out of focus

Sometimes God speaks to my heart in the most random, “unspiritual” moments.

Like last week, when we had our family pictures done. Despite what any of these pictures may turn out looking like, let me assure you, the hour plus of photo shooting was anything but “ethereal” in any way. There was bickering, huffing and general barking orders like…

“Smile right now and LOOK HAPPY!! Teeth! Show me teeth!!”

My daughter is a photographer, and according to her we, on the whole, were one of the worst subject groups to have to work with.

Whatever. We are what we are… which, in the words of Jen Hatmaker would be a “spicy family”. So be it.

Anyway, amidst the bickering and shoving and throwing the youngest brother in the air and dropping him (yes, that really happened) there was this moment when God infused an “aha” moment into my heart. It was during this shot…

Clemmer Family (45 of 100)

I was searching around Pinterest a little while ago and saw a similar family setup and loved the concept of each kid with their “thing”…a prop that was representative of them in some way. I loved the idea and told my daughter right away I wanted to do this, and made sure each kid grabbed their item on the way to the shoot.

I loved the idea that Todd and I were in the background of the shot, as we very much feel that our heart as parents is to really help our kids find their passion and then help launch them forward into those things. I felt the picture would capture that sentiment well.

But there was a point during the shoot where the photographer who was taking the photo (the photographer my daughter works for took the shots that she was actually in) asked us if I wanted Todd and myself to be out of focus…a bit blurry…in the background.

That was my “aha” moment.

Do I want to be ‘out of focus’? 

I felt like there was this download of both understanding and complete peace as my brain quickly processed the question.

Yes, absolutely we should be out of focus. Because that’s the heart of parenting…teaching…leadership of any kind!

The idea that you are given this gift…this child, this student, this person or group that you are given stewardship of…in order to bring them from roughness, rawness, obscurity into front and center focus. To make a positional transfer, as they develop, grow and mature, from being the one that they “follow” to being the one who comes behind to support them as they move up and out.

Even as I gave my answer to the photographer, I felt like I was answering some sort of oath or vow that was being asked of me…

Do you, as a mom…as a mentor…as a leader…want to become increasingly out of focus in the big picture?

And in my heart, in that moment, I spoke my “I Do”.

I do want to see my kids, and anyone else that I have been given the privilege to influence, go further, do more, be better than I ever have. I do want to be a steady runner, who is able to effectively and smoothly hand off that baton of influence. I do want to see them rise to the occasion and walk into their destiny… but also approach their calling and purpose in life with the same understanding that it’s not JUST about them; that even as they flourish and thrive, it will now be up to them to bring along others, who THEY will one day push forward, knowing the blessing of joy and contentment doesn’t just come from fulling THEIR purpose, but from helping others to walk out the same.

To be honest, maybe this seems like a no-brainer or “duh” moment for you. Certainly, it’s something I’ve known in my head for years, but as my kids grow and move toward independence it’s something I need to increasingly take root in my heart. One of the things I can tend to struggle with is the fear of being “overlooked” or left out. I don’t like the thought of “empty nest” season; I love being involved with my kids and their lives. However, deep down I know that the real goal of parenting, teaching or leadership is ultimately….release. I’m thankful for this good dose of God’s grace to be giving me these kind of downloads and reminders now and letting me process them a bit before these seasons are fully upon me.

I know, I know….that’s a whole lot of “deep thoughts” to come out of one moment, in one chaotic family photo session in the middle of the woods, on a random Monday afternoon.

But that’s really how God is, isn’t He?. He’s not waiting for us to be sitting quietly in a church pew to speak to us. He’s in all of our everyday, normal, mundane, crazy moments, and I’m really glad He’s willing to use whatever random thing He knows will connect with us in order to reveal and remind us of truth and teach us wisdom.

Good thing, too…because, frankly, in my ‘spicy’ family, let’s be real….there’s just not a whole lot of quiet anything….ever!

are you willing to go all in?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things that I am passionate about. Things that I have all the thoughts, feelings and opinions on. Things that I want to spend my life on. Things like my kids, my marriage, my ministry.

And while I find these are things that I love from the depths of my being…they are things that all require a whole darn lot from me. A lot of time, commitment, money. A lot of evaluating my priorities, and making choices. Saying yes to some things means saying no to others…and vice versa…and it’s a fact that I can’t say all yeses, so I want my best yeses to go to the things I care the most about.

When I think about my passions, I find this is a very real, delicate and practical process that I must enter into, this evaluation of who and what get my resources, and really, who and what gets the most and best of Me. Where do I want to “go all in”?

Can I just say, the reality is, anything you feel passionately about, anything worth pursuing will require something from you. You will need to make an investment.

You’ll need to put in time, money, prayer, maybe make physical sacrifices.

It may hurt. There WILL be a cost.

But if you love something….or someone…enough, you’ll find yourself amazingly willing to try to make things happen. To give what’s needed. To do whatever. it. takes.

If you want to understand someone, you’ll learn to swallow your pride and listen to a different viewpoint. It might be hard. You may choke a bit on your own thoughts and opinions for a while. But if you love them, you’ll learn to deal with it.

If you earnestly care about a topic…maybe dietary or lifestyle changes you or your family will benefit from, a cause that needs an advocate, a disease that needs a cure….you’ll invest time in reading and learning all about it.

If you have children that you see gifted in certain areas, you might find ways to cut your budget or somehow earn more to pay for those lessons. You’ll somehow squeeze another hour…or a few…out of your already overpacked schedule to haul them to practices, to help with coaching or to cheer from the sidelines.

I venture to say if you had a very dear friend or family member who was in need of a kidney, and you were a donor match, you’d likely find yourself signing on the line and jumping on an operating table.

When we TRULY love and care about someone or something, we find ourselves searching to move heaven and earth to do what it takes to put action to what is in your heart.

Action is the true indicator of how invested in something we really are.

If you find yourself giving a lot of lip-service to a lot of things, you might want to take a personal inventory to find out where your true devotions lie. Let’s be real and practical here…none of us can care 100% about all the people, all the causes, all the things. It’s exhausting, draining, guilt inducing…and thus, completely ineffective.

But if we all passionately love enough to act on the thing that is really rooted in our heart….the thing that maybe no one else cares about quite as much as we do…we, as a whole, will accomplish so much more. If ten people actually do ten different things, more will get done than if 100 people sit and feel overwhelmed by 100 different things.

You be you, and love your thing. Love it full-on, wholeheartedly and enough to spur you to action. Do it unapologetically, and with abandon.

And in the process…release everyone else. Please.

Stop glaring at them for not sharing your passion, your cause or your adulation for your kids. Everyone’s got their own thing….and THAT IS GOOD. Don’t judge people and condemn them for not sharing your zeal for your thing.

Jesus put it this way when one of his disciples got a little bent out of shape that another one of the twelve might not be on the same path he was….

“Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. When Peter noticed him, he asked Jesus, “Master, what’s going to happen to him?”

Jesus said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You—follow me.” (John 21:21 The Message)

Don’t worry about everyone else. Find what is burning in your heart and go after it. When people inquire, by all means, tell them all about it! Gush over it!  Share your motivation, your heart…help them to understand why you care so much. (Just leave out the guilt trip about what losers everyone who doesn’t share your viewpoint are.)

Make the investments and sacrifices. Pay the costs. Read, learn, pray…act.

Those people, that cause, that calling, that ministry….they need you. They need you to not hold back, but to go all in. You carry in your heart what no one else does in the exact same way. You’ll bring nuances that only you can. You have a unique perspective that contributes what only you can.

Lose the negativity and energy wasting of looking around for who’s going to join you and just go.

Because if you don’t champion them….who will?

surviving social media

There used to be an unwritten rule of etiquette that it was never a good idea to openly discuss religion or politics. Those topics, because of their highly sensitive and personal nature, were better reserved for close-circle conversation.

That line of thinking has certainly gone the way of the dinosaur, and all the more so in this age of social media.

It used to be that to know what a person thought about any given topic, you had to…well, ya know…actually know the person. Or minimally, have a conversation with them. If you were going to disagree or challenge them, you had to do it live and in person.

Unless you were a public figure with some sort of platform, we didn’t just all know each other’s thoughts, beliefs, opinions and political affiliation without having an actual knowledge of the person that held them.

With every advancement in communication, which by and large is a useful, helpful progression in our world, we each, as a by-product, gain a bigger audience. It’s no longer just a politician, a teacher, or a pastor that has a platform…everyone with an account and a password just gained a stage.


I’ve been giving quite a lot of consideration to this stage we all now occupy with our online presence. It’s especially thought provoking during election seasons like we are currently in. It seems like political activity stirs everyone’s fire about ALL THE THINGS, and I know (because, of course, I read people’s posts on social media!) that I’m not the only one who is beginning to feel uncomfortable with the amount of information we are learning about people and their “stances”.

And it’s not JUST political or religious views. People share waaaay TMI about other things too. Personal things. The kind of things that aren’t necessarily a secret, but used to be reserved for one-on-one conversation over a cup of coffee, or minimally a phone call (Remember those? The kind where we used to talk into our devices instead of just pressing buttons?)

Now, before you write me off as stodgy and outdated, hear me out. I am a HUGE fan of social media. Frankly, Facebook is how I communicate with most of the people in my life. And my cell phone? Well, let’s just say there’s no stone throwing coming from me! I text my kids if they are on the second floor and I’m on the first and too tired (lazy?) to yell for them!

I am, by all means, preaching to myself as much as anyone. It’s a social media hole I see myself so easily being sucked into, but I’m hoping that I, that we, aren’t too far along to realize how to come back and bring some grounding balance to our virtual and our real lives.

Here’s my biggest concern with all this. I think we are bypassing KNOWING people and settling for knowing ABOUT people. We don’t see people’s fear, hurt, love or compassion when we only process the things we know about them that we learn from statuses, tweets and soundbites.

There was a quote I read recently that I think gets to the core of this matter.access

This, to me, hits the nail on the head. When I am putting myself out there on social media, I am giving every acquaintance I have, every Facebook “friend”, every Twitter follower, and countless other people even completely unknown to me access to my thoughts and opinions, as well as opportunity to feed back into them, comparable to that which I normally give my friends and family or those that I share conversation with.

Increasingly, this really bothers me. I started a while ago to be a bit more selective with my Facebook posts, and created specific lists of people that I want to share things with. Even more importantly I try (though not always successfully, unfortunately!) to avoid “hot topic” debates or just randomly touting my beliefs…especially the ones that I am afraid people might misunderstand, and with people that don’t actually know me in real life, or know me well enough to know where I am coming from when I say things. (Again, I’m a work in progress on this.)

So, I have general lists and specific lists. I have lists titled ‘Acquaintances’, ‘Friends’, ‘Close Friends’ and ‘Bests’, and I share accordingly. And frankly, I still haven’t tightened things up quite as much as I should. But it’s a step that I’ve taken to restrict ‘access’ to myself…out of respect for both myself and others

The thing is, I’m not a secretive person. Transparency and “realness”  are high values of mine. It’s not that I don’t want people to know the “real” me…it’s more than I actually want to be known for real. I don’t want to be just a profile picture with an opinion. I want to be known for more than the “side” I’m on, and I want my beliefs to be more thoughtful than the latest meme.

And while I appreciate input into my life, the reality is, there is a limit  to the amount and type of feedback I want, and who I want it from. I truly desire perspective and advice, but I want it coming from those that I trust. I want it coming the people in my life that I have real, committed, caring relationships with. I don’t want those voices, that I value and are rooted in the security of knowing that they know and love me to be drowned out by the throng of opinions voiced by anyone who happens to agree or disagree with a status or a “share”. I can so easily get caught up in the vicious cycle of seeking “approval” that nastily takes over my thoughts and stirs up worry and anxiety over what others think of me.

And honestly, I want to think better of others, too. I don’t want to be placing negative assumptions about people’s entire characters based on a “like” or a comment, or something else that is so surface. It can be hard to keep an open and positive opinion of people that you seemingly disagree with on a lot of things if that is the ONLY interaction you have. It seems that we have forgotten that people are more than just a list of bullet-point opinions or arguments. People form their beliefs, not just based on a teaching, debate or understanding of a topic. Rather their deepest held values are formed by their experiences….their hurts, their triumphs, the relationships they’ve had, the circumstances they’ve lived. Sometimes I don’t connect with a person’s thoughts on a matter until I understand their story. Then, I am able to hear not just WHAT they are saying, but have a better understanding of WHY they are saying it. While I may not share their viewpoint, I can certainly at least see their perspective.

Social media often isn’t conducive to this, in part because we cannot see a face or hear a voice. So much is communicated not just in our words, but in our expressions, our tones and our body language. I can read about a friend’s struggle and breeze past it all much easier when it’s just words on a screen than if they are sitting in front of me with tears in their eyes as they convey the exact same thing.

I hope that as the world continues to move at a mind-dizzying pace of technology that we learn to adjust and adapt, and that part of that adaptation is returning to the art of personal relationship. The kind that includes actual human contact, and not just words and personas behind the glow of a screen; conversation complete with eye contact.

I’d like to reiterate that in all this, I’m certainly not trying to convey judgement or tell anyone how to interact on social media. I’m just trying to navigate all of this myself, and process (ironically, via this form of social media…yes, the irony is not lost on me) my concerns about the truth that we are all still people with real feelings, and we owe it to each other not to make snap judgments about people without ever giving them enough respect to have any real, live interaction.

So, please tell me… Do you struggle with the whole social media aspect of our world? How do you find balance, as well as work at keeping interactions positive? Maybe we can learn from each other and help keep the forces of our increasingly virtual reality more positive in nature!

Dear Invisible People…

Dear Invisible People….

Don’t worry…I’m not writing to imaginary friends. I promise that despite what you may hear from my family members, I’m not completely delusional. (Most of the time I’m totally coherent.)


I’m writing to you people out there who sometimes feel like you’re invisible. Like no one sees you. It’s not that you don’t feel loved, or that you have value…just mainly like no one really realizes or acknowledges what you do. Maybe you yourself don’t even feel like you are doing or being anything worth any adulation.

There’s no special appreciation day for you, no day set aside to give a nod to the work you do. And yet you stick at it, day in, day out. And frankly, can I just say, without your work, this old world of ours would likely come to a screeching halt.

Sure, maybe if you, as an individual, quit your job tomorrow the world might not grind to a standstill…but if all the “invisible people”, as a whole did….implosion. Seriously. YOU make the world go round (figuratively speaking of course….because there is the whole God aspect, and the world turning on it’s axis and all that jazz….but you know what I mean, right?)

There are lots of silly “National (fill in the blank) Days”. It seems Facebook is alerting me every other day that it’s National Ice Cream Day (which, hey, even if it’s every week, I can get on board with that one!) or National Dog Day or National Love Your Son/Daughter/Second-Cousin-Twice-Removed Day.

But what about National Trash Collectors Day? Or National Car Mechanics Day? How about National Tech Support Day, or Waitress Day or Regular Joe Working in the Plant/Warehouse/Cubicle Day? Where are those?

And let’s face it, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day….it’s a good effort, but when you’re changing diapers, wiping snot, checking homework, running to practices, cooking meals, grocery shopping, giving up sleep….or, um, other ‘activities’ because the children in your house have grown and freaking NEVER go to bed so there’s never any adult alone time?? (Did I really just say that? Yup. Reality, people…it is what it is.) Well, an obligatory nod in the parent direction once a year is nice, but it’s not the kind of encouragement on a regular basis that says “Keep going! You’re doing fantastic! You are making an impact!”

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I feel like I look around and many other people are doing “important” things. They’re hitting their stride, reaching their goals, and making a difference. They’re getting a book deal. They’re climbing the corporate ladder and making the big bucks. They’re succeeding, thriving, and movin’ on up. And I kind of look around, like, well…so, here I sit, doing the same ‘ol, same ‘ol. Nothin’ to see here, so keep on moving. 

Recently a friend posted a very true status on Facebook…

“A little encouragement goes a long way. There is something great about being told you’re good at that thing you love to do.”

….but it kinda made me get a lump in my throat, I guess because I’m in a bit of a dry time in the encouragement department. (Not that it makes the statement any less true, and I realized that no matter how I’m feeling, it’s a good reminder the impact I can have by being an encourager of others! And, DISCLAIMER….that’s not meant as a guilt trip on my husband, friends or anyone! I have GREAT people, and I know I’m loved and all that. So, this is no pity party by any means! So please don’t worry for the state of my mental health…I’m fine.) But what it brought up in me was….

Am I good at anything? What is it I even DO?

Now I know, it’s much easier to see and proclaim truth as it relates to others, so I will admit that I’m still processing and trying to declare this truth to myself as much as anyone; but it brought front and center to me how worthwhile and in need of encouragement MOST people really are.

So, let me tell you….you ARE good at what you do, and you ARE needed. Think about how many people would be impacted if you fell off the face of the earth today. Important people….like your spouse, your kids, your clients. There’s a kind of cliche line from a song, but it’s so true…

To the world you may be just another girl,

But to me, Baby, you are the world


To someone, you are everything. And frankly, all us nobodies that the world never sees, admires or applauds….we make up the majority of the world’s population. It’s us ‘little people’ that actually keep the world going, doing all the day-to-day, mundane stuff that everyone actually NEEDS done.

And here’s a little secret….probably most of those people that you look at and think have it all, are (or seem to be) getting all the glory, the recognition, that are so GOOD at what they do….they very likely actually feeling quite the same as the rest of us. At least the decent human beings among them. (I’m not really talking about ‘celebrities’ here…just normal people who we know, but who always seem to be the best and the brightest.) In fact, someone is probably looking at you (or me) and thinking… “She/He is just so (fill in the blank….organized, talented, intelligent, creative)!!” Yep...I would BET MONEY someone (though albeit unbeknownst to you) is pretty dang impressed with you. But the reality is, we rarely FEEL that about ourselves.

All this to say….if you’re feeling a bit small or lost lately, take heart. YOU are one of the important people!! You’re not invisible, and you matter. You matter a LOT!! Don’t get caught up in the mirage of “doing big things”, or being a “world changer”. If you do the small things, and shape the little world that spins within your four walls, one day we’ll look back and realize that together, we DID big things, and the we SHAPED the world…one little impact at a time.

And one final thought… If you are feeling or have felt this way, take it as a gentle reminder that most others do as well. So compliment someone, encourage them…heck, straight up GUSH over them, just because everyone needs that from time to time, no matter who you are!!

just do it

Everyone is a leader in some realm. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, an older sibling, a coach, a manager or a cancer survivor….someone, somewhere is looking at you, and taking a cue from you. And that, my friend, is what it means to be a leader.

Sometimes we can operate under the misconception that a leader is someone with a charismatic personality and an ability to speak eloquently, and that feels very intimidating. But lately, as I’ve been studying through the book of 1 Corinthians, I’ve found myself chuckling and relating over the apostle Paul’s leadership experiences and realizing how much emphasis Paul puts on trying to debunk this very myth of big-name, ‘celebrity’ leadership.

I can practically see Paul sitting at a rough-hewn wooden table, thinking over the petty disputes and lofty debates of these churches and facepalming himself.

And I have to say, I love how snarky and sarcastic Paul gets with people.  Take a look at 1 Corinthians 4:8, where Paul is tongue-in-cheek ‘applauding’ this church for thinking they are so rich – even “kingly”! – in their spiritual “maturity”….which he has just spent the previous several pages trying to correct, because they’re so off-base.

(Can’t you just hear Paul saying “Great job, guys…you’re now all experts, without any help from anyone! NOT!”)

And you get it too, don’t you? Paul’s sentiments. Because you’re a leader too. 

You’ve lived something, experienced something, learned something the hard way. And SOMETHING is now, to you, more than a theory, an idea or a belief. It’s your reality. And you now have this gem in your hand, this hard-earned or learned lesson that you now have a responsibility to steward well and help bring to someone coming along behind you. And that’s what makes you a leader. Not a certificate or a degree that says you ‘are’ something. Those papers or accreditation (or lack thereof) don’t make you who you are, don’t mean you necessarily have something to offer. It’s the life you’ve lived that has really taught you things.

And I’d also be willing to bet that the things that you KNOW in your KNOWER…those very things that are the gems of wisdom and experience that you hold….they probably came at a pretty dear price. But that’s also what makes you a leader. Leaders are willing to pay the price.

Real leaders aren’t people that can learn some “lines”…some good arguments, some information, some facts, or some doctrines…and then “perform” those with great energy in front of a crowd. Those are actors.

Real leaders are the ones who are willing to get in the trenches of life, do the hard stuff, learn the lessons, take the hits….and then turn around to the watching eyes behind them and say “This way”…and keep on going.

This is essentially what Paul is chiding the Christians about in his Corinthian letter. He’s telling them…being mature isn’t about knowing (or thinking you know) a bunch of stuff. Maturity is cultivated in the “fire”, so to speak. It’s about drawing the “short straw”, sucking it up…and going for it. He compares the apostles “status” as leaders to prisoners of war being paraded in a procession to their death. The end of the line, “buck stops here” kind of thinking. Not exactly the glamorous “position” we like to associate with leadership. He’s essentially saying to them… “You guys SO don’t get this….” It’s not about being “top dog”, but rather, being willing to be the bottom rung so that others can climb on your shoulders.

But a few sentences later he expresses that he’s not railing on them in order to shame them, but rather to give them an accurate picture of what REAL leadership is, and to encourage it to embrace it for themselves. To go for it. To pursue being true leaders. He says “Look at what I’m going through, and imitate me…do what I’m doing!”

Does Paul do this because he thinks he’s just All That? Because he’s such hot stuff he wants everyone to be just like him? No. Not at all. Just like good parents don’t strive to set a good example just to make themselves look good (or at least that shouldn’t be the motivation). They do it because they want to pass something on. They want the next generation to get it. Paul says to this church…”You guys have a lot of teachers, but not many fathers…”

What’s the difference between a teacher and father?

It’s the fact that a father gets down and dirty and takes a whole lotta crap in order to give the best to his kids. Teachers are great, and good, and necessary. They impart important information and facilitate learning. But it’s a more detached role. It’s not nearly as personally invested as a parent.

But a dad (or a mom), or anyone that cares enough about another person to take hits on their behalf…that’s a LEADER.

We need more leaders. We don’t need more personas, more big-names, more celebrities. We need more “fathers” (and “mothers”). Essentially saying…we need more people that really, really care, and care enough to ‘go there’…to the difficult places…themselves.

We need people who are willing to look like fools, to take the heat to push through…and then who are willing to turn around, look someone in the eye and say… “This way. Follow me.”

You see, the very word describes what a leader should do. They aren’t called “senders”. They don’t stand, like a sign-post and just tell everyone where to go and what to do. They LEAD. They get out in front and they go where they want others to be able to go.


So you…yeah, YOU. Someone, somewhere is looking at you. They’re waiting for you to take the step. To say “I’ve been there.” To show them how to navigate the murky waters. They don’t want to just read a book, listen to a TED talk, or watch a YouTube tutorial (though all those things are great). They need YOU to get in the trenches, to be with them in taking the hits, to let them see you wrestle through the struggles. They need you to lead.

So don’t get hung up on whether or not you look good or sound good. Take a cue from Nike (and the Apostle Paul) and “Just Do It”. And take somebody with you. Because that’s what a leader does.