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“I will go, I will go, I will go, Lord send me…” Sixteen thousand passionate college students sing in unison, arms outstretched. Individual faces are highlighted by the sweeping spotlights – some streaked with tears, some exuberant in worship, some quiet and reflective. As I stand in the midst of the massive crowd at the Urbana 2012 student missions conference, I’m struggling with an internal battle. Something inside me is holding me back.

“I’ve been here before, Lord,” I remind Him, as if He needs reminding. “And I remember what happened last time. I don’t think I’m ready to go there again.”

At Urbana 2000 I was a passionate and idealistic college student, ready to change the world. On the last day of the conference, I knelt down by my seat and told the Lord I was willing to go wherever He sent me. Within days after I returned home from Urbana 2000, I received an invitation to teach at a summer English camp in Shanghai, China. And that was the beginning of a new direction in my life. After graduate school I moved to East Asia for four years, where I taught English, learned some Mandarin, and made wonderful friends.

But I didn’t know some of the challenges I was signing up for. Missing engagements and weddings. Not being there for the births of my friends’ kids, or being able to watch them grow up. Unable to attend my grandfather’s funeral. I was surprised at how hard-hit I was at times by loneliness, isolation, and the waves of homesickness that hit me at unexpected times. The long hours of teaching English, the cultural and language barriers with teammates, the conflicts with roommates, and the constant turnover of coworkers over four years left me physically and emotionally dry. Eventually I reached a point of burnout and had to return to the US.

It was probably the lowest point in my life. I felt like a failure. I was depressed. I cried whenever anyone asked me about my time in Asia. And I definitely did NOT want to ever go back. But through the ministry of Fresh Start and other godly counseling and prayer, the Lord began to heal the hurts in my heart and show me how He wanted to use it for good.

And now, 12 years after I first attended the conference as a college student, I’m at Urbana again. As I listen to the thousands of students singing “I will go, I will go,” I feel jaded and cynical.

“…To the world, to the lost, to the poor and hungry…”

“They have no idea what they’re in for,” I laugh to myself. “I KNOW how hard it is. I know the loneliness, and the frustration, and feeling like you wanna quit and go home every day…” I can’t fake it anymore. I sit down and cover my face with my hands to hide the tears.

“What are you so afraid of?” I feel the question more than hear it. No audible voice, but I know God is talking to me. “God, I don’t think I can go through all that again. The loneliness, the depression…”

“Don’t remember the former things…” a snippet of a verse pops into my head. “…I am going to do a new thing.” A new thing. I exhale slowly and rub my face. A new thing. What amazing words. It doesn’t have to be like it was before. I learned from those experiences. I’m thankful for how God used that time in my life. But it doesn’t have to be the same. He’s going to do a new thing.

“…Take everything I am, I’m clay within Your hands…”

“God, I want to trust You,” I pray silently. “Even if I go through times of loneliness or discouragement, I know You will be with me. Help me not to fear. I know You are working all things for Your good. I choose to believe that You’re doing a new thing IN me!”

The cloud of fear slowly dissipates. I know there will still be hard times ahead. But like Peter, I take the step of faith out of the boat. Raising my arms I stand and sing with the crowd, “…I will go, I will go, send me!”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

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I apologize in advance for bringing up an indelicate topic. Miss Manners may not approve. But I have to say that there’s no sound I hate more than the sound of someone clearing the mucus in his throat and getting ready to spit. Just the thought of it makes me convulse involuntarily. Unfortunately, in the four years I lived in east Asia, I had to get used to that sound as a part of everyday life.

“It’s because of the pollution – that’s why people spit so much,” local friends told me. “It’s the dust in the air from the Gobi Desert,” others explained. “The wind blows it here and it irritates people’s throats when they breathe.” “It’s just a cultural thing,” some said, “We’ve always done it.” Whatever the reason, I didn’t like it. But I couldn’t make it go away. So I had to come to peace with the fact that people spit in this area of the world. And I tried to focus on all the wonderful things I loved about that country and culture, and ignore the spitting.

And it worked for awhile. I would still grimace and shudder when people passing me on the sidewalk started clearing their throats. But I told myself it didn’t bother me.

In my fourth year of teaching English in east Asia, however, everything started getting on my nerves. The mobs of people pushing to get to the ticket counter in the train station. The crowds jostling each other to get on or off the bus. The taxi drivers charging three times the normal rate just because I wasn’t a local. The kids staring at me as I rode my bicycle to school, and shouting “wai guo ren! wai guo ren!” (foreigner! foreigner!). But the thing that irritated me the most, like fingernails scraping on a chalkboard, was the clearing the throat and spitting.

One particular day as I was walking to classes, I was inwardly seething at the seeming rudeness and insensitivity of people around me. “If ONE MORE PERSON spits on the street,” I vowed to myself as I clenched my fists, “I’m going to PUNCH HIM!”

As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I was appalled at myself. “How could I even THINK such a thing? What is WRONG with me?”

Sadly it took me many months to identify the root of my angeryears of building frustration from feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, overworked, and not listened to by those in position of authority over me. But the threatening explosions of anger and feeling out of control of my emotions were the warning signals that something in my heart wasn’t right. And as I began to process the hurts that had led to this point, and to repent of my wrong responses, finally I was able to conquer my anger as I released my pain to God and chose to forgive those that had hurt me.

“Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). Do you feel like your emotions are out of control? Are you letting the hurts and challenges of life tear down the protective walls around your heart? Have you allowed anger, bitterness and unforgiveness to move in and take residence?

Examine the walls of your heart today. Forgive those who’ve offended you. Pour out the pain of your heart to God. And allow Him to repair the broken-down places. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you to guard your heart, so that your anger doesn’t get out of control!

“Above all else, GUARD YOUR HEART*, for it is the wellspring of life.”
Proverbs 4:23
(NIV)
*emphasis mine

Going Vertical!
MJ

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“Go home, Michelle. We don’t need you here.”

My brother’s words stung. What do you mean, you don’t need me? I thought, immediately defensive. Of COURSE you need me! This school would fall apart without me! I had helped start this little English school in northeast Asia three years earlier, and was responsible for finding textbooks, designing the curriculum, assessing student ability, training new teachers, hosting visiting teams, and keeping things running smoothly, as well as teaching a very full load of classes.

“You’re no good to anyone here when you’re miserable yourself,” my brother Michael continued, quietly and firmly. He had been teaching at the school with me for the past year, and had seen the strain I’d been under. And he wasn’t one to mince words when the truth needed to be told. “You’re a mess. We’ll be fine without you. You need to go home.”

Though it was painful to hear, I knew Michael was right. For months, I’d felt like I was at the breaking point almost every day. The compounded stress and pressure of an extremely demanding job, very little rest, conflicts with roommates and co-workers, and not feeling understood or appreciated by my leaders was getting to be more than I could bear. Ignoring the warning signs of burnout and depression, I’d stubbornly pushed on, insisting that I was fine. But my “stuff it and forget it” method of dealing with stress was not working anymore. And though I tried to mask my emotions with a pasted-on smile, apparently the only one I’d been fooling was myself.

But the part that was hardest for me to accept was that the school didn’t NEED me. I needed to be needed. My identity was wrapped up in this superhero image of the girl who could do it all, the amazing cross-cultural English teacher who overcame every obstacle and sacrificed her own comforts for the greater good of her students and team. And now here was my brother saying that they would survive without me! How could they?

“You can’t be the savior of the world, Michelle,” a friend had gently rebuked me years ago. “The job’s already taken.” Now her words came back to confront my prideful self-importance and inflated image of my own ability. Who did I think I was? I had been relying on my own strength for far too long. And now I was paying the price for it.

Apparently the apostle Paul struggled with similar issues. He also had to be reminded where his strength came from. The Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9a, NIV).

My brother’s confrontation that day in our little English school in northeast Asia forced me to face the reality that I can’t be the savior of the world. If I need to be needed, I will never recognize my need for Christ.

Instead, I can now say with the apostle Paul, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. …For when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:9b,10b, NIV). HE is my source of strength. HE is all I need!

Going Vertical!
MJ

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By day five, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Once again I woke up with a headache, stuffy nose, chest congestion, and deep hacking cough. I’d already missed almost a whole week of work. And even after staying in bed most of the day for several days in a row, I still felt miserable. I was ready to be done with it all.
So I finally gave in and went to see a doctor. He listened carefully as I gave a description of my symptoms, punctuated by coughing fits.
“What you described sounds like that nasty virus that’s been going around,” the doctor said. “This antibiotic may or may not help. You may just have to let the virus run its course. And that could possibly take 2 to 6 weeks. In the meantime, get lots of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and don’t go to work yet. You’re contagious.”
Even though the diagnosis wasn’t encouraging, I left the doctor’s visit feeling strangely relieved. For days I had been feeling lazy for wanting to stay in bed, feeling guilty for calling in sick, and wondering why in the world I couldn’t dredge up the energy to do simple tasks. Now there was an official medical diagnosis – a physical explanation for it all. I have doctor’s orders to stay home from work and sleep!
I remember the last time I felt this way. In 2008, when I returned to the US after four intense years in Asia, I was burnt-out and depressed. All I wanted to do was sleep for days and weeks. I had no desire to see friends or go out of the house. And if anyone asked me about how my time had been in Asia, I would burst into tears. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t “get over it.”
When I met the Fresh Start team in 2009, Pastor Steve and the others helped me do a “heart exam” to find the root of the problem. I finally realized, to my shock, that I was harboring bitterness and unforgiveness against my leaders for hurtful decisions they had made. Only after I identified the main offense, admitted how it had affected me, and chose to forgive and let it go, could the healing process begin. It was a huge relief to recognize the source of my anger, hurt, and frustration. It wasn’t an instant cure, but it was the beginning of the cure.
Do you struggle with anger, fears, shame, guilt, rejection, or depression? You can try to mask or minimize the symptoms, but they won’t go away until you find the cause!

The psalmist David says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Ask the Holy Spirit to do a heart exam and discover the root of the problem. He will lead you “in the way everlasting” – the road to freedom!

Going Vertical!

MJ

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When I was in 3rd or 4th grade and my Sunday School teacher talked about forgiving your enemies, I tried really hard to think of someone, anyone, who was my enemy. I had this image in my head of forgiveness as being a monumental act of granting pardon for a horrific crime, like Joseph forgiving his brothers for selling him into slavery – And I certainly didn’t feel I had any issues that fell into that category. Any hurts I had received I kept well hidden from the world, thinking they weren’t significant.

This “stuff it and forget it” philosophy followed me into my adult life. Yes, I felt misunderstood and unappreciated by my leaders, but I just needed to be more patient and submissive. Yes, my roommate was manipulative and controlling and cruel, but I must have done something to upset her. Forgive? Me? I don’t need to forgive anyone. Forgiveness is for people with serious problems.

But when at the end of four years of teaching English in East Asia I had to return to the U.S. from physical exhaustion and spiritual burnout, I was faced with the reality that I did have a problem. After all those years of stuffing my pain, the unforgiveness, bitterness, and resentment had been building to the point of explosion. A man bumped into me on the street and I almost screamed at him. A friend commented that a dish I had prepared needed more salt and I burst into tears.

I was finally able to understand the importance of forgiveness. Whether the hurt was small or large, intentional or unintentional, if I was affected by it, it’s significant. And if I was hurt, I need to forgive. As I acknowledged the emotional wounds and chose to forgive, I was able to release all the pent-up pain and be filled with the joy and peace of the Father! I have never felt such freedom!

Are you stuffing your hurts instead of acknowledging them? Is your heart being filled with bitterness because of unresolved issues from the past? When you get “bumped” by people or situations that irritate you, what spills out? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your pain isn’t important, or your hurts aren’t significant. Jesus cares about your pain. He wants you to be released. He will give you the grace to forgive. You can have freedom in Him!

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

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Rita* sat by herself, head bowed, as others talked and prayed in pairs at the Fresh Start seminar in East Asia. On this last day, the participants were being invited to forgive and release the one who had hurt them, as we have received the forgiveness of our heavenly Father.

Concerned that Rita didn’t have a partner to share with, I approached her hesitantly. Noticing the tears streaming down her cheeks, I sat in the empty chair next to her, feeling helpless. I didn’t have the vocabulary in Mandarin to ask how I could pray for her, much less to understand her answer!

All I could do was pray for Rita, asking the Lord to intervene. Then, in my halting Chinese, I attempted to communicate the message I felt was for her. “God is your heavenly Father. You are His daughter. He loves you.” Rita didn’t look up or respond, but noiselessly wiped away her tears.

Later when people were sharing testimonies, I was surprised to see Rita walk purposefully up to the front of the room. In a quiet voice she told of growing up as the sixth of seven children. Her father had a hot temper, often exploding in anger. Rita never felt that her father loved her or accepted her. The rejection of those early years was a deep wound that remained even after she married and had children, affecting her ability to give and receive love.

During the Fresh Start seminar, the heavenly Father had been filling Rita with His unconditional love, allowing her to finally forgive her earthly father. Now she felt she was able to love her husband and children in a way she had never experienced growing up. Rita declared that she was breaking the generational curse of rejection. A chorus of “AMEN!” boomed from the crowd of 50 plus participants. Face radiant, Rita proclaimed, “This young generation of parents in our country will love our children with the Father’s love!”

Have your parents ever failed you or disappointed you? Has your father or mother failed to be a good representation of our heavenly Father? If so, you don’t have to continue in the negative patterns of previous generations. You can choose to forgive your parents for that which didn’t match up to God’s standards. Malachi 4:6 says that if we seek the Lord, “He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.”

You can make a fresh start, beginning today, for this generation and future generations to reflect the Father’s heart!

Going vertical!

MJ

*Name has been changed.

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The honking of taxis and the shouts of street vendors provided a backdrop for our conversation as my friend Joy* and I sipped our cappuccinos in the far corner booth of the Asian version of Starbucks.  It was June 2009. I’d been traveling with Fresh Start in East Asia, sharing with church leaders about forgiveness and freedom. But I had a sense that I needed to visit my old hometown at the end of my trip and spend some time with Joy, a single American girl my age who had been my “coffee buddy” when we were both living in the small northeastern Asian city.

It had been almost a year since I’d left Asia, and I had a lot to catch up on. Stories of disappointment and loss emerged as Joy listed one friend after another who had left the area over the past several months. Even her teammates had been gone for extended periods of time, for family emergencies or medical issues. She felt abandoned by everyone, and it seemed as if God wasn’t hearing her.

My heart ached for Joy. I knew what it was like to feel isolated and alone. I too had struggled with teammates and leaders who didn’t seem to understand. I was amazed at how God had sovereignly ordained for me to be there for Joy in this difficult season. Through tears, I told Joy that if the only reason I had to go through that pain of some of my experiences in Asia was just so that I could understand and be a friend to her right now, then it was all worth it.

I Thessalonians 5:18 says to “give thanks in all circumstances.” That means even in the difficult circumstances. In ALL circumstances, we can thank the Lord that He is at work in our lives, knowing that He works ALL things together for His good (Romans 8:28). In giving thanks we are declaring that our hope is in Him, and that we trust Him with our past, our present, and our future!

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…”  Romans 8:28-29 NIV

Going Vertical!

MJ

*Name has been changed.

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