About Me

My photo
I'm a wife, a mom, a singer/songwriter, an author, a public speaker, an abolitionist, an encourager & freedom coach, a seminary student, a worship leader, a lover of life and joy, and most importantly, a follower of Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Freedom Friday: Focus Roles for New Year's Resolutions

I'm fully engrossed in the process of creating my focus priorities for the coming year. Let me tell you - I'm excited about 2012!

If you Google "new years resolutions" and limit the search to the last week, there are 111 million hits. 111 million! According to this article, 44% of Americans make New Year's resolutions. Depending on the source, somewhere between 80-92% of those people will fail at keeping those resolutions.

I've been doing some variation on the theme of New Year's goals, resolutions and focus roles for a decade now. One of my favorite parts of this process is looking back on prior years and seeing what I chose to focus on in the past. I don't have a typed up copy from when I began to do this (I believe it was 2002), and I haven't had a chance to dig into my journal bin to try and find it. Each year since then, I have a record of what I focused on.

I can honestly say this method of creating resolutions (I prefer to call them "roles, priorities and goals") really has made a difference.

Why does creating focus roles help?
1. Fixed target. I'm a very different person than I was a decade ago. Much of that is simply God's grace and the work He has done in my life. But another good portion involved moving toward a goal, a fixed target. I can look back on many of those focus roles and see I absolutely did grow in the areas I purposed to grow in because I kept my sights on a specific aim.

2. Focused motivation. Once I've created the focus roles, I brainstorm and come up with a statement concerning what I want to work on within that role, in addition to why I wanted to work on that role and make it a priority. This becomes my motivation for working on the roles when I'm feeling discouraged.

3. Intentional energy. Having 2-3 focus roles has allowed me to center my energy on specific areas of character growth. Once I have my focus roles, brainstormed statements and purposeful priorities, I come up with goals that are representative of these.

As I am presented with various opportunities in my life, or see things I might want to be part of, I can ask: does this line up with the roles in my life that I've chosen to work on? Will this help me achieve my goals & priorities? It also allows me to take the energy I have and be intentional as to where I will use it, rather than having my energy going in too many directions.

4. Deliberate reminder. I shared last week that I'm taking my running to the next level. When I wake up and it's 16 degrees out, I need a deliberate reminder of why I'm putting myself through this! I remember how much more at peace I feel after running, and how regular exercise is a sanity saver for me. The focus roles serve as a deliberate reminder of what I'm hoping to achieve.

You can read more about creating your own goals in last year's "Make It a Break-out Year".

I've already brainstormed my roles and picked basically 3 that I want to focus on. I'm still working on creating the specific goals I'd like to accomplish.

As I brainstormed my roles, I took some time to reflect on 2011. What kind of year was it? How had I changed? I went through my journals and gathered some highlights of the year, some Scriptures that had touched my heart, as well as some words I felt God had spoken to me. And I prayed: did God want me to incorporate any of this in my 2012 roles, priorities, and goals?

I also asked myself: what kind of year do I want 2012 to be? I asked God the same question in prayer. Then I brainstormed: what focus role would bring me closer to that goal?

Are you making New Year's resolutions? Why not try the "focus role" method this year?

What kind of year do you want this to be? More importantly, what kind of year does God want this to be?

Praying for you as you end the year and ask yourself some of these challenging questions and prepare for the new year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Freedom Friday: Take It To The Next Level

I've been "a serious runner" since about June. I decided I could call myself "a serious runner" after I had run 25 miles in a week and ran over 8 miles at once.

Since then, I've run a 5K race (3.1 miles), 2 10K's races (6.2 miles) and a half marathon (13.1).

My longest run has been 17.3 miles.

I recently decided to find out if there were any running clubs in my area. I found one local to me that has early morning runs twice a week.

Honestly, the thought of joining with them made me nervous. Would I be able to keep up? This fear was warranted, as I already knew they ran faster than me. Would I even like running with other people (something I've only done once since I took up running again)? What if I looked goofy? What if they weren't nice to me? Yes, even I have these thoughts :)

I went, despite my fears and insecurities. We ran. We ran fast (by my standards). In fact, we ran the 5.26 mile route at a pace that was an entire minute per mile faster than I had previously run on a really good day.

I made it through. I even talked during the run without gasping. It was challenging.

For the rest of that week, I decided I would continue to push myself on my personal runs. I ended up running about a minute per mile faster for all of my shorter runs (5 miles or less).

The next week came. I was nervous again. I went anyway (even though the run starts at 5:30 AM). The person I ran with last week, who runs a bit slower than the others, wasn't there. I ran anyway. We ran a whole minute faster than the week before. And it was cold.

My running had been going well. I was happy with my race times and the completion of a half marathon. I had been doing what was comfortable (well, as comfortable as running is for someone who is not a natural). Then something came along to shake me up from my comfortable place, challenging me to take it to the next level.

As I pondered this, I came across this blog post, Why You Should Embrace Discomfort by Michael Hyatt, Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing (and a fantastically challenging blogger!). Ironically, the two examples used are running examples.

Michael Hyatt references a Wired magazine article about Dean Karnazes, a long distance runner. It describes an experience where he put on his shoes and started running one night, after coming to the realization one night that this was not the life he'd imagined for himself. At the end of his run:
He had covered 30 miles. In the process, he'd had a blinding realization: There were untapped reservoirs within him. It was like a religious conversion. He had been born again as a long-distance runner. More than anything else now, he wanted to find out how far he could go.
When I started running, I hoped to be able to finish a 10K someday. I certainly never even considered running a half marathon. This was only made possible because I made a choice to push past what was comfortable and take it to the next level. Now I'm looking forward to the next one, as I hope to improve my time significantly.

I have begun to relate this concept to my spiritual life. Have I become too comfortable in my spiritual habits? Are there reservoirs within me, or within God, that I have yet to tap into?

I read the Bible most days. Being that I'm the director of a faith-based ministry, rarely a day goes by that I don't read the Bible for ministry purposes. But most days, I read 1-2 chapters of Scripture for my enrichment. Sometimes, I journal. Sometimes, I read a devotional. I take a chunk of time to pray, though this is something I often do while I run.

This has become a fairly comfortable routine for me. None of these things are bad, and nothing in particular jumps out as needing to be changed. But the question I've been asking in prayer is this: God, is there something You want me to do to take it to the next level?

As I refine my running schedule, I have decided to also refine my devotional schedule. I am aiming to run 5 days a week. The other 2 days a week, I will try to get up extra early to read the Bible, pray, listen, and read from some books and devotionals (I did this on Monday and today). I have already been doing this about 1 day a week, except I usually sleep in. I've decided to stop that. If I can get up at 5:30 to run, shouldn't I also be able to get up at 5:30 to spend purposeful time with God?

I have a goal to finish several books that I'm in the middle of, as well as finish editing the booklet I've written, by February.

I also set some running goals for this winter:

1. Run in the freezing cold. I have never been a consistent runner, and I have not yet run through a winter. I decided to make that a priority this year. The coldest weather in which I've run had been 20 degrees F, feels like 8 degrees. I ran 14 miles on Sunday in this weather. See my attire below.

2. Run at least 100 miles a month. In the months of August through October, I ran 124 miles, 132 miles and 148 miles. November, due to illness and 2 races, I dropped down to 90 miles. I'd like to keep it above 100.

3. Find another half marathon to run and shave at least 30 seconds off my pace.

What about you? Is God challenging you to take it to the next level? Are you feeling too comfortable? Or possibly feeling stuck? This is the perfect time to evaluate any goals you had set for 2011 and reassess for 2012 (this post might help).
"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14, emphasis mine
Press on. Embrace the discomfort. Ask God what it means for you to take it to the next level.

If you're disappointed that I didn't talk about Christmas, you can read last year's post :)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Freedom Friday: Resources for the Journey

I'll need your patience today.

I'm having trouble concentrating. Lack of sleep, illness, end of a long week: lots of reasons. So bear with me :)

As I was pondering today's post as well as the next few posts that will end the year, I began to reflect on my journey toward today. I reflected in writing for quite some time before I determined that needed a post of its own :)

Suffice it to say if you've been reading this blog for a while, you have heard me write a lot about learning to walk in freedom, as well as the process of becoming (or reconnecting with) who God created you to be by reconnecting with our power source, the giver of life, our Heavenly Father.

I'm so thankful for the people and resources that shaped me into who I am today. I decided I'd talk about some of those resources here. Also, if you get a gift card for Christmas, or are still looking for a book to give us a gift, I thought I could offer some suggestions, resources that have been helpful to me along the way. I'm linking to the actual book, but if you have a Kindle or something similar, there is a link to the other options on the Amazon.com page. Almost all of these books have a Kindle option.

The Gift of Being Yourself by David G. Benner and M. Basil Pennington

I'm actually not quite done reading this book, but I'm so impressed I will go ahead and mention it now. Plus, it came to my attention through the recommendation of someone I deeply respect. I'm just so taken by the title! The concept fits exactly with what I often speak concerning: true freedom is found when we live in the fullness of who God created us to be.

Think Differently, Live Differently
by Bob Hamp

Bob Hamp is someone I've mentioned frequently in my speaking & writing. I've been familiar with his work for a while, but I finally had the privilege of meeting him this summer and now, through multiple correspondence, consider him a friend. This is a fantastic resource for completely reframing the way you approach your struggles. It is so impactful that leaders with decades of ministry under their belts have told me how this book, and Bob Hamp's teaching in general, have caused them to completely revamp the way they do ministry. You can actually download quite a few podcasts of Bob's teachings for free, as well as watch videos of his classes, here.

Boundaries and Safe People by Cloud & Townsend

Boundaries is a well-known book with many variations: Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, etc. It really is a must-read if you haven't picked it up before. While it's certainly valuable to own a copy, I found Boundaries and Safe People at my local library.

I pair these 2 books together because they have an even more powerful impact when read side-by-side. I read Safe People first and found that to be invaluable. If you struggle with knowing who to trust, where or how to find help & support, or you find that you don't always make the best choices in friends, this book addresses that clearly. I then read Boundaries, which helps the reader to implement some healthy limits in our personal lives and relationships with others.

Breaking Free and Relational Masks by Russell Willingham
Of course, I have to also recommend these 2 books by one of my favorite authors. I especially recommend Relational Masks as a good way to dive into the core beliefs behind your actions, as well as a way to unearth the masks that keep you from discovering who God created you to be.

Anonymous by Alicia Britt Chole
I highlighted one of her resources last week in my post on disillusionment. I'm finishing up this book Anonymous now. I'll let the author's description of the book speak for itself. "We all experience times of hiddenness, when our potential is unseen and our abilities unapplauded. This book redeems those times by reminding us that though we often want to rush through these anonymous seasons of the soul, they hold enormous power to cultivate character traits that cannot be developed any other way!"

And some leadership resources:
Preventing Ministry Failure by Brad Hoffmann & Michael Todd Wilson
Every time I mention this resource to a pastor or ministry leader I respect, I am shocked they haven't heard of it! This is a truly phenomenal book concerning an issue close to my heart. I have always asked the question, "Why do leaders fall?" I mean, I know the literal answer to that question - because they made destructive choices. But how did they get to the point of making those choices? Have we set up such an unattainable standard in our churches and ministries that leaders are not allowed to be vulnerable with their struggles?

Years ago, I read this article, 5 Lies That Lead to an Affair by Julie Ferwerda. The main thing I took away from the article was this: it's the tiny compromises that become the huge compromises. This woman didn't wake up one day and decide to have an affair. It was a slow progression of little, only slightly destructive choices that may have appeared harmless from the outside. I also believe part of the issue was that she felt she didn't have the freedom to be honest about her real-life struggles with those around her.

Back to this book: it's written in workbook style and explores a myriad of issues, including having a life purpose statement, creating an adequate support system, understanding our calling, and setting up adequate safeguards. A must-have for ministry leaders today.

And last, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
This book was given to me by my spiritual mentor. The minute I started reading it, I barely put it down unless I absolutely had to (feeding the kids, changing diapers, you know!). I read it in one day. Lencioni is a powerful storyteller who creates a fictional tale about an organization that needs a major overhaul. He concludes the book with practical help for creating a unified and constructive team.

I hope you are able to pick up one of these resources for yourself or someone else. And no, I don't know most of these people and I'm not getting paid to endorse these products!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Freedom Friday: Dealing with Disillusionment

transitive verb

: to free from illusion; also : to cause to lose naive faith and trust

Disillusionment: the state of being disillusioned.

Have you ever experienced disillusionment?

I have. I went through an extremely painful time in the early years of my faith. I've mentioned it here in bits and pieces.

I doubted everything. I questioned everything. And my doubts and my questions tore me to shreds.

Recently, I heard Alicia Britt Chole speak at a conference. I had been looking forward to it for quite some time. Her DVD series Choices was one of the first things we studied in Bible study after I became a Christian, and it was eye-opening and heart-changing.

She spoke about disillusionment, particularly as it relates to the disciples and Jesus. The disciples were incredibly disillusioned with Jesus at times, despite the fact that they walked with Him. They were disillusioned with His timing, disillusioned with His ways, and disillusioned with His words.

One example of this disillusionment is in John 6. Jesus had just done a miracle with a young boy's lunch, and the crowds were following Him around to see what else He could do, as well as to see if He might feed them again.

In the midst of this, Jesus shared this:

“I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him."

Imagine how you would have replied to this, had you been one of Jesus' disciples. I think I would have stood there, thinking, "Huh? Jesus, that doesn't even make sense!" Let's read further to see what the response was.

Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining........At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.

They complained. They were disillusioned. This isn't what they were expecting from Jesus. They wanted a meal, and maybe a miraculous sign. They wanted a concrete explanation of what on earth Jesus was talking about. When they didn't get any of those things, they left. Not everyone, but the passage says "many".

Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

What is the difference between the two groups of disciples in this story? Why did some turn away? Why did some stay?

Some responded to this difficult command by grumbling among themselves. They turned to each other for wisdom, and complained about this strange leader of theirs.

But others react to this statement of Jesus' quite differently. They chose to look to Jesus. They knew enough about Him to chose to believe that there was nowhere else to go. They chose to take their questions to Him.

They asked their questions while looking into the safety of their Savior's face.

So often when we start asking questions or having doubts in our faith, our tendency is to take our questions elsewhere. We turn away from God - out of fear, anger, hurt, or general disillusionment.

I did this. I did not take my questions to Jesus. I stopped reading the Bible. I stopped praying. The questions felt overwhelming, suffocating.

There is nothing wrong with questions and doubts. That's something I love about the disciples' example. They weren't afraid to ask questions, even questions to which the answers seem obvious to us today. Jesus wasn't afraid of or offended by their questions. He just wanted the disciples to bring their questions to Him.

Sometimes, Jesus would answer them right away; other times, He shared that His words would make sense eventually.

He says the same thing to us.

I've heard disillusionment described as gaining a reality. Through this period of questioning, I gained a new reality. A reality that trust is a choice. A reality that not everything is going to make sense in the moment. A reality that God is good, He is on my side, and that His plans are for my prosperity and hope.

Now I take my questions to my Savior. Not always in a timely manner, but my doubts no longer cause me to run. My questions no longer feel like abandonment. They no longer send me spiraling to my default setting. I am able to simply take them to Jesus and trust He will show me the answers, with time.

If you'd like to hear more about disillusionment, I highly recommend the CD "Real Life, Real Pain, and a Real God" from Alicia Britt Chole's resources. You can also find many of her books on Amazon.com (I'm loving the book anonymous right now!).

Your questions are OK with God. Just remember to ask them to Him, to His face, and in the safety of His arms.

Freedom Friday: Fear of the Unknown

I became a Christian halfway through my 3 years at Second College (I went to college elsewhere for 2 years, took 2 years off, and transferred to a new school to finish).

Initially, I was amazed. God revealed Himself to me, daily, in big ways and little ways.

He came through.

He showed Himself strong.

He was faithful.

Then life happened. I made some bad choices. I didn't ask God for His help in certain areas. And I found myself in a destructive, and yet familiar, relationship with a woman who "needed my help."

It's no secret that I was gay-identified for almost a decade. By the time I came to know Jesus, my identity was firmly planted in being gay. It was who I was, and it was what I knew. It was familiar. It was comfortable in its discomfort (as I talked about last week).

I didn't know anything else but being gay. So when this relationship began, it simply stood to reinforce my fear: the fear of the unknown.

The fear of the unknown is a powerful force. It keeps us in unhealth because the unhealth we know is familiar. It's a known pain, a known chaos.

It also keeps us in situations that aren't necessarily unhealthy, but are not God's best for us. They are not the next step in God's plan.

Fear of the unknown keeps us chained.

It keeps us from moving forward.

It keeps us from our Promised Land.

Exodus 14 begins with the Israelites camped by the Red Sea. Pharaoh decided he made a mistake in letting the Israelites go and began to follow them.

We pick up the story in verse 10:

As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD. Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

People stay in or run back to miserable situations because of the fear of the unknown. The above quote from the Israelites is a perfect example of that.

I was a perfect example of this. The woman I was in a relationship with had a lot of problems. I had a lot of problems. Even in the best of circumstances, we would have made a horrible match! Underneath that rebellious choice to enter into a relationship that I knew to be wrong was a broken child crying out to her heavenly father, "Are You really enough for me? Can I leave behind everything I've known and built my life upon for the unknown that is a relationship with You?"

I have to remember, as I read the above passage, that the Israelites were just beginning to walk out of generations of slavery. It was all they had ever experienced. It was all they knew. They had no context for the Promised Land.

Continuing on in Exodus:

But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward."

Moses raised his hand over the sea, and God opened a path through the water for the Israelites. In my case, my girlfriend dumped me, and I decided, painstakingly, one-step-at-a-time, to choose to trust God, not only in the area of my sexuality, but also with my whole life.

When God calls us to something new, it's not surprising that we will experience fear. Like the Israelites, we have no context for this new journey; all we have is context for the old one. The "what if's", the questions, the obstacles - they overwhelm us. They keep us standing still.

But in those moments, you have a choice: stick with the pain you know, or choose to trust God and forge ahead into the pain you don't know. The latter is a choice to trust that God is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do. It's a choice to believe that He must have something better for you, that this can't be all there is, that if He's asking you to move forward, then He will carry us through.

If you are overcome by a fear of the unknown today, surrender it to God. Give Him your questions and hesitations; He's not afraid of them. Then, stand by. Wait and see how God will fight for you and what He wants to accomplish for you. And "do it afraid", as Joyce Meyer says. As God commanded the Israelites, go forward, despite the fear. Do not let fear of the unknown paralyze you or keep you from living in the fullness of all God has for you.

I'm praying Romans 15:13 for you today: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."