I’ve spent a good chunk of my life telling stories in one form or another. What time I didn’t spend telling stories was spent reading them. I could consume good books at a rate that would have bankrupted my parents if I didn’t know where the library was! David likes the story of my 8 year old self declaring I was going to read the entire children’s library in my town of Belmont. I smile now, but I’m also proud of the fact I made it through the A’s and had made headway into the B’s before I realized I’d bitten off more than I could choose. Go ahead, ask me about Aardvarks, Ants, or the Appalachian Mountains.
These days I’m spending my days weaving different kinds of stories. We started a company recently called Visual Creatives, and it’s based on using “story” to communicate better, clarify what it is we are trying to say. It turns out story writing is sometimes called “branding” in the adult world. Who knew.
Stories have a lot of value, too. Jesus was a pro at knowing what kinds of stories would tug on heartstrings, or perhaps reveal a flawed and decaying heart. He knew how to hone his message down into a few simple words that pierced to the soul. Above all, Jesus always knew who his audience was, and who he was talking to.
That’s what we are doing for the Visual Creatives clients. We’re helping them see themselves clearly so that the stories they tell (their brand) are authentic and honest and have a purpose.
When I was a little girl reading those books in the back of the library, I didn’t realize I was setting the course of my life through high school, college, homeschooling and beyond. I didn’t realize that I was steeping myself in the dreams and forms I would need for my life. I did know, however, that I loved a good story.
I still do.
You will be the same person five years from now except for the places you go, people you meet and information you read. Wow. Good reminder to be intentional with your reading! Having said that, I thought I’d let you sample a few of the “nuggets” in my own personal Google blog reader today!
From my friend Ed Bahler comes this interesting discussion of mega churches. As I am firmly entrenched in Christ Fellowship, which qualifies for but really dislikes that label of mega church, I found this interesting.
We were wrong!
We believed young people would be turned off be the boomer generation mega church. Small churches and incarnational coffee shop gatherings would provide the soul conversations and authentic relationships they longed for.
However, a recent study by Warren Bird at Leadership Network and Scott Thumma at the Hartford Institute reveals that:
66% of mega church attenders are younger than 45 versus 33% for other protestant churches.
The average age for mega church attenders is 40 versus 53 for other protestant churches.
18% of mega church attenders are under 24 versus 5% for other protestant churches.
The startling fact is mega churches appear to be magnets for the younger, well educated crowd while smaller protestant churches attract the boomer crowd and their parents.
What about those soul conversations and authentic relationships?
We know they prosper best when we are sacrificing for a common purpose together. And that shared sacrifice nurtures spiritual growth as well. Young people are drawn to purposeful relationships and spiritual growth. And mega churches are leveraging their people, financial resources, voice in the community, and leadership skills to make those activities happen.
Any church can mobilize their people and create these remarkable bonding and spiritual growth opportunities. However, it appears mega churches are learning to leverage their resources better than most.
Does that surprise you like it does me?
Jeff Shinnabarger always makes me think. Here is one of his posts from a recent trip to Guatemala, and some stunning photography.
Her feet were ashy, beaten up, swollen, and storied. Can you imagine being 60 years old and working in no shoes. Imagine the narration her feet could give. A widow and a grandmother of 7 children. She has no home, but she does have a family. Her husband died thirty years ago in the civil way. Her face had a wrinkle for every hard time in her life. We built the house in 4 hours and she lived for 30 years without it. We communicated through 3 translations to understand her thoughts. He daughter was overjoyed with tears about her “big new house.” Meanwhile, most of our personal beds wouldn’t even fit through the door. We are called to care for the widows, now we have a glimpse of why we should. They are souls that comprehend grace more than we could ever imagine. The lives of widows are ones that care for others and none care for them. They are selfless expressions of love. We are selfish. They are hero’s. Meet our new widow friend and her feet: Candelaria.
My friend Laura Anne Mackay, in Scotland (aka Brunette Koala and @KoalainScotland) posted this curiosity-satisfying post about Starbucks in Scotland. Go here to finish reading it and see the pictures!
Those of you who follow the @koalainscotland twitter feed will probably know that every Friday morning Sarah or myself will stop into our local Starbucks to buy Cinnamon Swirls.
@irishwings and his wife were wanting to see what Starbucks in Scotland looks like, and trust me there are many here in Edinburgh – but this one is one of my favourite to visit.
I love to check in with the blog associated with Neue magazine. There was recently an interesting article on prayer. Here is the paragraph that caught my eye.
I think a wonderful application of the word gap is Generation Applying Prayer. Each generation needs to look at their own time and find out what is pleasing to God about how they are living and what needs to be changed. How does the generation and the times we live in measure up to the Word of God? Whatever deterioration of our society we see becomes our prayer assignment.
Long-time favorite and teaching pastor at Christ Fellowship, John Maxwell had these thoughts to share on a recent blog post. Read the whole article afterward…it’s worth it!
1. Expose Yourself to Good Input
Good thinkers always prime the pump of ideas. They always look for things to get the thinking process started, because what you put in always impacts what comes out.
Read books, review trade magazines, listen to CDs, and spend time with good thinkers. And when something intrigues you-whether it’s someone else’s idea or the seed of an idea that you’ve come up with yourself-keep it in front of you. Put it in writing and keep it somewhere in a favorite place to stimulate your thinking.
Michael Hyatt writes on a broad range of subjects. Recently he was hunting for a pair of shoes and ended up writing an amazing post about exceeding expectations. Here is a snippet, but — again — go read the original later!
This entire experience exceeded my expectations. I had already been spoiled by other online retailers like Amazon. But this took the customer experience to an entirely new level. The personal attention to detail was surprising and unexpected. As I have written about previously, this is one of the keys to generating wow experiences.
In today’s environment, you cannot ignore the details. Taken together, they create the customer experience. Over time, the customer may forget the specifics, but he will remember how the interaction made him feel. And that feeling will guide his future loyalties and buying decisions
This has been another intense ministry season for me, which partially explains the gaps in posting these days! I love writing. I love reading. Sometimes I love them more than, well, the people in my life. Lately, God has not been letting me get away with that attitude, and I’ve been fighting him. He wins.
So while I was fussing in my mind today over the back-to-back-to-back-to gym-to ministry events today (yeah, I complain over the gym, too), I happened to hear Dr. Laura on the radio. I didn’t even hear the whole caller, but the message came over loud and clear.
“As you go through new seasons in your life you need to find new ways to stretch yourself. Some women stretch themselves with physical challenges like kayaking. You have chosen to stretch yourself by helping others. Which do you think is more important?”
Not a direct quote — I was driving, not taking notes — but that was the gist of the message Dr. Laura was giving to a woman who felt guilty for all the time she was spending in her community. I believe she was also heading overseas for a short-term missions trip, leaving her adult children to fend for themselves. I don’t know all the circumstances in this woman’s life, but its application to my life jumped out at me. This is a season where God is stretching me out of my comfort zone. I’ve got to stop fighting and start stretching.
But I’d really like an afternoon on the porch with a cup of coffee and a good book.
A good book has to have an authentic voice, a narrator or author who is secure in who they are, and allows that security to permeate their work. Starbucks has an uncanny ability to find authentic voices, and distribute them in their book selections. The House at Sugar Beach, by Helene Copper, is one of the most authentic books I have read in years.
The book details the dramatic life of Helene Cooper, now a United States journalist, but also a little girl who grew up in Liberia. Until the age of 14 she lived a privileged, elite life in this African country founded by former slaves from the United States. In a true confession, I’d barely heard of Liberia before this book. I’m probably not alone in that: Americans are notorious at ignoring most of the world past our borders. But an authentic voice can cut past that apathy and make us care about a place that was a 60 second blip on the news of yesterday. I care about the house at Sugar Beach. I care about Helene and her family. And caring about them makes me more likely to care about someone else.
If there is one thing that an authentic voice can teach us, it’s that everyone has a story. Everyone. Most of them are fascinating. And generally speaking, the “odder” the character, the more likely the depth of the story. Reading Helene’s story has made me appreciate the African immigrants who started over in the United States, as Helene and most of her family eventually did. It has made me appreciate my country where a family can start over and create a new life. It has made me appreciate all the unsung people of the world, whose lives are lived out in places that I will never visit and probably rarely think about.
Jeremy, our fave Starbucks barista, is leading a Gardens Mall book club discussion about this book both online and in his store, December 14 at 4 PM. I’m looking forward to hearing about what others think! The video below is an interview with Helene Cooper, the author.
Did you all know that turkey puts you to sleep? I’m sure you did…we’ve all heard about the tryptophan in turkey that helps bring on sleep. In fact, i give a vitamin to my daughter that has a small amount of tryptophan in it to combat her insomnia. Well yesterday our turkey knocked me out cold. By the time the Student Ministries staff left the house I was beginning to see double. I was asleep before their cars hit the road at the end of our driveway. Only the persistence of a teenage girl who needed a new dress managed to pull me from sleep. Looking back on our previous holidays, we always use an organic turkey. I’m wondering if our normal organic turkeys have less tryptophan?
So today was spent in, essentially, a hangover. I shuffled from one spot to another, never fully engaging in my day. My last stop was at “The Office”, or my local Barnes and Noble. I sipped a coffee and read a new book and essentially began to wake up: at 2:30 pm.
In that haze, however, I discovered something about myself and the God I serve. I felt guilty sitting there sipping and reading. This is NOT the season for sitting. This is the season for doing, right? Holidays are stressful, right? We run from one thing to the next. There are hurting people who find themselves adrift during the holidays. Any well-adjusted kingdom dweller should be up and about the Father’s business. My mind was flitting from one need to another, all needs I knew of and knew I could help with.
Then God tapped me on the shoulder. “Would you mind just sitting here with me for a bit?”
Wow. It came over me all at once how seldom I’ve allowed myself to just sit and enjoy the kingdom recently. My soul has missed that stillness, and I think my God has missed that companionship. Oddly, I was reading a book about the “divine hours” that Benedictine Monks keep, a schedule that works in time for sleep, prayer, work and community. All of it fits in a day.
As I head into this next season I need to remind myself that all of the work for me to do is laid in front of me by the King of the kingdom. He alone knows what I can do for him, and he doesn’t want me to work myself out of balance. Health, sleep, study, reading…these are important to my overall being. If I can’t have those things, I can’t be who he created me to be. That’s so true especially when it comes to the reading. If I am on the run 24/7 and don’t take time to read (how indulgent, I reason, to read when people need my physical help), then I can’t be who he made me to be. I wither without that connection to God’s creative mind.
Guess what? I made it through the rest of my day. Dinner got made for my elderly mom, my daughter got driven to worship night, I visited with my neighbor on the back porch for a few moments. It all got done. And it got done by a girl whose soul was nurtured by those few moments of companionship at a table for one in Barnes and Noble.
This is an interview with Mark Batterson, the author of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, pastor of National Community Church, and let us not forget Ebenezer’s Coffee shop! These behind the scenes interviews were going on all day. That is Carlos Whittaker — Ragamuffin Soul himself! — on the left, and Tony Morgan on the right. Also there is Dave Gibbons, who I got to hear at Q. Fun little interview here.
Once every two weeks or so my brain goes on overload and refuses to read anything too deep or academic. I was in that mood last week when I was walking through Barnes and Noble to get to my “office,” the Starbucks at the back of the store. Right before the railing separating the coffee shop from the bookstore is a table of high-interest books, and one of them caught my eye: Farewell, My Subaru by Doug Fine. It is the story of a young New Yorker who transplants himself to New Mexico in order to reduce his carbon footprint and live as much off the grid as he can. Flipping through the book I was caught by the conversational tone and candor of the author: he was obviously out of his element! I enjoyed the book and read it in an evening or two. There were no great cultural shifts or paradigms coming from Farewell, My Subaru. There were a few environmental ideas, but nothing I hadn’t heard before. But the entire book exuded the warmth and adrenalin of the author’s personality. It was like getting to peek into someone else’s mind. One passage from the book, however, really reached out and grabbed me. It’s long, but worth it.
Herbie wasn’t just certain that our water heating device would work (he’d been heating his own water with a breadbox collector for decades), he was making sure we’d have a good time building it. He opened the passenger-side window and took a loud, deep breath of desert air.
“This is how to spend a morning,” he said as though we were picking strawberries in a meadow, while I vainly tried to park the ROAT [the author's vegetable-oil-based pick-up truck] in the outlying reaches of Mr. Ed’s lot.
“Buying PVC piping?” I asked.
“Hanging with friends, converting a life to solar power.”
In fact, while we shopped for Chinese-made but locally sold plumbing parts, somewhere in Mr. Ed’s aisle where the sign read “You break it, you bought it — we are not responsible for your negligence,” I watched Herbie seep nothing but total appreciation for everything that crossed his path. Whether it was a demeaning manager at Mr. Ed’s, the uneven way I had trimmed my beard that morning, or the tea-pouring method of the waitress at the Chinese place where he diagrammed our breadbox project while I lobbied the owner for waste oil access out back, he treated each person like it was his first encounter with the species.
“Where’d you get that necklace?” he asked the counter woman at Mr. Ed’s. “I’ve never seen that shade of green before.” His words carried all the more effect because he delivered them in a sort of “pssst buddy” street corner sotto voce.
It forced me into the same mind-set. And I wondered what it took to cultivate such a loving outlook day in and day out when there were rattlesnakes and hardware store manager on the prowl. I didn’t wonder long. whatever plague of optimism and good humor infected my hippie friend, it was contagious. By the time we picked up essentially a skyscraper’s worth of plumbing parts, goat-proof glass, black spray paint, aluminum foil, and (despite my protests) purple primer, I caught myself smiling at everything, like I was a paroled prisoner on a sunny day. The secret was to find the light in everyone and focus on it.”
What an amazing example of valuing other people Herbie and Doug Fine have given us. They are two people who will never need to feel lonely. Herbie, by the way, revealed later in the chapter that he was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer. He’d already, at that point, lived three months longer than his doctor had predicted and was happily living out his life doing just what he wanted every day. Wow.
(For those of you who just need to know – like me – in an email exchange with the author I found out that Herbie is still happily spending his days as he pleases and is doing well.)
In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day Chapter 5
Presumptuous blog title, no? How to live with uncertainty. Nevertheless, that’s what Chapter Five of In a Pit is teaching in no uncertain terms. Uncertainty is a part of life…maybe even the best part of life. Benaiah had no clue he was going to chase a lion the morning he woke up and changed his destiny. And once the chase was on, Benaiah had no guarantee of a checkmark in the win column. And neither do we. So how do we embrace the uncertainty that God has built into life?
- Tolerate interruptions. 90% of the time it is the unexpected, unimagined twist on our day and on our life that reveals God’s fingerprint. Yesterday it was the unexpected moment in the bar that gave me the framework to evaluate the whole crazy patchwork of my day. Viewing those 15 minutes cooling my heals waiting for food as an interruption in my plan would have robbed me of that insight. I am not particularly good at this process, by the way. In fact, one of the ironies of this post is that as I was writing a college friend of mine was instant messaging with me while he sat in an (apparently) uninspiring class, my computer froze necessitating a conversation with a mac-using neighbor at the next table, my husband called wanting to meet me at a different coffee shop, and the barista at the second coffee shop sat down for an extended conversation with us about life, faith, what he wants to do with his life and how to get there. Yes, they were interruptions to this post, but they were the point of my day!
- Be counterintuitive. The way God works in one life or church is seldom the way he works in another. If your mental map of “how God works” is modeled on someone else, you need to break that mold. Batterson writes, “Regardless of your vocational calling or relational status you have to do something counterintuitive if you want to reach your God-given potential and fulfill your God-given destiny. Sometimes you have to run away from security and chase uncertainty.” My life is filled with uncertainties, as is yours. I am going to cultivate the discipline of looking at them as opportunities, trying to find the counterintuitive approach.
- Prepare. Batterson uses the example of the Day of Pentecost. The disciples didn’t plan Pentecost; they weren’t even aware that it was coming. All of it was an interruption, an uncertainty. But they had prepared themselves for Pentecost by fasting, praying, being where God needed them. The chapter asks us what would happen if instead of spending all our energy planning events for God and telling him how we need him to work, if instead we spent that energy seeking after God. You can’t plan Pentecost, but you can be prepared.
- View complications as blessings. While sometimes the complications in our lives can come as a result of wrong choices, most of the time they arise as a result of the good things we do in our lives. My complications come from my elderly mother, my growing kids or having too many great choices of activity in my life. These are blessings, all. Remember the parable of the talents? The reward for doing your work well was…more work. And so it is today. I was frustrated by the complications of arranging my family’s summer travel schedule last week, until I remembered what a blessing it is to have three nieces and nephews who love me and are getting happily and wonderfully married this summer.
- Rest. Above all I am trying to remember that God has a plan, and he is working his plan. I can rest in that. Mark Batterson tells the story of the untimely death of his father-in-law. In the aftermath of that grief, he would often find himself sighing with a grieving, overwhelmed heart. During this time he took to heart the verse in Psalms which says, “Give hear to my words, O Lord. Consider my sighing.” God hears our sighing – those moments of overwhelming burden – and interprets them as prayers. That thought has helped me a lot as a sigh escapes me. I know that my sigh represents all the uncertainty in my life: the knowledge that I have no idea what the right course to take is, the worry over my famiy’s choices, the unknown variables that my job sometimes means I must plan for. My sigh represents the unknown regarding all these things, and God hears it as a prayer. This is good.
One metaphor from this chapter encouraged a new attitude in my daily life this week. I am going to write my life in pencil, and make sure it has a good eraser. How about you?
The Art of Reframing Life’s Problems
I’ve made it to chapter three of In A Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. Today’s topic convicts and delights me, both. The premise is this: life’s problems are God’s way of preparing us for God’s opportunities. The problems are the seedbed for the great feats of daring and delight, the stuff of stories. Problems are fertile soil, indeed. Mark tells the story of National Community Church and one of its first real problems. The church lost its lease on the school in which it was meeting. In the ensuing days God only opened one door: the movie theater in Union Station, which has been their defining characteristic as a church. What seemed like a problem was really God setting the stage for their future ministry.
So what are some keys to gaining God’s perspective on our problems?
1. Evaluate your past. When a broken bone heals, it heals stronger than it was before. Look at the broken bones of your life. Has God used them in unexpected ways? Reviewing the past helps us keep trusting for the future.
2. Search for ministry opportunities. How many conversations just “coincidentally” lead to common issues or problems? That’s God transforming your past into missional opportunities. Take those opportunities and redeem your past pain.
3. Examine your character. Often the adversity you have faced in the past is what becomes your defining characteristic. Maybe you have been overlooking such an opportunity? Offering up to God the sum total of who we are allows Him to pick and choose at any given moment what characteristic He wants to use.
4. Be prepared for surprises! We tend to categorize our personality traits into important and not important. “God can use my insight into scripture,” we reason, “to impact my small group.” In reality, he might be using your willingness to always provide the brownies and coffee and create a welcoming environment. Don’t despise the little characteristics that make up who you are!
5. Worship. Develop an arsenal of worship techniques that help you change your perspective on the problem at hand. For me, that would be music. For you? Perhaps prayer or time spent walking outside in God’s world? Whatever it is, write down the ways you can change your focus, because in the heat of battle with your lion, it is hard to remember what tools you have in your belt. Write them down and then use them.
I leave you with one final quote from chapter four.
. “Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God.” Pg. 67
Start Thinking God Thoughts
I continue to reflect on “In A Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” by Mark Batterson. In the third chapter a simple metaphor – heard before and mostly ignored before – has caused me to stop to ponder. According to Batterson, half of learning is learning. The other half is unlearning. Unfortunately, the unlearning is twice as hard as learning. So how do we unlearn the fears that inhibit us? Batterson uses a computer metaphor. We need to uninstall our old fears, and download the mind of Christ through scripture. “When we read Scripture, we are recruiting new nerve cells and rewiring neuronal connections. In a sense, we are downloading a new operating system that reconfigures the mind. We stop thinking human thoughts and start thinking God thoughts.”
Wow. Am I doing what it takes to think God thoughts? When I started scrapbooking I began to see my life as a series of scrapbook pages. I would stage events solely for the great pages they would make. (I am sorry, friends, who had to suffer through Mexican fiestas, hurricane birthday parties or trips to the circus for no reason at all). Perhaps the height of my obsession was the trip to Disney World where I picked coordinating outfits for the girls based on a really cute patterned paper I’d just found. Because I was a scrapbooker, I saw the world as one giant scrapbook. Recently I have done the same thing with blogging. Because I am always looking for post topics either here or on Dancing Thru Her Daddy’s World, I am beginning to see the world in “soundbyte” sized chunks that would make good blog posts. Think I’m kidding? Check out my “aroma” post here.
So what would it really take to start thinking God thoughts instead of scrapbook thoughts or blog thoughts? I guess it would take an overwhelming obsession with seeing God at work in the kingdom around me. If I were obsessed with finding these God moments every day, I would constantly tune my vision heavenward. If I were immersed in scripture the way I should be, scripture would be the first lens through which I would view my world, not the third or fourth. When I can walk into a coffee shop and hope not for peace and quiet but for a meaningful, God-ordained contact, then maybe I will have downloaded the mind of Christ.