Friday, September 25, 2009

Serving with strength/s

Sometimes info is viral, and it comes from several sources at once. I can't remember the blog where I saw the book or who else mentioned it. I bought it for one cent (plus $3.99 shipping), and logged onto the Gallup website for the "Five Strengths" test.

"Do you have the old or new version?" they asked. I clicked on the old one, of course. For one penny, c'mon.

When the old version was written, Gallup based findings on two million interviews in pursuit of 34 patterns of innate strengths. These inherent talents were positive traits, worthy of development. Jobs matching these strengths with a person's interests should be satisfying and energizing.

Now Discover Your Strengths points out that most job training is designed to bolster employees' weaknesses. Are we bad at fundraising? Take a course. Weak at organization? Learn from a seminar. Unable to sustain healthy relationships? Go to a self-help workshop.

Instead, the book proposes that strengths ought to be the cornerstones on which we build life and work. Their survey pops out my five signature themes (their wording):
1. Ideation: Fascinated by concepts, delighted to discover underlying connections, turning ideas around for a fresh look. Don't mind if they seem profound or bizarre in process.
2. Activator: "When can we start?" Make a decision. Act. Look at the result. Learn. Not adverse to risk or experiment.
3. Strategic: Sort clutter to find the best route. "This can't be taught but [is a] distinctive way of thinking" (115). Perspective on the world at large. Choose a path by watching where it could lead. "Select. Strike."
4. Achiever: Constant drive fueled by internal fire, jolt that starts new tasks, set the pace and productivity for work group.
5. Command: Take charge, no discomfort in imposing views on others. Share opinions when they're formed, align others with you. "Not frightened by confrontation, but see it as first step to resolution." Challenge others to clear-eyed honesty. May even intimidate others. (Sigh)

I read these and the strengths I don't have. The book puts all in positive light. Train for maximum application and health of your "signature themes," the book advises. Spend less time trying to become someone you're not. Sounds a lot like my dad's advice!

Nothing on the list is a surprise, because the patterns are constant since childhood. What interests me (#1) is how many of the other strengths I wish I had... but know I don't. I have tried to foster them (#3), some with limited or little success. All that striving might be the achiever in me (#4). HA

Since the test cuts off at five strengths, there's no way of telling if I am also a connector, relator, maximizer, learner, or communicator. It's pretty clear that I'm not a deliberative (careful with praise, vigilant, private), harmony-producing (peacemaking), woo-er of people (people-pleaser). Oh dear. Oh well.

I'm happy I have something new to think about this morning (#1), before I turn toward my findings (#2) and decide what to do (#3). I wonder what goals this info will help me reach (#4) and where I can apply it (#5). Okay, okay.

One or two people who blogged about the book said the theory was a bunch of nonsense because "we don't think it applies to us." I think the ideas are fascinating (#1)...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The discipline of practice

I hate practicing. From the time my four-year-old feet first swung from the piano bench, I hated sitting still and figuring out sounds from notes someone else wrote. I didn't mind playing around with my own music. The piano stood in my room. My dolls were on top of the big old-fashioned piano cabinet, so I stood on the keys to reach them. I could make music anytime I wanted. And some days I wanted to play (or walk on the keys) a lot. I just didn't want to practice.

I've played for a lot of groups, choirs, and orchestras since my brother (7) and I (5) first played a Christmas duet on violin and piano. I accompanied a singer in church when I was 9, transposing by ear around the key right for his voice... The music was in Eb, a pretty safe shape for small hands. He went down in pitch with me following, and came up and around again... and ended up in B major (5 sharps).

Groan, the key of Bb or C was not a problem, but Erhard wanted B and only that one. "That's it. Perfect."

"Sure she can do it," said my dad. The guy was over for Sunday lunch, singing his solo in church that evening. We were kinda casual back then about rehearsals. I suppose if I hadn't showed up, he would have sung the song as written, handing over a hymn book to the regular pianist.

We went through the song a few times so he could get used to me and I could memorize where the one chord was that I had never played before. I reminded myself, "OK, when you get there, hit F#, Bb, C#, E." Must have been an F#7 chord. It was traumatic enough that I still remember the keys I learned.

"Try anything once," became my motto. "If it doesn't kill you, it was at least interesting." I've jumped off cliffs into deep Harrison Lake, swum across Cultus Lake just to see if I'd get tired (no, I'm a floater), and eaten unspeakable things which tasted pretty good. I can't remember regretting anything we've tried over the years.

It's the discipline of sticking with something, the hashing it through until it becomes a reflex, the tedium of repetition that puts my mind to sleep.

My studio is slowly evolving into my art room and study after being a crafter's haven, sewing room, storage room, and everything between. It's hard to imagine years of practice ahead to be a good painter. But I love the feeling of brush, water, paint, paper, imagination, and subject. Maybe this skill is worth the discipline.

I can always run downstairs and plunk out my frustrations on the piano as the paint dries. I've put my time in for that already.


My husband and I have the gift of giving. By that I mean God flows "stuff" through our possession. It's odd sometimes. Unexpected. Fun. Even wild and crazy at times. The giving patterns began when we were young.

"How did you happen to have that in your basement?" asked a friend recently. Whatever oddball item it was, it was a good fit for someone else. We "happened" to have it on hand. Like my fur coat recycled into teddy bears, outward it went. (Yup, someone sewed "black rabbit" bears for a cancer ward last winter.)

After years of gathering and distributing, our eyes and hands are increasingly attuned to God at work. Sometimes we get stuck: instead of passing things through, we clutter our spaces. But often we recognize with great pleasure that something is not ours.

The balcony outside our workplace is a great place for watching soccer practice or games. It's a wonderful space to have lunch. Hardly anyone uses it though: there has been nowhere to sit. I received permission to bring some outdoor furniture from home to work - our benches stand outside all winter and they could be put to use. However, W and I hadn't driven to work with an empty van all week. He knew I was waiting to get the seating moved.

Yesterday someone gave us a new patio set with 6 huge redwood armchairs, a 60" round table, and an enormous rain/sun umbrella. "Where do you want it?" asked W. "It's in the car. Put it on the back deck? Or... shall we take it to work?"

Of course. Great idea, hon! I was astonished again at how God chose something better than we'd imagined. Our son helped set it up. One chair was still in the box. The day got away from us and W is off on business so assembly will wait a day or two (unless someone comes by with an Allen wrench.)

For flow persons like us, seeing a great fit "happen" is great fun, a confirmation of God's gift of giving. Giving is sometimes a messy process because developing maturity in any spiritual gift takes patient trial and error... between successes. We explore where generosity is welcome and where it is refused. Occasionally people think we are offering "charity" and get offended. As with any skill, we sometimes get it wrong.

What spiritual gifts might you have? How can they be God's provision within your relationships? Don't be afraid to try and fail... the Spirit teaches and uses us in community. Pluck up courage and step out in faith. After all, it's not about us, but about his work in the world and the Church.

Read more:
*Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul. I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Psalm 146:1-2 NIV

*We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves... Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies." 2 Corinthians 4:7, 10 NET

*If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Philippians 2:1-2 NIV

Monday, September 21, 2009

Book giveaway - first one who asks

If God Is Good, by Randy Alcorn

Every one of us will experience suffering. Many of us are experiencing it now. As we have seen in recent years, evil is real in our world, present and close to each one of us.

In such difficult times, suffering and evil beg questions about God--Why would an all-good and all-powerful God create a world full of evil and suffering? And then, how can there be a God if suffering and evil exist?

These are ancient questions, but also modern ones as well. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and even former believers like Bart Ehrman answer the question simply: The existence of suffering and evil proves there is no God.
In this captivating new book, best-selling author Randy Alcorn challenges the logic of disbelief, and brings a fresh, realistic, and thoroughly biblical insight to the issues these important questions raise.

Find the book at
(sorry - copy and paste, then link insertion isn't working)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Three gifts

Another successful event, this one not mine. 600 women of the area converged on Ocean Shores for a conference. I'm exhausted by being around so many people, but met many alumni and prospective students at our university table. Fellow alum Collen Idso did a great job connecting with college friends and collecting updates. We packed up and arrived home before 9pm, in time to unpack and settle into bed to think.

The theme of the conference was "Living with Intention." Each session had three speakers (the same three for all sessions), who spoke for 20 minutes from their POV on a single topic. Between, listeners at round tables answered focused questions about how authentically we are living and what our journey has taught us about God.

I brought home three gifts:
- a renewed sense of what is and isn't a good fit among my commitments
- memories of time with my sweet daughter-in-law Melissa.
- a word of encouragement to rest in Christ and his provision of time and energy, given by an alum who has prayed for me for years

How thankful I am for a morning given by God to reflect on what we heard and saw. A few hours to pray for our institution, alumni, and friends before the pace picks up at a working bbq this afternoon. I think about God's generosity as I unwrap my three presents.

Read more:

*Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind? Job 38:36 NLT

*For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

*And [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-39

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Are you a writer?

"What is a writer? A writer writes."

I went to a writer's conference about eight years ago without a book, without articles, without anything to pitch. I had a ball. Because I arrived without pressure to sell myself, agents and authors sought me out, sat next to me at meals, and told me all kinds of things about themselves and the process of writing, exactly what I was there to learn.

I got a fascinating look into the world of writing, sales, and publishing. The professionals showed up to teach and find "the one" great writer of the future. Mostly they were in flight, avoiding flocks of people flogging bad manuscripts. Many would-be-authors insisted over and over, "God told me what to write. I can't change it," to avoid editing. The pros spotted them immediately and closed ranks against them.

A lot of folks apparently think they have the great Western romance novel or ground-breaking leadership manual in their head. She expects a cult following of devoted readers and he intends to transform culture with his great innovation... Except that you have to write well and pitch your ideas to an agent or publisher. After the book is published, they probably expect you to trot it out to sell it.

The pros said producing readable ideas means leaving behind everything that does not add to the story. If the novelette is your "baby," birthed over years of agonized reflection, your heart may break to hear that the creation is deformed or unacceptable. That it's already been done by someone else. It can be devastating to slash and burn through pages painstakingly written.

At the conference, those willing to refine and perfect their writing improved their craft and sold their work. I watched those holding their pages loosely: others came alongside with advice and help. "Keep those rejection letters," said one agent. "They are like gold: if an editor takes time for suggestions, the writing is good enough for revision." (Oops, I had read and tossed those letters as rejections, not recognizing the gift offered.)

I went home and did what writers do. I continued to write. Occasionally, I send off articles, blogs, ideas. Some go into print. Some come back, with or without editorial comments. Some disappear in slush piles. The conference taught me to invite criticism and value the influence of the printed word.

So, are you a writer? How about sharing a well-crafted paragraph or two?

Friday, September 11, 2009


“If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try skydiving!” (passed along by friend David Delgatty)

Ideas. Youngsters begin to separate the world from self. Human actions produce reactions. Babies immediately begin to experiment to learn what gets good results. Conformity to rules keeps us safe and minimizes correction or reprimand. Disobedience brings attention. Manipulation works: we cry and parents respond with food and clean clothing. When we get hurt, we get hugs and a soothing “There, there. You’ll be ok.” Or we hear, "Stupid kid! Why did you do that?"

The same action in different contexts can produce a variety of responses. We touch and get a stroke or a slap. Reach for Mommy’s hand, she strokes and smiles. Reach for the stove, she slaps and scolds. Environment begins to train us to acceptable parameters. Adventure and exploration rewards or hurts. Our intimate circle supports or restricts us.

Toddlers handle building blocks, stacks of mixing bowls, a sandbox. Children pass a ball between teammates. Rehearse a musical instrument from the solitude of a practice room into a group of musicians. Stomp or glide a smooth floor for gym or dance. Teens and young adults have coaches and instructions manuals that explain how to get a drivers license and maneuver a car. Work an appliance to wash laundry, use a circular saw, or plug in an I-Touch. Find sources, manipulate information, and systematize facts into categories for college or job.

Our responses to new stimuli and our interactions with others shape how we think. A child registers a parent’s word of praise for an innovative way of stacking blocks or bowls, or a parent’s frown for noisy play. She sees classmates walk toward her in curiosity or walk away in disgust. He wrestles or is wrestled to the ground to cheers and boos.

Gradually, subtly, most of us narrow our ideas to acceptable boundaries. The timid erect walls. The fearless learn caution. Those who thrive within margins become respected accountants and regulators, teachers who outline what is known, and engineers who shape applications and spaces. They create harmony, safety, and composition. Those who thrive on turbulence become artists, scientists, and other irritants, tossing out random ideas that prod the complacent, color across black and white outlines, and spark tinder into flame. Revolutions and innovations – in processes, politics, and tools – usually come through dreamers who refuse to be confined by what is already known or done.

In ideal environments, the orderly and the chaotic continually interact to create systems of lively creativity within sound structures. This uncomfortable interface produces sustainable local and global development.

Progress comes when we find our opposite, challenging and encouraging each other. Who will help us balance what can be thought and what can be built?

Read more:
*Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest." Proverbs 14:4 NLT

*Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16 NLT

*Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. Hebrews 11:1-3 NIV

*For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 1 Peter 3:10-11

Monday, September 7, 2009

Trust me, trust me not

I've been thinking about work this Labor Day. I've worked at very different businesses over the years. Some bosses are utterly trustworthy. No matter what the circumstances or the fallout for themselves, they protect and mentor their employees. They act in the best interests of others and pull in those unlike themselves to build beyond their own potential. They release people to think large, to dream widely, and give underlings permission to fail without penalty as part of the route to success and promotion.

I grew up trusting those in my immediate circle. As a child I believed that all adults acted wisely and "did the right thing." Everyone brought their experiences and talents to the mix. I read in scripture that the Church flourished because of each member's spiritual gifts.

It is delightful to watch how others see the world. Top architects design leaning and twisting towers. A mother plans her child's theme party with a twist. Innovative technology is snatched up with, "Why didn't someone think of this before?"

One of my favorite books is a French children's volume about the exotic gifts a lover would buy for his true love's birthday - a lock of hair from Rapunzel's head, exquisitely created artwork, and items found off the beaten path during travels. The imagination of the author/illustrator always makes me laugh aloud at the extraordinary possibilities, exquisitely presented. It stirs vague remembrances of childish ideas snuffed out when someone said they were stupid or couldn't grasp their promise.

Most people try to avoid those who act in their own interests, belittle colleagues, and squelch the ideas of associates to make themselves look good. Venturing out into the workplace over the years, I have met fellow employees who boldly proclaim themselves experts and say aloud that they are bored if they aren't controlling a meeting. I've been surprised when people shut down ideas that aren't their own. I've had coworkers who consistently refuse possibilities they have not dreamed up.

One of the saddest parts of growing up has been meeting people who would be outstanding team contributors with encouragement. Instead, they have stayed safe and very small after being told their ideas were uninteresting or irrelevant. They've heard they were acting too large for their position or stepping out of line. ("Get back in your box!") Their gifts are not welcome at the table with their "betters" so they buy the lie that God puts people in authority to control others and determine their size and value.

How many church members leave their energy and contributions at home, sitting in a pew while others serve? Employees punch a clock to work their routines, saving their best ideas for personal life. So the artist quietly shakes his head at poorly arranged public spaces, but carefully hangs his paintings in his home gallery. The mechanical genius mows lawns and cleans gutters on the job, but builds motorcycles and restores old cars in a well-equipped home garage. The gardener works in a barren office but lives in a home surrounded by lush flowerbeds. The writer produces dry reports on public time, but nurtures a secret audience with books and articles written under a pen name.

As we head back to work, let's remember that it is not our name or power base we are building or protecting. We can be trusted when we are working for God's interests. And his creative will may be waiting for life in the words or ideas of a fellow employee, waiting for permission to be heard.

Three questions as we head back to work after Labor Day:
1. Where can we be our true self this week? Whom can we trust with fresh ideas that could transform culture or enhance a work situation?

2. Does someone working for us hold back their best ideas and resources because it is not safe to share their full potential? Why has God placed them in our area? How can we provide the space and protection for what God wants to do through them?

3. Who blocks others in our area of authority? Do we have the power to break the bottleneck where ideas clog in our organization?

Col. 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.