Dear Bridge-Builders: Keep Going

When I typed the address into Google Maps, I couldn’t believe it. 

The house that my grandparents bought when they moved to Denver in 1964 was just blocks away from the new home that I had just purchased with my husband.

“We are taking evening walks on the same sidewalks that they did,” I thought, double-checking their house number. 

The knowledge that my steps were overlapping with my family’s history brought me feelings of comfort and significance. 

And this is one of the gifts we find when we choose to engage in cross-generational work in our personal and professional lives. Across differences, we find that our steps are overlapping with others.

Starting With Me

My friend Carol and I regularly host trainings on cross-generational communications. In these sessions, we provide bridges of thought and perspective that allow people of different generations to see their similarities and differences. 

We believe that the practices that bridge generational differences can apply to other divides as well. But in order to build bridges of understanding, we must start with ourselves.

To start, we can acknowledge our worldview, beliefs, passions and perspective. We must understand what expectations we’ve inherited from our families, our generations, our races, our ethnicities and our communities. When we understand those influences, we can see how they shape us. 

“We represent our groups and those who have come before us,” author Robin Diangelo points out in her writing on racism in America. “Our identities are not unique or inherent but constructed or produced through social processes.” 

Therefore, an important step in this work is to acknowledge that we are part of a larger whole, and it is our duty to also be mindful of how our individual perspective impacts our work in the world.

When I have felt stuck or unsure of how to join the conversation, I have started by asking: “Where am I today? What is the offering I can give today, and from there, how can I grow?”

Knowing where I come from and where I am today has helped me to continue bridge-building work, even when it is uncomfortable.

Deconstruction and Reconstruction

Once we have identified our identities, we must acknowledge the assumptions and biases that come along with them. We have to examine our biases to successfully engage with people who have different perspectives and worldviews.  

In our cross-generational communications webinars, we engage in this work of deconstructing biases and reconstructing understanding. This process gives us not only practical takeaways, but also hope for understanding others. Diangelo also underlines the importance of this process in anti-racism work. 

“To avoid talking about racism can only hold our misinformation in place and prevent us from developing the necessary skills and perspectives to challenge the status quo,” Diangelo writes.

To avoid talking about our differences can only hold misinformation and stereotypes in place. Thus, when we engage in the reconstruction process, we are taking the necessary steps to rebuild our common ground.

A Toolbox For Building Bridges

The work of bridge-building across our differences is difficult. It requires us to acknowledge that we may be wrong. It requires us to admit that we may only see parts of the whole story.

To move forward, we must wield empathy and listening as tools for understanding, not weapons of way-making.

Once we have engaged in conversations and experiences that start our reconstruction of perspective, we can further engage in helpful practices that allow us to see our overlap with others. We can dig into concepts such as perspective-taking, listening without judgment and assuming positive intent. We can recruit mentors and seek to learn from those around us.

These skills form a toolbox we can use when we work with and relate to those from different generations — as well as those from different genders, racial backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, and political views.

In a cultural moment when divisive and defensive rhetoric is common, these concepts feel both radical and refreshing. 

Concepts to Carry With You

Here are a few key practices that have helped me as I have tried to build understanding acoss generational, racial or political divides in my life. 

  1. Read. Take time each week to intentionally read an article or listen to a podcast that has been produced by someone of a different race, age, gender or background than yourself. Note any points of tension you may feel, and acknowledge your similarities as well. 
  2. Invite a conversation. Reach out to someone in your professional circle or peer network who has something to teach you. Maybe they are from a different generation, different industry or simply engage in a hobby that you’d like to learn more about. Invite them to a Zoom meeting to simply hear more about their work and perspective. 
  3. Write it down. Record the differences or divisions in your life that cause you the most stress or fear. Spend 15 minutes writing down why those areas feel so challenging. Do not put pressure on yourself to fix the situation – merely express your thoughts. Engaging in a writing exercise on a regular basis is proven to help our brains get un-stuck and find new patterns or possibilities. Try writing about these divisions on a regular basis to see what new ideas could emerge. 

When we build the skills to listen to and understand one another, we contribute to the common good in our work and our communities.

As we engage in the work of communication, understanding, and building bridges across our differences, may we see the ways that our steps are overlapping with others.

May we be surprised and encouraged by what we find. 

Dear Alleyway

“It all counts. It’s all life. And God is with you in every bit of it.”
– Emily P. Freeman on mornings

This summer, the gravelly alley a block south of our house has become one of my favorite places.

The dual-rutted lane is fringed with sunflowers peering up at passing clouds and morning glories climbing lattice. Old bookshelves wait for the donation trucks that will whisk them away to new homes. The sound of kitchen coffee-making spills out of back windows as weeds spill out of cracked pavement. 

As the sun is coming up, our neighborhood is magicals. Tall trees nod gently to dog walkers. Chipped paint scatters under the tiny feet of squirrels and doves, their cooing and clucking murmuring a gentle soundtrack.

On summer mornings, I join this dance.

I wake early, grind coffee beans, sleepily don my shoes and head out into our neighborhood.

I turn down the alley. Driveways and garage workshops and garden beds seem tucked happily on each side of the lane, creating a kind of communal backyard. The air holds echoes of neighbors tinkering with cars and humming hello to one another.

Our stuff tells stories about us, I remember thinking when I first saw the amount of discarded junk dotting the alley. The piles of wood. The old cars. The sagging trampoline.

The stuff of the alleyway is the stuff people don’t want to be displayed inside or out front. It has lost its purpose, or it has been replaced. Maybe it carries a painful reminder or has simply been forgotten.

The stuff of the alleyway is the misfit stuff. The stuff that doesn’t leave, but settles into the dusty background, nestles into the gravel, resigns to be overgrown with vines.

Ever the optimist, I find myself drawn to the misfit things that end up in the alley, in a rooting-for-the-underdog kind of way.

However. It’s harder for me to acknowledge my own stuff that I’d rather tuck into the back of my focus.

I would like my neighbors to see only the things that are displayed in the front yard of my life. I would like to ignore the things I want to hide in the alley. Like the stuff I have equated with shame in my life; the traits in me that have invited heartache or a sense of personal failure; the habits that fester.

I walk the alley, and I am convicted. My love for forgotten things contrasts so strongly with my rejection of my own outcast emotions.

Maybe, the invitation of the alley is to see beauty in the once-discarded, to accept God’s invitation to hold space in me for the things I’d like to toss. To respond to shame with a simple choice to listen to my life. To let the little plot of heart space I’ve been given on this earth to include many rooms, some shinier than others.

If the front yard is for the display-worthy, the kitchen for satisfaction, the table for gathering, the windowsill for reflection and the sitting room for rest, then maybe the alleyway is still for the things I don’t want to make space for.

But they have a place, nonetheless.

It all counts. It’s all life — good and hard, front yard and back — and God is in every bit of it if he is anywhere at all. Building a life, and building a faith, must be comprehensive if it is to transform us at all.

It all counts, my sneakers seemed to say this morning as I entered the alley again. I picked a sunflower and a tangle of wildflowers to take home.

I will pull out a vase. I will give them space in our front room, moving them from the alleyway to the entryway.

As the alleyworks its magic in my life, I will allow myself to be comforted by the familiarity of lawnmowers and laundry lines.  I will feel the grounding effect of gravel under my feet. I will let the corridor of discarded things shed a little light on my discarded stuff.

And I will believe in the space — and grace — for it all.

Dear Mentors

My friend and I were huddled over our laptops, hands hugging mugs of black tea as we worked on a shared Google Doc.

We share quite a bit in common, this friend and me.

We are both writers by profession, aesthetically-oriented and motivated by stories, people and faith. We see metaphors throughout life’s ordinary moments, and we practice similar rhythms when it comes to church and prayer.

But as with many friendships, our differences are also important. The things that we don’t share in common have become opportunities to learn from each other, challenge each other and deepen our understanding of the world.

Our most notable difference is that this friend and I aren’t from the same generation.

She was the one who first introduced me to the idea of cross-mentoring. We unpacked it one sunlit afternoon at a coffeeshop, like so many we have shared. 

“It’s the idea that we all learn from one another,” she told me. “When we form friendships with those of different generations, the older ones are not simply teaching the younger ones. Cross-mentoring is a posture that believes everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a learner.”

As I have done my own research about the phrase, that definition has held true. Cross-mentoring is more of a posture than a prescription. It’s a means for cross-generational friendship to form, but it’s also a living belief that everyone we encounter has something to teach us.

It’s living with the posture of a learner.

In my friendship with Carol, and in all of my relationships in life, I am finding that the idea of cross-mentoring is really life-giving when we give it the opportunity to influence how we live.

When we have a posture of a learner, the world opens up to us in all of its beauty and potential. We start to see benefit and opportunity in our differences with others, rather than arguments to be made or ideologies to defend.

It’s a practice that has affected my cross-generational communication at work, how I work with my manager, and how I relate to friends who are different than me, no matter their age.

And in today’s workforce, you are just as likely to work with a Baby Boomer as you are a Generation Z up-and-comer. For the first time since the 1940s, people of retirement age outnumber teens and young adults in the workplace. Older people are working longer, and retiring later, so the trend is likely to continue.

Do you work with people of other generations in your day job, and your church, or in your community? Have you had those moments of tension that come when people of different ages disagree on the best way to do things? Have you heard coworkers bemoan your “Millennial” attributes?

I have too. And in the spirit of learning, Carol and I have compiled a few suggestions to help people of all ages build bridges with one another, rather than remain silent or caught in misunderstandings.

We got to share them with a small community of business owners last week, so I am sharing them here too.

  • Embrace the opportunities. When you work with those who are older than you, you can help them stay up-to-date on new ideas. In turn, they can pass on experience-based wisdom to you. Embrace the opportunity to tap into the knowledge and stories of those that have come before.
  • Remember that challenges are natural — but we don’t have to stay there. When you are working with others and your focus shifts from objectives into frustrations, take a step back. Staying stuck in the difficulties costs efficiency and rapport. Do you have negative assumptions about the other party that are affecting your work? How can you learn more about them as a person – or the generational influences that have shaped them – in order to move forward more productively?
  • Set aside time to learn and re-learn. It has been really helpful for me to research strengths of Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. Write down the positive attributes of each and what each contributes to a team. You may find that you have a healthy lineup of diverse talents that are all needed in productive teams, and this practice is effective for building cross-generational friendships.
  • Make time outside of the normal workday to be face-to-face with those of a different generation. When you need to communicate with teammates, start by learning how they prefer to be approached. Communicate more in the beginning until you know how best to work together. It may also be helpful to go through a communications training or activity as a team to better understand one another.
  • Focus on shared values. As in any relationship, there are probably things that you have in common with the other party, and you likely have the same goal in mind when working together. Focus your energy there. Write down the values you have in common and your end goal, and post them in a place where they are easy to see and reference. Focusing on what you have in common will direct your energy in a positive, forward-thinking way.

Here’s to living with the posture of learners and friends in 2019 and beyond!

Dear Breathing Room

Dear Breathing Room,


We haven’t always known each other well, but you’ve become my friend in this season.

Two years ago, we were mere acquaintances. My days were full of hard work and lots of activity. It was good  — sweet and full and just what I needed.

But what I need now is different. What does it mean when we need something different than we used to need? What does it mean when we crave things we didn’t crave last month or last year?

It means we’re human. Our tastes change and evolve, and what a beautiful thing that is.

I have a lot of wonderful friends in my life who remind me that it is beautiful for us to be different. It is rich and good when groups of people are diverse in their perspectives, backgrounds, personalities and opinions.

It is good that one person needs more alone time, whereas another person needs more activity to help them feel alive. It is good that one person needs movement and another needs stillness. It is good that one needs shelter and another needs to not be sheltered anymore.

We can celebrate these differences in ourselves and each other, because the differences make us better equipped to serve others. When we know our own diverse needs, we are better equipped to see and meet the diverse needs of our neighbors. When we are brave enough to say what we need (even if it’s different than what someone else needs), we are better able to receive love and care from God and others.

Like us, maybe seasons are meant to be diverse.

Maybe it’s good for different priorities and rhythms and even appetites to come and go. Maybe it’s good for winter’s needs to be different from those that were true this fall. Maybe it’s good when we allow ourselves to be diverse in our tastes, evolving in our needs and growing in our strengths and weaknesses.

Maybe this is the work of becoming.

One thing I know to be true about my life with God is that he uses words and metaphors to tell me who he is. He uses my love language (words) to teach me and to reach me when I need it most.

He has used the language of adventure to challenge me to try new things. He has used the language of art to show me his color and creativity. He has used the language of legacy to remind me that I am not an island, and that my words and actions will impact other people for better or for worse.

Now, he’s reaching me through the language of breathing room. Not just chilling out about stuff and confessing my perfectionism (which is certainly part of it), but even allowing enough space to feel my lungs expand and contract and let the silence ring a little bit in my ears. He’s reaching me by letting me just be and trust that there’s enough space in life’s long journey for both rest and activity. 

For years I thought I knew how to speak the language of rest, but I think I was keeping up appearances. I am only conversational so far. My vocabulary is shallow.

I didn’t start off 2019 with any goals or resolutions, but I like the idea of walking into this new year with the attitude of learning a new language. Practicing the vocab. Asking for help. Making flashcards. Feeling the shape of the words on my tongue. Working towards fluency. 

This year, whatever our season, may we learn the vocabulary that will help us to own what we need and listen for the needs of others.

This season, whatever our circumstance, may we expand our collective language to celebrate the diversity we see both around us and within us.

In today’s circumstance, whatever it’s flavor, may we be people who make room for God to teach us and reach us in both the joy and the challenge.

Thank you, breathing room, for teaching me to find the beauty as I accept and welcome the change.

Dear Writers

In the past few years, I’ve gotten to meet several writers I admire, and I am so grateful for what the craft of writing teach me.

Writing is a formative part of my life, and writers are big influences. Well, more like friends. A friend and I have joked that we would rather have our favorite authors over for a long dinner party than have them autograph something.

When we read the words of great authors and creators, it feels like we get to know them personally. We want to host them in our homes and feed them comfort food. We feel known by them before we ever see them face-to-face.

Why? Writing connects us. Story is a human equalizer.

Writers are a part of culture, and they examine culture at the same time. Writers are participants and observers simultaneously, both in the arena and in the bleachers.

They live their lives in neighborhoods and living rooms and grocery stores like we all do. But their observations help us point a mirror back onto ourselves, lead us to understand our world and our own hearts more deeply.

Writers are connectors by trade.

Take, for instance, the magazine-editor-turned-nonfiction-writer who has spent his professional life soaking in the beauty of the world, the complexity of people, the character of cities and cultures. He has traveled across continents and interviewed some of the world’s most famous. But, after interviewing both celebrities and servants, he has decided that the path of honesty and simplicity is the one worth pursuing. He connects the themes of the world to the themes he wants to live by.

Or the career-woman-turned-mom who found that her home life contained the same degree of complexity as the corporate conference room. She connects the daily task to the sacred call on her life. She doesn’t belittle the small things, but finds beauty there.

Or the songwriter and divorcee who can, after years of striving, finally sit at her keyboard and share the imperfections of her journey in a way that doesn’t heap shame onto her, but shines the light of Christ onto her most tender places. She knows that the chapters of life are haphazard, but that they are connected in God’s redemption story.

This is the way of the writer — to connect. To help the world see itself clearly.

And this, really, is the way we are all called to live.

The call to connect and mirror is not just the call of the novelist or the national speaker or the person who has all the Twitter followers.

This week, the women in my small group reminded me that good writing can be a mirror by which we evaluate ourselves. But, even more importantly, we are all called to be mirrors to one another — to show our friends the beauty we see in them, and to allow them to mirror the real truth back to us.

This is the charge of each of us as Christ’s body in the world. To connect, to share, to make blank space for honesty in a world that celebrates facade. To live a life-examining life. To unpack and unfold.

Now this comes with some challenges.

When we agree to learn, we will learn things we wish we hadn’t. When we agree to receive, we will open ourselves up to hurt. When we reflect on our own lives, we might see the unpleasant truths buried deep.

But I think there is beauty in choosing to learn, receive and reflect anyway.

Writing can be a sweet and freeing way to practice all three. Writing is a tool that helps us connect to our most essential selves, and then hold up that essence to one another in the mirror.

For me, writing has been as much of a posture as it has been a practice in the last few years of my life.

So, entering a new year, here is to the writing — and to the writers. To learning, receiving and reflecting.

I don’t know about you, but I want to say yes to all that writing has to teach me.

Dear Mailroom Employee, I’m With You

This fall, I’ve been taking a writing class. It has challenged me to carve space to write, to take notice of beauty, and to think about the words I say even more intentionally. One of our recent prompts asked us to reflect on a national news story with a personal lens. Here is mine. 

When we’re tempted to hear news from our world and despair, how can we pen letters of hope to ourselves and the people around us?

Dear mailroom employee,

This is just a note to say thank you. We have never met. And yet, our lives are codependent, linked by correspondence not between us, but around us. Thank you for what you do.

My young life has been syncopated by memorable mail. Letters from my grandparents on birthdays turned into my own cards to friends, my own pencil marks on notebook paper.

Postcards placed eagerly in corner blue mailboxes from vacation spots. College applications placed gingerly in our neighborhood mailbox, my own hopes and wishes also sealed inside the brass fastener.

You made it possible for the words of loved ones to get to me, and for my own shy words to find their way into the right hands.

I’ll admit, your occupation has always seemed romantic to me. The daily duties of sorting and stamping and shuffling sound like symphony in a world now defined by soundbites.

I imagine you settling into your station every day, finding your cadence. Pushing carts filled with cards across concrete floors. Touching paper, carrying newsprint, grazing over the texture of stamps and the indents of ballpoint pen on cardstock. Operating sorting machines – buttons, screens, chutes.

Sort, stamp, shuffle. Repeat.

I can only imagine that these instincts kicked in for you, mailroom employee, a few weeks ago when you received that oddly-shaped package. I can only imagine how the air in the CNN mailroom must have grown stale, the hum of machinery suddenly getting quiet in your mind.

I can only imagine how it felt to have your job as a carrier was suddenly catapulted into the national spotlight and transformed into a headline, printed and re-printed on the same newsprint you yourself have handled so many times.

I can only imagine how it must have felt to know you held a weapon, the same one that would be sent to past-presidents and officials across the country, intended to harm.

Memorable mail, yes. But not in the way it should be.

It hurts me that the ancient and beautiful world of mail – this intricate system of delivering words to hungry hands and hearts – was tainted this week by a man who was perhaps starved for some vulnerable human relationship, who perhaps might have benefited from the gift of connection that we know is found in handwritten letters.

You made it possible for his correspondence to stop before it found its intended hands. You saved a life, in the same way that you have helped in the saving of mine.

Do not allow the narrative of this week to make you feel less-than. Do not allow one bad sender to taint your view of all of us who ship and receive. Your role is, and always has been, an important one. Vital, in fact.

It matters that we have responsible hands handling the words we vulnerably share with one another, searching for our own connections, indenting our own paper with ballpoint pens and sealing our own dreams behind brass fasteners.

This is just a note to say thank you. Your job matters.

Sincerely yours,

A customer

Dear Friend, Welcome to the Neighborhood

The bell on the doorway clanged as I ducked out of the rain and into the shop. It was an unassuming place, but brightly decorated. Small window displays advertised new clothing arrivals, and neon signs told the sales of the day.

“Hello there!” cheered the woman behind the counter, smiling up from her calculator and stack of receipts. An old cash register clicked rhythmically beside her.

“Still wet outside?” she asked me, eyeing my raincoat.

“Only a little,” I said, following her gaze apologetically to my dripping sleeves. I took my coat off gingerly, and she extended her hand to hang it on a rack nearby.

“Well you picked a good night to come in,” she said, her warmth characteristic of the people I have met throughout the Englewood community. “Everything with a yellow sticker is 20 percent off.”

“Make yourself at home.”

I exhaled into her words, and her invitation. Home. If only she knew the weight those words held.

The week before I visited her small second hand store in Englewood, I had said “yes” to an opportunity to move into the city. I was preparing for the change. I was in the process of packing boxes and reflecting on the memories made in my previous home.

As I browsed the racks of sweaters and shoes, I thought about what the adventure of moving would bring, and what home would mean to me after I was in a new one.

When I was growing up, my definition of home was grounded — safe. I had the blessing and privilege of a stable home environment, reinforced by the fact that my parents never moved from the house they brought me home to as a newborn. Throughout my childhood, we attended the same church consistently, not to mention the same grocery stores, parks and Mexican restaurants as well. Home was steady.

As I explored faith for myself in college and beyond, my definition of home became more fluid. I observed how other people built their homes — some adventure-seeking, some frugal, some family-oriented — and started to form my own values.

As I have looked at the life of Jesus and the way of the early church, my definition of home has been influenced by the description of homes in scripture. Although Jesus’ life was transient, he gathered in homes and around set tables in small groups. He seemed to value place, knowing that it anchors our bodies and souls in tandem. The homes of the early church were characterized by warm invitations (Luke 10:8), shared resources (Acts 2:45), and bread broken (Acts 2:46). I want my homes to honor these simple yet powerful examples.

Today, my definition of home is more like a scrapbook than a set of ideals. With each new roof I gather under, each new roommate I call friend, and each new season of life, I am collecting stories and values that get added to the volume of the many homes I will occupy this side of heaven.

Today, my definition of home is largely influenced by the rhythms of our church community at The Sacred Grace. Our church is a home to me.

Because we as a church meet and eat together regularly, home means a warm and welcoming place to gather.

Because we as a church pray universal and ancient prayers, home means participating in the traditions of our faith, believing they are as powerful today as when they were first practiced.

Because we as a church are vulnerable with each other, home means space for honesty and truth-telling.

Because we as a church practice generosity, home is characterized by sharing and sacrifice.

By saying “yes” to moving in to Englewood, I felt I had the opportunity to literally and metaphorically live out these pillars of faith that have become so central to me and to our community.

More than ever, I believe that home is both where we hang our hat, and where we express what we believe. It is an extension of our heart as much as it is a space for our stuff. It is choice as much as it is circumstance. It’s who and where and what you make it. And I’m proud to make it here.

I handed the clerk my thrift purchases, and asked her if she lived in the area.

“I live in Denver, but not far,” she replied. “And you?”

“I am about to move to Englewood!” I answered.

Englewood. Warm, honest, welcoming, generous. Who and where and what you make it.

“Welcome to the neighborhood,” she said, effectively marking a new chapter in my faith and in my life.


This post originally appeared in our church’s weekly journal

Dear Friend, You Can Take it Slow

Sunday comes. Church. I slow down after a full weekend.

The guitar sings come thou fount of every blessing, and my heart is stilled and reminded that each and every blessing has one source.

It is spelled on screens, sung by weary and united voices.

As I watch summer greens electrify our sidewalks with the first signs of yellow, the parable of the sower has been on my mind.

I’m struck by the words that tell us that the sower prepared to plant. “A sower went out to sow.” The planting was deliberate and planned. It took intention. Discipline.

I don’t like discipline. Historically, it’s not my strength. But sowing. This feels like an invitation, not an ultimatum. A rhythm and a routine.

Slow and sow, I seem to hear as the music swells.

Slow down enough to step into the current of grace. Sow seeds of that grace for yourself and others.

I read in the parable about the rocky ground, the thorns, the birds, the scorching sun. I see myself in it.

To me, these things sound like the small, fearful parts of myself that I don’t want to acknowledge. I am afraid that if I show my broken, God might not actually want to do anything beautiful there.

To me, the thorns, the birds, the hot sun — they sound like fear, doubt, depair. Where am I allowing the thorns to choke or the sun to sizzle? Where am I allowing the birds to pry and uproot?

I read in the parable about the soil, the growth process, the fruit. And I see myself there too.

To me, these sound like the parts of myself that I really, really want to be true. The beautiful, hopeful pieces that I pray God is really using. The pieces that I want to believe are not an accident.

The space, the soil the seed — they sound like love, faith, trust.

Essentials, really. The simplest ingredients to a life and faith lived well. Where am I inviting those in? Where am I making margin for the good soil?

Slow and sow. 

Confession, and celebration. Spelled on screens, sung by weary and united voices.

Come thou fount. Come, grace and growth.

Lord, help me to be a soil and seed kind of person. Help me to be one that willingly helps in the harvest.

Help me to trust that shortcomings in my sowing aren’t too much for you. Help me to welcome change with hospitality.

As fall settles into our streets and sidewalks, help me to believe that the sowing is already starting for next season. Help me to do the intentional work of making space and allowing your seeds in my life to grow.

Help me to believe against belief that you really are using the beautiful and the broken in me.

Dear Friend, You Might be a Rebel

We were sitting in the sleek, stiff-backed chairs tucked around our small office conference room.

“Have I told you my analogy about the elephant and the sapling?” my boss asked me while clicking his ballpoint pen. I shook my head. The air conditioner hummed lazily.

“It’s the story of a baby elephant who is tied to a baby tree,” he continued. “The elephant is told that he can’t break the cord, and so he stays within the leash’s radius of the tree. As the elephant grows, it remains tethered to the tree, even though it has long had the strength to uproot it.”

My chair feels rigid on my spine. My boss doesn’t know that he’s speaking into sacred space for me.

“What holds people back from their true potential is not their ability, but their self-image. I see this in you. You are only as powerful as you believe yourself to be. Your old self is more powerful than your new self.”

It’s amazing to me how much these check-ins with my supervisor have become places where truth is put into words.

In comparing me to the elephant, my boss articulated my lifelong struggle with rebellion.

Not my tendency to rebel, but the opposite. My tendency to not rebel.

To quiet myself, to dismiss my gut feelings, to tuck away my outrage, to smooth the wrinkles I see in me.

I like the comfort of following the rules. I prefer the safety of the leash to the wild unknown of uprooting.

“You’re dependable,” my boss said to me. “You will follow protocol and expectations to a T, and people know they can rely on you. And that’s great.”

“But we can all get so stuck in the to-do list that we don’t allow space for creativity and risk-taking.”

Woah, right? (Who is this guy??)

It’s been a few months since he shared the elephant metaphor with me, and I’ve been trying to practice what he encouraged me to do.

I’ve been trying to be less of a to-do-lister, and more of a risk-taker.

I’ve been trying to be less prescriptive and more creative.

This has required grace, release, and space. I’ve needed more quiet time, more alone time.

This is okay, I think.

I am learning that I’m not actually leashed to the tree.

I wonder if I’m not alone in this. I wonder if this is the danger of our age, that we like our rule-following selves a little bit too much. 

It’s easier to meet what’s needed than to do what’s misunderstood. 

It’s easier to slide into apathy than rebel and reach new ground.

It’s easier to be complacent than creative. 

It’s human, I think. We’d rather stick to what we know. We like knowing what to do and what to expect. 

But God speaks to us in our ordinary, and it’s in our ordinary that he also calls us to rebel. This doesn’t have to be big work. But it’s hard work.

It’s harder to be the pioneer.

Harder to leave something when it’s good, or stick with something when it’s awkward.

Harder to admit that injustice is happening and say we’re not going to allow it. 

Harder to realize that the old rules aren’t working anymore.

Harder to get close enough to other people that our lives are changed as a result.

Harder to be vulnerable and risk the shaky conversation that follows.

The chair feels rigid on my spine. The air conditioner hums.

“I know you’re creative. I know you’re a risk-taker. Let people see it,” my boss says. 

And I decide right then and there what kind of work I want to be doing with my life.

The harder, messier work of rebellion. The work of releasing the leash.

Will you join me?

Dear Hard Worker, Here’s a Practical Guide to Cultivating Gratitude

This post originally appeared on the blog at, an online forum designed to equip, inspire, and empower twenty-somethings to embrace their season and live wholehearted lives.

According to a recent New York Times story, dissatisfaction is rampant among working Americans today.

Maybe you can relate.

When we are restless and unhappy at work, we will actually don’t do our jobs as well, researchers have found.

Here’s the hope, though. Although dissatisfaction breeds a lack of focus and productivity, the opposite is also true. Happiness — and far more importantly, gratitude — breed productivity and fruit in our work.

As in other spheres of life, gratitude does not always come naturally or easily.

When circumstances are frustrating, our bodies are tired, or wading through conflict feels defeating, practicing gratitude helps us focus on God’s truth and remember his presence with us in the mundane.

When happiness isn’t natural, joy is our choice. And work gives us this choice on a daily basis.

What is one thing you can do to start noticing and recording the parts of your daily work that you’re grateful for?

Whatever your method, I believe incorporating a gratitude practice into your daily work will produce something new in you.

Productivity, maybe. Joy, definitely.


As followers of Christ, we believe that our words have weight (Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 15:4). They have the power to build up, to influence and to alter perspective. You have an opportunity to express gratitude for your job, your network, your coworkers, your daily tasks, and your sphere of influence through your words.

Craft your elevator pitch. In business classes and networking events, you have probably been asked to give an “elevator speech” — a summary of your job that’s short enough that it could be shared with a stranger in the time it takes you to ride the elevator. Use these short conversations to express gratitude for your work.

When someone asks you, “what do you do?”, lead with the good. Describe the opportunities you have, the people you work with, how your work helps others, or whatever else has been a blessing to you in this season. Speaking this gratitude aloud will take root in your attitude and serve as a reminder to focus on the good things God is up to.

Celebrate wins for yourself. When good things happen in your day, share them with your spouse, friends, coworker or even your pet. Voice your celebrations, no matter how small.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15

Celebrate wins for others. I have a friend who is a brilliant architect and engineer, and he is in a leadership role with a team of fellow architects. After reflection, he realized that celebrating success was not a regular part of their company rhythm. They would conclude a project and quickly move on to the next thing. Out of his belief that God was calling him to rest and celebrate, he lead his team in instituting small celebrations at the end of projects.

I believe that celebrations like these remind us of the satisfaction of hard work and tune us in to the work God is doing through us. In celebrating, we can see the way that God is using people to bring life, foster creativity, help systems and smooth conflicts.

Track when people give you praise and feedback. If you have regular reviews with your manager, or even staff retreats or evaluations, use these work milestones as opportunities to record benchmarks of God at work. As you reflect on your own accomplishments and learnings, write down the ways that God has been faithful and helped you grow.

Several managers I’ve had in my career have spoken into my life in critical ways, and invited me into a posture of gratitude. As they have called out my gifts and weaknesses, I come away challenged to see both healthy and unhealthy patterns, and adjust my course for the better. Having affirmation and encouragement from team members helps me feel appreciated and grateful for the chance to be in a learning environment

Even if your day-to-day work feels mundane, trust that God is using each moment to shape you and show you who he is. Gratitude can take you to that space.


In my church family, we are liturgy people — in other words, we are people who believe in and practice ancient rhythms of faith to help our hearts and souls remember what’s true about God and what’s true about us. In church tradition, liturgy can be defined as ritual, sacrament or practice. It’s the rhythm by which we live, work and worship.

As a church, we pray and say some of the same things every week during worship, believing that what we say with our mouths will take root in our hearts and affect our actions.

I think this is true of gratitude. There are some natural work rhythms — or liturgies — that may be natural opportunities to incorporate gratitude.

Use your commute. I have a friend who says something she’s grateful for each time she passes a stop sign. I love that. When you’re in the car or on public transit, write or say aloud the things you’re grateful for. Pray for areas of conflict and pray for the people you will encounter during your work day. Thank God for the ways he has provided and protected you.

Set reminders. Whether it’s a calendar reminder on your phone, a desktop wallpaper, or framed sign beside your computer, give yourself visual reminders of what you are grateful for, or to remember to pray and thank God for what he’s doing.

Write it down. Although my boss and coworkers poke fun at the fact that I still use a paper planner every day, I like the tangible feel of old school pen and paper, and it helps me in my gratitude practice. My planner ends up being a splash page of not only appointments, to-dos, projects and coffee dates, but also quotes, verses and reminders.

I go to those pages to remember not only what’s necessary, but also what’s true.

In the far corner of each weekday in my planner is a box titled “daily gratitude,” where I scribble things I am grateful for each day. It’s a practice that has helped me to remember God’s provision in my life, and to refresh my attitude when I am frustrated or overwhelmed.


Seek mentors. In one of my previous jobs at a large company, I often felt like a small fish in a huge pond, caught in the system of projects with few personal connections. I quickly learned that I could reach out to senior staff in my office and other offices to do informational interviews and ask for their advice. I set up conference calls and coffee dates to pick their brains, and I asked each of them what they loved about our work and industry. Hearing what they were grateful for after so many years of service made me grateful to be a part of a bigger system and legacy of work. This helped me articulate my own passions even more clearly, and set goals around the work I wanted to do.

Seek perspectiveLast year, I was part of a fellowship of young professionals that met weekly to share stories about our work and encourage each other in our faith and giftings. Sharing and hearing the daily tasks, struggles and celebrations of people outside my profession helped me gain perspective. I realized how much we were alike, and how we could learn from our differences.

Seek play. Make time for rest and play outside of work so you’re able to come to your tasks with appreciation and a rested mind and body.

“In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

As people following the way of Jesus, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us see our life and work through a lens of hope and gratitude. We have the choice to see God in places that are ordinary and unexpected.

In our daily work, may we choose rhythms of recording where we see God working, even and especially in the difficult and the mundane.

When it isn’t natural, may joy be our choice.