Are You Addicted To New?

First of all, Happy New Year! 2014 starts today. For some of you, the new year couldn’t get here soon enough. For some, you will be sad to see 2013 go. I don’t have bad feelings for 2013, although it started off painful and slow.

2013 started with feeling like it didn’t fit. I was way out of my element. But God allowed draining relationships and projects to end, and I finally found new ventures to start, projects that gave life back to me for all the energy I poured into them.

I’ve been thankful for the new projects and opportunities, but the new feeling only lasted a few days or weeks. Just like anything we start, new has an expiration. And if you’re a new junkie like me, you know the feeling of new becoming old, the feeling of wanting to give up.

I don’t think of myself as having an addictive personality, but I easily get addicted to the rush of new. I always have. I didn’t know it was a rush though. For years, losing the surge of energy that newness carried with it caused me to believe the idea or project or relationship was no longer worth my time. It no longer provided me with the emotional return it once had so I assumed that meant I should abandon it.

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Now I know nothing could be further from the truth.

Before I got my first degree, I tried on four different majors and two colleges. I dated around. I started reading books, launched ministries and projects. I bought domain names, and briefly developed them. But as soon as a new and seemingly better idea surfaced, I felt little apprehension leave the old project in the dust.

It took me a long time to realize the value not just of starting but of finishing. So I finished a degree. Then I started a marriage and didn’t give up on it. Then I finished another degree. The more I started and followed through on, the more I saw myself as not only an entrepreneur but a finisher, a crucial but lacking piece of my identity.

What I discovered was, the more commitment something required, the greater the return on investment. My relationships with God, my husband and my son require nearly all my mental, emotional and physical energy. But they give back to me everything I give and more.

Maybe most valuable to my entrepreneurial soul was the lesson that my emotions are not an accurate gage for how important a task or relationship is. Most days, commitment must trump emotion.

Eventually, I stopped avoiding commitment. I found myself on the last page of the books I started. I used more caution when purchasing domain names. I started writing a book, and I haven’t quit. Even though I want to some days. But that’s not how finishers live.

Anyone can start a company, get married, or write the first two chapters of a book. But who will build the company, cultivate the marriage, publish the book? Who will commit? Who is in it for the next decade or four, for better or worse?

I know that new will always bring with it a jolt of energy, a dopamine kick that feels a lot like a drug. But when that wears out, all that is left is the commitment I made to stick this thing out, whatever it is. And the commitment is the only thing that matters in the end.

What keeps us glued to our commitments when we’re sliding off the high of the latest new thing we started? Vision. Goals. Knowing clearly and specifically where I want to go, how I want to get there and who I am going with. This kind of vision prevents us from sliding off track and keeps us from derailing ourselves.

In the next week, I will post a link to a life plan I used last year, as well as my vision-story of what I wanted my life to look like one year ago. As I reread my goals for 2013 today, I was happily surprised to see myself making progress in several of the areas, and I attribute much of that success to creating the vision for it first.

A vision compels and strengthens commitment. Vision empowers and grounds a decision. When we lack vision, a goal or dream for our lives, any path we choose will do. But that’s not living on purpose.

When it comes to making a change or starting a new venture, never underestimate the value of commitment undergirded by clear vision. Although it will be a labor, the clarity and momentum vision brings will always be worth the time.

[Click here for photo credit.]

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You Don’t Need A New Year To Start Over

You waited, didn’t you? You’ve been waiting to start your new ideas and goals until tomorrow.

The procrastinators among us love to say, “I’ll start over when there is a new day, a new week, or especially, a new year.” 

We say we’re going to wait until the clock starts over, and until then, we’re going to live our old indecent and undesirable ways. It’s like our own personal Mardi Gras every day, sowing our wild oats one last day or week until we have to make better decisions.

But isn’t that a terrible way to live? 

I am so thankful for new days, new weeks, new months and New Years. I believe that starting over mentally and chronologically hits a true reset button. In fact, even sleeping can reset us in measurable ways.

[click photo for credit]
However, believing that we need to wait for a new year or new month to start something new is a huge waste of time. Isn’t it arbitrary anyway?

Each of us has a lot more to offer the world then living mediocre versions of ourselves until some cosmic starting over. We don’t need a new year to start over. We can start over tomorrow, but it would be even better if we started over today. 

So what if you realize you want to make a change on a Wednesday in April – make the change. Starting over can happen any time of day, morning, noon or night. The time doesn’t matter – commitment to the change does.

Don’t buy the hype that you need an federally recognized holiday to start over. This thinking will cause unnecessary anxiety as you remain in a place of mediocrity you’ve already outgrown. It’s like trying to cram yourself back into pants that fit you in high school. The old behaviors and ways of thinking don’t fit anymore, but you’re still trying to live in them. It’s uncomfortable and ingenuine, isn’t it?

Want to make change that lasts? Here’s a quick guide. Decide what you want to change, create a plan, set up accountablity, then follow through. You don’t need a new year or a new day for that.

Here’s to big changes we keep, and here’s to new, even though we don’t really need it.

What have you been procrastinating on?

A Pillar of Remembrance

{Today I’m a guest over at Megan Bowker’s blog, where she’s participating in The Nester’s #31Days of Remembrance. Megan’s been writing daily about things in her life she’s grateful for – it turns out there’s a lot. I’m honored to share a time in my life when a great need of mine collided with God’s infinite provision. It’s a fun story – want to hear? Well, here we go.}

It only took me nine months to figure it out: full-time ministry was not for me. I didn’t like the feeling of always being “on”, and raising my own support team never stopped intimidating me.

Most of all, I hated being a professional Christian. Getting paid to promote Jesus and develop “intentional relationships” felt fraudulent to me. I wondered if people I met looked at me suspiciously, thinking, “Well, of course you like Jesus. You get paid to like him.”

This is pretty much how I felt somedays.

So after nine months, I prayed a resignation prayer and hoped God would accept. I knew I was risking becoming a less-effective Christian because powerful Christians who really want to serve God go into full-time ministry and selfish, scared Christians who don’t like support-raising get predictable day jobs. Or so I thought.

Despite this conviction, I was miserable enough to ask anyway. I knew God called us to things we really didn’t want to do, but I hoped and prayed he would let me out. I just wanted to be normal. A regular person with a regular job whose life had been radically transformed by Jesus.

Through an agonizing wrestling match in which I profusely apologized to heaven for being weak-hearted, God pulled back the weird, little Christian lie I believed, that being a Jesus follower for a living was the highest calling. I realized my assignment for this season was to be embedded in the world with everyone else. Where the people didn’t know Jesus yet, and they wouldn’t end up in a church on Sundays, but they would hear about him because of me.

This new trajectory moved my heart with passion. With it came the peace to leave full-time ministry. But I had no idea where to go next. In a week, I would have no job, no house, and my financial support would end.

What Fear Is Protecting You From

Your fear is protecting you. Keeping you safe. Insulating you. A cheap yet costly insurance plan.

Your fear is a watchdog, an alarm, a siren in the dead of night. Your fear hands you a brochure with the claim that as long as you stayed scared, nothing bad will ever happen to you.

The Fear Brochure reads:

  • When you are afraid, you will never take stupid risks or make impulsive decisions.
  • You will always proceed with caution, slowly, quietly.
  • You will never disrupt.
  • No one will ever stop a meeting to stare at you as you come in late.
  • No one will write angry blog posts about your intrepid actions to save or rescue or protect.
  • You will never be satirized on Saturday Night Live.
  • You will never have a nasty tell-all biography written about you.
  • You will never get your heart broken.
  • Your funeral will be small but manageable.
  • Your life will be relatively predictable.
  • You will never be publicly shamed.
  • You will never be ridiculed.
  • Your face will never be displayed on billboards as the Imbecile of the Year.
  • You will never fail. Or if by some fatal flaw in the system you do fail, no one will have to know.

But here’s the fine print:

On the other side of fear is your dream.

Fear claims to protect you from pain, and even that is a boldly false assertion. Fear may be able to guard us against risks and heartbreak, but fear won’t protect you from regret. In fact, regret is a fear side effect. Fear sets you up for regret, for missing “the moment”. Fear hesitates, gets clammy, chokes up your words. Fear paralyzes. Fear and regret are cousins.

Fear feels safely familiar, until the regret sets in. And regret is almost always worse than pain. Pain heals, but regret means you’ve missed something. Missed an opportunity, missed becoming who you are supposed to be.

Most of us are hiding from shame and vulnerability. It feels safe behind the veil of fear. But let me assure you, your greatest moments are the ones in front of the curtain. Life is meant to be lived in the open, sometimes moving blindly and unarmed toward the adventures and the people who compel us. It’s going to a terrifying risk and a guaranteed mess some days, but it’s probably not going to be a mess you regret.

So let’s weigh our options. Fear or courage? Regret or destiny? Fear or triumph? Regret or growing confidence in our strength? Well, when I say it like that, it makes it a little easier.

Fear is the wall between where you are now and who you are designed to be. So let’s toss the Fear Brochure in the trash and take John Acuff’s advice: “Punch fear in the face”. 

Here’s a brave question: What kind of fear is keeping you from moving toward your dreams?

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These stories pump water

I love brand new ideas, really good ones I wish I thought of. Don’t you?

Well, here’s one for you. Have you heard of CausePub yet? If you haven’t, you’re about to.

I just wrote a story for CausePub, an organization creating books for a cause through group-publishing. [Click here to read the story and vote]. [Their current book project is called Couch Rebels, a collection of stories about folks who rebelled against horizontal life and got up to do something, to change something, even if the thing they changed was themselves. The concept is genius. Here’s how it works.

  • CausePub identifies a charity or cause they want their book to support
  • CausePub solicits stories from adventurers and story-tellers
  • After stories are submitted, they approve the stories and post them to their site
  • Story-writers solicit votes from friends and strangers
  • CausePub selects great stories they love with the most votes
  • The Couch Rebel book will be published as a Kindle eBook on August 14. So soon!
  • When anyone purchases the book, the proceeds are divided between the cause, the writers and basic overhead costs.
  • For Couch Rebel, 50% of the proceeds will benefit Blood: Water Mission. The breakdown is in the graphic below.

[Follow CausePub on Twitter here and find them on Facebook here.]

Here’s where I need your help: I wrote a story for CausePub, and I need your vote.

The story is below. It’s a story about a time when God met me and my seatmate on a plane to Atlanta. I didn’t see it coming. I love this story because it makes me like God even more. Please read and take a second to click VOTE. Thank you so much.

What God Thinks About You

“So, where are you headed?” I asked the young brunette next to me to end the awkward silence. She smiled the stranger smile, as if wondering how long this conversation might take. “Somewhere tropical. With friends.” She needed a little prodding, and I wondered if I should just lay off. Instead, I offered my own less glamorous destination: Atlanta.

I attempted to stir the conversation with more questions about her destination, responding with appropriate amounts of awe and jealousy. I hoped we would catch a common thread in our lives and the chatter would take off, giving me an opportunity to eventually talk with her about Jesus.

But no such luck. The conversation flailed, and we politely took up our books. I leaned into the window, pretending to read, but inside I argued with myself, knowing God might have bigger plans for this three-hour plane ride.

Eventually, my discomfort with silence grew larger than my desire to be well-mannered company. “What are you reading?” I finally inquired. She stammered a bit. “It’s a little unconventional. I’m not sure I want to say.” She tucked the pink book cover down toward her lap. I attempted to reassure her I didn’t have plans to judge, but I wasn’t going to push it. But what was she reading?

“I’m reading about artificial insemination,” she offered hesitantly, waiting for the verdict to read on my face as she turned the cover toward me. “I’m not married yet, but I’m 35. And I want to have a baby.”

Oh.

Click the button below to keep reading and vote.

Vote

When it’s all up to you: the value of legacy

{If you found me through my article on Catalyst, welcome. And if you’re a regular or a visitor, please let me share my news: I had the privilege to be featured on Catalyst this week, talking about the church planting life and the value of raising up the legacy of the next generation of leaders. I’m hoping to have the opportunity to write more on church planting and leadership, something Josh and I are growing intimately familiar with. Thanks for reading. Please leave thoughts in the article comments section. Thanks. Now, without further ado…}

Church planting is like parenting. It’s exhausting, and in the beginning, you’re doing all the work. It’s a good thing you love your new, baby church.

But as it grows, it gains independence. It can tie its own shoes. And eventually, you get to go to the bathroom unaccompanied.

Yup, this is pretty much what it’s like in the beginning.

Okay, it’s not a direct analogy, but you’d be surprised by the similarities.

If you’re a church planter, you know: the policy writing, program development, volunteer training and recruiting, preaching and teaching, discipleship of new converts, janitorial duties, midnight counseling, Sunday bulletin design, weddings and funerals and hospital visits and baby dedications are simply all part of the job. Your job.

But this is only the infancy of the church, the stage of greatest need and dependence, and in many ways, the highest level of pastoral involvement. But it’s not supposed to stay this way.

After my son was born, we returned home from the hospital and tried to adjust to life without sleep. I remember hearing him cry one day and wondering when his mother was going to come and help him out. It was dreadful to realize I was the mother. Who gave someone with no parenting experience a new child who has no use of the English language?

Like parenting, church planting is a startling thrust into the fire. When we got the 2 AM call from a local hospital that the husband of one of our parishioners passed away suddenly, we searched about wildly. “Someone should call her pastor,” we muttered in our groggy stupor. And then we realized we were the pastors. We left our three week-old infant with my mom, who happened to be in town, and hurried to the hospital to comfort our friend.

Even if you’ve never comforted a new parent, cooked a casserole for a potluck, or provided the homily at a funeral service, suddenly, it’s up to you. You’re up.

Like parenting, it’s almost a given that whatever needs to be done will fall on you in the beginning. But that’s only the beginning.

Continue reading at CatalystConference.com.

I am the opposite of me

I am a paradox. And so are you.

We are clean and shiny in some areas of ourselves, yet disheveled disasters in others. The real estate of our souls and our yards is impeccable from one angle, and painfully unkempt from another.

How is it that we can live with coexisting brilliance and ignorance, with generous nobility and glaring narcissism?

Sometimes, I feel I’m an imposter, like the real me is the messy version, and the times I act right are just glitches, some kind of cosmic error where the light fell just right, and now the world thinks good of me.

But it feels like a balancing act, until I wreck it again.

So who am I? Can I be the bad and the good, at the same time?

Am I summed up in my moments of fear, panic and rejection or in my faith and courage?

Am I a scared, helpless child, wordless with shame, or a ferociously brave teacher who lives to inspire?

Am I all the times I hate to be alone, or the times I am frantic to get away?

Am I the girl who can’t find her keys or the idea-generating leader bent on improving her environment?

Am I the friend you can count on for everything, or the friend who will let you down?

Am I the blessings and encouragement I bestow, or the curses I hiss beneath my breath?

Am I the rage and anger I release on my very last nerve with my child, or am I the patient nurturer, singing this same child to sleep?

Am I the forgiveness I extend or the grudges I feed?

Am I all the times I disappoint or the times I keep my word?

Am I the girl who finds showers annoying or the girl who can’t stand dirty feet?

Am I everything I do right or everything I do wrong?

Am I the desperate woman wanting children I don’t have yet or the grateful mother to the one I do have?

It doesn’t seem possible, but I am all these things. It’s the conundrum of me. I can stop covering it up now, stop holding my breath so people will think of me as cleaned up and together.

The truth is, I am holy and I am full of sin. I am a work in progress. But at this exact moment, I am the good and the bad. 

I am all the things I’ve screwed up irreparably, the words I want back, and the genius and generosity in between. I am everywhere I’ve been and everywhere I’m going. I am my failure and my success. I am what I know and what I don’t know. It’s part of me. 

I just need to hit “Accept” on all this stuff, on the easy to love and the impossible to love parts of me. Cause it’s all me, and I’m not going anywhere.

No one notices the pillars

No one notices the pillars.

Take a look at the White House. The facade, the grandeur, the elegance, the sweeping landscape. The protesters in front. You can feel the history. But you probably walk right past the pillars.

They cast a lovely shadow, create an ambience to be experienced, but so often we look right through them while they stand at attention in a thankless work. As we enjoy the view, we forget if these essentials supports cracked, buckled or vanished, the place would topple.

This is true for those who support our organizations, our churches, businesses, non-profits. We take great pride in our out-front leaders, the big personalities, the charismatic types who lead rallies and bring in all the fundraising.

pillar

But what about the pillars, the ones who stand behind, the last to leave, the ones with toilet brushes in hand? These are the pillars we walk right past. We don’t appreciate the pillars who stand beside us, who hold the whole place up with their relentless tenacity, who day in and day out take the sideline view to make the vision a reality.

A few days ago, our church said farewell to a family of pillars. They were rarely in front. Their names weren’t plastered on walls. Some people didn’t know them well. But they propped up our community with prayer, guidance and support. They showed up in the beginning, when there wasn’t much to show for the labor, when pieces were hardly in place. 

And they stayed. Because that’s what pillars do.

When pillars are people, sometimes we have to say goodbye when a new season comes along. But inevitably, within a healthy family of people, whether a business or organization, someone else will step in. Will become the new pillar. Will forsake notoriety and fame to build up and support something greater than themselves.

So here’s to the pillars. I see you. I am so thankful for you. May we all see the pillars in our lives, and give them the praise they are due.

A squishy, floaty, sturdy, heavy thing called Love

Only the things done in love matter.

Only the things done in love weigh enough to stamp eternity. Everything else just floats off the surface as vapor.

It’s not the act. It’s the intent.

Love might wear you out, but it doesn’t get tired that easily.

Love lets you be where you are right now, knowing you won’t always be here. It knows This too shall pass.

Love is lighter than gravity with a terrible memory for the bad stuff people do.

Love is more a grandmother and less a police officer.

Love doesn’t look down in vulnerable moments. It just looks you square in the eye. And it doesn’t flinch at all that you’re uncomfortable.

Love chuckles at the past, beams bright toward the future and sits perfectly content in this moment. Because its a pretty good one.

Love isn’t in a hurry, doesn’t wish it was somewhere else. Love can silence the phone and taste dinner.

Love likes itself, doesn’t wish it was someone else. Love takes good care of itself, but isn’t self-obsessed. Love doesn’t belittle itself because it doesn’t need your compliments. And it’s confident enough to care about you, to really listen, to squat down next to you in the dirt and feel all you feel.

Love looks past sour, crusty shells to warm, squishy insides. And knows just the words to safely let the guts out.

Love listens because the stories are the people, and the people always matter.

Love can tell you you’re wrong so kind you won’t feel the sting. You will just be grateful. 

Indeed, only the things done in love matter.

Jesus is love. If you don’t know him yet, introduce yourself.

When in doubt

I’ve mentioned before I was quite neurotic as a child, nervous and over-analyzing. Afraid to be wrong.

That’s still me, but the stakes are higher. I’m not just deciding which clothes will make me popular. Now I’m choosing financial investments and career moves. Big stuff.

My mind swirls with great ideas and good intentions, things that could change the world – maybe – and I never seem to get around to them.

I am afraid to decide.

Me when forced to make a decision. Waaahhhh.

When I was in high school, I was delaying deciding about one thing or another. In his office one afternoon, my Dad said, “When in doubt, make a decision. If you make a wrong decision, make another decision.”

Classic Dad-style pithy wisdom – well said. But now, I have to do it.

As a 30-something adult, my indecisiveness is crippling. I am afraid of what will happen if I make a choice. I don’t want to face even the simplest consequences.

Therefore, making a decision about the smallest thing is hard. Recently, I had to decide between writing and planning out goals for the next few months. “What if I can’t get everything done?” Paralzyed. I read blogs instead, until I realized I distracted myself from my choice. At least I caught it.

But it gets worse: at Cold Stone the other day, I couldn’t decide which ice cream to eat. “What if I don’t like it?” I finally decided. I didn’t like my choice. This is why choosing sucks, I whined to myself.

But this is partly why choosing is so scary: the consequences. (Cue the Frankenstein soundtrack.)

“What if I don’t like it?

What if I’m committed and I just want to bail?

What if I don’t like the dinner I order or the man I date or the career I choose?

What if I hate it?

What if I’m trapped?

AAAACCCKKKK!

It’s my own personal horror film.

It’s funny because we’re afraid to be trapped in a choice we make, and yet indecisiveness is a trap all its own. It’s double-mindedness, an unsteady soul overflowing with fear. And who can change the world or live a life free of regret stuck in back-and-forth mode? No one.

I don’t want my life defined by fear, but an indecisive life is a fearful, sad life indeed.

So what to do? Well, in most every day situations, simple boldness and the power of choice will do. For big-huge life decisions, check out the link below for a great guide. So here I’m going to tell myself a few ways to make decisions, and if you’re in my category, then follow along. Maybe we can help each other.

1. Recognize when you’re feeling decisiveness-challenged. There is an old familiar feeling of waffling, back and forth swaying in your mind. Weighing options with lots of “what if” questions. The “what ifs” will kill you, man. But you have to recognize the signs before you can do something about it.

2. When in doubt, make a decision. Pick something. And then own it. Be an adult and take full responsibility for your choice. It’s what the big kids do. Because deciding not to decide is still a decision. It just leaves you regretful with nothing to show for your time.

3. Don’t get distracted from the choice you make. I decide to start writing or working on a project, and as soon as I do, suddenly there are emails to reply to, blogs to read, information to glean. And I’ve forgotten about my decision. Don’t get stuck in between your decision and doing it. That’s as bad as not deciding. Follow through is key.

4. If you don’t like your choice, you have another choice to make: bail or stick it out. There are lots of things you can bail on. Making a decision is safer than we think. And only you can know which choice is better, although getting counsel from others is always a good idea. But don’t be a pansy. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay. Marriage is a perfect example.

And for major life decisions, Michael Nichols offers a few solid suggestions on discovering what you really want and making choices you’ll be happy with. Check out his blog here, complete with a free downloadable, decision-making template. Cool, huh?

Okay, I feel sufficiently motivated by my pep talk to myself. Since I thought through this, I have been making quicker, more confident decisions without all the foot dragging from before. I hope you are empowered too.

Share your suggestions for making decisions below. I’d love to hear what you do.