Excellence Matters: Embrace Your Calling

Home ownership came with a lot of life lessons, especially concerning our septic system. As a kid, I’d always grown up with the convenience of sewer lines…you flush the toilet, and it all disappears.

It turns out that septic systems require a bit more attention. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this until four years into home ownership, when our septic lines started failing, leaking sewage into a nearby stream. It wasn’t good.

I don’t remember the name of the man who taught me how to take care of my septic system, but I remember one thing: He was passionate about them.

As he sat on the tailgate of his pickup truck, his dusty cowboy hat framing a nearly toothless mouth, he taught me that I had two septic lines, and I needed to manually switch them every few months. He taught me about things like bacteria and leach fields and sledge layers, and what happens when the sledge layer makes it into the leach fields (it’s not good).

I sat there, soaking in this new knowledge as if I were learning the most riveting subject matter, and walked away understanding how to take care of the intricacies of this system that I had purchased with my house, but had formerly known nothing about. Even better, he fixed our septic system.

Four years before that, I sat signing my mortgage papers with my friend, Terri. Terri is a fellow mom, with kids near the age of mine. We spent years in our Bunco group sharing the details of our lives. But seeing Terri in action in her job was inspiring to me.

At the time, she was a mortgage broker, and over the course of an hour, she distilled 30+ pages of contracts into easy-to-understand nuggets. She reviewed each page with a critical eye, showed us where to sign, and explained the subtle nuances of the fine print. That day, I gained a new appreciation for the gifts my friend brought to her job…and was again, amazed at what a well-embraced calling looked like in action.

I can think of countless times I’ve been amazed, watching a person’s gifts at work:

  • The surgeon who mended my son’s cleft lip into a complete smile.
  • The nurses who expertly guided chemo into my husband’s body, and watched over him with an experienced eye.
  • The photographer who decided sandhill cranes were something worth preserving, celebrating and documenting…so he spent a chunk of his life doing just that.
  • Another photographer who gave his time, talents and money to the Raw Sea, helping preserve the last untouched ocean on our planet, allowing scientists a space to study and learn, so they can help the areas of our planet that are anything but untouched.
  • The barista at the coffee shop who made a pretty picture in the milky foam during a particularly trying day.
  • The mom of four kids who somehow managed to keep a calm, steady voice, though her kids were running circles around her…

Excellence matters.

Deciding to be a master at your trade blesses people and our world.

I’ve seen so many people coast through life, giving a half hearted effort as they punch a time clock. What if we embraced our lives; our jobs; our roles in life; as more than a means of making money? What if we saw it as EXACTLY where God wanted us to be, at this point in time, for a unique purpose? What if we saw it as a divine appointment to make the world better, or to simply make someone’s day a bit better?

The longer I live, the more I’m realizing that embracing my callings, for all they are worth, is the one single thing I can do to improve our world. Because no one else has my unique background, skills or desires.

And no one else has yours.

Today, I challenge you to embrace your calling, wherever you are at this exact moment of your life, and use it to bless the world — whether it’s as a mortgage broker; or repairing septic systems; or protecting a corner of our planet; or a person or animal in need; or momming your kids; or making a good cup of coffee for the tired person in front of you.

If we do our life’s work with our whole hearts, it will make the world a different place around us — and beyond us, as we inspire others to do the same.

Colossians 3:23
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”

Since Cars Don’t Fly…Learn To Be Patient…

At the top of Glacier Point Road, I gazed down at Yosemite Valley, 2,000 feet directly below and thought, “Gosh, if my car could just fly, I’d be down there in 30 seconds.” Instead, it took 1.25 hours to navigate the mountain roads down to Yosemite Valley, behind a long line of tourist traffic.

Similarly, on my morning commute, I slowed my car down to a painful 25 miles per hour to exit the highway, thinking, “if my car could just jump off the bridge, I wouldn’t be so bored, with all of this slowing down nonsense…” But I drove the clover leaf, turned on my left turn signal, and waited to turn onto the road below.

I am always looking for a shortcut; for an easier path; for something that takes less time. But I’m also not stupid. I know that my car can’t fly, and driving off a highway overpass may get me to the ground beneath quickly, but not in one piece…

So I slow down…and I do what I’m supposed to do. I do what’s wise, and calculated, and prudent, but gosh…sometimes, it’s just so boring!

Driving roads like this reminds me of how I look for shortcuts in other areas of my life. I get bored of the waiting, and the doing, and the praying, and JUST WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.

So, I do something drastic…like the time I cut my hair super short in college, because I didn’t want to look so young; or the time I decided to repaint my living room at 9PM at night because the white walls were making me that nuts…

Or I lash out, becoming suddenly irritated and bitter over things that don’t normally make me flinch.

Or I quit…because I’m just so tired of trying, and waiting, and trying, and waiting, and trying, and waiting, again…

In those times, it’s so hard to stay the course. To do the next good thing. To persevere…Because I just want to be off the stinking road, and at the final destination…

Yes, I know “the joy is in the journey,” but for Pete’s sake, can’t the journey include a side trip to Hawaii, or at least a Mai Tai on the house, every once in awhile?

But here’s the reality: If you don’t navigate the roads in Yosemite carefully, you’ll end up driving over a 1,500 foot cliff. If you don’t slow down on the highway exit, you’ll cause a 20-car pile up, and do much more than ruin the morning commute.

And if you take short cuts in life, because you’re tired or bored or lazy…it often leads to disaster.

So, despite myself, I’m learning to cultivate this thing called patience. As I told my 5-year-old son, patience is a super power. Having peace in the waiting is 99% of the battle, isn’t it?

As you wait for the diagnosis…

As you wait to see if the offer on your house was accepted…

As you wait to see if the business idea will succeed or fail…

As you wait to see if the college will accept you..

What if, instead of worrying and feeling like life was out of control, you rested?

What if, instead of planning and strategizing and thinking, you trusted?

What if you believed that waiting is not only okay, but is an essential part of the process?

What if you expected to wait?

As we learn to wait, God shows His peace and His plan, in an entirely new way…in His own good time.

Psalm 27:14 Wait patiently for the LORD. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.

 

A New Plan: Be Hope

“Where do you work?”

This simple question has a way of turning into a serious discussion, when you work for a nonprofit organization.

“I work for an organization that fights the sex trade in Cambodia,” the woman said to me.

Just like that, the small talk was over, because how do you say something trite like, “How interesting!” when you realize that someone is taking their very best talents and applying it to helping…truly helping…helpless people?

She told me American businessmen go to Cambodia to have sex with children. When the founder of her organization first went to Cambodia, a little boy ran up to the plane and tried to sell his sister for sex.

“The couple who founded the organization…they came back to America and knew they had to try to do SOMETHING, so she started our organization,” she told me in a calm, even voice. I could tell she had this conversation all of the time. That the story no longer shocked her because fighting the horrid reality was a part of her daily life.

A man joined our small circle, and I asked, “How about you? Where do you work?

“I work for a nonprofit that provides beds to orphans in Uganda.”

Orphans in Uganda.

I found my vocabulary to be limited, and my ability to share stories to be non-existent. So I just listened, and asked questions, and felt somehow like I had stepped onto foreign, holy ground…ground Christened with the time and talents of people who gave up pursuing monetary riches, for pursuing something profoundly deeper.

I didn’t expect this.

As far as I knew, my afternoon was going to be spent attending an HR conference on harassment, and how to protect your organization. It sounded like a dry meeting, and I was more excited about the Starbucks latte I bought on the way than attending the actual class.

I learned a few things from the class, but what I learned most came from listening to the other participants. Within the first five minutes, I felt something change in my heart…and as I walked out of the church where the meeting took place, I knew something had fundamentally shifted in my life focus.

For twenty years, I spent my time and talents growing a business. I was aggressively pursuing and living the dream my husband and I had set out to achieve…working for ourselves; traveling; having a solid income to provide for our family; being able to afford a house, a business and all of the things that go with it. We had built a life that provided us with a huge amount of control over our family and our time.

When that life faded away, I was left wondering what God’s next plan was for us; for me; for our children.

That day at the HR conference, I felt the solid confirmation that I was meant to be working in a Christian nonprofit. That God had put me in the exact place, for His exact purpose, in this exact time for a reason. I felt profoundly grateful to have a job where I am paid to help carry out His plans and His blessings for our community. Instead of investing my time and talents in growing riches, I want to lavishly invest it in helping people who cannot help themselves. I want to be hope, and light and an answer to someone’s prayer.

This road is not easy.

I don’t have control over my family the way I did before…which means I am learning how to trust God; that He loves my children even more than I do, and He has a unique plan for each of them, that is NOT ALL ABOUT ME, and my dreams for them…

As I drive to work each day in NASCAR traffic; or walk across the parking lot at work and look at the large storage silos of the concrete company across the street, I wonder HOW THE HECK DID I GET TO NASHVILLE, and WHY AM I HERE? I miss the mountains, the dramatic beauty and MY FRIENDS!

I always envisioned myself being at home with my kids while they were growing up…I honestly didn’t expect this plot twist, half way through parenthood…

But I also didn’t expect that half way through my life, my eyes would be opened to the world’s great need in such a dramatic and undeniable way. I feel like I have only seen the smallest glimpse of the amount of true need in this world, and it leaves me breathless. Truly, the harvest is great, but the workers are few.

Matthew 9:37-38 “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

My plan is to be one of those workers, wherever God sends me.

 

Sowing and Collecting Seeds of Hope

I sprained my ankle in Memphis, which meant my life in Tennessee began with a large black boot on my left foot.

As I hobbled around our house, trying to unpack, I lifted a box of bubble wrapped dinner plates from a box, and was suddenly struck by a searing pain in my lower back that felt like I was being stabbed by a knife. The horrible, guttural scream that erupted from my body brought my family running to my side, one grabbing the stack of plates from my hands, the others trying to move me to the couch.

I spent the next two weeks unable to bend from the waist, down, and resigned myself to weeks of living surrounded by boxes and having my children be my hands and feet.

2017 contained so many truly challenging days.

But then there were the seeds of hope.

Like the checker at Walmart.

With my back out and my black boot on, my family and I navigated the local Walmart to buy groceries for our empty kitchen cupboards. It was the first big shop after our move…the kind where every condiment and spice needs to be purchased. As we stood in line, I suddenly found I just couldn’t stand anymore. I hobbled over to a bench and collapsed down, and I must’ve looked very miserable.

As Rich checked out, he began chatting with the cashier. She told him she moved to Murfreesboro from Australia…that God had randomly given her and her husband a vision of a church in Middle Tennessee. So, they left their comfortable, well-established life, and moved across the world. Within days, they found the church they had envisioned, and were settling into this new calling, and this new life, in Middle Tennessee.

She was working as a checker at Walmart, and said she felt like she was working exactly where God wanted her to be, because it gave her the chance to see so many people.

She looked over at me, and asked Rich, “What’s wrong with your wife?”

He explained that my back had gone out. She looked at her line of waiting customers, looked at me, then said, “I will probably get in trouble for this, but I can’t see a sister in so much pain and not pray for her.”

So, she prayed for me…and though the pain didn’t leave, I suddenly felt so much less alone. I felt seen, and as if someone actually cared.

When does something like that EVER happen at a Walmart?

When I think about it, my life has been speckled with those types of incidents…those seeds of encouragement that got me through.

Like the guy at Dollar Rent A Car who gave Rich and I a ride to a hotel the night our car broke down…he had moved to San Jose from Chicago, and was a Cambodian refugee. His family was brought over from Cambodia in the 1970s, and a church sponsored them, paying their rent, teaching them American customs, and helping them learn a new way of life in a new country. He said he wasn’t really into religion, but he always looked for ways to help people, because of that church, and what they did for his family. He drove us, perfect strangers, from the air terminal to our hotel a few miles away, in his personal car, at the end of his shift. When does that ever happen at an international airport?

On a Proverbs 31 podcast, Founder Lisa Terkheurst talked about her husband, who vowed one Christmas to do something each day to help or encourage someone mentally, physically or emotionally.

I loved that vow because if you do that every day, it means that 365 people will be blessed by the end of a year. That’s 365 people walking around, feeling seen, and valued and loved.

That’s what the Walmart checker did…and the guy from Dollar Car Rental…and many, many more friends and family who have served as little points of light and hope during the many seasons of my life.

There is power in one person’s encouragement.

Sometimes a smile, a prayer, a car ride, or someone who offers to sit with your kids while you order your Chick Fil A…is the little seed of hope you need to get you through.

Surrender: My Life Is Not My Own

“Your life is not your own.”

The first time I heard that statement echoing in my head was in 2015. I had a new baby, two kids I was homeschooling, and I was helping my husband run our small business during the busiest season of its existence.

As I tried to balance working with teaching and running my home, it seemed like my life never stopped. I felt like a circus performer, constantly turning to the next act, keeping the balls spinning, trying to keep everyone happy, and all of the details accounted for.

I felt like I was failing at everything.

As I sat in my home office, looking out the window, wondering how long I’d need to keep this pace, I heard a calm, steady voice say, “Your life is not your own.”

I’d like to say it gave me instant peace; an a-ha moment; a sense of, “Yes! It’s true! Now I can go on living like a crazy woman because I know MY LIFE IS NOT MY OWN!” But that wouldn’t be the truth.

Instead, it made me feel tired. And annoyed.

If pouring myself out for everyone, all of the time was what I was supposed to do…I was tired of doing it.

I mean, I know the Bible says we are to love our neighbors as ourselves; to serve one another in love; and to lay down our lives for one another…but could I just get a few hours to read a book, just for the fun of it?

Women’s magazines tell you about how important it is to make time for yourself; to take care of yourself; to do things for YOU. And I agree…But the fact is that some seasons, if you have to choose between a shower and reading a book, the shower wins. You can give up reading for a few years, but you really can’t give up showering for too long before people start to notice.

When I was done feeling tired and sorry for myself, I felt a sense of surrender. Surrendering to this busy season of life. Surrendering my ambitions and dreams and idea of what life was SUPPOSED to look like, and instead resting in God’s plan.

When I think about all of the things that cause me stress, me wanting to do life MY way, according to MY plans is probably right at the top of the list. My natural inclination is to become frustrated when things don’t work out quickly enough; or if I have to break plans to accommodate a last-minute need; or if life doesn’t stay in the confines of my perfectly laid plans.

But here are some things I’m learning about planning:

– Plans get broken.

– The best-laid plans can lead to disappointment if you hold them too tightly.

– Planning can make you into a control-freak…because when there IS NO PLAN, you have to trust God, and surrender to the fact that His plans for your life may look very different than yours. And then surrender to the fact that His plans are perfect. And are for your good. And…here’s the kicker…they are not all about YOU! You are not in charge of finding the perfect plan…you can leave that up to God, and simply do each day’s work, and enjoy each days’ blessings, as best as you can.

I’m becoming aware of the fact that God is much bigger and active than I realize, and He is working on details in EVERYONE’S life ALL OF THE TIME. In fact, I think the more people you have in your life; the more He will use you to affect change in the community around you.

If you have children in your home…God will write chapters into your life to grow THEM and change their lives…

Which means there will be hardship to grow THEM. There will be challenges to write a new character trait into their lives…or my husband’s life…and inevitably my life, as well.

So, sometimes God might have you move across the country to align your child’s life for their next step.

Sometimes He might write a broken leg into your life, or a trip to the hospital, just so you can meet a mom who really needed a friend just like you.

Sometimes, He might allow relationships to break because you rely on them in a way that only He should be relied upon…

And sometimes, He writes in a vacation where you have time to FINALLY READ A BOOK just for fun!

After the craziness of the last three years, I am fully aware that my life is not my own…it is His. And as I learn to surrender more and more to His plans, I find a new sense of peace and rest, even in the busyness of this season.

Changing The Landscape Of My Dreams

Life started out with great, big dreams…

When I was a teenager, I dreamt of being an anchor person for the Today Show. A small-town girl, I longed to live in New York City: a place full of nightlife, action and the endless possibility of being “discovered” and made instantly famous.

That dream came to a halt my freshman year in college when I worked at my college TV station. I found myself surrounded by cranky, stressed-out people who agonized to produce a newscast every night at six, only to have to do it again, and again, and again…a never ending production cycle that clearly left my colleagues burned out and bitter. That didn’t look like a fun life.

I switched my dreams from anchoring the Today show to editing one of the major lifestyle magazines I’d read on my childhood coffee table…maybe Women’s Day, or Family Circle, or Good Housekeeping, or Seventeen. That idea led me through the rest of college, and to a summer internship in New York City, where I found myself living my dream: I was in a big city; pursing something I thought would fulfill me; living a life beyond the confines of my small town…and I was shocked to discover, I was horribly, awfully lonely.

I was surrounded by a city of over 8 million people, and I knew no one; my summer roommates had exceptionally bad moral standards; and instead of feeling like I was constantly on the edge of being “discovered” I felt entirely unimportant, unvalued and unseen. Virtually no one made eye contact with me without a dirty look, for an entire summer. That wasn’t a fun life.

So I threw away those dreams, and embraced a new one…

With TV anchoring, living in New York, and working on a major magazine off the list…I decided to pursue quieter things like wilderness and exploration. I aligned my hopes and dreams with those of my boyfriend (now husband) who dreamt of exploring the Great American West.

We found ourselves living in Yosemite Valley for a summer that amazingly extended into three years…and then spent 19 more years in a town just outside the National Park. We owned a business, worked on our own terms (often odd hours, and really, all of the time), and again…we were living our dream.

Our company printed hundreds of thousands of prints and exhibitions for some of the best photographers of our time. Our prints were distributed in The White House, hung in The Smithsonian and many state capitals, and were regarded as being amongst the best in the world. It was a lifestyle that left us, and our staff, stretched thin. It was invigorating and exciting, and increasingly exhausting. In the end, it left us realizing that somehow the fun life we’d pursued had changed into something unrecognizable. We had to let go.

When your dreams fall apart, or aren’t what you imagined…It’s hard to let go.

When the relationships you imagined, turn out to be something altogether different than your heart’s desire…it’s hard to know how to continue.

When you imagine your life going a certain way, by a certain time, and you look up and are living the exact opposite life you envisioned…it’s hard not to despair.

It either makes you give up on dreaming, or it makes you change your idea of dreams.

And that’s what I’ve been working on, these past few years: Changing my concept of dreams. I found myself pondering things like:

What if life is a series of dreams, instead of one great, big, make-it-or-break-it dream?

What if we allow those dreams to be simple steps forward in a hopeful direction?

What if, instead of putting all of our hopes and dreams in the end result, we embrace each hope and inspiration, one at a time and treasure it like that first morning cup of coffee, cradled warmly in our hand?

Can we allow the destination to be something beyond our control?

Can we allow the dream to change along the way, without stamping “failure” on the experience when it doesn’t lead where we hoped it would?

What if my dreams weren’t about my own ambitions, but were focused on who I wanted to be, in my heart…how I wanted to live, in my attitude…how I showed love, in my actions?

What if dreams weren’t anchored in the hallmarks of success…fame, and money, and a big house with a new car…but in being encouragement to other people; offering hope, and truth, and light in a world that is increasingly troubled?

What if I laid down my expectations for life, and other people, and just said…enough already. I’m not okay, you’re not okay…let’s just have some coffee and hang out and laugh in this insanity that is life?

What if I truly allowed God to change my dreams into His dreams for my life, one decision at a time, and decided to be okay with my life being rewritten into something new?

I’ll tell you a few things that happen, when you begin to dream into life this way:

– God begins to rewrite your life for the better. You find yourself doing things you never expected to do, helping people you never envisioned, and feeling surprisingly fulfilled.

– Relationships evolve, becoming richer and deeper as life moves to a more meaningful level.

– The million details of daily life become more profound, as you become more aware of all God is weaving together in your life, and in lives around you, even in the brokenness (and often because of the brokenness).

– Your spirit moves more freely; more peacefully and more hopefully as you anchor your idea of success to simply living each day as best as you can.

– You find yourself really, truly beginning to embrace the life you have, by intentionally filling it with the things that matter.

– You let go of the end-result, and allow the current of life to shift and change your dreams into something new, yet once again.

Phillipians 2:3-4
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Surprising Gifts That Came From Owning a Business

I used to say I didn’t have a single entrepreneurial bone in my body. I was brought into business ownership when I married Rich…a guy with extreme independence, unique talent and big dreams. I fought incapacitating anxiety as we bade our small-but-consistent paychecks goodbye to launch our first business.

I was 25 years old, starting a business with my (fairly) new husband, in a male-dominated industry, in a small California town where we essentially knew nobody. It was lonely, and scary, and I spent way too much time alone with my husband and three cats, creating websites for photographers using the early HTML builders that were available in the late 1990s.

We worked constantly, building websites and pursuing fine art photographic printmaking, steadily adding more and more well-known landscape photographers to our roster of clients. Within a year, we were moving the business out of our house, into a commercial space, hiring employees and taking out leases to buy expensive pieces of production equipment.

The risk, lack of certainty, and financial insecurity of early business ownership led me to Jesus pretty darned quickly. My reliance on God as my provider and counselor is the only thing that has kept my always-beckoning anxiety in check, every single day of my life ever since. It’s also the ONLY thing that gave me hope as our first business crumbled out of our hands in 2017.

As we closed down that business, I vowed I would never own another business. It was too uncertain…there was too much risk. We had taken the first half of our professional lives and devoted it to something that evaporated seemingly overnight.

I dreamt of having a job with a solid paycheck and benefits. A job where someone else could do the worrying about making payroll every two weeks, or buying the never-ending list of supplies a business requires. I wanted a job where I could just be an employee…and leave the tough decision making to someone else. So God led me to that job, and that’s what I’ve been pursing ever since. There is something amazing about not having to pay my own healthcare for the first time in 20 years…but working for someone else has shown me a few truths about myself, as well.

It turns out I have solid business instincts. After co-steering my business for 20 years, I instinctively know truths about business, stewarding employees and navigating challenging situations. When you live for two decades with professional challenges presenting themselves on a daily basis, you grow used to upheaval, reorganization and change. It turns out, not being fazed by this is actually a skill.

I’ve also recognized that dreaming up new ideas is a fundamental part of who I am now. A program or product isn’t working? People aren’t happy? We need to change something fundamental to the business? Let’s throw away, “How we’ve always done it,” and invent a new wheel. I’m discovering that NOT having a fear of change, and having a heart to tackle problems head-on, is a rare thing, indeed.

The last thing I told my husband I would NEVER do again, when we closed our business, was bookkeeping and payroll. It’s a never-ending job. If you leave it alone for a day or two, you are greeted by piles of work when you return. Imagine my surprise when the job God led me to in Nashville was the Accounting and HR manager of a Christian nonprofit, where I do bookkeeping and payroll. The amazing thing is that He’s given me a heart to ENJOY reworking and updating the ministry’s books to meet its growing needs. If you knew how truly burned out I was after closing our business, you would see that’s nothing short of a miracle.

I’ve discovered that being an employee for the first time in 20 years is both liberating and frustrating. In our business, my husband and I would often make large decisions together, then we would quickly implement those changes. In a nonprofit, you can’t make decisions independently… it just doesn’t work (plus, you would upset a lot of people). Learning to collaborate in a new way has been both challenging and rewarding, as I see my ideas refined by others…and vice versa.

The essential truth I’m learning from all of this is that each life experience truly does prepare you for the next. Life’s persistent details add up into new character traits like steadfastness, patience, self-control and trust in God…if you approach them with a heart ready to learn, grow, get broken and heal. It’s a cycle that builds something tough and strong…and though my business no longer exists after 20 years, I’m enjoying the fruit of it in new ways, as I pursue an entirely new path with the skills it gave me.

Ten Truths for Moms Who Are Sick

It’s inevitable. Despite the copious amounts of Airborne I have injested in the last five days, my body has succumbed to a cold. It’s a nagging, dragging sort of cold that leaves me wanting to do nothing other than sleep. Except I’m a mom…and everyone knows motherhood doesn’t stop, just because you’re sick!

And I am sick.

Still, work must be done, dinner needs to be made; the dishes need to be washed; and kids need to be read to, and kissed goodnight, when all I want to do is go to sleep.

I’m partly writing this blog post to whine…because really, it’s so unfair to be both sick, and a mother, at the same time.

But the other reason I’m writing it is to share this unique experience with other moms…so when your time comes to get sick, you will know you are not alone in your misery! Here is my list of truths about being sick as a mom:

ONE: You will get sick – I know you don’t have time for it. Your schedule is full. Life doesn’t STOP when you are a mom, ever…but you WILL get sick at some point, and likely at a very inopportune time.

TWO: You will do your best to not acknowledge the fact you are sick for as long as possible. This is because (once again) you are a mom and your life doesn’t stop, and you just don’t have time for it. Generally, this truth leads you to the next one:

THREE: When you finally do acknowledge it, you are so sick, you go a little crazy because you have pushed yourself to physical limits far beyond what is wise. Maybe this causes you to blow up at your kids; maybe you come home from work and lay down on the couch and do not move, even though children are literally jumping on top of you; maybe you look at your husband and make some sort of primal sound that means, “I am so sick I can’t verbalize my misery right now.” Hopefully he understands your primal sounds.

FOUR: When you finally acknowledge you are sick, others in your family will start to feel sick. Especially your husband. If you are a husband reading this, please understand YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BE SICK AT THE SAME TIME AS YOUR WIFE. And if you are, DON”T TRY TO BE MORE SICK THAN YOUR WIFE, just to get out of doing whatever household chores must be done while she’s down for the count.

FIVE: While you are sick, your house will get messy, and probably kind of gross. You will spend your time thinking about how, if you just had energy, a quick run with the vacuum would do wonders for the house…but you don’t have the energy, so all you can do is think OCD thoughts about cleaning, and how you would clean if you could clean…

SIX: Life won’t stop. You will still need to figure out how to get your kids to school, go to the grocery store and make dinner, even if you feel awful. Hopefully your husband or a good friend will lend a hand…but if not, rest assured: Children can live a LONG time on microwaved chicken nuggets, canned green beans and toast. Ask me how I know.

SEVEN: The laundry piles will grow very high. You will have the same OCD thoughts about your laundry as you do about the rest of your messy house. You will fantasize about someone coming to pick up ALL Of your laundry, taking it to the laundromat, and returning it to you, folded and fresh. You will close the laundry room door, and pretend it doesn’t exist.

EIGHT: Your children will get sick, if they aren’t the ones who got you sick in the first place. One of the cruelest parts of parenthood is that, as soon as you start to feel better, someone else in the family is down for the count. In seasons like this, it seems like mere survival is a lofty goal.

NINE: You will miss out on time with friends. I remember one of the hardest parts of having small children was having to miss my local MOPS meeting when we were sick. It was my ONE chance to see other adults each week. See how sad this can be?

TEN: You will get better. And once you do, you’ll be amazed at the energy your healthy body has. Cleaning the house will not take long, and that room full of laundry will be tackled in one day.

The irony is that, once you return to the busyness of your “normal” life, you might just wish for a sick day so you can cancel all of your plans and just stay home…

How To Stop Doing Everything

If you are an over-achiever who thrives on affirmation and acknowledgement of a job well done, then this article is for you.

You probably were up late folding the last two loads of laundry; or working on a project (like a blog post); or planning out your next day’s meals…

You may be a person who makes so many lists that you need a list to organize your lists.

You are quick to take on new responsibilities, especially when you can see clearly how to make something better or easier.

And you are probably very, very tired.

You probably don’t remember when the last time you did something mindless like watch Netflix for an entire Saturday, or going for a long walk with no time constraints…or if you do remember doing this, it has only happened because you put it on a list, or wrote it in your schedule.

Being spontaneous? Ha!

Being able to listen to your own voice instead of the constant staccato of To Dos pinging in your head? Not gonna happen…unless, of course, you learn to stop all of your doing.

I didn’t realize how addicted I was to doing jobs well until we closed our business. I did all of the things I normally did to drum up business: we sent out emails, called customers, posted sales, and performed, performed, performed, to no avail.

I thought I must not be performing well enough, or fast enough, or cleverly enough to stave off the downward spiral…so I kept dancing harder, and harder, and more and more deliberately…

But at a certain point, I realized our business’s success or failure wasn’t about my performance at all. If God was going to close our business, there was no stopping Him…not even me, with my willingness to dance myself into true exhaustion.

That realization began to permeate to other areas of my life.

I want to do my job, my callings, well…and to do them as unto the Lord. But when the outcome of my performance begins to define my self-worth, it’s a sure path to anxiety and depression. When I begin to panic because I can’t do all of the THINGS THAT MUST GET DONE, I am acting in a really self focused way. It’s like I’m saying the world relies on me, and my abilities, instead of God’s mercy and grace.

Guess what? It’s not all about me!

And your life…it’s not all about you, and your ability to dance all the dances either!

The truth is that all of our passions, knowledge and skills comes from God. He is the one who empowers us to do ALL OF THE THINGS. He is the one who decides the outcome of our efforts. Sometimes it will be fruitful in the world’s terms (Lots of money! Happy people surrounding us!) and other times that same effort will yield absolutely nothing that we can see…or worse…

If you suddenly became sick or couldn’t do your to-do list, guess what? Life goes on! You can afford to step away from your life and responsibilities to take a break, or go for a walk, or read a book, or read your Bible because LIFE GOES ON, even if the to-do list is not done (It never is)!

There is an inverse correlation between doing things God’s way, and doing them the world’s way:

When I rely on God’s power, and His strength, and do the things He calls me to do, one day at a time, I have enough energy for each task that must get done. Notice, I didn’t say I have energy to do everything in my to do list…but the things that God put on my heart to accomplish that day.

When I start to branch out on my own ideas, and my own strategies for how to be the best…it doesn’t take long before I begin to burn out.

It all begins with God, and being connected with Him. Asking Him to make His priorities your priorities. Asking for His help and peace as you let everything else fall by the wayside for another day.

At work during my annual review, my boss asked me to set a goal for myself for the year. Being an over-achiever, I set two goals…one that was actually a task I wanted to accomplish, and a spiritual goal (I work at a Christian ministry).

I wanted to be connected enough to recognize when God’s spirit was intervening in my day..and to let Him sidetrack my to-do list. There are so many moments in every single day that are God-ordained, and I don’t want to miss a single one.

I don’t want to be a slave to a to-do list, or to gaining other people’s praises…I want to present and aware enough to be God’s hands and feet in this hurting world. I want to do what He has for me each day; to be who He would have me be in each situation…and nothing less.

Instead of performing for others, and their accolades, I’m learning to following His lead. And the fruit of that choice is God’s steadfast peace, His strength, and His power to do the things He has for me to do each day.

Ten Years After Cancer: Life Lessons that Remain True

In 2009 my husband was diagnosed with Stage III Testicular Cancer. It presented as a 10cm tumor near his right kidney, and he was extremely sick…so sick, I thought he was going to die. We were parents of two small children. We owned a small business with a staff of 17.

Rich’s cancer diagnosis coincided with the recession of 2008/2009…the time when people were losing their homes, foreclosures became commonplace, and bankruptcy lost some of its stigma because so many people had to file.

My husband grew sicker as the chemotherapy began to do its work of “melting the tumor like butter,” as Rich’s oncologist said. As he endured infections and nausea, I  fed him a steady diet of milkshakes and omelets because that’s all he could keep down.

I watched our business’s sales plummet by 40%, and I thought we were going to lose everything. I kept this from Rich, because I didn’t want him to worry. I just wanted him to get better.

One night, as I sat down to journal, I began to make a list of business ideas and promotions to help spur our sales. I wracked my brain, trying to come up with the magic fix that would save us from the plummet. As I wrestled with ideas and tried to figure out how to implement them, I asked for God’s direction…I asked if these ideas would work. I asked for His blessing on them.

I heard in my spirit His still, calm voice:

“You could do all of this work, but the outcome will be the same.”

What do you mean, the outcome will be the same? If I could just do more, or perform more, or come up with one magical idea…things will be okay. I can save the day.

“You can choose to focus your energy on your business, or your husband. You can be up all night programming sales into your website, or you can rest, so you can take care of Rich and your kids. The outcome for your business will be the same.”

At that moment, my priorities came into immediate perspective.

Rich came first. Taking care of him and being there for him however was needed had to be my very top priority.

My kids came second. This was a huge change for me, because ever since I’d had my daughter five years earlier, my kids took the number one position in my life. I realized that God was giving me the opportunity to teach them that we all are important, and when one person is going through a hard time, the rest rally to help lay a firm foundation of love and care beneath him.

I came third. I wrote in my journal, read my Bible and began working out every morning…a half hour exercise video served as my prozac. With Jillian Michaels, I punched, stomped and kicked cancer and all it was doing to our family and life. I got into good shape!

Everything else came after that.

That’s the year I learned how to not do everything, because there physically was no way I could do everything.

That’s the year I laid down my ideas of how life was supposed to go, and instead accepted that God had a different plan.

That’s the year I learned that hard things happen, even if you do everything possible to avoid them. People will ask lots of questions, pondering ways you could have avoided the bad circumstance (What was Rich’s diet? Does he exercise? Is there any family history of cancer? Does he carry his cell phone in his pocket?)…but in truth, some hard chapters are just there to live through, and if you choose to, they will grow you closer to God in ways that easy chapters never could.

That’s the year I learned that, when you stop doing everything, some people will come alongside you and hold your hand, telling you that surviving is enough…and others will be there, reminding you of all the ways you are failing.

That’s the year I learned that my performance is for an audience of one: God. And if I’m listening to Him, and earnestly trying to follow His lead each day, then it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, or what other people think of me…it’s between them and God.

That’s the year I learned that God is my provider…not my business, and not my husband. Gifts and money came from unlikely places, sustaining us through one of the most challenging seasons of our lives.

That’s the year I learned that nothing in this world is guaranteed; that health, good fortune and our livelihoods are temporal. You can’t base your peace or sense of worth on any of them.

That’s the year I learned that the one solid thing I can hang onto is God’s faithful love and peace. Despite all human reason, God’s presence persists through it all, providing each step, one minute at a time. Sometimes those steps are dances of joy…and sometimes they feel like I’m trying to walk with two broken legs. I’ve learned that both types of steps are okay as long as they move me forward, and closer to God.

I never wanted cancer written into my life. But nearly ten years later, I can say that God wove deep truths into my life during that time; truths that continue to echo in my spirit today. Remembering God’s faithfulness and grace continues to encourage me when difficult circumstances come my way. Because They never fail.

2 Cor 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.