Inky Night of Depression

photo 1I gasped in disbelief yesterday when I heard the news that actor/comedian Robin Williams had died.

An even greater sadness washed over my soul like an inky blanket when I learned he committed suicide. My heart mirrored the all too familiar path of the pain of depression.

I quickly went from sadness to anger when I watched the journalist report of his demise driven to despair because of his struggle with depression and addiction.

Something rose up in me to be angry with DEPRESSION. Mad at the debilitation of how depression comes in like a thief. It robs people of joy. It terrorizes one deep in their soul. It leads one to believe the insidious lies in a sea of darkness to snuff out the light of their life.

Depression isn’t something I personally like to talk about mostly because people seem to think that if you admit you struggle with depression that there is something fundamentally weird about the core of who you are. I wrote candidly about my own journey with clinical depression in a post last year, The True Facts About My Depression. I took another step and unmasked a weakness that I have struggled with up and down since I was a teenager. I also publicly wrote about a more difficult season of clinical depression in my book, Unlocked: 5 Myths Holding Your Influence Captive.

I wanted to talk about it now in light of what’s happened this week surrounding the tragedy of a beloved funny man, Mr. Williams and to let people know that this is a very real struggle that isn’t easy to overcome.

I will not judge.

I will not speculate.

I will not seek to provide answers to the many questions of, Why? Because I’ve been there more times than I can count.

I’ve sat in the dark inky hole clawing to climb out and make sense of the how and why of depression lingering in my soul. Robin Williams through his movies was for several times a lifeline in my own depression because he made me laugh, belly laugh. Laughter is cathartic for someone suffering with depression.

I have found some answers through counseling, reading and a great support system. I do know I have to keep vigilant to work at it constantly and ask God to help me when I am on the slippery slope of disappointment and despair.

I don’t know what circle of support Robin Williams had, but we do know he was working at his struggle even recently. I am sure his family and friends might be asking themselves at this moment, what else they could have done to be there for his troubled soul. They might even be blaming themselves.

The reality is, when you wrestle with depression, sometimes you can feel very alone even if you have a strong support system. You can feel like your soul is disconnected from the person you really are and want to be with others.

I know this to be true, and I’ve found my soul resonating with the raw conversations between David and God in the Psalms. I don’t know where I would be without God’s promises of hope, hearing my laments and Him whispering words of comfort from those pages.

If you are marked with depression, please know that you are not alone, and there is hope. Even if you don’t struggle with depression, I hope you could see yourself throwing on a cloak of kindness to others who suffer. Don’t try to deeply analyze, understand or diagnose, but just work to be fully present with a person in your life who might be at this place in their journey. Those of us who wrestle with depression need people not to feel sorry for us, judge, or write a spiritual prescription, but rather throw us a lifeline of hope and patient kindness.

I’ve included this excerpt from my book to tell a piece of my depression story in hopes it might encourage you or someone else.

And so my story…

My journey with depression began early in the spring of 1997—that’s when I had been officially diagnosed with clinical depression. The long days and weeks of care giving for my grandfather had taken its toll. Blackness and despair sought to submerge me. The diagnosis of depression, though, was difficult for me to digest. I could swallow a diagnosis of arthritis or diabetes, but depression? In my mind depression was for weak people and weak Christians who didn’t have enough faith. I argued about the diagnosis with God, my counselor, pastor, and doctor, all people who were trying to help me. “I am a visible leader, a Pastor’s wife in the church. What will people whisper about me behind closed doors if they know,” I worried. The lies flooded my mind and I was overwhelmed at being exposed.

As my desert of depression continued over the next few years, I discovered that the depression wasn’t just from the losses I had experienced the past several months. Nor was it from my physical exhaustion. Actually I learned it was from deeper issues that had been tucked away-issues that God was beginning to bring to the surface. Some of those issues included false expectations and a warped perspective of needing to perform in order to be lovable. Those lies were sabotaging me and had plunged my spiritual and emotional being into the black hole of depression. I started to learn that performance had a stronghold in my heart, life and ministry that God in his faithfulness desired to root out of me. Through my counselor I realized that the depression I was experiencing was a symptom of something deeper, something below the waterline that I needed to face in order to be a whole person again.

My good friend who was also my counselor helped me significantly when she used this illustration:

If I had a broken leg, would I lie on the sofa, not tell anyone and just hope it would heal? No! I would go to the doctor immediately to get treatment. The same must be true for depression: a person often needs professional, spiritual and medical help to overcome their extreme feelings of despair and hopelessness. Through professional help, they will be able to explore the root of what is causing the depression so it they once again can lead a life of joy and fulfillment! That is how I came out of hiding into the realm of living in freedom and authenticity.

I can remember struggling at first alone because of the fear of rejection, failure or being told, “If your faith was stronger, you wouldn’t be depressed.” (Believe it or not, I was told similar statements!) I know that I have been more fortunate than some and was blessed mostly to have a body of believers who came around and supported me. I thank God that the churches I’ve served at as a leader in that season didn’t see my depression as a sign of weakness or spiritual failure. Rather they sought to help me to a path of healing.

The undeniable reality of being in that black hole was both devastating and yet opened the door to living in emotional health and freedom. It radically changed my life and ministry approach and defeated the lies of rejection. In fact, it triggered the opposite. As a leader, it cultivated a leveling place of humility in experiencing God’s abundant grace. It has built bridges with hundreds of people and provided opportunities to help others recognize that God wants to use their past to shape their future. It has opened the door and allowed me to be a cheerleader for others who thought that God could never allow them to lead.

This dark night of the soul was exceptionally a long season in my life. Partially, there were some root causes in issues I needed to face and honestly, I can’t fully figure out the other part, but it’s okay.  I’ve come realize that every path of depression is different. Sometimes it is how we are wired, events of loss and trauma, or our family of origin can pre-dispose us to depression and other physical and/or personality traits.

For me, I am just a plain ol’ melancholy person. My wiring immediately can place me crossing that line into disappointment and despair, I think myself to death at times. I have gained the resources and tools how to monitor negative thoughts and replace them with gratitude and godly truth.  I also have a family background of depression, that too can play into it. It is a weakness and yet I have made progress and have lived for several years since that episode in great victory managing the dark thoughts and turning them into a flourishing well of life as God intended.

I have had shorter relapses in the years that have followed but I am not undaunted. I remain vigilant to this day believing that it doesn’t define who I am but rather is a part of my story and the influence I can have with others. I receive it, embrace it and even welcome it believing that it has helped to shape who I am and cultivate a very meaningful intimate relationship in understanding the unfathomable grace of God.

Excerpt from Cynthia Cavanaugh, Unlocked: 5 Myths Holding Your Influence Captive, New Hope Publishers 2013 

Quote in Picture from Beth Moore

My Summer Escape to Just Be

jb-193.jpgI haven’t put pen to paper or typed a single word for my blog in over 72 days! That is simply disastrous for someone who aspires to be a committed writer, blogger, creator AND hopes to influence others through writing. The last post was about training for the No Limits 5K Run on June 7th. As an update, since I haven’t posted in awhile, the 5K day was so lovely with amazing people who came out to run and walk for justice and celebrate my birthday. I was overwhelmed as my friends, family and total strangers who fast became new friends rallied for two very important social justice issues centered around poverty and human trafficking.  Gratitude was splashing all over my heart that day!

A few weeks later when finishing up one last creative project, I hit the wall.

I crashed and I collapsed. Signs of burnout were everywhere. Emotional meltdowns over such silliness is what alerted me that something needed to change and fast, or my friends and family would lock me in a closet and feed me through the door.

It’s been a crazy extended 10 months of travel and working on creative projects, attending family weddings and just an all around-over the-top-year. Added to the insane schedule, I have also done some extensive inner heart work the past several months~steps of recovery, I think they call it. Torturous work, but so necessary for healing.

My self awareness radar went up when I started to cry more, didn’t want to see people, was overreacting, had trouble sleeping and was overthinking everything. My voice had an edge too, and not a very nice one at that.

I knew I was in deep doo-doo.

Even worse, my creativity dried up like the parched floor of the cracked Mojave Desert.

It was time to stop and find my way back to a life rhythm that made sense or at least that was manageable.

I looked at my calendar and yes, even the summer seemed jammed. In desperation, I flipped the pages from June to August and the weeks back from August to June to see when and where could I make an oasis in my desert. Just as I was flipping out from flipping calendar pages, God dropped a few weeks into my schedule that had been pre-planned but now suddenly became unplanned.

I was extremely disappointed as I had been anticipating spending time with my new granddaughter for months.  Suddenly, my parched soul looked up and saw the gift that was being handed to me, A BIG CHUNK OF TIME. Carefully and selectively I dreamed of how I should spend the two weeks. The first week was a let whatever happens kind of week. Lots of sleep, reading, sitting on my deck staring at the beauty, roaming my favorite stores and listening to some new music. I started to unwind as my nerves detangled.  In the midst of that week, I prayed and pondered the best way to spend the second week.

My secret wish became an idea to go away for several days and have a personal spiritual retreat. Just me and God. No people, no phones, no email, no social media. Unplug totally. Seek God for some answers for decisions I need to make, bask in his presence, hunker down in the cavern of my soul and just be still and listen. Within a day, it happened. Another gift from the God who knows me so well and what I need and when. He opened up a lovely secluded place for me to just “BE” for several days.

This coming Monday, I leave for my “JUST BE” personal retreat. I’ve been doing some research on it, I know it’s crazy to think about the proper way to “JUST BE,” but it’s how I am wired; the over-achiever-have-to-at-least-attempt to make a plan and then prepare.

Over the next few days as I get ready, I am filtering through a few books, my journal and of course my bible to tuck into my suitcase. It was also suggested on one website to bring a creative journal with art supplies to express what I might learn or experience at the end of each day. I am making a plan but surrendering the structure and just want to use it to jump-start the whole experience.

My heart is expectant and I would be so incredibly blessed to have you pray for me as I am away. My expectations are simple. I just want to be with and hear from God. There has been too much noise in my head for too long that I need help to untangle the web. It will only come as I step away from all that is distracting me right at this moment. Mostly, I would say that I am my biggest distraction. Any tips or thoughts on what you’ve experienced on a personal retreat, please send them my way. This isn’t my first personal retreat, but it has been what seems like an eternity and I am a bit rusty on being still and quiet!  My last check on the internet will be Sunday night before I shut everything down.

This is my prayer…that I would immerse myself in the stillness and adopt a childlike spirit in the time away.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 131:1-3 ESV

Image by a lovely lady who knows how to slow down and listen. Lorna Rande Artistic Imagery

Let’s Start Training for the 5K No Limits 55 Race!

The sun is out this week and it’s a great opportunity to get ready for the 5K No Limits 55 Race happening on June 7th. Can you see me smiling? We are just 25 days away! Have you registered yeNO-LIMITS1t? I’d love to have you celebrate my birthday and run or walk with me for justice. You can register here and get all the details.

I am a novice at this, and there is a little over 3 weeks left but I am told by my running friends there is still time to get ready. So let’s do this and start training! My two friends, Torey and Amanda who are expert runners and have planned our route have passed on this very helpful guide from the Hal Higdon Training Program. It’s an 8-week program, I know we only have a little over three weeks, but we can jump in, can’t we?

This specific training program is for those who will be walking, just like me (sigh) because my knees don’t want to run anymore. I promise you, it will be rewarding even if we walk!

Here is a snapshot from the website of what we can do over the next few weeks, especially for those of us who are new to the 5K world. If you are a more advanced runner and planning on running or jogging then check out the other programs here.

I’ll be checking in on Facebook and Twitter so stay tuned! and Happy Training!

Hal Higdon Training Program for Novices

Who Says You Have to Run to Finish a 5-K?

MANY, IF NOT MOST, 5-K RUNNING RACES WELCOME WALKERS. Whether or not the event includes a competitive racewalking division (which requires judges), walkers usually can participate in most running races. Sometimes walkers start well before the runners, sometimes they start after the runners, sometimes they start at the same time. (Tip: Start in the back so you don’t embarrass yourself by forcing faster runners to go around you.)

If your only interest is to stroll 5-K at a comfortable pace, you probably don’t need any particular training program. Just make sure you have a comfortable pair of walking shoes and do enough walks of at least 15-30 minutes in the last month or two before the 5-K to make sure you won’t have any trouble finishing the 3.1-mile distance.

But if you would like more guidance, here is a training program you can use. The following information relates to the eight-week 5-K training program for walkers that follows:

Monday: Rest or walk. You trained pretty hard over the weekend, so use this day of rest if you experience any fatigue, or if your leg muscles are sore. In my Novice training programs developed for runners, Monday is usually a rest day. Only the Intermediate and Advanced runners train on this day.

Tuesday: Many of my training programs utilize a 48-hour break between bouts of hard exercise, so it’s time to train again. In this eight-week program, begin by walking for 15 minutes at a comfortable pace. Every other week, add another 5 minutes to the length of your walk. By going at it gradually, you should be able to improve your walking ability without discomfort or risk of injury.

Wednesday: Rest or walk. Hard/easy is a common pattern among runners. You train hard to exercise your muscles, then rest to give them time to recover. You might want to take today off, but if yesterday’s walk went good, feel free to walk again, regardless of distance. If you’re really feeling strong, repeat the Saturday or Sunday pattern for your Wednesday walks.

Thursday: This is a repeat of Tuesday’s workout pattern. Begin with 15 minutes and add five more minutes to your walk every second week.

Friday: Another rest day. You need to make sure your muscles are well rested so you can train hard on the weekends. Depending on your own particular schedule, you may want to juggle workouts, substituting one day’s workout for another. It doesn’t matter much on which day you do specific workouts as long as you are consistent with your training.

Saturday: The Saturday workouts are stated in miles rather than minutes. This is to give you an idea of how much distance you are able to cover over a specific period of time as well as to give you confidence in your ability to walk 5 kilometers. The 5-K is actually 3.1 miles long, so by the time you get to the 3-miler on the seventh Saturday, you will be only a short distance from achieving your goal.

Sunday: At least one day a week, it’s a good idea to go for a long walk without worrying about exactly how much distance you cover. For instance, walk in the woods over unmeasured trails. Most people should be able to walk continuously for an hour at least once a week, even if it means walking very slowly or pausing to rest. If walking an hour seems too difficult the first week, start with 30 minutes and by adding 5 minutes each week, build up to the point where you can walk continuously for 60 minutes.

The following eight-week training program will prove useful for you as you train for your first 5-K as a fitness walker. If at a later date, you decide you want to try jogging a 5-K, there are many programs on this web site that will help you to that goal. If you would like to walk longer distances, I also have a Half Marathon Walking Program here on my web site that you can adapt to your level of development.

WEEK MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
1 Rest or walk 15 min walk Rest or walk 15 min walk Rest 1.5 m walk 30-60 min walk
2 Rest or walk 15 min walk Rest or walk 15 min walk Rest 1.75 m walk 35-60 min walk
3 Rest or walk 20 min walk Rest or walk 20 min walk Rest 2 m walk 40-60 min walk
4 Rest or walk 20 min walk Rest or walk 20 min walk Rest 2.25 m walk 45-60 min walk
5 Rest or walk 25 min walk Rest or walk 25 min walk Rest 2.5 m walk 50-60 min walk
6 Rest or walk 25 min walk Rest or walk 25 min walk Rest 2.75 m walk 55-60 min walk
7 Rest or walk 30 min walk Rest or walk 30 min walk Rest 3 m walk 60 min walk
8 Rest or walk 30 min walk Rest or walk 30 min walk Rest Rest 5-K Race

 

 

No Limits 5K Birthday Run


NoLimitsI am announcing that I am getting in shape to do something out of my comfort zone…

5K Run~NO LIMITS~5K Run, Walk, Give, Transform.  

Actually, it will be a walk for me, my knees no longer want to run anywhere, they just walk.

This isn’t any 5K Run, it has an intentional purpose for this season of my life. I want to mark turning 55 this year. YIKES! Did I just say that out loud? Yes, it’s true and I am embracing it as a gift to have lived over half a century.

I want to mark it differently this year. I invite you to read the whole story at SheLoves Magazine a global community of women who are partnering with me to make this 5K dream come true! My goal is to raise $5500, $100 for each year I’ve been blessed. Whether you join us for the race, or if you can’t make it because of your schedule or live too far away, you can still join in. Register and details click here

I would love for you to celebrate my “BIG” birthday,  June 7th at 10:00 am, starting the race at the Birch Bay Water Slides and when we are done we will have a yummy lunch and learn more about the two initiatives~women who desperately need our love and support in Rwanda and Moldova.  I want to take as many friends with me to mark this day and walk for justice. Here’s to putting on running shoes…I mean my walking shoes and heading out to the sunshine today to start training. 

P.S. I will have some training tips coming this week from two of my friends who are the REAL runners.

What do Buttons, a Teapot, Socks and a Bible have in Common?

photoI was cleaning out my dresser drawer and at the bottom of my sock drawer, I found the white socks I often used to wear that belonged to my grandmother. I was about to toss them but when I turned them over I remembered, they had my grandmother’s name labeled on the cuff. I couldn’t part with them. They were one of her last possessions she owned from her stay in the Alzhiemers unit in the nursing home before she graduated to heaven.

These are the tangible memories I have left of my grandmother. Her teapot, her sewing buttons, her socks and of course her most prized possession, her Bible. Today, fourteen years ago on Mother’s Day, her soul left her frail and aging body. These are some of my most cherished belongings I have of hers. The teapot is cracked and chipped, the buttons mismatched, the socks worn and her bible underlined from days and nights of reading, but each has a story that intersect with my own life.

They are a part of her legacy to me as her granddaughter that I can’t forget.

Her teapot represents the love of family and hospitality that she practiced selflessly. I learned from watching her cook magnificent creations in the kitchen. Some simple, some elaborate, but all with great love. Her teapot is old and worn from gallons of hot tea made and shared with family and friends.

Always listening,

Always loving and offering encouragement and prayer.

I felt safe in her kitchen and I could tell her anything and she would listen.

Her teapot is a reminder of unconditional love and time for family and friends.

The buttons, all those many buttons she saved for projects and labors of love that emerged from her sewing room. Each piece was a work of art. She was incredibly skilled with a needle and thread. Patient, and precise with each stitch that was sewed.

She taught me to sew when I was eight years old. I learned from the best. And to this day, when I am sewing, I can still hear her voice in my head, “Clip the threads after each seam, press them open, don’t take shortcuts you will be sorry later.” The memory of her words, mentors me even now as I learned from her then.

As I sewed my nieces wedding gown this past year, I panicked a few times and then I remembered her steady and patient hands she modeled for me.  I knew I could finish the project because she taught me everything I needed to know to construct a beautiful garment with skill. Patience and precision was the key she taught to unlocking the creativity she knew I had inside.

Her Bible, underlined and marked. Notes in the margin, clippings of favorite songs and poem tucked in the pages.  The Psalms were her favorite and as I read the parts she marked I wonder what she was facing on those days. Was she feeling discouraged, sad, depressed, happy, joyful or content? I never really knew, because my Grandmother listened more than she shared. She was a quiet introvert but knew how to lovingly point me to Jesus and the truth I needed for each day.

Never a lecture when I was older,

But more a few words threaded with wisdom from the book she loved the most, her Bible.

It was placed on the corner of the formica table with pen and paper in case she had something to write down. This is what greeted me when I sat down to have a cup of tea as a young married mom and mother, a permanent fixture of faith sitting on the corner of her table.

Her words were few, but her life was lived out of those pages of comfort and truth.

This was her legacy.

And yes, those silly white socks. They are old cotton socks and I thought it was time to toss them. But then I remembered that it wasn’t too long ago that when my feet were cold and I missed my grandma, I wore those socks and they brought me comfort. Somehow they got lost in the bottom of the drawer and today I miss my grandma, so I am wearing the socks.

I hated that my grandmother lived out her last years unaware and without recognition of the most important people in her life, but she was a jewel in the midst of her illness. She exuded patience, gentleness and kindness even in her worst moments. But it was hard to watch her once quick sharp mind and body deteriorate.

I wear the socks and remember unconditional love, hospitality, patience, wisdom, poems, music she hummed as she worked, the safety and warmth of her kitchen and buttons, loads of them!  I’ll wear the socks, have a cup of tea and open her Bible perusing her underlined passages and drink in the legacy she left behind and the one I hope to leave to my grandchildren.

So what do buttons, a teapot, a pair of socks and a Bible all have in common? The faithfulness of a life well lived. A woman of influence, my grandmother, “Mutti” as we affectionately called her. A woman of quiet godly strength and dignity who helped to shape the woman I am today. I am forever grateful.

 

 

When You Are Facing a Perfect Storm: Part Two

They were terrified as the waves of the storm tossed them around violently.

Their heart stood still for a moment and they lost it screaming for the one they thought cared about them, but who was sleeping.

Jesus, their friend, the Son of God and Creator of the Universe.

They woke Jesus up desperate to save them.

Their eyes were on the waves and they lost perspective.

They had seen him perform miracle after miracle. And even though He was physically in the boat with them, they still doubted and lost perspective because they kept their eyes on the obstacles. They didn’t truly understand who was in their midst. It was Jesus, God in the flesh, with all power, all knowing and they still couldn’t get it.

Isn’t that what happens to us as well? Our eyes stay on the obstacles and the gigantic waves and we can’t see the bigger picture. In other words, the disciples forgot their story and what they had experienced in Jesus presence moments if not hours earlier and their perspective became cloudy.

Hearts failed, nearly like a heart attack. Unbelief screamed believing they were being abandoned to capsize and drown. Many of them were fisherman and they had been on this body of water many times. They knew the sea like the back of their hands and had been in all kinds of conditions on the Sea of Galilee. But this time was different, they had Jesus with them.

They knew what the sea was capable of and yet they followed Jesus. Right into the boat anyway.  Isn’t that what you and I do? Isn’t that what trust is all about? But what about when the waves seem to rise up like skyscrapers, over everything, then what? Trust and faith all get thrown overboard.

This is where our story comes in. Remembering our story and how God has written the pieces of His faithfulness from each season of my life and yours, helps us to keep perspective and not lose it totally. I’ve lost it many times more than I’d like to admit. Jesus seems silent, asleep, distant in my storm as the boat rocks and I lose my footing and bang myself against the side of the boat. My perspective gets skewed being tossed and torn from the wind and waves.  Although at times I may lose my grip in a storm, remembering that God is the author of my story helps me to calm down and take a breath. God is writing my story and He always has the final word.

What three words at this moment describe the waves that are sweeping over the boat in your life? Words like….

Anxiety

Fear

Hopelessness

Despair

Discouragement

Disappointment

Insecurity

Failure

This reveals your heart and what’s happening inside. It’s important to know this, verbalize it and surrender it to Jesus so you and I can keep perspective as we replace the noise of lies that build with each mounting wave.

Hear Jesus ask you the question as He did His disciples, Why are you afraid? This is your moment and the turning point in the storm to verbalize your fears so God can reassure you with His love and peace.

What is the miracle of God rescuing and drawing you in a past season? These are the spiritual markers of remembrance to anchor your emotions and soul when the storm threatens the foundation of your faith.

Your story. My story. The author is God. When we follow Him into the boat and an unexpected storm rises up all around us, we can be assured that He is bigger than the waves, more powerful than the wind and He will bring us through.

So name the fears that paralyze and those doubts that turn your eyes from Jesus to the obstacles.  You and I will get wet, we might be whipped up from the salty wind of the storm, but we can overcome and we can believe that God has the final word. Yes, He does, the very last word.

 

When You are Facing the Perfect Storm: Part One

A few months ago I had the amazing privilege of speaking to an incredible audience of Chinese young adults at the 53rd Chinese Winter Conference. They were hungry to engage and learn about how their lives could stay anchored in the midst of a life storm. I was overwhelmed by their response and so blessed to share three days with them teaching and interacting.

They took copious notes, asked questions that challenged their own cultural battles of admitting weakness when life is uncertain. I had many wonderful conversations and I really think that I was touched more deeply than the impact I may have had on them.

These next few blog posts are excerpts from the time I had at the conference. My prayer is that it will bless you and help infuse your life with hope as you face your own “perfect storm.”

On September 20, 1991, six fishermen in Gloucester, Mass. kissed their families and said goodbye to friends and boarded the 72 foot steel hulled swordfish vessel, The Andrea Gail. Towards the end of the fishing venture in late October they encountered what even the most daring sailors would hesitate to want to relive.

A storm stronger than any in recorded history hit the coast off of Gloucester, Massachusetts. “The Perfect Storm” it was called because it was three storms combined into one and it created an almost apocalyptic situation in the Atlantic Ocean. Boats encountered waves the equivalent of a ten story building or 100 feet. Three pieces of separate energy came together in one system that wreaked havoc up and down the East Coast of North America.

If you watched the movie, what the producer speculated is that the Andrea Gail and its crew headed straight into the center of the storm unknowingly due to lost radio contact. Six brave men headed deeper and deeper into the center of the storm not realizing that this was a storm greater than anything they had experienced before, all while trying to get back to their community of Gloucester.

In his book Junger wrote of the fate of the Andrea Gail that was caught in the storm southeast of Nova Scotia.

“On the evening of October 28, the Andrea Gail managed radio contact with fellow fishing boats farther from the storm. Through a scream of wind and static, the captain gave a terse report: They were doing their best to get through a storm so strong that it was ripping away equipment attached to the deck with steel bolts.

The Andrea Gail gave her position and signed off. No one reported hearing from her again. Days later, rescue and search teams found a few of the boat’s fuel drums, but no trace of its six crew members.”

The crew was declared lost and the community of Gloucester was devastated.
The best guess is that the Andrea Gail went under within hours of last radio contact. It was most likely swamped by a gigantic wave.

Like the conditions that caused the perfect storm, life can sometimes create a “perfect storm” and unknowingly because of several conditions, we can lose perspective and find ourselves right in the middle of a deadly storm and feel like we are capsized by a giant wave, feeling almost unable to recover, keep perspective or see little or no hope. It’s hard to hang onto hope when you might feel like you are drowning. But hope is not intangible, it is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ and He is with you and with me. This truth is  found in the story of Matthew when the disciples were in the boat with Jesus and a great storm rose up on the sea.

Then he got in the boat, his disciples with him. The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat—and he was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, “Master, save us! We’re going down!” Jesus reprimanded them. “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: “Silence!” The sea became smooth as glass. Matthew 8:23-27 The Message Bible

I wonder how many of you at this moment, might just feel like the disciples and the waves in your life seem to be mounting into a perfect storm. But you aren’t able to quite see it because your perspective is clouded. And you aren’t sure if your radio contact so to speak with God is being heard, or processed.

So the doubts creep in, fear develops, anxiety begins to rule our thoughts and discouragement and depression can set in. These are all signs of a perfect storm that is seeking to converge on you and me to lure us away from our loving God and Savior.

I want to say up front that we have a very real enemy who wants to defeat us in the storm, in the test, in the trial. You see, Satan, our enemy desire is for us to get lost in the storm, get off course, distrust God and be fearful of the future. And if he can get those three things to line up and collide with each other, then BAM! We can be easily toppled by a wave of gigantic doubt and fear in the midst of the circumstances!

Here’s what I have learned new and fresh from this story….

First, Jesus got in the boat and the disciples followed him.

This is your story, my story, when we choose to follow Jesus.

It is the story that God is writing.

Our stories start when we were born, the events that lead right up to this moment and every moment after today. It is your unique story and mine of how God draws us to himself. When you and I choose to follow him, we walk in the same footsteps just different circumstances like each of the disciples when they chose to follow him.

Next, while they were following him it says….

Suddenly, a furious storm, came up on the lake so the waves swept over the boat. It was unannounced, it came up suddenly when the sky was perfectly clear.  Let me explain how this happens on the Sea of Galilee

To understand the causes of these sudden and violent tempests we must remember that the Galilee lies low — six hundred and eighty feet below the sea;  it is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, the squalls come down from Mt. Hermon with a terrific force. The word used is “seimsmos megas” like an earthquake (Bible Expository Commentary)

So there is no exaggeration that it was a violent, furious, tempest that came up suddenly.

Here is something else you might want to note.

The storm came in the midst of their obedience to Jesus.  I am still reflecting on this truth and it is changing the way I think about the storms that come in my own life.

They followed him into the boat.

It wasn’t a storm that happened like to Jonah, who disobeyed God and ran away and then God sent a storm.

Here’s the takeaway,  when you and I follow Jesus, we will encounters storms, unexpectantly AND we shouldn’t be surprised!

They will happen.

But our human nature thinks the opposite because it’s hard to comprehend unconditional love in our human framework, we might be tempted to think….

What have we done to cause this storm, what have I done wrong? 

I know my brain has gone there many times.

I am learning that God’s love over us isn’t conditional. The disciples hadn’t done anything wrong, they just followed Jesus in to the boat.

And that’s what we do when we follow Jesus and give our lives to him. We follow him right into the boat, and unknowingly sometimes right into a storm. But He doesn’t leave us alone, He is with us. We may think He is sleeping or not paying attention, but He is riding the storm with us and promises to never leave us, ever!!

Stay tuned for part two when we will look at the disciples reaction and how to keep perspective in the midst of a “perfect storm.”

Junger, Sebastian (2000). The Perfect Storm. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Pg.38

Why Your Influence Matters

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks with my nieces wedding (more on that later) and I’ve missed connecting with everyone! Honestly, many times I was scribbling pieces of blog ideas on scrap paper and napkins in sunny California and just couldn’t make it happen. I gave myself permission to take a break.  BUT, I am back in the blog saddle and have so much to share with you over the next months.
This week I want to introduce you to an extraordinary woman and a new friend, Jenni Catron. She’s released a book that resonates with my definition of making a difference~INFLUENCE! She has masterfully written a book CLOUT: DISCOVER AND UNLEASH YOUR GOD-GIVEN INFLUENCE that will encourage you to see your own personal influence as leverage to making a God-imprint in your world. She is a gifted leader and the real deal. When I first picked up her book, I thought, I am going to write her and share a little of my own story. Not expecting a response, she not only wrote back right away, but I was so blessed by her willingness to engage. We’ve since exchanged books and emails and she is the beautifully authentic! Whether you are a seasoned leader, emerging leader or someone who believes in ordinary everyday influence, this book is for you!  I invited her to do an interview and so here she is…drumroll please….photo 2Jenni Catron!
Can you share the clout journey of writing this book and what has brought you to the concept of “clout and leadership?” What was your first “aha” moment with the idea of clout?
I have had a passion for leadership for as long as I can remember.  I believe it’s one of the gifts that God has given me but I’ve been perplexed over the years trying to define and understand how to best steward this gift of leadership.  Over time I’ve grown to believe that leadership begins with influence but the more I studied my own motivations and observed the behaviors of other leaders, the more I discovered that we tend to skip ahead to doing the things that we perceive make us leaders and take for granted the exploration of influence that God has designed us for.
 
About ten years ago I went through what I define as my “crisis of purpose”.   As a confident and driven person I had pursued dreams I had outlined for my life but I had done so without taking a healthy look at how my life up to that point had shaped me and how God had innately gifted me.  It was that season that I stumbled upon this passage from Galatians:
 
“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given.  And then sink yourself into that.  Don’t be impressed with yourself.  Don’t compare yourself with others.  Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”  Galatians 6:4-5 (The Message)
 
This verse awakened me to the need to understand who I was first as a child of God and then secondly how the gifts, talents, experiences and opportunities that he had given to me could be used to do “my creative best.”
What is the difference between clout and influence? 
I use the words clout and influence interchangeably.  I define Clout as your God-given influence.  It’s the collection of gifts, talents, experiences and opportunities that God has given to you and to no one else.  That collection creates the foundation for your influence – your clout.
How do you use clout to lead well?
When we understand our God-given clout I believe we lead from a healthier and more authentic place.  Rather than trying to be what we perceive we should be or what others want us to be, we lead from a place of confidence in who God has created us to be.  
You talk about 7 Clout Killers in your new book, what are they? Can you share one or two that have been barriers for you and how you have overcome them?
The Clout Killers that I discuss in the book are fear, comparison, jealousy, scarcity, insecurity, pride and control.  I’m sure there are others that can derail us but these were the ones I’ve seen most consistently show up in the life of leaders.  They are the tactics that the enemy tries to distract us and derail us with.
I think fear is the big one for all of us.  In fact I call fear the frontrunner of the clout killers. It’s usually an “I’m not enough” fear that triggers the others. For instance fear that I don’t measure up to others leads to comparison and fear that I’m not good enough triggers insecurity. While all of us wrestle with different clout killers in varying degrees, fear, comparison and insecurity consistently show up for many of us.
What next steps would you offer to a leader who is seeking to leverage greater influence?
I would encourage you to “make the careful exploration” that Galatians 6 talks about.  I believe we must lead ourselves well to lead others better.  When we do the tough work of seeking God for our identity, giftedness and calling and then pray through and discern what might be hindering us or holding us back (the clout killers), we are better equipped to understand our sphere of influence and lead more authentically in that place.    
You are encouraging people to name someone in their world who deserves a “clout award.” Who would that award go to in your life and why?
Oh, there are so many people!  But one that immediately comes to mind was the owner of the ice cream shop that I worked at in high school.  She believed in me more than I believed in myself.  She saw potential and gave me opportunities to explore my talents and gifts and in doing so she equipped me with confidence.  She didn’t need the attention for herself.  She invested me in me to enable me to grow.  
What’s next for Jenni in leadership and how can we come alongside and pray for you? 
I’m in another season of conquering some fears and growing in my faith.  I am in the process of transitioning to the west coast to take a leadership position at Menlo Park Pres.  It’s a wonderful church under the amazing leadership of John and Nancy Ortberg.  But change is challenging and I’m praying that I can learn a new culture, earn influence with a new team and utilize my gifts to help propel the vision of this church forward.  Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!
P.S. I hope you will enjoy this book as much as I do and will discover your own unique CLOUT. Not sure what I was really thinking, but authors are real people, and I know it’s crazy because even though I am an author myself and hope I would do the same when someone writes me, I am blessed by Jenni’s authenticity and encouragement to me personally.

Who Needs Experience to be a Leader?

photoA few years ago I had the privilege of being part of a seminar entitled “Spiritual Leadership” with Henry Blackaby, who wrote the best-selling Bible study Experiencing God. We were gathered as leaders to explore the topic, “What Does a Spiritual Leader Look Like?” Simply stated Blackaby said, Spiritual leaders move people onto God’s agenda.  Read that phrase again and let it sink in. I know I wrote it down at the time and have never forgotten the force of those words.

I might add that nothing is more important than true spiritual leadership. It is even more important than experience or what we think experience should be! Can you hear what I am getting at?

It’s okay to feel like you don’t have enough experience.

God knows,

He made you,

He understands,

He gets it that you need Him more than you need your experience.

Blackaby went on to say that Christian leaders who know God and who know how to lead in a Christian manner will be phenomenally more effective in their world than even the most skilled and qualified leaders who lead without God.

There have been many times throughout the years that I have struggled with my own lack of qualifications, I never had the opportunity to graduate from college or seminary, but God has affirmed me over and over again as I have submitted to him in obedience that He is the one who calls a leader and desires to do extraordinary things through a willing heart.  It has only been the past few years that I have had the opportunity to go back to school. I just recently in 2012 graduated with a Master’s in Leadership. Yahoo! But let me tell you, I felt old going back after nearly 30 years. But it was God’s timing complementing this leadership season in my life and my window that God definitely planned.

As men and women called to lead, we are leading others prayerfully to discover their window of opportunity that God wants them to see. We help them to unlock their God-given dreams and gently pushing them to take a step. Living and operating under true spiritual leadership is essential for our maximum effectiveness.

One of the greatest temptations that we will face as leaders is to lead in our own strength.  How do we stay guarded and alert to this temptation? It is making sure that we make time practice the principle of regularly examining our own hearts and lives.

Holiness is more important than experience. When we focus on God we will move people onto God’s agenda and not our own.

(An excerpt from Cynthia Cavanaugh’s book, Unlocked: 5 Myths Holding Your Influence Captive 2013 New Hope Publishers)

 

A Rejected Valentine

His name was Richard, he had strawberry blonde red hair and freckles and I was madly in love. I was 8 years old and experienced my first broken heart on Valentine’s Day in the third grade. I made a special paper Valentine just for him and he promptly told me he wasn’t interested and that girls were yucky! Those weren’t the exact words, but that is the memory I carry of my little heart being shattered. It didn’t matter that I received 24 other Valentines from my classmates, the one I gave to the one I loved was thrown back and rejected.

I have to tell you the backstory, I don’t really blame Richard, because I was demanding that he choose me, like me, be my friend. I had cornered him on the playground and smothered him with kisses as he screamed for the playground teacher to come rescue him. She promptly ran over and told me that it was no way for a young lady to act with a boy. In my eight year old mind, I was uninhibited and I just had to let Richard know that I was in love with him and expected him to return the affection. Well he didn’t, and I traumatized him probably for the rest of his elementary school years.

I think that is where it all started for me, the people pleasing, wanting desperately to be understood as the little girl grew up to be an adult. It isn’t that I wasn’t loved well, I truly was, but I was a passionate person who loved life and everything in it and I don’t believe that era knew what to do with passionate people.  Little girls who had great passion were somehow made to believe that they needed to calm down, be more cautious and for crying out loud just get control of yourself. Those were the messages I received, well intentioned but yet no one showed me how to really navigate the great surges of passion that would overtake me when I felt strongly and wanted to make a difference. And so I kept it inside, tucked away quietly, neat and tidy and spoke of it at times in whispers with close friends I trusted. I fell into the rhythm that my beliefs and thoughts should remain neutral and so I did whatever it took to not make waves, sometimes even going against my own heart. Little by little my heart stopped speaking because I stopped listening. The saddest thing about that is, I believed it was the most spiritual path because those were the thread of messages woven in the Christian Culture I experienced. So I threw myself into music and drama for several seasons because those were the places it was safe to express what I was feeling and seemingly acceptable to others.

I have come to embrace that God created me to be a passionate person and I might just have a little bit more than some people are comfortable with. I’ve wrestled this out and come to believe that it’s actually wrong to deny who God made me. When I step back, people please and cover the voice of my heart, I am inauthentic, I’ve lost my voice, and rejected the path of influence I can carry to my world.

I believe that is what the writer in Proverbs is saying,

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23).

Be authentic.

Listen.

Observe.

Be aware.

I haven’t been very good at guarding my heart, I’ve let others talk me out of it instead of listening to God’s still small voice. But I am learning, my heart is awake and beginning to breathe again as I ask God to guide me in what it means to guard my heart. I am still figuring it out, and since it is Valentine’s Day I am reminded that my heart resides with God and he knows exactly what to do with my passionate thoughts and pursuits.

I am grateful.

I am content.

I am loved intensely by the God of the Universe and it is more than amazing.

Happy Valentine’s Day…

(image from www.thecraftycrow.net)