The Secret to Rapid Improvement

How would you like to accelerate your progress in an area of weakness? My 23-year-old son, Chris and I discussed this a few days ago. He reminded me of how he stretched himself by being in several lead roles in musicals. “I hated that but it was good for me,” he told me. He is a naturally shy creative who can draw, paint, write articles, write and arrange music, write lyrics and produce music. He rapidly advanced as an actor because he did what he didn’t want to do.

Chris confirms what I just listened to on this podcast hosted by Ray Edwards. He interviewed bestselling author and creativity expert Jeff Goins who is releasing a new book about creativity. Jeff researched leading successful artists such as Michaelangelo who was one of the wealthiest artists of his time during a period when artists were considered paid laborers. Goins revealed a key to rapidly growing in your craft – going public with your process, especially when you’re uncomfortable with this.

Goins discovered that Chris Rock, one of my favorite comedians, would test his jokes on audiences before adding the jokes to his show. Chris would show up at a club with a pad of paper and just start telling jokes to see which ones worked. The jokes that didn’t get any laughs didn’t make the cut. By going public with his creative process, Chris was building his fan base and testing his ideas.

Goins shared his own story of playing in a band and how he rapidly improved as a musician by doing several shows a week. My other son, Alex, has been literally leading worship for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week while he has been in India. I’ve been watching him via Facebook live broadcasts. I asked him why is he always on the keyboard. He responded, “Because I’m the band leader.” That’s 15 to 20 hours of leading and working with other singers and musicians.

These worship sessions have been broadcast live over a Facebook page with opportunities for people to instantly comment. This means that every song that’s off key or pitchy can’t be edited. Awkward transitions are live for everyone around the world to see but the heart and spontaneous singing have been amazingly fresh.

Alex told me that he has noticed an amazing improvement in his singing and playing piano because he has been doing this for many hours. If you want to rapidly advance in an area, then do it for hours at a time and go public with your process. I’m trying to do this right now as I go public with my attempt to do more writing.

I spend hours writing headlines, teasers, and curating hundreds of articles a week. Now I need to carve time out to do my own original writing. Look for more writing in days to come as I go public with my own creative process.

What would you like to improve in?

Why Christians Need to Stop Silly Fights

“What are the benefits of public school,” a person asked on Twitter.

I answered, “You learn how to get along with people who are different from you.”

Instantly without any notice I was ambushed on Twitter by home schoolers who thought I said ‘home-schooling is Satanic.’ I said nothing about home-schooling. I answered a question about public school.

Unfortunately I innocently stepped into the middle of a conversation launched by a blogger pitching his pro-home school post. The Christian blogger had an agenda and he used me to launch his crusade against public school. I quickly bowed out of this accidental argument and called out the blogger’s agenda.

The home-school versus public school is one of those silly fights Christians tend to get into in the name of God. My friend Lee Grady posted an article about how Christians misuse the Bible. One way we pervert the Bible is when we attack each other with scriptures. We think we’re defending God’s honor and the truth when we’re justifying our position at our friend’s expense.

The home-school versus public school is one of the many silly wars we fight. I’ve seen these battles as well:

  • Moms with children who work outside of the home versus moms with children who stay at home
  • Purposefully single versus marrieds
  • Purposefully childless couples versus marrieds with children

And the list goes on and on. I was in a church where the pastor’s wife wanted to debate me about my decision to work outside of the home. My mom just died and I had a baby. I was not in the mood for an open debate about my decision to work.

I respectfully told the pastor’s wife that the decision to work was between me and God and my husband. We believed the job was a financial blessing and my children were being taken care of. “I think you’ve crossed some boundaries here,” I said.

A week later she called crying and repenting for her mistake. I was thankful she responded but my guard was up in that relationship. That was the beginning of the end for me for that church.

While I’m a firm believer in seeking wisdom and counsel from respected, trusted leaders, I believe these issues, among many, are between you and God:

  • Taking birth control
  • Have kids or not have kids
  • Get married or stay single
  • How you date
  • Where you live
  • What you do for a living
  • How you spend your money
  • How you decide to educate your child

Some people can’t afford to send their child to a private Christian school or lose income from a working adult. Instead of judging them for their decision to send their child to a public school, why not pay their way to a private Christian school? Paying for their tuition is a more constructive way of addressing your conviction about private Christian education instead of berating the parent for subjecting their child to the ‘liberal agenda.’

Christians who fight silly wars are at-risk for breaking this scriptural guideline for relationships:

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters.[a] If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.  God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12

Who are you to judge your neighbor because….

  • They send their child to a public school
  • They home-school
  • He/she doesn’t want to get married
  • He/she doesn’t want to have children
  • He/she wants to have a big family
  • She has children and doesn’t want to work
  • She has children and wants to work
  • He/she drives an expensive sports car or an older vehicle
  • He/she is a different race, gender or economic class

Who are you to judge?

Instead of judging, let’s love by praying and caring for one another. Let’s fight for another, stand with another and respect each other’s decision. Help an overwhelmed parent. Bring a meal. Take care of their kids. Celebrate life!

Tell me about a silly war you may have accidentally stepped into.

 

5 Dangerous Signs You’re a Control Freak

Control Girls often don’t realize that they’re Control Girls. I sure didn’t.
I spent the first 35 years of my life completely oblivious to my control issues. I knew I was arguing with my husband. I knew there was tension with coworkers. I knew I was frustrated with friends and family members. I just didn’t know these things all stemmed from my unhealthy craving for control.
Recognizing I’m a Control Girl hasn’t solved all of my problems, but it has given me a starting point for change. So I want to invite you to ask yourself the question I should have asked long before age 35: “Am I a Control Girl?”
To help you answer, I’d like to provide five common traits of Control Girls:

1.       You tend to be bothered by other controlling people.

Do you become easily annoyed by that bossy woman who always tries to take over in the committee meeting? Do you get frustrated when someone interrupts you (which, by the way, is a classic control-seeking move)? Does your controlling mother drive you nuts?
I’ve noticed that the women who are most bothered by controlling people are often quite controlling, themselves. They butt heads with the other Control Girls in the room who are all lunging for exactly what they are-control.

2.       You struggle with anger.

Are you likely to respond angrily when someone doesn’t meet your expectations? Do you erupt when someone interrupts your plans? Do you inwardly seethe when someone cuts in or takes whatever you had your eye on?
Anger is common for Control Girls. Our anger flares when we lose the thing we want, which is control. And as a rule, both of these-losing our grip on control and losing our tempers-happen far more frequently than we’d like.

3.       You struggle with anxiety or fear.

Do you tend to worry about safety precautions, germs, or symptoms you’re experiencing? Do you obsess over what family members might be saying about you, or what your boss might be thinking?
What about fear? Do you imagine the worst when your teen is ten minutes late? Do you suspect the worst when your husband doesn’t answer his phone?
Fear and anxiety are common for Control Girls because we constantly have to face things that we’d like to control but can’t, such as the future, unknowns, risks, and the opinions of others.

4.       Others send you subtle hints.

If you’re a Control Girl who doesn’t yet know it, chances are, other people have tried to tell you. Now, they probably haven’t said, “Stop being a Control Girl.” Instead, they tactfully give you subtle cues. Such as when…
  • Your husband says, “Honey, the mechanic couldn’t hear the sound either. The car is fine.”
  • Your adult daughter says, “We’ve been over this, mom. We want our kids in this school district.”
  • Your teenage son says, “Mom, for the tenth time. I’m not coldI don’t want to wear a jacket.”
All of these are cues that the other person would like you to back off and stop trying to control. You might not see it as controlling, but they apparently do.

5.       God seems distant and uncaring to you.

Does God seem like He’s too far away to notice you or hear your prayers? Do you think of God as too indifferent, apathetic or disinterested to concern Himself with things that matter to you?
If you’re suspicious of God’s motives or you question whether He cares, you won’t surrender to Him. It wouldn’t make sense! Only the person who sees God as both sovereign over creation and lovingly involved in the details of everyday life will choose to surrender to Him. The rest, by default, will live like Control Girls, doing the best they can to get control and keep everything on track.
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About Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible

“I control because I care.”
“I just want to be sure of a happy ending.”
“I worry that everything is spinning out of control.”
Many women can identify with statements like these. They have a compulsion to make everything turn out just right and are willing to do anything to make it happen. But this unbalanced pursuit of control makes those around them anxious and defensive. And when they realize control is slipping from their grasp, they lose control of themselves and react in anger or fear.
Shannon Popkin knows this struggle inside and out. Keeping her inner Control Girl hidden is a full-time job. Thankfully, she also knows another very important truth: no woman has to be a Control Girl.
In this encouraging book, Shannon invites seven Control Girls from the Bible into the conversation. She examines each story for the moments in which grasping for control circumvented God’s plans for good, whether it was Eve’s desire to know instead of to trust, Sarah’s inability to wait for God to move, or Rebekah’s controlling hand on her family’s future. Finally, Shannon finds God’s perspective on each of the problems and then reveals how readers’ can have their own happy endings in similar situations.
The author shares from her own struggles and follows each Bible study with questions for personal reflection. In the end, controlling women will find insight into their own experience, peace in the knowledge that God is in control, and relief that they are free.
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  Shannon Popkin is a writer, speaker and Bible teacher who combines her gifts for humor and storytelling with her passion for Jesus. She is a regular contributor for the Revive Our Hearts’ True Woman blog and author of the book Control Girl. Popkin and her husband live the fast-paced life of parenting three teens in Michigan.
Connect with Shannon Popkin and learn more about Control Girl by visiting www.shannonpopkin.com, following her on Facebook (shanpopkin) or following her via Twitter (@ShannonPopkin).

Walking in the Tension of a Quiet End and Exhilarating Beginning

crossroadsA few days before Christmas, my friend, Lucy Haley-Hurn ended her fight with Cancer. Lucy was surrounded by loving friends and family when she met the One she served her whole life on December 21. I’ll never forget the prayers I cried out to God for Lucy and her fiancee Ashley to find suitable property. Or prayers for the details to come together when they found property. And prayers for Lucy when she was in the hospital. I thank God that He answered our prayers by bringing healing from the disease that her spirit refused to succumb to.

The day after Christmas, three young men sang ‘My Girl’ in front of the Melting Pot on the Plaza in Kansas City for a couple, Paul Winters and Briann McDowell. While the melody rose through the cold night air, Paul grabbed the Zales bag with the ring and got on his knees. “Will you marry me?” She nodded yes and I wept through this happy moment.

In one week,  a friend’s life ended and another friend’s life was beginning a new chapter. Celebrating a friend’s engagement and a funeral the same week starkly reminds me of what’s truly important while walking through the tension of a new beginning and an ending. New beginnings and endings strip us of our pretense to reveal priorities driving us and force us to answer questions we don’t want to ask.

Endings are always bittersweet and beginnings exhilarating especially when relationships are redefined. We answer questions that we don’t want to answer such as:

Why am I really doing this activity? Am I involved in this task or activity to please someone, to make myself look good or because I’m too afraid to say no?

Is this person a friend or are they using me to further their own agenda? If I fail or make a mistake, will this person stay in my life or kick me to the curb? I know Paul found a friend for life in his future wife,  Briann. They have an incredible passion for helping children and they are a perfect match. My friend Lucy was one of the few people who would not kick me to the curb.

What’s important in my life? My daughter, D’Andra and her growth in her faith became my number one priority in 2016. Her stormy adjustment to high school forced me to search high and low for a place where she could thrive spiritually. She turns 15 in April and Holy Spirit spoke to me that I would lose her if she didn’t find her ‘tribe’ or youth group now.

As the year comes to a close, the multiple funerals and memorial services I’ve attended in 2016 put a fire in my heart to get on with what God has called me to do. I pray that you will get on with what He has called you to do. Spend some time the first month of a new year answering these questions.

Soak in this Psalm as you answer questions you’ve haven’t been asked in a long time and may Holy Spirit’s wisdom speak to you for 2017.

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

 

The 21 Questions to Ask Yourself

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I ripped this list off Ed Gandia’s podcast directed towards high income business writers. This was such a good podcast that I listened to it 3 times when I worked out. Answering these questions will help you frame your direction and attitude for 2017. I’m going to work through this list. I encourage you to work through it with me by answering these questions for yourself.

The first question is: What am I most proud of this year? I would have to say that what I’m most proud of is the effort I took to connect with a whole world that I didn’t know existed a year ago. I’m a mother of a daughter with special needs and fought feelings of being isolated and alone in my fight for her dignity and spiritual growth. I took a step out of my isolation to meet a group of moms of special needs children at Grace Church.

This group of moms play bunco once a month through out the year. The ‘bunco’ moms group have been a lifeline of encouragement, exhortation and advice for me. They have connected me with a ton of resources for helping my daughter with special needs.

I’m also most proud that I made her faith and well being a greater priority in 2016. D’Andra is 14-years-old and has had a rough first semester at her new high school. There were times I wanted to tune everything out and ignore her struggle. But my new friend, Georgia who I met through the Bunco game night, and many other moms of special needs children, pointed me to other resources or people to talk to about my issues.

I had no idea that assistance was available for me to help with my daughter’s issues from the Down syndrome Guild and other organizations. The more I learn about her challenges, the better equipped my husband, Jerome and I become to help her. I’ve learned to look at challenges unflinchingly and unashamed with bold, tenacious faith.

I made some dramatic changes to help her such as joining a local community center with a heated pool. She loves to swim and this has helped her deal with her stress. I’m also looking for a Special Olympics team for D’Andra to join since I just discovered that she likes to kick a soccer ball. D’Andra may be the one who inherited her dad’s athletic genes. Jerome was a track star on his way to the Olympics in college.

So what I’m proud of is admitting my weakness and pushing myself out of isolation to find other moms in the same battle for their child’s dignity and well being.

What are you most proud of from 2016?

Confessions of a Bad Girl

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(Photo Credit: Wonography)

I was the girl that dads didn’t want their sons dating.

I was the girl that moms told their daughters to not hang out with.

I was the bad girl.

I didn’t know how I got the label because I went to school, I babysat in my free time and tried to be a ‘good girl.’ But being a ‘good girl’ was boring. Even though I was labeled as a ‘bad girl,’ secretly I took a vow to not sleep around. Despite my vow, plenty of guys told stories about sleeping with me. I was a virgin in the closet because purity was not ‘cool.’

I didn’t want to be a bad girl and even had a touch from God when I was 12. I started going to a small Pentecostal church and loved it. I read my Bible. I prayed and even had prophetic dreams.

Then one day the girls who brought me to church cornered me behind an apartment building and threatened to drop me as a friend unless I smoked a joint with them. They were my only friends and smoked the joint. That was the last time I talked to God or went to church. The good church girls turned me off from God.

I didn’t want to be a bad girl but I was a thief because my parents couldn’t afford to buy clothes or shoes for me. I bought my own clothes, shoes and paid for my own food or admission fees into movies, skating etc. I was a self-funded bad girl.

I started smoking Marlboros at 11-years-old. At 13-years-old I hosted my first party with alcohol. At 16-years-old I was going to night clubs.

Many years later a good girl invited me to church. I went to her church and had an encounter with God. He turned me into God’s girl. From that day forward, I wanted to serve Him.

I joined a long line of bad girls in the Bible who had a place in God’s story despite their mistakes and shady past. Eve, the mother of all living who is blamed for the fall of mankind. Sarah who deceived her husband into sleeping with her maid in an attempt to fulfill God’s promise. Bathsheba who slept and married her husband’s murderer.

Rahab, a prostitute who was named within the genealogy of Jesus and became a great great grandmother to King David. There are so many other women who were forced into being defined as a ‘bad girl’ by circumstances or bad choices. Yet God chose them to be part of His story.

My past as a thug and thief has put a well of thankfulness in my heart to God. I’ve followed God for over 30 years and I still weep in gratitude that He let me join His family. He has taken a bad girl and put her in front of presidents, kings, celebrities, professional athletes and many other people.

He turned a bad girl into His girl, a vessel of honor and dignity instead of shame and reproach. For every woman reading this who has been defined by harsh circumstances as a bad girl, God is calling you to His story. He is calling you to a story of love, grace and freedom from your past. I pray that you will hear Him loudly and clearly as I did at 18-years-old.

Is Loving Yourself a Sin?

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For most of the thirty plus years that I’ve been a Christian, I missed a critical part of this scripture:

The man answered, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27

The part that I missed what...“Love your neighbor as yourself.

I fell in love with Jesus at 18 years old because I realized how much He loved me. My first encounter with God was when I was 10-years-old while I was considering suicide. His presence came into my dark bedroom like a cloud of life.

That presence made me feel valuable and like I mattered to the world. I grew up hating myself. I hated how I looked. I hated my ethnic mix. I hated where I lived. I hated being poor. I hated everything about myself. My relationship with Jesus stopped the self-hatred as I learned that He loved me.

However, when I became involved in church, I realized that my value was related to how much I could contribute with money, time and talent. I wasn’t intrinsically valued because I was made in His image. I was valued because of what I could do for the church.

What I could do for the church drove me into a performance-oriented relationship with people and God. That came crashing down when God brought into my life a child who taught me that she is valuable because God made her. Her value isn’t based on her stellar talent or that she can preach or sing. She is valuable because God says she is valuable.

My church recently hosted Danny Silk as part of Keeping Your Love On Tour. Danny mentored Kris Valloton who has reshaped my thinking the last 2 years as I’ve listened to his podcasts. Kris is the first person to emphasize the part of that scripture about loving your neighbor as yourself.

“You’re suppose to love yourself,” he said on the podcast. I listened to that over and over again because what was drilled into me was that I didn’t matter and my job was to die to who I am so that He would live in me. I didn’t learn how to love myself. Of course Kris clarified that loving yourself shouldn’t blow up into selfishness where you become a self-centered monster.

I always perversely thought that loving myself was a sin. That view affected how I treated people as commodities rather than valuable treasures of God. I allowed myself to be treated like a commodity when I was included or excluded based on what I could give or not give to the cause.

I’m learning how to love myself and love others as Christ loves. From Keep Your Love On, page 65:

“So what does love mean in the context of a relationship? The pillar of love is comprised of a commitment, an action and a result. The commitment part is this: ‘I care about you and value you – all of you. I care about your soul, spirit, body, relationships, dreams, and destiny.’ The action part is demonstrating care and value in many ways and in many situations as you get to know a person over time. And the result of these actions is that the person feels loved! They feel safe, valued, connected, nourished, protected and understood.'”

I thank God that He LOVES me and because He LOVES me, I can LOVE people without expecting anything in return. I’m not a commodity to God and He isn’t a giant machine in the sky dropping blessings or curses based on my performance. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who lifts us up, calls us out of darkness and transforms us with His love.

He wants me in His life and I want to be in His life. I am His daughter and He is my Father. We have a relationship and a connection. My desire is to protect that connection with Him and with people. Loving myself isn’t a sin but it can become a sin when I love myself more than other people.

Jesus was the perfect example of someone who loved beyond Himself. He reached out to the outcasts, the misfits and untouchables. He didn’t recruit them into a club to work for Him. He brought them into His family. Our faith is a family with love as the cornerstone.