Winning the Battle

Good morning!   Alas, I am one of the fallen soldiers in the flu versus man war. I hope to offer fresh material by Thursday.  Meanwhile, enjoy this archived post.

 

The tension in my classroom felt brittle, electrified.  My desk formed the final barrier, the only defense saving me from a pop in the mouth by a student’s parents. They argued, then went verbally Rambo on me, for 20 minutes.  Other parents fidgeted in the hall, restlessly whispering about the cage fight my parent teacher conference had turned into.

This particular student regularly displayed nuclear behavior, tossing desks and music accompanied by vile language, whenever I moved him to a time out spot.  He consistently disrupted and taunted other choir students and terrified some of them.  At my recommendation, and with administration’s hearty approval, the student would be transferred from the choir into a study hall/detention at the semester change. Sadly, he possessed a beautiful tenor voice but behaved in a dangerous, predatory fashion towards younger students demonstrating minute amounts of self- control.

His parents fixated on one goal: say anything that would keep their “poor misunderstood Billy” in my choir.  All my superiors advocated for transfer, out of concern for the other students. Billy’s bloated school file bulged with disciplinary reports, including periodic suspensions.  Part of my arsenal, the file was neatly stacked on my desk as I calmly explained, repeatedly, that Billy’s choir career was over, at least for this year.   My resolute, unsmiling stance generated an increasing level of anger in his parents.  When they finally stalked out of my room they filled the air in the parent-lined hallway with numerous, colorful opinions about my teaching skills.

I definitely won that battle but years later, thanks to the wisdom of a man who became my favorite principal, I understood that I lost the war. My relationship with those parents shattered that day and remains so.  I expect they have quite an unpleasant memory of me.

My next principal taught me the art of turning adversaries into advocates.  Communicating with parents of misbehaving students is not simply a matter of presenting your evidence, he shared.  It’s observing and responding to the hurt and pain that is usually lurking right behind the façade of unruly classroom behavior and argumentative parents who try to justify it.

I wonder what the response might have been if my greeting to “Billy’s” parents had been something like “I am so disappointed to lose Billy’s tenor voice out of my choir.”  When I met with other parents, down the road, using a similar opening, most of the time, this disarmed them. We became partners with a problem to solve together.

In James 2:12-13 he warns believers about the dire consequences of erring on the side of judgement instead of mercy.  We can be 100% correct in our opinion about a fellow believer’s sinful behavior yet be totally wrong in handling that information.  I don’t think we do such a bang up job in the judgement with mercy department, in the church.

I’ve met too many people, like me, that are bold about speaking the truth but don’t always speak it with love. On the other hand, just as many people confuse mercy with license and allow sinful behavior in others to go unchecked and unmentioned.  How does a mature believer behave? How do we deal with sin and inappropriate behavior in others without burying our heads in the sand or blowing up relationships and crushing spirits?

2 Timothy 2:25 says, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

This excellent advice from Paul prioritizes confrontation and gentleness.  Our goal is not to “set things right.”  We are in the redemption business.   It’s like the difference between dragging a dog on a choke collar instead of teaching them, with rewards, that you are the Alpha Dog and it’s going to be better to walk together in agreement.

Matthew tells us, in Chapter 18, that if something is akimbo between you and someone else, talk to them privately, first.  Here’s the thing; if we talk to two or three or ten other people about this situation before we speak to the person actually involved, by the time we get to the original person, we’ve built up a pretty good head of steam from rehearsing the details of this wrong repeatedly.  The more we share with others the more convinced we become of our victim or judge status in the situation.  That makes it tough to approach our offender, or someone caught in sin, with a gentle spirit.

Romans 16:17, I Timothy 5:20 and Titus 3:10-11 stridently warn us away from someone who refuses correction or reconciliation, but this is our last resort.    How many broken or damaged relationships litter our lives?  Did we do all we could to gently, lovingly speak truth and correction with pure motives aimed towards restoration?  I’ve got a few damaged and lost relationships littering the landscape of my past.  Some have been redeemed, by God’s grace working in both of us.

If you are erring on either side of judgement or mercy, you’ve probably got some folks you need to connect with.  Ask God to show relationships you’ve damaged due to ignoring a problem or pounding on it mercilessly with your truth hammer. Commit to humble authenticity with others that makes room for truth spoken with love.

 

 

 

Bullies

Bullies are everywhere found.  One friend of mine entered his first ministry assignment with full heart and eager energy. Serving as a layperson for many years in music ministry, the excitement of a full time opportunity drew he and his family to another state.  The church welcomed and enjoyed their new pastor and things flowed well for quite a while.  Sadly, my friend discovered that his boss, the senior pastor, was embezzling funds from the church.  When confronted, the thief did not respond with repentance.  Instead, he fabricated charges of insubordination, deceived the church board and fired my friend.

Another friend in ministry was recruited away from a highly successful youth group he led, to a different church.  The board and senior staff greatly admired my friend’s gifts and connection with high schoolers and stated they wanted to see the same thing happen in their youth program.  He did that.  Unfortunately, the power brokers didn’t genuinely desire to reach the youth of their community, just the ones in their church.  When dozens of students started flooding in from nearby schools, suddenly my friend received poor performance reviews, even though attendance numbers went up among the church’s own youth also.  They fired him within a few months claiming his philosophy didn’t mesh with theirs.  One hundred percent true.

In between full time ministry and building his own insurance agency, my husband sold cars. He quickly rose to the top of the sales chart.  One day his boss invited him to a party at his home for a multi-level marketing business he represented.  We were already involved with a different competing company and so Ken politely declined.  He was fired for “poor performance” two days later even though his sales numbers consistently ranked higher than most of the other salesmen.

Bullies are demoralizing.  Whether on a playground, a place of business, a church, or other organization, everyone deals with a bully at some point.

The harassment and bullying Jesus and his disciples received from religious leaders is what ultimately led to his death.  Huh.  That’s not very encouraging sounding is it?

What can be done when a superior is a bully?  How do you know when to turn the other cheek, stand and fight or shake off the dust and leave?  I think the answer is simultaneously simple and complex and encapsulated in Zechariah 4:6. “’It’s not by might nor power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord.”  The simple part is, we know what to do with a bully by listening to the Holy Spirit.  The complexity is listening to the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes Jesus flipped tables or shouted at demons.  Other times he just slipped away from angry mobs without saying a word.  How do we know when to do what?

A few observations and suggestions:

  • Use the whole counsel of the word to deal with a bully.   For example, Proverbs is filled with wisdom for dealing with foolish, evil people.  Paul’s writings are also laced with advice on interpersonal relationships.  Our problem is not a lack of advice from the Word, it’s a lack of the Word stored in our hearts.  God uses the Bible to communicate His ways and methods to us.  The Holy Spirit will quicken certain verses for particular situations but only if we read and internalize them.
  • God uses bullies to move us.  Joseph’s brothers almost bullied him to death.  God used their behavior to begin the young man’s journey to destiny.  A church who cannot recognize that their senior pastor is a thief and a liar is not healthy.  I suspect God hastened my friend’s family out of that place for His reasons.  The point is when we are fired, forced to leave or resign a situation, this is no surprise to God.  He knows the wickedness of character in those around us and will use it for His purposes.
  • If you stand and fight, be certain you are standing on THE Firm Foundation.  A number of times, disgruntled people in our church tried to run Ken and I off with falsehoods presented to our denominational leadership.  We stood our ground for two reasons.  First, and most important, God withheld any peace about leaving, even though our flesh wanted to flee, kind of like Gideon.   He supplied us with strength to keep our anger righteous, not sinful.  He supplied wisdom to discern spirits and motives. Secondly, our denomination leadership supported us %100.   Each time, they advised the verbal bullies to leave, which they did.

Fighting back a bully can be a bloody business, so be certain the Lord is in your corner, sanctioning the fight, before you go into the ring.

  • Keep your heart and motives pure. If your secret desire is to see a bully destroyed, God won’t honor that.  In fact, He might just let them trouble you more.  I wonder if He would have allowed David to run longer from the bully king, Saul, if David allowed hatred and vengeance in his heart?  After all, he was the rightful, anointed king, treated horribly by a lunatic with power.  Remember, God loves the bullies too.  Keep your heart pure, as David did, towards your persecutor.  Forgive them however many thousands of times you need to, to keep your hands clean.

If you are in a tough situation right now, bury yourself in the Word so God can feed you wisdom, insight, discernment and understanding.  Listen, then obey. Allow God to deal with other’s reactions and whatever consequences occur.

 

 

Eagles and Turkeys

For the fourth time that week, a teacher stopped me and asked me for my hall pass.  The first three accepted my explanation.  The fourth doubted my story entirely until a choir student passed us with a cheery, “Hi, Mr. Baker, Hi Miss Skinkle.”  Stopping mid-sentence, Mr. Baker mumbled something including, “sorry,” and ending with “bell’s about to ring.”

My first teaching job started in the middle of a school year.  After an early college graduation, I felt incredible excitement to land a full-time position instead of diving into the substitute teacher pool.  The position came with a terrific salary, benefits, and a beautifully appointed choir room with a private office and four practice rooms.  My students loved to sing and expressed great excitement about me, their new, young teacher.

Unfortunately, the rest of the teaching staff was embroiled in a war against the administration. Conversations in the teacher’s lounge included words like “strike,” and “sit-in” (it was the seventies). Within a week, I knew every grievance of most of the teaching staff, ad nausea, in their efforts to recruit me to their glorious cause.  The majority never bothered to introduce themselves or learn my name, caught up in their battle plans and strategies.  These were the ones who kept stopping me in the hallways, asking for my pass.

For a couple weeks, I listened patiently and asked questions.  As an objective outsider, I could see that several concerns seemed reasonable.  Others, less so.  When I dared to suggest that, with the current millage situation, some demands simply could not be met financially by the district, oh my, my, my.  My status immediately shifted from new teacher to traitor.  After that, most teachers simply ignored me except for a couple that allowed me to sit with them at lunch and nod at me in the hallway.

Finally, I decided to eat alone, peacefully, in my office.  Nobody missed me.  Fresh from my student teaching position the prior semester, I missed the camaraderie and support that should exist on a teaching staff.  I shared my heartbreak and concerns with my parents at the dinner table.  Although they listened sympathetically, my Dad shared some wise counsel which I’ve applied to many situations.  He said, “Sharon, God put you in this job for His reasons.  Just do it.  You’re an eagle.  Don’t let the turkeys get ya down.”

I love the lessons we can learn from geese about their teamwork and mutual support but at times we must choose to be eagles and soar alone.  Most workplaces feature at least one or two disengaged employees who are more concerned about their social media accounts or private lives than the work at hand.  When you are surrounded by this, it’s tough.

One of the most heartbreaking things about my first school was the evidence that most of those teachers had been great educators. Sadly, many became obsessive about their contract drama.  They boasted in the teacher’s lounge how they’d be “phoning it in,” doing minimal work, until the dispute was settled.  Wow.

So, here’s what I did to “mount up with eagle wings,” with no flock to help provide some lift and protection.

  • I discerned my true purpose and threw myself into it. My choir students needed a champion more than I needed new teacher friends.  Losing a director mid-year is disheartening for vocalists.  God saw their need as the greater priority in my situation.  They welcomed me with open arms and we enjoyed an amazing semester together.  I poured my heart and soul into those choir classes spending no time with other teachers, except for faculty meetings.   Making great music and exploring new directions together earned me a lot of chips with those kids and sustained their choral legacy.

In a disappointing work environment, where you can find few kindred spirits, you need fresh focus.  Ask God why He placed you in this situation.  What qualities do you possess which He wants used?  While others settle for turkey feed in the yard, He still wants you to fly high.  So, excel however you can, regardless of others.

 

  • I refused to listen to gossip and evil reports. That’s the main reason I started eating alone.  There’s a correlation between people who underperform and love of a juicy story.   When you are focused on goals and producing quality product, there isn’t time or interest to be part of gossip. At another job, as a music therapist, I ate alone in a basement furnace room due to the verbal toxicity in the break room.  I tried to elevate the conversation but it was like squirting thimblefuls of water on a parched lawn.  The truth is, if you aren’t willing to participate in trash talk, many people are uncomfortable around you. If you do, I promise that poison will affect your performance and decision making abilities. You will question your superiors and their motives which will diminish your passion and derail your purpose.  Do not underestimate the power of an evil report.

At the end of that semester I married and moved away for the husband’s graduate school pursuits.  In only five and half months the bonds between my students and I grew strong.  Singers enjoyed choir each day and I looked forward to going to work.  They pooled their money and gifted me with a beautiful engraved silver tray, as a wedding gift.  It’s still a beautiful reminder of a time when God helped me soar alone.  He’ll do the same for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Got Stress?

Slowly, the MRI machine started to pull me into its deepest recesses.  I did fine for approximately one minute before I dissolved into a full-blown panic attack.  It was 1980 something and they weren’t so quick to give out the Valium before these procedures.  Hats off to all you steady Eddies who remain calm during serious medical procedures.  How did I come to be in and out and back into (after some Valium) an MRI machine?  One word: stress.

Severe and chronic headaches plagued me during this time.  I lived on ibuprofen and Tylenol, which dulled the pain enough for me to function.  One day, the pain became so severe, I couldn’t lift my head up all the way.  I sat on the floor of the living room weeping, not knowing what to do.

My man of action said enough was enough and off to the emergency room we trucked.  Numerous tests resulted in a shaky diagnosis of spinal meningitis and nurses whisked my away to an isolation room. I remained there for a week, on various antibiotics.  Finally, after no improvement, a new doctor weighed in and said, “Let’s try muscle relaxers.”  Within hours I felt relief unknown for the past many months.  I did not have spinal meningitis.  My shoulder neck and head muscles (there’s a thin layer around your brain) were in such a state of inflammation, that the symptoms mimicked meningitis.

Like many, I process stress in my shoulders. For me, juggling the responsibilities of a senior pastor’s wife, a minister of music and a mother were too much some times.   You can only push around stress so long, without releasing it, before you get yourself in a fix.  Stress is a given, if you’re human and unescapable if you’re a leader.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re leading a family of two or a church or corporation of thousands.  The weight of ensuring success for whatever group you are leading can become heavy, so we scrunch our shoulders up tighter and work harder and harder until one day we can’t.

When stress is long term and there seems to be no end in sight, like caring for a chronically ill loved one, despair creeps in.  When it seems like your life is a game of whack a mole, one tense event after another, misery will try to stalk you.  If you’re tired of feeling like you’re swimming upstream against daily events, despondency threatens to overwhelm.

If your shoulders resemble a rock formation, or your damaging some other part of your anatomy due to various pressures, (stomach aches, nail biting, etc.) these strategies can help.  Simultaneously, as you confront stress with these, your feelings of gloom will often lift away.

  • Memorize and meditate. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is fixed on You.”  Isaiah 26:3 is 100% true.  One of the best ways to keep your mind calm is to acquire a large volume of Scripture in your gray matter.  Whether the stress is long term or a sudden event, I’ve got a treasure chest of pearls to use.  I speak my memorized verses aloud as I find this quiets my body more quickly.  Another great tool is to download the Bible app on your smartphone and listen to the oral version of scripture passages.  D’s are available also. The word is life and power to the tearing down of stress strongholds.
  • Exercise Intelligently.  By this I mean, don’t create more stress by over-exercising and don’t store stress by under-exercising.   Figure out something you actually like to do and do it at least 5 times a week.  Check with your doctor to see what activity best suits you, if you don’t know.  I walk approximately 30 minutes a day and then do some weight training (only fifteen minutes worth) 3 times a week and some yoga stretches a couple times a week.  Exercise also releases endorphins which give us a sense of wellbeing.
  • Deep Breathing. Hey, the “Hee, Hee, Hahs,” aren’t exclusively useful for pregnancy labor. Deep, abdominal breathing provides a complete oxygen for carbon dioxide exchange.  When your body is well oxygenated, your heart rate slows and your blood pressure decreases.  Check my Pastor’s Feisty Wife FB page for a helpful article on this.
  • Let go of things that aren’t yours.  We can create our own stress by taking on things and people God isn’t leading us to be involved with.  I used to try to be the patron saint of failing ministries and empty volunteer positions.  This is ultimately self-destructive.  God only provides where He guides, not where you venture off on your own.
  • Engage with things that make you laugh.  God is serious when he says laughter is medicine to your heart. (Proverbs 17:22) Find lighthearted movies and shows.  We particularly like the old sit-coms like “The Dick Van Dyke” show and such.  Maybe it’s playing with your pet that makes you smile.  We also like to play funny games at our house like “Tenzi.”  (available from Amazon) Deliberately spend time with people or activities that cause smiles and laughter.

God knows intimately what stress loads slid you into your valley and He wants to guide you out.  Instead of vegging in front of yet another episode of CSI, use several of these ideas and watch those shoulders relax and your blood pressure go back down.

When People Leave

I felt angry, betrayed and gloomy. Several families who joined one of our churches a few years earlier disappeared, then moved their memberships.  When they were new members, their enthusiasm for Ken’s preaching and leadership style bubbled.  They involved themselves in ministries, sent us little gifts and thank you notes, “just cause you’re such a great pastor,” and genuinely supported us.

Ken contacted each family to find out why. Their answers didn’t comfort us but raised some interesting questions.  A couple didn’t like the ongoing strife between lifetime members and newer members, in the battle of tradition versus new ideas. “I just want to go to a church where people are happy all the time.”  Is there such a place? (Shoot me that address quick a minute, will ya?)

Another family liked a nearby church’s service times better.  True story.   Finally, my favorite, came from the woman who said, “We think there must be some truth behind the gossip we’ve heard about you and Sharon. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire dontcha know.” (Disgruntled members, trying to hasten our exit, accused Ken and I of theft and dishonesty. We were cleared 100% by our denominational ruling body, but the power of an evil report……. yikes.)

First of all, we experienced weariness too, trying to help older members understand the idea that the gospel message doesn’t change but methods must.  We needed people to partner with us in that quest.  Many did, but some wanted to avoid any sign of conflict or disagreements and left.   Secondly, if you can disengage yourself from a church so easily for different service times, were you ever truly connected?  Third, where do I even begin?  Why did this sister listen to gossip about two people she claimed to love?  Why did she believe what she heard without speaking to us?

People leave churches, ministries, companies, schools and such all the time for a variety of reasons. Usually, relocation is for healthy, normal reasons. When the reasons are squirrely, it’s a knife in the heart.   If you’re a leader, losing supporters and partners, it stings. Emotions churn.  How do we respond when someone exits under sketchy circumstances?  How do you handle a spouse who deserts, or another family member who severs ties?

  • Don’t take ownership of another person’s junk. Ken and I are intimately acquainted with our character flaws.  They don’t, however, include theft or lying.  People made up stories.  It happens.  Others, who claimed to be our supporters, listened to character assassinations about us. Their idea of loyalty might be off plumb.  Their exit proved that.

 

The pain is much worse when a spouse walks out.  Ken and I lost patience with people who told us they were leaving a marriage because they “weren’t happy anymore, and doesn’t God want us happy?” Wrong on so many levels.  Maybe your sorrow is a prodigal child.  It could be a broken sibling relationship that troubles your sleep.  Other people’s choices are just that, other people’s.  They don’t belong to us.  Trying to own them emotionally is self-destructive.

 

  • When people behave in ungodly ways, then leave, don’t carry offense and anger around.  Ask God to heal your heart.  Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling within the loving boundaries of His grace. Let Him show you any areas where you might carry some fault in the situation.  Above all, make no place for bitterness to grow in your heart.  A friend just said to me today,

“ Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”  Good word.

Recovering from someone leaving you can take time, depending on how close your relationship was. You will extend it unnecessarily, if you nurture anger and refuse to forgive them.

 

  • Trust God to bring restoration when you’ve experienced loss.  As one of the main themes of the Bible, I love the individual stories of God rebuilding and renewing what locusts eat away, as Joel talks about in his book. Consider Job, who lost everything except his wife.  God gifted him with double the wealth and many more children.  David spent years fleeing from Saul even though he was the rightful, anointed King.  When he ascended to his throne, his kingdom became far greater than Saul’s.  Whatever the relationships you’ve lost, God’s nature is to restore.  Please note, I didn’t say replace.    Every individual relationship is unique and irreplaceable.  One of the amazing qualities about God, though, is His ability to create something new in a place of loss, just as He did in the original garden.

After that batch of folks left our church, God moved in several ways.  Some individuals who had been on the church’s periphery became active and engaged.  New families joined and began to partner with us.   Did I still feel pain about the families who left?  Absolutely.  Running into them in stores and such did not feel great.  In time, my emotions caught up to my will which determined I would nourish grace in my heart towards them, not bitterness.

If someone chooses to walk away from you under poor circumstances, don’t drink the poison of bitterness.  Drink the new wine of the Holy Spirit which is made from the best of fruit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Galatians 5:22-23

 

 

 

 

Valleys of Despair Part Two- Money Blues

Twenty years ago, God called my husband, Ken, and I out of full time ministry into the business world.  No moral failure or any such thing was involved.  God simply said, “Appreciate all you’ve done but I’m wrapping up this phase of your lives now. I want you over here instead.”   Unclear as to exactly where “here” was, we still packed up and left, excited and scared.

In retrospect, God clearly designed a Ken-sized spot in the insurance industry.  The journey to success, though, took us through the bloody battlefield of financial loss and setback.  The first insurance company who hired Ken was a sketchy outfit.  He spent 50 hours a week trying to sell poor quality products.

No openings existed with larger, more reputable companies for a guy with no insurance experience.  The result: no income for six months.  Each day we started the morning convinced he’d sell product, but in that whole time he sold three small policies which didn’t even cover his expenses.

So, what did you live on, you might ask?  I started teaching private piano lessons which almost paid for groceries.  We paid the rest of our bills using all our savings, retirement funds and some credit cards.  Despair lived at our house.  We questioned our ability to hear God and ourselves daily.

Most days I’d spend a chunk of the morning on my face, crying out to God in praise and intercession.  This discipline emotionally carried me through the rest of the day.  I felt sick to my stomach with every dollar I spent.  We tried to buy necessary items, like clothing, at garage sales and thrift stores.  I spent hours in garages and discount clothing bins trying to find fashionable outfits for my growing 13-year-old daughter.  We ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.

What can we do when faced with financial lack?   When ministries, churches, businesses and homes are faced with severe monetary challenges, stress can become a constant companion.  Sometimes you feel angry, resentful, especially when others around you are financially solvent or blessed. Let me share with you some disciplines God taught me during that season.

  • Respect God’s processes.  Was it a surprise to God that Ken couldn’t sell the low-quality stuff?  Were we being punished ? Was He withholding finances?  No, no and yes.  Let me explain. We repeatedly asked God to show us any areas of sin or poor stewardship.  Neither of us sensed that this was the case. This attitude remains my first posture towards a holy God when things go sideways for me.  I ask Him, “Are you disciplining me or training me with this?” Knowing the difference is important.  If I’ve sinned against Him and His Word, or been careless not to follow the wisdom therein, I best be sortin’ that out first.

God did withhold finances for a while to train us.  We had zero experience in going without and living on a very short shoe string.  He wanted us to know what that feels like for several reasons, I suspect.  We developed new thrifty purchasing strategies.  Thankfulness for what we had became far more profound. We are more compassionate prayer warriors towards others in dire straits. Most importantly, the whole season humbled us as we understood better Jehovah Jireh, our provider.

If God has temporarily put a stopper in your finances or slowed your stream, know that He is purposeful.  God is a story teller and uses us to create His narratives.  He wants to use my story right now to encourage some of you out there and help you to get through another day.

  • Praise and thank Him for provision, by faith.   I turned verses into positive statements of faith, usually out loud.  My soul and the enemy of my soul need to hear the truth of my situation. Here’s a couple of my favorites from that season:

               So, I will not worry saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For the pagans run after these things and My Heavenly Father knows that we need them.  But, instead, I will seek first His kingdom and His righteousness knowing that all these other things will be given to me as well.   Based on Matthew 6:31-34

 

              My God will supply all my needs according to His riches in glory.  Phillippians 4:19

 

  • Focus on the needs of others. I promise this strategy will keep your sanity intact when you’re going through any challenge.  Ask God to show you someone facing a similar problem.  When I am tempted to fret or pray only for my own needs, I discipline myself to pray for someone else.  You are essentially saying to God, “I trust you to handle my concerns which we spoke about already today.  Since it’s come to my mind again, I’m using that passion to intercede for someone else.” This might happen many times in a day. Yay!  God’s heart is always moved when we put others needs before our own.  It also gives Him room to work on our situation without us meddling in it.

So, what happened with Ken’s insurance job and our finances?  He scored an interview with one of the top three companies in the nation.  They only interviewed people who were already in the insurance industry.  That’s the only thing God ever intended the first job to be, a stepping stone.  The larger company set him up in his own place of business including staff and numerous resources.  They paid all his bills, including a sizable salary, for five years, until he purchased the business as his own.

Take courage my friend, dark financial days will give way to brighter ones, if you remain obedient, teachable and thankful.

             

Valleys of Despair Part One

My first landscape project nearly killed gardening for me.  Our parsonage yard butted against the church parking lot.  Congregation members randomly appeared on my back patio by strolling in from said parking lot.  If we weren’t outside, they’d appear at the slider to our family room.  Sometimes we were dressed, other times not so much.  One week, resting on the couch during a rough surgical recovery, I’d randomly see faces by the slider screen.  Due to pain pills, I’m still not sure if all of them belonged to real people, but I think so.

I welcomed people to our home, but longed for them to use the real back or front doors.  Unannounced arrivals usually prompted Martin Luther and Johnathan Edwards, our theologian dogs, into barking protection mode. It startled the skittles out of us and woke up baby Jennifer.

Ken and I decided some strategic landscaping might indulge our love of yard design and solve problems.   If people insisted on sneaking up on us, they’d have to wade through some flora and fauna to do it!

Clay dominated the yard with a little black topsoil. Every hole we dug tested our determination and shovels.  Persistently, we planted the border.  Within a month, delphiniums, hollyhocks and foxglove died and half of the trees and shrubs looked suicidal.  Over the next couple of years, we learned every plant which tolerated clay, and didn’t.  At times that garden looked so horrendous, I wanted to go after it all with a chain saw.

The thing is, I discovered that I loved gardening while I labored on that battlefield.  I determined a garden would flourish in this clay valley.  I learned how to amend and improve my soil with sand, compost and mulch. I gained plant knowledge. The border eventually became lush and afforded us the privacy we needed. Recently, I drove by that house and took delight in seeing mature shade trees and neatly trimmed shrubs enjoyed by a new family.

This month’s topic is things which create valleys of despair for leaders. Today let’s ponder a lack of growth.  It’s disheartening when something we are passionate about doesn’t thrive.  Is your church membership number stagnant, despite all those church growth seminars you’ve attended?  How about a company, ministry or school  that is languishing for any number of reasons?  Maybe it’s a relationship that used to produce fruit but lately, just leaves.

Here’s some lessons learned in gardens and life about growth.

  • Growth occurs when the right conditions are present. This is a biological principle that applies everywhere.  My original plants didn’t belong in clay.  Maybe your business is gasping because you haven’t adapted to market changes. My husband built a large insurance company fifteen years ago, with telemarketing. If you tried that today, it’d be as smart as when Kodak decided digital photos were a passing fad.

 

Is your church ministering to the community that IS around you geographically or are you still structuring things for people groups who USED to live there?  Did your organization used to fill a need but that need no longer exists and you’re not sure what to do?

Whatever your non-growth situation is, you need to learn what your soil is made of and what will grow best in it. 

 

Why did God position you, your family, your company, church, etc. where He did? What gifts, skills and strengths do you uniquely possess?   What felt needs of people can you meet that others can’t? What plants can grow in your soil?

 

  • Growth is a sequential process.  With perennial plants, (the ones that come up each year) there is a saying, “First year sleep, second year creep, third year leap.”  The idea is that for the first two years of a perennial plant’s garden life, growth happens underground in the root system. If you respect roots, after two seasons of patience and care, you should see a real show in year three.  One year, my impatience caused me to use Miracle Grow on all my plants.  For a while, EVERYTHING looked amazing and lush, just like the commercials.  Then midsummer, while the annuals continued to thrive, my perennials fell over.  A master gardener taught me that Miracle Grow is junk food for perennials.  I forced them to grow beyond what their roots were prepared to sustain.

 

I’ve observed this exact scenario in organizations, businesses, churches and ministries.  Eagerness for growth causes people to launch things prematurely. We see something working somewhere else so we grab it, whether it suits our roots or not.  Impatience is a poor decision maker and leaves a wake of failure behind it.

 

Build and respect your roots in these ways:

 

  • Strengthen and improve what you’ve got. Train folks, re-model your facility or website, prepare, prepare, for when God brings His show to your doorstep.  What if increase came today? Are you ready?
  • Create new systems with your existing people to accommodate growth. If your business processes are structured to only handle 20 clients, what are you going to do with 50?  If your church nursery only holds five infants, where are you going to put four new ones?
  • Learn what your strengths are then build and market on them. Small organizations possess qualities of camaraderie and community that large entities struggle to create.  Large endeavors offer variety and options.  Whatever your strengths are, there are people searching for them who don’t know about you yet.
  • Amend your soil with new ideas and methods. Your core message doesn’t change but methods must.   My generation loved flannel graphs, today’s children are computer savvy.  My husband is building a different book of insurance business using no telemarketing. Instead he’s enjoying success with social media and referral rewards.

Take heart, growth is God’s idea.  When you combine the right soil with the right plants, there’s no end to how well things can grow.