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Friday, June 29, 2012

A Grace that Fills in the Gaps


Praise God! For He has doled out 
huge heapings of grace this week, 
grace that fills in all the gaps my mistakes made. 
He has poured into the crevices of my life 
large portions of forgiveness, patience, 
mercy, and abounding love. 

When I have felt alone, 
His presence has tapped me on the shoulder 
and made itself known. Ah, that is so good, 
to not be alone when you thought you were. 

And when I have felt discouraged, 
He has gently, oh so gently, 
lifted my downcast chin, 
drawn my gaze back to His ability, 
His sovereignty, His self-existence. 
And when I have punched aimless 
at my goals and dreams, 
He has drawn me into the safety 
of His plan and purpose for my life, 
one that is good and meaningful.

May you notice the grace of God 
filling in the gaps in your life this weekend. 
When plans do not work out, 
when it rains on your picnic, 
when the drain clogs again,
when the heat is rising,
when people don't show up, 
when the kids don't cooperate or you lose it, 
may you notice that He is still in control. 
He is still oh so good. 

May you feel the gentleness of His Rest 
when you lay your head down at night. 
And may your day begin with brightness 
and hope and joy renewed, 
even if the sun is not shining through your window
or filling your backyard with prisms of promise. 
May the light of your God
be more than enough to fill the gaps 
created by disappointment or discouragement.

Grace abound, to you, dear friend. 
Grace that fills the gaps. 
Because, oh, we all have gaps. 
But you and I, we have a gracious God 
whose love and peace and mercy and kindness 
flow fuller and higher than the gaps we create.  


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Just Around the Bend in the Trail

I'm thrilled to announce today that I've been doing some housecleaning here at Off the Beaten Path, and, as a result, everything now has a new bin and label!

Starting tomorrow, most of my posts will fall under one of my new labeled categories. This may or may not affect you, but it will certainly help me stay on track as far as publishing posts that are actually relevant and pertinent to this blog's theme. And I think, if my memory serves me correctly, that theme has something to do with:

...walking alongside women who are committed to staying on the narrow path, the one blazed by Christ and His Holy Word, despite the pulls from the world...

"Thus says the Lord, 
"Stand by the ways and see 
and ask for the ancient paths, 
where the good way is, 
and walk in it; 
and you will find rest for your souls."
Jeremiah 6:16

And so, without further ado, I introduce to you my new post labels and the topics that will be covered under them. These labels will not show up on any particular day. For instance, I used to have a Ministry Monday. But such "days" are about as constraining and uncomfortable as the 45 lb. backpack I carried on the Appalachian Trail. So we won't go to those extremes. We'll all just kindly allow me to make sure I post within any of these categories on any given day. Thanks, that's so understanding of you.

Trail Buddies will feature posts about relationships. Ok, that was obvious enough. These will mostly be posts about friendships - how to make them, keep them, keep them on track, build them, enjoy them. We all need friends with whom to walk this narrow trail.
Just Me & Thee will include posts that...well...quite honestly, just don't fit in any other category. This is the bin that gives me a little wiggle room, if you will. You know what they say, "Orderliness is next to godliness, but wiggle room is just plain human." Well, someone ought to say it, anyhow.

Seriously, this category of posts will include my thoughts on personal meditations and scriptures God is pressing into my heart.

The Ministry Map will feature posts written specifically to help and encourage women in ministry. Whether you're a pastor's wife, a women's ministry director at a church, a women's speaker and/or author, a MOPS coordinator or team member, or a mentor for teen girls, hopefully you will find some helpful tips, good resources, insights, and encouraging words here.

Two for the Trail will include posts about marriage. That's pretty much it.

Likewise, Navigating Motherhood will feature posts on mothering. I do want to point out that I will try to go the gamut on motherhood - from being a mother to preschoolers, to school age children, to teens, and to adults. We'll talk specifics, but we'll also keep it general enough to where you can hopefully glean something useful from it wherever you may be in your mothering adventure.

What's in Your Pack? will include posts that focus on tips and resources for the gal following Christ - Bible study suggestions, tips for memorizing Scripture, suggestions for practical and doable application, etc. These will apply to any woman on the road less traveled. 

And finally, the Summit will probably, hopefully, show up on this blog every Friday. The idea is to finish the week off with a prayer of praise for how God has shown up during the week and a prayer of blessing for you as we temporarily part ways until Monday rolls around again. I do think I am the most excited about this particular bin of posts. 

So, that's why I'm cluing you into all this today, on a Thursday, so I can kick-off my new blog organization system with my favorite category of all tomorrow: The Summit. I do hope you'll join me!

Hey, gals, please tell me what you think of all this. What category looks the most exciting to you? And while we're talking about it, are there any particular topics you'd like to see addressed on this blog? Any questions you'd like me to attempt to answer? Your feedback is most valuable! 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

10 Steps to an Even More Likeable You

Two of the friendliest gals I've ever met - Rachelle and Carrie
I want people to like me. There I said it. I didn't say I'm a suck up or a people pleaser. If you know me outside this blog at all, you know I'm not. I have just a tad too much take-me-or-leave-me in me to be a people pleaser.

But I do enjoy having friends. Friends are good.

Not only that, but I enjoy connecting with people. I like to have conversations where we get beyond "Hi" and "How are you?" to the real and authentic stuff of life. I love it when something I say resonates with you or when you make a comment and I'm jumping up and down inside screaming, "Me too!"

And I love it when I get into a deep and meaningful conversation with someone and the time flies by faster than the free skate song at the local roller rink. And I absolutely thrill at those times when we find out we have little, itsy, bitsy, kinda miniscule things in common that we had no idea we shared...the kind of things that sound insignificant and small to others, but to the people who share them they are like little dots of crazy glue, drawing them together in a bond that can't be broken.

The older I get the more I realize I want to move my relationships even more quickly through the polite conversation stage and onto the meaningful and treasured moments of deep friendship. Especially when I meet other Christians. After all, these are the folks I'll spend eternity with. I want to be well past the small talk stage by the time we take up residence within the pearly gates. 

And I desire a broader base of friendships, too. I don't want friendships made of people just like me. I want a little variety. I want friends from other countries, professions, skin colors, languages, and backgrounds. Yes, I even want friends of other faiths. I just, of course, want to share my faith with them. I'm just keeping it real.

So that gets me to thinking about how to be the kind of person with whom others want to be friends. You know Jesus was a winsome guy. I love that word, winsome. We don't use it very often. I guess it just sounds a little old-fashioned. But to be winsome simply means that you have the ability to very naturally and easily win some friends! 

Or something like that.

Any who... Jesus drew people to Himself...with what appeared to be little effort. In other words, He wasn't on some sort of popularity quest. He wasn't trying to have more "Friends" on Facebook than anyone else or have more people repin His pins or retweet His tweets. Good grief. He just drew crowds with relatively little "effort."

That says to me that it wasn't any great ploys on His part that drew people in, but it was His very nature. Up until the point where He would call for a wholehearted commitment from people, He really didn't push Himself on people. He just was.

Of course, He was....God. He was love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and faithfulness, oh my! And forget self-control. He just was in control.

And people were just drawn to this God-man. Thousands at a time. And they wanted Him to touch them and touch their children. And they wanted to hear every word He said.

Now I don't have those aspirations. I am under no false assumptions about people hanging on my every word and I don't want anyone hanging on my every shirt sleeve. I just want to know how to win some. How to be winsome enough to strike up a conversation and keep it going long enough to have the opportunity to eventually share the hope I have in Jesus Christ.

And I happen to think that being likeable would be a likely first step.

So how can we be more winsome? Here are 10 brief suggestions.
  • Smile. With your eyes, too. Work on having the kind of smile that starts in your belly and works it way up to your mouth and shines out your eyes and eventually breaks out into at least a friendly chuckle. Some people really need to just stop right here and go work on this one for a while.
  • Ask questions. Not the nosy or bothersome kind, but the genuine and non-threatening curiosity type.
  • Listen. With your eyes and your ears and your heart and your sweet little nodding head.
  • Follow up. I'm amazed at how many people are amazed when you come back around and ask about their dog that was sick or their flowers they planted Thursday or their trip to Niagara Falls. People like to know you remembered.
  • Give a little. You don't have to give gifts you bought at the store, but think of how many ways you can give something, say, to a new acquaintance at church. Offer to refill their coffee, help them take their children to the nursery, have them over for dinner, let them share your Bible if they forgot to bring one, or just give them your card with an invitation to call you if they ever need anything.
  • Suggest a future. I love it when a new acquaintance makes me feel like they see a future with me in it, when they say something like, "Next week you should sit with me," or "Some time soon we'll have to go to lunch and talk about our college kids."
  • Show some enthusiasm. I know not everyone is naturally enthusiastic. There are some personality types who look the same whether their pie won first place at the State Fair or their dog died. But, come on. If you want that new friend to become a good friend, you're going to have to look like you truly enjoyed meeting them.
  • Steer clear of controversy. I'm not suggesting you keep your relationships shallow and never progress to the point where you get down to the serious stuff in life. But there's a time and place for everything. It's a real turn-off to me when a new acquaintance wants to battle me on a controversial subject right out of the gate.
  • Hold your tongue. Boy, I can really monopolize a discussion if I'm not careful. I like to talk. But I've learned that if I want to have friends I better learn to keep my mouth shut a fair amount of the time and let someone else fill the vacuum every now and then.
  • Do it again. Building relationships takes time and consistency. I met a neat woman at a baby shower one time that I had a lot in common with. I thought we could be good friends and I should definitely follow up with her. But I never did. Four years later our paths crossed again and I didn't make the same mistake twice. We're Facebook friends now and I plan to invite her to lunch in the fall. Friendly people pursue friends, I'm learning.
Well, those are my tips. Do you have any to add? What do you think makes a person likeable, winsome?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Conversation with Steve

Marlo Thomas
We weren't dating any longer, if we ever really were, but I was doing everything I could to rectify that little bothersome fact. It was my senior year and I was in the middle of tying up my senior public relations project, ordering cap and gown, and applying for jobs.

Therein lie the rub. 

I had lost my fervor for PR, or at least for the idea of practicing it in a high rise building in New York. The passion had first consumed me in high school when I read some 1950s romanticized novel about a young girl moving to New York, working for a PR firm in a high rise, and shopping for cute That Girl (think Marlo Thomas) type suits with matching hats, purses, and shoes. Come to think of it, in my dreams for my future the role of "me" was often played by either Marlo Thomas or Mary Tyler Moore. They definitely had what I wanted -- the flat for one, the career wardrobe, and the flip (you know, the hairstyle). Forget the fact that neither made much money, Mary lived in Detroit (wasn't it?), and That Girl wasn't a journalist at all (I don't think).

But on this particular night as graduation inched closer and closer, my dreams had become more realistic, scary, and ...gray. I could no longer see the future quite as clearly as I once thought I had. And, the truth is, I no longer felt as excited or enthusiastic about pursuing a career in public relations. The field still intrigued me, but the thought of giving my life to helping some mega-corporation or even some non-profit organization stay in the good graces of its various communities no longer felt worthwhile enough.

And so Steve (the boyfriend who never really was a boyfriend...according to him) and I were walking on the campus of the University of Georgia late one evening, when it happened.

I was called into the ministry.

Now, Kay, how do you know you were called? What exactly is a calling? Did you hear a voice?

The only voices I heard were mine and Steve's. I was whining about my lack of direction, my shift in dreams, my need to get a job, my desire to matter. Steve was doing what he usually did. He was asking me questions and offering absolutely no answers. 

That boy had commitment problems all the way around.

I don't remember any of that conversation verbatim, except for one question Steve posed and one very clear answer I provided.

Steve: Kay, if you could do anything you wanted as a career, and money weren't an issue at all, what would it be? 

(I do remember at this point arguing with him for a few seconds about how ludicrous it was to consider a career based on such a proposal. Money not an issue? Of course money is an issue! But he insisted I think beyond the dollar and tell him what I would want to do if I were independently wealthy or money grew on trees.)

I thought for probably less than a minute and then...I knew. I knew exactly what I would want to do. And I had never verbalized this before, not even in my head and certainly not in my dreams. 

And, by the way, it was ridiculous. This was not even a job. Not even a career. Not even something a person could say they were or did or whatever. 

But it came tumbling out of my mouth, with all its insanity and equal amounts of conviction.

Kay: I would want to teach women's Bible studies.

What in the world? As soon as I said it, I covered my mouth with my hand, stopped dead in my tracks, and wondered what idiotic thing I had just confessed to both myself and this aggravating man.

But I knew. 

I knew right then. And I knew an hour later when I was back in my dorm room alone. And I knew the next morning when I woke up with new resolve and dreams and enthusiasm. And I knew when my mom looked at me like I had just told her I wanted to run off and join a harem or a convent, either one. And I knew when I later shared the memories of that moment with my pastor and then my future husband and then my best friends.

I knew I was called to teach, and eventually write, women's Bible studies.

So that's how I was called into the ministry.

That calling has served as an anchor in the storms of doubt and rejection and fear and confusion and frustration and difficulty. And while I've questioned my effectiveness and my skills and the timing and definitely the money thing (should I blame Steve for that one?), I've never once doubted my calling. That calling has taken on different shades, but I've fulfilled it. Am fulfilling it. As a woman whose husband has been able to provide financially for our family (completely by the grace of God), I have been blessed to stay home with my children and invest the time and effort needed to teach multiple women's Bible studies at my church for over 20 years. Finally, about four years ago, I got up the nerve to even write one, then two. And there will be more. But nothing replaces the teaching, the interaction with the women, the thrill of watching them glean and grow and gain.

It was a simple question posed while I was out for an evening stroll with an old boyfriend-that-never-really-was-a-boyfriend-according-to-him. And it was a very simple and strange answer. But it was my calling. It is my calling.

Have you ever felt called to some sort of vocation or ministry or mission? How were you called? Has that calling kept you on track or frustrated you? I'd love to know!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who am I Fooling?

Today I asked myself a simple question, but I'm still working on the answer. The question was a result of reading one scripture verse that speaks to a reoccurring theme in the Bible. A yucky theme. One we usually gloss over, assuming it could never apply to us, only all those other folks out there who think they are so...something.

But something slowed me down today, drew me in, and grabbed me on either side of my stoic brow between its firm palms. I'm not sure, but it may have been the Holy Spirit. At any rate, it, He looked me straight in the eyes and said, "You, you, you need to meditate on this statement."

And so I have...am...will.

The pride of your heart has deceived you.
(Obadiah 3)

Here's what I discovered.

We rarely know right off the bat that we are prideful, arrogant, full of it. Why? Because that very pride has us fooled into thinking we're humble, sweet, submissive, and "who me? prideful? you must have me confused with someone else."

One of the characteristics of pride, beyond the obvious, is that it deceives the carrier. You know. Kind of like that Carly Simon song, You're So Vain...I bet you thought this song was about cha.... Pride gets us all confused about what's real, what's genuine.

So today I'm asking myself a few gut-wrenching questions so I can get to the bottom of this. You see, I don't want to be duped by my own pride. I want to live a genuine, honest, transparent life. And I certainly don't want to play the fool, especially because of my own pride.

I'm asking myself if I've been fooled by my own puffed up ego, my own self-sufficiency, and my own standard of right and wrong in any of these areas:
  • Do I try to handle some things on my own, never asking God for help? Yup.
  • Have I been pleased as punch with myself over a recent accomplishment? nod up and down.
  • Do I sometimes tune out certain lessons, devotionals, sermons, even Scripture passages because I've already got that one down pat? Mmm humm.
  • Do I start formulating my especially well-crafted and wise answers to other people's arguments, questions, or points while they are still expressing them to me? Hmmm.
  • Am I confident in my faith, more because I have such great faith than because I have a great God? I'll have to get back to you on that one.
  • Do I often tell God, in maybe not quite these same words, just how blessed He is to have me? Especially considering all the attention He has to give to some other people who just don't seem to have the same learning curve I do? Oh boy.
Well, let me crawl out from under my desk now so I can tie this stinking post up all sweet and such. Ahem.

Look Here's the thing. The only one my pride fools is me. Sure, sometimes my prideful attitude even manages to fool others, but only for a little while.Then they see the real me peaking through the facade my pride has crafted and they're no longer duped. Just me. I'm left with egg on my face...and I don't even know it. But I want to know it, so I can get it off!

And so I'm pondering these things today. And I'm trying to give myself honest answers and confront my sin head on.

How do you go about confronting sin in your own life? How do you hold the mirror up to your life, look in it honestly, and deal with what you see?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Up in Front of Everyone

A 2001 Gallup poll concluded that the top three fears among women are 
  1. snakes
  2. public speaking
  3. tight spaces.
 What about you? Are any of those your top fears?

I'll admit to being afraid of snakes. But fortunately I'm able to avoid those most of the time. Still, you better believe my eyes are always peeled for snakes as I navigate our nearby hiking trails.

On the other hand, I've made a life of speaking in public. Other than the occasional kaleidoscope of butterflies--caused more by excitement than nerves--I have no qualms with speaking before a large crowd.

But that hasn't always been the case.

I started out afraid of talking to anyone, much more so a group of any number. I'd get clammy palms, my heart would race, and sometimes I even plain out refused to step up to the platform.  

Then I learned better.

You see, another interesting bit of Gallup poll trivia is that while 52% of those with a high school diploma or less education fear standing in front of crowds and speaking, only 24% of college graduates fear the same thing. That indicates to me that education, practice, and more practice help alleviate this particular fear.

That's been my experience as well.

I recalled recently that as an elementary school child my mother insisted I join the 4-H Club. I didn't raise cows or chickens or pigs. I didn't grow vegetables or can peaches either. I spoke.

And I didn't just speak; but I entered speaking contests, all at my mother's prodding and insistence.

For instance, I remember creating a box full of babysitting helps -- a touch and feel book, a book on tape, and a game -- as one of my 4-H projects. But then my mom insisted that I present the project to my 4-H Club, then a panel of judges, then another panel of judges, and still another, until I'd made it to the state competition level. For all I know she probably had me present my spiel about my babysitting box to a group of her friends before they all played a round of Rook on a Friday night as a way of practicing my speech. But in the end, I knew how to tell people about my creation, how it worked, how it would benefit the keen babysitter back in the 1970s before kids were more interested in electronics than books on tape.

Yep, I could talk my way out of a paper box alright.

Of course since then I've continued my training in public speaking. I took a speech class in college, received training from CLASS speakers' services, and read up on effective speaking. But it all started with things like 4-H, Girl Scouts, and Girls in Action back in the day.

Today's Trail Tips
I'm not an expert on overcoming phobias, so if you are one of the 44% of women who are fearful of speaking to a group of your peers I can't offer a cure-all. But I can give you a few of the most tried and true public speaking tips that have worked for me over the years. These aren't so much message development tools, mind you, but just basic tips for overcoming the fear of being in the public-speaking spotlight.
  • Know your stuff. Actually, know even more stuff. I find that it works best for me to know more about the subject than I'll even get to share with my audience. A wealth of knowledge makes me a richer and more confident speaker. It also prepares me to answer questions afterward.
  • Be prepared...and more prepared. Even today I go over my messages verbally--standing at my kitchen table and talking to an audience of two disinterested dogs--at least four to eight times before I ever present them to real, live, breathing, thinking people. And I've found there is a direct and stark correlation between the number of times I rehearse and the success of my actual presentation.
  • Get the timing down. Some people think they're not going to have enough to say and end up saying way too much. Others think they've planned for an hour and end up giving their audience a 10 minute teaser. Once again, rehearsing is the best cure for either extreme. But I've found I speak faster to my people audience than I do my dogs, so I always allow for the difference.
  • Put the clothes back on your audience. You've heard people--usually on television shows--say "Envision your audience all in their underwear and you won't be as nervous." Well, people in their underwear would make me squirm with discomfort. So instead give your audience a little more dignity than that. Envision them as an intelligent, curious, and deeply interested crew. Don't convince yourself they're mocking you or bored with you. That's rarely the case, especially if you've followed my first three tips.
  •  Pray and breathe right before. I always take a few moments to ask God to help me speak so that I am understood. I don't ask Him to make me amazing to my audience, but just get the message across despite any errors I may make. That kind of prayer keeps my ego from tripping me up before I even take the stage. I also try to get my breathing under control before I approach the platform, otherwise I find myself operating breathless throughout my speech, causing my words to sound choppy. Just consciously breathe in and out, nice and deep and slow, before your name is announced.
  • Know where you're going and go. I find that the less I need to refer to my notes, the better. Instead I try to map out my message like a walk down the street. I imagine I'm walking someone from point A to point B and telling them about the things we're passing on the way. That means I need to have "walked this proverbial path" so many times beforehand that I couldn't possibly get lost, even if I encountered a "storm" on the way. When I walk my audience through my message rather than present it to them from my notes, I give a more engaging message and I find it easier on me as well.
  • Practice. Not just in front of your dogs, however. Practice by speaking to real groups of real human beings. The more you speak in front of others, the better you will get at it.
More than likely you will need to present a message to a crowd of your peers sometime this next year, whether it's a Sunday school lesson, a committee report, or a MOPS devotional. I hope these tips help you deliver like a pro.

Do you have any tips for overcoming the fear of public speaking? What has helped you deliver a message in front of a group of your peers? 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Watch Them Strut Their Stuff!

Because a lot of women involved in church women's ministry read my blog...I think...I hope, we're going to have a little women's ministry fashion show of sorts today.

There will be no bathing suits, no haute couture, and not even the obligatory bridal gown finale. It's not that kind of fashion show.

Instead, we will be watching some winning web sites strut down the runway.

(The Women's Ministry banner at Calvary Baptist Church's website)
I'm constantly perusing churches' women's ministry web pages. It's a great way to find out what's going on with other churches, how they're doing things, what books they're studying, and what kind of events they're hosting for their women.

I've found some great ideas by visiting these web sites, your web sites. I've found:
  • the hottest books to include in our Summer Breakfast and Books book club.
  • incentive to organize hikes and picnics for our women. Being outdoors is obviously really hip these days.
  • ideas for women's fellowships, such as "Get Your Groove On," a fall Bible Study kick-off event set to a 70s theme.
  • inspiration to begin ministries for military wives, widows, and mothers of preschoolers.
You gals have some great stuff going on!

But while I'm sure many churches have effective women's ministries, it takes a real knack to create a web site that adequately communicates all that's going on. So today we're going to see a few of the ones I think really shine. And it's not just large churches doing this web thing right either. The ones that capture my attention and wow me are sites that are high on impact, information, and inspiration. 

So, without further ado, let's begin the show, featuring some of the hottest, well planned, most inspiring, and most informational church women's ministry sites. And if your church's site made the list, congratulations! 

To view the fashion show of women's ministry web sites, just click on the links. The web sites should hopefully open in new windows. If, for some reason the sites open at the church's main page instead of the women's ministry page, just click through the menu until you arrive at the appropriate page. They're all fairly easy to navigate. Enjoy the show!
  • First Baptist Church of Norfolk, Virginia, features a web site that immediately offers good contact information and a menu of interesting ministries. Their ministries menu bar tabs open in separate windows and I'm a big fan of that. I like that they have clear and interesting information about their ministries even during the off-season.
  • Olathe Bible Church in Olathe, Kansas, has a very clear, easy-to-navigate site on their church's web site. They also have a link to their latest newsletter for women, The Grapevine. Lovely.
  • Southwest Bible Church in Beverton, Oregon, has a nicely laid out and easy-to-navigate site. I especially like the fact that their photos appear to be actual pictures of their women and their events or ministries, rather than canned photos. Nice touch!
  • I love how even the background wallpaper changes to a vibrant red paisley when you click on the women's ministry web pages at the church web site for Mission Hills Church in Littleton, Colorado. They also feature great menu tabs and a lot of nice white space. The site looks fresh and lovely, interesting but not crowded.
  • Christ Community Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania, has a site that is just chock full of helpful and up-to-date information. You could stay on this site for an hour seeing what they're up to. And I love the fact that next fall's Bible study offerings are already up and ready for women to browse through.
  • Calvary Baptist Church in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, greets the women at its women's ministry site with a fresh and lovely photo. Then you also get sneak peaks at upcoming events and Bible studies as well as their purpose statement. Clean and helpful.
  • I love web sites where I get to see actual photos of the women who are in leadership. That lets me know who to look for at church when I visit and I even get the feeling that I already know them when I meet them. That's the case at the women's ministry web site at Northwest Bible Church in Hilliard, Ohio. And they're all so pretty to boot!
Well, that's the conclusion of today's women's ministry fashion show. If you like this (and you tell me so in the comments) we'll do this again some time. Believe me, there are plenty more wonderful web sites from women's ministries out there. So don't get your feelings hurt if I didn't showcase yours today. I have hundreds in my bookmarks, truly!

Which site was your favorite and why? What do you like to see in a good women's ministry web site?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Do You Remember the Sermon?

I've been trying to read a little from a particular bestseller each night as I go to bed. I won't tell you the name of the book because I'd hate to reflect badly on it. The book, I'm sure, is great, but because I've been extremely tired as I hit the hay each night, I've been drifting off to sleep before I can even get through a few pages. 

The next evening, when I open the acclaimed book to the bookmarked pages, I struggle to remember the context of what I'm reading. I skim back over the previous pages trying to get my footing before I move forward with the narrative. Often, I end up going back several pages and starting from scratch, only to drift off again before I even catch up with where I supposedly left off the night before.

Ugh! This is a top-selling, blogger community blessed, and prettily packaged book! I should be able to remember what I read from one day to the next. Shouldn't I?

Turns out it's common to forget information we've gleaned, especially if we read, listened to, or even took notes on it when we were tired, distracted, or rushed. And, as in my case with the bestseller I've been trying to read each night, the quality of the material doesn't necessarily correlate to our remembrance of it. In fact, studies show we forget 95% of what we hear after just 72 hours.

So let me ask you a question. Do you remember the sermon you heard this past Sunday? Do you remember the Bible study lesson you completed just yesterday? Is the passage you read in the Bible just this morning still sticking with you like a good bowl of oatmeal? Or have you filed all that away and forgotten how you labeled it?

Just as I've struggled lately with remembering my reading from the night before, I've struggled with making Bible lessons stick over the years. I want God's Word to do a transforming work in my life, but how can it if I can't even recall it?

As I've gotten older and my memory has become even less reliable (it really does happen, chickadees!), it's become even more necessary for me to employ a few "message capturing techniques" if I want to hold onto a message long enough for it to make a lasting imprint in my life. 

Here are a few techniques that have worked for me as I've tried to not only "remember the sermon," but even do something with it:
  • Get ready to hear. It helps to prayerfully prepare my mind and heart to receive truth. Whether I'm about to listen to a sermon, sitting down to study my Bible, or joining other ladies for a Bible study class, it's a good idea to spend at least a few minutes asking God to help me focus. I also ask Him to teach me, verbally yield to receiving what He may say to me, and give Him "permission" to step on my toes.
  • Take notes. I know that sounds basic, but it works. Studies show our retention rate increases dramatically when we write something down, even if we never review what we've recorded again. Truth is, I rarely review my notes, but the act of taking them helps cement the information nonetheless. 
  • Pull out one thing. Even if I've gleaned more than a dozen good points from the lesson or sermon, I settle on the one thing I need most desperately to address in my life. I give myself one challenge to take on, one point to ponder further, or one sin to confess and repent from. If God wants me to deal with more than one thing, I have no doubt He'll bring it to mind later on. 
  • Assign a task. Once I've nailed down my "one thing," I assign myself at least one task to do with that thing. I may need to reconcile a relationship, pray about something further, read additional Scripture, memorize a verse, do an act of kindness, or offer forgiveness.
  • Talk about it. I've found it helps me and presumably others if I discuss what I've learned while it's still fresh on my mind. I may talk about the sermon with my family (maybe just a minute or two), my Bible study lesson with my best gal pal, and a message I heard on the radio with my husband.
What do you do to help you remember a lesson you've studied or a sermon you listened to? How do you make sure you apply the truth instead of just hearing it? I'd love to know!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dare to Lead - Part One

Today I invite you to join me for the first of several discussions about strong, biblical leadership. 

Sometimes Christian ministry leaders shy away from leading with strength, authority, and courage because we've been taught that we're supposed to be "servant leaders." But while Scripture does indeed admonish us to lead through mutual submission, humility, service and grace (John 13:14), it also encourages us to take the mantle of leadership with boldness (Ephesians 6:20), confidence (2 Thessalonians 3:7,9), enthusiasm (1 Peter 5:2), power (2 Timothy 1:7), courage (Joshua 1:9), diligence (Romans 12:8) and, yes, authority (Romans 13:1).

Here's the key: As followers of Christ, our character should always reflect His character. The fruit of the Spirit should be just as ripe and juicy in our leadership style as it is in our behavior anywhere or any time else. But if we've been gifted for leadership by that same Holy Spirit and called into leadership by Christ, then we do the gifts and the calling an injustice when we wimp out as people-pleasers, status-quo-keepers, or yes-women. That's not to imply that we should ever operate in arrogance or force. In fact, the most consistent picture in Scripture of leadership is the role of the shepherd--one who leads gently and lovingly--and not the cattle driver--one who leads by compulsion and force. Still, even the shepherd exercises authority and strength.

So what's a gal to do? The bottom line is that we have to find a godly balance in our leadership. We have to exercise true leadership, but within the holy constraints of love, grace, and humility. No big deal, right? Hmm. You and I know that's not true! But it's a goal worth working toward.

Join me for the next several editions of Trail Talk as we look at a few of the necessary components of strong, biblical leadership. It's my hope that these conversations would encourage us to take up the mantle of leadership afresh, with a renewed commitment to "lead well." I'm trying something new (and scary!). I'm producing a set of Trail Talk videos to launch this discussion. I invite you to watch and listen. But I also ask you to give me your feedback:

  • Let me know what you think about my points.
  • Express contrasting views even.
  • Tell me additional key components to effective, strong, and biblical leadership and maybe I'll talk about those in a future video.
  • You can leave a comment at the end of this post, at the Off the Beaten Path Ministries Facebook page, on my personal Facebook page, or on my YouTube page. But please talk to me!
And hey! No laughing at the ridiculous freeze frame YouTube blessed me with below!  


How important do you think it is to cast a vision for those on your team or in your organization? What are some of the ways you go about finding that vision?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Are You the New Girl in Town?

This time of year our town plays fruit basket turnover. We're a military town, so folks leave (boo hoo!) and new folks move in (hip hip hooray!). Now I've done my share of moving as a pastor's wife, but my four moves (plus a few local house switches) don't begin to compare to the multiple moves these families make. I really can't imagine. Can you?

While starting fresh in a new place definitely has its benefits (you can break in a new hair style, new glasses or a new name!), being the new girl in town (especially over and over and over) can also take a toll. And being "new in town" isn't the only way to be new, is it?

Any time now, we could find ourselves being the new girl at work, the fresh face in a women's Bible study, the new mom in a circle of friends, new to a church, or even new to a Bunco club or zumba group.

New is good, fresh, fun, adventurous.

But new is also a little scary, intimidating, hard, lonely.

After watching the gals who come into my Bible study, MOPS group or church as newbies each year, I've learned a few tips for navigating "new" well. I thought I'd share those with you today in hopes that as we step out of our comfort zones and venture into unknown territory -- whether it be at the gym, the church, the neighborhood,  the workplace or the community -- we'd do so with a little more confidence and success.
  • Introduce yourself. Don't assume that everyone else in the group is a longtime regular and wait for them to make the introductions. There will never be a better chance than that first day to be bold and introduce yourself to as many people as you can.
  • Volunteer. When you volunteer to serve or even lead you immediately find yourself in the middle. That's a great place to be when you're new. Depending on your new situation, you might volunteer to help in the nursery (church), oversee a field trip (child's school), help with refreshments (Bunco group), run the carpool (neighborhood), or babysit (MOPS).
  •  Go early and stay late. Sometimes when we're newbies we tend to get there late and leave early, but we need to do just the opposite if we want the opportunity to meet folks. If you visit a new church, for instance, force yourself to collect your things slowly after the service, stick around for the meet-n-greet if there is one, and be accessible to those who may be willing to engage in conversation.
  • Join up. Don't just go to church, attend the PTA meeting, take your children to the park in your new community, put in the hours at work or visit the gym. Take the next step and sign up for an event, class, or small group within that organization. Join a small group at church, put your name on a volunteer list at the PTA, sign your child up for a team, participate in the company softball league or take an abdominal class at the gym.
Have you been the new girl on the block recently? Where? What helped you make the transition? I'd really appreciate it if you'd share your experience or your tips in the comment section. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

$3.50 or $4.00 With a Butterfly

Yesterday my daughter started her first real, turn-in-a-time-card-and-get-paid job. Fortunately for me she's working just across the street from our house at an elementary school in the kids' summer program. Once each afternoon, unless she's at the swimming pool, the gymnastics center, or some other place where she's wrangling in kids, I can look out my back window and see her towering over her 10-12 munchkins, leading them to some area in the playground and carrying a large ball, some hoola hoops, or some other playground paraphernalia.

I had a similar job one summer when I was in seminary. It was some tough work.

The other night as we sat on our back patio with some friends, we all discussed our first jobs, our teen years jobs, our dues-paying jobs. You know the ones we've tried to forget about like a bad nightmare.

My husband's first job was delivering furniture for a furniture store. This may be why he is at the neurosurgeon's office today for his periodic back injections.

My friend Lilly told us about one of her first jobs at an A&W Hamburger joint. She had a funny story to tell to go along with that job, which included A&W syrup all over the floor of the store an inch thick but you'll have to get it out of her yourself. I'd like to remain friends.

My first job was making creating tissue paper flowers and selling them at Six Flags Over Georgia. That's right. I sat on a tall stool, wrapped a folded set of colorful tissues onto a dowel rod with a rubber band, fanned them out and plucked up the individual sheets until they resembled a whopper of a carnation.

I made those flowers look awfully appealing. I must have, because some people even bought them on the way into the park...then proceeded to ride the log flumes, various roller coasters, and the bumper cars with said flowers. I'd watch those same people leave the park in the evening (we were located near the exit of the park) with their limp, damp, wadded masses of tissue...on a stick.

How much were those lovely flowers, Kay?

"They're $3.50 or $4.00 with a butterfly," I'd say...all...day...long...

That's right. For $.50 you could get a wiry little butterfly stuck securely (sort of) into your flower. Of course that meant 10-year-old girls with partially scratched off nail polish and dazzling blue eye shadow would have to spend not just ten minutes choosing the color of their flower, but an additional ten minutes deciding on the coordinating colors of their flower and butterfly.

It was a job joy!

Working at Six Flags, in those days, didn't even pay minimum wage. They got around that because we were seasonal labor. I don't know if they still pay below the minimum or not. At any rate, they have to pay more than the $3.10 I earned per hour. Of course, we could work double shifts if we wanted.

I didn't want. But my parents did want. So, spurred on by their "encouragement," I'd line up a double at least once a week so that I could make paper flowers for 16 hours. Or, if I got lucky, I got to spend the second shift holding down 60 helium balloons and selling one occasionally -- that one, no, not that one, the baby blue one, no the one on top, in the middle, oops, yeah, that one that got away -- or cutting up fudge and weighing out ridiculously priced candy.

Listen to me. Do not buy candy at an amusement park. Go to a Circle K on the way home; sneak a bag of M&Ms in through your backpack; whatever. But do not buy that pricey candy.

And do not buy a tissue paper flower on the way into the park. Hey. Don't even buy one on the way out. If you, or your ten-year-old daughter just really needs a paper flower, I will make one for you and send it to you.

For $3.50, of course. I have no idea where to get a butterfly.

Well, that is about all the advice I can offer based on my summer spent making shaping flowers from tissue paper. But obviously it is information some people need.

So, I've spilled the beans about my first paying job. I'd love to know about yours. This tends to be a delightfully revealing subject because few of us had the privilege of starting out in a cushy office. (And if you did, I don't want to hear about it!) So please do tell!

What was your first job?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How's Your Attitude?

As I was cleaning out cabinets and closets recently, I came across an old manila file folder that contained a glance back into my earlier years of parenting. It contained perhaps one of my few brilliant moments as a parent, in fact.

Aside from patting myself on the back for my one of three or so savvy parenting moves, I wanted to share the contents of this file folder with you today because it contains an even bigger life lesson.

I imagine it was summer time and my probably 10-year-old son Daniel was bored. Or it could have been during the school year when something didn't go his way in the classroom. Or it may have been following a baseball practice when his coach (also his dad) was particularly hard on him.

More than likely it was after a string of events that didn't go Daniel's way. At any rate, his attitude was definitely lousy. This much I know, because the contents of this folder were all about the lousy attitude.

Like most moms, I have kids who have occasionally struggled with attitude problems. (Did you catch the sarcasm in the way I said occasionally?) These days, their attitude problems are pretty much their own and I just clear out when I see the grumpies setting in. But back in those days, when they got restless, bored, whiny, disgruntled, or angry, those ugly attitudes set in like bothersome flies at a picnic. They swarmed around me and everyone else, pestering the stew out of us until I could take it no more.

So I don't remember exactly which "picnic" this was, but I know the flies were buzzing because I had the proverbial fly swatter in hand and I was obviously doing my best to swat the ugly attitudes away.

It was during this "picnic" season that I sat draining my blood for a routine test one day and a poorly mimeographed paragraph on the wall of the lab cuticle caught my eye. It was a quote from Charles Swindoll.

I commented to the phlebotomist  that my son needed to read those words and, before I could even take the cotton ball from my punctured arm and lower it, the friendly, older woman had run me a copy to take home with me.

That day I took Charles Swindoll's words home to my son, plopped the copy in front of him on the kitchen table, and said something like, "Daniel, read this. If you display a lousy attitude one more time, you will have to write this out before you will have any more electronic privileges." (That was the way we punished Daniel -- by taking away his electronics, i.e. computer time, game sets, television, etc.)

I had Daniel read Swindoll's words and undoubtedly preached an accompanying sermon about having a good attitude as well. Then I sent him on his way, hopeful that simply reading these wise words would turn Daniel's heart, making him grateful, joyful, positive, and hopeful on some sort of permanent basis.


It was probably just a matter of days before I had to pull the paper from the folder in which I had placed it, plop it in front of my son again, and this time hand him paper and pen. Daniel wrote out what seemed to him, I'm sure, to be a rather long paragraph. And, while I don't recall the circumstances that precipitated this disciplinarian action, I do remember that it indeed resulted in a changed attitude...at least for a while.

When I unearthed the one piece of notebook paper with his boyish handwritten edition of Swindoll's words the other day, I pondered why there wasn't a stack of such papers. There surely should have been. Come to think of it, there should have been a stack of papers with Abigail's handwriting on it, too. But, like most good parenting devices I stumbled upon, I undoubtedly forgot to pull this one out again and instead returned to swatting away my children's bad attitudes with sermonettes, rolled eyes, and sighs again. Undoubtedly my swatting just produced my own bad attitudes and so we went round and round.

Oh boy!

Ok, enough of the sentimentality over finding my precious boy's punishment filed away in a forgotten manila envelope. Here are the words that I read while having my blood drawn. Here are the words I insisted my little boy write in hopes they would straighten him out. Here are the words I should have written in my own handwriting a few hundred times. Here are some mighty wise words.

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company...a church...a home (...a team). The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how I react to it. And so it is with you...we are in charge of our attitudes." -- Charles Swindoll

These are Mr. Swindoll's words, so it's not really my place to grant you permission to start your own file or two of handwritten copies. But I bet he'd be glad for you to do so, if it would save you or your family a little grief.

By the way, Daniel, just like the rest of us, still struggles with attitude occasionally. But I couldn't be prouder of him. Somehow, despite my inconsistent parenting, he has turned into a mighty fine young man.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Just a Swingin'

Some days God speaks big things to me. He opens my eyes wide, miraculously loosens my grip, unleashes goosebumps onto my skin, and sets my heart a pitter-patter. And I stand amazed, awestruck, silenced and searching for someone to share with all at the same time.

Other days I hear nothing.

I don't know why. Well, actually, I think a zillion little things keep me from hearing anything from the Lover of my soul.

Perhaps He is being silent for a reason, one of many reasons.

Perhaps my own sin blocks the communication channels and he waits patiently for me to deal with my stuff and get it out of the way.

Perhaps He's waiting, gaze full on me, until I turn my gaze fully to Him, putting aside my simple distractions and granting Him my full attention. He certainly deserves it.

Other days, I hear Him, but His words do not send chill bumps or amaze me.

His Words simply settle me, set me securely on a wide place, steady me, and send me on my way.

And those are the words I've been hearing lately. I may long for the soul stirring, the awe-inspiring, the worthy of passing on.

But right now, God is speaking peace over me. He is gently reviewing me on the basics, reminding me of what I already know, reassuring me that He is who I know Him to be...and so much more, but that is yet to come. And together we are celebrating the good, the sweet, the sufficient, the gentle, the soft. There are no trumpets, no fanfare. There are no fireworks or booming canons.

There is just a still, small voice.

And so, search as I may for something big and grand and awe-inspiring to pass on to you, dear reader, I have nothing. Everything I hear from Him is too personal to pass on, to quiet to echo, to gentle to advertise. And I don't know whether to apologize or to relax and enjoy the ease of this time.

You know how sweet it is to ride in the car or take a lengthy walk or wash dishes or swing on the front porch swing with someone you love, and savor even the silence between you? How you don't resist that void or try to fill it, but you just relax into it and let it be?

Well, that's where I've been with God these past few days. And at first it unsettled me. It seemed other bloggers were sharing earth shattering revelations, pithy and personal proclamations, inspiring lessons from Scripture, or extremely interesting accounts of recent activity or blessings.

And I had nothing.

But now, I've decided this quiet place I'm in with Jesus right now is a sweet spot. And I've decided not to resist it or be appalled at it or try to fill it.

I talk to Him. He talks back gently and easily. To some we might sound like two old married folks sitting on the front porch sharing nothing much. But, hey, isn't that ok?

I know He'll amaze me, rattle me, jolt me, and wow me again. I'll ask big questions and He'll give direct and profound answers. I'll challenge Him, and He'll set me straight. Things will undoubtedly even get a little heated now and then. But right now...we're "just a swingin'."

Have you ever been here? How does it make you feel? Does it worry you (as it has me, at times) or does it give you an indescribable joy? I'd love to know what you make of these quiet times?