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.

34th Street, Manhattan

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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Solid as a Rock

Union Square

I started a new job a little over a month ago. The position is at a property management company, where I travel to different buildings within the tri-state area to help leads prospective residents into apartments and plan events for current residents! Yesterday I was in Jersey City and at lunch, I took a walk along the waterfront overlooking downtown Manhattan to have some quiet time.

Every time I spend time with God, I ask him to teach me something new or maybe remind me of something I’ve forgotten. I often feel that most things I hear are things I have heard before, but they are received differently based on context, the state of my heart, what season I am in, and how mature I am.

Yesterday I just sat on a bench in solitude. No headphones, my notebook tucked away (but at the ready because you never know when you’ll have a notebook emergency). I kept staring at the Freedom Tower, completely zoned out. I’ve lived in New York for almost 8 years, jaded by the skyline, but suddenly I started to remember how the World Trade Center was built. 

The space had been unoccupied for years. City planners, government officials, and citizens alike all had something to say with how to plan out the space. It took almost 10 years to plan and build a foundation for something so symbolic, so iconic, something to stand the test of time.  It wasn’t until 2009 that the foundation was finished and construction began expanding to more than just the building itself. 

I left New York for 7 months to live in London in late 2011. By then the construction of One World Trade was barely visible- not more than 200 ft above sea level (for New York skyscraper standards, this is invisible). When I came back in 2012, it was as if the entire skyline had changed. I could see the building from miles away. One World Trade was designed to be a symbol, a hub and a place for everyone for generations to enjoy. 

When a solid foundation is formed, there’s no telling how quickly the rest of the construction will go. It was just a matter of a few months and one building completely transformed the way Downtown Manhattan looked.

One World Trade from Jersey City Waterfront

I need to continually remind myself that laying a strong foundation is the key to creating and designing something built to stand the test of time. And even when I think is going slow, that’s okay. The best foundations are laid so carefully that when it’s really time work on the rest of the construction, it goes smoothly and quickly. And even when hiccups arise, the firm foundation accounts for that, and construction will be able to resume.

As I am still in the early stages of my new job, I know that the foundation is important. The same principles I apply to my faith to learn more, to grow more, can be applied and permeate the rest of my life. Learning the software programs, the processes, the policies, the mannerisms, and the vision of the company are all a part of the bigger picture. Along with developing relationships, building a reputation with clients, setting a standard for my work of course. I know this will take time; and humbling myself, being patient, and resisting the desire to be comfortable all the time are things I need to remind myself of daily. 

While I am of course reminded of the story in Matthew of the two builders: one who built a house on rock and the other who built his house on sand (then a storm comes, but only one of the houses survives. Spoiler alert: it’s the house made of rock), I am also reminded of the following:

“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed” Isiah 28:16.

It is more than okay to set standards, set goals and learn new things. I personally have to remember to keep it all within the context of grace and mercy, because I am only human.

We can only have that strong cornerstone of a foundation because we have a God who can help us withstand the weight of a blessing so big it could only come from Him. He already has carried the weight of the world on his shoulders; and whatever we experience in this life, he can help us build that firm foundation as well.

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Expect the Unexpected (Part 1)

Lately God has blessed me with things that I have not expected to be blessed by. More specifically, situations that have already ended badly in my mind, yet turned out for good. The only reason I have been able to be blessed in situations that look unfavorable is because of my attitude.

Let me tell you about the Cleveland wallet story.

This past weekend, I was visiting a good friend of mine in Cleveland. We had planned to explore the downtown / Tower City area, and so when she picked me up, I rearranged all of my belongings so that I would carry a small bag around town, rather than lug around my huge Jansport backpack (which my friend immediately recognized from my nerdy high school days – they have a lifetime warranty, can you blame me?!).

Anyway, I had taken out everything: my wallet, keys, phone, the all-important umbrella, and repacked my purse and then we were off to see the moments, church, and the arcade downtown. We popped into a souvenir shoppe for some postcards and as soon as I went to pay, I noticed my wallet was missing. I must have left it on the seat of the car, I thought. I didn’t think much of it after that, and we continued to explore Downtown Cleveland.

When we had returned to the car, I noticed that my wallet was not on the front seat. Okay, play it cool, don’t panic. So I check the trunk, where my backpack was. Still not there. Okay, clearly I dropped it on the grass or something. Well, maybe someone stole it. Someone definitely stole it. It’s a dog eat dog wor–

And before I let my mind get any more down that slippery slope (and then have a full-blown panic attack), I just prayed. I probably said something like, “Okay Jesus, work your magic.” It was simple, but it was enough to calm me down. I turned to my friend and suggested we retrace our steps. She looked at me like “this cannot be a good thing,” but came along anyway.

Just as it started to rain (which, would have been a super sad scene if it wasn’t for what happened next). I received a phone call from an Ohio number. A woman had found my wallet and she was at a local bar not too far away. Overjoyed, I said I would be there momentarily and we hopped into the car to speed a full two blocks away where I found a woman who had returned my wallet. With everything inside. She said she found the wallet just lying in the middle of the parking lot.

Where I’m from, that would have been fair game. Everything would have been missing. Credit cards. Coffee punch cards. Cash money. Yet everything was just as I left it (even the butterfly necklace in the coin pouch – because, you never know when you are going to have a butterfly necklace emergency).

The whole thing was wildly unexpected. Losing the wallet. Finding the wallet, with everything inside. Even how I responded. Wildly unexpected. A year ago, I would have been in tears, probably in some sort of half tantrum, half panic attack. But I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. It took me awhile to get to that point, but the past year God has taught me so much about peace in the midst of chaos. I’m still a work in progress, but learning to train my heart and mind to be peaceful when all seems chaotic is an invaluable characteristic to have.

Here are three of my favorite Bible verses to whisper to myself when I feel I am not at peace:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philipians 4:6 ESV).

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13 ESV).

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all (2 Thessalonians 3:16 ESV).

While this is just a small example of things that could happen in my life, seeing progress in this area brings me hope. And when I see that progress I can become stronger, knowing that the peace of God has helped me before, and it will help me again.

I’ll soon be sharing a video highlighting all the fun I had in Cleveland this past weekend! Some of my favorite sights were the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Cleveland Art Museum, House “Hunting” on Fairmont Road, and seeing the Orchestra (highly recommended!). Enjoy!

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Year of Encouragement: Quarterly Check-In

In January, I started to encourage others to write handwritten notes (yes, snail mail is a thing) through a letter writing challenge called the Year of Encouragement. The challenge is to send a letter to someone (anyone), once a week for a year (different people), so that they may be encouraged in some way.

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Granted, I haven’t been the best example of doing my monthly check-in videos (in fact, we are 1/3 of the way through April), but my intention is to be that voice that every now and then, serves as a reminder (to myself especially) that there is someone in my life that needs to be encouraged.  To be frank, there was two weeks in March where I didn’t send out any (what I would call) encouraging letters. I was running out of things to say, and I felt like I was saying the same stuff over and over again. I had hit a writer’s block. Then I thought – sometimes the best way to lift someone’s spirits is not to keep repeating how incredible they are – although I’ve been told that helps ;), but rather to share something going on in my life that may just put a smile on their face.

Just in case I’m not the only one hitting writer’s block, I wanted to make a list of topics to write about when you get stuck:

Topics for Snail Mail Letters When You Hit Writer’s Block

  • Describe an incredible meal you recently ate
  • Tell someone about something that is on your bucket list
  • Recall a story or fond memory from your childhood and write it out
  • Share some goals that you want to accomplish over the next 60 days
  • Exercise your creative brain and write a short story!
  • Tell a story that happened on a recent trip you took
  • Share something a friend taught you recently
  • Congratulate someone on ________ (graduating, finding a new apartment, getting a dog, getting engaged, growing a year older, having a baby, making it through the week, being a stellar friend)
  • Share a list of your favorite things (favorite childhood pet, favorite park, favorite musical instrument to hear on a soundtrack, favorite genre of movie, favorite flavor of ice cream, etc).
  • Share about a book you are reading (or read recently)
  • Describe something you want to cook or bake
  • Tell someone the best part about living in the neighborhood that you live in
  • Share something you want to learn in the future (a new software skill, a foreign language)
  • Write about a fun (unusual, memorable) dream you have had
  • Share a frustration you recently went through (there was a leak in your house, your kids would not cooperate), and how you overcame it!

Here’s my video of encouragement for the month of March. Watch it here.

Happy Letter Writing Month!

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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.

Use Your Advantage

Sometimes I get so frustrated with my life because I often feel like I am stuck. Things just really aren’t moving along as fast as I would like them to and not how I imagined them to. I want to be able to take matters into my own hands and get more in control of my “destiny” so to speak.

No matter how many times I get disappointed and anxious (because believe me, it WILL happen again), I know that I am where I am for a reason. And while what I can be going through is frustrating for me, it may actually be to my benefit in the long term.

Take Joseph, for example. His brothers hated him. threw him into a reservoir, and THEN sold him into slavery. After that, he was sold to Potiphar (guard and official of Pharaoh at the time). For awhile it seemed like Joseph got a break. He was entrusted with Potiphar’s estate and was handed many responsibilities and it says that “from the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field” (Genesis 39:5).  So…. a pretty sweet setup.

But just when you think Joseph had a breather, things began to go south real quick. Potiphar’s wife tricked Joseph by threatening to tell her husband he was sleeping with her… unless he slept with her. What a Catch-22. When Potiphar found out that Joseph allegedly “slept” with her, Joseph got thrown into prison. (If this was me, at this point, I would have thrown in the towel. Like HOW ON EARTH is there room for recovery after this?)

While Joseph was in prison, he was met by the Pharoah’s officials: the cup-bearer and the bread-maker (who were also imprisoned). One night, both officials had dreams that neither one could interpret. Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams” (Genesis 40:8). After he successfully interpreted the dreams, Pharaoh restored the cup-bearer to his rightful position. Years passed, and the cup-bearer had forgotten all about Joseph in prison until one night Pharaoh had a dream that no one could interpret. “Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ ‘I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires’ (Genesis 41:15-16).

Joseph successfully interpreted the dream. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you” (Genesis 41:39).

Well. ALLLLLL that is to say is that we all experience ups and downs as we walk through life operating in faith. So stay the course and use what is advantageous in every mountain and valley. If Joseph had not used the advantage of diligence in his work, he would not have been entrusted by Potiphar to take care of his estate. If Joseph had not used his advantage of hearing God and being SO in sync with the Holy Spirit while he was in prison, his journey would have likely ended there.

The most important thing to remember is that I am placed in a position of advantage because God has put me there and that favor, that advantage follows me.  “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” (Genesis 39:20-21). No matter what sphere of influence I am placed in, and for however long, it is because God has curated this position specifically for me. Did it seem like an advantage for Joseph to be thrown into prison? Not at first.

Learning to take the perspective of the advantage is to your ultimate benefit. As I look around me, I ask myself “what is my advantageous about the life I am living in this moment?” Because if I only live and worry about the future, I am missing out on the precious moments and people God has placed right in front of me. How can I possibly expect God to entrust me with the things I am praying about for the future if I am not nurturing the season I am right now? I can’t build a solid foundation coming form a place of worry.

So if I’m frustrated about being single: my advantage is that I have time to grow more into the woman who God has called me to be. When I’m frustrated about my job, my advantage is reminding myself of my job’s benefits (the short commute, great coworkers). And when I find myself frustrated about my finances, I look back to see how far I’ve come this past year (paying off all debt, starting a savings account) and know that while it’s small progress, it’s still progress.

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What about my day, my week, my life doesn’t seem to be working to my advantage? How can I look at this situation and say “well, it didn’t look like an advantage….. at first.”  As I head into the rest of this week, if I get upset or flustered about something I can ask myself: “what is my advantage?” “how do I have the upper hand in this situation?” “what am I currently doing that is honoring the situation I am in?” and “how can I use that advantage to make someone else’s life (and not just my own) a little bit easier?” I never know what blessing can become of it.

 

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