All posts in Lessons Learned

Elizabeth’s Story: Living Life As A Blend

As we continue our story series, I’m pleased to introduce you to a fellow author and working mom, Elizabeth Knox.  Elizabeth just released her first book, Faith Powered Profession, and she has a deep passion for helping us connect our spiritual values with our work. 

Elizabeth, please introduce yourself (and tell us the many hats you wear).

I’m a wife, new mom, daughter, sister, friend, first-time author, part-time program manager, slow runner, 4-season-loving gal. I have made Washington, D.C., my home for the last 10 years.

What key events have marked your journey?

I grew up in rural northeastern Pennsylvania – gorgeous rolling green mountains, with wonderful parents and siblings. When I graduated from high school at 17, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to study in college. I decided to delay college for one year and I repeated the 12th grade as a Rotary Exchange student in Khon Kaen, Thailand. (At several points during my childhood we hosted exchange students so I had been introduced to the concept from a young age.) It was an amazing experience, and while I was there — in a 95% Buddhist country — I met missionaries and became a Christian.

At the end of that school year, I returned to the U.S., and spent my freshman year of college at a small university in Pennsylvania. For my sophomore year I did a National Student Exchange to the University of New Mexico (like spending a semester studying abroad, only at another school in the US). I liked it so much that I stayed! I made great friends and received a great education, but it also confirmed that I love the East Coast. So I spent a year working in my hometown and getting to know my parents as an adult, and then I attended the Maxwell School at Syracuse University to earn my masters in public administration.

I moved to D.C. right after graduate school and started working in the Defense field. After 5 years here, I saw a tall, handsome Texan at a party. We started chatting he offered to drive me the three blocks home. We sat in his car and talked ‘til the wee hours of the morning. We have been married for three years, and about 10 months ago we had our first child – a little boy who is an absolute delight!

I also have a passion for professional Christian women. Several friends and I were trying to figure out how to deal with challenging situations at work and stay true to our faith. I couldn’t find many resources on that subject at the time, so I thought about writing a book. I tested the ideas out as a Bible study with other professional women at my church, and when it worked well, I started writing. The book – which was just an idea four years ago – was just released on September 1st!

How do you integrate your faith, home, and work?

I try to remember every day that my “job” is to glorify God. Being a wife, mom, and a working professional are some of the ways to do that. And glorifying God is my motivation to do each area well. 

I try to live my life as a blend, realizing that each part of my life – my faith, my family, my job, my hobbies – all influence one another. Things I practice in one area are transferrable to another: leading a team at work and leading a small group at church use similar skills, the daily discipline of reading and studying the Bible is applicable to the discipline required to prepare for a race. Loving my family well means doing my job well. If one area is suffering, it’s not too long before other areas start feeling the strain. It motivates me to prioritize my faith, my family, my job, and my health.

What is the best advice you have ever received? 

My Great Uncle Red has been the source of some really good advice:

  • Never judge anyone by his or her first impression, but always make a good one yourself.
  • Know how to give a really solid handshake.

********

Thanks Elizabeth for sharing your story!  To connect with Elizabeth, you can visit her blog  and order your own copy of Faith Powered Profession: A Women’s Guide to Living with Faith and Values in the Workplace.  (We’ll be talking more about this book in the coming months!)

Does Elizabeth’s story strike a powerful or familiar chord?  If so, please let her know.

Monica’s Story: The Secret To Contentment

Today, we continue our story series with Monica Flores, a fellow writer, executive assistant, and working mom.  Monica is a constant encouragement to me in my writing journey as we have both lamented about the lack of faith-based resources for working moms.  I love her raw honesty and wit.   

Monica, please introduce yourself (and tell us the many hats you wear).

I am first a Christ-follower, wife, mother, and executive assistant.  I love singing, reading, good food (the proof is evident on my hips!), good coffee, travel (though time and money limit this more than I’d like) and home decorating.  I have been called “crunchy” from time to time for my passion for natural birth and crusade for “real” food, but don’t worry, I still shave my legs (most of the time!).

What key events have marked your journey? / What is your greatest struggle?

I have spent too much of my life discontent because my life does not look like as I expected it to. I have struggled throughout my adult life to learn contentment and find joy in living the life I have.

I am a planner by nature, and this is a very useful skill in my career as an Executive Assistant and Project Officer and in my role as wife, mommy and even friend.  But I would by lying if I said that this has always served me well.  You see, beyond planning logistics, I have invested my heart in expectations of how my life would be.  I have made these plans an idol and sacrificed my own joy at their feet.

· I struggled with my career because life circumstances, choices, and God’s provision led me in a direction that did not include finishing college. (I plan to eventually, but as an honor student this was a tough pill to swallow. There’s more to this story, but I digress).

· I struggled with being single into my late 20′s because I’d always planned to marry younger.· I next struggled with my pregnancy because we planned to wait until we’d been married for two years to get pregnant, and instead I got pregnant two weeks after our honeymoon.

· I struggled with the birth of my son, because I had a natural, mid-wife attended, water birth planned, and my breech son was delivered via C-section. And let’s not even begin to describe my horrific battle with post-partum depression.

· I struggled with mothering my newborn because I planned for extended breastfeeding and due to latch issues, post-partum stress and depression and food allergies, I was only able to do so for 6 weeks.

· I struggled with being working mother because I had always planned to be a stay at home mom, and really wanted to homeschool.

Are you seeing the pattern here?  I have spent over a decade planning and struggling, planning and struggling.

Of course, each one of these diversions from my plans has led me to meet people, have experiences and learn lessons that I would not have otherwise. There has been so much joy and so much beauty along the way, but there has also been grief.  I have had to grieve the loss of my own plans.  

So where am I now?  Well as a family we now have two weeks of homeschooling under our belt.  But even that has come in an unexpected manner– you see, I’m still working full time, and it is my husband who is staying home and teaching our son.  I can honestly say that while getting here has been a long and sometimes arduous journey, I am so content and blessed at how God’s plans have proven so far superior to my own. 

How do you integrate your faith, home, and work?

I love this question because integrating these things is key to really living, and is definitely something that requires intentionality; but I do find that when all is at its best, integrating the three comes rather organically, for one reason– I am one person. I wear many hats, but I am not three different women. Though my walk, my family/home life, and my job may require different things of me, I find that when I am the most genuinely myself and seeking Christ first, integrating the three is seamless. 

Spending time reading the Bible, even just a bit at the start of my day helps keep me focused as the day unfolds. I am a big fan of the You Version app and it is often the very first thing I see each morning.  Even spending time in prayer and worship as I go throughout the more mindless bits of the daily routine is a help. A pastor of mine once showed us how little time it takes to quiet ones heart and pray– mere minutes really, and something that can truly be done anywhere, my sweetest days are those in which I have stolen moments throughout to focus on Jesus.  

As for practical tips on managing home and work, I talk about some of those on my blog.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

I have received lots of good advice, but the best has been oft repeated by my mentors in the faith, and comes directly from Matthew 6:33:

 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (ESV)

It doesn’t matter what “things” my heart is chasing after day by day (be it a deadline, or a goal or something my son is needing) seeking Jesus is always the “right” answer.  Seeking Him first always manages to take care of everything else.  It’s too simple, and often seems trite.  But it’s true.

*******

Thanks Monica for continuing our story series!   Please connect with Monica’s at her blog, A Little Verbose,  for more great tips and encouragement. 

Does Monica’s story strike a powerful or familiar cord?  If so, please let her know!

Acacia’s Story: “I Saved You For A Purpose”

As we continue our Monday Story Series, I’d like to introduce you to Acacia Perco.  Acacia and I met several years ago at a legal function (yep, she’s another Lady Lawyer!), and we immediately knew that God had brought us together for a reason. 

Acacia, please introduce yourself (and tell us the many hats you wear).

I am a wife, sister, lawyer, equestrian, and closet actress.  I am a true country girl at heart, being born and raised in the boondocks of Pataskala, Ohio on a horse farm with one older sister, 14 horses, 20 sheep, and 4 dogs.  My parents introduced me to Jesus as a child, and despite my sometimes wayward heart, He has remained faithful to me.  

What key events have marked your journey?

As a young child, God brought me through a horrific accident and miraculously saved my life.  A farm has all kinds of trouble for a young child to find.  As the rebel of the family, trouble seemed to follow me everywhere.  Just a week before my 7th birthday, I suffered a kick in the head by one of our horses.  My father found my near lifeless body when I failed to return from my jaunt to the field with my trusty horse at the time.  I was quickly life-flighted to Children’s Hospital in Columbus, where the surgeon told my mother that if I made it through, she wouldn’t want what was left over – meaning I would be a vegetable for the remainder of my life.  After spending a week in a coma, I came to the morning of my 7th birthday.  I spent the summer in rehabilitation, and by the grace of God was able to return to school with my 2ndgrade class in the fall.  No worse for the wear, I continued through high school, departed for college, and engaged in typical shenanigans that mark our early twenties.  Despite my wild escapades with fraternity boys and sorority soirees, God did not forsake me.  Near the end of my senior undergraduate year, the Lord vividly spoke to me and told me He did not save my life for me to live for myself, but for Him. 

In the fall of 2008, I set out for Ohio Northern Law School in a remote cornfield town, Ada, in northwestern Ohio, After a trying three years, I sat for the bar exam, and married my best friend a month later.  I entered the practice of law in a small firm, focused on litigation and business law.  As a newly married young attorney with a husband consumed with the pressure of working full time while attending law school at night, the world seemed daunting and I often felt isolated as a woman in my field.  While my mother is my ultimate role model and closest confidant, I had no mature Christian women to look up to in my profession.  The winter of 2011, I met Susan DiMickele, who was speaking at a panel discussion on being a Christian working mom.  I shared my story with her over lunch and we began meeting with other lady lawyers for coffee, conversation and prayer. 

About a year later, Susan and I connected with The Gathering in effort to expand our small coffee meetings to include women from all areas of marketplace.  In the spring of 2013, the Gathering officially launched the Gathering of Women, a faith-based group within the Gathering created to encourage and equip women in the workforce to become women of integrity, character, faith and service who transform their community through word, deed and prayer. 

What is your greatest struggle?

My greatest struggle is saying no. As an over-achiever, it is easy for me to say yes.  Yes to more assignments at work, yes to my friends for parties and get-togethers, yes to hosting the girls’ night, yes to volunteering at church, yes to my 5:30 a.m. running group, yes to my Wednesday night yoga class.  My default is to over commit.  God is teaching me that to be useful for Him, I need to prioritize and take steps to not self-inflict an overloaded schedule on myself.

How do you integrate your faith, home, and work?

Admittedly, I am not the best at balancing these competing demands – I tend to overload and then wonder why there is so little time in the day.  But thankfully God is not finished with me yet (see Phil. 1:6!). I am working to carve out time during my day for prayer and devotion, realizing that my life demands may require meditating on scripture over lunch and sending up prayer throughout my day.  I know that my day is best aligned and my mind at peace when I begin my day in God’s presence.   

My husband works full time and attends school at night, so our time together is precious.  It’s just the two of us right now, so I do not have the wisdom of those with children in the equation, but I am learning that family relationships take work and I need to pursue engagement in order for our marriage to thrive.  Thankfully, my hours at the office are fairly regular.  What is a struggle for me is turning off the work portion of my brain, which is analyzing legal issues and mauling over my clients problems, and turning on my brain to engage with my husband.   I  saw my marriage struggle as a result, and now I commit every evening over dinner to consciously turn off my legal brain and spend time enjoying our time together.

What is the best advice you have ever received? 

A few good ones:

“Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”

“You only have one chance to make a first impression.”

“Remember whose daughter you are.”

*********

Thanks Acacia for continuing our story series!  We know that God has a purpose and isn’t finished with you yet.  For those of you in Central Ohio, you can connect with Acacia at The Gathering and join her growing network of professional women. 

Does Acacia’s story strike a powerful or familiar cord?  If so, please let her know!

Paying It Forward: The Secret To Happiness?

Paying it forward is good for business.  It’s also the right thing to do.  Yet we live in a society that rewards instant results.  Not future possibilities. 

What have you done for me lately? Does it contribute to the bottom line? Show me the money!

Yet paying it forward – at home and at work – it vital to our happiness.  (It will also bring us greater long-term success, so long as we properly manage our expectations.)

We can start paying it forward three ways:  STOP, LOOK, and ACT.

Step One:  STOP

We must STOP keeping score.  There is a lot of talk in our business communities about “building relationships” and “investing” in others before expecting results.  We need to take it to the next level.  If we stop keeping score, we give to others freely — without expecting anything in return.

It’s easy to invest in people who will reciprocate.  “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.”  Yet if we’re not careful, unmet expectations will crush us.  What happens when we don’t get scratched back? 

If we give without expecting in return, we’re blessed by giving, not receiving.  In fact, we should regularly give to people who aren’t in a position to reciprocate. 

Every once in awhile, we’ll be caught by surprise when the people we least expect are in a position of influence.  When they become our advocates, they will know our initial investment was sincere. Trust-based relationships don’t keep score.    

Step Two:  LOOK

LOOK around at the people you admire.  Do they give without strings attached? Do they “pay it forward” because it’s the right thing to do?

In Powered By Happy, Executive Beth Thomas encourages us to make a list of the ways we can make other people happy.  As I read her words, it dawned on me.  God is the ultimate Master of paying it forward.  When Jesus died on a cross, he was doing it for me without any guarantee of my response.  I wasn’t even born yet!

Jesus provides an incredible role model.  His selflessness inspires us to give without strings attached – to extend grace to others, even when they don’t “deserve” a favor.  If God can “pay it forward” centuries before my birth, I too can take a long-term view of people. 

Step Three:  ACT

Paying it forward actually works.  But don’t take my word for it.  Try it for yourself.  Pick something you know you can do – but something that will challenge your natural instincts and test your limits. 

For example, I really hate sitting in traffic.  When I take my 6th-grader to school, there are a line of cars in the “drop off” a mile long.  Inevitably,  instead of getting at the back of the line, some parent always cuts in front of me.  I find this so annoying!  For months, I would try to inch up as far as possible to the car in front of me – to give the signal that there is no way you are pulling out in front of me!   Then, one morning, I  decided to let someone cut.

Nick yelled, “Mom, what are you doing!  This guy is cutting in front of you.”

I gave the other car a friendly wave, and he waved back.  It was exhilarating. 

Granted, it was only a baby step.  But baby steps count.

Are you ready to STOP keeping score?

When you LOOK for role models, who pays it forward best?

How can you take a simple step and ACT? 

Overcoming Negative Thoughts And Worry: It’s Time To Take Control!

 What holds your happiness hostage?  For many of us, worry and negative thoughts are at the top of the list. 

Whether we’re worried about being a good parent, the family finances, or our performance at work, worry can downright consume us and rob our happiness.  And since this is National Stress Awareness Month, let’s not forget that worry and stress are completely connected.  Research shows that worry and stress are leading causes to both physical and psychological illness.

So what’s the solution? 

Powered By Happy provides some amazing wisdom.  Chapter Three, Avoid What Holds Your Happiness Hostage:  Minimizing Worry and Negative Thoughts, is my favorite chapter.  Importantly, Thomas doesn’t minimize stress and worry.  Instead, she challenges us to do something about it!  Here are some of my favorite tips.

Tip #1 – Identify What Worries You Most

Thomas challenges us to write it down – to answer the question what worries you most?  It’s a simple but necessary step to overcoming stress – defining the root of the problem. 

For example, Thomas suggests writing down everything that worries us for one week.  “Get some three-by-five-inch index cards, and every time a worry pops into your head, write it on a card.” (p. 51)

At the end of a week, you may discovery that your worries have been in vain – or even a waste of time.  Or you may discover a reoccurring theme – an area of your life that is causing you most stress, or a constant worry that you can’t seem to let go. 

In any event, you’ll be better informed to tackle negative thoughts and worry if you identify the source. 

Tip #2 – Confront Worry With Action

Once we identify what worries us most, we’re ready to take action. 

Take your top 5 worries.  What’s the worst thing that can happen?  Is the solution within your control?  Regardless of the outcome, what are some positive steps you can take to address the concern?

For example, if you’re financially strapped, you can take steps toward adjusting your budget, paying off debt, or increasing your earning potential.   While a solution may not be quick or easy, we can do our part to affect what we control and at the same time accept what we can’t control.  By writing down the “worst case scenario” plus our action steps, we confront worry with action.

I firmly believe that inaction breeds worry.  An idle mind breeds fret and discontent.  Have you ever noticed that the stress before starting a new project at work or the anticipation of a tough personal situation is often worse than the situation itself?

Tip #3 – Separate Fact From Fiction

The imagination is a powerful thing.  Most of us spend too much time worrying about things that never happen.  In fact, we invent stories in our minds based upon “what if’s” and work ourselves into a frenzy.

Thomas tells a powerful story about a situation at work where her imagination ran wild.  Basically, once she sent her boss a project, she felt insecure the next time she saw him.  She interpreted his actions as dismissive and thought to herself, he must hate the project!  It was terrible!  After spending months worrying about the project, she later learned that he hadn’t even reviewed the project  — he had forgotten all about it altogether.

In other words, we impute our negative thoughts and imagination onto the motives and words of others.  Most of the time, other people are not thinking about us in the first place!

I found this tip to be the most powerful in the entire chapter.  Don’t worry about what you don’t know.  Stop basing worry on imagination instead of the truth. 

Tip #4 – Take Control With A Baby Step

While these tips are all helpful, we’re not going to be able to stop worrying overnight.  What if we took the next 24 hours and committed to take every negative thought and worry captive?  To turn those worries over to God as we sort out the next step? 

Other baby steps include making your “worry” list or planning a favorite activity to de-stress this week. 

So, what worries you most?  What tip do you find most helpful as you tackle worry and stress? 

**********

Join us next week as we continue discussing Powered By Happy, Chapters 4 and 5.