The Power of Habits

What is you could focus on one thing that would transform the patterns of your leadership? Great question, right?!

This past summer I read the book, The Power of Habits, and got thinking about how the science of habits could help leaders think about their leadership. If working on our habits can help people lose weight, train for marathons, and embed values into a work environment, perhaps they can help leaders think about their leadership.

Charles Duhigg’s “framework for understanding how habits work” offers “a guide to experimenting with how we might change.” The framework has to do with identifying the routine of a habit, experimenting with rewards, isolating cues, and having a plan. Knowing how habits work help us understand more about how to create and/or change habits. And understanding how habits form patterns and how patterns create reality helps the invisible become visible. (For more on For more on the Power of Habits so to Charles Duhigg’s website.) One of Duhigg’s important discoveries is that not all habits are the same. Keystone habits are super habits, habits that when changed loosen other  habits and open up the possibility of new patterns to emerge. What if we could reflect about our keystone habits and the impact they have in our lives and our leadership? And what if working with some basics ideas around habits could allow us to change some of our patterns and/or live into new possibilities?

I have partnered with leadership coach, Dawn Trautman, to create a series of videos and exercises to introduce and apply some of the ideas from The Power of Habits in order to leaders own experiences and situation. If you are interested, we’d love for you to join us. Check out more on

Habits matter and working on our habits can help us live into a new future.


Dwelling in Good Friday

images-53Many of us have witnessed death. Maybe you were at a loved one’s side when they breathed their last breath. Maybe you saw the violence of the world steal a life too soon. Maybe it was a friend. Maybe it was a stranger. Maybe you witnessed it alone. Maybe you were in the midst of a caring community. Maybe death was relief after a long struggle. Maybe death was sudden and shocking. Maybe it was quiet. Maybe you cursed. Maybe you cried. Maybe you were numb. Whatever your situation witnessing death, seeing death changes you. As a human, there is no way to witness death without being touched in some way.

Today’s a day about witnessing death. We don’t say it that way, probably because it’s not politically correct, but Good Friday is a call for Christians to come and witness death – Christ’s death. Humans don’t want to witness death. We don’t want our loved ones to die, and we don’t want to see it. And we certainly don’t want God to die, or to honestly talk about the cruel death crucifixion is. But today, Good Friday, we beg people of faith to come and witness death. The moment Christ, beaten and mocked, was violently nailed to a cross. And then hours later, when the afternoon sun was covered and it became dark as night, his frail body stopped being alive. Jesus, God’s only son, died. Today we are invited into the space we do not want to go.

Today in sanctuaries around the world, crosses are front and center. Violence is named. We talk about blood being shed and a body broken. The picture is painted from many vantage points – from loved ones, those hanging on crosses, the guards in charge, and those passing by. And it’s a heart wrenching account no matter the perspective. The death we are called to witness is horrible. Bottomline. And then, if we let ourselves, those of us who have witnessed death first hand, it’s hard not to have this narrative play alongside our own experience. Today death is real, and personal.

Many of us know mourning. For some of us, mourning has been apart of our story for some time. For some of us, mourning has not deeply impacted our lives. For some of us, mourning is a current state of mind. Wired for community, mourning is a consequence of death. For people who love and care for others, mourning is a reality. And no matter your economic status, gender, or ethnic background, mourning sucks.

Within the past week, two college students in my area committed suicide. Today, I can’t hear death without thinking about the family and friends of these two young adults. Questions. Anger. Sadness. Wonder. Confusion.

Yet they are not the only ones mourning. I remember the many funerals I have attended this past year, and all the lives these people touched. Hundreds, thousands of people mourning, missing the ones they loved. Mourning is a strange human state. Personal and communal, mourning offers an array of emotions which logic cannot explain or chase away. Mourning plays with us, it’s like living in two states at once…physically going through the motions of everyday living and emotionally existing in another realm. Surprising and with patterns, mourning is a roller coaster ride.

Mourning causes us to revisit our own story. Today I think of so many people whose stories have had to be rewritten – because a child, a spouse, a parent, or sister died. No matter how much time passes, rewriting one’s life story requires courage, more courage then some of us think we have, courage human’s cannot muster alone.

Today’s a day about mourning. Good Friday worship witnessing to the death of Jesus, but it also brings Christians together and offers space for mourning. Like at a funeral, we hear the story of a person’s life and death, personally and in community. Mourning is different for each person, yes, but having companions along on the journey is important. I have attended Good Friday worship in my home congregation and in congregations far from my home. The two are not the same, but I am comforted in both places. Why? Because like at a funeral, we can be with people we know or don’t know and it doesn’t matter, what matters is this – there are other trying to understand the impact this person’s life had on theirs, just like me.

Brothers and sisters, today is a day of mourning. We come together to witness death, to be in community, but also to revisit our story in light of this reality. Because of Jesus’ death, my story is rewritten. It’s true. Jesus, God, faced death. Jesus knows the pain of the world, knows betrayal, knows sorrow. And Jesus knows death. I don’t know what to do with that most days. But many days I know Good Friday. I have witnessed death and I know mourning. But that’s not all.

Sunday is coming, and with it comes a promise. With it comes hope and new possibilities. And for that I am grateful. For those of us rewriting our stories, this can give us courage. And I, like many of you, will live into my new story as the days unfold. But for today, I pause and give thanks for a life – the life of Jesus. And remember his story by remembering his death. And I do not do it alone.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to find a worshipping community to join this evening. If that is not an option for you, I encourage you to find a Bible (or go online) and read the story. (Read Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, or John 19.) Dwell in this Good Friday.

Curating – what is it and why do it?

Maybe you are like me and are curious about what it means to help others sift through the amazing amount of information available online, but don’t exactly know what you are doing or why. This activity is both an art and has some guidelines. It is called curating. And while I don’t know much about the guidelines for curating, I do know this – curating is part of my role as a teacher of the church moving into the future. Why? Because one of the ways I share what I know about my disciplines is to point people to other quality, provocative resources and thinkers. Yes, some of them people might already know or find on their own, as they are common in my networks, but some they might never find because they are less common or outside their regular network…but reading or seeing them might push up against their regular way of thinking or might help them, and me, come to understand “the” neighbor more fully. As a teacher committed to learning and a Christian trying to live faithful in our time, this matters to me.

I don’t know if you should curate, only you can answer that. But maybe you live in an intersection of various networks that would benefit from your doing so. The following guide might help you think about curating more fully. (Thanks Timothy Siburg for this link, and more importantly your accepting your role as a curator!)

and the floors need to be mopped


It’s been a week since I pulled into my garage. As I walked into the house and set down my bags, I headed to the kitchen continuing the conversation my husband and I started in the car. “How’s work?” “Talked to the kids?” “What time will you be home from your meeting?” As I sat in the stairway I got a panoramic view of the house – the living room, dining room, kitchen. The floors need to be mopped, I thought.

Today I returned from Detroit were 1,050 church leaders connected, learned, and supported each other in our shared call to children, youth, and young adult ministry. Many were friends and colleagues I anticipate seeing year after year. I treasure our relationships and am amazed at how quickly hotel hallways can become holy spaces. Others were past students, now well established in ministry roles around the country. It is a pleasure to be partners in ministry with them. And other faces were unfamiliar only days ago and today their stories echo in my heart. Their stories express the joys and sadness of leading ministry in 2015.

Art, drama, song, worship, teaching, and conversation embedded the theme of story into the rhythm of each day and night. Rachel Kurtz’s “Make a Difference” made the group “Rise Up” as her voice and the melodies filled our souls. The gospel of Mark came alive as Phil proclaimed it in front of “the big book” Nate and Katelyn illustrated. Liz preached, Todd welcomed, Nikki prepared, Dawn orchestrated, and Chris, Tom, and Tim produced. The rugged, boxy cross and phonograph baptismal font claimed the ballroom, and us. And each day as characters stepped in our “theatre in the round” a room was transformed, and the lost were found. The story lives and moves inside us.

As my husband left, the house quieted and I went to get the mop and the broom. Almost Cinderella-like, I went about my cores as my mind wondered about my friends and the future. “Did our students make it home safely?” “What will come of my new friendships?” “What will next year be like?” “What time is it in our church?” “What do I do with this?” Seeing the new blanket of snow falling outside, I’m hopeful flights continue getting people home. Then the washing machine buzzer sounds; time for another load.

Many hands and minds make a gathering like this possible, and makes evident the claim, “many hands make light work.” But this gathering is not just about an event. It is not even just about growing as leaders. It’s about the church. It’s about people telling God’s story even as they tell a bit of their own.

Tomorrow I, like many others, will return to my “ordinary” work. Classes to teach, confirmation to prepare, sermons to write, retreats to plan, expense reports to complete, emails to return. The list will be long, the demands great, and the energy low. Then, after a full day of work, I, like many, will enter a church building and sit among Kentons, Alexes, Jakes, Jonahs, Justins, and Davins – with all the energy and curiosity 7th grade boys can bring. We’ll ask each other about our week. I’ll hear about soccer and basketball and math tests and siblings. They’ll hear about Detroit, getting 16 inches of snow, and what it’s like watching the Super Bowl with several hundred other people. And in the midst of telling our stories we will tell God’s story.

Perhaps big things will come of this week in Detroit. Some may have sensed a call to ministry, decided to take a new job, committed to go to seminary, or met the person they will marry. I hope the Spirit moved in such profound ways. But perhaps this week in Detroit has as much to do with the ordinary things – our to-do lists, conversations with our friends and family members, healing our hearts, reminding us we are not alone, and, well, mopping the floors. Tomorrow as I head off to work, I will hold this past week in my heart and pray my eyes are open to see God’s story in the people I encounter. Perhaps you will too.


It’s messy



Isn’t it fun and mysterious when different parts of our lives, or a community, come together spontaneously? That’s what happened yesterday for me.

I’m teaching a class at a sister seminary. After class yesterday I joined the community for chapel. Leading chapel was the teacher, and friend, from another class down the hall. The focus was on our gospel text for this past Sunday, one this class had preached on as part of a class project. Living in the text for three days prior, engaging in the transforming ministry of a congregation in Knoxville, TN, they had these three reflections on baptism:

1) Baptism can’t be tamed – It wasn’t a reverent ceremony in a picturesque chapel with all the focus on the newly baptized when John baptized Jesus. Rather is took place in the wilderness, amidst the “less-than” sparkling clean Jordan River amidst a crowd of people. Maybe the “clean” we talk about in baptism is not as we imagine it.

2) Jesus jumps into the mix and wades into the muddy waters of the Jordan. And as he does the heavens are torn open and he is identified as the Beloved, as God’s son. And when he steps out of the river, maybe he wasn’t sparkling white surrounded by angels, but covered in the silt and gunk of a well-traveled, well-used river.

3) Baptism should come with a warning – “Buckle your seatbelt. Get ready for the ride of your life.” Through the waters of baptism, we are invited into a wild ride, a grand adventure into God’s wonderful, messy, marvelous world where God’s kingdom is breaking in? What if the messiness of our lives combined with the promises of God is a crazy combination in which young and old, rich and poor, the faithful and the doubters all are invited to be agents of God’s love? What if, just like Jesus, we emerge out of the murky waters not sparkling clean, but empowered for a mission?

That’s the sermon I heard yesterday. And our class was in the midst of being reminded we are not objects of this world, at the mercy of a consumer-driven culture, but subjects of God’s unrelenting love. And we, God’s subject, in the waters of baptism are filled with the Holy Spirit and become agents of God’s love. We, like Jesus, are invited into the mucky areas, the messy parts of life, of our world.

Today we will open class with this powerful song, Dive, by Steven Curtis Chapman. The images and words remind me, remind us, to dive into this wild ride every day.

Learning from the past…the importance of the local congregation

I spent the first 15 years of ministry leading congregational change from the location of a congregation. I attended to our issues, opportunities and concerns…but I had the joy of being in the midst of a larger conversation. Alban Institute, and Loren Mead, were key leaders in that conversation. This interview sheds light on what was happening in those years, and it makes we wonder what this means for us today.

Check this out…
interview with Loren Mead

Generosity—Attitude and Actions

Generosity is counter-cultural in today’s culture. And for those of us who value it and want to foster generosity in our families and faith community,  we quickly discover it is also hard to teach. But generosity is an important aspect of our call to be stewards. While generosity is most often tied to money, I think generosity is about all of life’s resources and is as much about an attitude as it is about actions.

Recently I had the opportunity to share some of my thoughts with the community of stewardship leaders connected to Luther Seminary’s Center for Stewardship. Check out my blog post (9-23-2014) as well as other great posts from other church leaders.

Center for Stewardship Leaders – Luther Seminary



Some times new is obvious … like the smell of a new car, moving into a new house, or starting a new job.

Some time new is subtle … like one month rolling into another, getting a new pair of sneakers, or opening a new bank account.

Whether obvious, subtle or somewhere in between, celebrating the new is a good practice, and a spiritual one at that.

This past week I’ve lived through many new moments.         Maybe you have to.

Only a few days ago I dropped our youngest daughter off for her first year of college. New for her; new for me.

Today marked the first day of a new academic year, and the launching of a new day at our school. New presidential leadership and a new curriculum. New students starting; returning students entering a new world. New staff and faculty welcomed; all staff and faculty living in a new reality.

I have a new office, in a new building. This week brings a new routine and new set of “hallway conversations.”

Today I drove to work the same way, but in a new car. The same, but not the same.

And this evening I returned home where there was no “how was your first day of school” conversation at the dinner table. In fact, I ate dinner alone.


New is all around us: new jobs, new homes, new schools, new family members, new driver’s license, new calls, new chapter in your life, and new routines.

Newness is often accompanied with hope, but can also be connected to anxiety and uncertainty. Newness can be welcomed and smooth, it can be scheduled and planned, but it can also be disruptive, sudden, unsettling and “rock your confidence.”

Our new may be shared with a community or evident only to you. It may be private or public. There may be words to talk about how new impacts life, or it may be beyond words and only experienced in our gut.

Why celebrate the new? Because it matters! Just like I noted the importance of marking endings in a recent post, I think it is equally as important to celebrate the new. Why?

  1. Marking endings has an eye to the past. Celebrating new has an eye to the future. With an eye to the future new reminds us we are more than our past. Yes the past does shapes us, but we are not held captive to our past. This is both good news and bad news. As a great athlete knows, continuing to be “in the game” means showing up everyday. And showing up everyday is not only doing the basics, but includes trying new things and imagining new possibilities. In the moments of new we have a choice – to hold on to the past or to see a future on the other side. How does the new in your life provide the opportunity for you to see into the future? How does the new provide an opportunity for a bit of the future to come into your present?
  2. We celebrate the new because it reminds us we are “becoming” people. Think about it. Starting middle school or junior high is a moment of new. As scary as it might have been to start 7th grade it was just one in many steps from childhood to becoming an adult. Staying a kid isn’t an option, but how we move into the new is. Starting piano lessons or learning to ski are awkward at first, but stick with it and if we embrace the learning it can be fruitful. Over time, and with practice, we learn and move into our own way of becoming. We may or may not every become an elite skier or professional piano player, but learning, in and of itself, stretches and teaches us a variety of lessons. How does the new in your life remind you you are still a “becoming” person? How might you embrace those “becoming” moments?
  3. Celebrating new recognizes we have a God who makes all things new. Be it creating new or redeeming into new, God is all about making things new. So celebrating new is an opportunity to make room for God in our life, remembering and marking God’s activity among us in real time. Today, in a quick phone call with my new college daughter, she interrupted our conversation to share something with a someone in the room. I asked her who was there and your response, “a new friend. You wanted me to make friends, right?” What a welcome statement for this college mom to hear. How is God present in your new moments? How is God creating and/or redeeming in your life in the midst of new? Mark those moments with prayer.

Yes it is a season of new.

And yes we have a God who makes all things new.

Thank God for the new!

‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the season of transitions – endings and beginning, good-byes and hellos. Wrapping up “the school year.” Getting married. Moving. Graduating from college. Celebrating ordinations. Accepting new calls. Starting a new job. Having a baby. The list could go on. Endings and beginnings are all around us this time of the year.

In my life, transitions take the form of a high school and college graduation, preparing to move into a dorm and moving back in with mom and dad, wrapping up another academic year (and a curriculum) and anticipating teaching new classes in September, and wondering what it means to be in my 5th decade of life. (Could that really be true?) It means graduation parties and rediscovering daily routines. (How needs a car today? Is there enough food in the house? Did someone do the laundry?) It means intentional relational time and space to ponder the changes taking place. It means some days are exciting and other days are simply hard. Endings and beginnings are all around us and while they happen all year round, for many, this time of the year moves transitions from the edges of our lives to the center.

Living in the midst of transitions is chaotic, but there are things that are “normal” and there is work to be done. William Bridges reminds us that being tired, confused, and having a sense of “being lost” is all part of what’s normal. Endings require letting go, but letting go means saying good-bye to routines and patterns that order our lives. And letting go is hard, especially when the future is unknown. And even our most anticipated beginnings are accompanied with a sense of melancholy. Bridges reminds us to gives ourselves, and others, a break during times of transition.

But there is work to be done in times of transition. Letting go, releasing the past, is part of that work. Yet letting go does not mean erasing the past. Endings, be they graduations or a relational break-up, are simply markers. These markers are not in themselves good or bad, they just are. They note time and that patterns of the past will not be the patterns of the future. And marking time allows space for rethinking and recalibrating so we have the capacity for moving into something different, something new.

One of the pieces of relational wisdom I’ve shared with youth and young adults is: just because a relationship ends does not mean it wasn’t meaningful and/or was an important part of your life. We grow, we change, and we have new opportunities. Some experiences and friendships fit for a time, do us well for a chapter, or are meaningful for what they are/were. Camp, for example, is a good thing. But camp works because it is an experience bound by time. Living through endings, and saying our good-byes, doesn’t negate what was. In fact doing endings well actually honors what was. Having graduation parties, for example, honors the graduate, but it also recognizes the greater community and is an important part of the process of transition. Graduations (and graduation parties) mark time, allow us to remember what was, and in so doing it prepare us to move into a new future. Without tending to endings, all of the good aspects of what was can be overshadowed with the disorientation that accompanies transition and the fruitful memories of the past can be distorted.

Summers often are accompanied by navigating some type of transition. At our house this summer we are navigating more than normal. And we have moments when it is going well, and other times when it’s not. But we are doing our work – we are celebrating accomplishments and giving each other space to grieve; we are appreciating the little things, like reflective conversations while walking the dog, as we also are recognizing the big changes taking place. We laugh and we cry. We have time alone and enjoy time together.

I’m mindful of those in my circle of friends and colleagues who are in the midst of transition. Some anticipated and celebrated, others forced and disheartening. Today, I hold you in my prayers. May God meet you in your letting go, in your disorientation, and in giving you hope for tomorrow. And may you experience grace and peace, space to be alone and community with which to share the journey.