Sunday, January 29, 2012

Focus Pocus

By Mary Byers

Imagine this: a morning of solitude. No interruptions. Time to think, reassess, plan, ponder, pray and prepare.

Despite the busyness of life, I’ve set aside a morning each December for the past decade to look back-and ahead-and to prepare a one-page strategic plan. The practice has transformed my life. I’ve often wondered why. This year, I figured it out. It’s the power of the pause: a luxury we may crave but feel we can’t afford in the chaos of modern life.

My first plan emerged in the midst of at-home mothering. Since then, I’ve applied it both to my family life and my professional life as a professional speaker and author. The benefits for me are clarity and what I call “focus pocus--” the magic that happens when you know who you are, what’s important to you and what you stand for.

It baffles me that four hours of introspection and brainstorming carries me through an entire year. But it does. I suppose it’s because my planning session gives me the chance to reflect on who I am and who I want to be. More importantly, it gives me the chance to check in with myself, have a quiet conversation with God, and lift my eyes to the horizon to see what’s ahead. Here’s how you can adopt this powerful process-and you don’t even have to wait until December to do it!

Make an appointment with yourself. I block out a morning on my calendar well before I’m ready to sit down. I know from experience that if it isn’t on my calendar, it doesn’t get done.

Make it special. I stay in my pajamas for my planning session. (It feels deliciously rebellious and reminds me of Saturday mornings from my childhood when we watched cartoons and didn’t get dressed until after lunch.) I sit by the Christmas tree, light a candle, and play soothing music, but any environment conducive to thinking will work.

Prime the pump by reading. Sometimes I page through my journal. Other times I read a Bible passage or a meditation from a devotion book.

Write it down. I start with a question such as, “What is the one thing that would make the biggest difference for me over the next year if I were to do it?” After asking the question, I pick up my pen and start writing. I refuse to censor my thoughts. I capture every thought. Sometimes, I’m surprised by what shows up on the page. Often, I am not.

Decide. Once all my thoughts are on paper, I look for those that resonate the most with me. Of all the thoughts and ideas I’ve written, I select 3-5 to form the foundation of my plan.

Expand. Once I’ve identified my objectives for the year, I jot down action steps for each. A plan emerges. I type it up and post it on my wall above my computer.

Refer. Check your plan often throughout the year. It will help you make decisions, schedule your time, and learn to say no-one of the biggest benefits for me.

Be flexible. Each year I allow myself to identify one item to drop from the list. And that’s been part of the benefit of creating a plan to begin with. I identify things I think I want to do but as the year progresses, I often realize that I’ve written something on the plan because I think I should. When I realize I’m not truly passionate about the objective, I let it go. The intentionality with which I’ve considered the item makes it easier to release it and frees me to move on to other things.

This past December I celebrated ten years of one-page planning. I’ve moved from transitioning children from kindergarten to high school; from a small freelance writing business to a thriving career as an author; from spiritually hungry to spiritually hungry again (yes, you read that right); and from pre-occupied and overwhelmed to focused and content--all because I was willing to pick up a pen and practice the art of one-page planning.

Now it’s your turn.

Mary Byers is the managing editor of FullFill and author of How to Say No...And Live to Tell About It. She’s also a professional speaker. She lives in Illinois with her husband, two children, three fish, two salamanders and a bird.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Packed and Ready to Go

By Susan Nash

“Have you packed?”

This inevitable question raises my anxiety level each time I leave on a trip. My anxiety stems from last minute packing (which has improved) and the fact that my success rate in packing everything I need is not high. I’m always curious as to what I have forgotten-jewelry, make-up, exercise clothes, even lingerie-and surprised by other items I’ve included. The new regulations about liquids, carry-ons and checked bags have only heightened my awareness of what I’m carrying in my own bag.

I took my first flight when I was two weeks old; the thrill of traveling has never left me. I love new places, new people, new histories and new cultures. I love to explore and to learn. But I have had to get more intentional about what I’m taking and what I’m leaving behind.

I have found the same to be true in my life. Our lives are actually the most significant and adventurous journey we will ever take. Have we packed well? If we belong to Jesus and are headed home, we must get much more intentional about what we are taking and what we are leaving behind. We can only handle so much baggage.

Two things that have been packed in my bag almost my entire life are guilt and shame. The fact that I was a Christian leader and teacher with theological training did not automatically ensure the exclusion of these items from my bag. I carried them with me everywhere. Knowing the Greek and Hebrew words, passionately teaching the truth of the atonement and deeply believing in Jesus did not take away the anxiety of packing or the cost of checking the bag. I could not get what was in my head to stay in my heart. The weight became an enormous hindrance that cost me more than I had to give.

I found this to be true of many other Christian travelers. They thought they packed forgiveness and freedom, but inevitably discovered guilt and shame instead. The journey was made more taxing because of this unintentional glitch.

My “plane crashing” is what finally caused me to learn to pack intentionally. I experienced ministry burnout, which is really a spiritual malady that shuts down all systems. Under God’s patient care, I began to understand the reasons I continued to pack guilt and shame instead of forgiveness and freedom. As I learned let go of my pride and my accomplishments, I began to unpack guilt and shame - literally. I learned a cognitive commitment to the gospel was no good until the gospel became the conscious core of my very being. I had to give up packing the thoughts that had become an automatic grid through which to view and respond to life. My crash had begun a transformation.

So, what’s in your bag? Are you packed and ready for the journey?

Susan C. Nash, a writer, speaker and graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary, has served in church ministry since 1986 on staff in numerous positions and now as a church consultant.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Living Out Your Influence: At Home

By Elisabeth K. Corcoran

I’ve got forty-four months. Do you know how fast forty-four months will go? I can clearly remember what I was doing in my life forty-four months ago, so I know it will speed by.

What happens in forty-four months?, you ask.

In forty-four months my daughter will start college. My teaching and training days are winding down. Most of my parenting is behind me. And yet, I realized, there is still so much I want to teach her and my son (one year younger). I still have an influence over them, even though I see it daily shifting away from me to their friends and the culture and school (as is normal for their ages).

But while I’ve got them under my roof and while my opinion still counts for something – even if being lorded over a captive audience at times – I am choosing intentionality. I am choosing not to settle for the fact that they seem like good kids so I can just skate through the next few years.

I brainstormed a list of topics that I want my kids to know about before they head out into this big world on their own. Everything from how to clean a bathroom and iron a shirt to how to know your spiritual gifts and interview for a job. I’m also throwing in some weightier issues like how to apologize, how to know when you need to ask for help, how to know when you should break up and how to get through it if you do.

Our first randomly-chosen-out-of-a-cup topic for this coming month is “the importance of a church family” in your life. I’ve already begun shaping how I’m going to share this with them. I’ve already asked friends for feedback. I’ve already asked the Spirit to teach my kids through me.

They may resist. They may roll their eyes. They may even ask if they can be excused before I’m finished (I’ll say no). But I think I’m seeing that I’m doing this as much for me as I am for them. Yes, I want my children as equipped as possible for the harshness of life. And yes, I need to relearn some of these lessons. But I also need to remember that I have a voice, that my opinions and thoughts and experiences matter, not just in the world, but within the four walls of my own home. And I’ve got forty-four months to do it.

Elisabeth Corcoran is the author of At the Corner of Broken & Love: Where God Meets Us in the Everyday (Westbow), One Girl, Third World: One Woman’s Journey into Social Justice (Kindle, Amazon), He Is Just That Into You: Stories of a Faithful God who Pursues, Engages, and Has No Fear of Commitment (WinePress), In Search of Calm: Renewal for a Mother’s Heart (Xulon), and Calm in My Chaos: Encouragement for a Mom’s Weary Soul (Kregel). All these books can be purchased on in paperback or Kindle. She is a proud member of the Redbud Writers’ Guild. Visit her at

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Small Things: Jesus' Unlikely Game Plan

Margot Starbuck

Here’s something convenient: if I’ve got to sell everything I own in order to influence a world in need, or if I must move my family to Washington DC to fervently lobby U.S. lawmakers, or if I have to relocate to Calcutta to really impact the world, then…I’m sort of off the hook. Right? (Did I mention my kids are in awesome schools right now?)

If I costume Mother Theresa or Harriet Tubman or Lynn Hybels as world-influencing superheros, the kind who are clearly out of my league, then I’m not really obliged to follow in their gargantuan footsteps.

Don’t even get me started on SuperJesus.

I think Mother Theresa must have known how I’d try to worm out of my clear call to impact the world by loving my neighbor when she said, “You cannot do great things, only small things with great love.” Small things put me back on the hook.

Small things happen when my eyes are opened to the most unlikely folks in my circle of influence. It’s a small thing to enter into a relationship with the woman on my block who’s caring for an elderly parent with Alzheimers. It’s a small thing to show up at the basketball game of a kid on my block without family in the bleachers. It’s a very small thing to give a neighbor a ride to work when her car’s broken down. If Mother Theresa is right, which I fear she is, Jesus is calling me into small things.

Small things happen when I use the particular gifts that God has given me, to impact a world in need. For instance, my father-in-law is one of these disaster heroes. If he’s not doing demo in New Orleans you’ll find him building shelters in Haiti or installing wheelchair ramps in rocky Appalachia. And though it’s hard to explain, to him and others, why I keep going to El Salvador to look and listen, it makes so much more kingdom sense for me, as a communicator, to influence others through writing and speaking than to attempt to cobble together anything meant to resemble a dwelling.

This said, small things also happen when I do dare to leave my comfort zone. They happen when I try out my D+ Spanish in the neighborhood. They happen when I strike up a conversation with the guy down the block who frightens me a little bit. Small things happen when I say yes to caring for a desperate friend’s child, even though I’ve made it pretty clear to everyone I know that I’m not a kid person. Jesus is always calling me out of the comfort zone I enjoy so much.

Basically, small things happen when I grudgingly, crabbily say, “Yes” to Jesus’ invitation to love the world He loves. Word on the street is that this unlikely way is actually the very pattern of kingdom engagement: Shane Claiborne confirms, “God is preparing each of us for something really really small... and it's small things done with great love that move the world.”

This week: think small.

Margot Starbuck is the author of the recently released Small Things With Great Love: Adventures In Loving Your Neighbor. Connect with Margot on facebook or at

Monday, January 2, 2012

What's New?

Elisa Morgan, Publisher, FullFill

You know what question really bugs me? “What’s new?” I hate being asked it at parties, all open-ended and accompanied by arched eyebrows of high expectations of my response. Then comes the pause of silence as I roll options around in my cheeks, tasting which answer could possibly be presented to my questioner. Out loud. In public. For others to hear.

“What’s new?”

Well there’s the reality that my husband has accepted new responsibilities in his job that require him to fly even more and longer away from our home. He’s tired but he’s also happy.

Then there’s the recent whisper from my daughter that she’s slowly recovering from losing her precious soon-to-be-born-and-adored baby last year. His tiny feet hold his father’s wedding ring in replica on the mouse pad she presented me at Christmas.

And there’s my adult son’s return home to health and hope. At last.

I could share these responses, but in many cases they feel too vulnerable. Or maybe it’s that they’re “not mine.”

“What’s new?” I swallow and roll my tongue again. Ah, my own bites there at last. I chew.

A three-quarter completed brand-spankin’ new version of the NIV Mom’s Devotional Bible, due out in the spring of 2013. (I giggle every time I tell someone I’m writing The Bible.)

Three book proposals in various stages of creation. All rawly personal and still in the formative discernment process where I wrestle with God, questioning, “Are these ideas for me or for others?”

Tuesday nights in Bible study on the book of Philippians with my neighbors. Grandson Marcus sleepovers with Yia Yia and BeePees. Monthly Mondays with my twenty-plus year old Covenant Group. A couple of trips for fun and a slew of speaking engagements.

A calendar full of commitments I made last year and now must keep this year.

But none of this is really new. And what part of it do I want to share with another?

“What’s new?” I think again and recognize just why the question annoys me so. The pressure to constantly create, to be for others what I’m not really, the discomfort with silence so that I leap to expression too soon. Nothing here is new. Instead, I find hard pits I’m learning to reject. Performance. Pressure. Pretence.

I spit them out one by one.

Left with a mouthful of my own tongue and teeth, I taste again.

What’s new? The year: 2012. The month: January. The day: Tuesday, the second. The hour. The minute. The second. I’ve never been here before, in this exact moment.

“What’s new?”


And another year of discovering how God has made me to be here and now in this moment. To know him and be known by him. To love him and be loved by him. Now. New.

My turn to annoy you: ”What’s new?” Ready to find out? Happy New Year...!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17