Road Maps

At the end of our driveway stands a new mailbox. Its presence marks the end of a long road of frustration that began when the mail carrier drove up to our old one and opened the lid with such force that a hinge broke, causing it to fall to the pavement below.

When repeated attempts to fix the hinge failed, Bill wired the top of the lid to the box to keep it from flopping open every time the carrier forgot to treat it with care.

I read once that people will do what’s important to them at their own inconvenience. What I didn’t catch was: When? When does the pain of ‘what is’ become enough to motivate us to work toward what can be? For me, the moment came when I tried to squeeze an armload of letters out of a half-open mailbox and imagined how hard it must have been for the postal worker to slide them in there.

I’ve met a lot of people who refused to start a project until they knew exactly how it would end. The problem with this approach is that God never gives us a complete road map. Instead, He wants us to step out in faith and trust that the journey will eventually lead to the finish line.

My first step was to call a customer service representative from Frontgate, because I had seen a mailbox that looked like ours in their catalog. The person I spoke to gave me the name of the manufacturer and, after confirming that ours was made by the same company, I called them about replacing the lid. To my delight, the one that our builder purchased came with a lifetime warranty.

A few weeks later, the broken lid was a distant memory and it wasn’t just our mail carrier who noticed.

“I need to fix mine too,” a neighbor said when he saw Bill replacing ours.

After seeing the bad condition that his was in and comparing it to the flawless appearance of ours, it occurred to me that people, like mailboxes, stand side by side. Some looking more worn than others: All able to be made new with a single leap of faith and the decision to say ‘no’ to the status quo and ‘yes’ to the delivery of God’s very best in life.

“For we live by faith, not by sight.”

2 Corinthians 5:7

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

Too Much of a Good Thing …

I believe that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. And for every questionable action there is the risk of an equally adverse reaction. It is in this spirit of avoiding undesirable outcomes that I got after my oldest daughter for slicing a hole in the top of her water bottle.

“Why can’t you unscrew the cap like everyone else?” I asked.

“Because it’s easier to drink out of this way,” Katie said as she stabbed the lid again.

“Not if I have to take you to the hospital for stitches,” I warned.

My words fell on deaf ears as Katie twisted the knife to make the hole bigger and then pulled it out to examine her handiwork. I should have been more stern with her but the truth is that I admired my daughter’s determination and understood her action. All of us, at one time or another, have dismissed direction and taken a stab at finding our own solution to a problem. Sometimes it works to our advantage and other times it works us over to the point where we’re so afraid of getting hurt that we refuse to even try.

I want my kids to realize the dreams that God has planted in their hearts, not hide from them.

Too much of a good thing (even avoiding negative consequences) is definitely a bad thing if it holds us back or hinders our progress. And although I intend to keep poking holes in Katie’s water bottle theory until she finds a safer way to quench her thirst for efficiency, I never want her to stop trying to make the world a better place. Instead I want my oldest—and all of us—to take responsible chances and view mistakes, not as road blocks to avoid, but as guard rails to keep us moving in the right direction. Only then will we reach the place where God’s plan meets our productivity as we put a lid on our fear of failure and say goodbye to the status quo.

Put every system to the test until the good is better and the better is best.


Setting a Godly Example

This morning, while driving to a meeting at church, I received an unexpected call from a friend whose six-year-old daughter was having a temper tantrum in the parking lot of our church.

“She’s still in her pajamas and refuses to get out of the car because she doesn’t want to go to preschool,” the mom said as her daughter screamed in the background.

“I’m almost to the church and will pull up next to you,” I replied.

Feeling like a fireman without a ladder, I had no idea how I was going to talk this little girl off the ledge of her own hysteria. I never claimed to have all the answers when my daughters were her age and, after writing on numerous occasions about my own incompetencies as a parent, felt highly unqualified to help. When I arrived, the little girl was hysterically throwing things as her mom jumped out of the front seat to avoid the blows. After watching several CDs and other loose objects spew from the belly of the vehicle, I said a quick prayer for guidance and walked around to the passenger side to assess the situation. My first instinct was to gently, but firmly grasp the girl’s arms to keep her from picking up anything else.

“I’ll let go when you calm down and promise to stop throwing things,” I said as she screamed louder and fought to free herself from my grip. When it seemed like she would never stop writhing in anger, I remembered something that Mayor Rudi Giuliani said after the terrorist attacks on 9/11: “My father, when I was very young, used to say to me, ‘If you are ever in an emergency, if you are ever in a fire and everybody gets very excited, very emotional, then you become the calmest person in the room'”(1)

My friend’s daughter was definitely on fire as I looked into her determined eyes and quietly repeated that I was not letting her go until she let up on the screaming. I could tell that I was making progress, but it wasn’t enough. Something was missing. Something that kept her guard up and her mind closed to the possibility of letting go of the rage. That something was an emotion, and as soon as I showed empathy, the anger melted away.

“You must be exhausted,” I said quietly.

The little girl nodded.

“I am too. Would it be okay if we put this behind us and went inside?”

Another nod.

I don’t know who was more surprised when the girl quietly exited the vehicle, her mother or myself.

“Great job at calming down,” I said. “Give me five!”

After slapping my hand, she gave me a big smile and headed toward the church. As her mom and I followed, I thought about what had just happened and realized: If I’d waited until I knew what to do to help my friend’s daughter, I never would have tried. I had to take the first step before God would lead me to the next one. Knowing that I could find myself in similar situations in the future, I reflected on what worked in the hope of duplicating the outcome and came up with the following three ‘E’s of Crisis Management. Each one is followed by a quote from the consummate of calm: Rudolph Giuliani.(2)

1. Engage: “During a crisis, leaders must be out front rather than running or hiding from the ordeal. They must go to the scene of disaster and stand front and center – to accurately assess the situation as well as show their concern, while also demonstrating confidence that the group will persevere.”

2. Empathize: “You must speak up and take charge of what people are thinking and feeling at the time. You must reassure them and give them a simple yet specific plan that will get people through the crisis. Outline important action steps that they can take immediately to help themselves and the team.”

3. Encourage: “As difficult as the crisis can seem, remind people that there is hope.”

These steps, together with prayer and personal reflection, have the power to help even the most perplexed parent set a Godly example that all of God’s children can follow.



Someday

While waiting at my youngest daughter’s bus stop, I decided to catch up on some reading and turned my attention to a chapter of The Law of Happiness by Dr. Henry Cloud. In it, the author told this story about a fellow graduate student who suffered from what he called a “future” mind-set of happiness: Several times, when a group of us was going to do something fun, like take a ski weekend or go on a weekend trip to Mexico, we would invite him … And he would say, “I want to, but …”

Cloud went on to say that he eventually stopped asking because he realized “that it was not the paper that had to be finished or the degree or the dissertation or the internship or the license” that was standing in the way of his friend’s happiness. It was his friend. He was standing in the way of his happiness.

The story reminds me of my own experience with a college friend who regularly declined my invitations to come to Chicago because he and his wife were too busy to get away. “I have three jobs right now and we’re not taking any vacations except for an occasional weekend away to Omaha or Kansas City,” he explained. “Our plan is to work until we have paid off our house and saved enough to retire when we’re fifty-five. Then we’ll have time to visit all the places we’ve been wanting to see and really enjoy ourselves.”

Immediately upon hearing this, I thought about all the opportunities our family has seized over the past fifteen years. There were the business trips that the girls and I tagged along on. And the long weekends when we would set out in a new direction to explore sites that were within driving distance from our home. We too were saving for tomorrow, just not at a rate that would sacrifice today.

There’s nothing wrong with saying “yes” when circumstances allow. Jesus actually encouraged it in Luke 16:10 when he said that when we make the most of the small opportunities that come our way, we will be trusted with even bigger ones. My friend did not share this attitude of abundance. Instead, his either-or mindset was convinced that any fun he had now would be at the expense of his future; and current prospects paled in comparison to the promise of tomorrow.

I wish Dr. Cloud would have been there to challenge this person’s long-term plan. To convince him to see my invitation as an opportunity. If he had, he could have shared truths like this one from pages 45 and 46 of The Law of Happiness where he said: some people feel that happiness is on some sort of timeline and depends on a later event. It cannot happen now, because there is a missing piece that has not occurred yet. But in reality, people who think this way do not magically become happy “when” the “whatever” it is happens. They just transfer that mind-set to the next “when.”

Happiness is not a destination. It’s a state of mind. And as much as I wanted my friend to stop planning for long enough to start living, I knew that nothing was going to change his mind.

Not cheap airfare between Omaha and Chicago.

Not having a free place to stay.

And definitely not having a person with my driving record as his personal chauffer.

After hearing him respond to my offer with the promise that he would try to visit some day, I thought about calling out the same words that Apollo Creed screamed in the movie Rocky III after Rocky refused to engage him in the ring.

“I’ll train harder tomorrow,” Rocky said.

“There is no tomorrow!” Apollo screamed.

Creed was right. Someday is not a day of the week and tomorrow never comes. What will come is the moment when we see God in heaven and He holds us accountable by asking: What have you done with today?

A Key Mistake

Romans 8:28 promises that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called
according to his purpose.” Click on the link below to see how God used bad for good when a problematic trip home from New York City led to my first published article.

AAA Living Article

 

For more lessons learned during this trip to New York City, check out the link below.

September 2008 Newsletter

 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

(Romans 8:28)

Dishrags

Every morning after returning home from taking the girls to school, I spend a few minutes cleaning up the breakfast mess they left behind. Today my actions were no different as I reached for the dishrag draped over the sink and gave it the smell test to see if it was clean. It seemed okay to me but, just to be safe, I put the rag in the laundry basket and got out a new one to wipe off the counter.

Dishrags are a privilege, not a right, in our kitchen. I learned this the year after Bill and I were married and there never seemed to be a dishrag around when I needed one. Where they could be hiding in our tiny apartment baffled me until one day, when I asked Bill if he had seen the rag that was in the sink the night before.

“I threw it away.” he said matter-of-factly, as if it was the natural thing to do.

“Why wouldn’t you put it in dirty laundry?” I asked, dumbfounded that he would throw something away that could be washed and used another day.

“You let them get so bad that I don’t want them near the rest of our clothes.” he said, showing no remorse.

Looking back on this conversation, I realize that relationships are a lot like those dishrags. How easy it is to discard one when it becomes too unpleasant to deal with. Rather than take the time to restore a relationship to its original condition, we leave it behind and choose instead to make a fresh start.

Relationships, like dishrags, can be salvaged with the proper care and, when we take the time to do so, we find they are never in short supply.

 

Stuck In The Mud

While meeting a photographer one morning to take pictures for my website DiggingOutTogether.com, I was struck by how beautiful the area was that we had agreed on for the photo shoot—and how difficult it was to get to. At one point, I even considered turning back when my boot disappeared into the mud and refused to resurface.

What am I doing, trying to look nice in a place like this? I wondered while freeing myself from the brown sludge.

As I continued to make my way through the marsh, I was struck by how much time people waste trying to look good in the mud. Time spend smiling for the camera as if nothing is wrong after wading through a world of hurt to get to that point.

Just last weekend, I was knee-deep in sludge as I yelled at my daughters for thirty minutes after they refused to stop playing for long enough to pack for a trip to visit relatives. Only after we were on the road did I calm down enough to ask Katie and Hollie for forgiveness.

As soon as I  did, “mean mommy” left the vehicle and the rest of our trip was picture perfect. We sang “Happy Birthday” to my nephew, attended another nephew’s last home football game, and spent a gorgeous afternoon at a local pumpkin patch.

Why can’t all moments be stain free—where what we do in public is an accurate reflection of how we behave in private? I want to talk to my kids in the voice normally reserved for cute babies at church. A voice that sounds a lot like Supernanny when she comes down to a child’s level and tells her in a stern, but loving way to “stop that behavior.”

Because of sin, none of us will ever fully achieve this goal. Every picture perfect moment may require wading through some mud to get there, but when we do our best and let God do the rest, He can be trusted to clean up our act from the inside out.