Leadership Lessons: Quacking, It Ain’t Just for Ducks!

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Edited to note: To be certain, this post was not directed to or related to one specific instance or conversation. It was borne out of a question someone posed to me on how I, personally, but our family, collectively, have purposefully persevered in ministry over the last 20 years. Serving in ministry, specifically, and leadership, in general, one receives constant feedback, both positive and negative. Aside from a deep and abiding faith in Christ, what has sustained us is making sure to have truth-tellers in our lives and tools that help us discern the many voices and messages that we are surrounded by daily.  The following tools have been greatly beneficial in helping us not only to survive, but to thrive in ministry and leadership.
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In the beginning, Jon was my boss, not my boyfriend or husband. Right out of college, I was hired by a para-church ministry and began working with him as part of his leadership team. And today, he’s both my supervisor and my husband! Pretty sweet, if I do say so myself!

Over the last twenty years, I’ve learned a lot about leadership from Jon. And I have grown significantly as a leader because of his belief in me and his insistence, er, I mean, encouragement to develop all the skills and abilities that God gave me, even if that meant living outside of the box of other’s expectations or personal opinions. Although he has shared many leadership lessons, there are two that stand out and have stuck with me over the years and in various vocational endeavors.

First, Jon insisted that our leadership team identify the truth-tellers in our lives. Those people we could trust and count on to provide honest, constructive feedback, which is essential to grow and develop as a leader. He assured us, these voices were the ones we needed to zero in on and clearly hear because there would be countless others trying to drown them out and pull us down.

To this very day, I have a cherished and respected group of truth-tellers in my life. People who come alongside me and share personal insight and biblical wisdom, so that I may grow as a Christian, a wife, a mom and a pastor. This is a network of individuals with whom I am completely vulnerable and authentic. No topic is off-limits. And I openly request and receive their feedback, insights and truth.

Along with identifying our truth-tellers, Jon also shared an important tool with our leadership team in dealing with the criticism and constant negative feedback from naysayers. Nearly two decades later, this tool continues to be one that I draw upon in those moments when a random person belittles me, criticizes me or tells me how I should be doing my job, how I should parent, or even their opinion about my role in my marriage.

What is this amazing leadership tool?

QUACKING!

Pure and simple: I quack. Maybe not out loud. For then, I’d be labeled a quack. But with a big smile on my face, I go to my happy place in my head and I quack. Trust me, it works! Quacking is a metaphor for letting things roll off your back like water off of a duck’s back. And not taking the criticism to heart. Remembering to listen to the voice of Truth (God) and your truth-tellers.

In the Bible, we are told words can build up or tear down (Ephesians 4:29*). People have strong opinions about a pleothra of topics that directly relate to my life, my job, my educational choices for my kids, my marriage, and the list goes on and on and on. And, wouldn’t ya know, they freely and frequently share those opinions as God’s word to me from them. And ya know, sometimes, they’re valuable. Other times, not so much.

Along with the Holy Spirit, I do believe God uses godly people to encourage and instruct us. People who have been there and done that. A trusted circle who will purposefully share from a place of wisdom, instead of personal preference. For me, the voices that I readily listen to and hold close to my heart are those of my truth-tellers, not the masses.

Have you developed a network of truth-tellers in your life? If not, I’d encourage you to pray about that and to begin to identify who those people are in your life. As we learn to listen beyond the clutter of noise that infiltrates our lives, and to sift through the negativity, varied opinions and personal preferences, our truth-tellers become those voices for which we can depend upon to speak truth and life, even if it’s hard to hear in the moment. These are the voices we need to hear and to heed.

Are you dealing with a special personality in your place of employment or a challenging individual in your network of aquaintances? Oftentimes, these people haven’t earned a place of trust in your life or a right to speak so directly to you that you would even take it seriously. Even still, they believe they know what you should be doing, how you should be doing it, and when you should be doing it. Sometimes, it can be hard not to retaliate to what they are saying to you, especially if it’s hurtful or condemning.

As Pastor Jon shared yesterday, “At times, we need to speak the truth. But, sometimes, we simply need to keep our mouths shut.”

Trust me, this isn’t always easy, especially when it feels like a personal attack. It requires self-control. Or, perhaps, duck tape. I mean, it does come in many cute colors and designs now. We could make a fashion statement while keeping our mouths shut. Seriously, though, if this is the case for you, consider quacking! For many years, it’s worked for me. If you try it, let me know!

I have to believe that people don’t intend to be hurtful, or to put their foot in their mouth, or to act like they know-it-all. Or maybe they do. Even still, I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt. So, I keep my truth-tellers close and my quacking even closer. And maybe, just maybe, I will invest in some leopard print duck tape, too! I need all the help I can get!

* When you talk, don’t say anything bad. But say the good things that people need—whatever will help them grow stronger. Then what you say will be a blessing to those who hear you. (Ephesians 4:29 )

 

{September} Meals for a Month

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Tomorrow is the first day of school for the kids. Can’t believe this is our sixth year of home schooling. And let’s not even discuss the fact that my son will be in sixth grade and my daughter will be in fourth grade! That is crazy talk!  Yet, here we are again. Summer is over! The following week, my work schedules kick into full-swing. And in a couple of weeks, the kids’ classes on Fridays and Saturdays will resume. It’s gonna be a fun, but full year. With navigating family life, work schedules and home schooling, meal planning is essential for me! 

For the last few years, I’ve planned meals for the month (with a few extras). Also, due to how my brain is uniquely wired, I plan according to categories, instead of by the day. This provides a general plan, but also offers flexibility. Taking the time to create a menu plan keeps me sane, saves money and provides leftovers for additional meals. Because we home school and since my husband brown bags his lunch most days, leftovers are essential for our family. So, I cook quite a bit. But I try to cook smarter, not harder. Thankfully, my kitchen is my happy place. 

Kids in the Kitchen:
Homemade Pizza, Not Ya Mama’s Mac ‘n Cheese, Chocolate Chip Cookies

Soups/Stews:
Lentil Chili, Chicken Noodle Soup, Creamy Tomato Soup, Cheesy Broccoli Soup, Pork Green Chile Stew, Thai Chicken Noodle Soup, Clam Chowder, Thai Butternut Squash Soup

Meatless Meals:
Mujadara, Sloppy Lentils (meatless Sloppy Joes), Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burgers, Chili Cheese Lentils, Ricotta Pasta Pie

Poultry:
Moroccan Chicken Thighs w/ Lemon & Olives*Chicken and Dumplings, Sweet & Sticky Drumsticks

Seafood:
Chutney Glazed Salmon, Baked Halibut w/ Sour Cream, Parmesan & Dill Topping, Roast Cod w/ Garlic Butter

Beef/Pork:
Shepherd’s Pie, Homemade Chili-Cheese Hamburger Helper, Louisiana Red Beans and Rice (or Quinoa)Roast BeefUltimate Swedish Meatballs (Whenever I work in the evening, I use the bagged meatballs from Costco.)

Freezer Meals:
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, Beef and Vegetable Soup, Chili

Vegetables,  Side Dishes & Salads:
Roasted Broccoli, Sugar Snap Peas, Carrots, Roasted Brussels Sprout, Green Beans, Normandy Vegetable Blend, Corn, Tomatoes, Yellow Squash, Zucchini, Parmesan Roasted Butternut Squash, Couscous Pilaf, English Peas, Quinoa, Various Salads, Rice, Creamy Garlic Spaghetti Squash

Breakfast:
Baked Oatmeal, Pancakes, Waffles, Smoothies, Cold Cereal, Eggs/Bacon or Sausage, Fruit with Cottage Cheese, Homemade Muffins and Fruit, Yogurt with Homemade Southern Sweet Potato Granola,
Sweet Potato Scones

Baking and Snacks:
Quinoa BitesNo-Knead Bread, 30 Minute Rolls, Apples w/ Nutella & Peanut Butter Dip, Veggies and Hummus, Salted, Caramel Crispy Treats, Granola Bars, Smoothies, No-Bake Chewy Granola BarsChocolate Zucchini BreadCinnamon Doughnut Muffins, Zucchini Bread Variations.  

 

Meals for a Month {August}

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Needless to say, meal planning has sort of gone out the window for our family this summer. The only plan we’ve had was to make sure everyone was fed before they got HANGRY! (Hungry + Angry). Even still, with work and home schooling schedules about to kick life into high gear, I decided I’d best get back to menu planning. Who cares if half the month of August has slipped  sped by already! :-)

Kids in the Kitchen:
Homemade Pizza, Homemade Refried Bean and Cheese Burritos, Not Ya Mama’s Mac ‘n Cheese

Soups/Stews:
Lentil Chili, Chicken Noodle Soup, Creamy Tomato Soup

Meatless Meals:
MujadaraPenne with Roasted Tomates, Garlic & White Beans,  Potato & Yellow Split Pea Curry w/ Basmati Rice, Shakshuka (Like eggs? Tomatoes? Then, try this one!), Sloppy Lentils (meatless Sloppy Joes)

Poultry:
Moroccan Chicken Thighs w/ Lemon & Olives* w/ Basmati Rice, Chicken and Dumplings

Seafood:
Blackened Shrimp Caesar Salads
Chutney Glazed Salmon

Beef/Pork:
Lasagna, Salad with Balsamic Dressing, BLTs (We are growing tomatoes!)

Freezer Meals:
Spaghetti Bolognese
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Beef and Vegetable Soup

Vegetables,  Side Dishes & Salads:
Roasted Broccoli, Cauliflower, Sugar Snap Peas, Carrots, Red Peppers, Roasted Brussels Sprout, Green Beans, Normandy Vegetable Blend, Lettuce, Corn, Tomatoes, Yellow Squash, Zucchini, Couscous Pilaf, Quinoa, Veggie Tray w/ Hummus, Rice, Creamy Garlic Spaghetti Squash

Breakfast:
Baked Oatmeal
Pancakes
Waffles
Smoothies
Cold Cereal
Eggs/Bacon
Fruit with Cottage Cheese
Muffins and Fruit
Yogurt, Homemade Southern Sweet Potato Granola and Fruit
Sweet Potato Scones

Baking and Snacks:
Pitas (Vita-Mix)
No-Knead Bread
Chocolate Chip Cookies
30 Minute Rolls
Granola Bars
Smoothies
No-Bake Chewy Granola Bars
Jada’s Cinnamon Rolls 
Chocolate Zucchini Bread

[Recipe] Fresh Peach (or any fruit) Crisp

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Fresh Peach (or any fruit) Crisp 

Ingredients:

4 cup of fresh or frozen peaches (berries, apples, etc.)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cold butter
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 C rolled oats

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange sliced peaches (or other fruit) evenly in an 8X8 baking dish or a large cast iron skillet. Mix flour, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and salt into a bowl using a pastry cutter (or your hands) until evenly crumbled. Alternatively, you could do this step in a food processor. Add oats and gently stir into flour mixture. Sprinkle and press topping into peaches. Bake until browned, aprx. 30 minutes.

Now, traditionally, this is served with vanilla ice cream. However, I tend to break traditions and, instead, serve it with cinnamon whipped cream. :-)

Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Ingredients:
2
cups heavy cream
1/2 cups powdered sugar
teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:
In a large bowl, using a mixer set on medium-high speed, beat the cream, powdered sugar, cinnamon.

The Day I Saw Life In Color Again

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The Day I Saw Life In Color Again
by Jada A. Swanson

Some folks, even some “good” Christian folks, have shared some rather stupid and callous thoughts and remarks regarding Robin Williams’ death, the illness of depression, in general, and how it relates to the Christian life, specifically. Suggesting it’s predominantly a spiritual issue, and the person who is depressed merely needs to “get right with God” to be healed. As a pastor, and one who has walked the dark road of depression, specifically post-partum depression (PPD), I can assure you this isn’t the case.I wasn’t depressed because I lacked faith or didn’t believe enough.

In 2003, ten days after becoming a mom for the very first time, we made a cross-country move, were in the middle of selling two homes, and purchasing another one. Plus, my husband was joining a new pastoral staff; thus, our family was joining a new church. In addition to all of this, I was relocating my job to another state and continuing to tele-commute. Having no family near, living in a new state, attending a new church, being a mom for the first time–well, all of this was just a tad-bit overwhelming for me.

The summer my baby boy turned one, I was slowly beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I could tell little by little, the ‘dark days’ were lifting. Just as I was beginning to feel normal again, I discovered that I was pregnant with our second child, my daughter. This pregnancy was a complete and utter surprise to us, considering we didn’t think we would be able to have anymore children. Thanks to the “happy pregnancy hormones,” the nine months that I carried her in my womb were clear and beautiful and bright.

But shortly after my daughter’s birth, my “ole friend” came to visit once again, this time with a vengeance. Everything seemed to be exacerbated by a hormonal imbalance and an inability to produce milk, which resulted in feeding difficulties. All of which required me to feed/pump/supplement my baby girl every two hours around the clock, sun up to sundown. Can anyone say insomnia? Regardless, I still had a 21-month old son to take care of, along with needing to return to work one month after my daughter’s birth because I didn’t have a job that offered paid maternity leave. All of this made me feel even more lost and alone, even though my husband was amazing, supportive and a complete hands-on dad.

After Jamison was born, I literally don’t know how I got through my days. I would get in the car, put on my seatbelt, start the ignition, and that was it. What happened from Point A to Point B is beyond me. I have absolutely no memories of driving to work or how I got there. Somehow, I managed to make it to work on the days I had to go into the office without having a wreck.

Although I never tried to commit suicide, there were many times I would think and tell myself that my family would be better off without me. I could hardly function. While at home, I was a shell of myself. Crying because I couldn’t find an article of clothing, only to discover I was holding it in my hands the entire time.

Unfortunately, during this time, healthy communication wasn’t my forte and more tears were shed and voices raised than I care to admit. My brain was just too foggy. I was utterly exhausted. And I felt nothing. I knew I loved my family, but I felt no feelings of love or happiness or anything. I was completely numb. Still, my husband stood by my side, unwaveringly. Yet, I am sure, this time was anything but easy for him. After the fact, he has shared with me how difficult it was for him, personally.

At church, I put on the smile that I was supposed to have. I played the part, or tried to play the part. While I was at work at the university, all I wanted to do was crawl under the piano in my office and take a nap, but I couldn’t. To this day, I think my job was God’s gift to me. Because of it, I had to get out of bed three days a week, shower and get dressed in something other than yoga pants or pajamas. But most importantly, my job allowed me to be around people, lots of people.

For whatever reason–pride, all types of fear, even lack of knowledge–I never went to the doctor to seek out help or medication. Looking back, I wish I would have. It would have saved my family and myself from so much turmoil and strife. But I will never forget the day that I saw life in color again. It was the first Sunday of July 2007.

Earlier that summer, my pastor-husband asked me to begin leading worship again. At this point, I honestly couldn’t bare to look at music or sit at the piano for more than five minutes. (Ironic that I was a music professor, eh?) A few times, I had been asked to sing on the worship team at church, but honestly couldn’t remember the words to songs I had sung my entire life.

Even still, I agreed to begin leading worship on one condition: only if it was a small team (me, a drummer and a bass guitarist). If I was sitting at the piano, surely I could read the music. Not to mention, I didn’t have to memorize the words. Plus, with a smaller team, there were fewer pieces of the puzzle to try to figure out. This was all good. Still, I was terrified.

That Sunday morning, I had willed myself out of bed because I had committed to do something. Even in the midst of the darkness, I wanted to keep my word. I walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and did a double-take. Seriously, that’s how it went. That’s how quickly it all happened. It was just like the scene from “The Wizard of Oz” when it goes from black and white to Technicolor. It was as if a screen had been lifted from in front of me or as if scales had been removed from my eyes.  (A few years later, I did go for counseling, and my counselor told me that many people shared with her a similar experience when their PPD lifted.)

In that moment, I knew something had changed. Tears flowed from my eyes, but it wasn’t the tears that I had been crying for months on end. These seemed different. Cleansing, even healing. My brain felt significantly different, clearer and more responsive. I called out to my husband to get out of bed, so I could tell him what was happening. He could see a difference on my face.

When I sat down at the piano at church, I could clearly see the music on the page. Before this moment, the music was just a blob of black and white that didn’t make much sense. Or, at times, would appear to be moving, even thought I knew it couldn’t be or wasn’t. That’s how off my mental capacities were. But this day, everything was different. And I sang. And I felt whole. I FELT! I felt so much, internally and externally. I hadn’t felt anything in so many months!

After church, I walked outside and fully experienced the beauty of the Colorado sunshine, and felt it’s intense warmth enveloping me. As I went to bed that evening, I was scared that I would wake up the next morning only to realize it had all been a dream. That I wouldn’t experience the clearness or clarity again. But I didn’t. When I woke up the next morning, I knew I had finally said goodbye to my companion, Post-Partum Depression. It was finally over.

At this point my daughter was nearly 2 1/2 years old. Ironically, a few weeks later, I had an appointment to see my OB/GYN. Finally, I was able to  share all about the dark days, as well as the day I was, once again, able to see life in FULL COLOR. She confirmed that, yes, what I had experienced was PPD. And, most likely, this change was due to hormones being back to normal, consistently getting enough rest, and beginning to feel as if I had found a support system, apart from my husband. Before I left, she asked me why I had never come in for help, either for medication or counseling. I just shrugged my shoulders because honestly, I didn’t know why. Stubbornness? Pride? Fear? All of the above.

Throughout that season, I was hardly able to read my Bible, much less joyfully sing songs. But I prayed. Sometimes, all I could muster forth was, “Jesus, help me!” I cried out to Him. Although my brain was significantly foggy, I knew it had nothing to do with sin or because God was upset with me. And I was convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, he hadn’t left me or given up on me. Still, there were dark days. Many dark days.

In fact, those were the darkest days of my life. And I thank God that I was able to get to the other side. To be honest, there were days I wondered if I ever would. So when I come across folks who make callous, casual remarks about depression, especially those who equate it with lack of faith or disbelief, I get a bit angry. You see, it’s personal for me. I have lived it and experienced it. I am not an expert, just someone who’s walked that road, and can now reach out to others who are walking it themselves.

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression in any form or way, please don’t be like me and not seek out medical assistance. Reach out to others. Go see your doctor or a trained counselor. Know that there are resources to help you. And to others, please remember these words, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”** It may not be depression, but I can assure, it’s something. Be kind. Be available. Be compassionate.

**Edited to note: This quote above has been attributed to Plato, Philio and Rev. John Watson (aka Ian MacLaren). Regardless, it speaks a powerful truth.

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Change: When the Teachers Get Schooled

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Jon and I are always looking for ways to be more engaging as teachers and more effective as time managers. During this school year, we have experienced several new realities, personally and collectively, which have impacted our work and home school schedules. As such, towards the end of the year, we were on information overload. And we knew a change needed to occur.

Since we both have untraditional work schedules (Wed.-Sun.), but also share the home schooling responsibilities of our kids, our home school week is a bit creative. We school Tuesday-Saturday (catch up day) and observe Mondays as our Family Sabbath. On this day, there’s no school, no work, but plenty of rest, reflection and recreation. After a bit of discussion, we made a simple adjustment in our home school routine.

The changes we made were small, but significant. We decided, parents would no longer teach every subject, everyday. On Tuesdays, Jon would teach a complete week’s worth of Science and Geography (book work, field trips, experiments, etc.) Leaving Language Arts (Grammar, Writing, Spelling & Literature) for me to teach Wednesday-Friday. At the beginning of each week, the kids were given an assignment sheet which listed items for which they were solely responsible. In addition to their daily chores, they were responsible for reading, math, and music practice. Parents were available, if needed. But now, the kids had the responsibility for execution and completion.

In the first week alone, the transformation was significant! To our surprise, the kids welcomed the additional responsibility and appreciated the opportunity to earn extras for a job well done (i.e. screen time, special date with parents, etc.) In addition, since Mom and Dad weren’t teaching every subject, everyday, we felt as if we had more “bandwidth”. This afforded us the opportunity to further and more fully investigate interesting topics or to spend additional time in areas that required closer attention or extra practice for one or both of our students.

But we soon discovered this change wasn’t merely about home schooling. It reached far beyond our classroom into every sphere and facet of our family’s lives. Having kids who are 9-years-old and 11-years-old, we are quiet aware that we are entering a new season of parenting. We are smack-dab in the middle of the Tween Years, soon to be embarking on the Teen Years and then, it’s LAUNCH TIME, BABY.

It is our desire to raise our kids to be problem-solvers, risk-takers and comfortable thinking and living outside-of-the-box. We have no desire to raise kids who only know the correct outward response. Or who do the right thing out of fear of doing the wrong thing or of being different. Or who continue to do things simply because that’s they way they’ve always been done. Nope! We desire to train our children to do the right thing because they know in their hearts that’s what needs to be done. And, sometimes, doing the right thing means making changes. Even if they are uncomfortable, unpopular, or uncharted territory.

It’s our desire to create an environment of love and trust, which is grounded in the Word, that brings about heart change. This is real change. Living and learning, relating and responding, from the inside out. To do this, we have to let go of some control, share the responsibility, broaden the boundaries, and give our children freedom to make some of the decisions and even a few mistakes.

As parents, it’s our desire to be in the trenches with our children, working together to bring about heart and life change. So when they find themselves in a particular situation, relationship or conflict, they don’t just ‘do the right thing’ because that’s what’s expected of them. They do the right thing because it’s the godly thing to do.

In all areas of our lives, even in our role as parents, we want to be open to accessing and adjusting. Willing to make the needed changes. Even mid-course, if necessary. If not, we risk stagnation and death. And to always be about growing and developing, learning and transforming. Never settling for status quo. Or fearing change, but facing it head-on.

Life lesson:
Never be afraid to make necessary changes that are within your ability and control to make. For even a seemingly small change can bring about significant transformation.

Mother’s Day: Words from My Heart

Jada B. Swanson:

For many women, Mother’s Day holds mixed emotions. Last year, I shared my heart about this day and a desire to come alongside the many women in our spheres of influence who need hope, encouragement and love. May our hearts be open and our eyes be wide to those in our midst who we can come alongside.

Originally posted on Jada Swanson:

I completely understand the feeling of dread walking into church on that day. The day I wished I could have pulled the covers up over my head, but didn’t. Or rather couldn’t. As a member of the church staff, it was a workday. So, I had to show up.

Smile on.

Ready to go.

Even if my heart was breaking inside.

Many of you know the day of which I speak. When the youngest mom, the oldest mom, the mom with the most kids, the mom with the youngest child, and even, the one with the most kids with her at church were honored.

All of them.

And then, there was the rest of us.

We weren’t meant to be excluded or made to feel less than. Yet, oftentimes, we were and we did.

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