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).