Mike&Sarah

daily update

Hurdles vs Obstacles

“What’s in a word?” some might ask. For me, everything.

I love words. They are filled with shades meaning and nuance which sometimes our American English fails to express. Germans have “kummerspeck” which refers to the weight gain from emotional overeating. What a vivid description. When I read the Bible I like to look up pivotal words in the original languages (Hebrew or Greek) because the passages take on deeper, richer life when I understand what the words actually mean. (Posts on my favorite words to come…)

I’ve run into a few tough spots this week. I usually refer to them as “obstacles” because there’s a fight and struggle to overcome them. But now I think “hurdles” might be a better word to use.

Hurdles can be low or high, so I’m not diminishing the challenge by using a different word. But I’ve seen runners leap over hurdles. When I imagine it, I see not only a runner on the track, but I also envision a train or subway hurdling down the track. That implies speed, heft and significance.

Reframing from “obstacles” to “hurdles” also offers me hope. Hope that the end is near. Hope that the exertion is worth it. Hope of a medal, a rest, a celebration at the end.

What motivates you to push through challenges? Which word appeals to you more: obstacle or hurdle?

5 Ways My Toddler Makes Me A Better Leader

Long before becoming a parent I recognized that one of the great crucibles for character and leader development was caring for children, especially young children.

I watched smart, gifted, talented people get swallowed up in the great abyss of late night feedings, potty training and temper tantrums. They learned practical leadership through serving their children.

Now that I’ve joined the thriving-though-sleep-deprived ranks, here are a few of my observations on how my toddler is helping me grow as a leader:

Hugs and snugs: parenting perks.

Hugs and Snugs: parenting perks

1.  Eye Contact: “Eyes on Mommy.”

Toddlers experience the world through all of their senses, all the time. But sometimes that can feel overwhelming or distracting. So when my daughter starts to melt down, we make time for eye contact.

Turning your face towards someone when they speak demonstrates respect, care and interest in what they have to say. It shows that they are valuable and important enough to interrupt your project, and it emphasizes that the conversation is more important than a myriad of distractions.

2.   Slow down: “Take a belly breath.”

Toddlers learn constantly and practice independence. In the effort to “do it myself,” frustration can overtake them.

At work it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by looming deadlines. But sometimes the best remedy is a deep breath and a step back for perspective. Then you can collect your thoughts, put on your thinking cap and consider other solutions.

3.   Listen: “Where are your listening ears?”

With emotions and new information assaulting their little minds all the time, toddlers have a hard time focusing on tasks and directions as they learn to make good decisions.

When leading others, it’s imperative to hear beyond the syntax into the heart of the matter. What’s the message behind the words? The natural default is to “tell” versus hearing people out. When we do that, we focus on crafting a response rather than listening to what someone else says. And that tends to shut down communication. So let’s put on our listening ears.

4.   Compassion: “That sounds like an owie!”

Bumps and bruises are a natural part of a toddler’s life. Snuggling together through the tears then kissing away the boo-boos makes a huge difference to the emotional health of a little one.

Sometimes a hug is the best remedy for an owie, and while that might not be appropriate in the workplace, you can empathize and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. People aren’t always looking to others to solve their problems; sometimes they just want to know they are cared for.

5.   Simplify: Set Realistic Goals. “What is our adventure today?”

Cramming too many activities into a day can make both parent and toddler miserable, especially when naps are missed. So we limit our daily activities to help ensure happy hearts at home.

Simplifying objectives and embracing reality can result in freedom at work. What is the top priority for the week? What one thing must be done today? What pace can we set at work that is sustainable long term?

 

Sarah has learned these and other great leadership lessons in the daily squeeze of parenting. She lives in New York City with her husband and 2.5 year old daughter. She is a leadership coach and an infrequent blogger.

Photo courtesy of the author’s private collection.

 

Point of Surrender

I was grumpy.  And not just because it was an early morning prayer meeting and I had to trudge my way across campus to be there.  I was a student leader in Cru, and in other groups on campus and I really liked leading and serving.  But… I was grumpy, and had been for a while.

After the prayer meeting I started shuffling off to the student union to kill time before my first class when a guy asked me a question.  I don’t remember what he asked, or how long we talked.  But I remember what he said: “Sometimes you have to put your hands in the air and talk to God out loud.”

photo by flickr user My Yoga Online

Why do people raise their hands in worship? What is it about that posture?  Surrender is about submitting to someone else’s authority, about laying down your weapons and entrusting yourself to the power, control and (hopefully) good care of someone stronger.

I surrendered to Jesus, entrusting myself to His good care, when I committed my life to Him.  But because I’m human, I have to surrender repeatedly, as in, every time I pick up my weapons of self-protection, self-promotion, and self-preservation.  Sometimes I spiritually surrender to Jesus several times a day.

Somewhere along the way of serving and leading and organizing, of doing all this good stuff for God, I forgot God, and it became about me. I started with a heart of love and gratitude for Jesus. But after awhile, instead of feeling free, I felt obligated and like I was jumping through hoops, which soon became this twisted thing about performing for God. I wanted affirmation, encouragement and praise from others.  I felt like I deserved it, and like God owed me something for all of my good, hard work.  So, yeah, I was grumpy.  To put it mildly.

After that guy left, I scoffed at the idea of putting my hands in the air, hands which felt heavy like lead by my side.  I whispered “Jesus” out loud, quickly looking around to see if anyone had heard me.  Why was it so hard to put my hands in the air and talk to God? The idea was ridiculous.  And the action seemed impossible. But I did it.  And soon I had my hands in the air like a tween at a One Direction concert.  And my grumpiness left.  I just needed to surrender to God again.  Physically, this time.

I admit this to be completely honest: That encounter was about 20 years ago and to this day, I’ve never seen that guy again.  I wonder if he was an angel.  He certainly was a messenger from God.

For Reflection

  • How have you picked up weapons of self-protection, self-promotion and/or self-preservation?
  • What parts of your life need to be surrendered again?
  • What would happen if you raised your arms physically, and not just spiritually, to God?

Good Bye Baby Boy

Our foster son left us yesterday [on June 12, 2013].

It was a whirlwind from the anticipated moment we received the email and confirmation phone call from our agency that it was time to head to the Bronx medical office for his final physical to the emotionally-charged moment we handed him over to his new guardians in an overcrowded conference room at our agency. I was teary through those final, rushed, chaotic moments and now the apartment feels so much quieter, so still, without him here. PIE misses her companion and playmate, and both Mike and I woke this morning at 5am to find the crib at the foot of our bed empty.

Empty is a good way to describe how I feel.

Fostering has required everything.  Everything. We’ve poured our hearts and energy into caring for this little boy, and for our first foster daughter, too. We’ve said “no,” to opportunities and to going out because either it’s been too difficult to get a background approved sitter, or we were too tired to get out the door.  We’ve lived in chaos and built our family rhythm and weekly schedule around the foster kids’ visitation appointments. And while we hope that God may build our family through fostering, we’re also well aware of the privileged role we play in these children’s lives as stewards and care-takers, providing a safe, loving home for as long as they need the respite from whatever brokenness and chaos surrounds their family of origin.

It’s not easy. But it was the right thing for us to do at just the right time.  And as this year has reaffirmed to me, sometimes walking by faith means following God down unexpected pathways.  In January, that unexpected pathway included parenting three children under 10 months old.

Today I walked into my bedroom and it occurred to me that I had just done something I hadn’t been able to do for 6 months. Yes, I simply walked into my room whenever I wanted to. A baby has been napping and sleeping in there since January so even little daily routines like showering in my bathroom, drying my hair, getting dressed in my room, putting laundry away, making my bed, all of those “normal” tasks only had small windows of opportunity for completion before the room needed to be a silent haven for a little one.

We’re now just a family of 3, of 4 if you include our pug Frannie. It’s been six months since it’s been just us, and boy-oh-boy have I learned a ton about love, service, sacrifice, putting others’ needs ahead of my own, joy, delight and watching someone grow healthy and strong as a direct result of our love and care.  Such demanding needs and such rewarding love.

I’m in a flurry of cleaning and sorting laundry and switching our wardrobes from winter wear to summer clothes.  I have time for that now.  My thoughts keep drifting to our foster son, hoping he’s laughing and adjusting well to his new home.

One of my daily prayers for PIE is that she’d grow up healthy, happy and hopeful.  As I pray over her, I pray the same prayers for our foster son and foster daughter, those two precious children who now live in very different circumstances.  May God’s kindness protect them, keeping them safe from harm and allowing their sweet personalities to flourish and find a home in Him.  Though they won’t remember us, we won’t be same because of them.

Originally written on June 13, 2013, but not posted until August 8, 2013.

Stay in Step with the Spirit

Think back on a recent struggle.  What helped you remain full of faith? How did you know you were walking in the middle of God’s will when circumstances were hard?

Douglass1

Steve Douglass, Cru Global President

Steve Douglass (right), Cru Global President, challenged us while in Ft. Collins, CO, for Cru’s biennial US Staff Conference, to reflect on the previous two years of life and ministry through an Ephesians grid.  His encouragement to us is a classic Christian truth: walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

But how do you do that when life is confusing, challenging, dull, and/or overwhelming? What about when others are promoted or achieve milestones you aren’t able to?  Douglass said Ephesians offers a metric for keeping in step with the Spirit:  Are you still rejoicing, still thanking and still submitting?

Sometimes I (Sarah) think I’m rejoicing, thanking and submitting to God but not  to other people. But if I’m not rejoicing in and celebrating others’ successes, if I withhold my gratitude to others (including to Mike) and if I criticize people, then how am I living out Christ-like character?  Where am I outwardly exhibiting spiritual maturity and transformation? And to that point, if inner transformation isn’t worked outwardly, is it really transformation?

As we kick off another fall in New York, will you pray for me? I want to remain full of joy, thankfulness and submission to the Lord and other people.  I want to joyfully and obediently follow God, even when it means following God down unexpected pathways.

My Mother’s Daughter

“I am my mother’s daughter.”

20130221-104543.jpgThat thought ran through my mind as I stepped back from the clean, clear kitchen counter. For weeks it was missing under piles of mail, foster care paperwork, tax forms, calendars, stacks of bibs, mugs of coffee, iPhone chargers and other forms of clutter.

Two nights ago, in a fit of
dissatisfaction coupled with a longing for visual space, I attacked that counter with a vengeance, rearranging kitchen appliances, throwing out unneeded papers, sorting and saving important documents and assigning other “homes” to everything else. Then, after wiping the counter down with one final antibacterial cloth, I sighed deeply and enjoyed the clear space. It didn’t last long as Mike came home with the mail and unloaded the contents of his backpack and grocery bags on that counter. But for one hour I had that clear space.

Diligently I’ve kept an eye on that counter, cleaning, and sorting the items which end up on the clear surface. It’s only 10am, but twice today I’ve guarded and maintained that empty counter.

I remember the satisfaction my mom seemed to derive from a clean kitchen and clear counters. In fact, when we kids did dishes, part of the chore included unloading the drying rack before going to bed so that when Mom awoke to start breakfast for all of us she started with an empty kitchen. I understand that requirement a lot more now.

Somehow, with each member of the family we add, the house becomes a bit more difficult to maintain in pristine condition. When we had PIE + our puppy + two foster babies + people coming in to help my home seldom felt clean and organized. We had charts to keep track of feeding, napping and changing the three babies in the house, laundry piling up, and bulky toys for the kids throughout the living room. With only three rooms in the apartment, and two of those being bedrooms, our home felt even smaller.

That clear counter represents more to me than simply an empty space. It’s like an invitation to rest in the order, to think creatively, the breathe deeply.

Yesterday Mom sent a link about a stay at home mom who calls herself a “nap time abolitionist” and changes the world while her kids sleep. But even more than I loved the article, I loved that my mom sent the link to me. Perhaps she sent it as encouragement as I struggle to fulfill God’s call on my life, honor the way He made me, utilize my gifting and skills, maximize my time and love on the babies entrusted to me. I try to take advantage of nap times to help people take their next step towards fulfilling their Divine destiny even as I try to do that myself.

But this was modeled to me growing up by my mom. She served her family, looked for opportunities to grow her mind and use her strengths and develop new interests. She did all of this while raising four daughters, supporting her husband, crisscrossing the country as a Navy Wife (“The toughest job you’ll ever love!”), going back to college to earn her degree, and, later, caring for my dad through leukemia, chemotherapy and his heaven-going.

I’m so thankful for how she’s modeled stages in a woman’s life: motherhood, wife-hood, and widowhood. May I walk with grace like her, leaning into Jesus with each day, so that at the end of my life I can still say “I am my mother’s daughter.”

Good Bye Baby Girl

I knew it would be hard.  That’s one of the reasons I never dreamed being a foster parent.  But as I live the wonderfully unexpected life I never could’ve imagined on my own, I’ve also opened myself up to the joys and pains I never anticipated.  Mike once told me that my joys can only go as high as my lows go low.  Highs and lows.  I’ve hit both ends of the spectrum several times this year.

Foster Baby #1 (“Baby Girl B”)  joined our family on January 5, 2013.  She brought joy, laughter, smiles and giggles.  Her cheerful disposition and tender heart made it easy for her to make a home in our hearts.  In the heart of everyone who met her, actually.  Even the ladies who work the nursery at church fell blissfully under the charismatic charms of Baby Girl B.

She left our arms an hour ago and is on her way right now to live with her extended family.  I’m hopefully that they will love her and nurture her sweet spirit to maturity while cultivating her delightful sense of humor and tenderness towards others.  She’s 9months old today.

But right now my heart is broken with her absence.  I knew it would be hard to care for someone else’s child while they get healthy, but we felt called to take such a bold step.  I just didn’t expect to fall so deeply in love, nor did I expect it to hurt this much to say good bye to Baby Girl B.

Oh Lord protect her.  Keep her safe in the years to come.  May her sweet smile remain innocent and joyful.  Protect her from evil and harm, and may her resilience and buoyant attitude keep her above the dangers of this city. As she grows, may her light shine brighter, reflecting Your love.  Thank You for the privilege of loving her and caring for her.  I know that You understand the pain of loving a child and giving them up.  Please speak peace to my heart, and guard sweet Baby Girl B.

Restoration

It seems like God called us to live our life out loud, encouraging others from the circumstances and events that challenge us to love and trust Him more deeply.

Sarah shared our experience of God’s overwhelming grace through infertility, our miscarriage and adopting Phoebe at a Cru Campus Christmas conference in Baltimore before New Years Eve, and we were surprised by how our message of restoration resonated with the 1000 students and staff in the room.  Sarah talked about brokenness, living in “the now and the not yet,” and looking to Jesus as our ultimate healer.

RADIATE 2012 – Sarah Evers from Mid-Atlantic Cru on Vimeo.

Your prayers and giving enable us to tell people in New York City and around the world how Jesus restores and transforms lives. Thank you for your partnership.