Last year David and I found ourselves at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World all by ourselves. We’d stopped for the day on our way from south to north Florida, and we felt a little bit like two kids playing hooky from school. It was the middle of the week during a busy season and there we were eating Mickey ice cream ears and watching a parade.
Sometimes when you are ditching school, it catches up to you. On this day, David had just taken a conference call that needed to happen, so he stepped into a quiet corner to chat while I watched the rocking street parade coming down Main Street. Now this was the Disney street party, and they were ready for the crowd to dance along in a long conga line.
I don’t dance. Never have, and probably never will unless I’m compelled. But for just a brief moment in time, I realized I could dance. I was all alone and could choose to be the kind of person who dances in the street. I pictured myself doing the twist with Goofy when David came back from his conference call. It was exhilarating.
I didn’t do it. I didn’t leave myself behind and dance in the street. But that shot of adrenalin was enough to put my mind in a different place. I could think new thoughts. That’s the value of stepping outside yourself once in awhile. New thoughts. It’s the power of putting yourself into a story, into someone else’s world.
I need that dose of creativity on a regular basis. I am pretty sure that’s the fuel that kept Walt going. I’m heading to Disney later today, and my work day has been focused around the power of Walt’s storytelling. If you want to give yourself a little jolt of that pixie dust, read this post from the Disney Institute. Follow the bunny trail of links embedded and let the inspiration wash over you.
“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do.
At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves – that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us. It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestice setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, but who may not be who we essentially are.
If we find poetry in the service station and motel, if we are drawn to the airport or train carriage, it is perhaps because, in spite of their architectural compromises and discomforts, in spite of their garish colours and harsh lighting, we implicitly feel that these isolated places offer us a material setting for an alternative to the selfish ease, the habits and confinement of the ordinary, rooted world.”
— Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
I read a great article on Agency Post today about seeing yourself as a partner in your client’s business, rather than as a vendor. Partners are fully vested in the business, will put in the extra hours needed to let it succeed, and will allow their minds to dwell on creative options to solve everyday challenges. Partners will have “Eureka!” moments in the shower. Vendors, on the other hand, do not. They provide a service or an engagement and walk away.
Our companies have always approached clients as partners without actually using those terms. That focus on learning a new business and truly wanting what is right for our client makes doing this worthwhile. It’s been said so many times that it is almost a cliche, but we fire bad clients. We really do. If we can’t fully endorse and evangelize for a brand, we let them go. We lose a little money in the short term, but the end result is a roster of clients we’d be happy to sit down to dinner with, in a manner of speaking.
The Agency Post article is worth taking the time to read. It has some good prompts of ways to engage with your client’s business and how to view yourself as a partner. While I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think that the principle holds true for a lot of things in life, too.
I’m at the point in life where I don’t have time to engage in activities or relationships that are counter-productive or meaningless. I want to invest my life in the things that matter, in deep relationships and creative passions. I want to take my faith seriously and not settle for a surface engagement with the people and places that prod me to do better and to rest in God more each day. I want to jump into creative pursuits that bring let me breathe and fly. I want to steward my health so that I have the depth of energy and physical ability to travel the world and see the sights that reduce me to tears. Most of all, I want the people I’m with day in and day out to know that they are integrally wound into my life, and I would go to the wall for them.
The vendor side of the equation holds true as well. There are moments in life when a client relationship or a personal one seems to be merely transactional. They are less than fulfilling, and barely register on the blip of my life screen. Choosing to view every engagement as a potential partnership, however, helps me reframe even those small moments in time as important and meaningful. Many of my relationships in life have started off as transactional moments, but they develop into a rich engagement over time.
Some quotes from the Agency Post Article
- “Those that treat their customers with respect also treat their service providers with respect. They’re the most successful. They’re the brands that people aspire to own, work for, and work with.”
- “Beyond respect comes the ability to take your client’s business personally. How their business does should matter to you personally. It should matter on a human level, not just on a financial level.”
- See the full article here
Last year I probably read over a hundred books. But I stopped doing something important. I stopped blogging and reviewing them. In the process, I lost the opportunity to share the “voices” God used to shape me last year. So in the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions, I’m promising more frequent book reviews!
This Book, Dreaming with God by Bill Johnson, inspired me to get creating. Why? Here’s the theme that hit me.
Satan can’t create anything. Only God and those made in his image can create.
Wow! Want to read that again? Does it make you want to run out and create a fingerpainting, a pie recipe, a song, a new game? It should! Think about it! The creativity of God can best be expressed through the lives of believers. And living in that reality day by day is the only way to truly transform culture.
Coming on the heels of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, this truth moved me. We can cry all we want about needing cultural transformation. We all know that there is something wrong, and that mankind can’t fix it on his own. Evil is evil. But there is one thing that we can do to bring about transformation: live in the image of our creator.
Create new movies, new videos, new words that bring life and healing rather than death and destruction. Create new spaces where people can be loved. Create new relationships where the lonely are surrounded by family, and God’s love is poured out to overflowing.
None of this is easy, and that’s one of the central messages of Bill Johnson’s book. There is a mystery to life that requires us to embrace the unknown.
It is right there, on the razor-thin edge of faith and knowing, walking and hearing, that creativity and cultural transformation is born.
Why read this book
- You long to hear God speak through creative acts
- You are dealing with people in culture that is moving away from God and wish to change that
- You feel a tug to create
- You need wisdom in how and what to create and need God to speak
Yesterday’s creative challenge was so simple and so fun. Walking through Restoration Hardware I saw a display similar to the one you see in the picture above. I came home and created my own in a matter of minutes. Using old books — I used fairly cheap mass-market paperbacks that were in a donate pile — rip the covers off the book. Divide the book into sections about 1/4 inch thick and rip the sections apart. Taking one section, divide it in half and just spread it out so that the binding “breaks.” Begin rolling up this flattened book, tie with twine and enjoy it! I made a few scrolls and displayed them in a basket that used to contain Christmas goodies. So happy!
My challenge for today was a little bit different. Last fall David moved his office into a bonus room over our garage, previously a bedroom. Ever since then I’ve been looking enviously at this room, a smaller office near our bedroom. I’ve needed and wanted a space of my own for a long time. So today I began the process of taking the space over as a creative place for solitude and writing and creative projects. I’m pretty pleased so far! The biggest drawback to the space is the necessity of also having our rowing machine in the space — not inspirational, at least not to creativity! — but I’m willing to work around it!
Creative Challenge for the day: create dinner out of my fridge for guests with no plan!
Tonight I grabbed chicken breasts I had in the fridge, put them in a baking dish and covered them with salt, pepper, bbq sauce and cheese. These baked for 40 minutes. Then I boiled the last straggling potatoes in the pantry, then quartered them and roasted them alongside the chicken with olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper. I made sure we would all be happy by making a batch of biscuits from scratch. this is the recipe, and it is awesome! I finished with fruit salad. Voila! Dinner for four from the refrigerator.
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!”
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?
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!
Today I noticed the magazine rack, just over the top of my book. When I would pause my reading and look up, the headlines popped out at me and made my mind spin in a thousand different directions. It’s this burst of stimulus-induced creativity that keeps me hanging around that cafe. This is what I saw, and subsequently what went through my mind today.
- Newsweek Magazine: with its headline “Finding the right college for you.” This sent me off thinking about Kylie, away at Toccoa Falls College, and how happy I am with where she is, how happy I am with her class schedule, and how uncertain I am as to Jillian’s future plans. But that’s OK, too, because Jillian makes her own way in life most of the time.
- Writer’s Digest: “Get an Agent!” I begin to ponder writer’s agents, and if I get my book nudged further down the road (OK, if I write it) should or would I search for an agent?
- Digital Studio: The entire magazine, the fact of its existence, made me think about the transition from hand drawing to computer art, and the unique blend of the two that my friend Spring accomplishes. I also thought about my blog and how it needs to “coffee” itself up, but I have no skills in this area.
- Make: Yes, people spend inordinate amounts of time making things. Things like robotic hands and solar ovens from cardboard boxes. And the fact that they do makes me inordinately happy!
- ShopSmart: Supermarket Savings. This makes me remember real life, and the fact that my energy level is too low to cook tonight. I ponder what leftovers we have (lots) and the chances of getting David to take me out to dinner (excellent).
- Consumer Reports is buried beneath “The Best Alternative History Stories of the 20th Century,” left by a lazy hand. This makes me smile. Most of us spend far too much time worrying about Consumer Reports and far too little time reading any history, alternative or otherwise. Which means, of course, that we are doomed to repeat our history. Somehow hiding Consumer Reports feels like someone’s oddball revenge. Good job!
- 2nd Coming! reads the headline on some newspaper-like magazine folded in half. I can’t see the picture or the name of the magazine, but the picture appears to be of a contemporary man, making what I was imagining immediately seem archaic. Still, I wonder about the sheer audacity of using such a headline, and wonder if I’d be watching for lightning bolts were I the one who wrote it.
- People Magazine: Kate Strikes Back! Yes, I’ll admit it…I wanted to go read it. I do wonder about Jon and Kate, having loved their children from the first. I don’t know whether to cheer for Kate or pretend I didn’t know what it was referring to. And it made me miss Kylie, because she would have shown up with that magazine at home where I could have snuck a peak!
All of this serves as a subliminal fodder for my brain, my creativity, and even my to-do list. It is what makes me happy to sit and absorb. And it made me wonder.
Do we sanitize our Third Places so much that they lose their soul? Doesn’t something about a neat-as-a-pin coffee shop make you nervous about your messy thoughts? And for church coffee shops and Third Places, shouldn’t we provide jumping off points for creativity, deep conversations, and even quiet thought?
I am in a post-Maxwellian overload. If you’ve been to any major thought-provoking conference, you know what I mean. Ideas are pouring past my poor brain faster than I have time or energy to write them down. Now some of that may be due to caffeine overload (probably is!), but not all. This Maxwell conference has impacted me more than others I’ve been to, perhaps because the emphasis was less on leadership and more on personal goals and — quite obviously — dreams. I can actually imagine some bosses who took their teams to the conference being nervous. “Dreams? I’m not sure I want my team dreaming. I think I want them working. For me.” It is a tension: inspire people to turn their dreams into concrete reality vs. inspire people to lead others in the work to which they’ve been called. Or signed up for. Dilemma. David and I, in fact, took our top level employee with us. I can’t wait to see what dreams he has, though I certainly hope they include us!!!
So today I am dreaming over Coffee Shop Journal, and my other blog (rarely updated) Dancing Thru her Daddy’s World. I originally separated the two because Dancing had a personal focus while Coffee Shop — theoretically — has a more missional (caffeinated missional…ooh…new description of who I am!) approach. But over time, as you all know, who I am and where I go has seeped into Coffee Shop while Dancing has waited patiently in the corner.
Here, my readers, is my question for you. And for once I need you to pause and comment for feedback, if you would. Should these two blogs be combined or continue their separate lives? Should Coffee Shop remain as focused as this scatterbrained person can make it? Or would you like to have the personal posts mixed in? Today David and I were sitting at a lovely waterway cafe by the intracoastal waterway. I wanted to write about it. But it’s really a Dancing post, not a Coffee Shop post. I’m a woman in conflict!
Another interesting side-effect of the conference is that I have picked up my old-school, handwritten, doodled in and loved journal again. For the past year I’ve not been using it, but today I can’t leave it alone. There are some things that just don’t fit into a digital world, aren’t there. I’ll be intrigued to see how the journaling finds its way into my writing. It always does, in the end.
So help me out, those of you who care…give me a little feedback while I’m still in this super-productive, hyper-creative, change-the-world mood.
And a final word of warning: don’t attend a Maxwell Conference days before you need to be utterly practical because you are throwing a welcome-home-newly-married-couple party for 40 people!