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Are you curious?

curiousCurious people make great employees. They don’t just do what they are told, they push to improve, think outside the box, and find a new approach.

On a connected thought, I listened to this TEDTalk this morning by Adam Grant. It turns out that successful people leave space for creativity. After they get started on an idea, they wait (we call it procrastination), letting ideas gel and obstacles work themselves out.

These two thoughts connect with my morning contemplation of scripture. Here are the verses I’m thinking on:

“For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished.” (John 5:20 NLT)

 

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:12 NLT)

There is no verse in the bible that convicts me quite like John 14:12. I wonder – will I ever, in my life, do works that are “even greater”?

The key might lie in John 5:19. Jesus is talking to the Jewish leaders who are pretty ticked off that Jesus is working on the Sabbath. Not only did he heal someone, but then he had the audacity to call God father. Just when they were reaching for rocks to throw at him (figuratively in this instance), he said, “I can’t do anything by myself.” Not very God-like. What is Jesus up to?

Jesus goes on to explain (referring to himself in the third person): “he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

So here is my thought: If I am not accomplishing “greater things,” is it possible that I’m not waiting to see what God is doing? Is it possible that I’ve tried to apply God’s power to my ideas instead of discovering what God is up to? What if, instead, I became curious. Instead of rushing ahead to accomplish things, I waited to see what God is up to.

In Matthew, we hear Jesus say, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:2-4)

Are you curious?

 

Messy is not sin

messy “Messy is not sin.” This is the quote from 40 Days of Decrease, my devotion for Lent.

The sentence keeps rolling around in my head today. I like clean lines. I like smooth emotions. I like life to not be messy – because messy hurts. Messy is a bit like pruning (or a destruction derby, depending on the day).

The question is – do I love the people around me enough to let them be messy?

In order to be better at letting people be messy, we have to be better at crucial conversations and creative problem solving. People are important. The growth we get from working through issues is worth the mess.

We all have different ways of dealing with stress – fight, flight or freeze. On my best days, I freeze. Most of the time, I flee – fast. On rare occasion, I have been known to step in front of the teenage freight train (I have several of them) and actually fight – because that is what the child needed.

While there are healthy ways to approach each of these tendencies, each approach has a downside. Freezing can miss critical moments. Fleeing might squash people’s emotions instead of helping them work through it. Fighting without boundaries can squash people and debilitate them. Embracing messy gives us the freedom to work through things slowly enough that freezing means listening, fleeing means regrouping to approach a situation with grace and wisdom, and fighting means having a critical conversation about what really matters.

I am very tempted right now to go back and make this a nice linear blog post that explains my conclusions – but messy is not sin, and messy can be helpful – so I will leave you with this:

What is messy about your life that you need to embrace?

Are you afraid you stink?

StinkDo you hide the stinky parts of life because they are just too much? We can learn from John 11.

Jesus and his disciples were doing their thing and a messenger came from Mary and Martha. Come quick! Lazarus is sick. Jesus sent the messenger on his way and went back to eating.

Jesus didn’t show up!

After a day or two, he finally decided to go to Bethany to be with his friends. As he and his disciples walked into town, Martha greeted them “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.”

So, Jesus and his friends trudged up to the cemetery.

This scene is played out in private lives today. “Jesus, if you had been there, the problems I have wouldn’t have happened. But even now I know you can heal me.”

So Jesus told them to roll the stone away and Martha panicked.

“Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!”

Often times, when Jesus wants to heal our deep wounds, he first has to roll back the stone – dig up the past and expose it to sunlight.

Our response is often:

  • No one will understand. They will think I’m dredging up the past – and people will get hurt!
    • “Master, by this time there’s a stench.”
  • That will cause so much pain. I just can’t go there.
    • “Lord, by this time there is a bad odor”
  • I should have dealt with this years ago. No one wants to hear it now.
    • “Lord, by this time he stinketh.”

When Jesus and the disciples first took off for Bethany, Jesus said to them “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing.”

Is it possible that God knew all along about those areas of your life that needed healing, and when He is ready, He will roll back the stone? Will you let Him?

Dance freely

DanceWho do you dance for?

Fear. Will others approve? Will they misinterpret? What would make me okay? It hits us in so many areas of life – parenting, job performance, social situations…the list is long.

The cure? To dance before the Audience of One. I don’t know where this phrase started, but it means that God is the One you focus on for acclaim.

Who is in your audience today?

Who is in your head that you reflect on as you navigate life?

The girl in the picture above is a street performer. She dances in order to get the attention of others because if she has their attention, then maybe they will give her coins. She needs her audience. She has to modify her behavior to keep their attention.

If we are dependent on the audience of many, we can become pulled in so many directions we lose our identity. There is an inner strength that comes from dancing before the One who defines our purpose and sustains our strength.

Who do you dance for?

What box do you fit in?

11741263_sYesterday I talked about self-identity. I’m thinking through this for a reason.

I highly suspect that:

  1. Just as we tend to change careers every 7 years, we also tend to need to redefine our boxes (which means teens aren’t the only ones working on self-identity).
  2. When we are solely defined by what others think of us, that impedes this process.
  3. Men have an easier time of finding their box than women.

This last one deserves some explanation.

Men tend to lead in hierarchies. They think in boxes. In fact, when you move up the hierarchy, you just move your box up. When they leave work, they move to a different hierarchy, and switch hats to dad, or coach, or etc.

Women tend to lead in more of a web. We see the connectedness of things. We self-define through the lens of multiple relationships at a time. Therefore, we don’t have just one box at a time. Neither do we wear one hat at a time.

It is not unusual to plan dinner, create a check list for next week, and council a teen while working on an extensive spreadsheet for next year’s budget. Everything runs into each other, so it is a lot harder to define our ‘place.’

I’ve been talking with friends lately about the lack of women in leadership. I hear from some friends that men would love to have more women in leadership, but when they look for them, they aren’t there.

Where are all the women? They are sitting in 3 boxes, wearing 6 hats, hoping someone will notice the skill set they are so fantastically demonstrating – if anyone could see the whole picture at once. But, when they use their skill set to marshal the entire PTA to raise funds for kids’ field trips, people see the soccer mom or school volunteer. When they navigate medical terminology and negotiate home health care contracts for their family members, they see a dutiful daughter.

I highly suspect that because women self-define several things at once, it appears they don’t have the space to fill an open slot. There is a business adage of this: if you want something done, ask a busy person.

What are we missing?

What would you add to help further this conversation?


“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

What makes you okay?

11458138_sMany of us feel okay by setting a standard and meeting that standard. What do you use to make yourself feel okay?

Some people define themselves by

  • Family relationships
  • Knowing and obeying all the rules
  • Our mistakes and failures

In John 8 Jesus and the Pharisees face off about how we define ourselves.

Jesus suggests that we be defined by our relationship with God. Not by our failures, our lack of resources, our rules for life, who our family is, what they did or didn’t do, or our connections.

What do you define yourself by?

The woman caught in adultery not only defined herself, but was defined by the society she was in.

Are you defined by those who know you?

Jesus looked at the woman and told her she had a choice. She could repeat her behavior and end up in the same place, or she could chart a new course.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees that their relationship with God should shape how they thought of others.

Every day, you find yourself at the feet of Jesus.

Will you shout your okay-ness like the Pharisees?

Will you continue the life that got you to today?

Will you let Jesus redefine you as the person you were created to be?

I can’t do ministry – I have kids

21168240_sA few things have converged to bring this post about:

  1. I’ve heard an increased chatter on bivocational pastors – pastors who have a full time job, and a church.
  2. A friend and I had a discussion on how it is assumed that women with children don’t have the time or energy to do anything that remotely relates to leadership and sacrifice.
  3. I found myself buying into #2 for my personal circumstances, thinking that I can only do ministry (except the occasional teaching gig) if I work part time, or if I work in a church. Then my wonderful husband pointed out that we know someone (male) who has four small children and is planting a church while working full time at a secular job.

So, I start at the beginning – can women have a family, a job, and a ministry?

First, the emotional: If I put everything I have into doing what God has called me to, will I be looked at as a bad mom? Some women have been told that they can’t work full time because women who have kids will somehow let their kids down if they work full time. Who wants to be the “bad mom”?

This is baffling to me, and truthfully, I think it is a modern phenomenon coupled with a power-focused leadership style. After all, throughout history women have carried far heavier loads than we do today – while raising hoards of children,  not just our average 2.5 (or less).

So, as is my habit, I looked for a biblical example. I don’t have to look far – Deborah. Ah! Did you always picture Deborah and older, childless woman, sitting under her tree holding court? I know that is what the flannel graphs showed. However, Judges 5:7 says:

Villagers in Israel would not fight;
    they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
    until I arose, a mother in Israel.

I don’t think this language was figurative. It says that Deborah arose, a mother IN Israel, not a mother TO Israel. So, how does this whole story look different if you envision Deborah with a passel of kids – maybe toddler to teen tagging along? Do you think that if God could use Deborah with her whole family in tow, He might be able to use those of us who are similarly sleep deprived and hormonally challenged? Do you think He can provide the patience, wisdom and support that this lifestyle would need?

Then I look for more modern models:

One of my favorite missionaries is Rosalind Goforth. She was a missionary in China, and had hundreds of women through her house on a regular basis – and for much of that time, she had small children. She found a way to make it work – she fulfilled God’s call and loved her kids at the same time.

Women in areas where the gospel cannot be publicly proclaimed have full time ministries while leading full time lives outside of the ministry. Throughout the world, women pastor house churches while carrying on very full lives (this might be where one pastor got the idea that women “will never pastor a congregation over 75”).

There are some that believe that women can do any ministry except leadership over men. They believe that the story of Deborah exists because “no man” was willing to take the spot. I think there are male callings in the bible that show God using men whether they liked it or not, so “answering the call” isn’t always a prerequisite to being used by God. It is mighty arrogant to say that God needs a contingency plan.

Either way, the Western World is now post-Christian. (If you live in the bible belt of the US, it might not feel like it yet.) Obviously there aren’t enough people who will put their lives on the line for the gospel. Whether you are male or female, if God has called you, you should go – even if it means carrying along your whole household.

So, what do you think?

 

Midlife-teen transition

transitionMidlife-teen years are no fun. This is the moment when you want to take back every mean thought you ever had towards your mom during your teen years.

Seriously – I didn’t like the teen years the first time around, and I’m not liking them any better today.

To add to the complexity, I get to share this midlife experience with a house full of teens. We’ve all agreed that I’m just occasionally nuts, and I overheard my teens discussing the “stages” of my transition. Thankfully, we are a family that easily laughs at ourselves – when we aren’t sniping at one another.

So, at this unique point in history (not yesterday and not tomorrow) I bring you my current list of how to survive the midlife-teen years:

1. Exercise. I know – they say that all the time, but it turns out that if you don’t use your body, it starts to break down. Also, exercise (like walking, running, etc) keeps blood flowing to all the parts of the brain so you can more easily handle the stresses of life. Also, it releases serotonin, which is a serious need for women over 40 according to the kindle book Happy Hormones, Slim Belly. I am currently enjoying the Sisterhood of the Skinny Jeans monthly fitness calendar challenge to add variety to my workout.

2. Pray. Don’t give God your list – if He doesn’t already know it, you are in trouble. Instead, crawl up in God’s lap and listen to His heartbeat. As things come to mind, hold them up to Him and listen for His perspective. If you must make a list, then recite all the things that God is doing. Train your brain to see the positive.

3. Laugh. Recently, in a five minute time period, I was overwhelmingly anxious, felt God’s deep peace wash over me, and was moved to tears by beauty – if you can’t laugh at those crazy transitions, you will be tempted to ride the rollercoaster, believing that each state is something you have to pay attention to.

4. Give. Your family will drain every last drop from you, and you won’t feel replenished – but if you find opportunities to give on purpose, send encouragement to a friend, rally support for a need – these are God-given opportunities to get outside yourself and let Him work through you. For the rare individual who is able to give endlessly to her children and feel fulfilled, please ignore this one – you are already up for sainthood.

5. Wait. I am tempted almost daily to apply for 5 new jobs, establish my next priority, make a life plan for the next 15 years. Seriously not a good idea. Do numbers 1-4 during transition times. The process of transition is 1. knowing what you are letting go of, and letting go of it; 2. reestablish who you are without what you lost; 3. new direction.

The teen years, both the first ones and the midlife ones, are about the second part of transition – reestablishing who you are. #3 comes out of #2. If you try to skip to #3, you are riding a bicycle in soft sand – spinning your wheels and making a mess.

Some transitions are more painful than others, but experience shows us that if we try to skip over the painful parts, we will get stuck. Instead, actively wait. Do the hard work of exercise, listening prayer, honest assessment and community building. Your new direction will come soon – and you will be great at it.

(Sermon to self is now over.)

Need Emotional Control?

emotional control “If it’s everybody else, it’s probably you.”

One day I suddenly realized that it was not possible that EVERYONE in my life was against me. That was the day I started to get control over these crazy things we call chemically-induced emotions.

Whether it is from lack of sleep (the toddler years…followed by the teen years and menopause) or stress (all the time in between), there are days and even weeks when our body creates a false reality in our minds.

For reasons I don’t understand, I’ve recently been through a new wave of transient emotions. Some days, the negative parts of life seem unending, then the next day I’m full of purpose and hope. Which leads me to … “sometimes, emotions lie.” Just because I’m feeling something, doesn’t mean it is true.

How do you know if you are experiencing an emotion that needs to be figured out, or one that is just chemically-induced? Are all chemically-induced emotions to be ignored?

I’m not sure I have the answers, but I know a few things from years on the emotional yoyo of life. Let’s take the Foxworthy approach – You might have chemically-induced emotions if:

  • Ripping someone limb-from-limb is suddenly a real possibility.
  • Puppies and bubbles send you into euphoria, followed by sobbing.
  • Your eyes suddenly pop open at 2am like a five year old on Christmas morning.
  • That feeling of dread you get in action movies right before the plot climax? Yeah – four times a day with no provocation – it crawls right up your back and whispers creepily that something MUST be wrong – somewhere.
  • Chocolate…and more chocolate…followed by ice cream.

So how can we limit the crazy times?

1. Eat right. Do an internet search – what foods cause your particular emotion (anger, anxiety and depression seem to be the main ones) – DON’T EAT THEM. For me, sugar and wheat seem to send me into a tailspin.

2. Exercise. Stretching helps move your body fluids around. Stretching with power poses will increase your ability to handle stress. Aerobic exercise helps your body release tension, and it will up your serotonin levels.

3. Smile. Your body can manipulate your brain chemicals – one of the best ways is to smile -whether you mean it or not. Smile for at least 2 minutes several times an hour the first day – it won’t be long before you aren’t faking it – you will actually want to smile. In a similar way, frowning, especially with furrowed eyebrows will add stress to your body and your mood.

4. Phone a friend. We were created to be in community, and when you are caught in a mental loop, find someone to call. They don’t even need to know why you called – just listen to them talk about their life. This will break the negative loop in your mind and help you focus on better things.

5. Pray. You’d think that praying should be first – and sometimes it is – but if you aren’t taking care of your body, you can still be caught in a negative loop of chemically-induced emotions. However, praying to listening instead of talk, praying in the Spirit, and praising all have positive effects on our moods. In fact, there are studies that show that what some call meditation (praying to listen and praying in the Spirit for the rest of us) will calm the amigdala, which is the anxiety center of the brain. God really is in charge, and if you spend time letting Him be in charge, you are letting go of stress and letting the negative loop unfurrow.

6. Forgive. Don’t carry around emotions you don’t have to. Your brain will thank you if you identify what you lost and let it go.

I wish I could say that we shouldn’t have the negative loop, but the truth is that we are human – we aren’t machines. Perfect doesn’t exist this side of heaven, and we are in bodies that are not eternal. It is important to remember that when Jesus said that He is going to prepare a place for us, He was letting us know that we don’t have to be defined by the negative here and now. We can be defined by our place in eternity. God is wild about you. He delights over you. Take a moment and dance with Him.

 

Leadership: Running for the Goal

runningFor the last 7 weeks, I have been doing a couch to 5k. This week I am up to walking 5 min, “running” 25 minutes, and walking 5 min again.

I put “running” in quotes because honestly, there are small children who walk faster than I run, but as I jogged along this morning, I was struck by all the leadership lessons I’ve seen in my few weeks of running. Here are a few:

Keep your head up. I have a tendency to look at the ground right in front of my when I run – this is an act of self preservation, so I don’t trip. However, my pace, posture and stamina increase (not to mention I don’t look like a hunchback runner) when I lift my head and keep my eyes on the horizon. It only took a few blocks to train myself to see the driveway dips in my peripheral vision so I didn’t trip. As leaders, we are all tempted at times to keep our eyes on the details right in front of us, leaving the future, the goal, the horizon in our peripheral. This limits our ability to move forward and to take corrective action until it is almost too late.

Have a plan. In week 5, I discovered that I wasn’t getting any further than I had in week 4. In fact, my pace had slowed way down. Halfway through the week, I discovered the reason – I had only visualized myself getting to a certain point – after that point is a downhill portion of street, and I was avoiding going downhill because I’d have to climb it again. So, I mentally practiced going down and back up that hill every time I drove past it for 2 days – on my next run, I was able to go almost 2 blocks farther than my sticking point. My pace and distance were increasing again.

runningAdversity is your friend. During week 4, I injured my knee. I ran the track, and since it was all flat, my body rebelled. My knee and calf muscle cramped up and it took 3 days for it to relax. On day 2, I went running again, back to the hilly sidewalks of my area, and got the best pace time ever (before or since). A slope of only 3 degrees can reduce pressure on your knees by 24%. It is harder to climb that hill, but your body will like you better, and actually, for reasons I don’t understand, I tend to go faster uphill.

Challenge helps you. Sometimes as church leaders, we wonder “why is it never enough?” “Why do I try every week to get better? Why am I never satisfied?” Running gave me the answer. When I don’t push myself, when I don’t have a new goal, I get complacent. Having a new goal makes me better at the basics. I bring my best when I’m pushing to a new height. I bring mediocrity when I am satisfied. With running, and I’m sure with leadership, it helps to have someone who can help you reach for the next level – to not be complacent. This might be a coach, or it might be a ‘running partner,’ like the women in my Mastermind Group.

After six weeks, I noticed that my body likes running. Okay – it doesn’t like getting out of bed, and it complains for the entire run (some might call it a fast waddle) – but when I am done, my serotonin levels are up, and I sleep better at night if I ran in the morning. Living up to the personality and giftings God gave us can be stressful, but there is no better sweet spot.

What are your “uphill battles” of leadership? Are you living in complacency, or finding daily challenges?

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