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Monday, October 5, 2015

Spiritual Disciplines Series: Simplicity

As I started on Sept 30 last week, I've decided to post some of my past articles on spiritual disciplines that I wrote for the kind folks at the Center for Youth Ministry Training in Memphis, TN. However, please keep reading, even if you do not work with young people. I wrote these articles for everyday people.

If you go to the original link here, you can find all twelve articles. Otherwise, just stay tuned for the rest of them as they pop up on this here blog. Thanks for reading -- feel free to pass along to others, make comments, etc.

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This is the second in a 12-part series on spiritual disciplines for youth workers, based on Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.
by Kelly Soifer
There is a great deal of conversation about spiritual disciplines in the Christian world these days, but not much of it pertains directly to the world of those who work with teens. My goal in writing this series is to meet YOU in that unique place, and then call you to a place of depth and soul care. Take a few moments to keep reading…

There is a part of me that hesitates to write about this next discipline. If you know me at all, you’d know that I don’t hesitate because I am shy! I hesitate because I think of simplicity the same way I think of humility…
You know what I mean. In those rare times when God works in and through you to such a point where you actually do some kind and godly thing and it feels so great, you might say to yourself, “WOW, I was just really humble right then!” and the whole darn thing gets nullified right then and there…THAT is how I think it works with simplicity. It’s something you live out, not point out, in yourself.
However, as Richard Foster says in his classic book The Celebration of Discipline, “The majority of Christians have never seriously wrestled with the problem of simplicity, conveniently ignoring Jesus’ many words on the subject. So I will run the risk of nullifying my pursuit of simplicity today for the sake of greater discussion.”
What do I mean by “simplicity” as a spiritual discipline? Foster says it is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle. In other words, as we seek first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33) rather than seeking first after career or status or wealth or power, that singular focus on Christ should then flow out in and through our daily lives.
On one level, that sort of simplicity isn’t much of a challenge for youthworkers, who by and large are the most poorly paid of all pastoral staff, right?! However, we are also surrounded by some of the biggest consumers in the US today: teenagers. To quote the Los Angeles Times in 2010, “Typically unhampered by debt, bills and mortgages, [teens] spend freely and impulsively.” And because youthworkers’ lives, at least in the early years, are often unhampered from the bigger pressures of mortgage and pension, we can develop some very bad habits.
How did I come to practice simplicity? I backed into it. In February 2009 I resigned from a 15-year position as a youth pastor, from a church in which I’d been a member for 23 years altogether. This decision was the right one, but it was so difficult, nonetheless. I needed time to wait on God for what was to be next, and to recover from the jarring transition that it was, so I had saved some money to do so.
However, in my immaculate timing I made this decision one month before the historic financial collapse hit bottom! Amidst daily news of gloom and doom I tried not to panic, but also decided I needed to dramatically pare down my budget, not sure when I would be employed full-time again. Thus I declared 2009 to be The Year of Living Simply. I decided to buy nothing new (other than food). I refrained from spending money on entertainment – movies, books, music, eating out and travel. I let magazine subscriptions expire. I stopped buying gifts and just sent cards (sorry friends). These actions had taken up a third of my budget!
As I stuck to this approach, I learned three things rather quickly:
  1. It just wasn’t that hard. That sounds crazy, but once I got over the hump of this seemingly hard decision, I discovered that I wasn’t suffering. Richard Foster quotes the famous Arctic explorer Richard Byrd, who lived through months of deprivation in his travels to the North Pole: “I am learning…that a man can live profoundly without masses of things.” Indeed, I discovered the same. Once you wean yourself off the constant acquisition of stuff, you realize it’s all rather fleeting in its satisfaction.
  2. I was much more grateful for what I received. Once you orient yourself around God’s provision rather than thinking of it all as the fruit of your own labors, you see everything as a generous gift! The novelty of something new regained its meaning. When someone had me over for a meal, or took me out for coffee, or gave me a gift, I delighted in every part of it, since these things came less often.
  3. My default became “Why?” instead of “Why not?” While I had previously faced the decision of whether to buy something or not, now I operated from the assumption that I would not be getting it, and was forced (by my own decision) to think through what I “needed.” Rather than get something just because I had the money or because everyone else already had one, I jumped off the treadmill and thought through my spending far more carefully.
Let’s be clear–I am not advocating some dreadful legalism that disdains enjoyment. God wants us to enjoy his provision and his creation. But I began to recognize how much of my joy came from stuff rather than from God himself and from the people and things he provided already. I also found that it caused me to simplify my plans with students as well. Fewer outings to trampoline gyms and more events in homes took away some of the flash and created that much more substance in our programming.
Interestingly enough, I also had more free time since I wasn’t busying myself as I had previously. I spent some of that new time reading up on monasticism and Benedictine spirituality. Monks take vows of poverty and/or simplicity–they hold belongings in common, because they believe that the more possessions you have, the more those things possess you! They meditate regularly on this passage from Matthew 6:19-34. Here are two excerpts:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v. 19-21)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (v. 25)
I am happy to say that after my Year of Living Simply that I am now quite gainfully employed. But that year instilled some good habits in me. So I am trying to pursue this spiritual discipline of simplicity in ongoing ways:
  • When I buy something new, I give something away. For example, when I buy a new pair of shoes, I give away a pair.
  • As I have mentioned here previously, I sold my car about a year ago. I now use my scooter, my bike, and public transportation (with occasional rides from friends). This slows me down and often forces me to think through how many things I try to do in a given day. I understand this may not be possible for many youthworkers, who use their cars as mini-buses for youth ministry! But intentionally changing transportation habits is a good start.
  • I eat seasonally. I love, love, LOVE red bell peppers and could eat them every day. And now, I can eat them every day, thanks to hothouses in South America and semi-truck trailers hauling food all over tarnation. But I choose to eat red bell peppers when they are in season where I live. By eating seasonally I am reminded to enjoy God’s provision in God’s timing. Sometimes he gives us things to enjoy, and sometimes he asks us to wait. And it is often in the waiting, and anticipation, that I learn how to deeply enjoy the things he gives me.
Here is the way that I remember this spiritual discipline of simplicity. It’s an adaptation of the 3 R’s of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…
I say Repent (of my materialism), Reduce, Reuse, Refuse (to try to keep up with everyone else, and just buy the things I truly need), Recycle.
Tell me what you think… thanks for listening!
- See more at: http://www.cymt.org/simplicity-spiritual-disciplines-for-youthworkers/#sthash.jpqQEmQJ.dpuf

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Spiritual Disciplines Series: Solitude

In 2011-2012, I wrote a series of 12 articles for the Center for Youth Ministry Training on the practice of spiritual disciplines for those who work and serve in youth ministry.

I chose the twelve disciplines that Richard Foster examined in far greater depth in his classic book The Celebration of Discipline. On one level, you could title my articles "Spiritual Disciplines for Dummies," not because youth workers are dummies (!) but because my articles average about three pages in length, whereas Foster's chapters are about 15-18 pages per discipline.

However, on another level I wanted to foster (pardon the pun!) a discussion about the disciplines in terms of today's culture and context. The original edition was written in 1978, with a revision in 1988.

I have used these articles in various places, and thought I would collect them here for easy reference. And I would add that I believe these articles apply to any believer, not just those who work with young people. Here is the first one, originally released on November 30, 2011.

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SOLITUDE: Spiritual Disciplines for Youthworkers

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a 12-part series on spiritual disciplines for youth workers, based on Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.
by Kelly Soifer
Fall 2011 marked the beginning of my thirtieth year in youth ministry. There is a very long list running through my head of the many joys experienced in those years. There is a slightly shorter list of things I would now do differently. But perhaps most importantly for this column, there is a concise “must-do” list that I try to convey to anyone I meet who is just getting started in this grand adventure.
Certainly, these “must-do’s” would include some crucial elements like “take regular vacations,” “get really good at effective time management,” and “learn to live within a budget” But at the very top of this list would be this: “Develop robust habits of spiritual discipline.” Huh? Why does that sound so intimidating?
Unfortunately, in my first years of youth ministry, I took myself far too seriously. I was exhausted and stretched thin from overwork and stress. It took too long for me to recognize that my greatest need, beyond vacations, a good calendar and investment in a 401K (though I needed all those as well), was a hearty commitment to spiritual depth and growth. It is in my times with God that I hear His voice, gain strength, and receive insight as to what I am learning and where I need help. Regarding my ministry, it also gives me guidance as to where to go next. And as the saying goes, you can’t take people farther than you’ve gone yourself. In order to provide true leadership, spiritual disciplines are essential!
Richard Foster, in his classic book Celebration of Discipline, defines spiritual disciplines in this way:
“A Spiritual Discipline is an intentionally directed action by which we do what we can do in order to receive from God the ability (or power) to do what we cannot do by direct effort.”
Spiritual disciplines are actions of body, mind and spirit so that we might grow in grace and also draw nearer to Jesus.  Foster defines 12 disciplines that he considers most important to pursue. For a thorough study of each of these, I highly recommend this book.
Beginning this month, I will highlight one of these disciplines here at YMToday and talk a bit about how I see the value of that particular discipline in light of our calling as youth workers. We are starting this month because it coincides with the Church Year, which can and should shape our identity and priorities as followers of Jesus Christ.
In this first month we will explore the spiritual discipline of Solitude. Certainly, as those whose lives are intentionally filled with people 24/7, we may find the concept of solitude far too beautiful for words. I will be the first to admit that in the middle of a week at camp I would often take little mental vacations where I envisioned myself sitting next to a pool by myself, reading a magazine without a care in the world… That was “solitude” to me.
But let’s dig a little deeper. We need to go past the daydreaming stage. What does God want for us in seeking after solitude? I believe we need to acknowledge an interesting tension that exists for us here in the U.S. On the one hand, our American culture fosters and elevates independence as a key value. We are the land of superheroes, Captain America and the Marlboro Man. Personal rights predominate. We do not like anyone telling us what to do. So perhaps the concept of solitude appeals to that sturdy self-reliance? Perhaps. But we cannot forget that as Christians we are eternally connected with other believers. C. S. Lewis reminds us that “the New Testament does not envisage solitary religion: regular assembly for worship is everywhere in the epistles.” So to pursue solitude does not mean that the goal is to reach a state of “just me ‘n God,” or as a chance to just zone out and take a break.
At the other end of the spectrum, we live in a tremendously noisy, over-stimulating world. Cable allows us to have news and entertainment 24 hours a day. Our iPods, Kindles and the Internet ensure that we never lack for something to listen to, read about or watch. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter keep us wired to everyone we know. Text messaging offers endless communication and keeps us yoked to our students. If we wanted, we could make sure we are never alone, helping us to avoid perhaps the deepest fear of the human heart—loneliness.
Furthermore, Christians can sometimes be so actively involved with various Christian activities that they never sit still. As Christian author Rebecca Manley Pippert called it in her book Out of the Saltshaker & Into the World, Christians can occupy themselves constantly within the “Holy Huddle.”
So what really is “solitude” then, from a Christian perspective? Richard Foster describes it with these words:
We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear. Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment…
There is a solitude of the heart that can be maintained at all times… If we possess inward solitude we do not fear being alone, for we know that we are not alone. Neither do we fear being with others, for they do not control us. In the midst of noise and confusion we are settled into a deep inner silence. Whether alone or among people, we always carry with us a portable sanctuary of the heart. (Celebration of Discipline, Chapter 7)
Solitude thus becomes the main way for you to grow in your love for Christ and to be encouraged and nourished to persevere in your ministry with students. Rather than waiting until you’re on the edge of collapse before scheduling a three-day retreat (where you just sleep the whole time anyway!), consider solitude as daily manna from God.
Foster expands solitude’s spiritual dimensions for us:
We must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully. We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely. We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience.
At the most fundamental level, solitude is where we seek God’s face. But how does one begin? I have learned that the best place to start is by cultivating the habit of listening, which Benedictine monk Cyprian Smith describes this way:
The whole spiritual life of the Christian is a process of listening to God, inclining the ear of the heart… We have to be very quiet and still within ourselves, very alert and attentive, if that word ["listen"] is to resonate properly in our innermost depths.
Two books that educated me most in my spiritual listening are titled Enjoy the Silence: A 30-Day Experiment in Listening to God by Duffy and Maggie Robbins, and Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life by Lonni Collins Pratt and Father Daniel Homan. These books are excellent resources to build the discipline of solitude in your life.
Once I committed to seeking after solitude as my best way to connect with God, I needed to explore four elements recommended for meeting with him:
Study: Some authors also call this Lectio Divina or “sacred reading.” This is reading with “the ears of the heart.” You are not reading merely to obtain facts or check something off of your to-do list. You are reading to slow down and get focused. Even more, you come to the text expectantly—you are assuming that you will get something from it, because it is a word from God. Sometimes those messages are loud and clear; sometimes they take some patience to hear.
Meditation: My friend Colleen says, “When we meditate on God, His Word and His world, we put ourselves in a place where He can speak directly to us.” As the Robbinses say in their book mentioned earlier, “Contemplative writers have compared meditation to the process of a cow chewing its cud… Meditation is taking time to chew and re-chew a passage of Scripture.” In the 21st century this may be a tall order for us. We are trained to be consumers, powering through words and information as fast as the microchips in our electronic gadgets will allow. It has become counterintuitive to simply sit on some words and let their meaning unfold for us. But that is exactly what meditation requires.
Prayer: After reading expectantly and listening patiently, we can now respond conversationally in prayer. The words of scripture we consider each day will prompt a variety of responses—some days we may erupt in praise, other days we may be humbled and stumble into raw confession. Still other days may cause us to commit to a calling God is making on our lives, and on another day we may simply call out to Him for guidance and help.
Contemplation: This can be the most delightful part of all, but perhaps the most challenging to practice. Analogous to the end of a great meal that was full of many courses and engaging conversation, there comes a point that goes “beyond words,” where the mere presence of others after a shared experience is enough. As Benedictine monk Luke Dysinger says, “we must learn to enjoy the refreshment of simply being in God’s presence.”
As with all of the spiritual disciplines of this year, they only begin to come naturally to you through committed practice. I recommend that you set aside (at least) 20 minutes each day. Furthermore, it is most helpful if you can designate a particular spot where you can be relatively quiet and private.  Should that not work out every day in the coming month, do not give up. This is about cultivating a habit for the long haul far more than it is about perfection in the first month!
The best book to start with is the Book of Psalms, but certainly, these four elements can be applied to any systematic reading of scripture. If you are daunted as to where to begin in your reading, you can use the classic McCheyne Bible Reading Plan—but don’t allow it to intimidate you. Don’t think of your time with God as simply another task to knock down on your never-ending to-do list. This is the heart of your day. Take the time you need to listen, pour your heart out, and be refreshed. You will never be the same.
- See more at: http://www.cymt.org/solitude-spiritual-disciplines-for-youthworkers/#sthash.a7orMMSq.dpuf

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What To Do With A LOT of Carrots When One Isn't Especially Excited about Carrots...

My housemate and I restarted the habit of receiving a weekly box of local and seasonal produce a couple of months ago. This was a brilliant decision on her our part, and overall, it has been wonderful to be challenged again to have to figure out how to use everything we receive, even if we would not have chosen it on our own. As I wrote here a couple of years ago, eating seasonally has taught me more about how to receive what God has created for us, rather than stand with my arms crossed, insisting on eating what I want when I want to eat it! Such discipline in the small, daily things like meals has developed my spiritual muscles a bit more in learning how to receive the circumstances I experience on a larger and deeper level.

However... when one receives 3 large bunches of carrots in the space of two weeks (and should I mention I hate raw or cooked carrots with a violent passion?) it can be a teensy-weensy more than demanding to stick with my nice little idealistic plan about eating seasonally. I pondered making a "love offering" to B.U.N.S. (Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter, I kid you not) and then realized I was being ridiculous.

So I decided to buckle down and figure out what to do with all those sturdy carrots in my crisper, and thankfully, came upon an old recipe from Bon Appetit. I made this tonight and not only does it not taste like carrots (at all?) but it also makes your home smell wonderful! It would be good hot or cold.

6-8 servings


1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (preferably Madras)
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled, thinly sliced into rounds (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
5 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Plain yogurt (for garnish)


Grind coriander and mustard seeds in spice mill or mortar and pestle to fine powder. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add ground seeds and curry powder; stir 1 minute. Add ginger; stir 1 minute. Add next 3 ingredients. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; sauté until onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add 5 cups broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly. Working in batches, puree in blender until smooth. Return soup to pot. Add more broth by 1/4 cupfuls if too thick. Stir in lime juice; season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before serving.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with yogurt and serve.

Monday, August 10, 2015

So Many Resources, So Little Time 8-10-15

I am in deep denial that summer is nearly over... So as I start closing out summer projects and prepping for the school year, I still have one eye out for berries on sale, beautiful sunsets and opportunities to enjoy balmy nights. So as I share these resources that have helped me this summer, know that I hope you are also squeezing the life out of these closing days of summer. Enjoy!

If You Want People to Listen, Stop Talking.  One of the most frequent reasons I am invited to consult with churches, non-profits and now for-profit companies is to assist them in working through their staff development and supervision. Organizations that are on the cutting edge of technology or confronting major societal ills still often struggle in helping their employees to simply get along! So much of what I work on with leadership is to establish systems of training, support, feedback and evaluation that are effective and encouraging. This article speaks to some of that, as well as this one (The Key to Giving and Receiving Negative Feedback.) Sadly, amidst the crush of deadlines, projects and unanswered emails, it is surprisingly easy to overlook the fundamentals. Check these articles out to evaluate how your employee support is doing.

Ministering to Changing Families. Having worked with youth and their families for 30 years, you'd think I'd seen it all. Yet I am surprised that I am still able to be surprised by some of the issues that bubble up in my conversations with those who work with and shepherd families. This article provides some healthy and sensitive reminders. And here's another one that speaks to working with parents: 4 Ways to Promote Intentionally Spiritual Parenting.

6 Tips for New Graduates That You Won't Read on Buzzfeed. More and more, my work is focusing on current and freshly graduated college students. In the past 5 years I have had trained and released over 50 interns into the world, and interviewed at least four times that many in order to recruit the interns in the first place. Coupled with teaching and speaking on college campuses, that adds up to a lot of conversations about future, employment, purpose, direction, calling, budgets, debt, fear, you name it. I find that everyone has advice for this group of young adults, and there are far too many articles out there that rehash the same material over and over. I will say that this one feels different to me. Tell me what you think.

This American Life: The Problem We All Live With, Part One. Yes, it is tempting to put our heads under our pillows and just GROAN over all the unrest and confusion coming from Ferguson, Charleston, New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia... the list goes on and on. Rather than shut down and give up, I choose to keep trying to pay attention, pray and learn. This podcast rocked my world. Download it and set aside an hour to go on a walk or a drive and listen well. There are moments I had to pause it and gather myself, especially when listening to the fears of parents during a town meeting. But it is time well spent, and it will help you to gain more understanding of the complexities at work in our country when it comes to public education and racial tensions. Lord, have mercy.

Psalm 30
I prayed this psalm earlier in the week upon reflection of his great healing and love in my own life. May we pray it on behalf of our world, in desperate need to hope and renewal.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
    his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:4-5)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Orange You Glad I Posted This?

Lame pun, I know... but this recipe is anything but lame. I made it for dinner tonight and I am still in a happy little food coma. It was so nice to enjoy on a Friday night after a hot and humid week full of work that welcomed me after being gone last week for a conference. I adapted the recipe slightly from Sunset Magazine, July 2015 issue. Try it out!

serves 4 (I made a half-recipe tonight)

1 pound boned, skinned chicken breasts
1 tablespoon soy sauce - I used tamari to make it gluten free
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon white pepper, divided
1 large orange - I used a can of mandarin oranges instead!
1 lemon
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2-in. piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely shredded
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced on the diagonal - I had brussels sprouts and mushrooms on hand, so I used these instead
1 green onion, cut into 2-in. slivers
4 cups steamed rice (optional)

1. Cut chicken breasts crosswise into 1/2-in.-thick slices, then cut each slice in half lengthwise so you end up with finger-size pieces. Combine chicken, soy sauce, cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp. white pepper in a small bowl and toss to coat evenly. Set aside.

2. Zest orange into a small bowl. Segment orange: With a sharp knife, trim off ends and set a cut side down on a cutting board. Following the curve of the fruit, trim off peel and white pith. Set a strainer in a separate bowl and, working over bowl, slice segments free of membranes. Squeeze juice from membranes into strainer. Measure 3 tbsp. juice and add to bowl with zest. Set orange segments aside.

3. Cut lemon in half and set one half aside. Zest and juice the other half into bowl with orange juice and zest, then add brown sugar, sesame oil, and remaining 1/4 tsp. white pepper. Set sauce aside.

4. Heat vegetable oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and ginger and cook until just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Push onion and ginger to one side of pan and add chicken in a single layer. Let sear undisturbed 2 minutes. Add celery and citrus sauce and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens and chicken is cooked through, about 2 minutes more.

5. Remove from heat and stir in reserved orange segments. Pour into serving bowl or onto a platter. Squeeze juice from reserved lemon half over chicken and shower with slivered green onion. Serve with steamed rice if you like.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

So Many Resources, So Little Time... 7-2-15

Whenever students ask me what I've got planned for the summer, I know they envision me living according to their schedule, where they are on summer vacation and liberated from many of the responsibilities of the school year.

I try not to heave a big sigh, because summers have instead been a rather busy time for me in the last few years, exactly because they (those dear students) actually have more time!

So in my mind, as I hear the word "summer," I envision those long hot days of my childhood, when I had endless hours of time (and water!) to fritter away. Alas, those are not to be for grown-ups like me, but I will not mourn or fret. I get to do some pretty wonderful things in my work life, and here are a few helpful resources I have used lately to help me keep going.

How to Overcome the Midday Slump. I don't know about you, but I find that waves of energy and fatigue roll throughout my days, sometimes in unpredictable ways. Though I start every morning with a rocket-fuel dose of caffeine, I don't want to get in the old habit of relying on coffee to power me through the rest of the day. This article has some helpful insights in that regard. One tip that proves extremely useful to me: when I feel the sleepies overtake me around 3pm, I have learned to lay down and close my eyes for 20 minutes rather than gulp down another coffee. Power naps got me through college, and they still work! I'm also inching toward 8.5 or 9 hours of sleep per night, rather than 7.5 or 8. It's making a difference.

Scannable by Evernote. I don't know about you, but at various times I receive business cards from people and I know I want to hang onto the info, but also not let them pile up on my desk or in a drawer. However, the thought of taking the time to load the data into my contacts list also seems tedious. VOILA!! Welcome to Scannable. Not only does it take a perfectly sized photo of the card, it scans it into a file that you can either load into Evernote (HELLO, if you don't use Evernote, you are missing out big time. But I digress...) or email to yourself or someone else. PLUS it finds the LinkedIn account of the person too. Not to mention it can scan loads of other things, which is so nice when I'm away from my desk. My heavens it's tasty.

Gallup's Theme Thursday (Strengths Finder). I have coached many churches, non-profits and businesses (40+ groups and agencies) in Strengths Finder, a very helpful leadership development and assessment tool. On "Theme Thursday" the Gallup org provides roundtable podcasts about one of the 34 themes. They last about 45 minutes each and I find them tremendously helpful in unpacking some of the specifics of each theme (aka Talent, in SF lingo). You can also go to Spreaker.com and get them in downloadable form.

Five Factors Changing Women's Relationships with Churches. I wish that Barna had come up with a different title for this article. My finger hovered over the "delete" button when I received this link in my inbox, but I was more than pleasantly surprised at some of the unique info contained within. This article mostly highlights how the ratio of men to women who are "unchurched" is shrinking, and some of the reasons why. In other words, in 1993, 57% of those not involved with church were men and 44% were women. Fast-forward to 2015, and the numbers are 54% men and 46% women... thus the numbers are decreasing from a 13% differential to only 8%. If numbers don't float your boat, the content is pretty interesting. For example, only 7% of the women who do not attend church have never been exposed to church; that means that nearly all women who are not connected significantly with a church community used to be involved. The fancy term that Barna uses to describe this is dechurched (ouch!). Read for yourself to find out more info. I am very interested in how America is shifting spiritually, and Barna often provides some fascinating fodder for discussion and reflection.

Final thoughts. I will close up with these thoughtful and lovely words from a favorite writer, Frederick Buechner:

If the Lord is indeed our shepherd, then everything goes topsy-turvy. Losing becomes finding and crying becomes laughing. The last become first and the weak become strong. Instead of life being done in by death in the end as we always supposed, death is done in finally by life in the end. If the Lord is our host at the great feast, then the sky is the limit. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

So Many Resources, So Little Time 5-21-15

Like many others I work with, my days are filled with a wide array of tasks and responsibilities. While I could bore you to death with a list of the things I had to do this week, what is more important is for me to think about the fact that my work requires me to juggle a strange combination of personal interactions with sizable administrative tasks.

The problem comes in that when I am sitting at my desk trying to plow through a dizzying combination of emails to answer, articles to write, assignments to create, and research to read, I am thinking about all the people I need to meet with, either in person, on the phone or via video calls. And yet when I make those important face-to-face appointments happen, I feel the piles of to-do's stacking up in my inbox and on my desk!

This week's recommended resources speak to that tension that I find many of us experience. I'm hoping at least one of them is useful to you!

Want to Reduce Stress? Try Commuting by Bike. This month marks the twelfth year since I started being a bicycle commuter. It is a badge of pride that I wear loud and proud. In May 2003, I decided to ride my bike to one appointment per day rather than drive my car. I was motivated by the need to exercise, to reduce my carbon footprint ever so slightly, and to force myself to slow down and not try to cram so much into each day. This became a bit addictive (in that it was surprisingly easy in Southern CA and I loved getting my exercise in this way), and I started making entire days dedicated to bike riding... to the point where I actually sold my car in 2010. The article I've linked here describes what I have found to be the greatest benefit of bicycle commuting: it helps me manage my stress. Whenever I'm feeling that pinch between the to-do's on my desk and the appointments I need to have, I hop on my bike and work it out. It frees me up to think through some conversations and quandaries on my mind, maybe even pray a little bit, and generally focus my energy in a productive direction. TRY IT OUT! And contact me with questions... I can explain what I do when I have to travel further than 5-7 miles, what to do during inclement weather, how do I handle grocery shopping, etc.

How to Organize Your Entire Life. Some may read this article and feel utterly overwhelmed. Go slowly, and perhaps start with organizing your work life and then tackling the rest of life later...? I will tell you that app profiled in this article (Trello) has been a HUGE fave of mine in the last year. It operates with the simplicity of the Reminders app on iPhones, but on steroids! In other words, it's clean and easy to use, but also manages MUCH more complexity, but in a way that makes you feel sane. (PS If you haven't used Lifehacker before, it's pretty darn helpful.)

10 Questions to Consider When Negotiating Across Cultures. Part of my angst when juggling various personal and organizational projects is the fact that I have a rather narrow frame of reference as a white woman of a certain age. I do not want to drive toward just "getting things done" when I am with people who value building trust before working together. What do I mean by that? Just this week I have worked with people who are Puerto Rican, African-American, Hawaiian, Mexican, and Indian-American. Every culture has a different way of viewing work and relationships, and my desire to meet people in their world, on their terms, whenever possible. Thus making sure I grow in "cultural intelligence" is extremely important to me, and I can point to situations when I have made really insensitive remarks or acted out of ignorance. This article only touches on profound cultural complexities, but I have found David Livermore to be a reliable source when trying to be in a learning posture in this regard.

Invest in the future. This week I launched my fifth year with interns through the Center for Transformational Leadership, a strategic initiative of the Free Methodist Church in Southern California. In late June I will launch a new, but similar initiative for the Free Methodist Church in the Pacific Northwest. I love doing this! This is a photo of the interns for this summer's class, and I couldn't be more excited to work with them. I feel so committed to identifying and investing in young leaders, and pray that you are equally excited about this. Our jobs are to replace ourselves! I have been fortunate enough to have had 38 students since 2011 in this program, and am adding another 10 this summer. I'm sure I'll be writing more about these little minions in posts to come...

Ciao for now. May your work not be too hectic. Breathe.