Sunday Reflections – Amplifying Missions

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DISCUSSION: Are you sending or going or both? Tell us your favorite mission story.

How to… Survive Mornings if You’re a Night Owl

Friday’s post entitled Confessions of a Night Owl hopefully illuminated the perspective of individuals who struggle to function well in the morning. Today’s post looks toward helping night owls successfully live in an early-bird society.

A Guide Navigating Mornings Successfully2-25-13 navigate

Over the years, many techniques have increased my ability to become a morning person. Yet, no matter how much effort I put forth, being a morning person has yet to become easy or natural for me. Because of my physical makeup, mornings will always be more of a struggle for me than the rest of the day. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be productive and positive before 10:00AM.

The following suggestions have developed over many years of trial and error. Keep in mind that these suggestions work best for individuals adhering to healthy lifestyle principles. Also keep in mind the importance of individualizing your approach.

  1. Get thinking, but do it gently. For me, this means reading scripture, checking the weather, and drinking something warm. Find simple warm-ups that gently coax your brain toward action.
  2. Do what works. A warm drink, sometimes green tea and sometimes coffee, exists as an essential part of the first ½ hour of my morning. While I don’t like depending on caffeine, sometimes it is necessary for the sake of relationships. Oh yeah, I brush my teeth right away too. Just better for everyone that way.
  3. Don’t make decisions. When I worked outside of the home, I prepared everything the night before. This meant the coffee was ready, my briefcase was ready, my clothes were laid out, and my lunch was packed. Now, I make sure my boys have everything ready for the next school day before they go to bed. They also need to do any “asking” the night before too. No requesting extras the next morning. The fewer decisions to make in the morning, the smoother the morning.
  4. Don’t think about the day ahead. This means I just do what’s next in my routine, knowing that the prep work for the day is already done.
  5. Say as little as possible. For some reason, my tone is either sarcastic or nagging before 10:00AM without great effort on my part to sound otherwise. Even with great effort, I usually sound slightly irritated anyway. So, I simply say as little as possible in the morning. I listen, I hug, and I say goodbye. All are happier that way.

My kids and husband – who are all morning people, by the way – know that I struggle in the morning, and they do their very best to not push my very sensitive buttons. I promise to try not to scowl, and they promise to try to keep to the routine.

As I reflect over my life, I am thankful that my morning personality has gotten gradually friendlier. But, I also realize that the struggle for this to happen really has not gone away, lessened a bit perhaps but not gone.

Establishing a solid routine and developing positive habits can allow the night owls in this world to function and even be productive in the morning, and, dare I say it, even have positive conversations before 10:00AM.

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DISCUSSION: How does growing outside of our natural tendencies help our relationships? Why is struggling in these ways important for connection?

Related Reading: Please read the excellent article entitled “How to Become a Morning Person” by Michael Hyatt at Intentional leadership. He also has a podcast on a related topic entitled “Become More Productive by Reengineering Your morning Ritual.”

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Confessions of a Night Owl

The Ugly Truth

2-22-13 sun and coffeeThe ugly truth hit me about 15 years ago while working as a dispatcher for a local sewer and drain company. One day, I realized that none of the service guys came through the door to the office before 10:00AM on Saturday mornings. The only exception was when I had a job for someone, but even then they just stuck their head and hand in far enough to get the slip of paper. I finally realized that my morning demeanor may have something to do with this odd behavior, since when I worked evenings the guys were always quite chatty with me while waiting to leave on a job.

I then realized that maybe my mom brought me coffee in the morning starting when I was 13 and through high school not solely because she was nice (and a great mom) but because I wasn’t so nice in the morning.

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when I realized that my marriage was void of morning conversation for the most part. My husband, an all-day person, intelligently steered clear of me before 10:00AM.

I used to believe that people just naturally chewed louder in the morning but have come to realize that my sensitivity to just about every sound and activity sits at full throttle before 10:00AM.

I also used to believe that changing my demeanor in the morning would be a raising-the-dead type of miracle but have since come to realize that while I won’t ever be a true morning person without that miracle, mornings don’t have to be dreaded by myself as well as everyone near me.

Not Entirely My Fault2-22-13 owl

Turns out, research supports the idea that the blame for me not being a morning person lays at least partially in the way my body works. In fact, research indicates that “neuronal excitability” starts low and increases for night people. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I do know that whatever it is that allows me to think clearly definitely increases as the day goes by.

Also turns out that our alertness tendencies fit within the descriptions of certain animals. Apparently, I am an owlish hummingbird, a night owl who has learned to function otherwise.

What the science means to me (the article I read is listed at the bottom of this post) is that my body and brain work increasingly better as the day goes on, which is why my productivity increases and my physical ease of movement improves significantly as evening approaches. In other words, I run better in the evening and my ideas flow better in the afternoon and evening.

BUT, while my physical makeup naturally works against me being a morning person, my personal habits fired the loaded gun. This means, that changing my habits held the ability to at least make me more of a morning person, which certainly fits more practically into the routines of family life.

Why Change?

Unfortunately, our culture seems to be one that requires operating in the morning. Personally, my world of school-age kids and a working husband necessitate my functioning before 10:00AM. For this reason, Monday’s post will offer some tips for navigating mornings successfully if you’re not a morning person.

But, you morning people, please don’t tune out (or even not ever tune in) on Monday. You might learn something that can help you better understand the morning people in your life. Who knows, maybe you’ll even find ways you can help make their mornings more successful. After all, that’s when you’re at your best, right?

DISCUSSION: What are your experiences either as a night owl or living or working with a night owl? Do you think understanding others perspective in this way is helpful? Why or why not?

Related Reading: Please read the excellent article entitled “Are You a Lark, an Owl, or a Hummingbird?” for fascinating reading from the book The Body Clock Guide to Better Health: How to Use your Body’s Natural Clock to Fight Illness and Achieve Maximum Health.

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Sunday Reflections – Walls of Inspiration

The walls of my home display what inspires me.

Family pictures. Inspirational sayings and quotes. Bible verses. Even just single words that describe approaches to life.

These walls reflect who I want to be, my values, and what’s important to me.

They serve as constant reminders, something I need to surround myself with more and more as culture constantly seeks to invade my life.

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A wall at my church displays photographs of all the missionaries our church supports.

The wall on the big screen in the sanctuary shows these missionaries during prayer times.

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These walls stand for what I consider to be a hero, values important to God.

These walls serve as regular reminders of the Great Commission and my part in that commission.

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The walls that surround me most often show what I want to be the focus of my time, talent and treasure.

2-20-13 So all can hear

DISCUSSION: How do you remind yourself of where you want to focus your time, talent and treasure?

Lessons from A Travelling Man



He’s traveled by car, airplane, taxi, boat and even sea plane. He’s been gone 10 days at a time, just overnight and over many weekends. He’s gone just to a neighboring state, to 5 cities in one week, and around the world (literally). He’s eaten alligator and chilled monkey brains (think Indiana Jones) and had the opportunity to eat dog and horse.

He skipped his own birthday once (courtesy of the International Date Line) but has never missed being home for our anniversary or my or either son’s birthday. I’ve met him in San Francisco, the Twin Cities and Waikiki. He’s brought back tea, coffee, t-shirts, baseballs and even a Kindle as surprises.

For the past 20 years, the whole of our marriage, my husband has been a travelling man.

When our relationship struggled, business trips provided both of us with much-needed space. As we both grew as people, we learned independence and individuality in ways that have made our relationship positively unique.



But most importantly, my husband’s travel strengthened our relationship in significant ways. The lessons learned from being married to a travelling man have helped define our marriage as well as formed some of our future aspirations.

  1. Two really do become one. When my husband travels, I just feel “off.” It’s like a part of me is absent even though there’s one less person to accommodate. We handle so much as one unit that suddenly handling life alone feels, well, lonely.
  2. Dependence on God is crucial. Because of the loneliness I feel when my husband is travelling, my dependence upon God has grown significantly over the years. While I definitely rely on my husband, he’s not my number one “go to” guy. At the same time, God uses him more than any other person to guide and protect me.
  3. Technology can be a really good thing. We talk about the kids, coordinate our calendars, talk about our days, complain and even flirt via email and text. Doing so seems to allow for deeper connection when we are face-to-face since the everyday matters of life have been dealt with already.
  4. Distance really does make the heart grow fonder. When my husband is gone, I realize so much more of what he does not only around the house but about the value his presence adds to me as a person. In this way, distance creates a significant appreciation for who he is as an individual, a father and a husband.
  5. Home truly is where the heart is. When my husband returns from a trip, he always says “It’s good to be home.” His trips are usually very busy, filled with meetings and inadequate sleep. He’s just ready to relax on the couch and have a home-cooked meal. While I love to travel with him, I have learned that nothing will ever feel quite like being at home together.

2-15-13 beach writing2While I am usually the last person to use clichés (at least I try to be), even I can’t help but realize their truth when I consider how my husband’s travel has impacted my marriage over the past 20 years.

Our focus these days lies with enjoying our two junior high boys and anticipating the fun and excitement of their high school years. We’re focused on preparing them for college, careers and even marriages but mostly on how to live in all of those roles as strong, Christian men.

But my husband and I also know that when the boys are both out of the house, we want to fill at least some of that time traveling together. We truly enjoy travelling as a family and plan to continue that for many years to come, but we also know that travelling just the two of us brings unique opportunities as well.

DISCUSSION: How has travel impacted your relationships?

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Sunday Reflections – Connection is Crucial for Victory

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The topic of connection is not a new one for Struggle to Victory. Just type the word “connect” or “connecting” or “connection” into the search box on the right hand side, and quite a few posts show up. Some, like No Man is an Island, directly addresses the topic of connection, while other posts address it indirectly or as a sub-topic.

The reason for this topic coming up so frequently lay with my belief that connection is crucial to finishing the race victoriously. Without connection, even people with great spiritual insight can still be turned from God.

In James 5: 13-20, James emphasizes the importance of connection to God and to other Christians. In this passage, connection specifically through prayer stands out as the way in which “a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.”

But the importance of connection shows up in a lot of other ways too. In his many letters, Paul continually expressed longing to be with those he knew would encourage him and who he knew supported him. And members of the early church met daily because they needed the encouragement to endure persecution that only connection with each other could bring.

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Conversely, an avoidance of connection often indicates a larger problem. Jonah did his very best to avoid responsibility by running away and disconnecting.  Moses gives another example of someone who ran away and disconnected in order to avoid the consequences of his mistakes. Fortunately, God still used them. Notably though, one got reconnected and went on to be used even more by God, and the other didn’t and was never heard from him again.

Not only does the importance of connection evidence itself in a person’s spiritual life, connection with others on a regular basis is crucial to a person’s physical health too.

On a very personal level, this melancholy introvert must deliberately seek out regular connection in order to keep depression, both a significantly mental and physical battle, at bay.

Need hard proof? Here’s what the experts at Psychology Today have to say about the importance of connection.

  • Social connection improves physical health and psychological well-being.
  • Lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesitysmoking and high blood pressure.
  • Strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity.
  • Social connection strengthens our immune system, helps us recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen our life.
  • People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression.
  • People who feel more connected also have higher self-esteem, are more empathic to others, more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.

2-13-13 connect 3See the article Connect to Thrive for more startling information on the importance and power of connecting. Don’t you love it when scientific research supports what God’s Word has shown for so many years already?

As Christians, we are called to fellowship (connect) with one another regularly. Luke said of the early church, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

Just as Christianity grew out of connection among its individual members as they connected to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9) and fellowshipped with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14), so too will the church be strengthened and grow in no other way but through connection and fellowship.

Connection creates a strong base that allows for greater effectiveness that is significant, long-term and sustainable. Want to increase your faith almost instantly? Connect with others. Want to feel more encouraged and motivated? Connect with others.

DISCUSSION: How has the importance of connection evidenced itself in your life?

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How to… Keep Technology from Consuming You

2-11-13 Abraham LincolnWhat can we learn about instant messaging from Abraham Lincoln?

Even though Abraham Lincoln had no precedent for how to use it, he brilliantly integrated the new electronic communication of the day to help save our country. He did this by using the telegraph system to stay in touch with his generals in the field during the Civil War, and was the first president to use this quick, long-range communication method in this way.

Lincoln seemed almost obsessed with this tool at times, much like we are today with instant messaging, emailing and texting. That’s not to say that he used the telegraph as his only mode of communication, but he certainly grasped the importance of using it to help him in his job as Commander in Chief.

“Lincoln had done more than simply counsel on strategy; he used the telegraph to take command… The president telegraphed direct orders to generals in the field, moving men around as though on a chessboard… The wire became a way for the president to stay informed and assert himself… [The telegraph was] the tool Lincoln used for reinforcing his resolve and making sure that neither distance nor intermediaries diffused his leadership.” (Tom Wheeler, author of Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails)

What does Abraham Lincoln’s use of the telegraph have to do with our prolific use of technology today?2-11-13 Telegraph

Not only does Lincoln’s use of the telegraph reveal another element of his timeless leadership genius, but it also reveals to us how the technology of the day – whatever that might be – can draw a person in and seemingly shut out the rest of the world.

In other words, technology can make us closer and further away at the same time.

“Lincoln hardly left his seat in [the telegraph] office and waited with deep anxiety for each succeeding dispatch… The president consumed the electronically delivered updates… No longer was Lincoln content to sit idly by and await information, he was actively in communication with the front.” (Tom Wheeler, author of Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails)

While we can understand why Lincoln obsessed over these messages during this pivotal time in our nation’s history, we can also understand how doing so likely affected the other areas of his life. The correlation between T-Mail and E-Mail might not be perfect, but it does help to understand that technology always has had and always will have the potential for consuming us.

So how do we keep technology from consuming us?

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If we had the time, we could discuss how Lincoln took frequent carriage rides with his wife, how he loved interacting with his son even while working, and how he often corresponded in detail by hand-written letter. Doing so would help us see that while technology at times consumed him, he also knew the importance of face-to-face and more detailed interaction.

With the idea that technology in any form can easily steal our attention from the people we love, let’s look at ways to keep it from consuming us.

  1. Leave it. Don’t take your cell phone or tablet with you to church or out to dinner with friends. Make leaving it a regular habit to help reduce its pacifier hold.
  2. Turn it off. When reading or playing family games, during dinner, and when friends are visiting turn off technology and focus face-to-face. At the very least, turn off the sound.
  3. Avoid it at dinnertime. Make this a daily habit. Don’t let technology consume this important touch point.
  4. Have tech-free family time. Play cards or a board game. Have a family reading time. Exercise together. Make technology off limit for everyone during these times.
  5. Have tech-filled family time. Technology is not evil. In fact, it has tremendous value, especially when used to build relationships. Have a family Wii night or play electronic Scrabble together. Spend time together in technology.
  6. Let technology help you. I’m a huge proponent of keeping a personal calendar and making lists. My tablet is an indispensible tool in these habits that are crucial to my sanity and thus to the function of my family. Not only that, but staying connected as a family, especially with a husband who travels a lot for work, is made a lot easier through technology.

When Lincoln went home, he did not have the telegraph with him since telegraph wires were not yet run to the White House. We don’t have that built-in off switch. We have to choose to use technology rather than let it consume us.

DISCUSSION: How do you keep technology from consuming you?

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Sunday Reflections – Would You Ignore Kublai Khan?

The Mongol Empire By Kallie Szczepanski, Guide

The Mongol Empire
By Kallie Szczepanski, Guide

Kublai Khan, the grandson of Ghenghis Khan, ruled during the 13th Century. Kublai Khan’s empire, which he basically inherited from his grandfather, stretched from China to Central Europe and was larger than that of Alexander and the Roman Caesars. No one has yet matched the size of the Khan Empire.

Since the Khan Empire had reached its limit, Kublai focused on maintaining peaceful borders. With his mother being a Christian and with possible influence from Marco Polo, Kublai expressed interest in Christianity for helping strengthen his empire. The story goes that Kublai requested that 100 missionaries be sent by Pope Gregory X to the Mongol Empire to teach Khan and his people about Christianity.

That request went unmet, so Kublai Khan instead turned to Buddhism, which still exists as the dominant way of life in Mongol and the other areas previously part of the Khan Empire.

What if Pope Gregory X had fulfilled Kublai Khan’s request for 100 missionaries? We can only imagine the impact that would still be felt today not only in Mongolia and the rest of Asia but also throughout the world had that request been met.

Amplifying Missions

While I am not a historian, nor do I pretend to understand the politics involved in Pope Gregory’s reasons for ignoring Kublai Khan’s request, I can say that this story has amplified my focus on reaching the lost. I realize even more the need to walk through the doors God opens. I’m more fully understanding that missions cannot wait. And, I have too often underestimated what serving and loving Jesus can do.

Time to Walk Through Open Doors. When God opens a door, I need to walk through it. I wish I could say I have all A’s in this area. Sadly, I do not. Like Pope Gregory, I too have missed some significant open doors presented to me by God. And, equally as sad, I will probably miss others. But I can say that this story has heightened my awareness of the impact of letting fear keep me from walking through those open doors.

Missions Can’t Wait.

Just as Kublai Khan did not wait to strengthen his empire through religion, reaching out to this lost and dying world can’t wait either.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

God’s patience astounds and even stupefies me at times, but 2 Peter clearly tells the reasons for that patience. This scripture also indicates the importance of reaching the lost.

While missions have been a priority financially for my husband and me for many years now, we both feel the calling to prepare for more. The opportunity for missions is now, and that is the path of obedience we commit to follow.

Never Underestimate What Serving and Loving Jesus Can Do.

One of my favorite aspects of Missions Month at my church comes through the many stories told not just about the miracles taking place but about the opportunities God constantly presents to those with a heart of obedience.

People living their lives serving and loving Jesus provide endless inspiration for others to go into the world themselves or to be a part in sending others. Examples of such opportunities include teaching natives of a country to speak English by reciting Psalms, Proverbs and poems by Mother Theresa. They also include receiving support from country officials in unexpected ways and through being able to provide Bibles in native tongues.

These stories of serving and loving strike a chord in my heart to amplify my own outward expression of the inward reality of Jesus being Lord of my Life.

Reaching the Unreached Through Education

“There are over 400 unreached groups in Northern Asia. Many of the best and brightest from these peoples end up spending four years in a university. This is a crucial window to reach these never before reached peoples.”

The Bassett Family serves “the university students of Northern Asia. This gives [them] access to reach the unreached before they are sent into the work force. [Their] family aims to serve the future leaders of Asia with excellence.”

The Basset Family has said yes to the call to reach the unreached in Northern Asia. They have chosen to walk through an open door. They are serving and loving in obedience.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

You can learn more about the Bassett Family and their service in Northern Asia at Light4Asia.

How to… Live Grace

What comes to mind when you read these words:

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Perhaps a song came to mind. Or maybe you thought of the prayer many of us say before each meal. Maybe a verse like this one came to mind.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Chances are, though, that you didn’t think of perfume. Yet, these words – amazing grace, living grace, pure grace, and inner grace – each give name to fragrances from the company philosophy.

The ad for their newest fragrance, living grace, says,

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While I don’t appreciate their lack of capitalization, I do appreciate their tag line for living grace. I also like the idea of wearing grace as a scent, though I have not personally tested these fragrances and do not know if I like their particular scents. But I like the idea of smelling like grace.

The Ancient Romans had three different meaning for the word “gratia” from which we get our word grace. For them, “gratia” could mean:

  1. A pleasing quality – something you have or don’t have
  2. Favor or goodwill – something you give or get
  3. Gratitude or thanks – when you have something to be thankful for

These three meanings for the original Latin word for grace get at why I like philosophy’s idea of living grace. If we can connect with what grace truly means, if we can learn to live grace, our aroma will be pleasant to others.

God’s grace – His unmerited favor – really incorporates all of these meanings of the word, and it gives us the foundation we need to live grace in our own lives.

How, then, are we to live grace? Not only do the above scripture describe our God of grace and the qualities He possesses, they also give us direction for how we to can live grace in our own lives BECAUSE of His unmerited favor.

  1. Accept His gift of grace. It’s a gift; you can’t earn it. This truth is essential in order to live grace.
  2. 2-4-13 grace 3Be slow to anger. Learn The Logic of Patience and keep Battling the Unbelief of Impatience.
  3. Be abundant in loving-kindness. Start by deliberately looking for ways to Instantly Make the World Better.
  4. Be abundant in truth. Take Every Thought Captive to the truth.
  5. Get wisdom and understanding. Learn How to… Develop Wisdom and focus on understanding.
  6. Take time to think. Learn How to… Develop Good Judgment that will help you think clearly.
  7. Develop self-control. The only way I have found to do this is by the increasing of the fruits of the Spirit in me.

At the end of Genesis 8, just after getting off of the ark after the great flood, Noah built and altar to the Lord and made a sacrifice to God. The NIV says in verse 21 that “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma…” God then went on to promise He would never curse the earth again.

I desire for God to say that about my sacrifices too, and I want my sacrifices to result in God’s blessings. And while I can wear perfume that smells pleasing, that even smells like grace, I know that it is my purposeful obedience to live grace that is truly a pleasing aroma to the Lord.