A Question About New Opportunities

Today on the walk to school, we wondered how the trees know when to stop growing. Why do all the trees before us stop at the same height like that? What determines how high they grow? I didn’t know the answer, so of course, I must find out.

I learn that trees want to grow high–to be the tallest, best, biggest, fullest, and the first to receive all the sunlight–but they often can’t for one reason:

According to LiveScience.com, at a certain height, it’s no longer “cost effective” for a tree to keep growing. I learn that when ” the energy the [leaves at certain heights] bring in through photosynthesis doesn’t pay for the energy it costs the tree to bring the leaves water, then the tree stops growing.”

There’s my answer. The tree stops growing when it’s too costly to do so.

I think about opportunity costs and professional and personal growth. It seems so attractive and prestigious to achieve certain things, but really, sometimes it’s not worth it. What you gain doesn’t match what you’re losing. What you bring in doesn’t make up for what it costs to replenish you.

I think about how God knows just what heights we will reach. We’re where we are because it might cost us too much otherwise.


In Good Time

My flight from Colorado Springs now arrives exactly when my Chicago flight departs for State College. Oh, flight delays! I detest them!

I approach the ticket agent for help, and I remark, “I’m praying the Chicago flight has a delay! Then I’d make the connection.”

The agent looks up from her incessant typing and pauses, smiling and then furrowing her eyebrows. “Isn’t it interesting,” she says, “that nobody hopes for a delayed flight? Until you need one. It’s all perspective isn’t it?”

This first delay is quite possibly another traveler’s blessing. The next delay could be my blessing. 

I remember to think of every one else’s travel day and not just my own. Airports reveal the self-focus and self-involvement of the human heart. We travelers are frazzled, selfish, over-caffeinated, and grouchy. But every delay is God’s way of doing something that I cannot see. And I don’t have to. 

I can trust I’ll get where I’m going in good time. 


5 Things I’ve Finally Learned about Public Speaking

I had an incredible time speaking to the wonderful women at the Woodmen Women’s Conference in Colorado Springs this weekend. 

As I prepared to go on stage, I was laughing with one of the conference coordinators about all the little things I’ve learned from experience that nobody teaches you about public speaking. So far, I’ve learned the following:

1. Never wear a dress. The microphone needs to attach to the back of your pants and the wires run up your back and up to the earpiece.

2. Never wear dangling earrings or a necklace that could click against the microphone attached to your ear. 

3. Open your water bottle before you get on stage. It is really awkward when your sweaty hands fumble to open a water bottle midway through your presentation. 

4. Don’t wear shoes you can’t walk in even if everyone else wears high heels. 

5. Don’t wear an outfit you’ve never worn before. It won’t feel natural and familiar to you.

There you have it. Just some lessons from the road. But if you were hoping for some real tips for your next presentation, I’ve provided my best ones below:

1. Research your audience. Don’t talk about how great Penn State is if the front row are all from Ohio State. 

2. Be yourself. They aren’t coming to hear this or that other speaker. They want what you have to say, so stick to your own story. 

3. Don’t think you are more special or important because you have a visible task. God also used donkeys and stones to speak. 

4. Reiterate your main points with a single word or image the audience can remember. 

5. Never evaluate yourself based on how people respond. Your task is to deliver the message you’re supposed to give. Let God handle the impact and move on with your day. 


Little Pleasures

I recently discovered the Dutch treat called Stroopwafel. It’s a toasted waffle filled with caramel, cinnamon, and vanilla. In my town, I can only find them at a little store off the beaten path. 

They’re made in Holland! They are amazing! You set the round Stroopwafel on top of your coffee mug, and the steam warms the caramel inside the treat!

But I miss these treats, and I haven’t had time to find them. And I’m traveling and missing home and wondering about all the  blessings God brings each day. When I travel, I’ve learned to ease the anxiety by searching for these blessings in airports and on planes.

But still, I’m out of sorts. 

So when I’m flying over some strange land and the flight attendant stops to ask if I want anything, I want to shout, “I want everything! I want nothing! I don’t know what I want!”

I say, “No, thank you.”

“Are you sure? Not even this?”

And she hands me a Stroopwafel. United has apparently partnered with Stroopwafel. 

I feel loved, seen, delighted.   



I Don’t Think So

This morning, my youngest daughter warmed my heart. I was leaving for the airport for a conference, and she spoke with my husband about all he would have to do to take care of her after school. In particular, she talked about her regular play dates and the ever crucial snack

“You know,” she says, “Mom puts out great snacks for us after school.”

He says, “I can do all of that. I can make snacks as great as mom.”

She just looked at him and said, “I don’t think so.” 


Always a Little Writing Lesson

We’re noticing the power of “repeated first words” in writing. My students implement the strategy, and they find their writing carries a new force. They find they create urgency. They find a new, weightier feel to their words. They find they have a voice.

See how I did that? I repeated “they find” to create some rhythm and intensity in those sentences. If you want to write something and invite your reader into some drama, repeat the first words.

That’s your little writing lesson for today. That’s your bit of fun. That’s your ticket to writing more powerfully.


When You Face Criticism

I laughed out loud when I read this quote by Dwight Moody this morning. I’m not sure of the original source, but here’s what I read. Apparently, when people criticized Moody for his methods in evangelism, he said this:

“It is clear you don’t like my way of doing evangelism. You raise some good points. Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

I laughed because when criticism comes our way, it’s often from people who aren’t doing the thing they so vehemently critique. You’ll always have people who criticize your art, your writing, your community service, your research, your programs, and your initiatives to bless and change the world.

The quote fortified a place in me that gets nervous to write more, speak more, and share my faith with more and more neighbors. Every public person receives criticism; it’s part of the calling. But now, maybe you’ll chuckle when you remember what Moody said to his critics. Maybe it stings a bit and needs some love to temper the thought, but it’s something smart to remember.




“There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.” –the plaque President Reagan kept on his desk

I’ve been thinking about a quote I heard last week. It’s this:

“There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.”

This quote, according to the Reaganfoundation.org, was on a plaque that President Ronald Reagan kept on his desk in the Oval Office of the White House.

I immediately remember how, as a young woman so full of ambition and dreams to make a name for myself, I was haunted by a statement my friend Elizabeth told me one day. She said, “Live so that others get the credit, God gets the glory, and you get the joy.”

What a beautiful way to live! For the past two decades, I’ve taken this quote to heart as I’ve grown as a leader. When I live hidden in Christ, taking on the nature of a servant, others often get the credit, but I get the joy. 

And then I find Reagan’s plaque quote, and I feel inspired to live differently once again.

I shared Reagan’s plaque quote with my students. They nod in agreement because they know the difference between a life spent trying to win approval and gain fame and a life spent in a kind of self-abandonment to greater causes.

If we limit our lives to gaining credit, we miss out on the adventure of doing what we do out of a pure, loving, and holy motivation.

It feels so free to live unlimited like this.




What You Want, In a Different Form

I know this is one of my most random analogies to follow, but living with flair has always been about finding meaning and beauty in our ordinary days.

And what’s more ordinary than. . . peanut butter? Yes, ever since I’ve been on my weight loss and fitness journey, I haven’t had much peanut butter. It wasn’t worth it; the calories and fat and sugar and unhealthy oils meant a removal of this thing from my life. But then I learned how all these healthy people were eating PB2 (powdered peanut butter) that removed all the things I didn’t want and kept the things I did. The new form brings twice the protein and 85% less fat and calories.

This strange new form–you add water and stir–was so delicious that my family is on peanut butter overload. We’ve made PB2 smoothies, dip, cookies, and African Peanut Stew.

What I gave up was returned to me in the form I needed.

So yes, I thought of God and His merciful work and how, when we turn from things to honor Him and purify ourselves, He often returns them in a different form that’s for our good. Every thing I surrendered in my life has followed this trajectory. Of course, my journey into more maturity has meant learning to recognize these blessings in disguise and these good gifts that don’t seem good at first. (Like powdered peanut butter, I suppose. You have to taste it to believe me.)

The thing I wanted always came in a different form–some distilled essence that captured the true thing I was after anyway. 



Tiny Little Movements

This morning I heard a great analogy to remember when you are trying to make any sort of life change. My friend says life change is like this: When a big semi-trailer truck tries to change direction and make a u-turn on a small a two lane highway, it seems impossible. If you’ve ever watched this kind of maneuvering, it’s like a 20 point turn of inching and realigning. At last, the front of the truck points in the right direction, and everything else follows.

But it seems slow, tedious, and like it’s not going to work. But very small change begins to shift what’s leading your life, and soon, when you’re in the right direction, everything takes off easily.

I love remembering the power of very small movements in the right direction that do create change.