Monday, October 20, 2014

Starring Role or Supporting Actor?

Did you know the phrase "always a bridesmaid, never a bride," was coined in 1925 in a Listerine advertisement? It's a phrase we've probably all used at one time or another, without giving second thought to where it came from. Beyond its literal translation, its definition implies describing a person who's potential is never fulfilled. Leaving something on the table. Not cashing in on the hand you're dealt. A good supporting actor, but not star material. Use of the word always seems to insinuate that the personality trait can't ever be shaken. Are some are born to be indians, never to be chiefs? Just as a person is either an introvert or an extrovert, are we destined to either sing lead or sing backup?

Over the last 30 days, I've had the privilege of having a front row seat to watch someone else's dream unfold. In my new role at Loehr Chiropractic & Acupuncture, I'm a part of an awesome team that supports the vision and dreams of one entrepreneurial doctor. Not that Springfield Ballet was my dream, by any means, but in my previous role, I carried out the dreams of a founding Board no longer involved in the day to day operations of the organization. I was in the driver's seat. After my career transition, some might argue I've gone from a starring role to a supporting part. A bride turned bridesmaid. A chief turned indian. But here's the thing I'm finding out. Following your own dream, or sharing in someone else's, are equally emotional and equally rewarding experiences. 

Growing up, my mother (a retired speech/drama teacher) always told me, "there are no small parts, just small actors." Now, I know there were times when I rolled my eyes and assumed that this only applied when you didn't get the part you wanted! It went in one ear as a sugar-coated consolation prize, and out the other with a chip on my shoulder. The more I study leaders and teams, though, I think she was right. (This is what happens as you get older, right? You start to realize that maybe your parents did know what they were talking about...) Without a good tribe of indians, who needs a chief? And without a lead singer, the backup singers are out of business. God has gifted each of His children with unique gifts and talents, but unless they are combined, they aren't fully effective. 

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously;if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:3-8)

Clearly, God has given us gifts, talents, strengths, and functions. Being in the starring role is not a gift, it's one way to use a gift, but not the only. God allows us to use our gifts in starring and supporting roles, sometimes in the same year, heck, sometimes in the same day! So my challenge (to you and to me) is this, let's define success less by a title and more by an impact on our communities and the people we interact with. Let's applaud the whole band and celebrate the whole cast of characters...our Heavenly Father sure does!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Coffee Houses - Hold the Coffee

I have a serious love affair with coffee houses. This may not seem so strange, except for the fact that those of you who know me know that I don't like coffee. I don't like mochas, or lattes, or anything "coffee-ish" really (unless I'm going to a) fall asleep in class or b) fall asleep on the road, and then I'll drink it out of necessity. There's just something about coffee houses, however, that brings comfort to my soul. 

I've been using the Time Hop app lately to see daily reminders of pictures and thoughts I've posted for the last six or seven years. The pictures are fun, some should never resurface, and all serve as a good reminder that what you put on social media is NEVER going away! Back to coffee houses though. The other day, a post popped up from several years back that read, "Sits in coffee houses and talks to college women about Jesus - how do I get that on my business card?" See? Love affair with coffee houses.

As I sit in one now and think about just what it is I love so much, a few thoughts come to mind. First, they just seem peaceful. For the most part, coffee houses are pretty slow and quiet. (**I've been to the original Starbucks in Seattle, and NOTHING about that place says slow or quiet, but I digress.**) Likely, this stems from my love of libraries - literally my FAVORITE place to sit during college, just getting swallowed by the silence that is so hard to find in our noisy lives. Speaking of college, I also LOVE coffee houses because they're normally filled with college students (in downtown Springfield at least). From the moment I graduated and started traveling as a Leadership Development Consultant with Pi Phi, The Lord has continued to develop a deep passion for college students in my heart. While that is a topic for an entirely separate post (or series of posts), just sitting and observing and listening to the students around me is comforting. Often, I'll just sit and silently pray for the students I can see. I pray for their growth and development, their safety and health, and their hearts. Satan is thriving on college campuses, and oh how they all need our prayers. Strong coffee and strong prayers.

Coffee houses also tend to be a breeding ground for learning. Surrounded by people with laptops and books, it's like (silent) music to my ears to watch the knowledge absorption happening. I can think of few better places to sit and read, even if it is a Strategic Management textbook! Maybe part of the reason I'd be a student forever (if it paid better!) is that I subconciously equate that with spending a lot more time in coffee houses!

Besides learning, coffee houses are the perfect setting for relationship building. Whether it's two young lovers on an afternoon date, new friends who've just barely met, an informal job interview, or a budding mentorship/discipleship relationship, what better place to gather than a quiet coffee house filled with soothing scents and warm beverages? There's a lot of learning and a lot of loving going on.

Some people are serious about their coffee! Just search for coffee quotes on Pinterest and you'll get endless amounts of t-shirts, mugs, and word art expressing the java obsession. I have to confess I'm not one of them, but...if there's a shirt for loving coffee houses? Send one my way.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why (I imagine) Getting a Masters is a Lot Like Having a Child

Having been married for 4+ years now, and slowly but surely approaching the upper end of my twenties, I (not so shockingly) get asked frequently when we're going to have children. Not so much by our families (my father-in-law knows better ever since I told him asking that question was like lightning at the pool, every time he asked, I restarted the clock!), but by concerned citizens who must be very worried that our fabulous genes won't get passed on (hey, if I get teased, I can dish it back, right?)! Lately, I've begun giving a response that I do in fact have a child - it's name is a masters degree - and I can quite convincingly compare the two. So, for your entertainment, here are the Top 10 Reasons, I imagine, Getting a Masters is a lot like Having a Child:

  1. Since beginning my masters, I've gotten a lot less sleep. Masters work keeps me up at night, babies keep people up at night. Or, if I try to go to sleep, I instead typically lie awake thinking about what masters work I should be completing. I'm not making this up - the black circles under my eyes and my bloodshot right eye are proof.
  2. Masters degrees are expensive. While (thank goodness) not quite the cost of raising a child for 18 years, still not chump change. To raise a child born in 2013 to the age of 18, it will cost a middle-income couple just over $245,000, according to newly released estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  3. I cannot neglect my Masters degree. Without a lot of care and attention, it would die. Babies require quite a bit of attention too (so I've been told).
  4. My masters degree is aging me. Since beginning my masters, I've gotten reading glasses, developed horribly slumped "computer" posture, and experienced a plethora of aches and pains. Kind of like my mother telling me I was giving her grey hair!
  5. Some days I love my masters more than others. My mom used to tell me, "I don't always like you, but I'll always love you." There are definitely days (and nights) when I don't like this degree, but for some underlying attraction, I keep on trucking.
  6. I'm proud of my masters degree. I image the day I get that hood and the letters MOL after my name, I will shed a few tears. The kind of tears moms and dads shed at their child's graduation.
  7. I celebrate little victories along the way. With the completion of each project, test, and class, I celebrate a little bit. Like first steps or first words, each credit hour is a small but significant victory!
  8. This masters degree has put some serious strain on my social life! Many evenings have been spent at the computer or parked in front of a book instead of out to dinner with friends. Weekends at the lake have been encroached on as I holed away with a textbook while everyone else was having fun.
  9. Sometimes corrections are necessary and well-deserved in a masters program. Sometimes you get an A, sometimes you don't. When I was briefly running this theory by a friend of mine who's a wonderful mama to three little people, she exclaimed, "thank goodness I don't get a grade in parenting, some days I'd get an F. But, the good thing is, the next day, I can start all over!"
  10. Despite the sleep deprivation, anxiety, expense, sacrifice, and difficulty, in the end, I know getting my masters will be more than worth it. Nothing worth having comes easy, right?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Dreaded 10 Year Question

Last week in my MOL 601 (Strategic Planning) class, the professor announced that we'd be heading out for ice cream and to have a discussion. This isn't uncommon, and is actually a treat. That is, until he announced the topic of discussion. "I want you to think about where you want to be in 10 years. Think about what strengths you have to get you there, and what obstacles might get in the way." Sheer. Panic. I am an open book. Literally, ask me anything. Just don't ask me that. This might be tied with, "so what do you want to do with your Masters?" as my least favorite question. I was paralyzed, and for a split second, weighed the cost of just skipping out on the ice cream and disappearing altogether!

If you know me, you may be scratching your head, wondering why a goal-setting, achiever like me was making such a big deal out of a frequently asked question. Let's start with the paralysis that comes from fearing if I say a plan, out loud, and then don't achieve it, it will be viewed as failure (primarily by me). Without a spelled out plan, I can succeed as I go along, because I (or anyone else) won't have specific, measurable objectives for myself and my own life. Now don't worry, I'm not wandering completely lost through life, I'm just better at defining what's on my to-do list for the next week. I can taste and feel those things. To-do lists are good. Lists with items that won't get checked off for a decade, not as good.

I was ruminating over this with a friend/mentor earlier this week, and she shared a perspective I could appreciate. She asked me, "ten years ago, where were you, and would you ever have imagined you'd be where you are now?" Ten years ago I had a different last name. I was just beginning my senior
year of high school. 17 years old and on top of the world. My highest priorities were cheerleading, show choir, youth group, and dance. I was taking Honors Physics (yuck), French 5 (tres chic), AP this, AP that, Political Activism (working on Bush's campaign much to my father's chagrin), and tirelessly working to preserve 10+ years of a 4.0 (which also, at the time, seemed like the most important thing in my world). I was gearing up to miss an insane amount of school (all excused) for school trips from debate tournaments to Youth in Government to my first trip to NYC with my marketing class. I was intently focused on maintaining an imagined perfect balance of academic excellence, extracurricular involvement, and community service entrenchment to make me the most desired college applicant around. Academic lab (study hall) was spent giggling around a table in my mom's classroom, making lists with friends of the qualities we hoped to find in our future spouses. I'd venture to say that things like "tall, dark, handsome, rich, and doctor" topped the list (priorities folks). Weekends were spent in friends' basements or at Kay Bova (Steak and Shake for those of you non-St.Louisians) where I consumed copious amounts of gluten and dairy and never gained a pound. I was counting the months until a spring break cruise to Mexico. With starry eyes, I was dating the first boy who'd ever told me he loved me, and assumed that I was feeling all love had to offer. Though I didn't know it, in just five short months, I'd say my last goodbye (this side of heaven) to the greatest teacher I'd ever had. One who was so influential in my life, I took for granted that I'd eventually look out at my wedding and see him in the row with my family. The dining room table of my parents' house was littered with college applications, college brochures, college essays, and financial information for the FAFSA. None of them were for Drury because, "my sister went there and we're nothing alike, plus it's smaller than my high school!" The official plan was to live in the honors dorm at the University of Missouri, where I was pre-admitted to the J-School, and major in Public Relations. (The real plan in my head was to be a Rockette.) I'd chosen Public Relations because I thought I could do anything with it, which was a good strategy for me, as in the span of a week I'd change my mind for career plans a dozen times. I'd wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon, a lawyer, a business woman, a doctor with a law degree, a doctor with an MBA (you can see my love of school runs deep). I thought I'd live in St. Louis forever, or if not the Lou, Chicago, New York, or another big city (where, naturally, my life would bear a striking resemblance to Carrie Bradshaw's in Sex in the City).

Christian author/blogger, Donald Miller, penned a post this week that caught my eye in light of my forward, or lack thereof, thinking. In his post, I'm Glad I'm Not the Same Guy who Wrote Blue Like Jazz, Miller responds to critics who "miss" the author he was a decade ago when he released his first bestseller. What he also reveals, is that he was quite a different guy 10 years ago (think 150 pounds heavier, no wife, no money). "People are designed to grow, and if they don't, it's because something's wrong." Miller refreshingly highlights that our creator God designed us to grow and develop, and to learn about Him, love, and ourselves a little more each day. Consequently, he questions why any of us would want to stay the same. I don't want to stay the same. Do you?

Photo Credit: Margot Lied

I may not know what I want my job title to be in 10 years, or even if I'll want to have a job outside our home while (God-willing) raising our kiddos. But I know this, in 10 years, I want to be a better, stronger version of myself. I want to have learned more, bought less, built deeper relationships, loved more, and showed the love of The Lord to more people. Whether I'm a writer, or a speaker, or a consultant, or a mother, or a combination of those and other titles, I want to know, share, and give more to others than I can/do today. In the next 10 years, I plan to read a lot of books, listen to a lot of sermons and TED Talks, try tons of new recipes, write many blog posts, travel to dozens of countries, eat a lot of real food, and burn a few hundred calories (let's hope that's weekly, or I'll have a Donald Miller story on my hands)! It doesn't matter what house (or city) I'll be living in, but I hope to be (God-willing alongside Weston) entertaining friends and family in multitudes at a full dinner table every night, with house guests on most weekends.

It is okay to get better. In fact, I think it's God's will for each one of us. It's okay to desire, dream, even announce in blog "stone" that I will, in fact, be a better version of myself in 10 years, and you can hold me to that. So, where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Finding God Within the Noise

We live in a noisy world. In fact, if you're anything like me, we encourage the noise. I must be on the e-mail list of 200 different stores, businesses, and newsletters. I follow 543 Instagram accounts, have 2412 "friends" on Facebook, and subscribe to dozens of blogs. When I get in my car, I have the choice of AM, FM, XM, CD, or a seemingly endless number of choices from my phone including Pandora, I Heart Radio, or MP3 music. We have more than 1000 channels on our television, not including On Demand, DVR, and Amazon Prime. I can purchase anything I want or need with one-click from my mobile phone, and it will be on my doorstep in a matter of days. My phone vibrates at least 500 times each day, and only stops at night because I silence it (when I remember). There is no doubt the demands are long and our attention spans short.

So where, in this loud demanding world, do we find the one true God who waits patiently for His children to seek Him (Luke 11:9-10)?

I spent the long Labor Day weekend at Table Rock Lake with family and friends who might as well be family. It was a perfect weekend, filled with good food, lots of laughs, sunny weather, a new boat, and above all - quiet. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't the kind of quiet you'd find in a library or an Italian chapel as guests are hushed by guards. Instead, this is soul quiet. The kind of quiet where God's voice gets really loud. This is the kind of quiet I can find only when I leave my phone upstairs, turn the wi-fi off on my iPad, leave the TV covered by a sheet, and escape to the creation that God's given to His children. It's the quiet that silences the motor of the boat when you're sitting up front at twilight floating across an otherwise empty and glassy lake. It's the quiet that fills your soul when you look up at night and see so many stars, they no longer appear as individual lights, but instead as a smear of twinkles against a dark backdrop. It's the quiet that speaks right into your soul and makes it easy to breathe again. It's the quiet that reminds me just how small I am against a backdrop of our huge and great God.

"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10)

When I let my world get loud, I let my own voice get louder than God's. When the noise is all I hear, I start to believe that my emails, my to-do list, my meetings, my preferences, and my desires are the trump cards on the table. But God calls me to quiet the noise in my life. I used to see Psalm 46 and assume that it referred only to designated "quiet times" when I sat in silence with scripture, listening to and talking with God. I think I was missing part of the picture however. For it is also in times of "quiet," like my weekend at the lake, when I see God's greatness more than ever.

There are very few places left in the world where a person could truly escape all noise. As a result, I think we have to create our own still silence. This is HARD FOR ME. I am addicted to the pull of knowing what's going on and being accessible 24/7, and some days, it sucks the life out of me. Thankfully, we serve a Heavenly Father who knows our needs and provides for His children.

I'm taking a September sabbatical. Sabbatical, derived from the word sabbath, describes a need to build periods of rest and rejuvenation into a lifetime. My prayer is that this "white space" I'm building into my life this month will not only renew me, but will renew those around me. My prayer is that in the void, I will be a better friend, a better wife, a better daughter, a better listener. My hope is that I not only focus on doing things, but being still. Quiet the noise and see what you'll hear.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness, for his name's sake...Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of The Lord forever." (Psalm 23:1-3,6).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

When the Tables Turn

If you're lucky, you spend at least the first 20-some years of your life being told by your parents how proud they are of you. In fact, according to most generalizing sources, if you're in my generation, you hear nothing BUT how proud people are of you (whether it's warranted or not). It's a parent's job to be there for their kids games/shows/concerts/recitals. It's the parent's role to bring the camera, snap the photos, show their friends and relatives, and sit on the sidelines beaming. While I'm not yet a parent, I think it's fair to say that parenting is a humbling experience; one where you (the parent) take a back seat to your child as they learn, grow, and excel. That being said, it's a strange (but wonderful) feeling when those tables turn, and, as a child, you have the opportunity to be the proud one as your mother or father steals the show.

Last week, my dad was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame for his 40 years of service and success coaching speech and debate in the St. Louis area. Full disclosure, I'm totally biased, but my opinion aside, this is a huge honor. Each year. the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) inducts a class of athletes, coaches/directors, officials, and administrators into its Hall of Fame, the most prestigious recognition for this group. Now more than 420 in number, past inductees include the likes of Jackie Robinson, Arnold Palmer, Larry Byrd, and Jack Nicklaus...oh yes, and now Randy Pierce!

If you follow me on Instagram (@ckissee) or Facebook, you already know that I hopped on a plane to Boston to a) surprise my well-deserving dad and b) be present for this momentous occasion. And momentous it was! This two-day celebration included a press-conference, a ring ceremony where inductees received their new bling, an Oscar-worthy awards ceremony (during which my dad accepted the honor on behalf of his class of inductees in an incredible speech delivered flawlessly to a crowd of more than 1,000), and a post-ceremony autograph session! But beyond the glitz and glam, the sheer magnitude of this honor has still left me in a little bit of shock.

I know my dad is awesome - he's my dad, what daughter wouldn't say so? But to hear an emcee, in front of a crowd of 1,000+ introduce, "one of the nation's greatest speech and debate coaches of all time," and then to see my daddy walk up on stage was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. While this induction is about the culmination of my dad's many accomplishments and career achievements, what it highlights even more are the little things. This award is testimony to the hours of time spent with students in the classroom, on the road to tournaments, in practice rooms, tabulating results, sitting on committees and boards, debating debate topics, manually calculating students' points, and more. This award represents each of the lives touched by my dad as a teacher, coach, mentor, and encourager. The thousands of students who are no longer deathly afraid of public speaking because of my dad's patience, knowledge, and willingness to push them to grow just a little bit. The award is so much more than a two-day event in a tuxedo.

I feel so blessed that I was able to attend last week's events in Boston. Not only for the obvious reasons, but because it allowed me to take a step back and really appreciate the hard work and dedication my dad put into his career. Attending gave me the unique perspective of a daughter who for the last 27 years has been cheered on by her daddy who now took a turn doing the cheering. This daughter of two incredible speech and debate coaches is literally speechless. I'm so proud of you daddy, well done. xo

Monday, June 16, 2014

Just Do It

I can think of a million and one reasons why I shouldn't write this post. Maybe no one will read it. Maybe people actually will read it. Maybe it won't be interesting. My blog doesn't have a consistent brand, or audience, or look, or name. Maybe it will be too personal....the list goes on and on. In fact, I can really only think of one reason to write this post.

A good friend of mine "resuscitated" her blog today, after more than a four month hiatus. In her post, titled "31 Days of Responding to Him,"she talked about having similar reservations, to which her husband had replied, "If God is asking you to do something, you just do it!" Many of you who are believers may have had an experience where God spoke directly to you, typically stopping you in your tracks. This phrase did just that to me. If God is asking me to do something, why would I wonder if I should do it?

Lately, I've been wrestling a lot with exactly what God is asking me to do. I think there's an idea that's developed in our culture that "God's will" is an X on a treasure map and we are just treasure hunters searching blindly to find it. We assume that when we do, we will find something akin to nirvana - a life of perfect contentment, all pieces will fall into place. This idea is perpetuated by things like "searching for the perfect job" or "finding one's soul mate" or being "destined to live in a certain place." But I'm humbly reminded that God's will was for His one and only son to suffer and be executed. So why do we assume that His will in our lives will be a protected heaven on earth? He's already promised us an eternity of perfect living, in Heaven, with Him.

What if there are a million different earthly paths and places God could use you in? A mentor of mine told me recently, "God wants you to know His will for your life so much more than you want to know it. " I just can't believe our God is elusive or tricky. God is loving, all-knowing, fatherly, and generous. He has already  given us His will so clearly, if we would just open up His word and reveal it.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing, and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

In the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), Christ taught us to pray..."thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." While we may pray this prayer on autopilot, what if we really dissect those words - how clear they are! God's will is for His work, modeled for us by Jesus Christ, to be done on earth, as it is being done in it was modeled for us on earth by his Heavenly Son. God's will has been done by missionaries, fisherman, carpenters, shepherds, kings, harlots, and more. Who's to argue that there is only one profession where we can truly fulfill His will for our life? What if instead of always seeking "God's will" as though it were some magical answer we just have to uncover, we would spend our time and energy seeking God's wisdom

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

God, give me wisdom. Instead of me seeking your will, which you have already generously given, let me seek your wisdom with my whole heart. Let me walk each step rooted in your presence so that my light in this world would be yours, and that through every thought, word, and action, I would bring you glory. Amen.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Be Still

I've been thinking a lot about success lately. Okay...truth be told, I'm an achiever (down to my core), so I think about success all the time. But lately, my mind's been consumed with how exactly I define success in my own life. For my college girls, I know you wrestle with, or soon will, the same questions, and I struggle in coming up with how I would guide you on this subject.

In March of last year, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, drew worldwide attention with her narrative, Lean In. The premise of the book (that I'm only about 1/4 of the way into), which followed the 2010 TED Talk you can view below, is that "women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers and so it encourages women to sit at the table, seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto" ( 

Naturally, Sandberg's message has drawn both enthusiastic praise and sharp criticism. (When I've finished the book, more than likely next summer, after I finish my masters, I'll follow up and let you know which side I land on!) It was actually a letter from the editor in Real Simple in April 2013, however, that caught my eye. Editor Kristin van Ogtrop rebutted,

Here's the thing: I don't want to be striving for bigger/better/higher/more every minute of every day. I don't always want to have a larger goal. That just sounds exhausting and, worst of all, completely joyless. I want to enjoy my days: past, present, and future. I take great pleasure in my professional success, but I can tell you with certainty that, when I'm lying on my deathbed, I'm not going to be thinking about career wins. I'm going to be thinking about my parents and two sisters who greeted every new life situation like it was another chapter in a long, hilarious narrative; my steadfast husband, who gave me love and a true north; and finally, the three children who made me take life both more and less seriously, and whose faces are the only thing I see when I close my eyes...I don't really want to lean back for long. But I don't want to lean in, either. I know I'm most comfortable standing up straight.

I suppose my struggle as an achiever/woman/wife/Christian stems from my inability to define success in my own life. Is it leaning in - charging ahead in a business career, chasing after opportunities that others would envy, earning more, putting more hours in, and being recognized for more? Or is it leaning back and settling into life as a Pinterest-perfect mama with crunchy kids that eat organic snacks and speak three languages? Or, is it tirelessly volunteering to raise money, plan galas, and clock volunteer hours that others find impressive? Often, this achiever feels like she has multiple personalities, and in all honesty, I don't always know which one to appease.

This past Wednesday, the world lost an incredible poet and a wildly successful woman when Maya Angelou passed away. Scanning through Facebook statuses and Instagram posts, I was touched by many incredible words Ms. Angelou shared with her audiences. It was one quote in particular, however, that caught my eye.

I think Angelou was on to something when she insinuated that, perhaps, true success is only experienced when we are operating out of the inherent strengths and gifts God blessed us with. This is why success looks differently for each of God's children. For some, it is living amongst orphans in a third-world country. For others, it accepting a coveted position and proceeding to make your first million before age 30. Maybe success is reaching 100K followers on your blog, or, healing a friend with a quiet listening ear in private, but desperately needed, counseling sessions. The world has A LOT to say about what success looks like, and I know that I often find it hard to quiet all those opinionated voices in my own head.

"But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" (Romans 9:20-21)

I write A LOT of blog posts. Now, I know what you're thinking...this girl is the most inconsistent blogger ever! She hasn't written a post in weeks. You're right. I write A LOT of blog posts in my head...posts that never make it to the internet. As an achiever, my biggest barrier to success is the fear of my own failure - the fear that I will be unsuccessful. So, while I think and reflect and write countless paragraphs in my thoughts, most never make it to the page because I see two options - be a wildly successful, 100% dedicated, regular blogger or just don't bother. I only see two ends of a continuum, no spectrum in between. I'm my own worst opposition. In too many areas of life, I see two options: instant success or instant failure. But through the lens of God's word, I can start to see how resting in the promises of the Lord, the promises that He has equipped me and made me to carry out a specific purpose in this life, will reveal a spectrum of success I don't have to be afraid of.

So, if asked by my college girls, in the peak of the planning stage of your lives, as you define your own success, "just what does success look like", what would I say? Would I tell you to lean in, lean back, or stand up straight? "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him." (Lamentations 3:22) I think I would tell you (and tell myself) to just be still.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Overwhelmed by Easter

I've been thinking for weeks now about an Easter post. Yet, it isn't until now that I've been able to put thoughts into words. Even now, I am overwhelmed by Easter.

This may seem like a strange observation. As a Christian, Easter should fill me with joy, hope, and faith. Holy Week should focus my thoughts, prayers, and energy. But overwhelm me? That doesn't sound quite right. Allow me to explain.

About 10 years ago, I was standing and singing praise songs at youth group, when all of a sudden, the lyrics I was singing hit me like a ton of bricks. "I'll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross." In that moment, by faith took on new depth. My eyes were opened and I realized (as much as I can in my own human brokenness) that Easter was for me. Christ endured the pain and the suffering and the humiliation and the betrayal for every one of my sins, even those I don't feel sorry for in my sinful pride. How does one process, especially at age 16, that brutal truth? More than a decade later, I'm still working on that, but Easter has taken on totally new meaning.

I think there's a cultural emphasis on Christmas. Beyond it's faith-filled meaning, the world has turned December 25 into "the" holiday. We count down to it, we sing about it, we send cards for it, we take off work for it...and I'm not saying that Christmas isn't an incredibly meaningful celebration. However, without Easter, the Christian faith means nothing. Our hope would be gone. Eternal life, not an option.

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did. (Romans 6:6-11, The Message)

But what about people who proclaim to be Christians, yet make one visit to church per year, on Easter? Are they missing part of the story? A 2013 survey conducted by LifeWay research reports this. "Easter and Christmas are the most revered worship observances of the Christian faith," McConnell said. "The crux of the gospel is not just that Jesus came to earth in human form which we celebrate at Christmas, but that He lived a sinless life and was crucified in the place of mankind. God's acceptance of this payment for sin is seen in Him raising Jesus from the dead. This is what makes Easter so significant. Yet, surprisingly, many who call themselves Christian have no intentions of going to Easter services."

Easter is the happy ending, but a daily walk with God promises meaning and significance to Christ's death in a very personal way. For three days, Christ's followers waited, feared, doubted, and wrestled with the fact that the very man they had trusted as Savior was buried in a tomb. Those believers didn't have the happy ending yet. We do, and still people doubt in disbelief that Christ's death was for them and offers eternal life.

My words aren't perfect, because I am so filled with emotion and passion that I can hardly communicate what this week means to my faith. Fortunately, many of my favorite Christian authors and bloggers have put in to words what I can't.

Words or no words - my challenge to you (and to myself) is to ponder and meditate on what Christ's death and resurrection mean to your faith and to your life. And not just today, or this weekend, but every day. God is ALIVE - and because He lives, so may we.

In His love,

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Skeleton in My Closet

I am a perfectionist. Yep, there's no denying it, I'm as type-A as they come. In fact, I am so much a perfectionist that it literally pains me to let my guard down enough to share these thoughts with you all. However, if I could write a letter to my 20-year old self, I would, and ministering to you girls is the closest chance I get.

There are times in life when God is subtle, and there are times in life when He smacks you right across the face. Tonight, in preparing for our "Chase" Bible study, He smacked me. Hard. As I read through the study guide, praying about what message He had for me to share with you all, I instead found myself staring into a message directed right at me.

How much are you trying to control your image or what others think of you? Answer these questions:

  • Do you freely confess you current struggles to close friends? Oh no, I'm the one who's there to listen and counsel others, the one who feeds and doesn't need to be fed.
  • When someone accuses you of something do you immediately get defensive? Guilty.
  • Are you quick to condemn when you hear about someone else screwing up? And do you feel like you are above making massive mistakes? Nope not above, but certainly don't want to let people see me sweat.
  • Do you get frantic when you feel misunderstood? Absolutely. 
  • Do people think you have it all together? Of course, how could I let them think otherwise?

I am still in a bit of a panic right now as I regurgitate these thoughts to you. In addition to being a perfectionist, I'm an extrovert, and in all honestly wear my heart on my sleeve. I'm open, happy to share and wouldn't describe myself as private. With one BIG exception - when it comes to my failures, or even my weaknesses.

True story - I had a melt down at a driving range when I was 16 years old. It is a wonder that I've ever picked up a golf club since. You may be wondering what on earth could have caused me to come unglued during a "fun" afternoon date to the public driving range. We're talking hysteric tears, heaving chest, burning cheeks, paralysis kind of melt down. I couldn't swing, wouldn't swing. And the culprit? The simple possibility that if I swung the club, I. might. miss. This was such a painful experience, and example of my desire for a perfect image, that I used it as the analogy for my college entrance essay more than a year later.

Flash forward to undergrad. I was so fixated on maintaining a perfect GPA (fear compounded by Drury's untimely institution of the + & - grading scale), that I vividly remember having to rush out of class (sometimes on a weekly basis), find a private bathroom and sob hysterically, because I could no longer breathe sitting in class I had buried myself under so much weight and pressure. Minutes later, I would return, feathers seemingly unruffled, never letting on to my melt down.

Let me be clear, I am not proud of this. Furthermore, I blame no one for this obsession with my identity as someone who has it all together. My parents were nothing but supportive and encouraging with the realistic expectations that any parent/educator would have. No, this is self-imposed, compounded by a grip of sin on my heart telling me that I am in control and control is a beautiful thing. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Even as I write this, a supposed revealing message, I am tempted to highlight and erase the entire thing with one swift click for fear that I'm rambling and the PERFECT words haven't been found. But let me be open with you for a few more moments. I struggle with this stronghold on my heart; I'm working on it. In the infinite wisdom of my 20s (ha!) I am just beginning to learn to let go and let God. I am seeing the beauty in my own weakness, for it is only then that God's strength can shine through me. "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."
(2 Corinthians 4:7)

Will you walk with me on this journey? Will you ask me and push me to be real with you? To be an honest, open example of a messed up sinner, wiping away my facade that I've got it all together? I don't have it all together. And you don't have to either. Thankfully, we serve a God who does have it all together, and offers His unconditional love to us in spite of our ugliest failures. 

He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve,
    nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.
As high as heaven is over the earth,
    so strong is his love to those who fear him.
And as far as sunrise is from sunset,
    he has separated us from our sins.
(Psalm 103:10)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Run, Forest, Run!

Let me just clear the air before I share these Tuesday morning thoughts, that most of you (my college Bible study girls) could run/work out in circles around me - making me feel not only old but out of shape - so no, this is not a lecture in healthy living! Your dedication to caring for the bodies God gave you is inspirational to me. Let's not even talk about the huffing and puffing involved in my first spin "class" given by one of my college girls...that's another story for another time!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily strangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)

Photo credit:
It is the first day of the new college semester. What promise this holds for you - God's missionaries on campus! But alongside that promise, my heart writhes in pain with the fear of what you, His precious disciples are about to face. There is spiritual warfare being fought in our world. Simply look around, turn on the news, check your social media feed or examine your own life, and you will feel it. Taste it. Hear it. See it. Loud, clear and pungent, Satan is waging war on God's children. And he has a stronghold on campus life. Even in the short time God's turned this blog in this new direction, I've very clearly poured out the heart I have for the college women I am blessed to minister to. I often try to express to them emotionally how I am old enough to have hindsight perspective, yet young enough to still taste the temptation, pain and struggles they deal with daily. And guess what? It doesn't go away upon graduation. While the battlefield may change, the war wages on.

Set your eyes on Jesus. As though you would focus intently on the finish line of a race; fix your gaze on Him. He has laid the path out for us, but oh how our hearts want to chase other things. What are you chasing after? Perfect grades (guilty)? A friend or boyfriend's approval (guilty)? Social status or popularity because of the brand you're wearing or the car you drive (guilty)? A different body shape or size (guilty)? We are all chasing something. And while we're chasing after the next shiny thing that passes by, God is relentlessly pursuing us. So let's stop running from Him and run to Him. Let's stop running the path we've laid out for ourselves, and instead run the path He's set before us. As I read through this scripture from Hebrews 12:1, I keep picturing the scene in "Forest Gump" when Forest, as a little boy, starts to run and his leg braces fly off.
As you start a new semester, my prayer is that each of you finds the power of the Holy Spirit God has placed inside of you to run the race He's set before you. He will run with you. He is present with us always. My prayer is that in spite of what's chasing you, threatening to catch up to you and run you down (be it stress, pressure, tests, homework, etc.), distracting you from the spite of all that spiritual warfare, that you would hear His voice calling out to you. Just like Forest heard sweet Jenny from behind him yelling, "Run, Forest, run!" May you look up and hear clearly your Heavenly Father's voice calling, "Run, my child, run." All my love and His. xo

Monday, January 6, 2014

Who's Your Best Friend?

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

I remember being in sixth or seventh grade and a "trick" going around where you'd ask someone, "who's your best friend," and as soon as they started to answer, you'd jump in, "no, your best friend is Jesus!" [Thanks for going back to middle school with me for a moment there, now let's get back to being "grown" women, who sometimes (more often than not) still act like middle school girls.]

When do you turn to the Lord? Who is Jesus to you? Is He your last resort when things aren't going your way? Is He a Sunday stop to talk to at church but who simply slips your mind when life gets in the way? Is He someone for "religious" people but you define yourself as more of a "spiritual" person (that always seemed to be trendy on college campuses)? Or is He the first One you turn to when you are worried, burdened, afraid, unsure of what path to take? I'd venture to say that if we'd spend less time gossiping with our best friends/sorority sisters/coworkers/Facebook friends/etc. and more time talking directly with our Savior, we'd feel a lot less burdened and a lot more comforted.

I'm not pointing fingers. I am the first one to admit that when I'm upset, I whip out my phone and my fingers get to texting. Most of the time, I turn straight to my husband. Or, if it's a work issue, I swing around to my coworkers and unload. A lot of times, Jesus is the last consult when I'm searching for guidance. If you can relate, I don't blame you. Our world perpetuates dependence on others' approval, others' advice and others' affirmation. Social media is an "acceptable" (another debate for another post) forum for emotion-dumping. Blogs solicit comments, Facebook solicits "likes" or shares, Twitter solicits replies or retweets, and just like that, an entire peanut gallery is seconds away through cellular cyber space. In fact, to get advice from friends, you don't even have to "talk" to anyone anymore. We live in a world of tangible, instant gratification, and "being still" with God just doesn't feel as glamorous (Psalm 46:10).

Friends are a blessing, a true gift from God. Good friends, especially as for women, are true treasures. The cliche promise of "finding your bridesmaids" when going through sorority recruitment as a college freshman isn't so cliche, and many lifelong sisterhoods are formed during the four years spent at college. I believe that God desires for us to seek counsel and build bonds with true, tried friends. Jesus spent His life traveling, teaching, praying and seeking fellowship with His disciples. He ate with them, He told stories with them, He laughed with them, He cried with them, and through those relationships, He models perfect friendship for us. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13).

When Jesus needed true counsel, however, when He was so overwhelmed that He was literally sweating drops of blood (Luke 22:44), He left His friends, and sat quietly, alone with His Heavenly Father. And He calls us to do the same. Jesus Christ wants to be the first friend you turn to; He wants to be your best friend. We serve a loving, yet jealous, God, and He demands that we seek and serve Him as the most important relationship in our lives. Before our spouse/fiance/significant other, before our parents, before our siblings, before our friends. Turn to the Lord. Christ is waiting to carry your burden.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Stop Trying to Find Yourself, and Let's Get Lost

A new year, a new blog post. Seems appropriate, right? No, I'm not making a resolution to resurrect this blog, or to post every day, or any other mega-goal that I wouldn't possibly be able to fill. In fact, what I'm about to post (or you're about to read) doesn't really fit under the theme of this blog at all as to what's going on in our lives. However, it already exists, and God's been laying words on my heart to post, so instead of launching a new blog, I'm using this for the time being. For the past year and a half, I've had the blessing of leading a group of college women in studying God's word, and this is my new year's message for them. It simply flowed right out of my on a plane on the way home on 1/1/14. Some might call it word vomit. I make no promises.

Give yourself fully to God, so that He may give His love to others through you.

College is often described as a time to "find yourself," but I would challenge you to lose yourself instead. Lose yourself to God, and He will do incredible things through you.

I remember graduating high school and facing college with a wide-eyed anticipatory stare, like an artist would approach a stark, white canvas. Feeling like I was independently equipped to conquer the world, I set out to find myself: find my career path, find my personality, find my values, find my husband, find my future. Alone on this scavenger hunt journey, I quickly found myself...lost. Without the directional guidance of familiar friends, family, teachers and an environment I'd gotten really good at, and without a conscious thirst to walk closely with The Lord, I was a nomad, a wanderer who was miserably failing at the world's promise of finding myself in college. Maybe you've felt that way. Maybe you feel that way now. Maybe you're 30 years old and feel just as lost, if not more, than you did at 18. Daily you seek and search for the world's promised path, and the only thing you're finding is yourself more lost.

In Jeremiah 29:11, God promises, "For I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." I'll admit, this is one of the most often quoted scriptures for those of us facing "quarter-life crises." Often, I hesitate to use this verse in discipleship because I feel overly blessed by the plans I'm a part of, and can imagine the jaded "thank you" from someone who sees me as having it all together. Bible thumping here, I cling to this verse daily. You see, walking a path with God doesn't promise finding the plans we have for ourselves, or the plans the world promises at certain mile markers of life. Instead, walking a path with Him promises to lead us quickly in the exact opposite direction.

Hold up...God wants to take me away from my family, friends, hopes and dreams? Who would sign up for that?!? His promise is that the plans He has for us are so much sweeter. By walking away, we can love better and more freely. "In fact, the more completely you devote yourself to Me [God], the more freely you can love people (Jesus Calling)." Instead of finding yourself, lose yourself in Him and be found! "The closer to Me you grow, the more fully you become your true self - the one I designed you to be (Jesus Calling)." You may feel like you are walking alone, on a solitary path, but the perfect Creator is drawing you closer to others in pure and reckless love; as He loves us.

Let's all stop trying to find ourselves, and instead, strive to lose ourselves in Christ. A new year, a new semester, a new job, a new city, whatever your blank canvas is, rejoice in it! Sit quietly with the Lord, lose yourself in His word, immerse your heart in solitary prayer, silently and constantly throughout every moment of every day.  God created us to love deeply, to do good works, and to carry out incredible plans (Ephesians 2:10). When we want to program our own GPS though, independent of His leading, we find ourselves lost off the grid, doing nothing but wearing ourselves out wandering. Seek God as the one true destination.

I will never be 18 again, facing college with wide eyes and high hopes. My prayer though, for me and for you, is that if we are trying so hard to find ourselves, we would throw up our white flags and, instead, throw ourselves into the arms of Jesus. A Savior who longs to lead our every step, to walk with us, to carry us and reveal to us not what we can do, but what He can do through us. Here's praying for a 2014 where we all get lost.