Stop seeing your weakness as a failure

The yard at Safe Haven Farm is a mess this morning. It’s so bad we can’t even use the normal back porch door. Instead, we have to come and go through the front door (this is the country; nobody uses the front door). What’s happening? We’re having a new patio installed!

We’re so excited to finally be losing the narrow old porch steps. They were always a tripping hazard, and in the winter time it was even more dangerous. When the new patio is done, we’ll have nice wide steps, a nice wide porch, and a nice patio and curving sidewalk to the driveway. It’ll be beautiful! … But it’s not beautiful right now.

That’s an important lesson about life I need to learn over and over again. When you’re trying to achieve a goal, it won’t happen overnight. It takes time, and usually you have to get your hands dirt. And sometimes cleaning up a mess means you have to make a bigger mess first.

Tearing up the sidewalk at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Tearing up the sidewalk at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Following Jesus sounds backwards. Ask an average person off the street if their goal is to be weak, and they’ll probably look at you funny, especially in America. Especially in the Midwest. Around these parts, weakness isn’t something to be celebrated. It’s something to get over.

A storm blows your house down? That stinks. You just build it again. You lose your crop of wheat or corn? Tough potato chips. You get through it and plant against next season. It’s not common to rejoice when things go wrong. It’s not normal to celebrate when you aren’t strong enough to accomplish something on your own.

I struggle with this concept because I don’t like asking for help. Actually, I hate it. I run from store employees before they can ask if I need help finding something. I don’t need help. I can do it myself. I don’t like admitting that I’m incapable of anything. I never have.

So when I run into a problem, I want to fix it immediately. I want to snap my fingers and make it go away, like I think I’m Mary Poppins. But life doesn’t work that way. And neither does following Jesus.

Frankly, when you choose to follow Jesus, you don’t get any stronger. Actually, you learn that it’s okay to be weak, because that’s how you have access to His strength. And His strength is perfect. But when you want to fix things, when you want things your way, on your timetable, it’s hard to back off and let Jesus take over.

Following Jesus is messy business because the world is broken. It’s messier still because I’m messy, and Jesus is still working on me. I’m so thankful Jesus loves messy people, because my life is untangling a strand of Christmas lights. There’s no “easy” solution. You can’t just shake all the knots out. You have to pick the knots apart one at a time, and most of the time it looks like you’re making a worse mess than you had before. But once everything is laid out for Jesus to see, He’ll show you what needs to stay in your life and what needs to go. Then, you can start putting the pieces back together. And you’ll be better for it.

You can’t do it by yourself. You aren’t strong enough. And you know what? It’s okay to not be strong enough. In fact, that’s something to celebrate.

So let’s stop seeing our weakness as failure. Let’s stop seeing our messes as nightmares. And let’s accept them for what they really–growing pains. With Jesus’ help, we’ll get through it, and we’ll be better for it on the other side.

Nothing that happens to you is wasted

Jury duty is something I’d always wanted to do, but I didn’t want to do it this month. I just had too much to juggle. Between leaving my old job and starting my own business, plus now having two novels I need to promote and more novels to start working on, February wasn’t a good time.

So when I got the jury summons, I was tempted to come up with some excuse as to why I couldn’t do it. I had legitimate reasons why it would be problematic for me, but I decided that if I were supposed to be on a jury, it would happen.

After all, most people who are called to jury duty never get picked to actually sit on the panel, right?

Right. So, I reported for the selection process on Tuesday morning, and I came back on Tuesday afternoon as one of twelve jurors in a criminal case of theft and falsifying identity. The case finished on Wednesday, and, frankly, I didn’t expect to learn so much. I learned a lot and not just about the legal process.

I do believe that God allows everything in our lives for a purpose, and even though jury duty certainly wasn’t what I had planned for two days out of my week, I had decided to make the best of it. And I came away learning valuable lessons about business practices–lessons I’m not sure I would have learned for myself unless I’d see the consequences played out in court.

jury-box-doneToday’s verse is Proverbs 18:15.

Intelligent people are always ready to learn.
    Their ears are open for knowledge.

Everyday, we face situations and circumstances that aren’t ideal. I don’t enjoy everything I have to do on a daily basis. In fact (as my parents can tell you) there are some things I will do almost anything to avoid doing–like the dishes. 😉

But if we can get our attitudes in the right place, if we can keep our perspective right, we can face those less-than-ideal circumstances with confidence and courage knowing that God is allowing them for a reason. And if God intends for us to experience something, there must be a lesson we need to learn.

The Bible tells us that a mark of wisdom is being willing to learn–not automatically assuming you know everything already. People who live that way usually make really terrible mistakes in their lives.

Maybe there’s something you have to do today or this week that you don’t want to do. Maybe it will make you uncomfortable. I hear you. It’s never fun to be pushed outside your comfort zone, but I can tell you every time I’ve been pushed outside the realm of my experience, I’ve learned something.

So just because you may have to do something you won’t enjoy, don’t automatically discount it as a wasted day. Nothing that happens to you is wasted if you are always willing to learn something.

We make our choices, but God determines our steps. He knows where we’re going and what we need to go through before we get there so that we’ll be ready. So pay attention and don’t let opportunities to learn pass you by. You might regret it down the road.

Even if you know it all, you still have a lot to learn

Yesterday, I saw something on Facebook that made me stop and think. That doesn’t usually happen. Facebook is full of what folks like to call “link bait,” which are those stories that litter your newsfeed with sensationalized headlines, but this was different. It was a guest blog post by an author: The Most Important Characteristic of a Good Writer.

I wondered immediately what that would be. At first, my mind went to craft, because a good writer has to know his/her craft. By that, I mean you have to know how to plot. You have to know how to design characters and setting. You have to know the rules and when it’s appropriate to break them. But I clicked on the link anyway because I wanted to find out if I were “a good writer,” because I’m good at all that stuff. And, just being honest, validation is always nice.

But as it turns out, the most important quality for a good writer has nothing to do with craft. Sure, it’s important, but it’s not the most important. According to this post, the most important characteristic for a good writer is humility.

Yeah, but what about character and setting and plot and knowing just how much back story to put in? What about dialogue? What about grammar and spelling and sentence structure and vocabulary?

You can be great at all those things, and you can even write a great book. But you won’t ever be a great writer until you learn to approach your writing–your whole life, really–with humility.

529092_35688940Today’s verse is James 3:13.

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.

Writers are such a fascinating group of people. If you know a writer and call them a friend, you’re fortunate. Writers don’t really make friends easily, which is sad because they need people. Yes, we all need each other, but writers rely on other people more than the average worker. Why? Well, someone has to buy their books. Someone has to read what they write, otherwise they won’t make it in the market.

For me, it’s a difficult line to walk. Being friends with writers can be hard for me because I write a certain way, and other writers don’t always like that. And I have to find the middle ground between doing what I believe is right and listening to another writer’s opinion, which may or may not be correct. And I’m not always good at that, but that takes humility. And when I listen to another person talk about writing, I always learn something. Always.

But I’ve been writing for a long time. I could probably even be approaching what some would call “a successful writer.” And while that’s always been my dream, I’m noticing that it comes along with an increase in pride, which is something I’ve struggled with my whole life.

No, it’s not wrong to believe in what you’re doing or to understand realistically that you do know what you’re talking about. But it’s always wrong to assume you know more than someone else. It’s always wrong to discount someone else’s opinion simply because you don’t agree with it. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to live my someone else’s opinion, but you should never ever treat their opinion like it doesn’t matter. (If they don’t care enough to be kind about what they say to you, I recommend discarding their opinion, though. Because there are opinions meant to help and opinions meant to tear down, and nobody deserves to be torn down.)

And that’s hard. It’s even harder when they disagree with you. But that takes humility–recognizing that even though you know a lot, you still have a lot to learn.

The world tells us that if we live humble lives, we’ll be trampled. We’ll be eaten alive. We’ll never make it. And, honestly, there’s some truth in that. If you live humbly and work humbly and speak humbly, especially in the corporate world, you’ll be torn up, broken down, and left for dead on the side of the figurative highway of life. But remember, success doesn’t come from us. Success comes from God.

What I love about today’s verse is that it calls us to live by humility that comes from wisdom. Humility must come from wisdom, otherwise you will fold in on yourself and never step out and never stand up. There is a time to be bold. There is a time to stand up and be counted. And there is a time to demonstrate the gifts and talents that God has given you for His glory. And insecurity, which so often masquerades a humility, will prevent you from ever taking that step.

Wisdom comes from following Jesus. Trust Him, do what He says is right, and He will give you the wisdom you need to make a truly humble choice. God promises over and over throughout Scripture that if we are humble and put others above ourselves, He will exalt us when the time is right.

Be confident when you know what you’re doing, but don’t ever scorn someone else’s kind opinion, even if you disagree with it. You can always learn something.

The key to achieving lasting success

It’s hard to believe that 2014 is almost over. That’s hard to swallow because I would swear it just started. I know time is supposed to start passing more quickly the older you get, but good grief!

So as I was thinking this morning about the upcoming year and all the wonderful excitement it will hold, I started getting a little nervous. There’s a lot riding on next year. Everyone wants to be successful, but there seem to be hundreds of different ideas on how to be successful. And, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to read every 12-step book on success in the market. I’d much rather spend my time doing something than thinking about doing something.

So is there an easy answer to success? Well, I guess that depends on your definition of easy.

862369_73766129Today’s verse is 1 Peter 5:6.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

The Bible talks about success and victory frequently, which is nice because that’s a question people have often. But I’m not exactly sure the God’s strategy will jive with anyone else’s. God’s strategy for success seems a little backwards.

But then, that’s normal. Usually God’s way is entirely opposite of what the world says anyway, entirely opposite of how we’re wired to think. And this strategy for success is no different.

You want to be successful? Humble yourself.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Seriously, how does that work? If you want to be successful, don’t you have to make a name for yourself? If you want to win, don’t you have to fight harder, live louder, and play meaner than all your competition? Don’t you have to be the smartest person in the room?

No. None of that will make you successful.

Well, let me rephrase. None of that will bring you God’s success. There’s a big difference here. Because you can fight, shout, cheat your way to the top and win access to all the spoils of American affluence. But once you achieve that kind of success, you’ll find that it’s empty and unsatisfying. That kind of success leaves you hollow.

Success that comes from God fills you up. It stops the longing in your heart for more-more-more and overwhelms you with God’s goodness instead. Until one day you wake up and you can’t believe how much God has given you, and all you want to do is rush out and give-give-give to others because God has blessed you so richly.

See the difference?

The trouble is, success that comes from God isn’t always financial. And sometimes that’s better anyway. Not saying that God can’t bless you with money. Some of the most amazing, generous, awesome people I know are Christ-followers God has blessed with a lot of finances, and that’s incredible! But I know just as many Christ-followers who make it from paycheck to paycheck, and they are no less blessed.

But whether God’s success comes to you in a tangible or intangible form, the key to achieving it is humility before God. It’s the complete opposite of what the world teaches.

What does a humble life before God look like? Very simply, it’s doing what God says is right whether you understand it or not. That means living by the Bible. That means obeying God’s Word.

Yes, it’s an easy answer, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy life. But that’s when we need to remember that this life wasn’t meant to be easy. We’re living in a broken world, after all.

Do you want to be successful in 2015? Not the kind of empty success the world sells–but the success that comes from God? Sure, you do. I don’t know anyone who starts a new year hoping to be a complete and utter failure.

Be humble before God. Don’t live like you know it all. Recognize that God’s in control and do what He says. That’s it. It’s harder than it sounds, but in the time God chooses, God will bring you success. It may not look like what everyone thinks it should, but when you receive it, you won’t want anything else.

Peacock in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Knowing more doesn’t mean you’re always right

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to teach somebody something? Maybe at work or at school or even on a project at home? Have you experienced that brief moment of excitement where you grasp the fact that you know something someone else doesn’t?

Maybe it’s just me. But I like that feeling. Just being honest. There’s something really empowering about realizing that you have knowledge other people don’t.

But just because you know something others don’t doesn’t necessarily make you smarter or more powerful. It just means you’ve had different life experiences that have allowed you to learn things others may not have been exposed to. Knowing more than someone else doesn’t make you superior. It just means you have something to teach.

Peacock in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Peacock in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 2:3-5.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

As a child, I loved Bible trivia and sword drills. I loved being able to show people that I knew all the books of the Bible, that I had memorized big passages, that I could hold my ground in nearly scriptural discussion. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with any of those things. We need to know the Bible. We need to know what it says and what it means and how it applies to our lives.

But so often that sort of knowledge becomes a competition where people who have a proclivity for retaining that type of information excel. And it’s not a competition. It shouldn’t be.

I’m not knocking sword drills. I’m knocking the attitude behind them.

I’ve seen too many new believers who couldn’t find the Book of Amos to save their life–but they have a better grip on God’s grace than any sword drill skills could provide. Which is more important?

I guess I’m just thinking about teaching today because I’m approaching a day where I’m going to have some teaching moments. And when it comes to teaching–especially when I’m teaching writing–my tendency is to think I know all the answers. I’ve been writing for a long time, and I have specific opinions about how it should be done. And that’s great. But that doesn’t mean my way is the only way. That doesn’t mean the people I have to teach are wrong.

Writing is funny like that.

The best teachers in my life haven’t treated me like a dummy. The people I’ve learned the most from in my life have treated me as an equal, as someone searching for answers, just like them. And that’s the kind of teacher I want to be.

I have so many friends who are teachers, and I have so much respect for what they do and how they do it. Nowadays, teaching is a thankless job. I appreciate all that our country’s teachers do to help their students succeed when all the odds are against them.

The best teachers aren’t teaching to do themselves a favor. Teachers teach because they’re putting the needs of their students above themselves. That’s where I want to be, not just in teaching but in life.

Are you facing a situation today where you have to teach somebody something? If so, remember to be humble about it. Just because you had the privilege to learn it doesn’t mean you know more than the person you’re teaching. They may know more than you do about something else, and you wouldn’t appreciate it if they talk down to you.

The funny thing about teachers who are humble is that they are always learning. They never think they’ve learned it all. They’re always willing and open to learn something new.

Be humble about teaching others what you know. You’ll be surprised. Who knows? You might learn more from your students than you teach them.