Success is Relative

To be honest, the last few months have not been the easiest, creatively. I have had a whirlwind of ideas, concepts, next steps if you will, floating into my mind (some of which are better than others), and that just where they have stayed. In my mind. Personally, I can be intimidated by the sheer volume of other people creating things, it makes me not want to do anything ever. 

The allure and vision of becoming successful one day is slowing fading out of my mind and time just seems to go by: I’m standing still, slowly turning in a panoramic manner, and everything else seems to be moving in hyperlapse. Sound familiar? If not, let me paint you a better picture (complete with some sad piano music, a black and white filter, and all) : Standing Still.

I have to ask myself then: where am I getting this definition of success? Who is creating that for me? And why does that definition apply to my life? Long story short: it doesn’t.

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The world’s definition of success is actually so vague and purposeless that it makes me frustrated for actually falling for it. I didn’t even realize where I was feeding my soul information from until I started to dig deeper.

In the context example Google uses for its definition of success (meaning popularity and wealth), the sentence it gives is “the trappings of success.” I’m sure you know as well as I do that the feeling of entrapment can come hand and hand with success. But the definition I care to explore more about, the one I want to continue to meditate on is “the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose.”

We are all created for a purpose. Is that for us to know right away? Maybe. But at the very least, it is for us to figure out along the way . As we continue to grow more in our faith, we discover more about ourselves on a daily basis. This means trying on a daily basis. This means failing on a daily basis. But it also means one step closer to your own personal success on a daily basis.

Success does not look the same for a woman who was born to raise 3 children to be future leaders of the world as it does for me. It does not look the same for a woman who is a teacher during the day and attending night school so she can advance her research studies. It does not look the same for the lawyer working until 2AM in the high rise in Midtown Manhattan. It does not look the same for the athlete training 6 hours a day and making sure she gets 8 hours a sleep a night so her body can recuperate.

Success is setting reasonable goals for yourself within your own lane. Only you and God know your own limits; and you have to be honest with yourself. This is something I know I need to work on. I will be either all in or not at all. Lately, it has been a not at all mindset, which has left me feeling discouraged and left behind. If that’s you too, that’s okay. As you grow in your skills and abilities to become autonomous, your limit and capacity to tackle more responsibility increases.

That definition of success that I mentioned earlier (the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose)? I think I want to rewrite it to say “The accomplishment or aim of a purpose.” You may never been truly feel like you are “done.” But we continue aiming, because we will always be called to a Higher purpose.

Don’t look for the success that will entrap you. Look for the kinds of success that will propel you into your unique purpose. Own your own definition of success.

 

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We All Deserve Nice Things

About a week ago, I had a very vivid dream about a couch (bear with me here). I had just purchased a house, and I had no furniture in it. I would sleep on the floor, because I was looking for the perfect pieces to complete “the look” and “the vision” I wanted to have for my new house.

One day I was heading home from running errands and when I walked in, I saw this beautiful tufted midnight blue velvet couch (with clawed-foot detail) much like this one here, just sitting in my living room. No note attached, no reason for me to think the delivery was a mistake. I was taken aback by the gesture of kindness from a stranger, a stranger who had gifted me something I didn’t think or know that I would like, but loved the moment I saw it. Immediately following, I thought “well, this couch is too nice to sit on. I wouldn’t want to ruin how perfect it looks in the moment.” Then I woke up from my dream.

Later that day, God told me, “why would I continue to give you nice things if you never use them?” And it struck me: all the things that I had been given as gifts that I had never used. Not just physical, tangible gifts, but gifts like hospitality, the ability to speak life into others, and talents that I have not used to glorify, encourage, or uplift others. They just sit there dormant and unused. Three verses that come to mind highlight the good and actionable work that God calls us to do through our talents.

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The first is 1 Corinthians 12: 5-6.

“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” This is always a hard one for me because it deals with the aspect of comparison. God has given each and everyone a special set of skills, so when you compare your gifts to others, you are discounting your own ability and as a result, probably putting yourself in a lower position that no one asked you to be in. I have to remember that no matter where I am or what my gifts are, God is the one who is working through me. I am not authorized to discount my gift in any way, because it says in the Bible that my gift DOES look different from everyone else’s. I cannot compare apples to oranges, so why would our gifts be any different (despite what the world may say).

The second is Matthew 5:14-16. 14

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” We are called to be lights of the world. How can we possibly be a light if we keep all of our gifts hidden from the world?

The third is Proverbs 22:29.

“Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.” God tells us that when we are skilled and humbled in our work that we will presented before the highest officials as a way to honor Him in every place on earth.

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Luke 16:10 says “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” I believe that this not only applies to materials possessions, but also the gifts and people in our lives that God has entrusted us with. If every good and perfect gift comes from above, shouldn’t I be treating every good and perfect gift that comes my way with the upmost care, respect, and attention that it deserves?

We all are worthy and deserving of the gifts that God has given us (not to be confused with entitlement), so let’s use them to the best of our ability, knowing that the creator of the universe is working right alongside with us. This week I’m asking myself: what are some gifts that I have that may be going unused at the moment? And (more importantly), how can I use this gifts for the greater good?

 

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Call It What It Is

To be honest, yesterday was a tough day for me.

I was sitting at my desk completely frustrated and defeated, knowing that while God’s hand IS on my life I have not seen the fruit of the seeds that I have sown. While I have come a long way spiritually, nothing really monumental has changed in my life and I feel like I’ve been going through the same struggle I’ve had for the past 3 years.

“I’m not really being used to my maximum capacity” and “I would have so much more to give for God’s Kingdom if He just put me somewhere else,” are things I whisper to myself multiple times daily. Anyone else feel like that from time to time? You’re not alone.

I cannot discount the season that I am in, because I have to live it day in and day out until God moves me elsewhere. I am not any less valuable because of where I’m at today. I’m not any less or more valuable because of my job title, what someone says about me, or even my past. I hope for tomorrow, but persevere and be present for today.

Romans 5:3-5 reads “Not only so, but we also praise God in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not fail us.” So I ask myself this question: What character am I building out of the suffering / disappointment / frustration am I experiencing?

In a moment of frustration, yesterday I found myself saying “How can I possibly thank God when everything around me seems to be completely draining and pulling me in a million different directions??!!!??” and “How am I supposed to give God the praise when NOTHING IN MY LIFE IS MOVING?!”

But the truth is, God can bless you anywhere.

I was listening to a timely sermon by one of my favs Steven Furtick from Elevation Church and he said that “If I say it’s a blessing, it WILL be a blessing If I say God is in it, he IS in it. If I say it is an opportunity than IT IS an opportunity. If I say it is a setup, than IT IS a setup.”

So I decide the purpose of the place by what I speak over the situation. If I say that there’s nothing to give glory to, then that is the attitude that I choose. But if I say, I’m going to find something that is a blessing in this situation and call it a blessing, then that situation WILL be blessed. When I walk away from a frustrating situation, will I become disgruntled or will I make it worthwhile by learning something?

Today I find myself saying “this opportunity is a stepping stone for something greater.” or “today is another gift from God and another opportunity to give someone a bit of encouragement.”

What can I do today to combat frustration to build character?

I DO have the power to choose to bring purpose into something that seems mundane. I DO have the power to breathe life into the lifeless because I have the Spirit of God living inside of me. If I put limits on myself, I put limits on what I believe can be done through me, when we are all called to great works no matter who or where we are.

God may have the power to redeem my time, but I have the power to call it what it is (free will, anyone?). Don’t lose heart, there is a plan.

Just Say Yes

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What would happen if we just said yes?

“So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 20:16 (KJV)

There is blessing and promise on the other side of discomfort. When I choose to say yes every day, to keep living a life full of the fruits of the spirit, then I have the power to impact the lives of those who see me living. Just by living in The Spirit of God, to say yes to Him every day, I am set apart. I am chosen and called to say yes.

The NYPL Building, 5th Ave

About a year ago, I was attending the She Is Free women’s conference my church Liberty Church hosts every year in New York City. Ordinarily, I would offer to volunteer, but it was my first time attending the conference and I wanted to “not miss a single thing” and wanted to get the “full experience.” A couple of my close friends, Louisa and Trish, asked me a few times to volunteer and I politely declined. After a few more asks, I felt a tug on my heart to just take the leap and volunteer. And boy was I glad I did. My station was in the green room, which was where the speakers and hosts of the conference spent some down time in between sessions. Not only did I get to meet and speak with some of the leaders whose books I’ve read and podcasts I listen to,  but I received a word from Kris Vallotton that would ultimately change my entire experience at the conference. Because I was expectant and because I had said yes to volunteering, I was at the right place and the right time to receive that word. Kris looked at me, and he saw me. He said yes to stepping out in boldness, and gave me a word of encouragement. He said I was a dreamer (…and then I broke down crying… because obviously…). At the end of the day, my ability to say “yes” is not just for me, but for someone else.

So today, I say yes. Yes to stepping out of my comfort zone. Yes to something I would normally turn down. Yes to something that I don’t feel like doing. And it’s not enough to say yes once, but I need to keep saying yes. I need to actively choose to do the things that push my boundaries and push me out of my comfort zone. I need to actively choose to be bold, to be a bit more curious, to be living and leading a life that that this world calls a bit “odd”.

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Passion Over Distraction

Essentialism

I recently finished reading the book Essentialism and the core of the book could be summarized in the following sentence:

“Less but better” over “everything to everyone.”

So often I get caught up in saying “yes” to responsibilities without thinking because my emotions get involved. In reality, the emotions felt when you say “no” are merely temporary; and what is leftover is respect.

My current struggle is that I am haphazardly juggling too many things at once. (Living in New York City gives me a constant arbitrary pressure and guilt for the need to “keep up” and “be something” to everyone I know – or at least appear that way). I try to justify the so-called benefits to these opportunities. I say things like “but it’s more practice and experience,” “but this is a personal contact and friend, so I feel obligated to…”, or “it will look great on my resume.”

Before I know it, I have taken on more than I can handle and have left no time for me to think about my own goals, what I want, let alone spend time perusing those things with all my heart. Greg McKeown put a little chart inside the book that can be extremely helpful when it comes to making decisions:

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The top row is blank to fill out with an opportunity that could be presented to you. (This could be either personal or work-related). The second row is blank to fill out three minimum requirements and non-negotiables you have already established in order to take on the new opportunity. The second row is for three “would likes:” things that are secondary-tier requirements. Greg suggests that in order to take the opportunity, it must meet all three “must have” requirements and two of the three “would like” requirements. If the opportunity presented doesn’t meet the criteria, then it is not in line with the clear vision you have for your life.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

If I feel like I have lost my vision for my life, I meditate on this Bible verse: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phillipians 4:8). It gives me joy, challenges me and sparks creativity that is rooted in the heart of truth and the heart of purpose. It provides me with a clear vision.

I don’t often read a (secular) book that alters the way I think, but Essentialism is one I will definitely be revisiting. Over the next few months, I will be sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned and how it has challenged my life.

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Starting this week I am asking myself: Am I letting the distractions of this world get in the way of my clear vision and passions I have in my life? What can I say “no” to today, to help alleviate pressure? When presented with a new opportunity, does it align with my requirements? “If it isn’t a clear ‘yes,’ then it’s a clear ‘no’.”

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Life-Giving Life

When your mind, body, and soul are operating on the same page, meaning, there is a common goal, beautiful things happen. If you put your mind into a cause or a project where your heart is and your actions follow, passion ignites and things actually start to get done.
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What’s more, when you are operating within God’s will, you are on an accelerated path for the Kingdom, and you become an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. When your goals align with kingdom destiny, your goals become on a fast-track.

Philippians 1:21 says “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I paused for a moment to meditate on the “to live is Christ” portion. “Is” in this context is a direct metaphor for life. Nothing you do can separate you from God, so why would you try? I am reminded of that Steven Curtis Chapman song, Jesus is Life. “The air I’m breathing, Why my heart is beating, Everything I’m needing, Jesus is life, Jesus is life.”

Jesus IS life. All encompassing, ever-dependent life. The goal is to operate as one mind, one body, and one spirit: totally and completely in sync with your God-planned purpose. “Be no longer conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test God’s will. His good, pleasing and perfect will.” -Romans 12:2. Just rest in those thoughts, knowing that God WANTS you to know His perfect and pleasing will for your life and He WANTS to be involved. 

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Consistency is Key

In every area of your life it pays to be consistent. To say you will do something and follow through with it. Repeatedly.
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I’ve noticed for me that consistency leads to growth and developing new habits. This can go either way: maybe I consistently go for a run and develop that habit. Or I could consistently come back home and watch TV for 2 hours after work and develop that habit. (For the record, I’ve done both).
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Challenge yourself starting today by asking: are the habits and choices that you are consistently making leading you towards a life that you want to live? Towards a life that will help you grow in your faith? I know I personally can be better about how I spend my time and my money. What changes can you make today that will help you tomorrow, in five years, and in ten years?
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This series of drawings is of a cast- iron building in New York City on 901 Broadway. It was built in 1870, and was formerly a Lord and Taylor dry goods shop.
Enjoy!
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Time to Get Un-Funky

I’ll admit it – the last few years of my life I feel like I’ve been in a funk. Like I’ve been caught up in a routine of life, that I haven’t been living out my purpose. I feel lost and confused, like walking through a maze with a blindfold on.
For me, trying to spark up creativity can be a trying and frustrating process. Especially when everything I am drawing, painting, and writing is just a bit off, but I can’t put my finger on why. What I find is that the most passion comes from your projects, is when your work comes FROM joy, not for it. You don’t have to prove your talent to anyone, you are already so incredibly gifted. Create art from your happy heart, and your work will show your joy.
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Create because you see beauty that gives you joy, and you want to capture the moment and share it with someone else because you want them to feel the same way. It is easy to spot when someone’s work is not for themselves, and the best way to counter that and to be authentic is to find pure unfiltered and joy in what you are creating.
I was walking around one of my favorite New York neighborhoods on a cool rainy Sunday morning and snapped a photo of some Gramercy townhouses (I mean… house goals right there). I absolutely love line drawings and I wanted to share this serene moment because it reminded me why I fell in love with New York almost 10 years ago.
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You can watch a full time-lapse of the drawing here.
So ask yourself: what are the things you like to do? And more importantly, what brings you happiness in both good times and bad? Someone once said to me, “what do you love to do so much that you would do it for free?” If you are still trying to figure it out like I am, that’s okay. Answering those questions is a good place to start.
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Finding Purpose in Everything

To be frank, I reflect on my life and sometimes feel underwhelmed with my accomplishments. I feel like my life is at a stand still, nothing is happening and the world can just move on without missing what I have to offer.

As I read more of other’s success stories, learn more about how thought leaders have overcome challenges, and study the lives of entrepreneurs; I find that it is the spirit of resilience that has carried them through seasons of stillness. They are resilient, knowing that endurance is a direct byproduct of challenge. One of my favorite speakers, Bianca Juarez Olthoff, states it beautifully in her new book, Play With Fire (which, I totally recommend buying and reading immediately if you want to learn anything about dealing with frustration). “We all go through desert seasons and have the opportunity to determine how we will respond.” It is in our hands how we react to stillness and frustrations in our lives. One of my favorite excerpts in Romans to recite when I feel like I’m losing my nerve comes from Chapter 5. “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (NIV). 

In my mind I know I want to impact lives in some way, but I don’t know what that looks like just yet and it is beyond frustrating at times. Be on the lookout (or, as my mother likes to say “BOLO”) for areas where there is room for growth, and areas where you already have grown. Having the ability to identify what skills you gain as a result of being tried and tested is of upmost importance. Plus, it is a source of encouragement.

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New York is more than just a place I live. It is a place that lives me energy in times of exhaustion, it gives me hope when I feel burnt out. Just exploring the streets gives me peace. As I walk through the city in the snow, I am reminded that every season of life, no matter how bleak or how bitter cold it is, can and will come to an end. “There is a time for everything: and He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiasties 3, Kylie Translation).

With every trial and frustration, comes strength. With strength, responsibility. With responsibility, wisdom. (And…. probably more trials). The key is to find the challenge in everyday, and turn it into a learning experience that you can leverage as you move onto your next season in life. Capitalize on these trials: know that what you are going through will absolutely prepare you for what is coming next. Everyone, everything, and every day has value and a purpose. You just have to look for it.

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