Defining Work and Success for Yourself

Back in July, I participated in a TED style in-studio event called Inspired Success. I spoke on defining work and success for ourselves. Each of the speakers received their video file this week. I wanted to share mine and also give you a bit of background on the experience.

Getting involved as a speaker for this event was pretty random. I went to a networking lunch in June. A woman there suggested I contact Sunday about speaking for her Inspired Success event, after hearing about my work. So I called and Sunday bravely took a chance on someone she had never met!

Then as we got closer and closer to the July event, I had a lot of second thoughts about participating. The “Inspired Success” theme wasn’t resonating with me so my speech was feeling really inauthentic. I almost canceled two days beforehand! It was the “breakdown before the breakthrough” as Sunday coined it. Wednesday afternoon, I sat down and wrote what I really thought and this is what came out:

Success is an elusive concept and shouldn’t be our focus.

While I felt pretty awkward suggesting that “success” shouldn’t be our primary focus at an event called Inspired Success, the audience was wonderfully supportive. In my speech, I suggested “success” is sort of a vague idea – it’s really arbitrary, not guaranteed to be replicable and can feel really empty when we “achieve” it. Instead of success being the end goal, I suggested that meaningful work and meaningful relationships are often the things we’re really looking for. In order to see “success” in these areas, we need to redefine work. Defining work properly means we learn to see value in more than just our paid employment. We need to see success in more than just dollars and fans. In fact, we need to re-engaged with our Creator and understand his calling in our lives.

Delivering the speech felt amazing – the women at this event were truly an inspiring group and the positive energy in the room was incredible. They’re doing fantastic work in our community. I felt so lucky to get to connect with many other Seattle entrepreneurs. I’m working Carin and her WISE Women group. I love Rachel‘s vision for her Leadership Launch program. Debbie and Anna have both blessed me with their wisdom and insight.

I’m so glad that I participated after all. I learned a lot about myself in the speech-writing process and was really encouraged by the stories from all the other speakers. It was another one of those moments where I felt like my calling was affirmed and the overriding emotion at the end of the day was simply gratitude.

Inspired Success is now an on-going community and Sunday is hosting her second in-studio event tomorrow in fact. If you’re a Seattle area woman leader, check out the community on Facebook here and get involved!

Retaking the Birkman

I sometimes get questions from people about whether they should be retaking the Birkman? What they’re asking is if their scores change based on current circumstances or situations. I always tell them that one of the best things about the Birkman Method is that it’s a one-time investment. Starting around 17 or 18 years old, your reports should stay pretty accurate for the rest of your life. My website tells people you’ll be able to use it as a lifelong reference tool.

I took the Birkman for the first time at 17 years old. It was right after my first semester of college and I was about to turn 18. I really didn’t know much about “most people” and had only a smidgen of work experience. And yet, as I returned to my reports many times over the last 12 years, it still captured who I was. So I felt pretty confident in telling my clients it doesn’t change. At the same time, I thought it would be really cool to be able to confirm that with real data! Birkman International was nice enough to let me retake my own Birkman questionnaire for free to check.

Retaking the questionnaire was a revelation. I had no memory of doing it the first time, and wow, those questions are tough! I found myself wondering – along with most of my past clients – how on earth they get results from these questions!

So here’s the quick snapshot of what happened:

retaking the birkman
My 17 year old self
retaking the birkman
My 29 year old self

 

It might look like everything I just said was a lie. Most of these symbols moved! Yes, they did. And at the same time, they didn’t move much. Let’s dig in:

Usual Style

My Diamond symbol moved the “most” in that it moved from the blue square to the green square. The diamond represents your “usual style” or “strengths” behavior. It’s what you do when you’re at your best and it’s visible to others.

I called Birkman to discuss the results and got a lot of great information. During our 20s, a lot of us are still “settling in” to our usual styles. Of all the things the Birkman maps this one is the most flexible. This makes sense as we all know we have to modify our usual styles regularly in order to work well with people who are very different from us.

As we graduate from college and start our careers our usual style solidifies. So at 17 or 18, your usual style may not be totally nailed down but it probably doesn’t change super significantly. I didn’t switch to being an intense red style. I stayed on the people-oriented right side of the graph and moved slightly into the more extroverted communication half of the grid.

Interests

The asterisks represents interests. This shifted a hair down and to the left. My Areas of Interest report that breaks this down into categories (see below), basically just rearranged my top three interests (all still really strong interests). This is great news for those who want to take the Birkman to help them figure out a major and career direction. My midrange interests made some interesting jumps up or down, but my most intense interests stayed the same over a decade. Again, the changes confirm and solidify my interests. There are no radical departures from previous interests.

retaking the birkman

Needs/Stress Behaviors

My circle-within-a-square symbol represents my needs and stress behaviors. This symbol shifted deeper into the blue square – I’m now about as intensely “blue” as you can get as far as what I need from others and from my environment in order to operate in my strengths style. Our needs are typically more hardwired than our usual styles and for me this change mostly tells me that I’ve gained self-awareness since 17 years old. What my gut instincts told me then was pretty accurate and as I had more life experiences and more stress, my needs became more apparent and obvious to me.

Is there value in retaking the Birkman?

There probably is some value in retaking the Birkman for certain people. Sometimes I think we settle into one pattern of thinking about ourselves and we never go back to reassess that. This is a huge mistake, since we are all learning and growing all the time. So, retaking your Birkman might give you a much needed fresh self-perspective that could prompt healthy changes in how you work and relate to others. On the other hand, just reviewing the Birkman you already have is likely to give you some new insights, especially if you haven’t pulled it out in a few years. If it doesn’t feel like it describes you well anymore, take a minute to figure out if it’s the usual style that doesn’t seem accurate or the needs. You might find, like me, that your usual style has developed in a new direction while your needs remain the same.

Bottom line: I think Birkman is right. You can stick with your original report forever and benefit from it in a wide variety of situations. It truly is a lifelong reference tool.

My Marriage IQ: Answers to questions you might have!

My Marriage IQ Logo

I’ve been getting some great questions about My Marriage IQ and thought I’d write a quick post to answer them. Take a look if you’re still in the process of deciding whether My Marriage IQ would be a good gift to get your partner for Valentines Day (you have until midnight on Valentines to decide!). If you have more questions, feel free to contact me or leave a comment below!

My Marriage IQ FAQs:

How accurate is this Birkman test? Will it really tell me anything useful about myself or my partner?

You’re right to wonder about this since there are so many random personality quizzes floating around out there. Being told you’re a Golden Retriever or Ariel doesn’t really help you improve your relationship. What you’re looking for in an assessment is validity and reliability.

Validity tests whether an assessment tool measures what it says it measures. The short answer is, Birkman International uses a variety of validity tests and the tool is sound. In 2007, Birkman updated the assessment tool to link it to the Five Factor Model – a set of five broad dimensions of personality that are widely accepted in current psychology.

Reliability refers to the consistency or stability of the assessment tool. When the test is administered it should provide consistent results. Give it to someone today and give it to them again in two weeks and the results should stay the same. This is called test-retest. The Birkman scales have test-retest reliabilities averaging 85% which means they provide a highly accurate picture of behavior. For all of you who more on the science and research end, here is the Technical Brief (pdf).

You’re not a counselor or therapist so how can this help our serious relationship issues?

You’re absolutely right that I’m not a counselor or a therapist. This tool is designed to boost communication and understanding in our relationships. It is not designed to address more serious relationship issues. It can help you communicate more effectively, but I highly recommend that you find a counselor or therapist if you need more help navigating the tough stuff. In fact, take your Birkman reports to the therapist and use them as a jumping off point for discussion. Here are some links for finding therapy:

Does this material contain gender stereotypes that will make us roll our eyes?

I hear you. John and I have read a few books where all the illustrations seem to come straight out of the 1950s. My Marriage IQ is about personalized information identifying interests and behaviors that both males and females exhibit. It’s presented in an objective way with graphs and neutral language. You will not find any cheesy illustrations or gender stereotypes to make you feel annoyed or uncomfortable! I also chose to use the word “partner” rather than “husband”, “wife” or “spouse” because My Marriage IQ is for both engaged and married couples.

Does this come from a particular faith perspective?

None of the material touches directly on faith as not all couples share a common faith so I didn’t want it to be a barrier in the process. I do provide faith-based and non-faith-based resources at the end of the guide for those who would like to explore further marriage materials. I am a Christian and so was the founder of Birkman International so both the guide and the Birkman reports uphold Christian values such as the beauty of being uniquely created, the dignity and value of every human being, and the belief that our differences are essential for contributing to the health of our partnerships and community. Also, the overall project is informed by my positive view of marriage as a life-long commitment that is worth working on and fighting for.

So what happens when I buy it?

You’ll receive and email that will have you download the receipt and instructions as well as the discussion guide. In the instructions, you will get a link for each of you to do the Birkman Method questionnaire and receive your individual reports. The discussion guide also contains a link to the instruction videos that clarify key parts of the Birkman Method reports. My Marriage IQ is entirely self-directed so you set your own pace with your partner and take your time. I’ve recommended a series of six date nights but you can do it in any order and for however long you need to. It’s also reusable. You could do a refresher on your Birkman reports every year on your anniversary. The report results are accurate for life so this information is relevant for the length of your relationship! Using My Marriage IQ in your relationship can give you a life-long reference tool on how best to take care of each other.

Why is there a deadline? Will it not be available after February 14th?

My Marriage IQ will be going offline at midnight on February 14th because of some internal changes to the costs and formatting of the Birkman Method reports for certified Birkman Method consultants. I will hopefully revive My Marriage IQ in a new format later in the year and will have to increase the price. If you’re on the fence, now is a good time to jump because it’s a killer deal and it’s not coming back. The individual Birkman consultations I typically do are $325 and My Marriage IQ pricing will likely approach or surpass that in its next iteration.

More questions? Something I haven’t covered? Leave a comment and I’ll respond as soon as possible so you can make your decision before Valentines!

 

Did I meet my 2013 Goals?

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about this post all month so I guess it’s time to write it. In January I recorded some 2013 goals:

So here are some of the things I hope to see happen this year (in no particular order of importance):

  • I will learn to sew (got a beautiful machine for Christmas for the in-laws!!)
  • I will blog 2-3x per week about whatever I want
  • I will throw a birthday party for Canon for the first time
  • I will run some workshops on Finding Your Calling
  • I will write some articles for magazines (this is something I always think about and never actually do)
  • I will organize my house (I am actually super stoked about this because I read a fabulous book at my mom’s and have already started with some of the smaller spaces in our house and tomorrow, John and I are going to do a kitchen overhaul!)

This year, I get to figure out if I can bring in some income while staying at home with Canon and I get to continue to figure out what role I play in John’s photography business. I’m excited to see where these adventures lead us. And who knows, maybe at some point another book will start percolating.

In June, I checked in on my goals and now that we’ve come to mid-December, I return to this list to see how it all panned out.

2013 Goals Reached:

  • I did blog 2-3x a week (a few weeks it was only once) and I was able to broaden my subjects and feel free to write about whatever I wanted. I really enjoyed that!
  • I definitely threw a birthday party for Canon’s first birthday. It was manageable and it was fun. Two important requirements in my book. Canon got to meet my mom’s parents for the first time which was a wonderful surprise.
  • I did mostly organize the house and garage. Has it come unorganized? Yes, in places. But I am happy to note that some of the structures we set in place are still holding up. Our house and garage really just need to be cleaned and tidied rather than re-organized at this point. Although I never did conquer the office . . . ahem . . . John’s domain . . . ahem.
  • I did figure out a way to bring in some extra income by getting my Birkman certification and opening up a “business” side of My Calling IQ. While so far this income stream is minor to non-existent, I am glad it’s there and I hope to see it grow next year.

2013 Goals Reached That Were Not On the List:

  • Learning to Cook! We have maintained our cooking schedule of one week on, one week off all year long and we eat delicious food (probably 90% Paleo when at home). I also feel like we’ve learned a better kitchen rhythm cleaning-wise.
  • Finally starting to floss every day. Ha ha! I feel very proud of myself for actually starting a new habit. I have flossed every day except one since mid-September. This is a big accomplishment people. I never flossed before this.

2013 Goals Partially Reached:

  • John and I started experimenting with switching off “working” days at Crozier Photography but then things got busy with weddings. My most consistent role is simply doing the month-end bank reconciliation and printing out our Profit and Loss statements for review. We will likely revisit this question in the New Year and see how we feel about further division of labor.
  • Sewing. So the sewing machine did finally get pulled out but only for one project. I sewed an absolutely hideous but functional sleepsack for Canon since he outgrew his other one. I do feel like I learned a lot because I sewed a zipper and it actually worked. I would like to sew more things like new throw-pillow covers etc but that really hasn’t been a top-priority item.
  • I do feel like I have materials for another book percolating. I have a few major questions floating around in my head (re:church, parenting etc) that make me wonder if 2014 will bring another large writing project. I consider this prospect with excitement as well as dread.

2013 Goals Not Reached:

  • Well, I didn’t teach any workshops this year. The class I was scheduled to teach in the fall fell through because only one person enrolled. This was a disappointment but I am hoping that the class scheduled for February will get the five people required to keep it open. If you’re interested, it’s not to early to sign up!
  • I also did not write or publish any articles in magazines. I don’t think this is my thing. I printed out a bunch of submission instructions for various magazines but couldn’t really wrap my brain around what to offer. I’ve never been good at essays or short stories. I feel very constricted somehow and usually end up having to write some very long and then cut it to pieces to make it “fit.” So I won’t add this goal to my list for next year.

So there you have it. Overall, I’m so thankful for this year because it has been a much more restful year than 2012 (having a baby, publishing a book etc). I felt a lot less pressure about everything, spent most of my time on the floor with Canon, got used to having a very messy house, did a lot of cooking, read thousands of kid books (or rather read the same kid books a thousand times), read at least 45 grown-up books, and maintained this blog as a regular writing discipline.

I may blog one more time before Christmas but will mostly like be taking a break until January when you’ll hear about the 2014 goals I come up with.

What about you? What goals did you have in 2013? Did you reach them or redirect them?

Best Reads of 2013

Well, 2013 is drawing to a close and I thought I’d give you a look at my top reads this year. As I sorted the list I realized these selections are quite good indicators of the areas of life I dwell on the most these days: faith, parenting and work. And of course, I tend to look at all of these things in the context of calling.

Faith/Spiritual Living

favourite reads 2013The Prodigal God by Tim Keller. What a powerful little book. This is one of those short reads that you should probably spend a long time reading. It was a big eye-opener for me to realize I am definitely the older brother in this parable. I’m not sure I had ever heard anyone really talk much about the older brother, especially to show how he is equally lost – that it’s a parable of two lost sons, not just one.

favourite reads 2013The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I wrote a little about this book here. It might seem like a typical self-help book but goes much deeper because Brown happens to be a research professor on powerful topics like shame and vulnerability, fear and courage and worthiness. She shares very personal stories to demonstrate this vulnerability and gives a few optional exercises to try at the end of each chapter. If you don’t have time to read, her two TED talks are a great option.

favourite reads 2013Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth by Walter Brueggemann. This is a book of poem prayers that a friend recommended and wow, both John and I were drawn to the raw honesty and piercing accuracy of our human ways. We read them aloud at dinner although I think it would probably be more worthwhile to read them with a journal handy. They’re beautiful and they really make you think. It’s good to be sort of “jarred” out of our normal approach to prayer.

favourite reads 2013The Lost Art of Lingering by Rowland Forman. This is a very practical, gentle guide to mutual mentoring and is packed full of resources on the topic of living the Christian life together. A good friend recommended this to me and it was a perfect refresher course for me after not reading anything on mentoring since college. Like, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp, it’s a good reminder that we’re all supposed to be ministering to each other.

 

 

Children

favourite reads 2013How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich. Wow, this book was fascinating and worth reading whether or not you’re a parent. The material in here can be applied with any kids you know and regularly hang out with. It’s easy to read with cartoon illustrations of their points and lots of great examples that put their ideas into context for you. I got it out on CD for John to listen to and he stopped it after only the first 20 minutes to talk about it with me because there was already so much good stuff to discuss.

favourite reads 2013Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson. There are some great resources out there on boys and emotional intelligence so I’m not sure if I liked this one best because I read it first or because of the title, but it was an excellent overview of how boys are often raised to be “emotionally illiterate” and how this can increase school troubles etc. There was quite a bit in there about how our school systems are not supporting how boys learn and grow. I find anything about educational theory and systems fascinating so that was very helpful for me.

favourite reads 2013How Children Raise Parents by Dan Allender. Just listened to this one on CD and it seemed like a short “read” – only 3 CDs. What I appreciated most about this book was the fact that we will fail as parents and that this is to be expected. His big points are that children have two main questions, “Am I loved?” and “Can I have it my way?” which we need to answer with a “yes” and “no” respectively. This is not a “how-to” book at all but it was a great perspective on how parenting changes us and how our children teach us.

Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki. This isn’t on Amazon, so no picture. It’s a pdf book that I just read and I loved it. I’ve browsed through multiple potty-training books recently and they all seem a bit scared to pull any punches. They present options but don’t really want to tell you how to do it. This book is not scared to call it all like it is. I loved her emphasis on capability rather than the nebulous concept of “readiness”, how she blocks out the learning process and all the little tips and tricks to troubleshoot various issues.

 

Business/Coaching

favourite reads 2013Sticking Points by Hadyn Shaw. I blogged about this one here. This is a book every business needs to have on hand because every business is likely dealing with generational issues (actually it would probably be just as helpful for churches and extended families!). Shaw is fair to each generation and helps each generation see where the other generation is coming from. As a millennial, I’m sensitive to the fact that our generation is constantly under a microscope in the media. This book is an urgently-needed thoughtful counterbalance to a lot of the stuff floating around out there.

favourite reads 2013You Already Know How to Be Great by Alan Fine. Sounds cheesy I know. But his major point for coaches was that often our clients already know what they need to do and potentially even how to do it. They may not need more training or teaching (in fact that might make them perform worse – I talk a little about that here). What they really need help with is simply clearing out the noise and interference to help them focus effectively. He has a great model to use in coaching conversations that I have found effective in every day conversations as well.

The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. I also blogged about this one here. This is one of those books that you wish every CEO was required to read before becoming CEO. It lays out very clear exercises to help leaderships teams get clarity and unity so that they can communicate effectively with those they lead. It all seems so simple when you read these kind of books and then you look around and wonder why it so rarely gets implemented. Possibly because it’s one of those very-hard-but-extremely-worthwhile things to do.

favourite reads 2013Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. Loved this book and all the other ones they’ve written as well. Great stories, simple but powerful concepts. I wrote about one of them here. These guys are so interesting and practical.

 

 

What were your favourite reads in 2013?

P.S. Disclosure: All image links are affiliate links so if you click on them and buy one of the books, Amazon pays me a few cents.

Being present in our bodies

Happy Friday everyone! I had a few threads of thoughts converge for me this week from a blog post, a book I’m reading, and our discussion at life group on Jacob wrestling with God. I thought I’d just give you the gist:

1. Genesis 32:22-31 – Our discussion questions for this week asked why we thought God decided to physically wrestle with Jacob rather than to just talk to him. I had never thought about this but it brought back everything I’ve read about how much more we learn by doing rather than just by hearing/reading. Our beliefs are shaped by our practices – actions influence thoughts as much as or perhaps even more than thoughts influence actions.

It made me see that Jacob’s physical experience of struggling for control for an entire night and finally having to surrender probably had significantly more impact on his life than God just coming and saying “You need to trust me and let go of your own need to strategise about everything.” Fascinating, eh? It’s a lesson he learned in his body. And I’m betting he never forgot it either.

Experiences last in our memories so much longer than lectures. But we have to be present in the moment to learn them too. Jacob couldn’t exactly ignore another man physically fighting him, but I think for us, we often can ignore our own experiences that are trying to teach us something.

2. One Small Change: One LESS Thing – This blog post was so encouraging for me because I sometimes feel like this is my life right now and I felt encouraged to embrace it being this way! I’m not that busy but somehow I get busy every week. And I’ve realized over and over how many last minute things I say yes to because I am available. Sometimes, it does start feeling hectic but often I’m so glad “that worked out” and that I went ahead and answered that phone call, babysat or had a playdate or went to lunch etc. It’s another thing that helps me be present with people instead of living in my head.

3. The Lost Art of Lingering – I’m reading this book on Kindle (it’s a link to Amazon) and it is a great book on mutual mentoring (basically the idea that both people will learn from each other). The last chapter I read was on the simple practice of actually meeting together. The author also talks about how important it is to shut off distractions and be 100% in the present when you meet for mutual mentoring. He mentioned in passing how we can fill calendars up so quickly that we don’t leave room for these relationships that are really pivotal for our growth.

What I liked best about that blog post is that it’s about removing stuff from your life rather than adding something to the “to-do” list (note that Jacob was entirely alone when God shows up. He had sent his whole family and possessions across the river without him). How much do we try to cram all kinds of meaningful activities into your life because we don’t really want to do the waiting, listening and noticing part? How do we clear room to breathe and hear and follow our calling, not the hundred callings that everyone else expects. In the end, it boils down to paying attention – using our physical senses to raise our awareness and live a little more intentionally.

Why does it sound so easy and yet remain so hard?

Pain is a Signal

Pain is a signal. But it can signal different things. I was reminded of this yesterday, when I was thrilled to get to spend some time skyping into the Comm 180 class at my alma mater, Trinity Western University. It’s always exciting to get to share some of my experience and hope that it helps people with their own callings.

The students asked some great questions, and as I gave answers I noticed myself going back and forth a lot. The paradoxes, the tensions, the juxtapositions. So much is situational when it comes to calling. One person asked about how you know it’s time to move on and I started my answer with pain.

Pain is a signal

When I burned out at my first job, I was in pain and it goes worse and worse the longer I stuck it out. I had physical stress symptoms, mental exhaustion, emotional upheaval etc. My pain was a signal that intensified until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. When I quit, I was flooded with peace and relief.

When I wrote my book, it was hard. I didn’t like it. I had back and neck and arm pain from the lengthy computer time. I was mentally exhausted from trying to write well. I was emotionally fragile as all kinds of classic writer’s doubts assailed me. In this instance I felt like the pain was signalling that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. When I was done writing the book, I had a huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Both experiences involved pain but signaled something different. In the first instance, the pain was signalling that I needed to remove myself from a situation that was toxic for me. In the second instance, the pain signalled that I was on the right track – we never create without resistance, without overcoming hurdles.

To be honest, it can be easy to assume the wrong thing about pain. I picked two instances where I feel like I made the right call about it, but I know I’ve made plenty of wrong ones too. Sometimes we assume it’s necessary pain and hurt ourselves by staying. We assume we should never quit, that the pain is something we can fix, ignore or overcome with enough time. Other times we give up too easily. We experience some unexpected resistance and assume it’s a signal that we’re going the wrong direction. We stop when we should push through.

So how do you know what your pain is signalling? How do you know whether it’s a situation where the pain “is gain” or it’s a warning to stop?

I think it takes time. Time to check your reactions and underlying motivations for continuing or stopping. Time to ask your trusted advisors. Time to check your sense of well-being and identity. It’s never an easy call. It’s unlikely to be straightforward. That’s why we need so much discernment and wisdom in our lives. Because so much is situational and unique for each person and there usually aren’t quick, easy answers. It reminds me of a favourite quote my dad sent me awhile back:

Never make a principle out of your own experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you -Oswald Chambers

What do you think? How do you normally respond to the pain signals in your life?

Recover Your Calling: Fall Class at Edmonds Community College

Recover Your Calling fall classRight after I posted about my goals on Monday, I received an email letting me know that my course proposal “Recover Your Calling” for Fall quarter at Edmonds Community College was accepted! I am stoked. This class will be open to the public as part of their “ArtsNow/uLearn” community education program. Tentatively it is scheduled for October 16-Nov 13, that’s five Wednesday nights from 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Recover Your Calling fall classThis five week course is designed to debunk the myths surrounding work, vocation and calling so that you can overcome the obstacles that keep you from living out a more meaningful life both at work and in your relationships. Class time will focus on brief instruction components, helpful self-awareness exercises and group debrief & discussion. The goal is to have you walk away with actionable information for recovering a sense of calling in your day-to-day life.

I’m so excited to take the massive amounts of material I’ve accumulated over the past few years, distill it down and be able to share what I’ve learned with my community. So, if you don’t see much of me the rest of the summer, you’ll know why. I’ll be trying to sort out curriculum and preparing to teach (pray for me – you might know I’m not a linear thinker so it takes me forever to get things all lined up!).

If you’re in the Seattle area, save the date! The class size will be limited to 20 people so watch this space and I’ll let you know as we get closer how you can register for the class. I would love to see some familiar faces!

 

Thinking about Conversion

Thinking about ConversionI’ve been a Christian my whole life so “conversion” isn’t really something I know a lot about firsthand. I meant to start a series on Transforming Conversion by Gordon Smith last month but I’m actually happy I’m diving in now. Writing up my series on going Paleo showed me a bunch of parallels because it’s a process of conversion to a new way of eating. Going Paleo has actually helped me understand better what it takes for people to even contemplate beginning a journey into faith in Christ.

In Smith’s book, he talks about how unhelpful it is to talk about conversion experiences like it they are one-time events where someone prays the sinner’s prayer. In evangelical circles we’re taught evangelism “techniques” where just getting someone to pray the prayer is the goal (not always but I’d say it’s a widely held assumption that the most successful witnessing will end in a “repeat after me” prayer). The point is we don’t focus on the process. And it is a process. Usually a LONG process. Smith notes that a British study in the 1990s concluded that the average conversion process was four years long!

I heard about Paleo more than three years before I really started contemplating it seriously. The first time it was explained to me, I thought, “No way!” because it sounded so restrictive and so foreign to the way I was eating at that time. The person who explained it to me didn’t pressure me to start eating that way right now. He just told me what he was doing. It was an introduction to an alternate way of living but there were no strings attached. I could walk away from the idea (and I did for awhile), but at least I was now aware of it when it cropped up again in other times and places.

Smith quotes J.I. Packer that conversion:

“is best understood if viewed as a complex process that for adults ordinarily involves the following: thinking and re-thinking; doubting and overcoming doubts; soul-searching and self-admonition; struggle against feelings of guilt and shame; and concern as to what realistic following of Christ might mean.”

The most interesting phrase for me is “what realistic following of Christ might mean.” Smith rejects “The revivalist propensity toward making it easy and simple, uncomplicated and not costly” to convert to Christianity and calls us, “to turn from the inclination to be minimalists when it comes to what a person needs to know in order to come to faith.” It is complicated and it does cost us something so it’s important to have a firm understanding of what you’re getting yourself into.

Using the Paleo example: changing our eating habits was neither easy, simple or cheap. It required a lot of research, extra time for meal planning and shopping, extra time prepping meals and complicated our relationship while we figured things out. And as soon as you start something like this, you get push back from those around you who are not doing what you’re doing. Seriously, I’m starting to see how hard it is to “convert” to something that most people don’t believe in.

This reminds me why friends who walk with you on your journey are so vital. I’ve found a few Paleo friends. This has been helpful in being able to swap notes/recipes and feel normal as we start walking against the cultural stream. You need friend with the same beliefs because other people will feel threatened by your change. You’ll get “conventional wisdom” thrown at you repeatedly with “the facts” which based on your new research and experience, you’re finding out aren’t really “the facts” at all.

Having a few friends who can encourage you is essential so that you don’t feel isolated or start doubting what you have learned. It’s easy to think you might be wrong when it feels like “how could so many other people not know this?” or more scarily “how could so many doctors not see this?”

However, I find in myself a great reluctance to start delving into the details of everything that’s wrong with gluten or high fructose corn syrup or vegetable oils. I recognize that no one is really asking to listen to a detailed lecture and giving one isn’t going to change their minds. Plus, I don’t want to turn into a zealot. The most I hope to do is intrigue people to explore the idea for themselves. Which makes me wonder if that kind of attitude has any crossover value into the world of “witnessing and evangelizing.”

Even though we’ve been eating 80% Paleo for a long time, I would shrink from saying “I’m Paleo” as a status yet. Maybe I will feel comfortable with that in the future but for now I feel like there are still too many non-Paleo items in our diet for us to be “legit.” This makes me wonder if there are many people who are seeking Christ, yet fear to claim the title of “Christian” because their life still doesn’t quite line up with what they have heard is expected of them. We’re often so concerned about “Are you or aren’t you a Christian?” and I’m wondering if this is really the right question to be asking. This is where the parallel breaks down, of course, because while a full commitment to Paleo is not required of me from some higher authority, eventually you have to come to terms with the fact that Christ wants you to love him with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and if you love him you will obey his commands. Jesus does ask for all of you.

However, I think the point about status is something that we in the church should consider. Smith writes:

“The language of revivalism has left us with a vacuum here because of its focus on conversion as punctiliar: a person either is or is not a Christian, in or out. We do not know how to speak meaningfully about those who are coming to faith.”

“We need to be able to speak with simplicity and frankness about how a person can come to faith in Christ, but we also need to be able to live with the complexity of it all, with the ambiguity of religious experience, with the fact that many are ‘on the way’ and that their coming to faith may take months or even years. The church needs to be a place where this transitional status is okay, a safe place for those who have no previous Christian identity or orientation as well as for those who have been raised in the church and who are, through the grace of God, coming to an adult affirmation of their faith.”

How can we welcome people to explore first without requiring, expecting or assuming an upfront commitment? If we learn best by doing, can we encourage participation by everyone regardless of their “in” or “out” status? What kind of implications does this have for us?

 

Accidentally Making Homemade Mayo

It’s been my week to cook again. I’m delighted to tell you that not only did I make the mayo in the title (more on that in a second), I also made my first whole chicken and homemade chicken stock this week. So, it’s been a bit of an adventurous week for me. But this post isn’t really about cooking, it’s about a *cough* absolutely brilliant *cough cough* parallel or illustration that came to mind in the process of accidentally making homemade mayo.

Homemade MayoSo, today I was going to make avocado tuna boats for lunch. Didn’t sound hard. The ingredient list was basic. I just started following Step 1, putting an egg, apple cider vinegar, some mustard and salt in our food processor. Then I read the next bit of instructions and suddenly realized I was about to make mayo! This might not seem like a big deal for many of you. You might not have read a few blog posts about how difficult it is to make homemade mayo and how easily you can mess it up and how it often doesn’t turn out quite right. You might not have written off making homemade mayo as too likely to fail.

Needless to say, I suddenly felt very nervous. But the instructions just seemed so basic and relaxed and I had already put all those ingredients in the bowl – it seemed like a waste not to go ahead and try it. So I did. And it actually turned into mayo! It wasn’t quite as fluffy but that wasn’t a big deal considering it was going straight into a tuna mixture.

Ok, so that’s the story. And what are the brilliant parallels I want to draw from this experience? Maybe you can guess:

1. We often don’t try things because they sound too hard.

Sometimes, we overthink things. We read way too many reader comments, overload on variables and possibilities and ultimately discard ideas because we feel overwhelmed (this is often me researching recipes by the way). But it applies to all kinds of decisions in life – projects we want to do, ways to volunteer, whether or not to adopt or foster children, where to give our money. Even much more basic decisions about our consumer choices or activities often fall by the wayside because we think changing just sounds “too hard.”

2. Sometimes it’s better to not know the destination before starting on the journey because if we did, we would never go.

Which brings me back (as I feel like so many things do) to Lord of the Rings. Did you see that coming? Yup – I’m talking about Frodo again. Initially when he agrees to take the ring out of the Shire, he thinks he’s only traveling to Bree to meet Gandalf and then figure things out. If he had known he would take the ring all the way into Mordor, he might have never agreed to the journey at all.

This is a big reminder to me that our desire for certainty gets in the way. We want to know the whole plan before we start. We get frustrated with God when he doesn’t “show” us where we should be going. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe we’d never agree to start the journey if we knew each step before we took it. By digging in our heels and refusing to go, we would never find out if we could do it. I think the courage only comes in the moment, not before. The resilience to continue, the wisdom for decisions, the skills we need to learn and grow – these are supplied as needed, on a “give us this day our daily bread” kind of basis.

Which leads me to my conclusion:

3. Just do it!

You learn by trying. Faith becomes real in action.

(Obviously for those of you that tend to be the opposite of me and leap before you look, maybe your job is to stop and assess a little more before you jump into action – nuance, people, one message does not fit all!).

Have any epiphanies of your own in ordinary moments this week?