Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”

John 7:37-38

 I don’t really have a New Year’s Eve tradition. I have friends who make it a point to celebrate the new start by being together with family and friends, pushing themselves to stay up until midnight in order to be the very first to offer each other a greeting in the new year. It’s been fun to be a part of those gatherings in the past but lately Rick and I prefer just staying home and off the roads. Add to that the fact that I’m more inclined to rise early and go to bed early and well, this “holiday” just isn’t a big deal for me.

This morning as I read this passage in John, God brought to mind the many people who are truly “thirsty” for more in life. I thought about how the New Year represents a fresh start for millions of people. A quick rise of the glass for a quick “Happy New Year” toast seemingly assumes that every person with a glass in their hand is putting the previous year behind them. The celebratory atmosphere gives the impression that “all is well” and greater things are yet to come. But the reality is that there are hidden hurts and hang-ups that continue to linger no matter how much a person tries to move on with the turning of a calendar page.

I am thankful that no matter what the year has been like, I have hope in Jesus Christ. For me, 2018 has held a lot of change. And it’s brought some significant challenges. As I reflect on all that has encompassed the last twelve months, some of the most emotional memories are of those I am close to experiencing pain. My heart still hurts because I know that there isn’t much more I can do, even to this day, other than to pray. But then maybe that is the BEST thing I can do. So right now, once again as I pray, I add to those prayers a request for myself… that God will keep providing those “nudges” to prayerfully intercede for those whom I love.

My mind drifts back to these verses in John. How many people have I encountered this year who have been literally “dying of thirst?” I want to offer a taste of this living water to them. “God, forgive me for the many missed opportunities I’ve had to offer a drink that would quench this thirst. In addition to helping know how to pray for the hurting, give me boldness and courage to offer hope to those who don’t know You. Amen.”

Another year has come and gone. And similar to years past, a few days of vacation helped to finish up the year and hopefully provide a “reset” before jumping into another annual adventure. It seems as though the list of to-do’s keeps growing instead of shrinking though. Whether it’s email inbox “housecleaning” or organizing the dreaded Tupperware cabinet, the demands of home and ministry seem to be more overwhelming to me this year than ever before.

So what’s a girl to do? Well, I’m certainly NOT going to give in! I may have some moments where I need to escape reality (nothing like a hot bath and a glass of white wine), but then it’s back at it. But it takes a lot more than determination to really make progress. So here’s a list of things I want to remember as 2016 kicks off:

  • Relationships first. Jesus and then others. People before projects.
  • Start with a solid plan. Prioritize. Tackle one thing at a time.
  • Enjoy the journey. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Finally, worship God in all things – tough or not.

Okay, self, let’s go. It’s 2016!

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If you’ve been called to any position of leadership, you know all to well that you are always “on.” Even with a healthy work/life balance, a good leader knows that they are “leading” whether they are standing at the front of the room making a presentation or vacationing with friends in Mexico. And the best leaders in the world are not only aware of this, they embrace it. They realize that the basis of strong leadership is relationship and count it an honor to share their life with those they lead and serve.

Do you consider yourself a leader? If so, how do you feel about the fact that the cameras are always rolling? If this thought makes you cringe, you may want to consider redirecting your career to a role where you are an individual contributor. Don’t see it as a copout; the world needs a lot of highly skilled talent. But what the world doesn’t need is mediocre leaders.

So, do some soul searching and ask yourself the question. If you see this kind of “life on life” leadership as a way to leave a mark on the world through others, then go and live a life worth following.

Yesterday I attended a memorial gathering for one of the most Godly men I have ever met, Jonathan Smith. I met him when I first started volunteering with Dare 2 Share in 1993. He and his wife Maybelle, along with Greg Stier, founded the ministry with a vision to reach teenagers and equip them for a life of discipleship and disciple-making.  It was obvious right away that Jonathan had a solid grasp on Scripture. He taught with authority because he had spent countless hours praying over and rightly dividing the text.

It was humbling to hear the stories at the reception from the folks that Jonathan’s life touched. Most of them spoke of him as their professor and mentor. They talked about his legacy living on through them. It was such an incredibly honoring moment in time.

I remember Jonathan saying something very profound to me as I was just beginning my ministry journey. I had been really struggling with not being able to do more. I wanted so much to make a difference for the Kingdom and I honestly felt like I could never live up to my own expectations, let alone God’s expectations of me. I constantly felt as though I was falling short no matter how hard I worked or what was accomplished. It was an all-consuming battle for better and it was wearing me out.

He simply pulled me aside and gently said, “Debbie, you need to understand that God is more interested in what He is doing IN you than what He is doing THROUGH you.” Wow. Why in the world would God be more interested in my individual spiritual growth than He would be in outcomes for His cause? It was counter-intuitive but Jonathan convinced me that it was true.

I often think about his words to me, especially when I am particularly focused on getting the job done. That simple statement comes to mind and provokes me to take pause and remember that if I work from the inside out He will accomplish His purpose IN me first and then THROUGH me second. At this service, I caught myself reflecting on this sage wisdom once again and was struck by how Jonathan applied this truth to his own life. As a leader, I want to model this “inside out” approach, helping others prioritize their relationship with Him first and their performance for Him second.

It may have been 25 years ago but I remember the conversation well. The lunch invitation came as a bit of a surprise to begin with since I hadn’t heard from Tom since I’d left the telecom company we’d both worked for months before. He had been released through one of the waves of reductions that were all too familiar in the high-tech industry in the late 80’s. He sounded eager to talk and was willing to make the hour or so drive to where I was now employed to share a quick meal.

It was great to see him. He and his wife were doing well. He was ready for the transition even though the timing was not his choice. He sought some advice but made it clear that he really just wanted to encourage me and thank me for my leadership. I was a bit embarrassed but very appreciative. How kind of him to come all this way to tell me that! Our time was comfortable and casual until he asked me a question that really caught me off guard… “Debb, what would you really do if you could do anything at all – if money and other responsibilities were all taken care of?”

First of all, I was only in my early thirties, and I’d already been reasonably successful (at least by the world’s standards), so I hadn’t really ever pondered a question like this before. Rick and I had just bought our first home. Our kindergarten son was enrolled in a good Christian school. Life was moving right along. My career ambition was to start my own company and I had a plan to accomplish that in less than 5 years. Tom pressed in with the question again, maybe because he sensed that my plans were somewhat shallow, or that there was more, I’m really not sure. However, after a few minutes of thought my response to him was, “I’d do something to help teenagers.” Then I went on to explain that it seemed like there just wasn’t enough support for kids during that season of their life. They needed something to draw them away from bad choices that would create baggage for them to carry the rest of their lives. I recalled briefly my own teen years with some regret, wishing I had made some different choices.

Today marks 20 years to saying yes to full-time ministry with Dare 2 Share. I had no idea this ministry even existed when I had lunch with Tom that day. But God obviously had a plan. I have had the privilege of playing a small role, albeit behind the scenes, in the lives of countless teenagers over those years and I’ll never get tired of hearing their stories.

Every once in awhile, I think about that brief encounter with Tom. Not only did God use him to plant a seed for future ministry in my heart, but his gratitude served as a foundation for developing a passion for leadership in my soul. There have been almost 200 co-laborers (not including the hundreds of volunteers) that have served or are still serving with D2S these past two decades. What a blessing to me to have been a part of their lives too! I have served alongside some amazing people that inspire me in so many ways. My life has been forever changed because of their friendship and love. My character has been strengthened because of their commitment to Christ. 

As I mark this milestone, I’m asking myself the question again. “What would you do if…?” And the answer is still the same.

Forced. The word itself can bring to mind some pretty negative mental images. As a kid my little brother really wasn’t very “little.” He was big and he was strong. We were only two years apart and although we are super close now as adults, as kids we were on a mission to kill each other. A vivid memory of mine is locking myself in the upstairs bathroom in order to avoid getting my tail kicked by this guy. Not that I was taunting him at all, of course!

Whether or not my brother was justifiably provoked could certainly be debated, but either way, I still felt forced to spend hours in this small little room, screaming through a locked door.

The bottom line is that no one likes to be coerced into doing something that they don’t want to do.

But sometimes the pressure has a purpose. A friend lovingly confronts your sin and you’re swept into the midst of an intervention. Your spouse grasps your hand as you head into that needed surgical procedure you’ve been putting off forever. Yes, sometimes being forced is exactly what you need.

I’ve had many moments like this in life and in hindsight I’ve always been thankful. However, a recent incident brought more pressure than I can remember ever feeling, and it came from an unusual source – the Holy Spirit.

A true and safe leader is likely one who has no desire to lead, but is forced into a position of leadership by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit and by the press of the external situation.”

A.W. Tozer

So, here I sit. Now just three months in to a leadership role I absolutely did not want. It has been the biggest professional challenge I have ever faced – times ten! There are moments when I have called out to God, exclaiming that He must be crazy. But then I remember His distinct, undeniable call and I surrender. I vow to Him that I am here – ready and willing, even if not able. He has carried me through every difficult decision and has filled me up when I have felt more than empty. I have never felt closer to Him than I am now. And for that I am thankful.

If you are a close friend or colleague, you know that I just returned from Israel a few weeks ago. Being invited to attend the GYI Summit was an amazing privilege. So much so that I kept the invitation pretty quiet until just a few weeks before we were scheduled to leave. What made this trip so special was so much more than the fact that I was going to walk where Jesus walked (although that is amazing!). It was the fact that this phenomenal gathering was bringing together up to 200 ministry leaders from over 50 countries around the world – all of whom are focused on mobilizing youth to make disciples who make disciples.

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Any nerves I had about traveling to the middle east quickly subsided as I met one brother or sister after another. I can honestly say that I have never in my life felt more welcomed or more loved. I did know a few folks… my friends from Dare 2 Share training partner, Sonlife, who were responsible for extending the invite to me in the first place. However, the overwhelming love from others from different cultures and ministries made such a strong early impression on me. It was a clear indicator that I was about to forge friendships for life in just a few short days.

I wish I could unpack every story exchanged, every smile shared, and every special conversation for you. But even if I did, I doubt you would be able to really grasp the sense of Holy Spirit fellowship that was taking place. Within less than 48 hours after I arrived, I was sending up a prayer of gratefulness to God for allowing me to experience His Church in this way, and in THIS place!

I continue to reflect on those conversations and have loved keeping in touch with my new friends. God is also paving the way for some significant Kingdom-advancing opportunities for us to work together to mobilize teenagers to make disciples. Your prayers toward that end would be very much appreciated.

P.S. A special thank you to all of the staff who worked so hard to pull this event together. May God bless them immensely for their vision to see a global movement among teens accelerated.