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Holding Out for the Real Deal

Let’s talk about cherry pie.

For about a month I was craving cherry pie. I am not typically someone who craves pie. In fact, pie would be the third or fourth thing I may order on a menu when it comes to dessert. I am more of a dark chocolate ganache girl, or give me a fresh lemon gelato or a creamy crème brulee and I am in heaven. But for some reason I was obsessed with finding and partaking of a gorgeous cherry pie. Not one from the grocery store, manufactured in a warehouse with thousands of conveyor belt pastries whirling through the various compartments with their doughy crusts and gloopy red dye #4 fillings.

No, I wanted a handmade crust that was golden and flaky, made with lard and not palm oil, laced with real cherries, a bit tart and crunchy, handpicked and pitted.

So we looked at various stores in our neighbourhoods. I even googled local restaurants to see if they served homemade pie and if I could purchase one to bring home. At this point, money was no object either. I would have paid a ridiculous amount of money for a bite of cherry pie.

But it had become a fool’s quest as I could not locate a single local place that served homemade pie, let alone cherry.

Apple would not do. Strawberry was NOT going to cut it.

@brensask

@brensask

So Sunday afternoon when my husband returned from a weekend away in the mountains with our daughter, he walked into my office holding none other than a homemade cherry pie he picked up at a valley farm store on his drive home. I was almost in tears. Seriously.

Immediately, we baked the pie and let it cool the pre-requisite “two hours before consuming” (I set my timer for exactly two hours to ensure no more, no less). And then he brought the entire pie, two plates and two forks into our bedroom and we sat on the bed and ate cherry pie. FYI - the plates were unnecessary.

No ice cream needed nor whipped cream on the side to distract from the simplicity and beauty of this gorgeous pastry.

As I reflected on my Cherry Pie Quest of 2017, I recognized that it was the longing for something authentic, something that took time to make with ingredients that were handled by a human person and not a machine that rumbled in my heart and soul. I was compelled to wait for the real deal and not accept any imitations or substitutes which may have filled in the gap for a time, but could never fully satisfy my longing.

Waiting. Not accepting an imitation. Honoring the skill and the process of patience it takes to create something truly unique, truly satisfying.

We can get that way in life too. Circumventing the longer winding road in order to get to our destination faster. Thinking that it is the end result that matters, rather than what we gain along the way. Yes, we want to create something unique and meaningful, but sometimes we settle for something less than the real deal and find ourselves unsatisfied, longing for something else.

Are you settling for something in life that is less than authentic?

Is your soul hungry for something real? I encourage you to not settle for anything less and to look around and observe where the real deal may be and seek after that with all that you have. Stop eating gloopy substitutions and doughy crusts.

@brensask

@brensask

Living A Venti Life

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to share the platform with 6 strong, complex, gracious, warrior women as we each reflected upon the notion of capacity in the spaces and places we each inhabit.

SheLoves Magazine hosted the event on a rainy November Monday evening in Surrey, BC.  And it was, to say the least, deep and wide.

The snippets of stories we each choose to lay bare feels like just the beginning. A monumental, untameable, tidal wave beginning, but a beginning nonetheless. For they struck deep chords throughout the hearts and souls of the women in attendance...awakening and unleashing a rumbling of something larger, something needing to be reclaimed.

It certainly has in mine.

And where this tidal wave will take us, I do not yet know. But I have grabbed my surf board, snapped on my one-piece swimsuit and am wading into the deep water myself.

Here is my talk from Paused & Present: Christmas, Curry & Capacity entitled Living a Venti Life.

PS -- You might want to grab a coffee before sitting down to read this (it adds to the experience!)

Living a Venti Life

I have always been drawn to the rich, dark, coffee, sweet, slightly burnt, topped with gorgeous crema swirling on the surface. Black, extra hot with an extra shot. Espressos that have been ground from oily beans hand picked from cocoa fields in places like Sumatra and Kenya.

It started when I was 20 and spent a summer in Europe with my backpack and my best friend and we grabbed espressos in porcelain demi-tasse cups and a freshly baked croissants each and every morning.

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The ritual of inhaling and downing steaming cups of coffee became the starting point of each day’s new discoveries about the world we were exploring.

As a young woman, the hand of God reached into my middle class life and invited me into a full bodied adventure. One that paralleled my love for coffee.

And as I embraced my burgeoning talents in leadership, communication, teaching, nurturing deep joy and intellectual curiosity that were longing to spill out of me and into the world, that porcelain demi-tasse was no longer sufficient. A larger cup was now needed to support the growing passions I was cultivating and the talents I was entrusted with. 

And my Creator, well they had much more for me. 

And throughout university and work in interesting and eclectic places, newer, larger cups were being uniquely crafted and handed to me to contain the hot mess I was becoming…strategic, fiercely engaging, smart, funny, argumentative, bold, precise, bent towards justice and pushing hard against the stained glass ceilings that stood before me.

Tall, Grande, Venti.

And I holding this magnificent Venti cup, one that is crafted to hold the maximum amount of life, but the problem is others are handing me their tall and grande cups of beige lukewarm liquid and expecting me to be satisfied with their limiting offerings.

And lots of times I would take them and pour them into my cup, saying, “It will be my turn later,” “I can be in charge when my time has come,” or “this will prepare me for something bigger when they are willing to allow me to fill my cup up”.

But I was constantly dehydrated. Parched. Never quite satisfied.

Because I eventually realized I was always meant to live a Venti life.

And it was when I stopped accepting their limitations of me, when I ground my own beans and boiled my own water and took the time to craft the perfect blend of a dark, rich, creamy life that filled my Venti cup to the rim, that I was deeply satisfied.

Not only was I satisfied, but I was able to offer my full bodied self to the work my Creator was calling me into. Rich, meaningful, often complex but oh so satisfying.

Here’s the thing. Not everyone has a Venti cup. It may not be the cup for you. And please hear me on this. There is no judgment attached to the cup. There is no pinnacle of accomplishment or brass ring of favour around the larger cup. Don’t aspire for the venti if it’s not meant for you. Bigger is not always better. Please hear me on this.

It’s what’s in the cup that satisfies. And it’s meant to be bold and satisfying, hot and steamy, foamy, robust. And it is meant for you, and you alone.

You see, Jesus also had a cup.

In Mark 14, Jesus is preparing for his last days on earth and eating with his very best friends, he breaks bread and offers up a chalice, a cup of wine, and says, this is my body, this is my blood, do this in remembrance of me. And he offered them the one cup then and there, knowing that each of them would soon have their own cups that would need filling in order to be poured out, thereupon unleashing a movement of love and reconciliation beyond anything they could have imagined at the time.

And then just a few hours later, in a garden in the cool of the night, Jesus is on his knees pleading with his heavenly Father about the cup which he has been handed, saying this, Papa, Father, you can—can’t you?—get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want?”

You see, even Jesus had a cup prepared for him, fashioned with purpose in mind.  One that he held onto, gazed at, pondered, one that crushed him, yet allowed his father to fill to overflowing in order for it to be poured out, as a ransom for many.

Grab hold of your cup sisters and let it be filled up. Let it spill over!

Hold your tall cups and allow them to be filled with rich and robust purpose. Embrace your grande giftedness. Don’t exchange for something that does not fit you, that does not satisfy you.

And for God’s sake, if you are handed a Venti life, stop apologizing for it.

I am Brenda-Lee May Sasaki.

I am not contained by the limiting, unsatisfying cups handed to me by anyone other than my Creator.

I am held by embracing this hot mess Venti life I am continually being called to pour into so that I can pour out.

 

Picasso's Muses and the Mystery of Influence

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web.   Pablo Picasso

Last weekend I had the pleasure of viewing an exhibit at our Art Gallery entitled, Picasso and His Muses (https://www.vanartgallery.bc.ca/the_exhibitions/exhibit_picasso.html) . The narrative that unfolded throughout the exhibit was the profound yet distinct influence six lovers, two of whom he married, had on his life and the development of his work and ultimately, his enduring legacy.

What I found so intriguing was that each one of them were gifted artists in their own right, each from different cultures and countries with varied socio-economic and political backgrounds.

Yet each one had a relationship with Picasso that profoundly influenced his work, everything from the medium he used to the genre of art he engaged in at the time of the relationship, be it sculpture or sketching, from cubist to impressionist. And the development of each of these relationships was reflected in the development of his work, often acting as a barometer that reflected the particular stage of their relationship.

And several themes recurring across Picasso’s relationships became enduring themes throughout his artistic development.

Most obvious, was his passionate fascination and love of women - the female body, the shape of her face and profile, her sensuality, her maternal body.

Why the females in his life, his muses, so confounded and compelled him I do not know. But their inspiration in his life propelled him to create masterful pieces of art, making an enormous contribution to art, culture and history in the 20th century.

And I began to consider the work I contribute to the world and the influences that continue to inspire and compel me. While my work does not include sketches or sculptures (I can make a fabulous stick woman and I have a couple of coloring books), it does involve words and ideas, helping others make meaningful connections in order to make meaningful changes in their lives - the art of transformation.

Do I have muses? Those who inspire me – from the past but more importantly in my present?

As I reflected on this idea, I realized that I have several significant muses right now that propel me to be a better me, not necessarily do more or work harder, but to rise up into my full self and be brave and willing to embrace the gifts and talents I have been entrusted with for a greater, more noble purpose.

And I recognized that when I spend time with my muses, be it face to face, via video chat, online or through books (for some who inspire and mentor me do not even know the depth of their influence on my life and work because they are kind of famous or dead), I do much better work because I am given permission to be my best self, not perfect or flawless, but best self.

So I need to cherish my muses, let them know that they have profoundly, even mysteriously impacted my work through their active presence in my life, while ensuring I am not taking them for granted or stifling their creativity as well.

And friends, consider finding a few muses yourself. Those who inspire you to new heights, to new levels of flourishing and competency that challenges you to take risks in your own work.

Because who knows which one of us may be the next Picasso?

Carpe Diem, Brenda

 

Digital v. Paper Organizers – Staying on Top of “Being Awesome/ Change the World Ninja Notebook List-Making”.

Part 1 - Paper via Bullet Journaling

This month I made an intentional effort toward aligning my digital and paper calendars/ to do/ priority lists in order to create a healthier and more sustainable pace in my already heavy fall schedule. Friends, let me share with you my journey, frustrations and mistakes so far.

I love the bullet journaling framework (www.bulletjournal.com). For me, the creativity and beauty of pen to paper is so very satisfying. There is an incredible freedom in allowing the pen to move along the paper in varying colors and hues or switching up writing styles as I choose to add interest and flair. I love to incorporate doodles, zentangles and color into my notes. And quite honestly, I have been doing a hybrid of this type of journaling/ calendar for well over 10 years, albeit less organized and more informally.

I pulled out a new journal (I love the smell, feel and texture of a new journal, don’t you?). A spiral bound one with pre-printed lines. I then gleefully created a title page (with swirlies, leaves and a poem by William Blake) and decided I would dive into bullet journaling throughout the fall, September-December, to see if it would in fact, work for me.

Setting aside a Sunday afternoon, I followed the video tutorial on Ryder Carroll’s website (he is the creator and curator of the Bullet Journal) (www.bulletjournal.com/about). I first set up the index, then future log (I did record Sept. 2016 – June 2017 in the future log, having 2 months per page) and finally created the monthly log, beginning with the month of September.

For the daily log, I was unsure about how much space to leave and how much detail to include. I decided to divide my page into third’s so a two-page spread would have 6 days on it. That seemed to work most days. And really, if you have more than 8-10 items on any given day I think I need to re-evaluate how much is reasonably possible for one person to accomplish. The idea of a priority list or calendar organizer is to stay focused and create healthy rhythms, not frantic checklists.

The one thing I have not been able to master are the symbols used in the daily log to catalogue the entries. I know it will help me keep track of what was completed, what needs to be carried over, etc…So I am giving myself permission to ease into this system. Next month I may try the symbols and see how they help or hinder my process.

I was at Michael’s, the Arts and Crafts store last week, and they had these massive, pretty spiral bound organizers on sale. *oooh shiny*

I had one in my hand for about 3 minutes as I was contemplating just buying one of these. But as I flipped through it, I realized, once again, that I would be a slave to a system that someone else created and trying to make it work for me. So I reasoned my way out of that purchase and re-committed myself to seeing this through at least for the fall.

Next post I will let you know how I have been aligning this system into my digital organizer, Evernote (www.evernote.com). Hint – I love Evernote, it feels a bit like duplication at times BUT there are positive outcomes to taking a bit more time and integrating both into my current life’s work and rhythms (and I use it daily).

So friends...any insights or wisdom from all of you movers and shakers out there? How do you stay organized? What works for you?

What stops you (or launches you) in setting and reaching your greatest goals or engaging the people, places, events or things that fire up your passions?

 

 

 

 

Falling Forward and Determined to Re-Align What I Do with Who I Am

“Indecisiveness is the mother of all chaos” @brensask
Dale Chihuly original, Museum of Glass, Seattle, WA @brensask

Dale Chihuly original, Museum of Glass, Seattle, WA @brensask

I have taken on two new projects this fall and panic began to set in Sept. 2nd. How was I going to manage these new projects given the fullness of my fall undertakings already? This summer I had started researching methods of streamlining my life, organizing my calendar and tasks and crafting a realistic framework to say “no” more intelligently to events, projects and asks that do not align with my stated goals. But I was not making any headway.

Recommitting myself to writing weekly was one such goal. So I thought I would start off this September by taking you along on my journey of discovery/re-discovery of re-aligning who I am with what I do.

I taught an undergraduate leadership class this summer called Leading Change. So of course, I was weekly confronted with the gaps in my own change management framework, including overcoming my current “stuckness”.  After all, much of my coaching and consulting work is all about helping others get “unstuck” so why was I in a rut?

I came across an approach and tool that I taught my students that has consequently become invaluable to me in both my personal and professional life. Based on the research of Professors Robert Keegan and Lisa Lahey (http://mindsatwork.com/), they developed a diagnostic tool that walks you through a process of discovering why you might be immune to change, particularly changes that we say are important to us.

You see, I had been lamenting to one of my colleague mentors that I had no time to write and my time was being eaten away by x, y and z.  I was becoming envious of others who were getting book proposals together, writing weekly blog posts and publishing articles in journals that I was interested in and felt I had something meaningful to contribute. But the truth is, I was the one who was letting x, y and z and all those other things crowd out what I said was important to me. And I not only needed to change that in order to accomplish what I said I wanted to accomplish, but I needed a reality check as to why I was letting it carry on for so long. 

So what was holding me back?

Have you ever felt like that?

What you say you want and what the day to day reality of your life is are out of sync? Others are moving ahead with their goals, plans and ideas while you are languishing in the land of “what about me”?

My own experience and advice friends, is two-fold:

1) Make a decision to start. And by start I mean being willing to ask some of the hard questions like, what do I really want and what will it take for me to get there? You don’t have to have a fully fleshed out strategic plan by noon. In fact, strategic plans are passé (strategic thinking is where it’s at…but that’s another discussion for another day).

I would highly recommend looking at Keegan and Lahey’s website and downloading their immunity to change template and start there (http://mindsatwork.com/).

2) Make a decision to be accountable. Enlist a trusted friend or colleague and explain to them where you are at, what you are hoping to move forward in and how they can be part of your journey of getting unstuck. Set up the limits of their role in keeping you accountable and make sure they know what they are signing up for. You don’t want to lose a friend in the process and remember, only you can change you.

You may also want to consider hiring a professional coach to help you at any point in the process. Different from a counselor or a consultant, a coach asks great questions and reflective feedback to get you thinking, help provide clarity and create a pathway forward. I happen to know of a great coach if you are looking for one. Yes, it’s me.

Having enlisted a coach in my own life for several years on different occasions, I know the first-hand enrichment it has been in helping me flourish.

Next week, I will share about my foray into bullet journaling (http://bulletjournal.com/) and integrating it into Evernote (https://evernote.com/?var=1), the online organizational tool I have been experimenting with the last several months.

Carpe diem,

Brenda xo

 

 

 

Failing at Good Friday and Waiting for Bread to Rise

Today was the first morning in a long time that I did not have to rush out of the door to Carpe Diem the crap out of the day (which includes an extra hot, black, quad Americano, a handful of vitamins chased down with a protein shake as I curse under my breath…where are my keys?). The weeks leading up to today have been scheduled and orchestrated with activity, work, parenting, daughtering, sistering, paper writing, sermon writing, ninja emailing, parenting, friending…none of which I feel I particularly succeeded at lately.

But every day I show up.

And most days that’s good enough.

Like Good Friday. Yesterday I just showed up. But the truth is I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to go to church. I didn’t want to be around people. I certainly did not want to stare at the crosses on the stage, back lit in red, conjuring up feelings or emotions that were not there.

Yet it bothered me that I was not bothered by my lack of engagement in the cross, in the somber setting, in the red juice and the torn up bread beckoning me to release the worries of the week and come to the table.

And then it hit me. About 12:30 am this morning…I have been so crammed full of the world these past few weeks, that I did not take any time to empty myself so I would make space to be filled with something other than myself.

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Like the cross. And the bread. And the wine.

So this morning I pulled out my Mennonite cook book with its tattered edges and food stained pages and I found the Easter Bread recipe that my mom, and grandma and aunties used to make year after year in their own well worn kitchens as they prepared for family Easter gatherings. And I rattled around my kitchen grabbing the flour, sugar and yeast, sending the oldest out for more eggs, whirling the orange and lemon rinds around in my mixer while deeply breathing in the familiar smells of the sweet, sticky dough as it formed in my hands.

Stirring. Mixing. Kneading.

And now waiting.

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Waiting for the dough to rise, and fall, and rise again. And I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes as I begin to empty myself of the weight of the weeks that have taken up space in my soul…and I wait.

The work of emptying ourselves is, well, work. Slow. Intentional. Ruthless cutting away of the clutter.

Yet Jesus shows us the way. In the temple as a young boy conversing and learning with the old scribes and wise Rabbis. Drinking water at the well with a marginalized woman. Washing dirty feet. Attending slow dinners. Breaking bread and pouring wine. Kneeling and praying to his Papa in a garden in the cool of the night.

And waiting.

Waiting for us (me) to slow down so we (I) can join him.

At the table. In the garden. At the well.

*breath deep and exhale*  So I am calling today Slow Saturday, the day I wait in between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, emptying myself, waiting in stillness, ruthlessly neglecting the rest of the world.

So excuse me while I go take a peek on my rising loaves in my messy kitchen. In the meantime, I want to share with you a poem about slowing down written by the brilliant contemporary American poet Marie Howe.

Hurry

By Marie Howe   http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/237292

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store   

and the gas station and the green market and   

Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,   

as she runs along two or three steps behind me   

her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.   

 

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?   

To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?   

Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,   

Honey I'm sorry I keep saying Hurry—   

you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.   

 

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking   

back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,   

hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the Idea of Making Everyone Powerful is so Counter-Cultural and Why the Western, Evangelical, Jesus Loving Church Must Take Notice

A friend of mine shared a brilliant Huffington Post article this week written by Ashoka CEO William Drayton. [If you are not familiar with the incredible movement of Ashoka Changemakers, take a look here http://canada.ashoka.org/.]

Drayton shares a story of change through social entrepreneurism amongst 6,000 of the poorest children in the economically under resourced regions of Pakistan. However, the story is not about their lack of resources, but about leveraging their collective wisdom to identify their greatest challenges and devise solutions to addressing their own needs themselves.

They were each given a small amount of seed money and unlimited freedom and imagination. And the results were astounding. I encourage you to read the article in full here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-drayton/want-true-equality-make-e_b_9013242.html.

And I was so powerfully reminded once again that in order to bring about deep change in our communities that need new solutions to ever increasing challenges, the changing structures of our world require completely new paradigms for problem solving that elevates all human flourishing. 

No longer are top-down, elite hierarchies and western white privilege feasible or effective. They are, in fact, counterproductive and are choking our abilities to engage and empower our young leaders, our women, our culturally and socially diverse creatives and our under resourced populations.

And no where is this urgency to re-think access to equality in power to influence change in our world more despairingly evident than in our churches, because I was also powerfully reminded of this once again.

I was having a casual conversation with a casual friend at seminary last week when the topic of preaching in church came up and I shared of some of my recent empowering experiences in preaching at my own church this past year. And he was [pleasantly] surprised at my being “allowed” to preach, he then said, “It is great for women to share so that other women can see and hear you and identify with your perspective as a woman”. 

And as I cocked my head to the side, uncertain of what might spill out of my own mouth next, I took a deep breath and said, “I am fairly certain that the men and women in my church don’t see or hear my gender when I preach, but actually hear the word of God”.   And if I would have thought of it at the time, would have added, “Of which I am damn good at delivering”.

I honestly can’t remember what came after that, and while he is actually a very decent young guy in his twenties and sincerely nice, I am deeply saddened that the best we can still come up with at seminary in 2016 is that when allowed, women can speak at a church so that other women can identify with them.

notredame2015

But the painful truth is that we don’t actually want equality in our churches, that’s why we can't [or won’t] allow everyone to be powerful. We don’t allow women to be themselves in their glorious diversity and leverage the gifts and talents they have been using outside of the church for centuries and we certainly don’t offer scholarships for them to go to seminary.  We don’t relinquish our programs and systems to young people for their ability to reshape or rethink how and why we do what we do. We don’t allow the single women and men to have the same influence as married couples.

So I began to wonder if our faith communities adopted Ashoka’s mission of “everyone a change maker” what our churches would or could look like.

I wonder if we read the gospels with an equality mindset, which I believe Jesus compels us to, if we would not also be compelled to restructure our theological framework from the inside out, starting with how we engage one another in relationships and how we carry out the mission that Jesus left us with to usher in this upside-down kingdom here on earth?

And if we are paying attention at all to the Biblical texts, I think the sermon on the hillside (Matthew 5-7), several of the parables that Jesus taught (Luke 10) and his persistent interactions with the outcasts (John 8) and the undesirables of his day (John 3) should sufficiently rattle us to take notice that something is meant to change.

https://www.google.ca/search?q=samaritan+woman&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiAwJaxhsTKAhVR92MKHXNJA4UQ_AUIBygB&biw=1280&bih=671#imgdii=1C5ARctxlovIkM%3A%3B1C5ARctxlovIkM%3A%3BJWoWtHD_U6URhM%3A&imgrc=1C5ARctxlovIkM%3A

I love the narrative recorded in John 4 of the Samaritan woman at the well and her encounter with Jesus. While the word play is powerful and the subtexts give us a richer understanding as to what is going on during their interaction, what I love is what happens after she leaves Jesus…she witnesses to everyone who will listen to her.  And because of her witness, many people come to their own life-changing encounter with Jesus. She was a change maker.  Not just to other women, but to her entire community and some 2,000 years later, her story of personal redemption and community impact is still being told. 

While I may be frustrated at what seems like slow change in our faith communities to implement equality of leadership amongst those who have been excluded from taking their place at the leadership table, I fiercely cling to the belief that change is possible, recognizing that that change can be painful and unbelievably difficult and requires bravery, vulnerability and commitment to stay in the arena.

So here I am, standing in the arena, challenging myself to look at the places where I lead and bravely ask, who do I need to elevate to a position of authority at the tables I am part ofHow can I influence a shift in mindset as to how we create space for new voices and new paradigms to emerge?

And where do I need to step aside and let others take over?  [and am I willing to let go?]

And how can I, right now, where I am, make everyone around me more powerful?

 

 

 

 

 

Why Countenance Trumps Competence and What it Has to Do With Good Will this Christmas

Too often I think we underestimate how we show up to the world affects every thing we do, particularly in the work arena. We some how have disconnected our countenance from our competence and believe that skills and good work habits alone will make us successful.

Dr. Travis Bradberry’s article, 11 Secrets of Irresistible People, reminds us that how we show up, whether it be at work, at home, at our local coffee shop influences our behavior and in turn, our relationships. While some may not think that successful relationships should be the standard in which we evaluate a successful career or business, the reality is all of life truly centers on the engagement with other humans in whatever activity and in whatever arena we find ourselves. From managers to colleagues, to clients, to family members, to educators, to service providers, to the nurse, the drive-through attendant or the crossing guard, we are interacting with others every single day on multiple levels of engagement.

The challenge of course is to fully integrate how we show up consistently across these levels of engagement. This is what some would call our true selves and characterize it as an alignment of our values, goals and personality that leads to wholeheartedness.

If we re-examine Bradbury’s 11 secrets, we could summarize them as putting the well-being and thriving of others ahead of ourselves as the primary motivator and characteristic of highly irresistible people. And let’s be honest, who does not want to A) be around irresistible people, and B) be irresistible to others?

Dumferline Abbey, Scotland

Of course, we are not talking about physical attraction. But something that goes much deeper and is much more powerful, an inner attraction that transcends physicality (although Bradbury’s  #10 describes looking one’s best without trying too hard, suggesting that pulling together our style and dressing to reflect who we truly are is more a reflection of our inner character rather than desiring to impress or make a fashion statement).

And isn’t that the message that needs to be proclaimed at Christmas? That the well being of others is truly what ushers in peace on earth and good will towards all humankind?  And as much as silver tinsel cascading down our evergreens and stately nutcrackers adorning our mantles brightens our spirits, they can only sustain our souls for a time. What truly would make this Christmas irresistible is if we brought our true selves to where ever we went and offered our irresistible countenance as a remedy to what we increasingly encounter in the shopping malls, workplaces and hostile parking lots of our frantic world this December.


Book Review: Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

The following is a book review I just completed as part of a MA class I took this summer on Faith and Culture at ACTS Seminary.  I loved this book. I loved this class. I thought some of you may be interested in reading it yourself this summer.  Would love to hear your thoughts when you are done. 

Carpe diem friends, 

Brenda

BOOK REVIEW

SEARCHING FOR SUNDAY: LOVING, LEAVING AND FINDING THE CHURCH

BY: RACHEL HELD EVANS

I met Jesus when I was 7 years old.  I began serving in the church at 9. I was baptized at 13 and married at 24.  I was first on church staff at 27, then again at 35 and became disillusioned, broken and disengaged at 44.  Searching for Sunday is Rachel Held Evans story but for all intents and purposes, this is my story. Growing up in a middle class, Baptist church in the lower mainland of British Columbia, with three sisters, imperfect parents and attending church services, events and outreaches three times a week, I had planted myself firmly in my faith, grew deep roots in my church community and crafted a spirituality that would have made any conservative Christian proud. Bible College and University fuelled my hunger for studying scripture and integrating my widening circle of experiences with my theological foundations.

As I stepped into deeper places of ministry, however, this hunger became more urgent but the food I was being served was tasting lukewarm and unsatisfying. Do this bible study. Ask fewer questions. Attend more conferences. Pray more. Listen to more anecdotal sermons. Submit more. My mind and soul were longing for a place to wrestle through what I was taught as a young Christian and what I was learning from own study of scriptures and exposure to other theological traditions and perspectives. And the church culture that once brought me comfort and security now felt unnatural and superficial. 

I told them we’re tired of culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known by what we’re for, I said, not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between intellectual integrity and our faith.  Instead we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask question, and to tell the truth, even when its uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff-biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation and social justice – but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.[1]

Evans’ journey is chronicled through seven sections of imagery that include the following sacraments: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing the sick and marriage.  Each of these sections contains theological underpinnings that are intertwined with her own fraught filled faith journey along with reflections and stories shared by her readers, friends, her contemporaries and critics.  This framework serves her narrative well, particular since anyone who has grown up in an evangelical context would be intimately familiar with each of these.  How she then fleshes out her own interaction with these sacraments, for example her own baptism, and subsequently the imagery and examples of water in the Old Testament alongside other stories in relation to baptism, for example Philip baptizing the eunuch in Acts 8 and a young, gay friend inviting her to his baptism because his Christian parents had disowned him[2], creates a rich layer of understanding, of nuances that perhaps the reader had considered before. These nuances in turn create space for the reader to frame not only their own particular experiences but also widen the frame to see how scripture, theology and others’ perspectives can be understood.

Whether you meet the water as a baby squirming in the arms of a nervous priest, or as an adult plunged into a river by a revivalist preacher, you do it at the hands of those who first welcome you to the faith, the people who have – or will – introduce you to Jesus. “In baptism”, writes Will Willimon, “the recipient of baptism is just that – recipient. You cannot very well do you own baptism. It is done for you.” It is an adoption, not an interview.[3]

As a writer and blogger for the past six plus years, Evans has risen in the social media spotlight as a relevant, refreshing and contemporary voice in the evangelical world.  Her public engagement of difficult and polarizing issues in the western church today has also created difficulty for her, as she has chosen to chronicle her wrestling with the evangelical world through her books, speaking and on her blog.  This has led to some very public stand-offs between herself and opposing voices being played out in real time for all of us to have front row seats. Evans talks about this in her book, including her then and now reflections in regards to how and why some of these events unfolded as well as the toll it took on her and her husband.

In the center of Searching for Sunday, Evans chronicles her experience being part of a church plant that ultimately opened and closed its doors within a two-year period. And it is in these chapters that the true narrative in the larger narrative emerges. This is her search for Sunday. For it was such an intimate and deeply personal part of her life for such an intense period of time. It was a culmination of her inherited and young adult formed faith thus far being pressed and squeezed through a wringer, tearing at the edges while being held together by strong, sturdy and at times, fragile threads. Her inclusion of this birth and death experience demonstrates a beautiful vulnerability whereby the reader can more fully understand how Evans search for Sunday, her perspective and her longings are both urgent and legitimate.  I also think it lends profound credibility to Evans’ premises and assertions as she confronts mainstream evangelical practices, theology and ideas since she has not been a pundit from the sidelines but a warrior in the trenches who has wounds and scars from the battles she has waged.

Church is a moment in time when the kingdom of God draws near, when a meal, a story, a song, an apology, and even a failure is made holy by the presence of Jesus among us and within us.[4]

The theme of commitment to one another in this imperfect thing called community is ever present throughout the book. Even as the title suggests a “search” and a “leaving” Evans never minimizes nor abandons the God-planted desire for relationship with one another and with our Creator.  This innate, persistent, mysterious longing for authentic community, she acknowledges, is what drove her to not give up looking to discover, create and participate in deep, faith-rooted, local community.

We all long for someone to tell us who we are. The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough.[5]  

The reasons for staying, leaving and returning to church are as complex and layered as we are. They don’t fit the boxes we check in the surveys or the hurried responses we deliver at dinner parties.[6]

Our differences matter, but ultimately, the boundaries we build between one another are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace.  We are both a forest and single tree – one big Trembling Giant, stirred by an invisible breeze.[7]

Evans does not resolve the tensions she encountered along her journey for the reader in a neat or convenient way. Nor does she necessarily suggest that they are in fact, resolvable. What she does do in Searching for Sunday is confronts the questions and struggles many women and men in the church today are already asking and walks the reader through a messy, life-time process of reconciling theology, scripture, experiences and culture in order to make a way forward to re-engage the hope of the world, the local church.

In my own journey back to church these past five years, I closely identify with much of Evans’ experiences and her process of reconciliation. From moments of panic to triggers of stress and cynicism at the thought of being part of a movement that in many ways expresses itself in practices that do not line up with my own values and theological beliefs which in turn informs how I live out and practice my faith daily.  However, I too, could not escape the persistent call to be in meaningful relationship with one another in the context of a gathered, local church community. To engage in the sacraments of communion, baptism, healing, taking care of the vulnerable and under resourced and celebrating marriage and singleness are far too life-shaping for me to deprive my own children of these rich, deep, faith building experiences as well.

My inner vow to never work in a church again was also softened and redeemed through my own searching for Sunday journey. As I took steps to work through my betrayal and trust issues related to pastoral leadership and spiritual abuse, I was able to reaffirm God’s gracious pursuit of me to stand back up, dust myself off and step into my calling as an agent of change within the church, albeit in a new, healthier church community, with new responsibilities and a re-ignited sense of hope and anticipation. It is an imperfect church. But I am an imperfect human as well.  “The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace.”[8]


End Notes:

[1] Rachel Held Evans, Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015), Kindle edition, 13-14.

[2] Evans, chapter 5.

[3] Ibid, 26.

[4] Ibid,131.

[5] Ibid, 27.

[6] Ibid, 102.

[7] Ibid, 203.

[8] Ibid, 227.

The Difference Between Collaboration and Everything Else - Part 1

The last few years I have come to adopt an authentic collaboration model of relational engagement as an integral piece to my leadership framework.  I thought I knew what collaboration was all about but as I began studying the differences in group dynamics, project management and idea cultivation, I discovered what I was passing off as collaboration was nothing more that popular words and phrases (get on the same page, create synthesis) being projected on to traditional, hierarchal models of leadership.

And it went something like this.

1.     Let’s get a group of people together to work on a project or solve a problem.

2.     Let’s have the leader create the agenda and invite the participants.

3.     Let’s have the leader lead the actual meeting(s).

4.     Let’s have the leader assign roles and responsibilities.

5.     Let’s have everyone talk about whatever we are talking about but have the leader “bring the focus” back the agenda they created in order to get to the priorities, conclusions and action steps that they are hoping for.

6.     Let’s have everyone around the table agree to what we just talked about and let’s do this all again next week/ month/ year.

I remember one supervisor even coaching me to have the conclusion/ end result in mind when heading into a meeting and proceed to plant seeds into the individual's or team's mind through my agenda and directed discussions in order that they would, in turn, suggest a course of action or solution that I had already pre-supposed and in fact led them to through subtle and not so subtle suggestions.  This, he claimed, would create “buy-in” because they would think it was their idea to begin with.

But that is not creating buy-in.  Rather it is a subversive manipulation ploy enacted by a narcissistic leader who thinks they are smarter than everyone else.  It may work to accomplish tasks in the short-term but does nothing to foster trust, empowerment, long-term commitment and authentic servant leadership. 

Nonetheless, this approach is used pervasively in our organizations still today.

about-good-people-working-together-fig1.jpg

Think Small Collaborations was born out of my desire to engage people, ideas, movements and projects that mattered to me in a different way.  Collaboration is about people and process.  It’s about how we enter into the work and with whom.  And it is these two components that set apart true collaboration from everything else we think about what it means to collaborate or work in a collaborative environment.

Next week I am going to dive more deeply into what people and process from a collaborative framework paradigm looks like.

 So what does this mean to you today?  How have you been engaged in a collaborative project or volunteer experience?  What about your workplace…does it feel more collaborative or traditional in it’s approach to project management, team meetings and future planning? Do your colleagues and bosses truly invite diversity at the decision-making or policy shaping table? 

This week I listened to Brazilian CEO Ricardo Semlar’s TEDTalk.  His radical approach to business development, defining success, deep employee involvement and re-aligning work-life balance was breathtaking.  I highly recommend grabbing a coffee or iced tea, talking 20 minutes today and having a listen.

Carpe diem friends,
Brenda

Why I make my bed every morning.

It’ s true. I make my bed each morning.

I do not share this with you to brag ala “you go superwoman” or elevate my mad bed making skills ala “Martha Stewart wanna-be”. 

I do it for two genuine reasons:

1.     Because I can accomplish something – start to finish – done, first thing in the morning, and

2.     I can’t go back to bed.

There’s something about early success that often fuels and fires us up.  When we accomplish something, from start to finish, it often feels very rewarding and energizing.  Don’t get me wrong, as a recovering perfectionist, my to do lists often became the measure of my worth and value. When I allowed those check marks besides tasks to set the tone for my day, I became caught up in a never-ending web of “never being enough” because I could “never accomplish enough”.  

I’m still re-framing that self-defeating cycle.

However, making my bed has become part of my morning ritual that launches me into anticipation of what the day ahead will bring. I shake the duvet, fluff the pillows, arrange the throw blanket and take one last look as I head to the kitchen for coffee, thinking, “I’m leaving yesterday behind, my bed will be ready for me to retreat to later tonite, I have an entire day of adventure ahead of me. I can do this”.

[Okay, so I don’t think this EVERY morning, but it’s pretty darn close].

And it psychologically propels me to keep moving forward, with no room for retreat.  You see, my bed is now ready for rest tonight, not for escape today.  No matter what I am facing, the challenges of networking for new clients, heading into a meeting that may not turnout well, tackling dreaded admin/ paper work that I have been avoiding, or brainstorming with a team excited to undertake a new project, or working with a group of young leaders by teaching tools and resources to develop their own healthy leadership frameworks.  I am meant to tackle hard things , learn new skills and integrate my talents with my relationships, as I move forward...in my day, in my work, in my life.  

Yes. There are days that crawling back into bed is truly restorative and much needed.  And I am an active participant and committed proponent of Sabbath rest (taking 24 hours to unplug, recharge, meditate, refresh).  But it cannot be our escape from fear (of failure, of confrontation, of not measuring up, of being amazing, of __________), from Playing Big (check our Tara Mohr’s fantastic work here http://taramohr.com/book/) or taking hold with gusto the work we are each called to do. 

Whether it be at a preschool playground, grocery store warehouse or 30th floor boardroom, we need to bring our full self to our full work and use what we have been given today…and everyday.

So on this fine Monday in May, I encourage you to go back and make your bed and think about where you are headed and get a move on! Believe me, you can do this.

Carpe Diem friends,

Brenda

On International Women's Day 2015 & That Nagging Voice in my Head

“I am SO disappointed with myself tonight”, I began to sputter those words out loud to no one in the room as I was winding down my evening.

I did nothing of significance to mark this important day – no luncheons or rallies (which I have hosted and attended in the past); no reading some mighty women’s books or articles or poetry (which I love to let sink into my heart and soul); no TedX Talks to inspire me (which I subscribe weekly to). Nothing.

“What kind of feminist are you Brenda?” the accusing voice in my head sneered.

Whoa. Stop. Right Now.

Replay the day Brenda.

You got up early and prayed for the world as you entered your church and began to create space for deep ministry to kids to unfold in pockets and classrooms and hallways. 

You are an intentional creator of sacred space.

You encouraged and empowered a dozen leaders to rise up and serve one another with their whole hearts to our emerging generation of young women and men who will lead the way in ushering in the not-yet-kingdom here in our little corner of Surrey.

You are a servant leader.

You greeted your own wheelchair-bound mom with kisses and coffee and thanked her for her love and devotion to her grandkids.  You also introduced her to three new people today, expanding her circle of friendship as she tackles life in her 80s. 

You are a devoted daughter. 

You got down on the floor and greeted Miss Kate, Miss Angela and Miss Andrea, the most adorable preschoolers on the planet and you sent them off with love and laughter as they promised to come back next week. You learned the name of Miss Violet’s unicorn.  Now we are all better friends for it.

You are a kid magnet and respecter of persons-regardless of age.

You chatted and embraced a single mama who wants to dedicate herself and her 7 year old son as a witness to all that God is doing in their lives as they grow in community and become enfolded in their new, adopted family. 

You are an enfolder.

You rested and took a nap in the afternoon.

You practice Sabbath.

You read. 

You are hungry for words and believe in the power of story.

You researched material for an upcoming paper you are writing, which will also be part of a greater research project you are undertaking later this year.

You wade through difficult topics and issues that deeply affect you as a catalyst for change.

You watched a movie with your husband and son.

You cultivate family connection.

You ordered take-out Chinese food for dinner.

You are a provider.

 You sincerely encouraged (and regularly fed) your 18 year old as he struggled through hours of chemistry homework tonight. 

You are a loving mother.

You created and posted a photo memory for your daughter to honor her today.

You are an artist. 

You read, posted, re-posted and interacted online with sisters from across the globe to affirm and elevate each another as we link arms in solidarity and friendship. 

That’s the kind of feminist you are Brenda.

Good riddance negative voices in my head.

Good night sisters (and brothers) across the lands as we rise up into our unique calling as feminists and celebrate together International Woman’s Day 2015. 

Carpe Diem,

Brenda

 

 

 

 

On Embracing Emergence

http://www.fubiz.net/2012/06/04/emergence/

http://www.fubiz.net/2012/06/04/emergence/

Since launching my own business this year, I knew my initial offerings of services and ideas would be emerging and evolving.  That is, they would likely shift, become more focused and nuanced as I engaged deeper in the work I am meant to do with the people, ideas and organizations that I am meant to be doing it with.

Emergence. Evolving. Embracing…excellent 2015 buzzwords aren’t they? 

But these words are very powerful.  I don’t use them lightly or without fully examining their meaning and impact. 

Emergence is not an excuse to be lazy or not be diligent in crafting a well thought out plan.  Nor is it license to change direction at the whim of every opinion, staff member, new survey or latest infographic.

Emergence is actually a highly disciplined process of examination, evaluation, reflection and adaption.  I love this quote by FSG contributor Valerie Bockstetta,

“Resolve to be dogged about the destination, but not the exact path to get there.Emergent strategy is all about being resolute on what one seeks to achieve, but being adaptive in how to get there.” (http://www.fsg.org/KnowledgeExchange/Blogs/SocialImpact/PostID/595.aspx)

Examination: The Reality Check-Up…

As we embark on doing good great work in great organizations that collective elevate the well being of those who work in our organizations and those who engage our products and services, we need to set aside blocks of time on a regular basis to examine what is in front of us, what we have put our hand to in the past and re-align our future work with the destination in which we head. 

Why?

So that we know to best of our knowledge at this place and time, where we are situated.  This can be as simple as 5 minutes at the end of each day, before we shut down the laptop to review our day. It can be 30 minutes at the beginning of our week to mentally map our must-dos and like-to-dos to ensure we making space for the important work that needs our attention.

Evaluation: Survey Says…

Based on our reality check, evaluating the tasks we are undertaking in light of the responsibilities we juggle and the work, people and ideas we are accountable for allows us to make realistic judgments about our time, energy and resources expended.  For example, am I putting adequate amounts of time in certain areas that are urgent or important, neither or both?  I am building in sustainability that will serve me and the organization in the long term?  Or am I shortchanging my own wellbeing because of taking on too many side projects?  Not being honest about my work load?  Allowing unhealthy relational dynamics to affect my well being and performance?

Reflection: More Than Just Idle Navel Gazing…

Honesty is our ally when we take time to reflect for it opens us space in our lives to think about not just what we feel, but how we feel about what is going on.  Reflection brings perspective when we can see events and circumstances as part of a bigger picture and when we can see connecting points between what seemingly independent events.  For example we might notice a pattern in how we respond to deadlines based on the words or actions of a boss or co-worker.  When we take time to reflect, we can recognize these patterns and then create strategies to manage ourselves and our work in light of what we can and cannot control.

Adaptation: Creating Alignment through Movement...

This is where things change.  After examination, evaluation and reflection take place, it is up to us to adapt our actions, behaviors and attitudes to accommodate these new realities.  Adaptation is movement.  It is adjusting a schedule, rearranging timelines or teams, having honest conversations, saying no, saying maybe…it is where shifts, both large and small, take place.  Adaptation does not mean accommodating everyone else, but rather making adjustments in order to re-align activities with direction in a healthy, productive way. 

When embraced, the practice of emergence becomes a way of doing life that keeps us true to the course we set before us to arrive at the destination we desire, whether it be in the workplace or in achieving personal, social or relational goals.

Remember that the pathway will always have unexpected twists and turns.  Emergent thinking is the way forward to stay the course.

Carpe Diem,

Brenda

On Seeking Answers to the Biggest Question(s) of All

Last Friday my girlfriend and I spent 85 minutes absorbing the one man show, Underneath the Lintel, produced and presented by our incredibly innovative Pacific Theatre Company [the one at the side entrance of the grand heritage building that houses Holy Trinity Anglican Church in our fair City http://www.pacifictheatre.org.

The story follows the emergent and increasingly urgent journey of an odd Dutch librarian who, upon receiving a 113 year overdue library book, becomes obsessed with tracking down its originator.  What unfolds in the process is a journey, layered with deep meaning and symbolism that speaks to the mystery of our choices and how they impact our lives in the present, but also perhaps for eternity. 

The tagline on the website includes this rich phrase, “Part ghost story, part metaphysical detective yarn”.  Which made me think,

Aren’t all our lives part ghost story and part metaphysical yarn, compelling us to collect clues, uncover meaning and ultimately solve the grand mystery? 

What I mean is that for all that we know to be true and sure in our lives and our existence, there is so much more that is unknown, that is mysterious, that is hidden from us, perhaps even untouchable, unknowable.

The ghost story of our lives -- veiled, not quite visible, shadowy, something we can’t quite take hold of.

The metaphysical yarn of our lives -- both theoretical yet tangible, it exists, but is layered, we live it out day to day but we often are not fully present to the day to day of our lives.

And the show finished unresolved.

So much like our own lives.

 

Photo originally from http://pacifictheatre.org/season/2014-2015-season/mainstage/underneath-the-lintel

Photo originally from http://pacifictheatre.org/season/2014-2015-season/mainstage/underneath-the-lintel

Yet, I found myself sincerely applauding because he never gave up!  Yes, he had more questions at the end of his journey than when he started, but what a compelling journey it was.  

That’s why we must keep asking the questions, and going to the ends of the earth to uncover the answers, or at the very least, going to [our tribe of trusted friends, our book clubs, our college campuses, our imperfect churches, our ______] to fully engage the process of crafting our own compelling journey. 

Where will your quest take you? Where are you longing for answers? 

Might I suggest that you find others who are on their own journeys and walk alongside them for a time?  Perhaps invite others into parts of yours, particularly when the path feels lonely and steep.  

Jane Christmas wrote a delightful book about embarking on a life changing trek that started with  herself and an eclectic group of wanders she collected along the way.  I devoured this part biography, part spiritual awakening volume this past fall.  “What the Psychic told the Pilgrim” (check out her book here) will inspire you to think about tackling your own pilgrimage of sorts as you seek answers and journey on.

Carpe Diem fellow sojourners,

Brenda