Or does He cry… wanting me to just contentedly accept how He made me? I plan to have some very authentic talks with Him this next year about that.

How about you?  Want to be more AUTHENTIC with me this year?  Or what is your word(s) for 2012?

I’d love to learn from you!

use the past to build your future

Facebook and Twitter are full of “new beginnings” this month… everyone with thoughts of leaving behind the last year and starting fresh.  I love the idea of new starts, but I have been thinking about the fact that it is also important to build on the past – not just wipe it away and forget about it.

The past year is important for building the future.

  • the past shows me where I need to grow

It is a humbling experience to review the past year and recognize where I messed up or where someone pointed out that I needed to grow. I remember work reviews that indicated my leadership weaknesses. I remember apologizing to my co-workers because my stress level made me critical and grumpy. I remember comments on my MA papers that indicated writing methods I didn’t know or challenged me to “step it up” and take more risk. There will be many opportunities for me to grow this next year. I wrote about an idea for recording some of these areas now so I can look back at the end of the year and see the difference!

  • the past reminds me that I am not in control

There were so many things that happened last year that I would not have done that way IF I was in control. I would not have had so many dear people die, or struggle with cancer, or get hurt by mean comments, or struggle to pay bills, or … But I couldn’t stop that pain, and I couldn’t make other good things happen that I wanted. God is God, and I am not. The past reminds me of that truth for today and the future.

  • the past teaches that I can make choices every day

I get to decide HOW I will handle what happens each day. Will I greet adversity with faith or fear? Will I treat people with love or with judgement? Will I spend time in reflection or be too busy for that? Will I waste my time, or will I invest in my health, energy, experience and resources to help others? I didn’t always make the best choices last year; I know that, but I made some good choices. And I get to make new choices today and in the days to come.

  • the past confirms that God is present and He is good

No matter what I look back on, I see that God redeemed, restored, renewed or refreshed – even during very difficult situations. I enjoyed wonderful times with family, incredible memories, great friends, laughter, goals reached… and I prayed anguished prayers and cried over tragedies and pain. He was always there, He was always involved, and He always brought some good out of the circumstances. My past experiences tell me that He will also be there and act that way in this year ahead.

We often say, “Reality is our friend”. The past is part of our reality; the past is our friend. You might want to take time to reflect on your past year in these next days, learn from its lessons… and build on that past for an even greater future!

I’d love to hear… What has the past year taught you?

in front of an audience of ONE

I read a blog today about a young lady who is writing a book and receiving a lot of flack for building her “platform” – her own reputation – as she launches this effort.  It made me reflect on how much we desire to do something valuable, worthy, significant with our lives... and yet don’t want to be prideful or showy or pushy about it.

I also thought about how God sometimes chooses to put us in the spotlight – as leaders, as writers… and some are given a platform: “popular”, famous, celebrity.  Sometimes the status is short-term; sometimes it is a life-style.  Praise God for those who represent the Lord on a BIG scale… in ministry, at bookstores, in politics.  May He protect them from temptation and criticism, and may He give them energy, health and strength to share love, forgiveness and eternal life with thousands!

And for the rest of us?  God has also chosen us and given us a job.  It may not be up in front on the platform.  It may be behind the scenes, not so flashy, but every bit as important.

I am content today to have had a part the last few years developing materials for our many Campus Crusade ministries in Mexico.  None of the materials have my name on them; I earn no royalties and sign no autographs.  I spent a lot of time doing boring detail work. But the result is quality resources that encourage and empower others to step out to reach and disciple others with God’s love. Sometimes I get a little feedback, but basically I have no idea how many people will use these materials – and I will never know…

But God knows! I stand on a platform in front of an audience of ONE… and that is good enough for me. I want to give my best to Him and for Him, no matter what I am doing.

And you? Whether you are at home caring for young children, serving in the church kitchen, working in the office, leading others in a Bible study, writing a blog – or speaking to thousands at a conference – do your best for HIM!  He is your most important audience, and He is applauding your show!

**Leave me a comment and let me know about your show! I’d love to pray for you!

Incarnational leadership is like chocolate!

As an avowed chocolate fan, I love Vianne Rocher’s chocolaterie as a picture of incarnational ministry.  The protagonist of the movie, Chocolat, Vianne is “warm, non-judgmental, and compassionate, offering grace and peace to the troubled community… She engages the lives and troubles of her community… offers space… for honesty and truthtelling to happen”.  Vianne makes transformational friendships in the community by discerning the individual (chocolate) preferences of each customer and prescribing the appropriate (chocolate) remedy for their needs.  She cares less about the success of her business and more about the concerns of the people in the town.  Vianne serves the French community with the incarnational attributes of love, self-sacrifice, and commitment.  As a result of her compassion and acceptance, Vianne’s ministry transforms the lives of individual friends and the village as a whole.*

The greatest story of transformation power through personal incarnation is God himself coming to live among us in human form through the person of Jesus (Phil. 2:7).  An incarnational model of leadership is a willingness to re-make ourselves in order to mimic Jesus more effectively in our life and work.  Incarnational ministry does not require that leaders completely give up their culture (national/gender/personality) identity.  Jesus did not give up being God; He did choose to limit certain aspects of His character and power.  Just as a body illustrates how the varied spiritual gifts are necessary to serve God completely (I Cor 13:4-31), so are elements of all cultures necessary to reflect the full image of God.         (…a whole box of chocolates!) No one culture alone is the perfect God culture.  Sometimes aspects of one culture may more closely represent the character of God than another culture; at other times, combined cultural views reflect the character of God more accurately; sometimes an aspect of culture is definitely not Biblical, and a leader should discard that value. Incarnational leadership requires a lot of reflection and effort to determine how and where to make the edits in order to be more like Christ.

Applying the incarnational servant model in leadership is not easy. It can cause self-doubt, confusion and frustration. As leaders we enter a leadership position with a deeply ingrained sense of identity that developed over a lifetime. Our ethnocentrism assumes that others do or should have the same cultural values because my view is the “best” or the “correct” view. Leaders inevitably bring pride and selfishness into the situation and often negatively judge others as inferior or wrong. Attempts to serve and lead in another culture or with multi-cultural teammates will also be affected by the others’ views of  servanthood and leadership. Remember: an action is not a service simply when called service; the action must actually be helpful to the receiver. (Which chocolate is their favorite, not my favorite to give away?) In addition, the pre-conceived opinions, perceptions, and stereotypes of others may interfere with our efforts to lead and serve.  Sometimes even though our motives are good, our actions are completely misunderstood by others, due to their own culture grid or even their own insecurities.

Applying the incarnational model to leadership begins with an attitude adjustment. Just as Jesus came as a helpless infant, so must we approach the leadership situation humbly and with a willingness to learn.

  •  The first step towards an incarnational model is self-acceptance.  This self-acceptance implies recognizing that God made each person intentionally and uniquely, and that He sovereignly allowed their lifetime experiences to develop in them the cultural values that they have at the time.
  • Secondly, it is important for a leader to recognize their personal values, but also be willing to adapt them when necessary. (Would I give up my favorite candy?) God’s power to help a people yield their own preferences and needs to those of others is an indispensable element of incarnation. Without confidence in God’s power to change lives, there would not be much hope for the difficult process of incarnation. Thankfully, with desire, effort and God’s help, leaders can change and grow in their incarnational leadership.

*The Chocolate example comes from The Shaping of Things to Come (2003) by M. Frost & A. Hirsch (pp. 33-62) Hendrickson Publishers.

*** Next blog post will discuss six abilities we can develop to grow in our incarnational leadership… stay tuned!

How do you apply an incarnational attitude to your leadership?  

parents building world leaders

Photo courtesy of Sarah Joelle Photography http://www.sarahjoellephotography.com/

In the middle of diapers, bottles, tantrums, and discipline, it may not seem like you are building world leaders, but YOU ARE! You will never invest more time, energy or love in another disciple, mentee, or young leader as you will in your own children. What you teach them when they are young is important… and is the basis for deep values and convictions they will – or won’t – have when they are adults. Here are a few “leadership training ideas” that we tried to implement as a parents that we hope have helped our children better prepare for the world tomorrow.

Value people – We taught our children to greet people respectfully. When we introduced them to someone, we asked them to respond with “hello” and a handshake or other appropriate greeting. As they got older, a “It’s nice to meet you. My name is…” was appropriate. Maybe there was a question or two more; then they could run off to play. They didn’t have to stay around for boring adult conversation unless they wanted, or it was appropriate. We felt that we did them no favor to excuse their disobedience with, “He’s too shy.” Just as God values people, they learned to value people also. As adults, they will have opportunities to say hello to the person next to them on the plane or next door, or at work. We hope they will remember their training and think, “I can do that… just say hello. If the conversation goes further, that’s great. If not, ok too. But I can show them honor and respect. I can do that.” Who knows where a simple introduction might lead…

Healthy Limits – I wasn’t sure why I didn’t like my child playing with the things in my purse. I thought maybe I was being selfish, that they were just curious and exploring. But I soon realized that children should learn healthy limits. We taught them that not everything in the house was theirs to touch or take. It was important that they learned to ask permission before touching something that belonged to someone else, whether it belonged to their brother, sister, parent, or friend. When they practiced this at home, it was not so difficult to take them to visit somewhere else. When children learn that not everything is theirs, they are better prepared as adults to be content with what is theirs and to appropriately respect the bodies and belongings of others.

Flexibility – We traveled often and needed “reproducible routine”. Especially at bedtime, we wanted a routine that was easy do somewhere else: story, prayer, maybe a favorite blanket/toy… but not complete dark, fan, no noise, etc that might be impossible in new places later. This simplicity allowed our children to be much more flexible for traveling and for practicing hospitality (sharing or giving up their room temporarily for others). They learned that, “Not everyone is always going to cater to you!” This helped to temper selfishness and “high maintenance” in the future.

Communicate – Communication skills are so important, and there are so many ways to grow those skills when children are little. The key for us was: Don’t speak for them once they can say it themselves. Even before they can talk, we taught them to communicate “please” and “thank you” with sign language. They learned to apologize and ask for forgiveness. We gave them opportunities to go to the counter to ask for a straw or napkin. When they were older, we encouraged them to talk with a teacher about getting extra help to improve a poor grade. As children learn to communicate, they gain confidence and ability. They learn to build relationships and to use their words to bring blessing to others.

These are just a few training opportunities for our young leaders. We would often say, “We’ll always love our children, but we want other people to like them too.” There are long-term benefits for our daily efforts. You are building the future!

What are some of your training opportunities?  How do you keep the future in mind as you raise up your future world leaders?