Thursday, March 29, 2012

One Day at a Time

I have been reading the daily devotional book Jesus Calling every day so far this year, and while each one is impactful, I couldn't help but share today's entire reading. This month has been so much about taking each day as it comes, relinquishing all control to God, and watching as He so carefully crafts my life into a perfect melody that sings of His goodness.

Worrying is in our nature. We've been worrying since the fall of man in Genesis. What I have found so beautiful about this is how much it causes me to rely on God. He already knows what my future holds, the choices I will make in my next moment, and despite fumbling and falling - He loves me.

March 29th:

"Stop trying to work things out before their times have come. Accept the limitations of living one day at a time. When something comes to your attention, ask Me whether or not it is part of today's agenda. If it isn't, release it into My care and go on about today's duties. When you follow this practice, there will be a beautiful simplicity about your life: a time for everything, and everything in its time.

A life lived close to Me is not complicated or cluttered. When your focus is on My Presence, many things that once troubled you lose their power over you. Though the world around you is messy and confusing, remember that I have overcome the world. I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have Peace."

May you know how great, deep, and everlasting the love of God is for you. I'm finding that in the moments of my overwhelming gratitude - staring in awe at the blue sky and mountains, smiling at the joy of a young child, closing my eyes and burning moments of laughter with friends into my memory - His love is felt most deeply.

Take in the moments of today. Be present. Be alive in the now. Good or bad, a heart filled with gratitude can let go of the worry tomorrow brings. The very hairs on your head are known in number. So do not be afraid, for you are more valuable to God than an entire flock of sparrows (Luke 12:7).


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Continued Lessons on Self-Awareness

“You've always been what you are. That's not new. What you'll get used to is knowing it.”

- Cassandra Clare

As many of you know, I'm a people person. Through and through. In just the past couple of weeks, I've been having a few more "ah-ha" moments about how this shapes who I am and how it impacts other people. As a former employee of Gallup, I have learned and come to understand the importance of leveraging my strengths. But until recently, I've seemed to forget that I can use my strengths to have an intensely positive impact on the world around me.

If you've never taken the Gallup StrengthsFinder test, I recommend it. When I took this test 2 1/2 years ago, I wasn't necessarily surprised about what they identified as my top 5 strengths. In fact, I laughed out loud with each sentence, wondering how something could be so spot-on. All of my top 5 strengths are people-related. And just last night I was talking with a friend, wondering if my job is really making an impact - because at the end of the day, sometimes I feels like all I'm doing is selling clothes to people. And in the past year, this has become less and less important to me. Recovering shopaholic, remember? But in re-reading these strengths this morning, I realized that maybe I am making an impact. In my current role, I am a teacher and an encourager. And this job is teaching me how to refine those skills to help me continue to grow. As a business person, and just simply as a human being.

This post is in part to share my top 5 strengths, as identified by Gallup. But it is also a reminder to myself to take a step back and really remember who I am, and that I was created this way on purpose. God knit me in the womb, knowing I would be a crazy, intensely passionate redhead, knowing I would snort when I laugh, knowing I would care deeply and intimately about the people around me. He knew that I would be positive to a fault - desiring for my glass to be overflowing every second - that I would be impatient, that I would desire to get to know every human being I meet on an intimate level, and that I would want to carry the burdens of others who are hurting.

I don't have this all down, I'm learning each and every day. But this journey I am on is unique, exciting, and filled with adventure.

So leverage your strengths. Discover what sets you on fire. And then go spread it everywhere you go.

My Top 5:

1. Activator

"When can we start?" This is a recurring question in your life. You are impatient for action. You may concede that analysis has its uses or that debate and discussion can occasionally yield some valuable insights, but deep down you know that only action is real. Only action can make things happen. Only action leads to performance. Once a decision is made, you cannot not act. Others may worry that "there are still some things we don't know," but this doesn't seem to slow you. If the decision has been made to go across town, you know that the fastest way to get there is to go stoplight to stoplight. You are not going to sit around waiting until all the lights have turned green. Besides, in your view, action and thinking are not opposites. In fact, guided by your Activator theme, you believe that action is the best device for learning. You make a decision, you take action, you look at the result, and you learn. This learning informs your next action and your next. How can you grow if you have nothing to react to? Well, you believe you can't. You must put yourself out there. You must take the next step. It is the only way to keep your thinking fresh and informed. The bottom line is this: You know you will be judged not by what you say, not by what you think, but by what you get done. This does not frighten you. It pleases you.

2. Woo

Woo stands for winning others over. You enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting them to like you. Strangers are rarely intimidating to you. On the contrary, strangers can be energizing. You are drawn to them. You want to learn their names, ask them questions, and find some area of common interest so that you can strike up a conversation and build rapport. Some people shy away from starting up conversations because they worry about running out of things to say. You don't. Not only are you rarely at a loss for words; you actually enjoy initiating with strangers because you derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection. Once that connection is made, you are quite happy to wrap it up and move on. There are new people to meet, new rooms to work, new crowds to mingle in. In your world there are no strangers, only friends you haven't met yet -- lots of them.

3. Empathy

You can sense the emotions of those around you. You can feel what they are feeling as though their feelings are your own. Intuitively, you are able to see the world through their eyes and share their perspective. You do not necessarily agree with each person's perspective. You do not necessarily feel pity for each person's predicament -- this would be sympathy, not Empathy. You do not necessarily condone the choices each person makes, but you do understand. This instinctive ability to understand is powerful. You hear the unvoiced questions. You anticipate the need. Where others grapple for words, you seem to find the right words and the right tone. You help people find the right phrases to express their feelings -- to themselves as well as to others. You help them give voice to their emotional life. For all these reasons other people are drawn to you.

4. Positivity

You are generous with praise, quick to smile, and always on the lookout for the positive in the situation. Some call you lighthearted. Others just wish that their glass were as full as yours seems to be. But either way, people want to be around you. Their world looks better around you because your enthusiasm is contagious. Lacking your energy and optimism, some find their world drab with repetition or, worse, heavy with pressure. You seem to find a way to lighten their spirit. You inject drama into every project. You celebrate every achievement. You find ways to make everything more exciting and more vital. Some cynics may reject your energy, but you are rarely dragged down. Your Positivity won't allow it. Somehow you can't quite escape your conviction that it is good to be alive, that work can be fun, and that no matter what the setbacks, one must never lose one's sense of humor.

5. Relator

Relator describes your attitude toward your relationships. In simple terms, the Relator theme pulls you toward people you already know. You do not necessarily shy away from meeting new people -- in fact, you may have other themes that cause you to enjoy the thrill of turning strangers into friends -- but you do derive a great deal of pleasure and strength from being around your close friends. You are comfortable with intimacy. Once the initial connection has been made, you deliberately encourage a deepening of the relationship. You want to understand their feelings, their goals, their fears, and their dreams; and you want them to understand yours. You know that this kind of closeness implies a certain amount of risk -- you might be taken advantage of -- but you are willing to accept that risk. For you a relationship has value only if it is genuine. And the only way to know that is to entrust yourself to the other person. The more you share with each other, the more you risk together. The more you risk together, the more each of you proves your caring is genuine. These are your steps toward real friendship, and you take them willingly.


Yeah, me either :)


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

More Than 40 Days


For some, it is a time to give something up for 40 days. Something tangible. And probably something that will come back when this time is over.

In years past I have tried to give up things like Facebook, shopping, or sugar. Just typing that makes me feel ridiculous. Why? Because after that 40 days was over, all I did was eat cupcakes, spend hours on Facebook, or spend $300 on my credit card in one stop at the mall. I didn't learn anything. I spent 40 days counting down when I could go back to my old ways. And what benefit was it to anyone else, or even to myself, to try to and "sacrifice" for 40 days? Does abstaining from sugar help others? Does it really help myself?

But what if I decided to do something for 40 days. What if I decided to give something away?

I have struggled with my finances for as long as I can remember. Until age 20, I was hardly in want or need of anything. My parents lived in a nice house, drove nice cars, and would put money in my account every month. They leased a new car for me when I was 18 because I had gotten a soccer scholarship to go and pay for most of my education. My dad has always been the frugal one, saving more money than my mom wanted. But in October 2006 when my mom lost her job, and the only income our family had at the time, things started to change. My parents kept me in the dark until after New Year's when I wondered why my mom wasn't going to work after the holidays were over. I had no idea, because Christmas was the same as always, and I had gotten everything I asked for. The next 3 years included phone calls to me at school preparing me for the possibility that they might lose the house. This wasn't what I had remembered from high school.

But what developed in me was so strange. I went out and got a job at Gap in January 2007, and spent most of my income on clothes. Suddenly, I was trying to make up for what my parents could not provide. And I spiraled out of control to obtain so many material things, that my closet was overflowing. I sit here today paying interest on $13,000 of out of control spending. Finances are so personal, but I am really over the mentality that I should keep that private.

I have debt. I've made mistakes. A lot of them. Who's hasn't? So why do we still hide?

In just the last week, God has pressed upon my heart that now is the time to change directions. If I don't make the choice now, I will probably spend the rest of my life in this hole. I am at a crossroads. And for the first time ever, I am truly listening.

At church this past Sunday night, the sermon was about money. I sat in my chair, shifting positions every few minutes, signaling my discomfort. When I finally sat still, I felt my heart open up and sat there vulnerable and broken. Jay showed us a clip from Dave Ramsey's teaching - and some parts I could hardly keep it together. He said that to get out of debt, we must attack with with gazelle-like INTENSITY. He said, "Darlin', you can wander into debt, but honey you can't wander out of it. You have to run." The tears started to well up. I've been a competitor my whole life in sports - having been wired by God as a passionate and intense individual - and here I am being defeated by clothes.

Dave painted a picture of how we don't come to God with our garbage because we think that He'll look at us and be mad at the choices we've made. Dave said, "But instead, the truth is that you're deeply in debt, and God in heaven is crazy about you." I couldn't help but lose it. The last thing he said was, "If you want to do one thing to prepare for your marriage, get out of debt." With a seemingly impossible pile of credit card debt, I wish I could say to whoever that man will be, I've made these mistakes but I'm making the choice today to honor God with my money.

Have I mentioned that I owe the government $1,514 by April 17th? There is so much hope, if only I would just turn my gaze to heaven.

After church, a group of us headed to a friend's house to enjoy some spaghetti. I met a few new people there, having some of the most real and genuine conversations I have ever had. Our friend's aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he was hosting people to try and raise $100 to send to his aunt's family so they could go out to a nice meal and not have to worry about money. As he stood up in front of us and shared this, I was so moved by how open he was to people in the room, some he didn't even know. He emphasized that his main hope was that everyone who came could just simply enjoy the company of others and eat some spaghetti. I gave all of the cash I had in my wallet. I didn't even look to see how much it was, I just emptied it.

I had finally seen clearly: giving is everything.

Giving without hesitation, giving without strings attached - giving so freely, that your heart is overflowing simply from the sacrifice.

And so God has pressed upon my heart, this season of Lent, I am to give. Every week when that paycheck comes in, I am to tithe first. The whole 10% of my income. Every week for 40 days. I am going to give freely, and let God take care of the rest. After all, nothing I have is my own. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights..."

Jesus Christ has paid the greatest debt of all on my behalf. He is surely able to give me strength enough to pay off the debts I have built for myself.

Give. Sacrifice. And see what happens.

May you know that you are loved by God.
May you know that there is nothing He cannot repair.
And may you give so freely, that the angels sing over what you have done.