Four years ago--to the month--I made a phone call about a job based on a clear directive from God. I got the job and from the very beginning I described my experience as being "propelled for a purpose'. The enthusiasm and energy I experienced were not my own. God was clearly at work.
With such clear direction and divine propulsion, I expected to be a big success. But that didn't happen. At least not in the way that most (including me) define success.
I navigated our region through change upon change. I increased the effectiveness of the product we provided, developed a philosophy and practice of fund raising, expanded the network of partners and nurtured an expectation of excellence and integrity among our clients.
What is success?
After all that work, I left the organization exhausted and discouraged. Measured against the standard I was found wanting. All of my peers were struggling too, but the feelings of inadequacy were not dulled by good company.
Then, last week I got a phone call from the man who replaced me. I immediately felt the shame of failure. This new person was capable and compassionate and energetic and gracious....and successful. After just seven weeks with the organization he is tasting success I had hoped and believed would result as I consistently practiced the right actions--but it never came.
After shame came anger. I asked God what in the world he was up to. Why direct me to this position? Was it just to embarrass me?
The sacred process.
God was kind enough to respond.
"[Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow." 1 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV)
Interesting. Here's what I heard--I had a part to play. I played it. I moved on. Now someone else comes to play their part. Each of us adequate for the particular job we were/are called to do.
I'm not going to lie. I would like to have tasted more of the current kind of success. But it's not mine to claim.
However, I can choose to bask in the God who was growing me and the seed of the gospel in the region, far before I ever entered the scene. Now that is success.
I have never been a good flosser. I totally believe that people should floss. That I should floss. If questioned about my flossing habits I would be tempted to inflate my flossing statistics. And I'm not alone. As a country, we consistently over-report our true flossing routines.
We do the same with church attendance.
A recent Pew study verified that nearly half of Americans say they're in church every Sunday. Right. They head there after they floss and go to the gym--also significantly over-reported by Americans.
Another researcher--Phillip Brenner out of the University of Massachusetts in Boston--uncovered a much different reality when he asked people to give a time diary of their day. Where were you at 9 a.m.? What were you doing? Who were you with?
Actions and Intentions
When using the time diary method, only 24% of Americans appear to actually be attending a church service. Brenner postulates that many people believe they are the kind of folks who could or should attend church every Sunday. They intend to go. Except they don't.
What about me?
I'm in the 24%. Yay for me. But the survey methodology got me thinking about my own over-reporting. One area in particular--serving the poor and marginalized. I am definitely the kind of person who serves the poor. But I'm not a person who is actually serving the poor. Yes, our family sponsors a child (Ahmed) in Kenya and I've ministered to deeply impoverished communities overseas at least once a year for the past 25 years. But I have no intentional, regular rhythm of engagement with marginalized populations in my own community. If I had to report a time diary of my last week there would be exactly NO time spent serving the poor.
Today, the thought of it overwhelms me. I'm ashamed. And I'm not sure I really want to do this. Probably a lot like the 26% of reported church-goers who don't actually attend. I like the thought of it, but I'm not sure I'm ready to commit.
I've got a long way to go but reality has broken through and I'm now standing in truth--with unused floss in hand. A very good place to be if change is ever going to occur.
What about you? Are there areas in your life you're tempted to over-report because you're committed to the principle? Is there an invitation to make a change?
First of all, I am a hypocrite. I am going to talk about Sabbath, all while it appears I may be violating mine. I'm not quite sure. But just in case, I'll make it short.
I'm writing this post to save myself. I need a reminder of the need for Sabbath--an intentional, regular rhythm of resting, ceasing, feasting and embracing.
A subtle shift has occurred in my life over the last month. I am now fully engaged in my new life. I'm busy. And panicked. And at the core I believe the lie that I will need to keep working harder and faster in order to do everything God has for me to do.
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/raoulpop/477873603/">Raoul Pop</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>
I've got it backwards.
There is a subtle shift that needs to take place in my thinking. (Subtle shifts can go both ways.) Marva Dawn explains it so eloquently in her book The Sense of the Call.
"...glorious patterns repeated in the creation liturgy of Genesis 1...suggest that, rather than working our heads off to gain some days of holiday, we rest first and then, out of the Joy of that rest, work for the next six days. Grace reclaims us first, and out of its freedom we respond with our work."
Sabbath is the beginning, the gift--not the end.
So here I am--blogging on Sunday.
I haven't decided if this is work or rest. Now that I'm a writer (apparently, if you write stuff, you can call yourself a writer), the line is a bit blurred. The act of writing isn't the issue, it's the motive. Part of blogging these days is to continue to develop my craft, to tell the story of God in my life and encourage the heart of the Saints. All good things. But they do not fall under the category of Sabbath. Writing is something I do "the rest of the week". And, even as I pen this it seems glaringly clear that practicing a ceasing of writing would make for more substantive, Spirit-directed content during the week.
Don't forget the feasting.
Since it's not just about ceasing, but about fully enjoying God, I can enter in to truly renewing activity. A walk along the ocean, a nap, a good book, a drive through the redwoods, good music, a glass of wine, ice cream, phone calls to family and friends.
No Excuses! If you're like me, you've already dismissed this idea as a good idea, but not really practical. There is simply too much to do. Women are notorious for the this excuse--"I can't relax if I know there is work to be done!" How ridiculous! There is always work to be done.
But more importantly, there is always time to accomplish what God has called us to do--including his call to Sabbath. Do you believe that? I think I do, but it's largely untested in my life. So I'm committing to take one action--I won't blog on Sunday. Frankly, that's a small sacrifice (I'll write it on Saturday and schedule the publication for Sunday), but it's a step toward trust. And obedience. And freedom. And rest. What is God inviting you to? I'd love to hear about it.
Apparently I'm not the only woman on a quest to define and live out feminine strength and beauty. I met another such woman at a hotel pool recently. She had a slightly different perspective.
Madison's soccer team was staying at a hotel during a weekend soccer tournament. After a long day of games the parents and the team were unwinding at the pool. I watched these twelve and thirteen year old girls work on a synchronised swimming routine together--their two piece bathing suits betraying their girlish activity and clearly exposing them as women in the making.
As I sat near the edge of the pool I noticed a strange woman in the pool watching the girls. (Not strange as in 'weird' but strange as in 'she wasn't with us'.) She made her way over to me and asked if I was the coach of these girls. She had a strong eastern European accent which made her seem exotic but also hard to understand. I explained that I was a parent and then she just started sharing her view on strength and femininity. Let me summarize it for you here.
In her view, its good that the girls are playing soccer and developing physical and mental strength, but it's an outright crime that they wear such ugly uniforms (It was more like "It is good to be developing the strength in the girls but it is bad they wear boy uniforms. So ugly.") She went on to suggest that I talk to the coach about getting them uniforms that are more feminine and differentiate them from boys. Not so baggy. Better color schemes. ("They are no boys. Should dress more in feminine uniform")
Interesting. All of it. Her opinion. Her accent. Her boldness in declaring her viewpoint in broken English to a complete stranger. She was clearly comfortable with her femininity (as observed in her bosoms spilling out of her swim suit) but did she have a point? Is this the magic bullet for my daughter--learning to slide tackle while wearing chartreuse spandex? Probably
not. But I did buy her a cute headband just in case.
It's powerful to put something in writing. Tuesday after blogging about my need for an oar, I began a search. I eventually ended up at Kayak Connection on the harbor, where I learned a valuable truth: I have much to learn. There are levels to my igorance and it runs deep. I knew I was in trouble when the salesperson had to tell me I was looking for a paddle, not an oar. Oops.
Question #2: "What kind of kayak do you have? "
"Uhhh. The free kind?" Not helpful. So I showed her a picture. "What do you think?" I asked. I wondered what she would recommend for a paddle. Her advice was much broader.
"I think you shouldn't be out on the ocean by yourself in that kayak."
She invited me to show the owner my kayak picture to get his advice and he agreed. "Do you know how to get back in it by yourself in open water? Do you know how to pump out water after it overturns?"
No. And, no.
So an oar, er, paddle is not my problem. I need some instruction. Fortunately I was in the right place and there's a class this Sunday. I signed up immediately. Had I received a paddle with my kayak I would have attempted to
go out by myself. Could have been ugly.
What seemed like an inconvenience turned out to be the path to something I didn't know I needed. God often seems to work like that. Paths that feel out of the way morph into the beginning of a new journey.
Which is why I need some time to sit and listen and the freedom to explore. Because if I get too focused on the goal and avoid a divine "distraction" because I'm in too big a hurry, I'll soon be alone out in the middle of the bay
next to my overturned kayak without the skill to get back in.
As I walked out of the kayak store I was overwhelmed with gratitude. On so many levels God is leading me and caring for me. Not only am I going to get some much needed instruction and four hours on the ocean, I'm going to be in a class of others who are learning this as well. This is what I dreamed of doing when I moved here. Connecting to locals through recreational activities. Engaging culture and enjoying God.
I am finally getting out of the harbor! Now if I can just find a sale on the cute life vest I want.
photo credit: <a href="sydandsaskiahttp://www.flickr.com/photos/sydandsaskia/897940424/">sydandsaskia</a>
via <a href="photopinhttp://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a
Small spaces are tests of character and last Saturday I failed.
I wrote this while sitting on an airplane heading for home after an intense 36 hour trip out of town. I was tired and acutely aware of my identity as a woman after spending the last day with a group of men.
I had the aisle seat because I paid a few extra dollars for early bird check on Southwest, guaranteeing me an A on my boarding pass. I knew it wasn’t a full flight so I hoped to have my middle seat unoccupied.
I relaxed after letting in a young woman to the window seat. It appeared I would have space to breathe…until I sensed the stilling of movement next to me. A small-statured, older gentleman was asking to sit between me and my row mate.
Really? There were rows ahead and behind me that provided equally appealing open middle seats. Why stop here? But, as I said, he was small so I didn’t glare at him as he slid past me.
Two quick points of context:
1. A Stanford professor recently published a book espousing the use of “spreading out” as a strategic move that displays power.
2. As a woman in the business world I was once coached to spread out my things on the table when meeting with other men. Apparently men use space to mark their territory and a neat pile of papers in front of me signals my submission.
Now, back to the seating chart. This man was well dressed and reading the Wall Street Journal. And he immediately spread out. (Note my aforementioned paranoia with “spreaders”). He claimed the armrests on both sides as he perused the newspaper. Unfortunately, today I was not in the mood to give up ground. I decided that he chose his seat between two harmless looking women because he assumed we wouldn’t challenge his power play.
So I dug in. I placed my elbow on the middle armrest right next to his. I wish I could tell you I was conducting a social experiment. Trying to test people’s comfort levels with sharing armrest space. But the ugly truth is I was engaged in a power struggle with a total stranger who I would never see again.
As the flight progressed I became more committed to my quest not to be the first one to flinch. He removed his elbow a couple of times and I resisted the urge to mutter ‘sucker’ under my breath. Never mind that it was actually more uncomfortable for me to sit this way after a while.
About halfway through the flight I decided to get up and use the restroom. When I returned to my seat this power hungry passenger turned to me and in an endearing Indian accent inquired about our time of arrival.
What a monster! Trying to soften my resolve with a non-threatening question. But I was tired of being powerful and bitchy so I kept my elbow off the armrest.
Then– a Peter-in-the-courtyard moment. In the quiet of the resolved tension I was overcome with shame. I remembered my daily prayer “Lord, make me a blessing!” –and wondered where the derailment occurred.
Was it the extreme physical exhaustion? The two weeks of busy activity without taking time to recalibrate my soul? The underlying insecurity in a new situation? The high altitude of Denver?
As we stood to deplane, this lovely man smiled and asked if I was now home. I said yes; that I would soon see my husband.
“Ahh. That is the best. To be home with family,” he replied.
I would have to agree. But even better is to be redeemed. To no longer be a slave to my fears or shame or stupidity. To be overwhelmed with the loving kindness of my Savior–even after he observed my childish, ungrateful behavior. And to be free to begin again. Forgiven.
Ahh. That is the best!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
Book Kelli for your next event or retreat.
Find Out More >>