Judged on Your Performance?

Does it feel like you're always being judged on your performance? Well . . . you probably are. No matter where we go, what we do, or how old we get – we’re judged.

Last weekend, I watched a women’s figure skating competition on TV, where the stakes were high. The two skaters with the highest scores not only won medals for that competition, they were also given spots on the U.S. Olympic team. All the young women skated across the ice, displaying their skills, knowing that every move was being analyzed. Tremendous amount of pressure!

Since viewing that competition, I’ve thought a great this week about how each of us is judged on how well we perform. Sure, some of the judgment is self-induced. Competitive skaters know what they’re getting into when they step out onto the ice. And people ask to be judged when they enter a contest. Just look at American Idol. We wonder, “What were they thinking?” when people who can’t carry a tune put themselves into a position of being judged, only to exhibit bafflement and anger when they’re not given the golden ticket.

Being judged on our performance begins at the moment we emerge from the womb, our lungs fill with air, and we let out a cry. Parents compare their children's development by bragging about how early their baby learned to crawl, walk, or speak a few words.

From kindergarten through college, our performance is graded.
As adults, we’re judged on how well we cook, clean, manage our finances, raise our children, treat our spouse, and provide for the family.

In the work place our performance is rewarded with raises and promotions, or we’re told our work needs to improve. If we don’t perform up to expectations, we’re fired. For some, performance is based on sales quotas and return customers. Restaurants are judged by written reviews, movies by critics, and actors by their peers through award shows.

The church isn’t immune. It’s judged on attendance, the music, the type of in-house and outreach programs offered, and how liberal or how conservative the members tend to be. People evaluate the pastor’s sermon, and whether the music was too loud or a singer too sharp in pitch. One person is viewed as volunteering too much and trying to be in control, while others are judged as not helping and doing their part to keep things rolling along.

Oh, yes . . . performance is judged every day in one form or another.

But we can take delight and rest in the fact that God doesn’t look at our performance. He doesn’t hand over report cards with As for excellence and Fs for failing. He looks at our hearts and loves us unconditionally.

Praise God for that! Because there are days when I’m not so sure I’d like to see my own report card . . . ;-D


Interview with Michelle Sutton - Author of It's Not About Him

I invited Michelle Sutton to return this week so we can talk about book two in her Second Glances series for young adults, It’s Not About Him.

Michelle is one of the first friends I made in the writing/publishing world. We met six years ago through American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and worked as critique partners for several years.

There are many things I appreciate about Michelle. She’s a prolific writer with a passion for telling real stories that don’t minimize the hard stuff in life. Her characters are real people who struggle with sexuality, all types of additions, adoption, self-worth . . . You name it, she’s not afraid to write about it. Her stories give hope and show what a relationship with Christ can do in a person’s life. No wonder she’s known as the Edgy Inspirational Author.

I have a few questions for Michelle, but first, more about the story.

It's Not About Him

Susie passed out while drinking at Jeff’s party and later discovered she’s pregnant. She has no ideas who the father is and considers having an abortion, but instead decides to place her baby for adoption. Following through ends up being more wrenching than she imagined, but she’s determined to do the right thing for her baby.

Jeff feels guilty that Susie was taken advantage of at his party and offers to marry her so she won’t have to give up her baby, like his birth mother did with him. But Susie refuses, insisting he should marry someone he loves. Can he convince her that his love is genuine before it’s too late? Can she make him understand that it’s not about him—it’s about what’s best for her child?

Discussion Guide Included

Questions for Michelle . . .

1. Your Second Glances series is written for young adults. In these stories you candidly tackle tough subjects - self-esteem, drinking, and premarital sex. You’re able to show through story, consequences that may result from making bad choices. How has your job as a social worker influenced the story lines you’ve chosen?

My job comes in to play a lot. Why? Because I did a lot of open adoptions so no research is necessary. I understand both sides because I’ve worked with adoptive and birth parents. I’ve also worked with people in crisis, victims of rape and incest. You name it. That is how I can make it seem real. Plus, I thought it would be interesting to have something happen to a character where even Christians (in their minds) might justify a young woman getting an abortion. Susie didn’t know who raped her. A lot of people would say then that would make it okay for her to abort even though in reality the child is in the same predicament regardless. The child is totally at the mercy of the birth mother as to whether it will be born or not.

2. It’s Not About Him, the second book in the series, focused on the heartbreak of an unplanned pregnancy due to rape and the decision to give up a baby for adoption. What inspired you to write this story?

I worked with a birthmother who wanted to place her toddler with an adoptive family because the father, her husband, was getting released from prison for child molesting and she wanted to protect her daughter. Since he was in prison while the petition to terminate his rights was filed it went through without a hitch. She was able to keep in loose contact with the adoptive family and protect her daughter as well. Plus, I just know tons of people who are adopted. There are few, if any, books that I am aware of that tell the story from the birth mother’s perspective in a way that is positive in regards to their decision. Plus, most people don’t think about how much it hurts the adoptive parents who know the birth mother to be excited about their new child when the birth mother is grieving. It’s tough and I’ve seen many people cry through these situations.

3. You include thought provoking discussion questions at the end of the book that encourage young people to think about the choices the characters made in the story. How have your readers responded to It’s Not About Him and the decisions made?

Readers have been great. The most heartfelt comments I have gotten thusfar have come from both adopted children and from women who have decided to place their children for adoption. They usually say they like how realistic the story is and how it shows how unselfish it is to do this (place your child for adoption) and also how difficult, especially when you don’t feel supported by family.

4. What is the most important thing you want readers to take away from reading this novel?

Just because someone ends up pregnant doesn’t mean they have only three choices. One, abort…two, parent the child even they aren’t ready….or three, give the child up never to be seen again. There are other options. Open adoption allows the birth mother to know the child is okay due to ongoing contact that they and the adoptive parents agree on. It can be letters and pictures or actual visits. It also is better for the child. They don’t get this huge need to find their birth parent when they are teens. Why? They already know who they are. I just want people to realize this option exists and when it works well, it’s a beautiful thing. God can bless people through open adoption and turn a terrible situation (rape) into a life-saving and life-giving blessing.

Michelle Sutton, otherwise known as the Edgy Inspirational Author, is a member of ACFW, a social worker by trade, and a prolific reader/book reviewer/blogger the rest of the time. She lives in Arizona with her husband of over nineteen years and her two teenage sons. You will find her on the Web at http://www.michellesutton.net/

Why Can't We All Play Nice?

Do you ever get tired of the fact that so many people can’t seem to play nice? Why can’t they? Why is it so difficult?

I was raised to live by the Golden Rule. The code of conduct found in the Bible which says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31 NIV) In other words, treat people the way you want to be treated.

Forget even all the incidents you see on TV or read in the news, this past week I heard of three situations that caused hurt without any justifiable reason.

The first involved a close friend’s teenage daughter. For months a male student verbally abused her at school. His actions recently escalated to minor physical attacks and stalking. For safety, my friend and her husband filed a restraining order. Hopefully, the young man got the message that his actions will not be tolerated.

The second incident occurred at the private middle school where my youngest daughter is employed. The students at this school live in affluent neighborhoods with families able to afford a comfortable lifestyle. A few days ago, my daughter had to step in the middle of one of her advisees and a mother who showed up at the school to harass the student, claiming that the young girl had been bullying her son. My daughter calmed the mother down and then sat with the sobbing student until her own mother arrived to take her home.

The last scenario involved an author who received a hurtful review on Amazon.com. The reviewer’s comments weren’t helpful, they were just mean. There are ways to write constructive criticism without piercing another person’s heart. The review spurred conversation on a writer’s e-mail loop, and more than several respected and multi-published authors shared their own stories of similar reviews during their careers.

I realize there are reasons behind these kinds of behaviors. In a school setting, name calling can make a student feel powerful. It becomes a weapon in the struggle to be “cool.” Cool kids are the ones who can creatively and affectively put down their peers. One way to be funny is to be insulting, especially in front of an audience.

Anger can often be the underlying reason. A targeted child may not be able to “take it” anymore and the result is flying out of control.

Revenge may be at the bottom of bullying. Boys have the sense of justice that it’s okay to bully someone who has bullied you, so a cycle of violence continues. Girls will divert their anger by backstabbing, spreading vicious rumors, or excluding someone.

For some people, violence is a way of life. They’re surrounded by it in the neighborhoods, or experience it in their home.

A child who bullies may be acting out because of problems at home.

Bullies may have poor social skills. They may want attention, are jealous of others, or are overwhelmed by transitions in their lives and don’t know how to control their anger. Perhaps they don’t have enough confidence in themselves to get out of situations without bullying.

Maybe the sense of having power and the ability to affect another person drives not only children, but adults to be unkind.

So . . . the question as to why we all can’t play nice may have answers. Does it help to understand? Perhaps . . . Sometimes . . .

I'll still continue to believe in the Golden Rule.


The Most Important Piece of Information

One of the few commercials I enjoy is the one pertaining to information overload. One person asks a question and a domino affect takes place with people in the area spitting out related – but sometimes obscure – pieces of information.

I love Google. I probably google on an average of five times a day. Recipes, instructions on how to, word definitions, research for various writing projects, etc.

Although technology and the Internet are great, I admit that like the people in the commercial, I also feel at times overwhelmed with the amount of information available. It’s easy to get sidetracked down the cyber highway. One minute I’m looking up a simple recipe for a dish, and the next I’m printing off five unrelated recipes. All of which I’ll never take the time to cook.

When we switch from sitting in front of the computer to sitting in front of the TV, we’re still in a position to be exposed to information overload. Cable provides twenty-four hours of news and weather, and a multitude of educational programs – history, the animal kingdom, and documentaries. Don’t forget all the talk shows and anything and everything that relates to sports.

If you want an even greater overload – sit with your laptop and peruse the Internet while watching CNN!

We can’t possible retain it all!!!

So we need to discern what are the most important pieces of information for our lives.

For instance, as I was commuting home from work one day, a simple song from childhood started running through my head.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

As a teenager, my friends and I used to groan when asked to sing that song at camp, church, or elsewhere. After all, it was a kid’s song – and not cool. We wanted to sing more upbeat tunes.

But as an adult, I’ve heard stories of people in crisis – desperate situations – where this song surfaced from memory and provided comfort.

It says all we need to know . . .

Jesus loves me! this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
they are weak but He is strong.

We belong to Him. And even though we may be tempted or undergoing a difficult time in our life, He’s there to give us strength.

Jesus loves me! He who died
heaven's gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
let His little child come in.

He came out of love and died for us that we might be forgiven and have eternal life. What we have on earth is temporary.

Jesus loves me! He will stay
close beside me all the way.
Thou hast bled and died for me,
I will henceforth live for Thee.

There’s no need to fear the challenges that come our way, of being alone, or even death. He’s always with us, and He will never leave us.

No matter how much knowledge we take in and retain . . . the most important piece of information is this . . .

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me.
Jesus loves you.

Have a great week.

Risking Everything

My daughter Ana gave me the worship CD titled “Risk,” for Christmas. The music, written by worship leaders in her church, is inspiring. One of the songs I especially love happens to be the title track, “Risk.”

The song is based on Romans 12:1 (New Living Translation)

“And so dear brothers and sister, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”

The song speaks of no longer standing on the fence – on middle ground – safe. Instead, taking the leap to risk everything. Trusting and giving Him everything. Including "me."

And that could mean . . .

In worship. Not worrying about what others will think.
In my career. Not focusing or being consumed on worldly success.
In finances. Not stressing about how the bills will be met.

“All of me, for all of you, Jesus.”

Sometimes it's hard, isn’t it, to give it all over to Him. We want to hold on tight. We want to be in the driver’s seat. Because we fear what will happen if we lose control.

We can’t seem to completely risk trusting Him.

But, it’s interesting how often people are willing to risk everything else around them.

They risk:
* killing someone when they drink and drive.
* destroying a marriage and a family when they have an affair.
* their jobs when they steal from the company.
* being kicked out of school when the cheat on an exam.
* death when climbing mountains or hiking the forest alone.
The list could go on and on.

On rare occasions, my husband will watch professional poker tournaments on TV. I’ve seen players risk more money than what I make in ten years with one show of cards. One walks away with many thousands of dollars, while the other walks away with nothing. That’s a pretty big gamble.

But when we take the risk of giving everything over to God, we’re really not taking a risk at all!

We always WIN!!!

Take the risk – and have an awesome week and beginning to the new year.


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