Why My Heart Needs To Be Heavy

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Tuesday morning at the local Pastors Fellowship a representative of Baptist Mid Missions played a recently completed field video from Australia to highlight the need for more foreign missionaries.

That video is important to me because I’m actually in it, and even remember driving the men from their audio and visual department around when the filming took place…however I’ve never watched it.

The video has been played in a number of Churches while presenting my ministry of course, but I have never watched that DVD on my own because of the things it reminded me of.

•      It reminded me of the people in Australia who desperately needed Christ

•      It reminded me of the great need for more missionaries

•      It reminded me of the dear friends and co-workers in Australia

•      And more than anything else it reminded me of my desire to return

These emotions have a profound effect on me since I’m in a stage of ministry that focuses on getting practical experience while waiting for my Visa process to be completed. Therefore the faces and voices in that video are powerful reminders of what I miss, but cannot do anything about right now.

Yet there must be a healthier response to these emotions than putting a DVD in one of my drawers never to see the light of day.

In recent months the Lord has been teaching me ways that having a heavy heart (sadness, sorrow, frustration) can be a blessing for my life instead of a curse.

1.     A Heavy Heart keeps me close to God

2.    A Heavy Heart highlights an inability to live in my own strength or wisdom

3.    A Heavy Heart keeps me from losing sight of what’s important (returning to Australia)

4.    A Heavy Heart leads to sharing my burden or struggles with Brothers and Sisters in Christ

5.    A Heavy Heart is a constant reminder God has called me to Australia

Most of us have parts of our lives that will bring great sorrow and pain to our heart just by thinking of them.  It’s tempting to hide from that, but those emotions actually come from God, and therefore are part of His plan for our lives.

Which is why I just watched the field council video from Australia

It felt like someone had taken out my heart and stomped on it but that’s okay, someday soon I will watch it in Melbourne, and thank God for His faithfulness.

Four Reasons Why I Should Talk Less, and Listen More

SAMSUNG CSCLast Monday one of the students who I mentor came into our session very excited and almost right away said “okay I have to tell you something.”

He proceeded to explain how the day before frustration about not being accepted by other students had resulted in an outburst of anger. So I spent the next half hour explaining ways to control his frustration.

Walking across the parking lot to my car I realized he simply wanted me to listen and allow him to vent isntead of sharing twenty ways to deal with anger. It was a not so gentle reminder of the need to listen more than I talk.

God has given us one mouth but two ears, so we should be listening twice as much as we talk. Kraft, Dave. Leaders Who Last (Re: Lit) (p. 108).

If your a talker like me it’s important to remember in many cases simply listening to a person can do more than all the words in the world.

* Because Listening allows us to learn about what the persons really struggling with
* Because Listening encourages them to talk more during a session instead of taking up 80% to 90% of the time ourselves
* Because Listening builds trust so that they are willing to share deeper struggles
* Because Listening focuses our mind on their need instead of finding the right words to say that can help

So how do we break the habit of trying to fix a problem right away instead of listening? Here are a few habits that have helped me become an active listener.

1. Allow the person to introduce the subject or idea that will be discussed: I prefer to start my mentoring sessions with the phrase “what do you want to talk about today?”
3. Make an effort not to deal with a problem the moment they share it: I usually create a lesson plan on that subject for the next week
4. Pray as they share their needs: this will give you something to do instead of actively speaking
5. Listen for the REAL PROBLEM: it usually isn’t the one you expect

In our fast paced culture there are thousands of voices giving answers to the challenges of those in need. The sad thing is the one voice that truly matters is drowned out…It’s our responsibility as Christians to make sure their own voice is heard.

Six ways to get past the one word conversation phase with Teens

Image Purchased from www.fotolia.com
Image Purchased from http://www.fotolia.com

Last year I got involved in a program that connects individuals with High School Seniors in need of mentoring, and envisioned becoming close friends with my student as they shared all of their personal struggles with me.

It didn’t work out that way…In fact I never really got past the “one word conversation phrase” (I ask a question and they answer with “yes” or “no”)

This year I began mentoring again with very different results….

About five minutes into our session last week one of my students excitedly said “okay man I have to tell you something” and proceeded to share his frustration with not becoming part of the popular crowd at school.

What made the difference?  It was six simple changes that I made in my approach to mentoring

  1. First sessions will be pretty much 90% lecture  (you talking) and about 10% discussion
  2. You take the initiative in sharing struggles or challenges:
  3. Start each session with “what do you want to talk about today?” (if they say I don’t know thats okay, but I’ve been amazed how many times we spend an hour talking about something they bring up in the first five minutes)
  4. If they bring up a struggle listen first, don’t cut them off and try to “fix the situation”
  5. Create handouts for your sessions that deal directly with their struggles
  6. Give students space to share deeper or more personal problems

For the sake of illustration let me use some experiences I had with a student called James (not his real name)

  • I spend a few months earning his trust
  • Around Thanksgiving James brings up his frustration with always being stuck with his nieces and nephews on Thanksgiving and never spending time with the other adults
  • We discuss some ways to create boundaries, and how to say no when asked to do something
  • James returns after Thanksgiving excited because our ideas had worked
  • A few weeks later James towards the end of class asked me how to ask a girl out on a date
  • This week we spent a session discussing why he shouldn’t worry about not being one of the cool kids

It’s been a blessing in our sessions to see James begin sharing deeper and deeper struggles in his life.  It is very hard to gain the trust of a teenager (why most people don’t do it), but the good news is once that trust is earned, they will share their deeper needs.

Three Things Jonathan Martin Teaches Us About Being a People Pleaser

image purchased from www.fotolia.com
image purchased from http://www.fotolia.com

On February 14 the long-awaited report from an independent Law Firm on the situation between Miami Dolphin football players Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin was released.

Most people focus on it’s conclusion that Martin was bullied by Dolphins teammates, but his own explanation of the situation points to a deeper problem

“I figured out a major source of my anxiety,” he wrote to his mother during his ordeal.   “I’m a push over, a people pleaser. I avoid confrontation whenever I can, I always want everyone to like me. I let people talk about me, say anything to my face, and I just take it, laugh it off, even when I know they are intentionally trying to disrespect me.” from NY Times Article; Jonathan Martin and the Soft, White Private School Question

As the article explains, Jonathan blamed this People Pleasing attitude on going to private schools, writing to his father “I suppose it’s white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek.

Understandably that article focuses on the private school question (did they fail Martin by not “toughening him up” in preparation for the NFL?)  However his comment also reveals three things about People Pleasers.

1.  They Avoid Confrontation:  It’s interesting to note being a professional athlete in the NFL didn’t give him enough confidence to confront those who were “disrespecting him”

2.  They Take Any Abuse:  When mistreated he “laughed it off” and acted as if their actions didn’t hurt him when in reality the pain was very real

3.  They Are Addicted to Acceptance:  The idea of “always wanting people to like them”  led Jonathan to set aside his own desires or things that may make him angry so other people could be happy

Oh there’s one more thing Jonathan Martin teaches us about being a People Pleaser…it never works

I don’t care how hard you try, it’s impossible to be accepted by everyone (take it from me a recovering Approval Addict).  Eventually the pressure will become too much and you will explode;  Jonathan Martin learned that the hard way after suffering what was called an emotional breakdown in the teams cafeteria and leaving the Miami Dolphins.

I truly hope Jonathan finds a new team in the NFL, but his own experience teaches us a very important lesson; we aren’t created to be People Pleasers.

Confessions of a Missionary: I Hate Snow Days

IMG_0447Last week we got the fist serious snow in Winston Salem this winter that resulted in three days of school cancelled, and noon dismissal on Tuesday.  Most kids I’m sure were incredibly excited about these snow days, but I absolutely hated them.

Oh don’t get me wrong I enjoyed parts like taking a picture of the dog, making jokes about southerners going to get bread and milk, and even created a Pinterest board making fun of our response to snow.  But shutting down the school system meant none of the volunteer ministries I’m involved with run as usual.

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Being a Missionary applying for a Permanent Visa to Australia means I don’t have a full-time job in the States, so ministering to other people takes the place of that (through English Teaching, Mentoring, Office Management, and after school clubs with different organizations). So basically from Wednesday to Friday little one on one ministry could be accomplished.

To make matters worse I developed a chest cold which of course made me even less productive, after acting like everything was okay for a few days (it wasn’t) I finally got some DayQuil and promptly went into a comatose state for the next five hours.

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The thing is a lot of work was still accomplished during those snow days, but in my mind none of it was “productive” or could make a real difference in others lives.

My response to this was anger and frustration since men are created with a desire to produce (work hard) and provide for their loved ones.  It’s easy however to base our confidence or view of ourselves as men on that ability to produce something.  So whenever things out of our control (like the snow canceling school) come up we feel like weak little boys instead of men.

The real danger of this is there will be days or portions of our lives that are incredibly unproductive just like Snow Days…when there will be no “real work” to do, or all of your attempts to accomplish something fail miserably.

It’s in those moments we learn what kind of character a person has; will they continue doing the work God gives (even if it’s to rest for the afternoon)? Or will their own desire for fulfillment and real work cause them to become angry or frustrated? This has real meaning for me since I’m in an extended “Snow Day” period of ministry while my Australian Visa is completed, and there are days when all of the work being done during furlough seems like it’s worthless.

However at those times I can rest in the fact that all the work given to me by God is in fact not worthless but a precious gift, and while obeying His Will every moment I’m doing the most important work imaginable.

So I am learning to love snow days 🙂

Confessions of a Missionary: Social Media is a Stage

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If you visit Piedmont International University you will find in their chapel a small stage used for services, and musical productions.  It isn’t anything overwhelming (just a basic one made of wood) but it’s precious to me because it was my stage.

You see it was on that simple stage that I perfected my ability to entertain people, or make them laugh during my four years of College.  It began with trying out for drama’s during the school year, but my entertainment career really took off with the birth of a “skit announcement.”

Like most Colleges Piedmont shared announcements almost every day at the beginning of chapel to make sure Students were aware of changes that had been made.  Usually these were simply read, but on special occasions a three-minute skit was allowed to emphasize an upcoming event…and of course it was always supposed to make people laugh.

Halfway through my freshman year I started doing skit announcements with my close friend (and one of the funniest men I know) Rick Clinard.  We actually took the responsibility of entertaining students with our short skit very seriously, and eventually people would start laughing  when they said “Rick andJohn have a special announcement” in anticipation of what we would do.

There isn’t enough room here to explain all of our adventures but some of my favorites were dressing up like cupid (complete with a large cloth diaper pinned over a pair of kaki pants) and running down the aisle screaming, “I’m in love.”  Performing a rap written by myself entitled “Only One More Day” (it has since been retired).  And we came very close to my walking on stage with a box of Lucky Charms dressed in green and saying, “They’re magically delicious” (I’ll give you a moment to wipe off whatever it was you just spit on the computer screen.

I really miss that stage at Piedmont sometimes, but not for the reason you may think.  It was awesome to hear people laugh at my jokes or acting but the true joy came from making friends forget their cares.  Life is filled with stressful situations that can be overwhelming, so I love using the ability for entertainment to take away that feeling of stress for a few moments (and hopefully they laugh a bit too).

What does that have to do with Social Media?  Simply for a long time I’ve used websites like Facebook or Twitter as a stage on which I entertain people and help them forget their troubles.

The greatest use of Social Media is to share ourselves with friends or loved ones all around the world.  The question for each of us then is, “What person do we share with others?”  For me that person is “entertaining John” the individual who is always funny or uplifting, never has a bad day, and shares at least three moving ministry stories each week.

Here’s the problem…I’m not always entertaining John.

Now in many ways I am that laid back humorous person, but there are parts of my life that aren’t all that entertaining.  Like struggling with a difficult Visa situation, lack of an active social life, my fear of confrontation, or  hiding weaknesses. These are almost never shared online because they don’t fit in with the entertaining John persona.  If they are shared it’s usually done on the blog written in a funny or entertaining way.

Eventually it got to the point where I would never share anything online unless it was entertaining or funny, which leads directly to the danger of an Invisible Facebook Entourage covered yesterday.  Of course it isn’t necessary to send updates about everything going on in our lives, but refusing to be share anything that isn’t funny gives a false perception or view about the kind of person I am.

Facebook is meant to be a place of sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of life.  For it’s as we share our own brockenness that others can see the Grace of God.