Monthly Archives: January 2012

Many Are the Plans

I have a love-hate relationship with Proverbs 16.9.  It’s burned into my soul by now, but in case you aren’t as familiar with it yet, it goes like this:

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”

You can see where this is going now, huh?

I learned it as a new believer over a decade ago.  It resonated with me as a college student, full of plans and timelines.  And every time those plans blew up or the timeline came to a screeching halt, it was the one thing I could hear in the silence.

As I’ve grown a bit and made some significant life changes along the way, the Lord and I have a playful relationship when it comes to me and my plans.  I Google things and ask lots of questions and research options A, B, and C.  And most of the time I even have a contingency for each, just to be sure.  But the irony in it all is that the Lord RARELY sees fit to go with my plan.  He humors me as I scheme and strategize. But inevitably, at some point when I’m finally willing (or sometimes forced) to submit my plans to Him, He responds by kindly messing up my deal.  Yep. I’m aware this is not the most articulate way to express it, but that is exactly what is happening.  I throw my hands up and say “AGH! There You go again, messing up my deal!”  and then He proceeds to order my steps with the most loving and gracious and good plans.  Every single time.

I honestly hoped that I’d outgrow or outrun Proverbs 16.9 eventually, but it always seems to know how to find me.  And most days I can be found at Renovatus, where I am inevitably reminded of this particular truth!  Nevertheless, the proverb is a good one to own when you are a Spirit-led church, desperate to go where He sends you, resolved to faithfully do whatever He puts in your hands to do.   But MAN it can be frustrating sometimes and is not altogether unlike trying to hit an ever-moving target!  Because while the church is a living, breathing organism, dynamic and organic, she is also an organization that needs some semblance of structure and a plan!  Amen?

In 2009 Renovatus began renovating a movie theater inside a shopping mall in great decline on the east side of Charlotte.  It would become our offices and worship space.  Everyone thought we were crazy.  We had big dreams about what God could do through us in the community.  We had big plans.  We worked really hard on those plans.  And 9 months after we moved in, the landlord filed bankruptcy and the entire mall went into foreclosure.  We had 60 days to come up with a new plan.

Now on the one hand, we were heartbroken.  We poured so much sweat and time and resource into upfitting the space and developing relationships in the area.  We had persevered through some serious challenges to be there and it felt like we had just begun to dig in when our notice was delivered.  (Quick aside: There is nothing quite like calling your lead pastor while he’s out of town to inform him that his congregation is being displaced in less than 2 months.)

On the other hand, no one panicked.  No one plummeted into despair.  There was no sackcloth and ashes.  There was a deep peace and confidence surrounding us.  Ultimately, we all knew there was no doubt that the Lord would give us somewhere new to go, something else to do.  And He did.

The “plan” is never the end game anyway, just the means.  And the Lord is infinitely creative with the means.

The lesson in all of this for me, for Renovatus, for anyone is simply to surrender.  It is right and good and biblical to plan.  It is God-honoring to steward resources well and to organize work effectively.  But all of it must constantly be laid on the altar before the Lord.  It must always be offered up in open hands raised high before the King.  We do this so we don’t end up worshiping the strategy & systems we’ve created.  We do this to avoid the subtle drift that leads us to bowing down before man-made 5 year plans that make us feel accomplished and productive but leave no room for obedience in a moment’s notice.

We surrender.

God, in His wisdom and by his grace, equipped us with minds and hearts by which we can make some truly amazing plans.  But the minds, the hearts, and the plans–it’s all His for the taking.  And no matter how frustrating or disappointing or confusing it can be in the moment when it feels like He’s once again “messing up your deal,” you cling to the knowledge that the Father is incapable of being anything but good and loving toward you.

You recognize that “deal” He is supposedly messing up was never yours to begin with and that His ordering of your steps is ultimately the only plan worth following anyway.

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Good Leaders Are…

I suppose good leaders are many things and this post is intended to just name a few… A few that simply won’t leave me alone these days.

Good leaders are good learners.

I doubt I coined the phrase, but at least around Renovatus, I’ve definitely made it my own.  Largely because I think it’s true, but moreso because I need it to be true if I have any hope of doing my job well at all.  While I firmly believe the Lord to be faithful to order my steps according to His purposes for my life and for the life of His church, I am also confident that He has surrounded me with the tools and opportunities to learn what it is to be human; to be a good wife, mother, friend, and leader.

What I like about learning as an essential for leadership is that humility is implied within.  Learning means we haven’t arrived, that we still have questions, that we are growing and maturing.  It implies a thirst and a motivation to have that thirst satiated.

I am skeptical of anyone who has all the answers, of those who can’t seem to find the courage to say “I don’t know.”  What is there to be done with someone who thinks they know enough in every category and situation?  I have no patience for that kind of arrogance or lack of self-awareness.  The best leaders are the ones who model learning in their own lives, regardless of their credentials, regardless of their platform or success.  Those who still have something to learn will always have something to teach, something to say, something to give.

Good leaders are good followers.

The most effective and influential leaders are all good followers.  And I don’t think it’s simply because they want to model that virtue for those that follow them.  I think it has more to do with the fact that you cannot lead effectively if you are unable or unwilling to sympathize with those who are now where you once were, no matter how different the context may be.  Followership could never be overrated.  In fact, I think I’ll go ahead and declare that your leadership potential is directly correlative to your commitment to faithful followership.  Leading is the fruit, the reward, the blessing of a life lived following really well.

Following who? Whoever the Lord puts in authority over you in any season or area of life.   If you acknowledge the Father’s lordship over your life, you trust Him to order your steps, including the ones that are in the footsteps of another.  I’m currently reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. In it the main character is passing down wisdom to his son that he once received from his own father and instructs him:

“When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you.  So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?  If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind.  But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate.”

Good leaders can heed that wisdom and follow well, looking for ways to honor the Lord in how we honor and respect those in authority over us.  Followership is an exercise in seeing redemptively and acting accordingly.  If that skill isn’t established early and honed along the way, what are you leading people toward anyway?

Good leaders are good at admitting fault; not finding it.

Leaders who can readily accept their mistakes and own up to them in front of their teams, those are the ones to emulate.  I think this is because admission of failure or even of a misstep is a sign of self-awareness.  And self-awareness goes a long, long way in leading well.  Conversely, those who are not self-aware are often the ones hunting down fault in others, not even a speck goes unnoticed despite the gargantuan plank in their own eye.  It’s a most unattractive quality.  Thus, one to be avoided whenever possible!

Good leaders are in touch with their teams, themselves, and the Lord enough to know when the mistake is of their own making.  And the best leaders can say as much out loud and to those who follow them.  It is refreshing and energizing to see a leader do this well.  It strengthens morale and makes people want to work harder and better.

Good leaders are good at delegating.

I had a dear friend in college, Kathy Barksdale Giles, whose mantra was: DELEGATE OR DIE!  She was pretty genius at it, too.  Wise beyond her years, she learned early on the value of multiplying herself and empowering others.  Whether that was in how she led her volunteers in our local Youth for Christ Urban Ministries or in how she discipled us Berry College girls, she employed the strategy whenever applicable.

Good leaders like Kathy know that one of their principal functions is to develop more leaders.  If what you are leading is worth people following, it’s worth entrusting to them to lead, as well.  This can be an intimidating practice at first.  Those who struggle with insecurity may have a particularly difficult time delegating.

“What if he does it better than I do?”

“What if they like her better?”

“What if I work myself out of a job?”

Good leaders are always looking ahead.  If someone does take that responsibility from you and does so with excellence, that creates more time and space for new endeavors, new growth for you as a leader and for your ministry or company.

Delegating must be done responsibly and people must be well-equipped for receiving new responsibilities and challenges.  But when done successfully, delegating is quite an achievement.  You have invested your time and talents in another individual and that investment is reaping greater dividends than it ever could have if kept to yourself.  If you raise up a new, strong, healthy leader you have no reason to be uneasy and insecure.  You have every reason to be really proud.  And you now have other things you need to go do!

Not just highly practical, delegating is a means for inspiration.  People want to be noticed.  People want to be challenged.  People want to be a part.  Give them a part!  (And if they do that well, give them more parts!)

It’s a privilege to be in a place of leadership, big or small.  It’s worth the work, the effort, the discipline to be a really good one- for your sake and for the sake of the leaders you are shaping one way or another.

Friendship is not optional.

I have a rare gift.  4 of them actually.

I have 4 best friends from college.  We have been a part of each other’s lives for well over a decade.  Nearly every major event of my adult life includes them.  It doesn’t matter how much time passes between our conversations or trips.  We usually have 1-2 weekends together each year, which is no small feat considering our schedules, careers, families and geography!  And if you were to ask what we do when together, the locale may change from time to time, but the content is the same:  thorough updates from each of us with Q&A to follow, an obscene amount of junk food, retelling the same stories we’ve been telling for the last 12-15 years, laughing until we cry, and sometimes a little crying until we can laugh again.

I don’t get excited about much, generally speaking, but the 4-5 days that precede a girls’ weekend, I am positively giddy. The moment I set eyes on those girls, I am home.

We’ve grown a lot over the years.  We are different women now than the college girls we were at the turn of the century.  Our interests, opinions, theology, and politics are not the common ground.  (Which is really fortunate for me, otherwise I’d be quite the black sheep, I think!)  I’m honestly not sure that there is a lot of “common ground” these days outside of a deep love for Jesus and for each other.  Somehow, that makes the friendship that much sweeter to me.  It is not out of convenience or proximity or hobbies that our friendship endures.  It is the faithfulness, investment and simple joy of each other’s company that bounds us together.

A few years ago I stumbled upon this Henri J.M. Nouwen quote: ““When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

I immediately sent it to those 4 women.  We have walked together through death and through new life; through moments of absolute celebration and seasons of complete devastation and everything in between.  They embody all that I know to be true and beautiful about friendship and faithfulness.

I say all of this to simply say:  Friendship is really important.  It can be tempting to consider friendship as optional, as luxury.  Many of us have healthy familial relationships and would say our spouse or our parents are our dearest friends.  That is a rich blessing, indeed.  However, the very definition of friend is:  “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.”  We need a handful of people who aren’t bound by blood or covenant to love us, but who do so really well anyway.

Who knows you?  Whose advice do you value more than others? Who do you want by your side when you receive the best and the worst of news? Who is going to sit in the silence of a difficult moment with you?  Who is going to say the hard thing you don’t want to hear, but desperately need to hear?  Who’s company leaves you encouraged and hopeful?  Who are the people that make you feel most like yourself, but inspire you to be all the more so?  Who keeps you sane?

Those are your friends, or at least your potential friends.  You may not have a childhood best friend or someone who has known you for a dozen years and could anticipate your every thought or inclination before you could.  That’s ok!  New friendships bring a joy of their own.  You might be in a new season of life and some old friendships aren’t enduring and it feels like starting from scratch.  You may not know who you’d call or who would come running with no questions asked.   In those times, instead of busying yourself with another distraction, think and pray about who you would want to answer your call.  Who would you like to be sitting next to you on the couch? Pursue her. Pursue him. (Yes, friendship is essential for men, too!)  If you are in a relationship and friendship can be found in another couple, pursue them! Pursuit is the point here!

My 4 aren’t my only 4.  Moving to Charlotte six years ago created a need for community and friendship that could be found within at least a 30-45 minute radius!  And while it’s rarely “easy” to me to reach out, I have to remind myself that it’s good for me. It’s worth it.  It’s worth the risk; it’s worth the investment.  It’s worth pushing past the awkwardness, digging deeper than the casual conversation.  The discovery of a treasured friend far outweighs the effort it took to get there.

I consider my dearest friends among my richest blessings as I feel completely undeserving of each of them.  I do not call as often as I should.  I rarely remember birthdays or anniversaries.  (And if I do, the card sits on my desk for months and never gets mailed!) I am full of good intentions and execute only a fraction of them.  I feel like I fail them more than I life them up most of the time.  Yet, by God’s grace, they remain.

True friendship is not optional, if for no other reason than we need the constant reminder of our most gracious and loving Friend that is found in the face of another.

Shades of Grey

I have a love-hate relationship with “grey.”  The color, the concept, any and every expression of the word, really.

It feels at times indecisive, complex, mysterious, ambiguous, indefinable, unaccountable to me.  Somehow, “grey” can’t be judged on any grounds.  It gets a pass.  It is as if there exists no filters or rules outside of black and white.  I like black.  I like white.  I know what to do with them.  I like the contrast, I like the clarity.

I am surrounded by some really brilliant, beautiful people.  Many of them are gifted artists and creative minds.  They, unlike me, love grey.  They find it inspiring and textured and nuanced and interesting.

I do not.  I want to wrestle it down and make it decide what it will be.  Black or White.  Take your pick, but those are your choices.

My way seems like a much simpler way to live, right?  Except the longer I try to live seeing only in black & white, the more blind I become.  Blind to a world full of complicated, broken people.  Blind to my own nuanced thoughts and emotions.  We are filled with great intentions and mixed motivations.  We are selfish and ambitious and generous and noble.  Nothing stays entirely black or white for long, it would seem.

It is naive and overly simplistic not to acknowledge shades of grey.  Sure, the resolution or decision or action step might be quite clear, but to acknowledge the grey in a given situation, at least for me, is to practice empathy.  It is choosing to enter in to a subjective perspective, often one very different than my own.  It is to affirm the heart of another, even when it might be misguided and camoflaged in hurt or deception. It is to see the world with eyes of redemption rather than judgement.

And I’m no good at any of it.  Empathy is decidedly not my strong suit.  Ask any family member of mine.  Actually, please don’t!  Just take my word on it!  I do not naturally empathize.  I am quite impressive at judging.  I have to work really hard to perceive grayscale at all!  I score almost a perfect zero in gifts of mercy on  a spiritual gifts test.  I am not kidding!  You do not want me making hospital visits, you do not want me as a counselor.  And while it’d be easy for me to leave the “grey” to others better suited for it, to do so would be disobedience.  I am called to see the world as it was intended to be and as it one day will be again.  To settle for anything less would be flatly reductionistic.  And no one, not even I, like to be reduced to the confines of black or white.  There’s a lot of life happening and ministry to be done in all these shades of grey.  And I don’t want to be blind to any of it.