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Caroline

Faith Leadership

4 Steps for Catching — and Keeping — Vision

September 18, 2018

 

I recently talked with a friend about how we will be those seventy-year-olds still auditing classes. We share this common desire to consume new information. While some people can’t wait to be done with the classroom, I love it. The work load, not so much. But the discussing and engaging with ideas that interest me, I hope I can do that my whole life.

So what am I in the middle of learning?

Well, I’m trying to listen to some new voices about how to launch a concept. It’s not that natural to me. I used to say I’m not “wired” that way, but now I think that was a copout because it seems hard and uncomfortable. So instead I’m trying to learn from people who know a lot about how to get an idea off the ground and moving.

I can’t tell you much about how to do that just yet, since I’m freshly in the space. But I can tell you what they all say, which is this:

Catch the vision and know where you’re going. Because where you look is where you’ll head.

It sounds easy enough and like something we’ve all heard. But if I were to ask you what your vision is for the dream you want to launch, how easily could you tell me? Would you stammer through words that perpetually circle the point without ever landing on it? Or could you clearly, succinctly, and confidently articulate what it is?

Asking myself that question has challenged me to clarify. Because even though we can learn techniques of how to get somewhere, if we don’t know where we’re going then it’s not that helpful. The how doesn’t get us far if we haven’t settled the where. But once we do, how becomes crucial.

So in an effort to move myself somewhere intentional, I’m giving it my best shot to implement this advice.

And if you’re there too, here’s what catching and keeping vision practically looks like for me these days:

1. Get specific.

A few weeks ago I pulled out my large white sticky notes and jotted down words on vision, mission, and values. I asked myself pointed questions. Where do I hope to be in the next few months or years? What is most important about how I get there? What compels me to do the hard, hidden stuff today?

Getting specific has been important in catching vision. I’m leaning in to hear what God is whispering about where he is leading and what he is doing. This has helped me not only know where I’m going, but to see and believe for it. And ultimately, knowing what and where always informs and inspires how.

2. Rehearse the vision. 

I’m reminding myself consistently of why I am doing certain things, especially the ones that are stretching, overwhelming, or totally mundane.

When David boldly said, “I’m remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of God” (Ps 27:13), he didn’t necessarily know all the how-tos of it. But he knew where he was heading — to taste God as good — so his present decisions were fueled by his future vision. He was reminding himself of the greater vision in the middle of his surrounding challenges.

3. Align decisions.

Our present decisions make all the difference to where we find ourselves down the road. They determine where we go and what we harvest. This always matters for that. Today is always connected to what comes. So we build momentum through our small and purposeful choices right now.

Because of that, I’m considering how my present decisions help me partner with God in future dreams. The main questions I am asking are: What’s the fruit of this choice in coming seasons? Does this choice lead me off course or keep me on it? What actions best align with the larger vision?

4. Pray by faith (not sight).

In the New Testament the people of faith are encouraged to fix their eyes (2 Cor 4:18; Heb 12:2) and in the psalms it is repeatedly sung about the lifting our heads and eyes (Ps 3:3, 24:9, 121:1). Both hit on the point that we are to raise and keep our eyes set beyond what we see. Then, from there, we declare, prophesy, and trust that God will do more than we currently see.

So I’m believing that God is working in wild, unimaginable ways. I’m not constricting the vision with expectations about how it must come to be, but with expectancy that God is faithful and he will move.

So what’s your vision? How can you catch and keep it so that what you do now propels you towards what God has ahead?

Faith Leadership

How I Got to Work and Wrote My Book

September 6, 2018

Brené Brown shares a powerful story in her book, Braving the Wilderness, about when she decided to write herself a permission slip much like the ones she was signing for her school-aged daughter at the time. She was about to tape an episode with Oprah and was a bundle of emotions (I’d be too). Instead of allowing the stress, pressure, and anxiety to tell her who she was or how’d she do, she wrote herself permission to have fun and enjoy it as it would be.

She granted herself the opportunity to belong in her moment, and to live it both fully and boldly.

After years of letting my book proposal sit on the shelf, God’s whisper spoke life into my dream again. Not only did he remind me of what he had planted in me years ago, but he did something else too.

He invited me to pursue my dream to be a writer, no matter what those official voices had spoken. Ultimately, what I heard after years of letting that book proposal sit was this:

Go write the book.

It was a total shift for me. Instead of waiting for an outside voice to allow me the space to pursue this dream, God was the one asking me to release what was in me.

I approached the dream completely differently. This was about stewardship and giving away what God had put in me. So I changed my source of permission from external voices to God’s internal whisper. I traded my concern for what others around me were saying for what God was stirring in me.

And then I got to work — because the book wasn’t going to write itself.

To date it is probably my most calculated pursuit of a dream yet. I literally counted out the number of days I had to write it, which was about 90. I researched the word count of a typical non-fiction book. Using my snazzy mathematics degree from college, I figured out that I needed to write 500 to 600 words a day for 3 months.

Then you know what I did? I showed up, day by day and word by word.

That’s the key in all of this, no matter what dream you’re wanting to pursue. Passion is important and clarity is necessary, but ultimately you and I have to decide we’re no longer willing not to show up. One day has to be the first day — of many days — that we do the thing. It’s the day we choose that all the reasons we usually give for why we’re quitting whatever we sought to accomplish don’t count this time. They don’t carry the weight to sway or distract us.

We do the mundane and purposeful rhythms, every day for countless days, and through the ordinary something extraordinary takes place.

So last May I decided that all the reasons I usually give myself weren’t going to work this time. Then I wrote the book. I edited it and had others read it, and now I’m pitching it.

What feels amazing about where I am on this journey is that I’m not seeking the validation from publishers to write, as I previously was anxious to receive. I wrote the book. I am a writer.

Now I’m looking for the best place to entrust this offering, which demands I keep working though the path isn’t clear and there are plenty of obstacles along the way. Even still, I’m choosing to show up.

What I hope you hear in this story is this — don’t give others the power to keep you from running hard after what God has put in you. If you know God is calling you to do something, do it. Launch forward by his leading and in response to what he has done in you.

So how do we live this out? We show up each day, steward well what is before us, and allow what flows from us to reflect God’s deposit in us. We partner with the dreams God has placed in us, one decision at a time.

This all means that if you dream of writing a book, write the first chapter. If you want to buy a house, save the first thousand dollars. If you want to grow community, sign yourself up for an activity that puts you around new people. Stop waiting for a perfect time or some heavenly sign to pursue what dreams God already has placed in you. Simply take the first step.

Also, write out that permission slip. I’m not even kidding. Grant yourself the permission to be right now the person who you hope to be when you ultimately step into that dream.

So what’s the dream you need to show up for today? And what kind of permission do you need to grant yourself? I’d love to hear below!

Faith

How I Tried to Write My First Book and Then Quit

August 23, 2018

Exactly ten years ago I was on the World Race in India. I could share all kinds of stories from my month there, both beautiful and painful ones, but there’s a specific afternoon I’ll never forget. It’s the day I decided I would write a book.

It came to me while I was lying on the bottom bunk in the bedroom I shared with two other girls. I had my journal out and was dreaming with God about what could be in the years and seasons ahead. Before I consciously knew what I was writing, I penned these words…

I want to write a book. Maybe lots of books.

Later that day I announced it to my roommates to make it official. Somehow and someday I was committing to make this book happen.

Six years later, recently home from a summer in Mozambique with Mark, I decided it was time to pursue this dream. So I set off to write my first book.

I didn’t have a clue how to do this, though, so I enlisted the help of my friend Erin. At the time she was in the editing process with her publisher for her forthcoming book and was full of knowledge.

Apparently the first thing I needed was a book proposal. No problem, I thought. One quick search led me to Michael Hyatt’s “Write a Winning Book Proposal” and I immediately bought it.

Over the next weeks and months I pieced together the proposal. It contained every bit of information about my topic that a publisher would want to know, from a compelling summary and thorough market analysis to even the first chapter of my unwritten manuscript.

I found myself feeling proud of that book proposal. I spent a lot of time on it, received so much help from others, and was eager to get it into the right hands. Not long after that I was connected with a few Christian publishing houses. According to the guidelines of one of them, they were unwilling to read proposals from authors without agents. Yet somehow unexpected doors opened that allowed my proposal to arrive into those influential hands.

This was amazing news for me, to which I was sure better news would follow.

It didn’t take long for emails to start showing up in my inbox. They all carried a similar message. This was well done, so they applauded, but we’re not interested.

The news crushed me. The fact I was certain it was a season of breakthrough made it extra hard for me to swallow the rejection.

Quickly I translated the news of not wanting to publish my book to mean I was a poor writer who shouldn’t pursue writing one. I didn’t know how to keep moving forward on something those official voices declared not good enough.

So I put my book proposal aside and didn’t pick it up again for years.

Unfortunately my story isn’t that unique because it’s all too common to hand over permission to the world around us to validate who we are, what we do, and where we go.

Without even realizing it, we can tune in to the voice of those surrounding us to the point that we don’t hear the whisper of God for our lives. In that place, all we do and who we are depends on who and what is around us instead of who is living in and flowing from us.

We may not even know we are doing it, but when others detract us from facing our fears, taking a giant risk, or following a dream planted by God, we have given permission to the wrong voice to direct our days.

That’s exactly what happened with my book proposal. I mustered enough courage and determination to research the information, work on it for months, and even get it into the hands of publishers. But the minute they said “no thanks,” I stopped.

I extended permission to those external voices to deter me from pursuing my dream. Instead of standing up to the resistance, even pushing against it, I allowed their words to halt my momentum.

I wonder what it is for you. What’s the dream God is calling you to, that you invested a lot of energy and time into, but you stopped when a struggle arose or opposition came? Where have you handed permission to those around you for what God’s put in you?

You may feel like that dream has died, but it hasn’t. Because that’s not the end of the story, even if it’s been the story for a long time. There’s more God is asking you to do with the dream he’s planted in you.

Maybe it’s time to get up again, show up again, and decide that the story continues.

Last summer, four years after receiving those initial rejection emails, I quietly began to hear God’s whisper remind me of my dream to write a book. This time, though, something was different. He wasn’t asking me to do the same things I did before in hopes of a new outcome. He was asking me to approach the dream from a completely new position — and that’s what I’m going to share with you next week.

Stay tuned or put your email in the subscribe box to not miss it!

Faith

What Do We Do While We Wait?

August 17, 2018

When Mark and I first became parents our world was permanently flipped upside down. Almost everything changed. But there were a few things we decided to keep doing as best as we could — and one of those was eating out as a family.

We didn’t give a ton of thought to the decision. We just knew we didn’t want having kids to keep us from going to restaurants. Even though it’s a lot crazier now, we love trying new places or even taking our kids to some favorites from our dating days.

It’s fun for us and of course delicious. But there’s another reason why we’ve kept up this rhythm, especially as things have gotten more complicated now with a toddler and a baby.

Because eating out is a great way to learn to wait.

From the moment you walk into a restaurant there is a sequence of waiting — for your table, your waiter, your drinks, your food, and your check. It’s all a progression and it all requires waiting.

One of the reasons we love bringing our kids with us is that they learn how to wait too, which is an essential life skill.

Life is full of transitions, progressions, and periods of waiting. It doesn’t really matter what your circumstances are, there’s always the tension of what is not yet — which is why learning to wait is so important.

Lately I’ve been writing on how we need this waiting process despite its stretching and difficulty. We don’t want to miss the deep work offered in the waiting that mandates we mature and become through the days we live.

But that definitely doesn’t make waiting easy or seamless. We all know it isn’t.

It’s why when we’re eating out, I like to look around at the other parents with their kids too. If I can catch an eye, I give a subtle smile as a way of saying, “I’m with you and this isn’t easy, but you’re doing great.”

Because they’re waiting too and for all the screams, bribes of food, and soft shushes, we’re all trying to be present (even enjoy) while we’re there.

This obviously expands far outside those restaurant walls. No matter how different our lives look, you and I are both navigating what hasn’t yet happened. Sometimes we’re able to handle it fairly well, but other times we’re about to crumble under the uncertainty of when, if, or how.

So what do we do while we wait? Here are a few thoughts…

1. We keep standing.

In the psalms, David sings of God’s goodness to come. He’s confident he will see it. But it’s also clear that he’s in the tension of what isn’t, so he adds,

Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” [Psalm 27:14]

Whenever I read this verse I imagine myself on a BOSU. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically half an exercise ball with a firm, flat side to it. There are many ways to use it, but most often I’ve stood on the flat side so that the curved part is between my feet and the ground. The whole thing is unbelievably wobbly when you’re on it. Your only options are to pull your core tight and let your legs shake like crazy, or ungraciously fall to the ground. I only learned to do the first because of the countless times I’ve done the second.

When we’re standing on the uncertain ground of waiting and have no idea when things will change or how they will look, we have to determine that we will keep standing in what life is right now. Because standing keeps us living what is before us, and there’s no partaking in what comes if we miss what is right now.

We must pull our core tight and determine we will hold firm to our truth — of who God is, who we are, and what he has promised — while we stand in this waiting.

2. We pour out gratitude.

You’ll hear me come back to thankfulness over and over. Waiting challenges us to choose gratefulness where we are without any circumstantial changes.

In fact, thankfulness naturally shifts our perception of our problems to see things from a higher vantage point. So there’s an exchange of complaining, commiserating, and wallowing for celebrating, living, and enjoying.

Things won’t always be as they are right now, which is good news for those of us who are living under intense waiting in this season. But the opportunity as we wait is that we can be wildly thankful both for what is and what we believe will come.

3. We make declarations.

One of the greatest gifts in the waiting is the chance to grow in the prophetic. It naturally upgrades our faith and our ability to connect with God higher than surrounding circumstances or present emotions.

Though we stand in what is and are grateful for it, what do we believe God will do even still?

Right before David charged himself to be strong and wait, he declared this:

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” [Psalm 27:13]

David hadn’t tasted or seen it yet, but he knew he would. He believed God would pour out his goodness in the days ahead.

Only as we wait do we have the opportunity to lift an offering of faith to God and declare he is doing beyond what we see or know in this moment. So we raise our voices high and declare what still comes.

4. We gather others.

We’re not meant to do any of this on our own. In fact one of the gifts of the waiting, though uncomfortable too, is that it demands the participation of others. We can’t navigate the pressure on our own. We need people in our corner, believing for us when we’re tired, doubtful, or totally defeated.

Recently I sat on the couch across from my husband, Mark, and processed through some self-doubt in my own waiting. I knew the answers to my spinning questions, but I needed more than that.

Mark looked me straight in the eyes and spoke the words I was feeling too overwhelmed to say for myself. He reminded me of my resolve to keep standing and that we are thankful for what God is doing. He spoke prophetic words of who he sees me to be and what he believes will still be done.

His words resettled and recharged me. They reignited that fire in me to keep going.

Ultimately this is what the waiting demands, that we invite people to be in it with us so we aren’t crushed by it. This isn’t a one-and-done experience, but something we keep practicing. Because gathering people to remind us along the journey of our identity, calling, and passion is the only way to keep standing, believing, and declaring for what God will do next.

 

What’s been helpful to you as you navigate disappointment or prolonged waiting? I’d love for you to share below!

Faith

What Happens After We Don’t Get What We Want?

August 8, 2018

Last week I published my story about God meeting me in such an unexpected way through my disappointment. Since then I have received numerous messages from others who shared their stories with me, ones about disappointment in relationships or with finding their own home or in wondering when their breakthrough will come.

It’s a place we’re all pretty familiar with, isn’t it? We know what it means to live today amid what is not yet, or maybe never, or hopefully someday.

What I’ve become so aware of as I read these messages is that disappointment is sacred work. That’s a funny way of saying it since we consider disappointment this place we will do everything in our power to move ourselves out of as quickly as possible.

But we change and become by that tension, as un-welcomed as we know it to be in the moment. We’re never the same.

If you and I were sitting down for coffee and I asked you to tell me a story about God moving in your life, most of the big ones carry a heavy dose of loss, disappointment, or delay. Because this is where we meet God as both bigger than what we see before us and as doing what is beyond our vision.

I remember the deep disappointment I felt a few years ago when I stepped away from a ministry I loved. Even though I made the choice, it was so clearly by God’s prompting that I felt like somehow my obedience had chartered my way to disappointment. Following God wasn’t supposed to bring me here, so I thought to myself countless times.

There I was smack in the middle of my own disappointment for what wasn’t.

The season that followed, not one of weeks or months but more like years, was full of questions and fears. Disappointment has this surprisingly effective way of pulling stuff out of us that we thought we’d never see or show.

It’s kind of like when my toddler daughter, Eloise, goes rummaging in my closest. I have some ignored nooks in there, from which she will never fail to pull a pair of my shoes from years ago. They were so far in the back, so tucked away under other shoes or hidden in miscellaneous boxes, that I had forgotten all about them — until she dug into those dark caverns and unearthed what was hiding.

In my mind, this is one of the first things disappointment does. Its sudden intrusion into our life pulls out all these emotions, fears, and insecurities that we thought weren’t there (or had happily been keeping dormant).

Before I stepped out of the ministry I was involved with, I considered myself secure in who God was in me and what he had called me to do. But then everything went quiet and the outward expression of it all was gone in an instant. The disappointment of what wasn’t brought with it a flood of fears and insecurities, ones I didn’t even know were there. I wondered if God had forgotten me or if things would ever change or did I even have a purpose.

That place, with all the emotions and disappointment, can feel incredibly overwhelming, even wholly defeating. While I’m certainly not here to try to wrap a pretty bow around a genuinely raw place of life, maybe even yours in this moment, what I know to be truth is this:

But.

There’s always a but and thank God there’s one. Because as one of my favorite verses says,

But God’s not finished.” [Isaiah 30:18]

Thankfully disappointment is never the destination. We don’t stay there. That’s good news for those us of who woke up today with some heavy disappointment.

The journey may not be what we want, of course, because it often comes with unexpected turns, stretching twists, and major detours. But the work of God’s Spirit in us and in our story means we don’t stay there. Though we find ourselves there today (or one day soon), God is moving us even still.

And yet what happens while we are there is the stuff that changes us. Because if you are in the midst of what isn’t today, hear me on this — this is the holy ground of coming face-to-face with God. This is where you and I meet him in the most raw and honest way. This is the place of wrestling and becoming, where perseverance is built and hope becomes real.

This is where God changes the story, our story, and it becomes even better.

Not today necessarily, and maybe not tomorrow either. Maybe not even in the immediate days ahead. But the story of what God is doing in, through, and around us, that moves too — sometimes in the suddenly and sometimes in the slowly. But no matter what, the story gets better. He promises us it gets better.

Because somehow, as only God can do in the way he does, our disappointment upgrades us. It expands our story, our faith, and our future. It elevates us to see from a higher vantage point than what we feel or know right now.

For me, those years of disappointment were painfully quiet in many ways, but they were powerful too. Even now God is still digging out of me things I didn’t know were laying dormant. He is changing me through the absence, the quiet, the hiddenness. This is where I am finding him and where I am becoming in him.

Disappointment is sacred work, because it’s where God changes, moves, and expands us for what is ahead. We’re never the same after walking through a season of coming face-to-face with him in the middle of what is not. Our experience of who he is and what he is like is never the same either.

So no matter where you are today, but especially if you find yourself in that holy pit of good and ugly disappointment, how I pray you know what powerful work God is doing in and through you even still.

God’s not finished.

The story gets better.

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