Monday, April 9, 2012

Pine Needles and Greens

I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but I was drawn into the Masters coverage yesterday in a way that I couldn’t explain at the time. Not normally a big fan of golf, I was mesmerized. But by the time Charl Schwartzel was helping Bubba into the iconic Green Jacket, I knew exactly why.

There was something for this first grade teacher to learn from Bubba Watson. What I took away from watching was simple, but might as well have been a flashing neon sign among the magnolias and junipers. Then again, when you’ve been in the desert waiting to be delivered out from Egyptian bondage for what feels like 40 years, you look for signs wherever they can be found.

Bubba is unconventional. If you watched you know why; if you didn’t you can google him and read about all the ways he doesn’t fit the mold. Observing this reminded me that God gives us the skills we need to get to the platform He desires when we seek His will with all we are. God gifted Bubba Watson in extraordinary ways, but Bubba persevered and honed his skills on his own, using every ounce of what God put in him. He followed God’s way, not the world’s way - the conventional way, and now he has a national platform through which to further the work of the Kingdom. Lessons & swing study (connections, the right net-work, perfect résumé, the right experience…) or not, when our time comes to drive it out of the pine needles, God will make sure we get on the green.

As in any pursuit - sports or otherwise, some are heralded, others not as much. Watching Bubba illustrated that in sports and in life it doesn’t matter what the world rewards, how full of trophies (or empty) your mantle has been, how much you’ve been lauded by those who profess to know. The world may give you acclaim, but that is no indication of your real contribution. On the flip side, when God decides to “promote” you, to fully make a way for your legacy, it won’t matter if you can see the green or not, He’ll get you there. The timing of that promotion, though, is up to God.

Past shots have nothing to do with today’s; our previous success (or failure) really doesn’t have a lot of bearing on our future. We need to learn from our mistakes, but with each new round, each new tournament comes new opportunity; and so it is with each new experience in life.

Watching the Masters gave me hope. Watching the Masters made me believe that my Augusta is out there, I just haven’t found it yet.

And so I wait. Wondering. Watching for what God will do next…believing that He’ll deliver me at some point from the desert, through the pine needles, and out onto the green.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Brackets and Wires

Yesterday Max got braces. And he’s mad. He feels awkward, conspicuous, abnormal.

He hasn’t articulated it exactly that way, but I know.

I remember feeling that way myself, at just a little younger than he is now. I remember wanting to recede into the backdrop, to go totally unnoticed for a few years, and not emerge until my “chrysalis” phase was long behind me.

Kids don’t want to hear their parent’s words of wisdom in moments like the car ride home from the orthodontist, but I let my words fill the empty space of the car anyway: I know you didn’t want this, that you were happier yesterday, and that right now you’re mad at us. You’re in physical pain, and you’re worrying about all kinds of things. I also know that in a couple of years you’ll thank us. Because we can see the big picture, we have to do what’s right for your life. I hope you’ll be able to look in the mirror and feel great about what’s taking place even though you don’t like seeing braces. Doing something to address the problem, taking action of some kind signals progress; the amazing thing is that you’ll be able to see the progress as it’s happening if you watch closely. There will be subtle daily changes that will add up to have a compound effect of something huge and beautiful in the end, and it will all be worth it.

As my words echoed through the silence of the car, I wondered how often God thinks those same thoughts about us. We may be irritated or even angry at having to endure something that’s annoying, difficult, or painful. We’re worried and can’t see the big picture. Yet He knows that whatever our brackets and wires may be, they confine us for a greater purpose. At some point, when the process is complete, our attitudes, hearts, minds, souls will have shifted. We will have been moved, and something beautiful will emerge that will have been well worth the pain.

If I Keep Getting Better, Why Does it Keep Getting Harder?

*I Wrote this over two years ago, but didn't post it. Looking back, I feel the same - even stronger - about heeding the call of God, and it's now time to tell the story, even though the ending isn't written. Posts to come about what's happened since I wrote this, enrolled at Butler, have graduated, and the lessons I've learned along the way.

Not long ago in an email regarding an extra-challenging student, I raised the question, “If I keep getting better, why does it keep getting harder?”

Today I figured out the answer.

I just finished reading this outstanding book on the topic of non-linear leadership. In it the author talks about the importance of challenges. Challenges keep leaders stretching and growing. Challenges keep people who want to be extraordinary from growing stagnant. Challenges breathe life into organizations by calling on our deepest reserves of problem solving and creativity.

Challenges, I now realize, are one of the things that fuel my fire and ignite my passion. I’m not sure why I didn’t quite get it in this particular way before since I over-analyze everything including myself, but I didn’t.

Now it’s clear:

I really do need just enough challenge to make me continue to stretch and grow into who I am supposed to be, but not so much that it makes me break.

I get it.

It’s not just my perception – every year it really does get harder even though I keep getting better. And that’s exactly the way God designed it to be so that I would stay. He keeps giving me new challenges on purpose. Challenges designed to develop me in the particular ways He wants me to grow. Challenges that force me to become who I am destined to be.

Five years ago I started a business. I didn’t plan to. Nothing about my doing it made sense. It left a lot of people scratching their heads. I guess I needed a challenge.

Not long into it I was doing well. It was attractive in a way that school wasn’t in that when I met the challenges or exceeded them, as I almost always did, I was well rewarded financially and otherwise. Soon people started asking me why I was still at school. The income was very, very large and some of the very same people who were scratching their heads when I started the business were now scratching their heads because I was still teaching. I had to constantly answer questions about why I was teaching when I could afford to stay home, when I led a big team, when I seemed to live two opposing lives. People couldn’t get it.

To the friends and family (and even strangers) who asked those questions, my answer was always the same: I still feel called to be there and until I feel otherwise called, I’m staying.

And while I did believe that answer was true with all of my heart, some days – on the hard days, I didn’t really even understand it myself even though I believed it.

The fact that I was still teaching defied logic. I just knew in my heart that doing anything other than that would be wrong. But I’ve made some really fantastic decisions based on faith, not logic.

I stayed because something deep inside of me held me there like an anchor to life.

Something kept me at school that was more than new markers and my deep love of office supplies. It was something more than adorable kids who say hilarious things. It was even more than the adrenalin rush of a spontaneous lesson that bubbles up out of no where that is one of the best, most creative and engaging lessons you’ve ever taught, while producing this incredible work that you had no idea your kids had in them.

It was something deep in my soul. The still small voice of God whispering, “You were made for this. When you do this to which you are called, you use every gift that I so carefully placed in you. When you do this you leave the legacy I planned for you in deeply impacting kids’ lives. Doing anything less causes you to rob yourself of your own destiny.”

Probably some people at school viewed my dual life of business and teaching as a sign that I didn’t care anymore, that my loyalty was divided. The truth is that it was crazy that I stayed at all. Because of the business I didn’t need the money. I would’ve come there to teach every single day for free.

Many times destiny defies logic. Its fuel is passion, your very heart and soul, burning to create you into who you were always meant to be anyway.

A few weeks ago something started to stir deep within the core of who I am. That always makes me nervous…it always means something big is about to happen…and it always involves a heck of a lot of work. But that spark started to flicker and one day I woke up with a clear thought in my head and determination in my heart: I want to be a principal.

What if I am supposed to be the first drop – the one that starts the ripple effect that causes an impact so large and powerful that I have yet to imagine it? What if I have been preparing for this very moment for my entire life and I hadn’t even realized it?

I’ll have to give up my business. I’ll have to give up the perks I love that go along with the business. I’ll have to make space and time in my life to go back to college to get that additional license I’ll need, and that means giving up some other activities that I love in order to make room. I have a lot to learn. There’s a lot of growth that still needs to take place in me. There’s a lot I don’t know. A lot.

Part of that makes me sad. Part of it makes me scared. And frankly, part of it makes me sick to my stomach…But mostly I see how the business, as well as every other thing I’ve ever done in the last 40 years, has been the perfect beginning training ground for what’s next.

I don’t expect to be handed anything.

I expect to work my fingers to the bone.

I expect to miss what I’ll have to give up.

I expect the work, the process, the journey to be hard.

I expect to make mistakes and to learn unbelievable leadership and life lessons along the way.

But I also expect myself to live in a way where I heed the call God places on me. Even if it means doing a 180. Even if it means having to let go of some things I love.

And I expect the biggest challenges of my life. Not only do I want them, I’ve learned that I need those challenges in order to thrive.

Bring it on.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Diamonds and Brick Dust

I don’t usually cry about baseball. Last night I did. Will’s team lost in a heartbreaker championship game to a long-time rival, and I despise losing. But that’s not why I cried.

I cried because it’s the end of an era.

For eight years my boys have played baseball on the fields at Shamrock Springs. From Instructional League T-ball, to the 5th and 6th grade Majors, Rocks Travel Baseball, and everything in between. And now it’s over.

Those fields hold memories too numerous to count – of hard-fought victories, of agonizing defeat, of wonderful people, of coaches that possibly have a calling other than coaching, and of amazing coaches that have impacted our lives forever.

Those fields hold the promise of tiny boys with huge dreams and untold promise…so small they can barely carry their own bat bags.

And they hold the promise of big boys who don’t smell so good after a game, who might really have the chance for baseball to help pay for college. They also hold the stark reality of boys who love a game more than it loves them – who are blessed with talent, just a talent for something other than baseball.

And those fields hold the promise of unearthing the few young men who have been given an arm or a bat that could have only come from God and no one knew it till they stepped across that white line.

Those fields hold sweet Americana – the crack of the bat, the sounds of cheering, and the smells of hot dogs and sunscreen and brick dust and summer and innocent childhood.

Those fields hold my heart.

Oh, there’ll be more baseball. Hopefully school teams, maybe Noblesville Babe Ruth, and possibly other travel teams. But it will never be the same again. Never again on the fields at Shamrock Springs. Never again through WYSI. Never again with those same precious people.

But I’m grateful for the experience and grateful to the game. I’ve learned so much during our years there - lessons in baseball that translate to lessons in life:

*Shake it off: You’re going to mess up, but in a second there will be another play and a chance to redeem yourself

*Sometimes you’re gonna get a fast ball and other times a curve: Make the best of whatever life throws you

*Stance is everything: At the plate success is about getting your weight back and having proper balance. Success in life is about balance, too.

*Losing stinks: Especially when it is a hard-fought loss, but men of great character are never born out of victory alone. Losing teaches not only character, but also humility, and tenacity, and drive…it shows you what you’re made of. And it makes the wins you do get that much sweeter.

*Composure: Especially on the mound, composure is key. No matter the call, no matter how much the strike zone seems to move in a given game, no matter how much it is not going your way, hold that head up, get those shoulders back, and run onto that field (or stare down that batter as you wind up) like you have total command – even when you don’t feel like you do. Same is true in life.

*Hit hard, run fast, give it all you’ve got, and then come home. Home should always be the place you most want to get back to.

*If the coach says to take, you gotta take, even when you want to swing: Sometimes God is going to get you in a situation where doing the right thing or waiting or taking the lesser path (getting a walk when you wanted to be a power hitter) isn’t what you want to do, but He can see the bigger picture and He knows what’s best. You’re smart to be obedient.

*Communication is everything: From signals to yelling “mine”, the team can’t work if the team isn’t talking.

*Attitude matters: skill is really important, but you can be highly skilled and have a horrible attitude – and you’ll get no where fast.

*Good sportsmanship always wins: You earn my respect when you display good sportsmanship both on and off the field. It always wins…even when you lose.

And so goes life. Both the good and the bad always do end. I know there are more great and fun and wonderful things ahead with my boys. But this? This was extra sweet.

For all that the game is…

For all that it taught us…

For the role it played in shaping my sweet little boys into fine young men…

Baseball will always hold my heart.

A special thanks to Coach McCool, Coach Nicole, and Coach Crupi. Words will never express the blessing you’ve been over the years and the influence you've had.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Great...or Right

Great…or Right...

I’ve been praying a lot about a particular thing over the last several months. It’s something that causes me to need to surrender to God every single day. It’s something that I have no control over, at least not right now. It’s something that is really making me step out in faith on several levels. And it’s something that can easily overwhelm me, cause me worry, doubt, and even dread if I let it.

But prayer always calms me. Focuses me. Gets my head and heart back where it should be.

Yet I’ve realized that I haven’t been saying what I should say to God.

We know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28), and I refer to this scripture and others like it often. I find that especially when I’m looking toward something that I’m anxious about, it helps to say something like: “God, I am trying hard to hear you and to follow what I believe is your will for me, and I know you have great things for me.”

Great things.

Something about reminding myself that God has great things for me makes me feel better. I know that He does have great things for me, and He does for you, too. His plan for us, as we follow Him and daily seek Him, His word, His will, is not for us to continually dwell in misery. (Romans 8:28, Psalm 37:4, Matt. 11:28, Phil. 4:6, just to cite a few.)

However, the truth is that sometimes we are going to endure something miserable – an event or a season in life that frankly doesn’t seem all that great (Romans 12:12 – “be patient in affliction”). Even without being actually miserable, there are plenty of things that I’ve encountered in my forty years that are unpleasant, dreaded, unsettling, difficult, stinky, horrid, and that I’ve wanted delivered straight up out of. And I continue to look toward some things at this very minute that I am just really unsure about, unsure if they’ll happen, if they’ll be good, if I’ll make it through.

Sometimes, some of the things God has for me – for each of us – just aren’t great. Especially at the time. But they are necessary for me to endure in order to become who God created me to be, necessary for me to endure in order to learn a lesson that I’ll need later, necessary for me to endure in order for me to prepare to live out the calling on my life.

And so I’ve decided that while I believe with all of my heart and soul that God does have great things for me eventually, first I need to experience the right things.

The right things.

My prayer is now this: “God, as I daily try to follow the path you’ve laid out for me, to live out the purpose that I was created for, to bring glory to your name, help me to surrender wholly to you. I trust that whatever I must encounter, pleasant or unpleasant, it will be the right thing to shape me into who you have created me to be. Help me to not lose sight of that and to have a heart and a mind that are open to you on every level.”

So in my quest to live out God’s purpose, in choosing great or right, I choose right.

I choose right.

Question: Which do you choose, great or right?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Mission & Purpose

When was the last time you thought about your mission in life?
Businesses have missions to help define their purpose.
Organizations in the social sector (non-profits, schools, etc.) also have them, or should.
Mission statements should answer who you serve, how you do it, and why.

For years I have had a mission statement for my classroom that was more geared to my way of approaching instruction and also a separate statement for how I live out my life mission. Recently I have re-worked them and combined the two into one big ‘ol, all-encompassing mission statement for my life.

When I really think about it, this over-arching mission IS what drives me in all that I do, whether it’s interacting with students, parents, or colleagues at school, interacting with the cashier at Kroger, or friends, or family, or anyone else who God places in my path.

Mission statements are supposed to be the lighthouses that keep guiding us back to our chosen paths. We should be checking what we do against our missions in order to stay focused. It should help us in deciding when to say “yes”, when to take on new commitments, and when to charter new ground. And each of our missions should also help us refine and define what we do, help us evaluate, and give us permission to say “no”.

I hesitated to share mine with you, but I decided to for a couple of reasons.
1. Maybe it will encourage you to write your own
2. Maybe you can help hold me accountable if you see me wavering in living mine out as I intend to be resolute in its pursuit

I was placed on earth for this main purpose: To encourage and support others
I was also placed on earth for this secondary reason: To carry out that main purpose - encourage and support others - in the secular marketplace
(What I mean by this is that sometimes those of us who are living for Christ decide to carry out our purpose in a Christian setting. I feel called to carry out my purpose in the melting pot of society and all that that means. Either setting, in my opinion, is equally necessary and important.)

Therefore, this is my life mission:
I will leave a legacy that is shaped by how I treat others and how I reflect the light of Christ in all that I do. I will love others well, be the "hands and feet" in every opportunity, and enhance the lives of all I encounter through inspiration, encouragement, and support. I will give of self and resources sacrificially, and serve with humility, compassion, and excellence so that I leave a positive and lasting mark on the world and one day I hear, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!"

Do I always hit the mark, every day, every time? Of course not…I’m human. But living it every minute is the goal. Some days I fall short. Some days I don’t love well, some days I miss opportunities to be the hands and feet, some days I’m grouchy. Some days I am not serving with compassion and excellence – especially those I love most. Of course, some days I wonder if my boys’ mission statements include a line about breaking their mother’s spirit with their picking and fighting with each other and never putting their dishes in the dishwasher!!!

But if every day I wake up and living out this mission is what drives me, what I check everything against, what I filter my interactions and reactions through, then I think I have a pretty good chance of getting better every day, leaving a positive and impactful legacy, and hearing “Well done!”

I encourage you to wrestle with your mission and purpose if you haven’t.
The best way is to spend some quiet time alone with God and ask him to reveal it to you. There are also several great books that can help you discern what it is, but know that it is probably something very simple that you can do in multiple settings and job situations (as mine is encourage and support, which can be done through many avenues). It also likely has something to do with your natural gifting, passion, and hard-wiring, something that you're inclined to do already, but if you were really cognizant of it, focused on it, you could really use it to build the Kingdom.

How you live out that very simple theme will be determined by the passion that burns at your core. For instance, you could discover that your purpose is to help others. If your passion is medicine and science, you might live out that purpose by becoming a neurosurgeon. But if that is your purpose and you love the elderly, you might live that out by working or volunteering in a nursing home. The purpose here is simple and is a universal theme, how it is lived out is highly personal and tied to the person’s passion and gifting.

How do you craft a mission statement? Jot down some notes about what you want your life to be about – to stand for – what you will do, for whom you will do it (your family, your church, the world), and why you will do it. Ask God to help you define it if you’re having trouble. Don’t worry if it’s perfectly written or if it’s pretty. Don’t worry what anyone else would say about it. No one else even has to see it. It’s just for your benefit.

Keep it where you can see it. Read it every day. Let it guide you. Check what you do against it; filter your words and actions through it.

It’s your life. It’s your purpose. It’s your mission.

Live a life that has your mission written all over it, and your own powerful, unmistakable legacy will be born.

Question: What is your life mission? Why? Will you take the time and effort to put it on paper?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Little Encouragement & Appreciation

Maybe I notice the lack of vocalized appreciation in this world because encouraging others is part of my life purpose, but the world is sorely lacking here! Maybe I notice it because it sure does go a long way for a teacher in the long, cold, gray days of January. I probably notice it because I’m focused on it: I’ve been naturally doing it my whole life…not because I’m so fabulous, there’s plenty of stuff that I stink at – that I’m not gifted at, but I am gifted to show appreciation, to encourage, and to fill others up. It comes easily for me. It’s part of my life mission. Part of my mission is to be in a mode of continually doing it myself, and part of my mission is to challenge others to do it, as well.

“The deepest principle of human nature is a craving to be appreciated.”
-William James

I think some people feel appreciative, but they don’t know how to show it, what to say, or how to say it. Maybe some people feel that saying it sounds like they are trying to gain favor in the other person’s eyes, especially if that person is their superior (but those in leadership need to be inspired, too, and I believe that you can inspire “up”). Maybe what holds people back is that they think if they show appreciation to person A, person B will feel like they didn’t do something right. All of those things are obstacles that we put in our very own way…unfounded reasons that hold us back from doing what is life-giving to another.

Studies show that some employers have the misconception that if they show too much appreciation, employees’ work will diminish. The data proves that this is not the case as long as rewards, recognition, and appreciation are deserved, specific, and timely.

Giving encouragement and showing appreciation is so much more than a common practice in great work environments and well-functioning families. We are called to do it. It is expected of us if we are trying to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. The Bible is filled with examples of our being called to encourage and up-lift others. There are far too many passages to list, but here are a few:
Acts 20:1-2: When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia. He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece.

Acts 13: After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak."

2 Samuel19:7: Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the LORD that if you don't go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from your youth till now.

Job 16:5: But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.

The examples show supporting another believer in his walk with Christ, inspiring groups through acknowledging their dreams, goals and purpose, and even encouraging others to press on in the face of adversity, when they feel most like giving up.

My husband says that it just isn’t realistic to think we’d see that in the workplace – or anywhere else, that he sees too many places where it just isn’t part of the “culture”. I agree with what he sees, but that doesn’t make it ok, and that only fuels my fire to set about changing it! Barbara Glanz writes that “the need to be validated and appreciated as a worthwhile human being is greater than ever before, especially in our schools and our workplaces. A recent study indicated that last year 65% of our workforce reported that they had received no appreciation for the good work they had done.”

I can’t tell you how sad that makes me! And yet I know it to be true…I see it all around me. I see it in the workplaces of almost everyone I know and in many families, churches, and organizations, too. Why? I don’t know, and that’s why I’m on a mission to change it. It costs nothing, takes relatively little time, and even makes the one giving the encouragement or appreciation feel great.

“You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life.” –Zig Ziglar

By speaking life into others, we help them stay on the right path when they feel they can’t take another step. We help them feel important, acknowledged, listened to, and loved. We show them that they matter. We confirm that their excellent work is significant…which ultimately causes them to want to do more excellent work. We show them that they are not forgotten. We remind them that the hard times won’t last. We may speak just the right words that cause them to hang on just a little longer…until the tide turns. We are, for just a moment, the very voice of God whispering to their hearts.

Over-achievers who are shown appreciation work even harder.
Under-achievers who are shown appreciation start to raise their game.
Friends who are encouraged are kinder.
Husbands and wives who show each other appreciation start to reciprocate.
Children who are shown appreciation start to “do” without being asked.
Team members who are encouraged try harder.
Bosses who are shown appreciation go to greater lengths.

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”
-Albert Schweitzer

So, that’s my challenge to you: rekindle someone else’s light today. A kind word, or my very favorite – the hand-written note, is all it takes. For no other reason than because it needs to be said, because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s life-giving. The woman who cleans the office restrooms needs to hear it. The guy at the gas station needs to hear it. Your friend needs to hear it. The daycare worker needs to hear it. And so does your child and your husband and your boss and your co-worker.
…And just imagine how the world might start to change.

Just imagine how the world might start to change if we all started to serve for absolutely no earthly thanks or reward and began to express thanks and appreciation like people’s very lives depended on it.

Question: Who will you encourage and show appreciation to today?