Be Strange in 2018

To make strange means to “act up or be nervous or shy when encountering a stranger or strange situation.”

This Christmas was the first for my niece – and all of the overwhelming firsts had her distraught at our large (my dad has 17 siblings – I mean LARGE!) family gathering. There was no consoling her or quieting those monstrous lungs – the girl was out of sorts and the strangeness of the situation was too much for her.

Her dad spent some time calming her in a quiet place in the lively hall and finally contentment painted her face adorably. There is so much that little girl cannot yet understand – but the whispers of her dad were deeply soothing. She returned to the Christmas celebration ready to interact and be pleasantly present in the midst of the clamor that continued.

Christmas can be a mix of beauty and struggle. The lights flicker, the celebration chorus’ ring, and the contrasting pain – for many – is deep. For many, food and festivities are plentiful – but others find themselves in hospitals, funeral homes and arguments.

A brand new year is emerging and it holds 365 days to be spent with care, intention, joy and God-given direction. People around the planet script personal resolutions wishing for varied results during this season.

Studies show that happiness is our greatest desire. Happiness means to “feel or show pleasure or contentment”. We want strength to show up in friendships, workplaces and families present and content in the midst of shifting circumstances, just like a quieted young one.

However, a quieted life wouldn’t typically classify as an exhilarating list topper for 2018 resolutions. This sounds mundane and the commitment to practice being still doesn’t show the instant results many of us are conditioned to desire.

However, over time

Results will be felt.

And undoubtedly, what is felt will eventually alter what is seen.

Mother Teresa was not yet a celebrated international figure when she spent her days with the dying and the sick. She routinely slipped away for hours to be still – in contemplative prayer. There were unmet needs … there will always be needs … but she stopped to be still. Mother Teresa understood she needed to experience God in order to return to the craze of the world powerfully present. There is much she did not understand – but to be with God is to be okay.

To be with God is to accept whatever life is and to perceive the guiding light for what is to be.

This year, as 2018 lurches close – Mother Teresa’s life reminds me that unglamorous silence is invaluable and is the grounding needed for any action plan to truly succeed.

This seems strange …

And making strange is undesirable both to the person experiencing it and to everyone around.

But to be strange means, to do something “not previously visited, seen or encountered; unfamiliar or alien.”

It is a strange thing to be quiet in our culture; untrodden territory for many.

But to be strangely silent with God in our bustling world helps us to avoid making strange.

Perhaps the best uncomplicated resolution we can make, is to prioritize quiet, in order to live powerfully present and contented in 2018.

Christmas Capacity

Who classifies as “high capacity”?

I recently sat with a dynamic group of leaders to ponder this question… and the question has filled my Christmas season.

In the math classroom I scrawl the word “capacity” on the board (in my finest slanted script) with the definition: The amount that something can hold. 

In my workplaces, a high capacity person is effective and efficient. My math definition reminds that capacity is not about what is produced by a life, but what is held.

In a sermon on compassion, Pastor Craig Groeschel discloses the results of one study that says people care 40% less about other people than in the 1980’s. This should be more alarming, but as I listen, I recognize the truth of it. This week, I’ve read articles about global and local poverty and atrocities – and then returned to my life rather untouched. I recognized Craig’s societal diagnosis in my own heart.

Compassion is the ability to understand the emotional state of another person or oneself. Groeschel gives three major reasons for North America’s societal compassion leak.

  1. We are more obsessed with ourselves

Who knew selfie was not a recognized word in 2000.

  1. Overwhelming exposure to pain desensitizes us.

We are bombarded with information, news, articles and stories of suffering. It becomes commonplace.

  1. A lack of personal interaction makes it easier not to care

We read about someone’s job loss on facebook, and the lack of human connection makes it hard for genuine concern to happen.

Every life has capacity. We can hold competencies, skills, titles, characteristics and abilities – But our capacity can only hold so much.

So what are the best things to make sure we are holding?

What you hold depends on what you behold.

Behold Christ and create capacity for compassion.

Behold stress and leave no space for grace.

Behold self and squeeze the joy of generosity to the outer corner of your life.

Christ has limitless capacity for compassion. In the midst of carrying out the ministry that would recreate the world – Jesus, Most High God, was motivated to heal a man from leprosy because he was moved with compassion.

What can we assume about the biology of the baby-born Christ?

In his humanity, Jesus too only had so much capacity, and He chose the best things to hold.

He protected his brain-built ability to understand the feelings of another.

He did not behold self.

He did not become desensitized to suffering around him.

He chose to interact personally.

The original Greek word for compassion is splagchnizomai meaning, to “Have the bowels yearn.” (How is that for a word picture to describe an inner ache?) 

Jesus did not avoid feeling the inner ache of suffering.

His real compassion solicits action.

Anne Voskamp writes,

“There are so many of us sucking down lattes and dying of thirst, dying for something more, for something abundant … The way to slowly die is to believe you live in a space of scarcity and not abundance of generosity.”

Yes, What you hold depends on what you behold.

A Jesus-fixed gaze generates space for grace. It’s hard to experience any abundance if you believe you are lacking something yourself.

Your Christmas capacity is not the amount you can hold, but the extend to which you behold the abundance of Christ, first, for you.

The Christ-fixed gaze grows a Christmas capacity of abundant compassion.

That stable seed sprouts into world-shaking inner wealth – a freedom deep and available to all.

The cross is enough. Behold Christ, and feel your Christmas capacity for joy, generosity and soul satisfaction swell.

What will your Christmas capacity hold?

Don’t Lose Sight of Light

Booster cables have become very important for my travel plans this month as unanswered car troubles have left me stranded in the funniest places. Although, it hasn’t seemed so funny in the moment … Inconveniences rarely are appreciated int he moment. Similarly, in any room, it can be easy to see inconveniences and frustrations and completely miss the light in a space. We often take light for granted – although we could do nothing without light.

Christ is Light.

Without Jesus, we are powerless.

I recently drove home after a day with inconveniences, car troubles, and frustrations – and while I drove, I recognized my misplaced focus. I had lost sight of light – and the moment I lose sight of light, I power right down.

I remember meditating on light in Nazareth Village one year ago in Israel…

I was given a gift there, a small clay lamp with a tiny wick. Jesus would have ignited lamps like this in the same way that he ignites and consumes hearts today with light – with goodness that blazes. There are certain aspects of our purpose and our lives that we question; however our call to be light is never a matter of confusion. God is clear in His word that we were made to be light in the world. The flashflood of God’s good presence is not meant for us to keep to ourselves, and we will not experience the fulfillment God intends us to until we let light shine through us. As we make space in our lives to experience more God-light, we will be compelled to let our own beams be a signal of God’s Kingdom on earth. It begins by choosing to see God’s light, and by choosing to believe that He is a God who sees, who cares and who acts mercifully towards us. This light knowledge and heart belief changes the perspective we have of our circumstances. We can see more clearly, our days don’t feel so blurred and we can help others do the same. We cannot offer what we do not have. May our own experience of God’s unrelenting light create hope for everyone we encounter today.


Measure Better this December

What are you trying to measure this December? A work out and healthy diet plan? Caloric intake? We all love to track and see progress. In fact, when we can see our own success – this is the best motivator for someone to continue striding towards the goal!

Measurables, numbers and results are concrete and tangible and we can draw a clear path that shows exactly how to reach our goals – a concrete plan. This helps all of us to feel in control and on top of things – like we have it together.

We often feel December is a month to have things together (gifts, feasts, friends and family). But in reality – it can be a month of unraveling (to-do lists, Christmas parties, pies and fancy social media posts can crowd and scatter any heart and head). On this first December day – The good news is – we all have choices.

And when it is all said and done, you can measure the results.

Measurables matter. They steer us and help us grow. They show us where to focus our internal and external energy, we’ve only got so much.

But, choosing what should be measured with highest priority is more important that the commitment to measuring. What about the things we rarely stop to measure? What if they may be most important measurables of all?

Trust. Relationship. Love. 

I recently left a trey of donuts in an unwanted area at my workplace. By the time I realized – they had transformed into untouchables! When I went to clean my thoughtless mess – someone had cleaned the stinking decayed sight – and in it’s place was my lovely trey, shiny and bright. I still don’t know who cleaned the mess – but the trust and love I felt from my staff team in that moment is tough to measure. It’s something deep. A heart full.

My students tell me they cannot learn in a classroom without trust. They don’t feel safe to answer questions, they are disinterested in the content and they count down the minutes until they can escape the room. In a learning space with trust – they say they are free to be real, make mistakes, look foolish and thrive. We rarely measure how students feel in a classroom. It’s hard to tag a number on trust.

Brainstorming ideas with event planners gets me thinking on trust, too. We recently evaluated a previous event – and trusted one another enough to openly share ways we can improve. Trust helps us be better and stick together. Meaningful relationships make work vibrant and alive.

I play music with a fun crew and trust is the glue. When my ideas are rejected (sometimes more graciously than others) it’s not a big deal when I choose to believe the hearts of the team are always for me – and we are united around the purpose of our playing: to give God glory.

Trust is the foundation for the flourishing of individuals, teams and communities. Trust is also the train tracks for the fulfillment of any great mission.

Patrick Lencioni, author and business consultant writes, “When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer.” – The Advantage

Love. Relationship. Trust.

This measurement fills all others.

Could these words be the largest scrawled on your December calendar this year? The highest priority measurable? These words have mighty power to invade meetings, celebrations, concerts, shopping bustle, decorating and deadlines.

Mary knew how to measure a full heart. She carried Jesus full term. He fulfilled prophecies set generations before his birth. He extends fullness of love, relationship and trust from the stable cave to every human heart, and the supply is unending. You don’t have to generate your own love, relationships and trust. Draw freely from his, drench your December calendar with it – and believe that all of the numerical measurables you hope to achieve will add up as God intends – as you measure better this December.