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.

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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.

Yesterday was my hubby’s birthday. His day. His choice of how he wanted to spend it. He decided he wanted to go on a long motorcycle ride together. It was a beautiful Colorado day so it sounded good to me.

It’s amazing how much thinking you can get in on the back of a motorcycle all day. There were no distractions, just the gentle breeze of the warm air as I leaned back and held on. No music was piped into my helmet and there was no way for me to constantly check my cell phone. At first I just took a deep breath and allowed myself to take in the beauty that surrounded me in the canyon as we headed to the hills. But then I found myself recounting the last few months. The ministry and life ups and downs reminded me of the constant curves we were encountering on the road.

May began with a trip to California to join dozens of other friends and co-laborers for the Youth Ministry Executive Council. The event didn’t disappoint. It was filled with great connections and fellowship. It inspired and refreshed me. Then, two days later I found out that a friend that I just shared a meal with there, Rebecca Long, had died in a tragic accident. She was 32 years old. What in the world? I still think about Rebecca a lot, praying for her family almost daily. I can’t even fathom their pain.

Next stop in May was a trip to Daytona Beach, FL to train trainers for the Assemblies of God. After years of talking about partnership and building a strong relational foundation, the dream of training trainers with D2S content to energize and equip exponentially was finally here. It went even better than expected and paved the way for a much needed week of vacation with my hubby. Still reflecting on Rebecca’s death, Rick and I headed out to sea.

June and July brought even more partnership “high’s” as we collaborated with Sonlife on their Muve events in Chicago and Portland and announced a full training partnership that includes multiple levels of cooperation in order to accelerate the vision for 30,000 Gospel Advancing Ministries by 2025. But right on the heels of that, I received news that my aunt has stage 4 bone cancer. Another hairpin curve. Does she know Jesus as her personal Savior? Will God provide a way for her to hear His redeeming message of hope through His Son? Am I to be the messenger that she needs? I find myself praying through these questions, waiting for His Spirit to lead me to answers.

Our own Lead THE Cause University went into its third year this summer with a brand new program, the addition of Core Trainers, and a soft launch to the youth leaders in attendance of the values of Gospel Advancing Ministries. It went great! There were a lot of moving parts, but I can honestly say all of the hard work paid off! Yet, there was one looming black cloud that kept that experience from being picture perfect. One of our hand-picked, solid, in-the-trenches-getting-it-done youth leaders fell morally. When the news came it hit me like a sucker punch to the stomach. The wind still escapes me as I think about it and it eventually leads to a knot in my gut that makes me want to wrench, but then I remember that God is in control of ALL things and He doesn’t need my help.

I just returned from Columbus last week. It was a real blessing to see the folks we trained in May (affectionately known as “YAM’s” – Youth Alive Missionaries), training students to share their faith. Even more fun was experiencing the hunger for evangelism that is was so apparent in the 9,000+ students and youth leaders there. Many of the AG practices are well outside my comfort zone, but I still felt like I was truly among family. Then this morning, right before we left for our ride, I received a disappointing email. Another curve. I’d been working pretty hard on something that didn’t work out. At first it throws me off. But as I climb on the back of the bike and take a deep breath, I realize that this too, is just another curve.

It was a great day and I enjoyed the birthday ride with my hubby. I am so thankful for our strong marriage. Today, my son turns 30 years old! Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for even in the midst of the twists and turns!

I first heard about this concept a year or so ago but just recently have given it some major attention. As I headed toward the end of a pretty tumultuous year I was ready to hit the reset button in a big way. It wasn’t that I was filled with regret. It was just that it was a hard year, that’s all. So I wondered about the best way to make a fresh start and I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of developing a set of “resolutions”.

Then right before the flurry of Christmas activity I read a blog about the One Word concept and it jogged my memory. So I looked a little closer and decided to go for it. You can find out more by going to http://www.getoneword.com. My goal for this blog is to give you a little bit of background as to why I chose the word I chose, not to sell you on the one word concept.

My word for 2014 is… PRAYER.

Now, it may seem like a no-brainer to you but I want you to know it took me a bit to commit to it. The idea is to choose one word that will transform your life and that’s a pretty daunting challenge. I thought about it for a long time and then really asked God to give me the word that would really transform me.

Maybe this word is so appropriate because of the difficult year I’ve had, I’m not sure. It is definitely the right word for me for 2014 though, there’s no doubt in my mind. It’s not that I’ve been struggling with prayer – I absolutely love to pray and find myself uttering little mini-prayers to God all day long. I’ve also began trying to implement something the whole staff at Dare 2 Share is doing – The Daniel Challenge – praying 3x a day on your knees for revival among teens. I would say that prayer is currently a big part of my life.

The one thing that stood out as I was searching for just ONE word was that it needed to be a word that, if I truly focused on it all year long, would make me a different person when I looked back a year from now. From the bottom of my being, I honestly believe that prayer will do this. It’s going to be a great year!

By the way, if you haven’t read The Spiritual Secret about the life and ministry of Hudson Taylor, you should pick it up and put it on your 2014 reading list. It’s well worth the time.

I recently lost a young friend. She was 27 years old and six months pregnant with her third child. I had first met Lois when she was a high school student and joined my senior high girls small group. She was full of energy and joy for the Lord. Later, she came to work at Dare 2 Share while she was in college. She lit up the office with her smile.

Although I hadn’t kept in touch much with Lois over the past several years, her sudden passing jolted me in a way I can’t really explain. I struggled with a heavy cloud of sadness for days and still haven’t quite been able to shake it. I keep trying to grasp why the Lord would allow me (someone not that close to her) to feel this way. I even considered that maybe I was struggling with depression and this tragedy just triggered it somehow.

Then on Sunday, as I continued my “wisdom quest,” the Lord took me to Ecclesiastes 7. Here I was studying Soloman, and God decides to talk to me about death! Look at verses 3-4:

Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time.

My Bible’s notes talk about how people avoid death, not wanting to face it. I have always been that way. As a matter of fact, it’s easy for me to think of at least 3 funerals I purposely didn’t attend.

I think Solomon is trying to tell us that our sorrow should be used to help us understand how to priortize our lives and to give us a sense of urgency to fulfill our purpose here on this earth. As a matter of fact, look what I found a few chapters later in chapter 9:

Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.

Thank you, Lois, for your reminder that we must live for the Lord every minute of every day! I will miss you!