What Matters Most

On Labor Day weekend, Bill and I attended an outdoor music festival where rock bands Starship, Survivor and Boston performed in front of a crowd of 6,000 people. It was a beautiful night as a record number of concert-goers claimed their spot in front of the stage. Because one of my brothers worked for the company that was sponsoring the event, our seats were in a section reserved for employees and their families.

It was a jail cell as far as Katie and Hollie were concerned because they didn’t want to be there. Listening to music that Bill & I grew up with was not their idea of fun, but it seemed silly to let extra tickets go to waste while our girls watched television back at the hotel.

To make the experience more bearable, Katie got out her iPhone and handed one of her earbuds to Hollie. For the next hour, I watched as both girls tuned out the 80’s by infusing a continuous dose of alternative rock into their ears.

“When can we go back to the hotel?” Hollie asked after Starship had finished on stage.

“Why don’t you wait until Survivor is finished playing?” I suggested.

I wanted the girls to hear Eye of the Tiger (one of the only songs they knew), but when the band kept playing songs they didn’t know, I decided to put Katie and Hollie out of their 80’s misery and called my mom to pick them up.

I had just returned to my seat after walking the girls to the gate when I heard that one of the members of Starship had collapsed back stage. Event staff did a great job of keeping the news quiet until the concert was over, but my youngest brother’s VIP pass put him so close to the action that he heard the wife of one of the members of Boston confirm that Mark Abrahamian, the lead guitarist for Starship, had died at the age of 46.

“I don’t know how I’m going to tell my husband,” she said. “He’s been a friend of our family for years.”

“Mark wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, ” the woman continued. “He died doing what he loved.”

Her words raise the question: If today was our last day on earth, would the people who know us best be able to say the same?

In my last post, I confessed that I had gone most of the summer without writing. What I didn’t say—and would like to add—is that with every week that passed, I felt less confident about my calling.

Does God really want me to be a writer?

Isn’t there something easier that I can do?

I am notorious for getting sidetracked with projects around the house, largely because organizing comes easy to me and blogging does not. My latest accomplishment was cleaning out our pantry; and although I smile every time I walk into the clutter-free space, I also know that it came at the cost of other projects.

Missionary C.T. Studd must have felt the same way when he said: Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.

For me what will last are the things that I do for other people. Bill and the girls were frustrated with not being able to find things and so I did something about it. The fact that the work came easy to me was just a bonus. It was also a reminder that I don’t always have to be outside my comfort zone to be in line with God’s; because it’s not what we do, but who we do it for, that really matters most.

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Influencers

In a recent e-mail from Bill Hybels, he challenged me and thousands of other readers to think of the person who influenced us the most during our first 18 years and breathe a prayer of gratitude to God for the impact they had on our lives. This request caused me to pull out a recently completed self-coaching exercise where I identified my top ten needs and the positive or negative ways that I attempted to meet them. As I reviewed the list, it became clear that everything I valued now could be traced to something that was missing at one time or another from my life.

Most would view these unmet needs as a negative thing, but I have a different opinion after seeing the good that has come as a result of them. I am passionate about progress, for example, because as a child I saw the effect of making none. And I include as many people as possible when planning events because, growing up, I often felt left out.

We say that we don’t want anything bad to happen to us, but without the trial there would be no triumph. And although looking back to see where we’re headed sounds like an oxymoron, we’ll never grow in the direction God is leading us by looking to where others have gone.

It is our past that leads to our purpose, not someone else’s. Knowing this gives new meaning to Proverbs 22:6 because training up a child in the way he should go is about, not just discipline, but discernment. Every consequence we experience, whether brought on by our actions or another person’s, is a lesson in how—or how not—to live.

There’s no way around it: Whether our past makes us bitter or better, either way it defines us so why not choose the route that makes the world a better place to be? That’s what Joseph did in Genesis 50:20 when he forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery because it put him in a position to feed his family and all of Egypt. “You intended to harm me,” he explained, “but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Joseph was exactly where God needed him to be to make a difference during his time on earth and so are we. So instead of cursing the darkness, let’s choose to be a light as we give thanks, not just for the good influencers, but also for the ones who taught us how not to be.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

Equipping the Called

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder but, when I go for weeks without posting to my blog, the only thing I feel more of is fear.

Fear that the craft I spent years developing will slowly slip away until I wonder if writing was ever one of my gifts at all.

Experience has taught me that confidence, like a muscle, develops with use. And the longer we go between workouts, the less useful we become.

All of us, at one point or another, have watched someone accomplish an amazing feat and said to ourselves: “I could never do that.” What we should have been saying in these instances is: “I have no intention of trying.”

As I type this, I am watching the movie The King’s Speech with my daughters. In the scene that just transpired, speech therapist Lionel Logue was talking to his wife about an argument he’d had with a patient.

“This fellow could be great, but he’s fighting me,” Logue explained.

Without realizing that her husband was talking about the son of a king who suffered from a severe case of stuttering, she replied: “Perhaps he doesn’t want to be great.”

I have to wonder if God feels as frustrated as this therapist when people say they want to do His will, but never take the time to find out what it is.

Luke 12:48 states that to “everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Why then do so many of us know what our gifts are and fail to develop them? Could it be that we fear success more than we do failure?

Every time I think that what God is calling me to do is more than I can handle, I tell myself the same thing that I say to my daughters when they don’t want to take their medicine: Don’t think, just drink.

God is challenging all of us to do the same by drinking more and worrying less about the cup He has placed before us. Those who do will find that if we don’t think we can do something, it’s probably because we’ve been thinking about things too much.

Colin Firth’s character in “The King’s Speech” definitely thought too much when he doubted his ability to assume the role of king. To allay his fears, the therapist said: “Every stammerer fears going back to square one. I won’t let that happen.”

Our king feels the same way about us so don’t let your dreams die for lack of trying. Instead, remember that God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. And the best way to gain confidence, is to do.

Favorite Fifteen Quotes of 2011

In addition to lessons learned, I also like to share quotes on Twitter as I come across them. Here are my favorite fifteen out of all of the ones I posted in 2011. Because I can’t help but improve upon everything I touch (and tweet), the conclusions I reached after reading them are printed in italics.

  1. Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. Make time for others. – Helen Keller
  2. We need to exchange whispers with God before we exchange words with somebody else. Pray. – Lysa Terkeurst
  3. The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it. Grow. – John Ruskin
  4. The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with. Take risks. – Tony Robbins
  5. The best way to make someone interested in you is to be interested in yourself. Take care of yourself. – Rachel Ray
  6. People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Think of others. – Maya Angelou
  7. When people show you who they are, believe them. Be discerning. – Oprah
  8. We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Change is good. – Albert Einstein
  9. Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. Be who you are, not who people want you to be. – Cyril Connolly
  10. A person who has flatlined has stopped growing. Breathe new life into your day. – Dr Henry Cloud
  11. He who looks outside himself dreams. He who looks inside awakens. Learn from what you live through. – Carl Jung
  12. If I made it in this country, the road is there guys. You really are the only shadow standing in your sunshine. Get out of your own way. – Fabio Viviani
  13. Boredom is not another mealtime. Be productive. – Valerie Bertinelli
  14. The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you. Have faith. – Paraphrased from 1 Corinthians 10:13
  15. He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree. Know Christ.– Unknown

If you have a favorite quote to share, feel free to add a comment to this post and remember to …

Top Twenty Tweets of 2011

I started using Twitter in 2009. At first I treated this social networking site as a mini version of Facebook, sharing status updates and personal musings in 140 characters or less. Over time my posts evolved to become a reflection of, not what I’d been up to, but how God was working through circumstances to teach me about life. As we move into a new year, I share my top twenty tweets of 2011 in the hope that they will inspire you to create your own record of lessons learned.

Living with Purpose:

1.  When you can’t do anything about it, do something with it.

2.  Find a way, not an excuse.

3.  Better to fumble around looking for open doors than to grumble about the ones that are closed.

4.   If the person who’s standing in your way is you, maybe it’s time to move.

5.  Be the change you wish to see in the world and, one day, it will.

6.   More important than encouraging kids to pursue their dreams, is showing what it’s like to reach for ours.

7.   The danger of watching too much tv is not the bad habit it produces, but the behavior it prevents. Lack of discipline limits potential.

Relating to Others:

8.   You teach people how to treat you. Create a lesson plan.

9.   Looking good means nothing if you live ugly.

10.  The high road would be a lot easier to take of it wasn’t so uphill.

11.  If the high road is an uphill climb then the low one is a slippery slope. Tread lightly.

12.  If you think that it’s all about you, you’ve thought about it too much.

13.  Getting ahead should never be done by holding others back.

14. When kids won’t do for themselves what they want you to do for them, it’s time for the kids to do without.

Questions to Grow By:

15.  Why is it so easy to let ourselves down if we wouldn’t think of doing it to others? Luke 6:31 applies to us, too.

16.  When you are in an argument, the question is not “Are you right?” but “Do you want to be?” Everything comes at a price, even winning.

17.  Do you ever wonder if the people who exasperate you also frustrate God? Before you answer, ask yourself: Are you one of those people?

18.  Ever feel like everyone has an agenda and God’s not on any one of them?

19.  It’s easy to criticize what happened before us, but are we willing to make the changes necessary to affect those who come after us?

20.  Some people try to use God to get ahead. Others allow God to use them for His glory. Which one are you?

Feel free to post your own life lessons as comments and have a blessed new year.

Finding Our Way

This year, I completed Beth Moore’s bible study, Breaking Free: Making Liberty in Christ a Reality in Life.  One of the things that I enjoyed most about the topic was that it got me thinking about my calling. I am all about movement; and as soon as I read on page four that Beth’s gift is guiding believers to love and live God’s Word, I started pondering my life purpose until it became clear that what I am passionate about is progress.

My calling is encouraging people to learn from what they live through and do something to improve their lives. It is with this Say-No-To-The-Status-Quo philosophy in mind that I began searching for a way to take my ministry to the next level in 2011. Because God’s will often builds upon what we’re already doing, I thought that my next challenge would involve finding a wider audience for my writing and speaking topics; and when a friend invited me to travel with her to a women’s conference in North Carolina, I happily agreed.

I’d been wanting to attend this annual event for several years because it included appointments with publishers and the opportunity to be mentored by a member of a national speaker team. Arriving over-prepared for both, I was surprised when none of my work seemed to  matter. A hoarse voice made it hard to effectively deliver my presentations, and the editors that I met with refused to look at anything I had prepared. It was like God had closed doors so fast that I had no chance to walk through them; and I left the conference feeling even more confused than before I signed up to attend.

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend once said: “Sometimes on the road of life…getting lost is how we find out way.”ˆ1

I was on this road (and on my way to the airport) when clarity came in the form of another conference attendee who had been assigned to our limo at the last minute.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked her.

“I’m a life coach,” she replied.

Although my first reaction was skepticism after she told me about her minimal amount of training, my second one was curiosity as I wondered: Is God leading me to this profession?

My answer came a few days later when Bill agreed that becoming a life coach would give me the training I needed to realize my dream of creating a goal-setting and accountability group ministry for churches.

In September I started a 6-month training program to become a Board Certified Life Coach, proving that life doesn’t just happen when you’re making plans … Sometimes it happens because of them.

I had to step out in faith to pursue what I thought was a good path, before God would lead me to a better one. Never was this more clear than when I opened the textbook for my core coaching class and read that “coaching is about insight, learning, and choosing to act.”ˆ2

As soon as I saw this definition, I looked back at my notes from the Beth Moore bible study that I completed earlier in the year and confirmed that it was almost identical to my calling: I want people to learn from what they live through and do something to improve their lives and God made sure that the first person to get an education … was me.

What I learned is that God’s will does build upon what we are already doing. And when one door (or two) closes, it’s because He has an even better one for me—and all of us—to walk through.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11


ˆ1 Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do ( Brentwood: Integrity Publishers, 2003), Back Cover.

ˆ2 Patrick Williams and Diane S. Menendez, Becoming a Professional Life Coach, p. 105