10 September, 2015

Hagar: The Slave Girl with Much to Tell


(I recently contributed an article to A Pinch of Faith's series on women in the Bible. Here is the start, the rest can be found on A Pinch of Faith.)

Hagar is one of the most over-looked women in the Bible. Very little is known about her. Born in Egypt, she somehow came to be with Sarah and Abraham as Sarah’s slave. Her place in the world is shaky at best. Overall she is powerless in the day-to-day dealings of her life. We don’t know her age, how she looked, if she had family back in her homeland. In fact, Hagar would have faded into historical obscurity except for one fact: Sarah chose to use her for her own end.

When we think of Hagar we have to keep her lot in perspective. She had no control over her life, body, or time. She could not say no. She could not come and go as she pleased. She was enslaved, under the rule of Sarah and Abraham with no hope or expectation for change. The reason for this caution is too often we turn Hagar into the villain of what comes next, when she is quite simply anything but.

Read more on A Pinch of Faith

04 August, 2015

The Discovery at the Laudromat

Here is my entry from the July 31st Creative Prompt

Where did he go?

Sara spun around again looking at the now empty laundromat.

She stared at the last place she had seen the man. It was impossible that he had made it to the door as she was between them. There was no back entrance. So where did he go?

She thought over what he had been saying, talk of tea parties and croquet. He kept repeating he was late. He tried to get Sara to turn around and was rather miffed that she refused to give him the chance to ambush her. She was put on guard by the fact the man had no laundry. He did not dress like someone who would use a laundromat with his top hat, white suit, buffed loafers and pocket watch.

The creaking door caught her attention. That dryer was not open a moment ago. There was only one machine being used – the one with her laundry.

She called hello, feeling foolish. There was no one there. She reached to close the dryer door but stopped. Where there should have been a drum there was nothing but darkness.

“Hello?” she called into the dryer, her voice echoing. “Mr. White?” She did not know if this was the man’s name, but it’s all she had. Realizing what she was doing she jerked her head out of the machine. Pull it together Sara.

Her hand still on the dryer she looked at the darkness. It was the only logical explanation, if a rabbit hole appearing in an ordinary dryer was logical. Was she really saying that a man leapt into a dryer the moment she pulled her gaze for a moment?

Confident no one was coming, Sara tried to hoist herself into the dryer. It was the top of a double stack and was remarkably hard to squirm into. She thought about how she might look, her bum sticking out, legs flailing. Maybe her sister was right, the stress was getting to her.

Feeling something wet under fingers, Sara pulled them back to find them covered in dirt. Dirt? She smelled it. What was going on? Realizing she had nowhere to go but further in, Sara braced her arms and pushed, sending herself tumbling down the rabbit hole.

03 August, 2015

Leadership Lessons from Deflategate

Last week the NFL upheld its four game suspension of Tom Brady for his involvement in deflating balls below the designated limit in January’s AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The news has been all over the media as well as questions about the future and legacy of Mr. Brady, the actions of the Patriots and the implications for the season. While there are tons of articles out there about the situation (see list below for a few), I wanted to see what lessons we can take from the situation as to what good leaders do not do.

1. Good Leaders Do Not Look for Someone Else to Blame.

Almost from the moment hints of under-inflated balls hit the airways after the AFC game, Brady and the Patriots have declared their innocence. This did not stop them, however, from blaming anyone outside the organization for their situation.

This is not the first time the Patriots have had cheating allegations levied against them. They have been accused of having inside intel on other teams, to the point of filming practices. They have used illegal plays and formations during games.

And as before, the Patriot are indignant, taunting and putting on one hell of a performance in their quest to be “vindicated” from charges everyone knows are true.

The team has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar. At this point it’s best to stop blaming everyone else, circling the wagons and trying to play the victim and maybe admit to what is right in front of them.

2. Good Leaders Take Responsibility

In what seemed like a series of excuses from day one, Tom Brady has not come close to admitting to, much less apologizing for well, anything.

In one of the more bizarre (and telling) moments, Brady told the NFL investigators that he did not know the, “permissible inflation range set by the NFL Playing Rules” (NFL Nation 5/6/15). It’s like a world-class piano player saying they don’t know what the pedals do or an electrician saying they don’t know how to ground a wire. It’s a basic of the game. A basic all 32 teams have agreed to.

Brady even went so far as to deny knowing staff on the team. Staff who deal with the very equipment he uses daily, staff who have been with the Patriots for decades, staff with whom he corresponded with via test message. It would be laughable if Brady did not think people were dumb enough to buy the lies.

A leader stands up and takes responsibility. Even IF Tom Brady had nothing to do with the balls being deflated, he should have gone to the podium and taken one for the ball handling team. He should have admitted the balls were low and promised they would not be this season. He should have cooperated fully and then accepted the punishment levied against him. Brady and the Patriots could have saved a lot more face if they had appeared to be humbled, corporative or even open in any part of what’s happened because of their decisions. This is not happening to them – they brought this on themselves by cheating.

3. Good Leaders are Transparent

Good leadership would have been coming out the day after the first hint of improper deflating was announced and been honest. It is not grand standing, proclaiming your innocent, blaming everyone else, or playing dumb. It’s not using long words and strong language that attempt to garner sympathy and paint yourself as the victim when evidence and common sense says you are anything but.

To put it simply: good leaders are not indignant, they are not martyrs and they stand up and tell the truth.

In all of this, the other big black eye against Brady is the destruction of his cell phone from the time of the incident on the very day the investigators wanted to talk to him. It was a key piece of evidence Brady knew the investigators wanted.

His excuse? Well he (supposedly) destroys all of his old cell phones. And why does it matter – the league has communications has what they need from the Patriot staffers’ phones?

Through his decisions Brady has made the conversation as much about his (lack of) character as it is about his actions. His unwillingness to just take responsibility for his actions will ultimately hurt his legacy more than the actions themselves ever will.

If Brady had just taken responsibility for his part this could be a footnote but since he insists on playing the victim way beyond the point of believability, this has become a bolded line in how he will be remembered. His legacy is tarnished by his choices.

4. A Leader Does Not Cheat

The most basic leadership lesson we can learn here is: leaders do not cheat.

There are rules, rules established by the league, approved by the owners. Rules that should be common sense to every player and staffer on all 32 teams. These rules lead to fairness and ensuring that all 32 teams have an equal playing field.

Someone who is a leader plays within those rules. They look at the PSI levels and find a level that works for them. They don’t spy on their opponents; they don’t try and pull a fast one on the referees. They don’t play the victim, and when that fails they don’t become bullies.

The Patriots are a well-oiled machine. They are disciplined and everyone does exactly what they are supposed to. There is little denying they are a powerhouse team. But when faced with something as severe (and proven) as cheating, the last thing a leader does is look to somewhere else to place the blame. But that is what the organization and those closest to Brady are doing.

Until now they have not had to pay in any way that hurts them. The fines levied against them are laughable when you consider how much they make, losing draft picks doesn’t hurt because, well, they are at the bottom of the list anyway because of how good they are. Instead of letting them buy themselves out of another cheating fine, the NFL hit them where it hurt: by benching a key player.

Where We Are Now

Ultimately, the Patriots and Brady are in a place of leadership because they are in the public arena. Children look up to Brady and emulate what he does. But they are not leaders. They have shown their entitlement comes from a place of privilege and power. They expect that by being at the top they have the freedom to do what they want. And if they get caught – there is always money.

Brady’s reputation and legacy have been altered by the situation and mostly by his reaction to it. While some might have suspected that the leadership of the Patriots is content to play outside the lines, I think many hoped Brady would not display such arrogance. The unfolding of Deflategate since January has shown only the worse side of many. And maybe the discussion we should be having is why the NFL (also in a position of leadership) is doing so little to address the core issue here.

If you can only win by working outside the rules, does that really make you a winner? 

If you are powerful only because you are a bully, does that really make you powerful? 

If you want to escape responsibility because of your status, what does that really say about your character and who you are?


31 July, 2015

Friday Creative Prompt - The Laundromat


The Rules:

1. Set a timer for five minutes

2. Look at the image and write what comes to mind, no editing, no thinking about it - just write.

3. If you want to post what you wrote below, I'd love to read it.

4. Save what you write 

23 July, 2015

Simply Tuesday: Becoming More Childlike


Playing Dress-up

I loved playing dress up as a child. I remember countless afternoons being at my grandmother’s house in her closest putting on her skirts and blouses, slipping my tiny feet into her heels. I would slip her pearls on my neck and let her clip-on earrings pinch my tiny ears. Then I would try to walk. I would have to hike the skirt up and shuffle to the bedroom.

As an adult I have often felt like that little girl in her grandmother’s clothes. I have struggled with wondering if I would ever feel like I belonged. Would I ever truly fit in and as if I wasn’t just playing in my grandmother’s closest?

Simply Tuesday

I am currently reading Emily Freeman’s new book Simply Tuesday. In it, she writes about the need to become more childlike. But Freeman reminds us: being childlike does not mean being childish (pg. 138).

We often get those confused. One is forging responsibility, throwing a tantrum and being self-involved. The other is wonder, awe, trust, surrender. It is hope and belief. It is being open and ready.

She writes about the image of a daycare room coming to her one day in prayer. Little tables and chairs, paper and crayons. Then she realizes she is a child. “This day belongs to the Lord,” she said. “This is not the day Emily made to toil and strive and earn. … He invites me to surrender myself to His agenda and trust that He intends good things (pg. 134)

In my prayers I am often a little girl in a flower field. I run my hand along the tops of the flowers that grow wild, up to my waist. I am looking a field with a lake and a beautiful mountain rising before me.

Too often, I think that someday I will be a grown-up here, that I will finally not be playing dress-up. But what if that is the entire opposite of what God wants?

Being Childlike

What if He wants my curiosity? What if He wants my wonder? What if dress-up is okay because it keeps me dependent on Him?

What if the wonder, joy, awe and ability to see the small things is really what it is all about?

It is resting in God’s presence vs. trying to do it alone.

It is being filled with possibility and being open vs. being skeptical and analyzing things to death.

Freeman writes: choosing to believe the simple, true words about my identity is a childlike quality that often takes mature faith. (pg.139)

Believing What God Says

It takes more faith to let go and let God be God than to try and control it all. Like kids in a tantrum refusing to sleep though they are exhausted, surrendering and letting go bring rest, comfort and release!

When I let myself be childlike, I say okay to being messy. I do not have to have it 100% together. I can move towards others, not in “perfection” but with my mess – loving them and inviting them to embrace their mess too.

“Jesus speaks to the interior soul, inviting the child within to come to Him for validation, protection and truth” (pg. 141).

Ultimately, our souls are young! In our pain we try to fortify them – but our inner being is childlike. That is what breeds wonder, worship, love and hope! An adult has no use for those – but a child is all over them.

It’s our woundedness that cause us to fortify the child inside. We are taught not to trust. We are taught to be reserved. We are taught to hold back, play along, fall in line – be an adult! But God did not tell us to become upstanding adults resting on practicality, logic and reason. No he told us to become like children.

“He invites us all…to finally take on the truest shape of ourselves: a small and dependent child of God” (pg. 142).

Being Childlike in the Every Day

The other day I was on a run. I was having the hardest time finding a rhythm. It was a mental block. I was exhausted. I couldn’t make it down the block. I wanted to quit. But I had a distance I was determined to go.

In my frustration, I decided to sing. I got found a beat with my steps on the pavement and just started to sing. My song: He is good. He is with me. He is my strength. He will get me through. I can do this. As I focused on that instead of my pain, I started to run. I made it further than I had so far.

I realized reading Freeman’s book that was a childlike moment. The song made no sense. It was off the cuff. It was totally silly and repetitive and did not always rhyme. But it was pure. It was me – unadulterated before God. It was undignified. But it was real. It was me with my God in a moment when the veil was torn and I was just with Him.

And isn’t that just simply amazing?

How can you be more childlike today?

22 July, 2015

Be Still and Discover - Journaling into the Quiet

Today we continue our series on journal ideas and tips. You can find the previous entries in the series here.

Last week we talked about journaling into what hurt

This week we are going to talk about journaling in the quiet.

As in being quiet. Being still. Waiting.

Be Still and Discover

Ooh we hate those words, don’t we? We hate to wait. Whether it’s at the doctor’s office, in line, at a stop light, for our family. We hate to wait. We are impatient. We take out our phones and scan the social media page we were on only moments before. We look at images and updates, and idle the time until whatever we were waiting on happens.

We are not good just being.

We want the distraction of noise. TV, radio, chatter, talk. Something about silence anymore makes us uncomfortable. It’s like a wool sweater in summer – itchy and out of place.

We have lost something precious friend.

In the wake of never being still, never without distraction, unable to take silence, stillness or our own thoughts – we have lost the ability to process and in many ways, feel.

Yet we were made to feel.

As we discussed last week, what we don’t face will come back. You cannot out run things forever.

Finding the Quiet

Earlier in the spring I went on a spiritual retreat. A group of us met and after a brief introduction, went about our own way. We had two hours and nothing to do.

The time looked different to each of us. Some went for a walk, others prayed or meditated.

I intentionally chose not to bring my headphones. It would have been easy for me to slip them in, turn on some music, and write the time away. But that was not the point. The ache is my heart was present even then (link) and I wanted to meet God.

I found a quiet corner. Looked out over His beauty and tried to quiet my mind.

It was hard. My to do list kept coming up. I thought of my phone in my purse, tempted to text my husband. I went over story ideas and song lyrics. But that was not why I was there.

I write in Emmaus about the need to simply be with God. To do this we have to de-clutter our minds, push beyond our tendency to fill every minute, confront and overcome our severe hatred of quiet and reflection.

So I chose a word and just said it over and over to myself. I let that saturate my heart and quiet my mind. When something new would come up I let it be for a moment and then went back to my word.

I found stillness. In that stillness I found something else – peace.

I was able to forget my discomfort and meet my heart where it was.

We Need Silence

We cannot exist without silence. We cannot exist without quiet. We cannot exist without time away from electronics and to dos and busyness.

We were made for more. But we’ve sold ourselves short.

Creativity requires space and quiet.

Relationships require attention and engagement.

Family requires time uninterrupted, consistency and being together.

Faith requires stillness, quieting our hearts and listening.

We are addicted to noise and distraction.

We are master numbs and avoiders.

We are told what to think, feel, believe and become.

And yet we are lonely.

We are hurting.

We are crying out for more.

But we have been taught that this kind of “more” is bad.

Simply Start

So start small.

Find a place where you can relax. Leave your cell phone behind. Do not take your tablet. Turn off the TV. Make sure you won’t be interrupted.

Get comfortable. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Pay attention as you breathe – in and out, slowly.

Focus on a word, or an image of something calming.

Your mind will wander. It will feel weird. But dear friend, that is okay.

After you are settled if you want to write, please do. If not, just let your mind be still and feel what is happening within and around you.

Maybe you only get five minutes in. Maybe you don’t have a revelation. That is okay.

The practice of quiet comes slowly. It’s a friend that beckons us back.

Maybe as you wait for your kiddo you breathe deep and just be instead of reaching for your phone.

Maybe you let someone go in line ahead of you and take the moment to recharge.

Maybe you keep the TV off before dinner, put your phone in a drawer and just engage your family where they are.

Maybe we can help silence and stillness not become bad words and things we avoid and instead turn them into ways we recharge and things we make time for.

Silence is not bad. Stillness is not being idle. It’s how we come to know ourselves and bring a bit of clarity into this fragmented, busy, over-stimulated, rushed world.

How can you bring a bit of stillness into your week? 

21 July, 2015

What Hurts: Doubt, Questions and Silence

Here is my entry from the July 17th Creative Prompt

What hurts? At the moment seemingly a lot. I don’t know if it is a hurt really, but a subtle ache. It hits me when I am silent or still. What is to become of me?

It sounds drastic and I don’t mean it to. Since getting to Hawaii, I have been struggling with what to do next. I left my job in May full of expectation. I was ready for what came next. Now next is starting me in the face and I am petrified.

I have wanted to be a writer forever. Earlier in the year my husband challenged me to stop saying I want to be a writer (because I am one) and instead to say, “I want to make money with my writing.”

Turn it from a hobby into a career. Take it from something I can do passively, to something I take seriously.

But that adds more to it than just a new level of thinking. It kind of makes it real. Then doubt comes in. It creeps into the silence telling me I can’t. I’m not good enough. Who cares what I write! I forgo daily ritual and my creativity runs dry, which I take a further proof. Oh who am I kidding!!!

So I sit at home, idle and the guilt of money, bills, and productivity creep in. My husband is at work while I sit at our kitchen table and re-read something I wrote six years ago. And what have I done with that story from six years ago? Nothing!

Comparison. Doubt. Questions. Fear. These are companions I hate.

I don’t suggest that writing into your fear always come with a happy ending. Life does not work like that. This is not a fairy tale or a 90’s sitcom where it all gets wrapped up harmoniously in 30 minutes. But it is necessary to combat the lies. Not with pat answers but truth. If you can hear the truth, use it! Speak back to the companions who hang around like leaches. Look at the fear you are so boldly facing and call out the lie.

It’s like the sounds we hear at night that creak. We can play it up to being a serial killer in the hallway or we can get up and realize it’s the wind pushing a branch into the window.

We have to face our fear before we let it overwhelm us. There are seasons of being small and then there are moments of being BIG! Being BIG enables us to move forward and helps us define who we are.

This phrase is a life raft. It doesn’t carry any answers. It does bring forth creativity or squash the guilt. But it gives me something to hold onto. I might not know what this next stage will look like – but I know I want my life to mean something. So I sit at the table with doubt, fear, uncertainty and my desire to not give into the rat race and wait.

I wait knowing that in stillness fear and doubt lose their sting. Faced with light and hope, they have no place. I sit and restart the ritual and rhythms.

Nothing worth doing comes over night. I know this. But that does not make the waiting any less hurtful. It does not make the questions any easier to take. It does not make the guilt of “sitting at home” any lighter.

But it’s something to hold onto. I want something meaningful. So I come and I sit with my desire and my questions and the still small dream in my heart, and I wait.

Sometimes waiting can be hard and painful. Sometimes waiting can bring joy we never knew was there.
© Amanda Lunday