Advertisements

What worked for me in January

When I wrote my first “what worked for me” post earlier this year, I was a little overwhelmed by the length of it, and if I was overwhelmed, that means y’all were even more so. But I am a fanatic about celebrating even the tiniest wins, and making quick corrections to what’s not working, so with that in mind, I’m going to try for a bite-sized monthly installment. So, let’s get right to it. Here’s what worked for me in January.

    1. The Full Focus Planner, by Michael Hyatt. Imagine the clouds are parting, rays of sunshine are streaming through, and the Hallelujah chorus is being sung by a great heavenly host. That’s how I feel about the Full Focus planner (and I’m only exaggerating a little bit). Y’ALL. This thing has me Living My Best Life.

      I have tried every manner of planner and process—I was a true believer in “bullet journaling” for a hot minute, but I failed at every system—including bullet journaling—for one major reason: there wasn’t enough structure to rein me in. The Full Focus planner forces me, by design, to narrow down my projects and goals, and really focus intently on just a handful of tasks at a time. And it encourages me to be strategic in my timing, only moving full-steam ahead on a small number of items each quarter. Rather than feeling discouraged every single day, because I didn’t make it very far on my list, I feel SO GOOD about what I AM able to accomplish, and how everything I’m working on is perfectly aligned to my 2018 goals. I’m more productive, and more efficient, and that right there is my love language.If this sounds like a good fit for you, click here for a 15% off code, or to learn more about the planner—what a great gift for the planner-minder person in your life!

    2. More houseplants. It’s no secret that houseplants literally make us happier. But did you know that they also improve indoor air quality? If you’re feeling a little blah, or like your decor needs a refresh, but you’re not quite sure what to change, pick yourself up a few houseplants. Long dangling ones look great atop a china cabinet, or trailing off a mantle. Tall, architectural ones (like snake plants) add life to any corner, and big statement plants (like the ubiquitous fiddle-leaf fig) are like living art. Succulents have some of the most interesting other-worldly shapes, and like a lit of sun and very little water—perfect if you’re a little negligent in your care.
    3. The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds (The Gospel Coalition) Okay now, don’t get spooked by the word “catechism.” Simply put, catechisms are collections of questions and answers designed for memorization and recitation. “The New City Catechism is a modern-day resource aimed at reintroducing this ancient method of teaching to Christians today.” This little book contains 52 questions and answers related to God, human nature, sin, Christ, the Holy Spirit, etc., and it’s a simple and approachable way to bring core doctrine into your home, and in front of your children. There’s also a free app, which includes sing-alongs to help children memorize. (Full disclosure: I use the kiddo songs to memorize, too. Whatever works!)
    4. I swapped political podcasts for books, and sermons. As a voracious podcast listener, I began to reconsider the focus of the content I’d been consuming, and determined that I was intaking too much political content. So since December I’ve been almost entirely skipping Ben Shapiro (and others), and have listened to several audiobooks in that time, as well as sermons I had been meaning to catch up on. Just in the time that I put Ben Shapiro on hiatus, I’ve finished:
      • “Grant”, by Ron Chernow,
      • “The Myth of Male Power” by Warren Farrell (which I recommend extremely cautiously, and with a lot of stipulations),
      • “How to Think,” by Alan Jacobs,
      • “The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery,” by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile, and
      • “Cold-Case Christianity,” by J. Warner Wallace
      • I’ve also listened to several sermons on the Old Testament that I’ve been meaning to listen to for literally two years.

Not a bad way to start the year! Have you shifted any habits, or found unexpected joy in your houseplants recently? I’d love to hear about it.

Peace to you,

mj

Advertisements

Reconsidering our “faith in humanity”

Faith in humanity

As I’ve been practicing being a better listener, I’ve become increasingly sensitive to the words people choose to express themselves.

Some people argue that word-choice is typically thoughtless—a reflexive, instinctive sort of reaction, certainly not well-thought-out enough to warrant digging any deeper.

I’m not so sure about that.

I’m inclined to believe that word-choice matters more because it often comes from a reflexive, intuitive sort of place. So, for example, when an acquaintance shares a news video depicting a selfless first-responder rescuing a helpless animal from a devastating mudslide with the caption “this gives me hope for humanity,” my ears prick up.

Or another story I read recently, wherein a stranger left an extremely generous tip for their waitress, because they sensed she needed a boost. Again, the caption “this restores my faith in humanity.”

“Hope for humanity.”

“This restores my faith in humanity.”

I’m sure you hear some variation of these expressions all the time. Some might say they’ve become almost automatic, like saying “bless you” after someone sneezes. These expressions have become a way of signaling to others that the story is refreshing, and a buoying contrast to much of the news of the day. But the word choice, and the extremely common nature of these expressions always piques my curiosity, and it’s hard to fight the urge to dig deeper.

It’s interesting, and sad, to witness so many people simultaneously experiencing a crisis of faith, but also to watch them continually pour and re-pour their hope and faith into the broken vessel of humanity.

Humans have in us the ability to reflect the beauty, tenderness, and love of God, but it’s no secret that that isn’t our natural disposition. (If it were, why would so many people proclaim a lack of faith or hope in humanity?)

When people witness an unexpected act of tenderness, mercy, generosity, or forgiveness, they’re getting a sliver of a glimpse of the nature of God himself. It’s no wonder people share these stories of life-giving refreshment! When humans reflect the goodness of their Creator, we’re reminded briefly of what we’re called to, and where we’ve come from.

But to misplace that feeling of refreshment, that hope, that faith, and continually expect humans to deliver on it is to set oneself up for a lifetime of disappointment, anguish, and fear. If your faith and hope is in humanity, the world feels cold, scary and threatening. Humanity is so fickle, ever-changing, and unpredictable.

If you find yourself feeling skeptical that you should have any faith or hope in humanity, I think you’re absolutely right. Humanity, at its best, can only reflect the goodness of our Creator, but humanity cannot actualize the goodness of our Creator.

If you can place your hope and faith in the Creator of all things, you’ll find the world to be a much less threatening place. You’ll have a constant refuge—a safe place to be renewed on a moment-by-moment basis. And you can accept humanity as it is, while doing your best to share this merciful refreshment with others.

At the very least, the next time you remark that something “restores your faith in humanity,” I hope your words ring in your ears, and I hope they will give you pause to consider the wisdom of pouring and re-pouring your faith and hope into broken vessels.

You know how much you love stories of people being good to one another. So why settle for a sliver of a glimpse of the goodness of God? Why not seek after the origin of that goodness?

Peace to you,

mj

What didn’t work for me in 2017

As a follow-up to “What Worked for Me in 2017,” here’s what DIDN’T work for me in 2017. I think it’s just as important (maybe more important?) to recognize what isn’t working, so that you can learn from it and adapt. I’d like to look back on this post in a year and see that I’ve improved in the following categories:

  1. EXPECTATIONS: I could (should?) write an entire series about the nasty hydra-monster of expectations. There are so many ways that expectations go wrong (un-met/too-high/un-communicated/unfair/etc.) yet so few ways that expectations go right. Now, I’m not saying don’t have ANY expectations (is that even possible?); what I am saying is that whatever expectations we have should be reasonable, and most importantly, COMMUNICATED. Life would be so much better for all of us if we all saw our unconscious expectations, aligned them with reality, and communicated them to whoever is supposed to be living under those expectations. I’m trying really hard to notice the often unconscious expectations I carry around; sometimes I don’t notice these expectations until they’re unmet, and I’m left feeling frustrated, or resentful (two clear signals, right there). In those times, I’m trying to pause, and uncover where the root of those feelings is found: 9 times out of 10, it’s an expectation I didn’t even know that I had.
  2. SCREEN-BASED PLANNING AND ORGANIZATION: I’m a 1 on the enneagram, an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs, and a Virgo to boot: I am a fastidious person who preaches the gospel of “failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” and who thrives when working within thoughtful systems and smart routines. So you can trust that I’ve tried all the best and most popular planning and task-management apps, and none of them come close to rivaling the success I have with a paper planner. This year I tried to go screen-based, because I don’t like having so many separate notebooks, and places to check for information, but it just did not work. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m sticking to my hybrid system of keeping the calendar on my phone (which is set up to share with my family), and keeping everything else (goal, habit and task tracking, etc.) in my paper planner. Let it be so.
  3. TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR EDUCATING ACQUAINTANCES ON THE INTERNET:  Yeah, I’ve let/am letting this one go. While I will always be here to engage and challenge others (and myself!) to stronger reasoning, I accept that I am not responsible for the growth and development of anyone who’s not a child of mine. By now I know who in my group of acquaintances is reasonable (or who has a desire to be reasonable) and who is strictly interested in stirring the pot. If you’re a pot-stirrer? Peace be with you. If you’re taking steps towards wisdom, and love? Well, let’s walk that way together, friend.
  4. KEEPING THE TOP OF MY DRESSER CLEAR OF CLOTHES/CHILDHOOD EPHEMERA: This is definitely my biggest failure of 2017. I’m not exaggerating when I say that not a day went by where the top of my dresser appeared remotely tidy. There were a few weeks where all the clothes were put away, but there were all these little piles of kid-stuff, lovingly deposited there by the other three people on my family, and guys? I just can’t. I can’t be the perpetual putter-awayer of All Of The Things. I can barely keep my own possessions reigned in. Why do they think they can just put their singleton socks on top of my dresser, and expect that something good will come of it? Instead of resolving to do better at this one, I’m giving up. If any of you are looking for a singleton-sock, it’s probably on top of my dresser.

There’s plenty more, but I figured I’d stick to over-arching themes. (For example, my dresser situation can also be applied to my desk, our dining table, and the breakfast bar.)

What about you? What worked (or didn’t) in 2017? What habits and systems are you carrying over into 2018?

 

 

What worked for me in 2017

As someone who is constantly evaluating (and re-evaluating) every practice, habit, and method in my life, a “what’s worked for me” post is something I’ve wanted to write for literally years. Every year around this time, I draft this post in my head, but it gets tossed by the wayside by the time February rolls around. But not this year!

If you’re not familiar with this format, here’s what to expect: a list, more or less, of habits/practices/techniques etc. that were new for me in 2017, and the value I got from them. I’m a fiend for this type of post, because inevitably, no matter how divergent the author’s interests are from my own, I always walk away with a recommendation, a new way of looking at something, or an honest-to-goodness endorsement of something that I’ve been mulling over, but hadn’t committed to. And that’s my hope for you: that you would glean something useful, and that your 2018 will benefit from my 2017.

And yes—if you’re wondering—I do intend to write a “what DIDN’T work for me in 2017.” (I’ll draft it today and get it up sometime in February.)

Alright, let’s talk about some wins! I’m presenting these in categories for easy scanning/sifting. Below you’ll find what worked for me:

  • Physically
  • Mentally/Spiritually
  • At Home
  • In Business

What worked for me PHYSICALLY

  1. SKINCARE: Sometime back in July of 2017, a friend of mine added me to a private Facebook group devoted to skincare habits that are founded in science and common sense. It has literally changed my life. I struggle with hormonal acne (it starts right below my cheekbones, and continues down to just below my chin-line), but by adhering to the “7 essentials,” I’ve not only reduced the number of blemishes that pop up every month to almost zero, but the early signs of aging I was beginning to notice have diminished a great deal.I’m going to describe the 7 Essentials extremely briefly below; if you want more specifics, comment below and I’ll email you with allllll the details. Bear in mind, these are not 7 steps, but rather 7 tools you’ll use to uncover clear, glowy skin. Also, there are many “extras” you might include in your process, but I’m just focusing on the must-haves.
      1. Balm Cleanser
      2. Milk Cleanser
      3. Acid Exfoliant
      4. Vitamin C
      5. A Retinod
      6. Moisturizer
      7. SPF
  2. CONSISTENT BASIC HEALTHY HABITS: This one sounds so basic and easy, but for whatever reason, basic good habits seem to be a struggle for almost everyone. Here’s what I managed to do well (most of the time) in 2017:
    1. Drink plenty of water—for me, that means 2+ Nalgenes each day
    2. Eat unprocessed foods—I cooked the vast majority of my meals last year and, surprise! I’m in the best shape of my life, and I have more energy than I did throughout my 20s.
    3. Get regular exercise—for me, this is like 90% barre classes at my local studio, and 10% hikes outside. This year I’m changing it up a bit, but my foundation will remain barre, as it’s keeping me strong and flexible, which is all I’m really after.
    4. Getting enough sleep—while going to bed is still a struggle for me (I cherish the quiet nighttime hours with my husband, after the children fall asleep), I finally took sleep more seriously, and typically get 7-8 hours a night. Optimum for me is probably more like 8-9 hours, so that’s an area of growth for me.
  3. WEARING A DAILY “UNIFORM” this one is so simple and small, but radically changes my mornings for the better. I wear the same thing (more-or-less) every day, and I set it out the night before (including undergarments, shoes, accessories, etc.) Now, the first thing I do when I get out of bed is get dressed, and even if the morning process lags with my children, I’m basically ready to go. No more frantically running around looking for a sweater, or a missing shoe, and it is GLORIOUS.

What worked for me MENTALLY/SPIRITUALLY

  1. INVESTING IN COMMUNITIES: I’m someone who needs to make a concerted effort to remain socially connected with others; I live in my head a lot, and if I’m not careful, I can happily go days and days without talking to another adult aside from my husband. So one way I keep myself grounded in community is by putting some skin in the game, and committing myself as a leader, or organizer. At that point, it’s natural for me to honor my social and service relationships, and respect them by showing up prepared, with my whole mind engaged on the people in front of me. Beginning in the fall of last year, I began volunteering as a table leader for our local MOPs (Moms of Preschoolers) group, and I’m co-leading a small group at my church’s women’s Bible study.
  2. INVESTING IN MY MIND: Like I mentioned, I’m someone who tends to live in her head, so this one comes more naturally to me. Here’s what I read this year:
    1. Wild at Heart Revised and Updated: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul
    2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
    3. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids
    4. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
    5. Washington: A Life – Biography by Ron Chernow
    6. Alexander Hamilton – Biography by Ron Chernow
    7. The Pursuit of Holiness – Bible study by Jerry Bridges
    8. On Living – Beautiful and haunting memoir by hospice Chaplain Kerry Egan
    9. The Armor of God – Bible study by Priscilla Shrier
  3. DETACHING FROM SOCIAL MEDIA: after reading “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” and “Deep Work,” it was easy to step back from social media, and reevaluate how much brain-space I was affording it. No matter how well someone uses social media, or how knowledgable they are about its hazards, I’m less convinced than ever that it’s measurably good for us in any way. Furthermore, after reading about a few historical biographies in a row (I’ve been on a Ron Chernow kick for about a year), it’s hard to imagine any of these giants of history getting anything of significance accomplished if they had social media in their lives.As someone who used to make her living by crafting social media strategy, and teaching its use, I want to be very clear: I don’t think any amount of preparation, caution, or understanding is enough to buffer oneself (primarily one’s mind, and one’s ability to reason) from the harmful effects of social media.
    The creators of social media platforms specifically designed them to be addictive, and if you’re telling yourself that you’re unaffected, or immune, you’re literally lying to yourself. It’s not my intention to scare anyone, or be confrontational, but no matter how innocently, or for what good purposes you use social media: it is bad for your brain. Here: do a quick search and see for yourself.

    Now, for many of us, participation in some social media is a non-negotiable, and for others of us, the only way we can effectively promote events and happenings is via Facebook. I get that. I’d encourage all of us to think of social media usage the same as smoking cigarettes: we know that they’re bad for us, and we know that they’re specifically designed to be addictive. How much risk are you willing to assume? That answer is entirely up to you.

  4. EXPERIENCING SOME GOOD ART: in 2017 I saw Hamilton, attended several classical music concerts and ballet performances, went to several museums, and enjoyed lots of beautiful architecture. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that 2017 saw in an uptick in my own creative output and ideation.

What worked for me AT HOME

  1. THIS INSTANT POT RECIPE FOR CREAMY THAI COCONUT SOUP You can also make this with a slow cooker, or on the stovetop. Either way, it’s DELICIOUS.
  2. CLOTH DIAPERING: I was too overwhelmed and intimidated to try cloth diapering my first, but we gave it a shot with our second, and it is SO MUCH SIMPLER than I was led to believe (the internet is really good at scaring us, isn’t it?). We use Grovia hybrid diaper covers, and pre-folds on the inside. They all get tossed in the wash with a scoopfull of Tide, and they come out perfectly clean. No stress. Better for the environment. Less money. All good things.
  3. THIS IKEA CART, for dragging our homeschool books, notebooks, math manipulatives, etc. around the house
  4. RESALE AND BUYING USED: in 2017 I began selling my children’s gently used clothes on Kidizen, and buying needed items on the same app. To date I’ve earned more than $250, and I keep that in Kidizen to use when I need to buy a bigger pair of rain boots, the next size up of jeans, etc. I barely buy anything new anymore, and I LOVE IT.
  5. WEEKLY MEAL PLANNING: Now, I know this is super old-hat for many of you, but halleleujah! I LOVE knowing what I’m making for dinner for the next week, and the fact that I can buy stuff in bulk, and save money. Last year I made the same 7-10 dinners each week for a season, and then I’d swap out half the recipes for the next season. If you like to make something new every night, this system might not work for you. But if you like clearing your mind of “what’s for dinner tonight?”, or you want to limit your trips to the grocery store to once a week, then try weekly meal planning!
  6. MASTER GROCERY LIST: This follows the previous item nicely. Instead of writing a new grocery list every single week, I have one “master grocery list” on my computer, and I just delete the things I don’t need. There have been so many times where we were out of something, and I would have totally forgotten to add it to my list, except that it was already ON my master grocery list. I never ran out of coffee creamer once in 2017! And that’s what matters, right?
  7. “DOUBLE THE RECIPE, FREEZE THE EXTRA:” I almost never cook a single batch of anything. If I’m going to be in the kitchen for an hour, you better believe I’m getting more than one meal out of it. Having meals on-hand has reduced the amount of times we order takeout to almost zero, which has saved us a ton of money, too.
  8. LAZY-DINNER NIGHT: One night each week I’ve cut myself slack and made something simple, like tuna sandwiches. Everyone is happy with it, and I get more time with my family. (I might increase this to twice a week!)

What worked for me in BUSINESS

  1. FINALLY TAKING AN AMY PORTERFIELD COURSE: after many years of “I should really do that!” I finally took an Amy Porterfield course, and I am SO GLAD I did. The course I took is called “List Builder’s Lab,” and it guided me through the process of building a self-sustaining email-list-building strategy that is adding new people into our “sales funnel” on a daily basis. The fact that the whole thing (including the nurture sequence) is automated has lifted a HUGE burden off my shoulders. If you are involved in any business or nonprofit, your organization needs to do this. Do it this year!
  2. KEEPING MY HEAD DOWN + TAKING ONE SMALL STEP AT A TIME: I’m a dreamer, and an idealist. I have this massive vision for what’s possible, but when I lift my eyes to the summit ahead of me, I get incredibly discouraged by the distance I’ll have to travel to get there, and I never get moving.Last year I committed to breaking projects down into smaller pieces, and then breaking those pieces down into discrete steps. After I write the big fat vision down, and break it down into pieces, and break the pieces down into steps, I almost never dare to look at the big fat vision again, preferring to keep my eyes down on the next step I have in front of me. As a result, I made more progress on our business than I had in the past two years combined. This year I’m applying the same tactic to my personal projects, and it’s already helping. (Here I am, with two blog posts in January!)I hope you glean at least one useful tidbit from all of this! Any suggestions for me? What should I consider next? Did you write a “what worked for me” post? If so, please link to it in the comments to so I can read along!I’ll be back with a “What DIDN’T Work For Me in 2017” post sometime in February.

Peace to you!
Melissa

Forbearance and listening

If you’ve known me for more than a few weeks, you’ve likely noticed that I have a lot to say.

About a lot of things.

Numerous are my strongly-felt opinions. And before I go further, I want to say thank you. It can sometimes be a lot to bear, my intensity—especially if we happen to disagree—yet, with rare exception, the people I’m privileged to dialogue with on a routine basis are graceful, and mostly kind. We’re all on a journey of discovery, and (again, with rare exception) you support me in continually finding my footing, exploring, and attempting to persuade. As I reflect on the past several months (and years), I’m especially fond of this community I’ve surrounded myself with—this truly diverse body of humanity.

So how does someone with “a lot to say” go months without spouting off on her blog?

Some of it is the seasonal nature of life; there’s homeschooling to do, a toddler to wrangle, the ceaseless “mundane” demands of day-to-day life, a business to run, women to invest in, and of course a self to cultivate, care for, prune.

But a lot of it is forbearance. Something that has never been my forte, and something that’s become a bit of a practice for me, over the past year. (I know I’m not the only one who struggles in this. “Forbearance” is an alien virtue to most people who are regularly dialoguing on the internet, it seems.)

The problem is when you have a lot of things to say, and you spend a lot of time turning those things over in your mind—formulating your stance, pre-writing a draft—you run the risk of becoming a weak or ineffectual listener, and that’s a prospect that fills me with disgust. (I do not want to become that person.) So I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately, and I have to admit: listening without building a response has been a significant challenge for me.

Here are three practical things that have helped me strengthen my listening:

  1. Assume from the beginning of a dialogue that the other person/people are not interested in what think, and won’t ask probing questions of me. (This enables me to pause the part of my brain that’s structuring a reply and devote myself to listening and perceiving.)
  2. Allow myself to indulge my curiosity about others, and ask (polite) probing questions of them. This helps me to hear each person as an individual, rather than lumping them into a category and making assumptions about them.
  3. Do not offer an alternative perspective or contradictory point unless expressly invited to do so. (i.e. until invited to do so, I make no statements, I only ask questions.)

Interestingly, this process of critical listening has not resulted in the outcome you might predict; as I gather more and more stories, reasons, conclusions from others, I find that my positions (on many, but not all issues) are becoming firmer. By silencing myself and my own perspectives, it’s much easier to see where others’ perspectives break from truth, or reason. (Of course none of them ask about that, so it’ll be a secret between me any my blog. 😉 )

One more observation, and then I’m done on this subject for now.

Many (certainly not all) people I ask questions of seem genuinely threatened by someone asking them to elaborate, or provide a specific example for illustrative purposes, or describe what has influenced them the most on a particular issue. I’m surprised by how little good faith is present in many people, and how sensitive they are to being asked to explain their thinking. It’s the kind of defensive lashing-out that one might expect from a teen from a troubled home, not a fully-grown, seemingly emotionally-healthy adult. I have a few theories as to why that is (being plugged into a constant loop of aggression/assumed victimhood/outrage is one possible reason), but in listening first, I’ve been able to rediscover compassion and empathy for those hurting people, as opposed to condemnation, or general “yucking” them (i.e. “YUCK, I’m SO GLAD I’m not like THAT”).

So one more time: thank you. Both for having patience and grace for me in my longtime estrangement from forbearance, and in this current (admittedly privileged) exercise of thinking about thinking.

I won’t promise regularity here, and the next thing I post will probably be a few simple veggie recipes, as I’ve been focusing on growing my culinary oeuvre.

Peace to you!

mj

The Mentoring We Need + The Mentor We Need to Be

Practical, encouraging, and full of grace, Sue Donaldson’s Table Mentoring is the nudge I needed to more fully comprehend and embrace my role as a mentor to others, and take more seriously the influence of mentors in my own life. Reading table mentoring is like sitting at Sue’s own table—receiving her wisdom, but also her sense of lightness, and humor. If you’re feeling like you could use practical guidance on the subject (as either a mentor or mentee—but most likely both), this book is the perfect companion to begin equipping yourself, and aligning your heart for the roles you’re stepping into. Also, it’s brief! There’s no wasted pages here. As a mom of two littles (and a tendency to feel overwhelmed), this was just the right length!

I’ve excerpted a bit of it below (with Sue’s permission, of course), to offer you a taste. Click through to pick it up for the cost of a fancy coffee and a croissant, but without the sugar or refined carbs. 

***
Who should mentor? You?
Who should be mentored? You?

Yes and yes.

Why the first “yes?” You are uniquely qualified to mentor another because your life experience, lessons, growth, family and education are uniquely yours.

One of life’s basic needs is “significance” and God made it so from the very beginning. Here’s why we are significant:

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:13,14

Others may know more than I do on a given subject, but only I know what I know. And God may want me to give that slice of knowledge to someone in need. Granted, it may only be a slice, but He brings fruit from the smaller endeavor, and I’m grateful.

Only this morning I read an excellent article on hospitality. I might know a bit about that topic, but I’m not the only one who does! (Just ask Martha Stewart!) I could say, “I’m not the expert, so I can’t teach someone else what I know.” Comparisons trap us inside our insecurities and keep us from mentoring when we get the opportunity.

So besides your uniqueness among millions, your confidence in God, and your humility before God, what does it take to be a great mentor?

A growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

That’s it. That’s the main thing.

I didn’t say a perfect relationship or sinless existence. Perfection and sinlessness is for later on when none of us will need to mentor or be mentored.

But qualified mentoring does take a pressing on mentality. Pressing on to know and love Christ better and deeper. As Paul, again the model mentor, cried out passionately to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Philippians 3:f1f2-16 ESV

Paul put himself in the mature camp, but he knew he needed to keep pressing. And he did. “I press on to make it my own.” To mentor well means we keep on pressing to make it our own. We share our own stories, our own walk with Christ, our own victories and losses and pressings to know and love Him more. That’s all. A going-on-with God til He comes or we go.

Yesterday a conference director called about the possibility of my speaking and she asked me: “Tell me when you first fell in love with Jesus. When did He grip your heart?” She went on: “Tell me how He is entering your world right now and making a difference in your life?”

Both great questions and I loved answering them. I know I love Jesus more today than fifty years ago, but that’s when it started. I can tell you right now how He’s leading and training and teaching and loving me. Today. Right now. He keeps after me, and–by His mercy and grace, I’m keeping after Him. Not perfectly. I’m not finished loving Him. He still has mounds of work to do in me. But He doesn’t want me to wait til Glory to share my walk with Him with someone else.

Same with you.

If you feel God leading you to mentor, ask yourself:

  1. Do I love Jesus more today than ten years ago? One year ago?
  2. Do I trust Him for the unknowns in my future?
  3. Do I know some of His promises in His Word?
  4. Do I live like I trust in those promises?

If you answered: “Sort of. I’m working on it.” You are ready to mentor. Paul wasn’t perfect, just pressing.

If you think you know everything, think again.

If you know one promise in God’s Word, you are ready to mentor that one promise. Ask God for someone to share it with today.

Dare to go Freerange this Summer!

By now we’re all aware of the dangers of over-scheduling yourselves and your children—take this summer as an opportunity to try doing…nothing at all.

And when you do facilitate entertainment, it doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive! Go old school and play in the hose on the lawn, or make cheapo popsicles. Your children won’t remember how fancy things are, but they WILL remember having a lot of fun with you.

We’re Talking About Sex All Wrong

We’re way too casual about sex, and that’s created a “demand” for abortion that will not abate until we confront the truth about sex. Sexual intercourse is an inherently risky activity, regardless of how “safe” you are. Our disregard of this biological fact, coupled with the casual nature of sex in today’s culture has crippled young people and adults alike. We need to return to talking about sex as inherently risky, and an act that implies a sincere commitment to the human and emotional outcomes. Click through for the whole video.

10 Changes Over 10 Years on YouTube

To celebrate 10 years of making videos on YouTube I decided to focus on the theme of change. So in this video I cover 10 changes in my life over the past 10 years, and I hope there’s something encouraging or helpful in it for you, I maybe for a friend. Enjoy!

So you want to change the world? Can you make this one sacrifice?

Most people’s desire to do good comes from a place of pure intentions, but—please take this gently—our intentions don’t matter. Outcomes matter. This post below was written for would-be Christian missionaries, but everyone who considers themselves an advocate or activist should read it. Excerpt:

“But what if our determination to DO stuff, actually undermines the efforts of local people to serve and transform their own communities?

What if using your nursing training to bandage up the wounds of sick people in a cross-cultural setting is hurting more than helping – because you’re doing work a local nurse should be trained up to do?

What if solving people’s problems as a social worker in a cross-cultural setting is hurting more than helping – because you’re doing work a local social worker could be trained up to do?”

Read Craig Greenfield’s full post here: So you want to change the world? Can you make this one sacrifice? —

My Changed Mind

We have a crummy way of treating people who change their minds, and I think it sucks. Here’s a little bit of my story of a (slow, uncomfortable) change of mind.

No Offense. (No, Seriously.) | Choosing Not to be Offended

I’m deeply fascinated by social media, and internet culture in general. (When I describe my professional background, I playfully simplify my skill set as “being good at the internet for a living.”) Over the 18-ish years that I’ve been participating in and observing social engagement via the internet, I’ve seen a shift from a general sense of delight and connection, to one of barrier-building and hair-trigger outrage.

Don’t get me wrong, the beautiful and diverse communities of internet-past are still very much alive and vibrant, and new ones are created every day. Those communities are what keep me coming back, and persisting through the ugliness we’ve seen rear its head over the past several years.

But the ugliness! I hate to say it, but it started to seep in and affect me too. I’ve found myself taking offense more easily than I used to, and feeling somewhat prideful of my ability to construct an argument (and a judgement) quickly and pointedly. But that’s not who I want to be. I don’t think that’s who any of us want to be, but like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water, we don’t notice what’s happening to us until it’s too late. We’re immersed in an increasingly bitter and divisive tone of discourse, and it takes a degree of intentionality to choose a better way.

Without careful watch on ourselves, we can become bitter, cynical, and lacking in grace and mercy. We begin looking for opportunities to be offended, and it is just too easy to find them.

Just a couple of days ago I had an interaction at school drop-off that reminded me of how easy it is to be offended, but also, how easy it is to not be offended, if you can just remember to try. Continued in the video:

Do you find yourself losing energy being offended by people and opinions that are ultimately unimportant? Are you susceptible to the rip-tide of us-vs-them discourse on the internet? How would your life (both internally and externally) be improved if you chose to be more buoyant, and engage less in those kinds of conversations? As always, I ask these questions of you because they’re the very questions I’m asking myself.

Until next time,

mj

None of My Business | On Releasing Control of Others’ Perceptions

My impulse is to begin by apologizing for the months that pass without fresh content from me, but that instinct—like so many others—is more an attempt to manage what you think of me than it is an authentic apology.

I follow author Michele Cushatt on Facebook, and my day-to-day is better for it. Last week she posted a few concise words on managing others’ thoughts of ourselves, and though the concept is not new to me, her words struck me with new truth. It’s like she flipped on a light switch in my brain, and suddenly I could see all the ways—conscious and subconscious—that I attempt to manage/control others’ thoughts and perceptions of me. Here’s what she had to say:

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-8-49-37-am

So I made a quick video that goes into this in more detail.

Do you find yourself in a similar situation, going out of your way—even in tiny ways—to control how others perceive you? Does this impulse ever prevent you from engaging with others, simply because you don’t “look” the part, or “feel” the part? And is it worth it? I’d love to hear if/how you wrestle with this, as these are all questions I’m dealing with myself.

Until next time.

MJ

Welcome to the Family | Supporting, Equipping and Celebrating New Believers

Welcome to the Family

This is part II in a series on supporting and equipping new believers, and strengthening the church family. For part I—which makes the case for the inadequacy of the “salvation prayer,” and for our need to be more intentional with new believers—click here.


In part I of this series, I argued how the way many well-meaning churches across the country promote salvation (i.e. “just say this quick prayer and receive salvation, no life-change required!”) is contributing to a hypocritical Christian culture that—generally speaking—is indiscernible from the rest of the world who are living apart from Christ. Basically, “when we reduce the life-changing power of the gospel to “saying the prayer of salvation,” and don’t shepherd/guide new believers, we end up with millions of “Christians” like me, who for years would have said I was a Christian, but wasn’t noticeably different from my non-Christian peers, bearing out none of the fruits of the spirit.”

Though there are many reasons why people are reluctant to turn from sin and embrace a lifestyle of righteous obedience to our Creator (insofar as we can strive for a lifestyle of righteous obedience), from the get-go, I see two main hurdles, which I’ll expand on below:

  1. New believers don’t understand what they’re being saved from, or called to.
  2. Those who do grasp their need for salvation aren’t supported during what is often a confusing and isolating time of transition.

They Don’t “Get It”/They’re Not Ready

The fact is many people (younger-me included) are simply not ready to turn from their sin and choose obedience instead. If we don’t view sin as God does, we can’t accept salvation in the first place. Scripture is clear: sin separates us from God, and our sin is why we need the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, his son. If we are not ready to turn over our sin and live a life of obedience fueled by gratitude, then we don’t truly understand why we need salvation. Our “prayer of salvation” rings hollow. It’s a false allegiance. And it’s the primary reason why “evangelicals” aren’t discernible from the rest of the world. A “new life in Christ” can’t truly begin until we acknowledge our sin, and willingly offer it over (AKA “repentance”).

Had the reality of life-change been presented to me in my seeking process, I don’t think I would have had so many false-starts (i.e. times I said the “salvation prayer,” yet remain unchanged). I don’t mean this to discourage anyone who is in the seeking process. Not everyone is ready to acknowledge their sin and turn from it, and that’s okay. Lord willing, we’ll all get there in His timing. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict hearts of their sin, not ours (our job is to love and demonstrate love), but when we rush the process, churning out hollow believers—people who have “said the prayer” but aren’t truly repentant—we disfigure the image of our Savior as a church family. It’s not worth it.

If we trust the Father and his timing, we have assurance that we don’t need to rush the process. If He is calling a new brother or sister to Himself, it’s only a matter of time. (Think of fruit, ripening on the tree. Hold your horses, and wait patiently, expectantly for it to ripen.) In the meantime, as soon-to-be brothers and sisters, we can love and encourage those seekers along in their journey. (Back to the fruit tree: maybe we fertilize, water, and protect that tree. But what power do we have to hurry its ripening?)

Celebrating, Supporting and Equipping New Brothers and Sisters

Once a seeker is ready to turn from their sin and truly receive the offer of salvation, how do we equip them for their new life in Christ? How do we support these young believers in their most tender time of growth and transition? Conversion can be a confusing and isolating experience (especially for those who come to faith later in age, or people whose family are not also believers). What are we doing as “older” brothers and sisters to welcome them to our family? “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10)—how do we celebrate their adoption? Have we prepared for them a seat at the table?

Welcome To The Office

We could take a clue from the world of corporate human resources, and the practice of “onboarding” new employees. Businesses and non-profits around the world have standards and practices for new employee onboarding, as the benefits are undeniable:

  • Engages new team members from day one, and integrates them into the culture
  • Builds trust, alignment and relationships immediately
  • Cultivates a connection between new team members and their coworkers
  • Encourages open, honest and transparent communication
  • Decreases turnover, encourages greater committment to the organization
  • Facilitates compliance with company policies and procedures

When the benefits of this type of structure have been proven to be effective at all types of organizations, what’s preventing us from applying the same care and attention within our churches?

If through providing this kind of loving attention, we could improve the spiritual health of our congregations, and our family as a whole, isn’t it worth it?

Welcome To The Family

So what would a more formalized onboarding look like for a seeker, or someone who might be ready to commit their life to Christ? I have a few ideas, but I’m sure you all have way more (and many of you probably attend churches who do some form of these things already).

  • Mentorship. This could easily be a friendly partnership between the new believer and whoever it was who invited them to church/introduced them to the gospel.
  • “Gospel Basics.” Through reading passages of the Old and New Testaments, lay out the case for our need for Christ, God’s provision of Jesus, and the changed life we live in response.
  • “Prayer Basics.” Through selected scripture, highlight why we pray, how we pray, and the crucial importance of regular (constant) prayer.
  • Integration within the congregation. Joining a “small group” (whatever your church calls them), connecting with brothers and sisters in similar and more advanced stages of life. Also, finding a place to serve within the church.
  • Providing a clear path to baptism. Where the “salvation prayer” isn’t biblically prescribed, the scripture does call us to be baptized. You might be surprised how many long-time believers have not celebrated their commitment to Christ with baptism!

Like I said, I know I’m not inventing the wheel here, but you get the idea. No doubt these paths exist in some form already at your church, but how intentional is your congregation about encouraging new believers through these processes early and often? And how active are “older” brothers and sisters in the ongoing celebration of new members to the family? It happens naturally that families who have attended the same church for many years tend to group together, creating the perception of exclusion to new attendees, and preventing their influence and experience from benefiting new brothers and sisters.

So how intentional are you and your church about supporting new believers? Do you remember what it was like for you, transitioning to a life of faith? What behaviors and practices did you experience or observe that were helpful (or unhelpful)?


This is part II of a series on supporting and equipping new believers, and strengthening the church family. Part III will look at the applying the same principles to long-time believers whose lives—for whatever reason—remain unchanged.

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to comment, tweet, or send me a note onFacebook.

The Problem with the “Salvation Prayer”

Problem with the salvation prayer

As someone who only really became a Christian in my early-mid 20s (after many failed attempts, which I’ll get to later), I can tell you that witnessing the (at best) unchanged lives of believers, and (at worst) the outright hypocrisy of believers was a major deterrent in my own journey towards truth. To this day, when talking with non-believers, I sometimes hesitate to refer to myself as a Christian because—from the perspective of a non-believer—I’m all too familiar with the image that conjures: a person who lives just like the rest of the world, but claims eternal salvation on the back of someone whose life, death and resurrection was marked by utter purity from the sin of the world.

And I know I’m not the only one with this perspective. In his book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience” (subtitle: “Why are Christians living like the rest of the world?”), Ronald J. Sider says

Whether the issue is divorce, materialism, sexual promiscuity, racism, physical abuse in marriage, or neglect of a biblical worldview, the polling data point to widespread, blatant disobedience of clear biblical moral demands on the part of people who allegedly are evangelical, born-again Christians.

Sider goes on to share some statistics that should grip us, and propel us into deep inquiry, if not immediate action. Just for example, on the issue of divorce, Evangelicals are reported to divorce at rates slightly higher or on par with the rest of the population. (Click through to read all the stats online, or order a full copy of the book for yourself here.)

So why are so many Christians living like the rest of the world? While the reasons behind people’s choices are many, as I reflected on my own journey, a particular oversight kept coming to mind. And as I informally polled friends and acquaintances on the internet, I found that I was onto something. A tiny piece of something, but it’s a start.

I believe one of the reasons there are so many people who would call themselves Christians, but live entirely unchanged lives is that we haven’t clearly communicated what it means to repent, and put your faith in Christ. I don’t think we’re educating people about what they’re signing up for, exactly. Across denominations and regions—but particularly in non-denominational West Coast Christianity—we’ve disfigured the message of authentic repentance, and traded it for the quick, one-time “salvation prayer.” No life change required. Just “say the prayer,” and you’re in the club.

Now, before anyone misunderstands me, I’m not suggesting we preach a works-based, or legalistic plan of salvation. What I am suggesting is that as we encourage people towards reconciliation with God, we present the truth of a changed life as part of the deal. The Bible does not shy away from this, but we sure seem to. Just a few verses off the top of my head regarding our renewal in the gospel, and the evident change in our lives as a result:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. – James 1:21-22
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. – James 2:17-18

When we reduce the life-changing power of the gospel to “saying the prayer of salvation,” and don’t shepherd/guide new believers, we end up with millions of “Christians” like me, who for years would have said I was a Christian, but wasn’t noticeably different from my non-Christian peers, bearing out none of the fruits of the spirit.

I can’t tell you how many times I “said the prayer” (seven? eight?), yet it never “stuck.” Nothing changed. I started to feel guilty, like something was wrong with me. Why is my life the same? What am I supposed to do now? Is this really it?

In the spirit of leading more people under God’s will for their life, what if we were more intentional  with “on-boarding” new believers? What if, instead of leaving them feeling unchanged and resourceless, we came alongside new believers and actually ushered them into the family? What if a radically changed life was positioned early and often in the process?

The gospel, when it penetrates, radically changes lives. It opens up the gates for the holy spirit to come in and convict hearts that were previously hardened to its calling. I believe if we were more intentional with new believers, we could begin to reignite a church that truly represents the savior we love.


This is part I of a series on “on-boarding” new believers. Part II will focus on the actual components of what that might look like, and part III will look at the applying the same principles to long-time believers whose lives remain unchanged.

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to comment, tweet, or send me a note on Facebook.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: