Flat Stanley

When my 14-year-old asked me to drive her to school a few days ago, I immediately told her: “No.”

Katie is notorious for dragging herself out of bed so late that she and her sister barely make it to the bus stop in time. This morning was no different and I was not about to rearrange my schedule to ease hers … until I walked downstairs, took one look at the food on the table that would go uneaten, and decided to show a little mercy instead.

“If you make your bed before coming down for breakfast, I’ll drive you to school.”

“Really?” Katie asked, clearly relieved.

The one person who wasn’t happy was Hollie. Having called me a pushover on several occasions for going back on my word, she couldn’t see that holding a grudge is counterproductive to demonstrating God’s grace. Life is full of trade-offs; and sometimes we have to choose between sticking to our guns and standing for others who are unable (or unwilling) to help themselves.

Never was this more clear than in the scene from last week’s episode of The Middle where Axel shut his fingers in a door and needed his brother, Brick, to free them. Axel’s on-screen predicament made me think of the time I accomplished a similar feat while living in Nebraska. I can remember like it was yesterday: The girls were playing in the front yard; Bill was working in the garage; and I had just walked outside to see how everyone was doing. For some reason, the trunk of my car was open and I decided to close it from where I stood on the passenger side of the vehicle. Without thinking about how my right hand would be impacted as it rested on the top of the car’s rear quarter-panel, I awkwardly reached over with my left to push the lid down and felt a bone-crushing pain the second it locked into place.

Feeling a lot like Flat Stanley as I looked at the tiny opening that half of my thumb had disappeared into, I called out to Bill for help. Unlike Brick—who took his time responding to Axel’s cries—my roommate was quick to free me from the grip of my latest mistake.

Whenever I think about what would have happened if he had not been there to pop the trunk, I thank God for saving me from the unbearable pain and possible loss of my thumb.

James 2:13 says that “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” I used to think that this verse was more about conviction than evangelism; but now I realize that people need love the most when they deserve it the least.  And if we want to have the mind of Christ, we first need to adopt the attitude where those who make their beds don’t have to lie in them because mercy triumphs over judgment every time.

Losing Sight of Who We Are

I watch American Idol for the moments when destiny peeks its head into reality to give us a glimpse of what it’s like to use our gifts for God’s glory. One of those moments emerged during the April 19th results show when alternative rocker Colton Dixon, after being told that he had the lowest number of votes, took center stage to belt out one last tune. Before he did, the 20-year-old from Tennessee expressed remorse over not accepting a negative critique the night before.

“I need to apologize. I wasn’t myself last night and I get it,” Colton told the judges. “And I appreciate what you told me … I’ll take that when I’m making a record.”

“You’ll make many records,” judge Jennifer Lopez corrected.

“Colton Dixon: a class act,” Ryan Seacrest added as a video showing the contestant’s Idol journey appeared onscreen.

I want to finish that well. To admit my shortcomings and send a message that life doesn’t have to be perfect … and neither do you and I. Sometimes I think we spend so much energy covering up our mistakes: there’s no time left to learn from them.

What Colton learned (and shared with viewers during a post-performance interview) was that he had forgotten where he came from. “I wanted to end tonight the way I started it,” the singer explained. “I felt like I strayed last night,and I hate that I did but I was ready to bring it back and bring my focus back.”

As a life coach, I want everyone to live with purpose and love their lives. We do neither when we say that our heart is in one place and spend all of our time in another. Colton learned this lesson the hard way when he lost part of his fan base after performing a Lady Gaga song onstage despite professing a desire to be a Christian singer. The contradiction reminds me of something that one of my daughters said the other day while we were playing ping-pong.

“Mom, will you still love me if I decide to be an atheist?”

“My love for you is unconditional,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

“Because I don’t like it when hypocrite Christians act like God only loves them.”

How easy it is for us, like Colton, to forget who we are and where we come from. The problem with believing one way and behaving another is that we run the risk of alienating the very people God has called us to serve. I don’t want to be the reason someone loses faith in me or my creator. Colton wasn’t going to be either when he dropped to his knees on stage to give his final performance to God.

“I wasn’t singing for [the judges]. I wasn’t singing for my family or anyone in the audience. I wasn’t singing for anyone at home.” Colton explained after he had finished. “That song was between me and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. … I wanted to end it the way I started it and the way I told myself I would do this competition, and I’m glad I got the opportunity.”^1

I have to believe that God was, too, because, although we may lose sight of who we are, He never does. And even the lowest of lows can be turned into a high when we resolve to finish well.

Colton Dixon Singing “Everything”

^1 http://blog.zap2it.com

Summer is coming: Do you have a plan?

Version 1 of my coaching website is up and running and my coaching doors are officially open for business. For help with letting go of self-limiting behaviors & beliefs and living up to your full potential, check out NoLimitsLifeCoaching.com.

While you’re there, visit the Group Coaching page where I outline my first tele-workshop, which begins on May 1st. If you are a parent or know one who wants to set goals for your child(ren) in the areas Jesus outlined in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, I’d love to have you join us. The cost for the program is just $36, a small price to pay for a plan that will keep kids living with purpose all summer long.

Note: If you work during the day and would like to participate in an evening Parenting with Purpose Group Coaching Program, please e-mail me with the night(s) of the week that would work for you and, if there is enough interest, I will let you know.

Settling

While watching the 2010 remake of Ice Castles, a reporter asked the main character (an up-and-coming figure skater) about how she coped with the pressure of competing.

“I don’t think of it as pressure. I think of it as excitement,” the girl replied.

With those thirteen words, the Olympic hopeful demonstrated a communication technique known as reframing.

Reframing is a tool that coaches use to help clients see a situation differently and with new understanding. This change in perspective is particularly useful when helping someone view a liability as an asset or a limitation as an opportunity—Like the other day when a friend asked me if I believed in settling.

‘What do you mean?”

“Do you believe that a person has to settle in order to stay married?”

The question took me by surprise because never, in the 18 years that Bill and I have been married, did I ever feel like I was settling. A relationship is not something that you sit down to watch, like a television series (or the remake of an old movie). It’s a live improvisation where both people have a starring role and how it plays out is dependent upon—not one—but two.

My friend must have known this because , when I asked for clarification, it became clear that we were both on the same marital page.

“By settling, do you mean compromising?”

After nodding in agreement, my friend replied: “I can’t tell you how many times a guy has told me that his wife no longer wants to do what he likes to do and the guy has to settle if he wants to stay married.”

The idea that anyone would enter into a marriage thinking that there would be no give and take is hard to imagine, yet it happens every time one partner repeatedly sacrifices their sense of self in an effort to please the other. I often say that there are no victims, only volunteers. And if you lay down for long enough, no one will recognize you when you try to stand up.

Both parties are to blame when a relationship becomes less than ideal and both are responsible for fixing it. One of the best tools for the job is reframing because even tension is a good thing if it leads to self-awareness or change. And sometimes all we need is a new perspective to see that a marriage is never about one person … and settling is not okay.

So That …

On March 17th, I attended the 2012 Hearts at Home Conference in Normal, Illinois. The fist speakers of the day were reality TV stars Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. As I listened to the famous couple talk about the circumstances that led up to their series, “19 Kids and Counting,” two words came up so frequently in their conversation that I felt compelled to make them the cornerstone—and title—of mine as I learned how:

  • God told Jim Bob to run for a seat on the US Senate so that …
  • a photographer could take his family’s picture when they showed up at the polls so that
  • the New York Times would buy the photo and write about the large family from Arkansas who supported their father on election day.

Sometimes you have to let go of something good to make room for something great. Jim Bob had to lose his race for US Senate so that he could say “yes” to a documentary and the television series that followed. It’s a lesson that inspired me to create my latest (and shortest) parenting rhyme as I concluded that every “drat” has a “so that.”

It’s hard to understand in our darkest moments that God’s hand will one day be removed to let in the light, but it does happen when we lean on verses like Romans 8:28 and Isaiah 43:19.

I’ve had a lot of “so that’s” in my life. One of the most memorable occurred in 2010 when:

  • my ovaries stopped producing estrogen so that …
  • my digestive system would slow to a crawl so that
  • the doctor would schedule a colonoscopy ten years before my first one would normally be due so that
  • the silent killer known as colon cancer could be discovered before it had time to spread.

Hind sight is not just 20/20. It’s a 10-4 that God is at work in our lives. The disciples realized this first hand when:

  • God sent his son to die on a cross for our sins so that …
  • all who believe in him will have eternal life so that …
  • we are free to serve God, not out of obligation, but in celebration of what Jesus did to save our lives.

This wasn’t what the apostles had asked for. They were looking for someone to save them from the Romans, not themselves.

I read once that the purpose of prayer is not to tell God what we want from Him, but to teach us about what He requires of us. Jim Bob knew this when, on the heels of defeat, He prayed for insight into what God would have him do next with his life. Our challenge is the same as we ask, not for our will to be done, but to understand His and trust that when things don’t turn out the way we hoped they would, God can use bad for good.

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

(Isaiah 43:19)

Bad Ingredients

“I’m on the train,” Bill said when I answered the phone. “I should be home by 7:30.”

“Sure beats getting home at 1:30 a.m. like you did last night,” I replied.

My husband puts in some crazy hours during his busy season; and every year, there’s a two-week window when I wonder how long he can keep up the pace. During this stressful time, I try to be like the woman from Proverbs 31 where her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value because she brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

Part of the good that I bring—literally—to the table during busy season is a freshly made dessert in case Bill wants a late night snack before going to bed. Although my family might tell you otherwise, I’m not a terrible baker. As long as I follow the directions on the box or bag, nothing gets burned and nobody usually gets hurt by eating it.

Still, I known for my kitchen mishaps. Probably because the ones that I do have overshadow even my best laid plans. Like when Bill came home to find a pan of rice crispy bars waiting for him. I made them after noticing a forgotten box of cereal in the back of a cupboard earlier that day. Although the contents didn’t expire for several months, the holiday packaging should have been my clue that the outcome would not be worth my effort. What it was worth was a laugh when Bill took a bite out of one and said: “Call the Blackhawks to see if they want their hockey pucks back.”

“They’re not that bad,” I protested.

“I’m lucky I didn’t break a tooth,” he exclaimed before good-naturedly adding, “It’s good to be home.”

This type of banter is common in our household. As a firm believer in the saying “If you want to fight, keep it light”, I rarely take jabs seriously, whether poked in fun or out of frustration. According to John Gottman, this is a good thing because defensiveness is one of what he calls the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse because “defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.” (The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, p. 31)

Hearing that this trait—when mixed with unhealthy doses of criticism, contempt, and stonewalling—can push even the strongest marriage toward an undesirable end makes me even more determined to admit my weaknesses before anybody else does.

Why?

Because awareness paves the way for acceptance and the knowledge that, whether my family has something to laugh about or something to eat, it will nourish them either way. In the case of my rice crispy bars it was the former when Bill went upstairs and, before turning in, made a reservation to take me out to dinner that Friday night.

As soon as I received the invitation in my inbox, I replied: “Should we order dessert at the restaurant or have some when we get home?

“I have a dentist appointment on Saturday morning so I guess either is fine,” he said before shutting down his computer.

Unlike my treats (which I threw in the trash before heading upstairs), my evening couldn’t have turned out better. Bad ingredients don’t make for a good dessert, but they do strengthen a relationship if you don’t take yourself—or your cooking—too seriously and trust that with a  little humor, even the worst mistake will turn out fine.

If you want to fight, keep it light and all will be well at the end of the night.

Five of My Favorite iPhone Apps

I’m always on the lookout for ways to put my iPhone to better use. Below are five applications that I downloaded from the App Store and use regularly, if not every day:

  1. Evernote – This is my most used and favorite free app. It’s almost like a mini-filing system that I can access from an iPad, Mac, or any PC.
  2. TurboScan – I blogged about this software in my other March 4th post and, like Evernote, use it several times a day.
  3. Flixster – This is my favorite app to check movie showtimes, read reviews, and watch trailers. It has saved me on countless occasions from going to mediocre movies that I would otherwise regret paying to see.
  4. Twitter – I use this micro-blog to store my favorite quotes. It’s almost like a mini-journal that my daughters can look back on one day.
  5. Beat the Traffic – If you live in a high traffic area, this app is great because it allows you to see which roads are congested and take an alternate route. In many areas, there are cameras posted which allows users to look at the roads themselves and make real-time decisions. How cool is that?

Although I am a techie at heart, these apps are so easy to learn that even a novice could use them. I know because more times than I can count, that novice has been me. And with every mastered experience, I reached the same conclusion: When the person who is standing in the way of progress is you (or me), maybe it’s time to move; because when we step outside our comfort zone for long enough, we’ll see that we belong there.

Keeping Track of Receipts and Other Documents

Organizing your paper files is the type of project that goes better with a little help from friends … and a lot of user-friendly technology. For years, we used a product called NeatReceipts to create and file a digital copy of receipts and other important documents. When I migrated from my PC to a Mac computer, I decided that it was time to re-look at our options and see if a better solution existed. What I found was an iPhone application called TurboScan that scans receipts and multiple-page documents.

The software is much easier to use than our old solution and just $1.99 to download from the App Store on iTunes. My favorite feature is the ability to e-mail a PDF or JPG version of receipts directly to a folder in Evernote, which is a free web application that seamlessly synchronizes medical records, class notes, travel information and anything else I need access to. Because it works across all the devices and platforms—including Evernote for Mac, Evernote Web, and Evernote for Windows—Bill can see my scanned receipts seconds after I upload them and record the amounts in Quicken (which is another program that has worked well for our family for years).

I’ve said many times that when we make the most of what we have, God blesses us with more. In the case of putting technology to use, the gift is less clutter and more time to do the things we really want to do. What I want is to share what I know so that others can grow because your progress is my passion. And one of the best investments I will ever make is the time that I spend serving you.

Equipping the Called

A friend recently learned that her car was equipped with a remote starter—on the day she went to trade it in. I can relate: I’ve had my iPhone for eight months and just realized that I can print from it.

I often say that when we make the most of what we have, God blesses us with more. But what if we don’t know what we have? What then? Does a lack of knowledge let us off the hook for all consequences?

Ignorance is not bliss if it keeps us from enjoying the blessings that are ours for the taking. … Like a warm vehicle in the winter. … And a phone that lives up to its potential.

Maybe that’s why God works through His spirit to give us a hand—or a timely whisper. I read once that the brain can’t help but answer a question once it’s been asked. Having repeatedly found this to be true, I have to wonder if God does this as a reminder that He can be trusted to do the same.

Even when we don’t know it, God is at work behind the scenes to meet our deepest needs. The Beatles weren’t kidding when they sang that all we need is love. God’s love—and a little initiative on our part—is all we need to find answers to even the most perplexing problems. Like today when Katie asked me to help her get the wireless printer to work with our home computer. After I searched the internet for solutions, attempted to reload the printer driver, and called Apple for support, my oldest said: “That’s one thing I love about being in this family: You know how to fix things when they stop working.”

“I don’t know what to do,” I confessed.

“You sure look like you do.”

What Katie saw as confidence was really a reliance on the One that all of us should be turning to. Matthew 7:7 promises that when we take the first step, God will lead us to the next one and the next until everything we need to do gets done. And although the pace is rarely as fast as we would like, those who keep following. … and trusting. … will eventually see every wrong made right.

That’s what happened to me when, as a last resort, I reset the cable router and our printer sprang to life. To her excitement and my surprise, Katie’s e-reader also started working for the first time in over a week.

The saying is true. God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. And when we do our best and trust Him with the rest, He will exceed our expectations every time.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7b

3 Questions for the Frantic Family

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing Patrick Lencioni give a message based upon his book,  The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family. Having received rave reviews by leaders like Elisa Morgan of MOPS International and the former CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., we purchased a copy to take home and found it to be an extremely easy read—most of the chapters are less than three pages.

Notes taken while sitting in the audience of Willow Creek’s February 4th weekend service and links to download his message and strategic planning model are found below.

People are more frantic and overwhelmed than ever because there are more opportunities than ever, and more social expectations for taking advantage of those choices.

Why does our work get all of our energy when our family is all that matters?

What families don’t have enough of is not structure and rules; it’s context: The context of knowing what matters most to us and to Christ.

Three questions that give even the most frantic family context are:

1. What makes our family unique?

What are the core values that make us different from the family next door?

What trait did you like in your spouse when you first met that you also possess?

You know you have a core value if you’re willing to be punished for it. Or if it’s inconvenient and you do it anyway.

2. What is our family’s rally cry (i.e., top priority or slogan) right now?

If everything is important, then nothing is.

Ask yourself: “If we accomplish one thing during the next month, what should it be?”

Knowing your rally cry eliminates the guilt that comes from saying “no” to other worthwhile projects. It’s ok to let the lawn go, for example, when your family’s focus is getting ready for a third child.

3.  How do we talk about and use the answers to these questions?

Your family’s defining objectives should be centered around your rally cry and based upon the reality in which you live.

Because Patrick struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder, part of his family’s reality is to embrace the challenge of OCD.

After asking yourself the above questions, you are ready to update your family’s Scoreboard with your rally cry and objectives.

Don’t let the urgent squeeze out the important. Instead, review your scoreboard regularly, celebrate your successes, and embrace your struggles every day.

Willow Creek Church Weekend Service Podcast