Monday, August 26, 2013

Taking Your Stage

By Michele Cushatt

“Public Speaking 101.”

Terror. The thought of standing in front of an audience made my stomach turn and hands shake. But I couldn’t graduate high school without the required course. For three years I worried. But soon senior year arrived. Bracing myself for certain humiliation (and nausea), I registered for the class. How would I survive?

Fast-forward twenty-something years. I now make a living as both a communicator and coach for communicators. I no longer feel terror when taking a stage. The occasional case of nerves? Absolutely. Moments of insecurity? Of course. But nothing that would cause my lunch to fly.

What made the difference? It wasn’t a pill or counselor or conference, although a few resources and nuggets of wisdom certainly did help.

It was—is—a deep and uncomfortable conviction of God’s calling. I can’t deny His work, his redeeming. And my responsibility, as a result.

I imagine Esther—as in Queen Esther—felt a similar discomfort and reluctance to step onto her stage. She didn’t ask for a public life, for a plucking from obscurity to live in a palace. But she got it just the same. As her uncle Mordecai reminded during a moment of resistance, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Esther isn’t the only Biblical example of a woman who didn’t imagine herself a leader. Ruth had no idea she’d leave Moab for a mother-in-law and threshing floor. Sarah laughed at the idea of birthing a child in her old age. And Mary, dear Mary, gave up safety and innocence to birth a Messiah.

I imagine each of these women faced moments of reluctance and fear. If given the choice, they might have opted for a quiet life over a complicated and public one.

And yet the God they loved called each to lead. To lay down obscurity to take their stage. In a palace, on a threshing floor, in a stable. To trust that the God who called them would help them manage the fear and risk and discomfort that came as a result.

You may not be a public speaker. And you and I certainly aren’t mamas to the Messiah. But wherever you are, whatever your stage, you have been chosen to lead. To influence, impact, and change your world. Queen or not, yours is a unique and powerful voice, and you have been called by the Creator to use it. Fear will tempt you with safety and comfort. It will taunt you with all the reasons why you don’t have what it takes to lead and love and change your world.

But Jesus, the one who did the choosing, gently reminds:

Who knows but that you have come for such a time as this?

With a love of story, Michele Cushatt inspires audiences everywhere on the page and stage. Michele fills multiple roles with the SCORRE conference including emcee, presenter, and coach. Michele, her husband, and their children live in Colorado. Check out her story, her blog and her customized resources for the FullFill audience at

Monday, August 19, 2013

Overcoming Envy

By Caryn Rivadeneira

I stood on the deck. Behind me, fresh wooden steps ascended to the paved stones that wound their way back to the house, all clapboard-ed, turret-ed, balconey-ed, picture-window-ed perfection. Two steps to the right, more wooden steps descended over dune grass toward the expanse of beach and Lake Michigan’s crashing waves.

This place had everything, I thought.

But then I realized: not everything. Noticeably missing was my own envy, which usually buzzed around like a faithful pest in moments like this.

I wondered …

The next day I sat in an auditorium and took notes as world-class speakers shared their leadership insights. I noticed yet another pest was absent.

Comparison should’ve been tormenting me, shining a light on all the ways the speakers were better than I was and on the greater number of books they’d sold. But it didn’t.

So once again, I wondered ...

Had God finally taken these pests from me? Finally plucked them from my mind as I’d asked him to do so many times throughout my life? Had God finally allowed my friend’s mantra—“Prefer the given”—to vanquish my envy?

Apparently. And I thanked God for it. Because I’ve spent way too much time in my life being jealous of other people’s stuff (homes, mostly. I love houses) and comparing my gifts to others, especially those in similar fields.

The problem wasn’t simply that envy and comparison “rotted my bones,” as Proverbs says, and that it left such fertile compost for bitterness to grow. The bigger problem was when I compared and became envious, I dismissed all that God had given me and all that he had called me to do.

Psalm 139 famously tells us that God “knit” us together, that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Each stitch of our being was intended and has purpose. Any time I allowed envy or comparison to well up, I told God that his handiwork and his intentions (my gifts and my calling) weren’t enough.

And I ignored the truths that I was known and loved and uniquely crafted by God to do work in this world like no one else. Truths no leader should ever forget.

There will always be others with “more” or “better” than us. But we can do no more or no better than realizing God made us right, equipped us well, and learn to give thanks — and to prefer — what he’s given us.


Caryn Rivadeneira is a sought-after speaker and author. Her most recent books include Known and Loved: 52 Devotions from the Psalms (Revell, 2013) and a novel, Shades of Mercy (Moody/River North, 2013). Caryn and her family live just outside of Chicago.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pushing the Margins

By Joanna Foote 

In Luke 10, the expert in the law asked Jesus: "Who is my neighbor?" When I read Jesus' response, I imagine that his underlying answer could have been "how far can I push the margin?" How shockingly unexpected can our neighbor be!

When I was in middle school, all the youth group programming and Christian summer camp teaching told me to sit with the kid who was alone in the cafeteria. In high school I sat with the refugee women in ESL classes in the US. Later it was undocumented immigrants in the US. Then it was the migrants who had been deported back to Mexico. Now it is the Central Americans who suffer abuses such as kidnapping as they travel through Mexico. In each situation I have wondered, "Why don't more people know what is happening here?" "Why are there so few who seem to care about these people I meet?"

But how far away is the margin anyway? When I was in a shelter serving Central American migrants in southern Mexico, I was doing intake interviews of migrants. One day, I looked down at a woman's ID card and when I saw the birth date I read it over and over again to make sure that I hadn't made a mistake: February 20, 1991. My birthday. And hers. Our life experiences were radically different and I was humbled to think of the privileges I had because my birth certificate listed a different country than hers. Yet, there we were, birthday twins.

Perhaps the margins aren't so far away after all. Indeed, perhaps that was Jesus' point in the first place. When he pushed the expert in the law out to the margins with his response, he didn't do so to illustrate how far away those margins were. He did so to illustrate just how close our neighbors are, just how near our brothers and sisters reside.

I am reminded of that fact when I go out to lunch with my friend who is a day laborer from Guatemala and we talk about CS Lewis' writing and God and philosophy and community. Or when I worship in the primarily Latino Catholic Church that I attended this summer in DC. Or when I travel to Mexico and feel welcome in many different homes. The challenge, then, comes from two questions. First, to which margins is God calling us? Second, can we expand our definition of who is close, similar, and family to us - that is, who are our neighbors?

Joanna Foote is headed to Mexico for a research Fulbright focusing on the reintegration of migrants. She is a recent graduate of Georgetown University and just completed an internship focusing on migration issues. Follow her blog at

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fresh Pink Erasers and Seasonal Shifts

By Tracey Bianchi

August is ripe with impending change. From the waning of early summer garden crops to Labor Day fashion advisories against wearing white. Come September, weather patterns shift and the sun slips away so very early. Halloween costumes crop up and Christmas decor makes a debut. Every fall, the nudge to hunker down and get some work done emerges in my soul. My children will dash off to school armed with new pencils and pink erasers and I will be left trying to match their pace. Stressful as it can be, I do love the smell of those new erasers. Their scent, exactly as I recall from my childhood, strangely motivates me.

The end of summer signals the start of new endeavors and redirected efforts, a fresh eraser in many ways. As August melts into September, what are you striving toward? Have you considered harnessing the cultural momentum of this season to accomplish something new as a leader? As a servant?

The author of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is indeed a season for everything, for everything under the sun. And while historically I’ve saved this Scripture for the epic movements of life, like birth and death, it reminds me that within each year, each loop through the calendar, there are seasons to emerge and seasons to rest. As our culture pulls us toward the busyness of fall, consider what you might want to accomplish by December. Picture yourself sitting around the table at Christmas — what leadership principle are you leaning into by then? What new endeavors at the office are you privileged to report? Perhaps even a fresh resume or a return to school?

What traveling companions you will need in order to move through the fall? Are there friendships or professional relationships you need to develop? Do you need a mentor? Could you be a mentor?

So as your toes wiggle free in those flip flops for just a bit longer, challenge yourself to take two full hours (not much time, but a start) one afternoon this month to write down your goals and dreams for the fall. If time allows, expand each idea by a 2-3 sentences and include one action step to take in order to achieve your goal. Consider adding the names of a few people who might help you achieve these dreams. Then slap this list on your fridge or desk. In stating our goals we will be reminded of where we are heading once October comes and tumbles into November and we get weary with the pace of it all. Then go back to your fridge, grab a lemonade, head outside and soak up the sunshine for just a bit longer. Ask God to go with you into this next season. Ask him to make you bold and bring you his good fruit, and maybe a new eraser too.
Tracey Bianchi is shopping for her pink eraser just outside of Chicago where she serves on Pastoral Staff at Christ Church of Oak Brook with Worship and Women. She is also a freelance writer and speaker. She also jockeys one husband, one goldfish and three children. You can catch her musings at