creativity

New Year’s Goal Setting

I set some ambitious goals this year during an end of 2012 dreaming and growth session. Over the course of the next month or two I’m sure I will be sharing some of them.

Today I want to share one of my more entertaining resolutions.

I was reading lately about the creativity of God. Did you realize that Satan can not create anything? He can only use what is here already, and what we give him authority to use. God, on the other hand, is, well…the Creator. He creates. It is what he does! He speaks and things come into being. And guess what? He has put his image in us, too. Part of our job is to create, as we bear that divine spark that marks us as human, as his.

So I resolved to create something every day. Every single day. Now I’m going to be a little bit liberal as to the definition of create. But I will pause every day to consciously think about what I have created today to make the world a little bit more beautiful, creative, God-like.

Here was my 1/1/13 creation:

Olive Tapenade

It is an olive tapenade recipe I made for company on New Year’s Day. I’ve never made a tapenade and this was something fun. My friends loved it (with one olive-adverse exception). So there it is…creative.

Today I decided to do a little artwork. I’ve been struck by this one verse lately: Romans 5:5

And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

So I decided to make a little postcard of it with a kit David gave me for Christmas. I could post this on the Pinterest #nailed it #fail board. It was a good lesson in not leaving well enough alone. Or creating strange things late at night.

Romans 5:5

Hope never fails to satisfy our deepest need

I really should have put up a picture of the German Pancakes I made for supper instead. They were perfect. Oh well, that’s the joy of the journey!

Check back tomorrow for a new adventure!

Thin places in your soul

Just for fun, I’m posting a short passage from some fiction I’m working on writing. Fiction is my first love in reading, but my second genre in writing. Nevertheless, here I am writing. But I’m feeling a bit insecure…so I thought I would post this to you and get your responses. I know you won’t have the plot set-up or the characters, but let me know what you think about the atmosphere, the rhythm, and maybe whether you would be motivated to read more. Deal?

That’s not all, he said leaning forward across the table. His jade green eyes sharpened and I knew – absolutely knew – that what came next would shift my world.

“Each soul has thin places in it, too.”

“Thin places in our souls?” my eyes darted up and down the scarred surface of the table, trying to find the sense in his words.

He sat, and watched.

I finally looked up at him with no further sense of the meaning.

“Think about what you already know about the thin places in the physical realm,” Douglas continued. “They are the places where heaven meets earth, and earth touches heaven. Have there been times in your personal story when God was inexplicably near?”

I started to remind him that until recently God hadn’t seemed anywhere to me, but I realized that wasn’t true. It was a memory, a fragment, a chid’s dream of a hushed presence on a still, quiet night. I had was six, and crying alone in my pink canopy bed about the death of a friendship earlier that afternoon. I was alone, until I suddenly didn’t feel alone anymore. I felt….held. Calm. I swiveled my head around the room expecting to see Dada, or Gramma. But there was no one there, and child like I had shrugged my shoulders and drifted to sleep, still comforted. Was this what Douglas meant?

I tried to describe the memory to him, but he stopped me after a few halting sentences.

“Yes! That’s it exactly! Or that bubble of peace for the hours after a person has died…have you felt that?” I shook my head ‘no’ and he rushed on. “It is the most amazing thing! There is one moment when they are breathing, struggling. And then there comes the moment when they are not. And I swear, Jenna, your soul holds its breath. And your mind just rests. You know now, Jenna, that there are angels nearby, waiting and worshipping. And God stoops close to earth, hardly able to contain himself as he waits for another child to come home. For you, back on this side of eternity, it is a thin place in your soul. It is a moment when God is near – so near and so holy you can’t breathe.”

I let my breath out slowly, realizing I had held it while he was speaking. He wasn’t done.

“Or there are other times…maybe when you are unbearably sad, like you were when you were six, but only now you are an adult. In that moment of sadness you choose. You choose to rant and rave and beat the wall, or you choose to draw your breath in and speak faith into the void. You praise.

“That’s not an ordinary moment, Jenna. It is a spiritually charged piece of dynamite, a moment when the universe hung on your choice, and you chose God once again. Your praise, worship, grasping steps of faith, unlocked the portal between heaven and earth. Just for the moment, just for a time. God himself is near!”

While Douglas was speaking I felt chills up and down my spine. For just a moment I imagined I could be more than I was, more than a woman struggling to make sense of life. I was more than Jenna, more than Nico’s wife. Just…more. I felt like a part of a larger dance. I looked at Douglas again, wondering.

Run

My family is clamoring for attention.

“Check this out for me, please?”

“Before you go, can you just look at this…”

“I need you for just a moment.”

My mind can barely process the requests. They tumble one after the other in a hopeless pile of need.

Somewhere in the middle of the tasks and to-do’s my brain finds a clear spot and time stands still: I need to go for a run. Fortunately, we’re staying at a large hotel that has a pre-defined running path, so I slip my sneakers on and head out the door, ignoring one last demand for attention. I’m focused, and I’m going to run.

My run lasts for a strong two miles and I can hardly wait to look at my progress and stats. I’ve got a nifty little device that records the run, the time, the calories. It’s got all the charts ready to be uploaded to my computer, and even as I’m running the last few steps, my mind is anticipating the rewarding feeling of seeing this run add to my mileage. It’s the kick. It’s what I run for.

Before I can get my breathing back in control the family is there reaching out. One grabs my run tracker and resets it without thinking. My run is lost, drifting through oblivion. And before I put on my big girl panties and face life, I think “Well at least you can’t steal the run itself. I went. I did it. I’m good at it.”

Too bad it was all a dream.

I’ve had this dream over and over, and I think I’m finally beginning to understand it. On one level, I want to run. I always have. I’m working on it, slowly. I’ve never had a run like the one in the dream, a run where all systems are functioning and I’m running the way I was made, the way real runners run. But I’m working on it.

Today I realized there’s a second layer of meaning in this dream. Let running be the metaphor for being my true self, doing the things I know I can do and am called to do. Let running be my voice. My unique voice The one that God gave me. From there it’s easy, isn’t it.

I let life crowd out my voice.

I let that happen over and over and over.

But above the clamor, in the midst of it, there is a space of clarity. It’s a calling to my real self, my real voice.

It’s time to run.

Inexplicable

Inexplicable

Inexplicable.

One medium sized word that inspired the entire direction of the second half of our lives.

It is a great word, if you think about it. Life is inexplicable. It is filled with inexplicable moments of beauty followed immediately by inexplicable moments of sorrow. There is inexplicable illness, inexplicabe death. We see inexplicable fame (especially on YouTube!) and inexplicable years spent in obscurity. Once in awhile we thrill to inexplicable healing, provision, or direction. We cry at inexplicable beauty in a baby, a puppy, a sunset. We laugh at the unexpected and inexplicable joke. We puzzle over the inexplicable turns of the economy, our finances, or our teenager’s random choices. And in our human frailty we sit down and try to explain the inexplicable.

We try to impose order on the events of our lives, and so we go on a quest to find our purpose. David and I did this, and I am willing to bet you have, too. There is a reason Purpose Driven Life rocketed to the top of the best seller list. Secular or faith-based, the bookshelves are filled with advice on living up to our potential and carving out our niche in the world. Good stuff, actually. I’ve spent literally thousands of hours reading and learning. Each new perspective helps me tweak our approach to this crazy life.

But even after all if that, much about my life remains unexplained. Am I sure that my one purpose is this, or that? Should I put my energy into writing, teaching, relationships or finding a paycheck? Who am I, really?

One day about a year ago a conversation with a new friend changed the entire lens through which David and I viewed our life. I will tell you more about that conversation another time, but here is the important bit. “In your life,” he said, “why don’t you strive to be inexplicable. Let God out of the box you think you have created for him and allow room for the unexpected, inexplicable twists and turns. After all, life is really inexplicable anyway, isn’t it? It is how God works!”

Inexplicable.

It settled over our perspective like a perfect pair of sunglasses.

Life in God is inexplicable. The most momentous opportunities often depend on the tiniest of circumstances, changes in direction that just don’t make sense without the inexplicable whimsy of God. You scan the radio stations and hear a comment that leads to reading a book that inspires a career. A turn down the aisle at a grocery store reunites you with a friend who had slipped out of your daily life. You choose a church, which leads to a ministry, which in turn leads to a passion that won’t let go.

These are the inexplicable hinges on which the doors of our lives swing open and closed.

Embracing the inexplicable leads to lives filled with possibility. We find inexplicable joys, quiet moments of utter content knowing we are loved and led and safe. We find unexpected tragedy, the events that shape our character and produce the unique fingerprints of our one life to live. And in the process we find our influence. We find the strange, twisted and convoluted life that only we could have lived.

That’s how God works. It is a mystery and a marvel.

I love the inexplicable. I love people whose lives could never have been plotted by the most masterful of storytellers. I find purpose In watching God the redeemer use even the tiniest of events to fulfill His plan on earth through us. He never wastes anything, you know. There really is no such thing as a random happening.

It’s just inexplicable.

Note: For those of you who have persevered this far into the blog post, this is a potential prologue to a book I’m working on. I would love to hear what you think…did you find yourself intrigued enough to turn the potential page onto chapter 1?

Advent Conspiracy and How I am Like a Christmas Tree

I’m not sure when trimming the Christmas tree dropped out of the top ten Christmas activities in my opinion. Somewhere along the line I lost the magic of transforming the green bush into the sparkling personification of Christmas. It may have been, now that I think about it, back in high school when I realized my mom was tricking my friends and me into doing “her” job by offering pizza and cookies. It was a brilliant ploy, and one that I’ve used successfully around here, as well.

But today is the day. And by the end of the day I will be thrilled with it all, entranced, sitting in my living room with the lights low thinking about how it was all worth it. And it will be, once again, magical.

I read something today about Christmas trees that has me thinking.

We bring an essentially dead tree to our home. We water it and give it fresh cuts to keep the water flowing. Some people swear by misting their trees. Yet no matter what we do…the tree is dead. At best we’re giving a form of life support to keep up appearances. Without roots, without a healthy, though essentially unseen, delivery system for nutrients and contact with the ground, the tree is dead.

This Christmas as we’ve been contemplating the Advent Conspiracy and ways to celebrate Christmas differently, I want to make sure I’m not like my Christmas tree. I want to make sure my roots aren’t severed from the source of life. There’s no sense in making myself appear decorated with a bounty of tinsel, ornaments, garland. I’d rather spend the time rooted and grounded, connected to God and my family and the things that matter the most.

I want to live more this Christmas.

Our friend Timmy Allen created this video for Advent Conspiracy at Christ Fellowship this year. I think it’s awesome. And someday (tomorrow, I think!) I’m going to make my acting debut as a stick model in one of his productions. Check this out. And then think about ways to grow your roots deeper this Christmas.

The Advent Conspiracy – Enter the Story from Timmy Allen on Vimeo.

There’s still shampoo left in the bottle

A year or two ago I bought some amazing organic shampoo from my stylist. It was the same product she used in the salon, and I loved what it did for my hair! So optimistically, I shelled out the price for the lovely product and brought it home.

You know this part of the story: I used the shampoo and loved the smells, the feel. I loved the shine in my hair, even though I couldn’t quite make my hair do what my stylist could do. Great — expensive — shampoo.

On the second day I looked at my new shampoo and conditioner and thought “Wow…I paid a lot for that. Today I will use my regular stuff, and make sure I don’t run through the shampoo too fast.” So I did. And my hair looked pretty much the same…like my hair.

Fast forward a year or so. There I am standing in my shower reaching for my normal shampoo when I saw “The Expensive Shampoo.” By now those words were written in capital letters. I rarely used it. But this was an important day of some sort (can’t remember now), so I reached for my organic shampoo.

It had died. The cream had separated into components. The lovely organic ingredients didn’t smell happy anymore. In fact, it was such an icky experience just getting that stuff out of the bottle that I rinsed it down the drain and threw out the whole bottle. I hated watching that bottle go away. I had never even used it! All that potential was left to rot in the bottle.

Not long ago I bought some other, different expensive shampoo, this time recommended by my sister-in-law. And on that second or third day, when I was tempted to skip over the bottle in order to save it, I remembered my lesson. I remembered the nearly full bottles in the trash. Shampoo has only one purpose: to clean your hair. If you don’t use it, there’s no reason to keep it. I vowed to use every last drop of that expensive stuff, and so far I have.

Life is pretty much the same way, isn’t it? God gives us talents. He gives us creativity, insights, stamina, relationships, love. And he gives it all to us so that we will use it. But sometimes it’s easy to hold some back, to want to save for a rainy day. Like the Israelites trying to hoard daily manna, we don’t allow ourselves to be emptied.

We stay in the bottle.

Lately I’m trying to remember that my true life is outside the shampoo bottle. I don’t want to hold back what can’t be kept. I don’t want a container of moldy manna or ugly shampoo. I believe that God is able to refill that jar, able to refill me.

I believe it. Now it’s time to act on it.

So I guess today I raise my theoretical glass in a toast to those who venture outside the bottle with me!

A Disney Lesson on Leadership

The cloud of Pixie Dust descended on South Florida last Saturday.

David and I were happily at lunch waiting for our salads to arrive, surfing our Facebook feeds like we always do. And yes, we do look like geeks in public quite often. But on this day my feed was lit up with friends heading to Orlando and the Magic Kingdom for Disney World’s 40th birthday. In addition, while we were sweltering in SoFL, apparently Orlando was getting one of its first fall days. Pixie Dust sparkled from my Facebook.

Within an hour we had picked up a good friend and headed north for an evening in the Magic Kingdom.

Great decision.

While we were wandering with the other 50,000+ crazy folk, we spent a good chunk of our time analyzing the Disney magic. I could spend years studying the best practices of Disney leadership and creativity, and this day was especially significant as all Disney employees were on high alert. The birthday celebration was proving far more popular than even the Disney prognosticators had anticipated. In response, the park moved into action. Alternate exits were opened to ease traffic flow — something I’ve never seen before. Guests walking through Cast Member Only areas? Wow! Ride lines were extended and re-worked. Entry to the Kingdom was restricted to resort guests only. This was Disney in full response mode, and it worked.

At one point we were spending a few moments with a friend of ours who works at Disney in their transportation department. On this night he was estimating guest flow and helping adjust the monorails accordingly. But he had a few moments to meet us and chat about the day. We were impressed that Brandon had gone out to buy a new shirt for the celebration day: an employee so excited about a company event that he wanted to “spruce up!” I loved it. That said a lot to me about Disney’s ability to inspire loyalty (which is legendary), as well as Brandon’s commitment to his company.

We also asked Brandon about his trash picking stick he was slinging over his arm. Remember, Brandon is a team leader in the transportation department, not assigned to the inside of the park or the sanitation department.

“Brandon, why are you carrying that?”

“We always carry them whenever we walk through the park. We don’t want trash to lie around.”

“Does everyone carry them? All employees?”

“Oh no…only the leaders. It’s actually one of the easiest ways to tell who is a team leader.”

Wow.

Now that will preach.

The easiest way to spot a leader at Disney is to notice who is carrying a trash picker and is picking up the trash as they walk through the park.

Pretty great description of servant leadership, if you ask me.

The best symbol of leadership!

Main Street on Disney's 40th Birthday...look at the crowds!