Choosing to Adopt

Infertility is not for the weak of spirit, y’all. For so many, growing a family comes easily. But for some of us it becomes not easy, but impossible. Paul and I feel you. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating and not nearly talked about enough.
 
After years of much prayer, lots of conversation, fertility clinics, and pendulum swings- we are stopping the infertility process. Our God is a great God, a BIG God, and one who is completely capable of answering our prayers. In our minds, that belief means that becoming biological parents may not be the way God is going to define family for us. And while adoption was always on the table, we believe it is now the option He has planned for us. =)
 
As a good friend told me- “God has put a deep certainty in my heart that you and Paul will have a beautiful family with a purpose that we all celebrate.” And I am claiming her words as mine, and my husband Paul is claiming her words as his, because God is doing a great work in our hearts.
 
So, here is our invitation to our community of amazing friends, family, and colleagues to join us on our adoption journey of bringing Baby Houghton home. We will need your support and your prayers. And we can’t wait to share with you the process of giving a child a forever family. Stay tuned. =)

Creating a Marketable Niche with Zooey Deschanel

Zooey Deschanel is an actress, musician and singer/songwriter whose “adorkable” qualities have helped her build one of the strongest personal brands in Hollywood. She currently stars in the popular Fox series New Girl, has been nominated for Golden Globe, Grammy, and Emmy Awards, and has proven herself a fan favorite with her current People’s Choice Award nomination.

Zooey has built a career that is not only entertaining, but is synonymous with a unique and well-defined niche — something that all marketers are striving for. Faced with an overload of information and competitive markets for consumers, it is our job to create a niche that is memorable, relatable and ensures our voice is heard. Zooey seems to achieve this with ease. Here are 4 things that marketers can learn from her about creating a marketable niche:

1. It’s okay to be different

In a world laden with hip hop stars and supermodels, Zooey is surprisingly refreshing by being anything but Hollywood mainstream. As a marketer, you are in business because you have something that people want and/or need to be more successful. Don’t try to be like everyone else. Know your niche and relish the uniqueness you offer. Sometimes you can overlook the smallest of things that can become your legacy. We all have something in common, what do you have that sets you apart?

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2. Diversification is good

Zooey Deschanel acts on screens, small and big. She is the founder of hellogiggles, one half of the indie folk band She & Him and, according to her blog, she dances too (but just for fun). While you want everything to fall under a logical and sustainable umbrella, don’t let fear stop you from reaching out and trying something new. Challenge yourself to think about how can you expand your territory and try new products to win more customers.

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3. Know your audience

As marketers, we have to know what our audience expects of us and foster the persona they know and love. The niche you have developed has a specific audience. Cater to that audience and don’t lose the voice that is attracting them. Zooey’s signature deadpan style has become her trademark. Her fans cherish her dry humor, and look forward to her witty commentaries.

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4. Sometimes, uncool can be cool

Putting yourself out there and showing your personality and vulnerabilities makes you approachable and relatable as a company. Consumers today desire that transparency. Consider letting your customers in on some of your decisions and thought processes. It helps them to feel a part of your brand. Even if it makes you uncool, it makes you real. And sometimes that is more important.

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So next time you think about Zooey Deschanel, consider the impressive marketable niche she has created in her career and how we can apply that as marketers.

What makes your brand memorable and unique?

For YL Leaders- A Campaigner Series on Sex, Dating, & Relationships

I have been a Young Life leader for almost 12 years. One of the most common and encompassing topics of conversation with my high school friends revolve around the opposite sex and how it influences their identities, self esteem, and even friend groups. Relationships are highly coveted in high school. This is a huge opportunity for Young Life leaders to speak truth into an area that already has a cacophony of lies and distortions. My hope was to provide a foundation that will draw them closer to Jesus and speak wisdom and discernment into their choices.

Below is the outline of a 4 part co-ed Campaigner series on sex, dating and relationships that we led for Juniors and Seniors only. We held it on Sunday nights from 5-7pm. We always had drinks, food, and hang out time the first half hour before getting started at 6:30. This was my attempt at combining the great resources already out there (MacKenzie created the original for this here), filling in some gaps and providing a curriculum that any Young Life leader can use with their high school friends. Please use, share, and tweak it all you like. Thank you for loving on high school kids.

WEEK ONE:

-Welcome, introduce the leaders.

-Basic overview of the series. Why are we here?

-Set some ground rules- Be authentic, respect each other, no such thing as a stupid question, etc.

Intro Discussion Questions:

-Name some things that you can or do love.

-Are there different kinds of love?

-What do the people at your school think about love? (misconceptions)

-Did you know that love is mentioned 697 times in the bible? (NIV) Obviously, God has a lot to say about love. In fact, He created love.

-Show this slideshare deck on love. Just read titles and have verses as references. Ask them what they think about that kind of love?

Video:

-Watch Rob Bell’s nooma video- Flame together. Rob talks a lot of about how our culture has the wrong idea about sex.

Video Discussion Questions:

-Why is love so complex?

-Do we generally in today’s world, treat the concept of love that same way as the people in Song of Songs? As this sacred, beautiful and mysterious thing?  *Song of songs was written by King Solomon to this wife and follows the courtship, wedding, and maturing marriage.*

-Do you think the word love loses it’s meaning when we use it for so many things? Does it affect our understanding of what real love is?

-Rob talks about the three loves: Raya (friendship), Ahava (commitment), Dod (sexual desire). How many relationships have you seen where all the flames are burning as one?

-Do you think it is possible to be completely satisfied without having all three flames burning?

-”True sexuality is vast and mysterious. It involves all of you. You have a body, but you also have a soul and spirit. And love is two people coming otgether and giving all of themselves to each other, forever.” -Rob Bell.   What does it mean to give all of yourself to another person? When you have been in a relationship, have you given it everything you’ve got?

-Are there some struggles that you think girls or guys struggle with more or don’t understand? What are they and why?

Activity:

At the end pass out pens and pieces of paper. Have each person write down anonymous questions for the opposite sex and drop them in a bowl. Guys write questions for girls, girls ask questions for the guys. Encourage them not to address someone specifically but the gender in an effort to understand why they act certain ways. Push them to ask real, honest questions! Whatever they want.

WEEKS TWO & THREE:

Compile all the questions from last week and divide them into the guys and girls questions. Then divide the kids into two groups- guys and girls and go into separate rooms. Leaders work with each group of students and talk through each question-

Read the question, and then first say, “Do girls/guys do that?” Then ask “Why do you do that?” If someone says, “All Guys/Girls….” “All guys are jerks, etc” question them on their reasoning.

The key  for the first 45 minutes is discuss the question, then let the kids work through each one and guide/correct gently and as needed. Facilitate the conversation, don’t just tell them the answers!

For the last 45 minutes, bring everyone back together to answer one another’s questions. Before coming together, leaders should choose 2-3 kids to commit to answering each question on behalf of the group. The leader will read the question and then the predesignated kids will answer. Anyone can contribute after that and you can encourage a short from the other group before moving to the next question.

We worked through about half each time we met for weeks 2 and 3.

At the end of Week 3, we introduced intentional dating.

Being intentional is an easy way to honor God while pursuing relationships. Brandon Andersen does an awesome job giving examples to use in this post.

Here are some of the questions we had from the kids for Week 2 and 3-

Guys questions for Girls:
– Why do girls act like guys have no feelings, as if we are emotionless?
– Why do girls wear such suggestive clothes? Push up bras, leggings, etc.
– Do girls notice when guys look at/check out your body parts?
– Why do girls give a lot of confusing signs when they hang out with guys?
– What do girls think determines the attractiveness of a guy?
– Would you text a guy for days if you had no feelings or interest for him?
– How do you make a girl happy in a relationship?
– Why do girls create drama to make their relationship seem stronger or try to get the guy to give them more attention?
– What do you see in jerks for “the challenge?” Why do you say you want a good guy but you date bad guys?
– Do girls have the same problems with lust and sexual temptations that guys do? Or do you think its ok for girls to lust after guys and wrong for guys to lust after girls?

Girls questions for Guys:
– Why do guys hold girls to a double standard?
– How would you want a girl to show that she is interested in you?
– How do boys think differently than girls?
– Why do guys only look for something easy?
– How can you tell when a guys is flirting with you because he actually likes you or if he is just shamelessly flirting?
– What keeps you from asking us on a date? We know you like us, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
– Why do you flirt with me when you have no intentions of dating me?
– Why do guys feel like they can’t be emotional in a relationship?
– Why does it seem like guys just want sexual stuff?
– Do guys really watch porn? And how do you ever expect us to measure up?
– Why can’t guys just be honest and upfront about when they want to end a relationship?
– What do guys look for/find attractive in a girl?

Here are questions we got that we felt were applicable for both Guys and Girls:
– How do you give someone your “whole” self without then getting your heart broken when you break up?
– Is it bad to have a sexual aspect of a relationship at this age? How far it is too far?
– Do you see potential in a relationship where people are spiritually unequal? Is that a deal breaker?
– Everyone always says that God needs to be at the center of a relationship, but how does that actually happen?
-Why can love feel so real and you can think you have the “one” person that has everything you want and look for, but then end up failing, breaking up and leaving you lost?

 

WEEK FOUR:

Begin by breaking into two groups (guys and girls) and go over these awesome dating tips by Jeff Bethke.

5 Tips for Guys in Dating:

1. Grow up and stop looking at porn. It will ruin you, your relationship, and your capacity for intimacy in the future.
2. Don’t play games. Make your intentions known early. There should be no guessing from the girl on whether or not you like her. If you are pursuing her, texting her, flirting with her, etc then you are communicating to her that you want a relationship. If you are doing those things and don’t want a relationship, refer back to number 1.
3. Include her friends. Don’t pull her away from her life, but instead get involved in her life.
4. Simply listening goes a lot farther than offering a solution.
5. Treat her as someone’s future wife. She isn’t yours, she’s God’s.

5 Tips for Girls in Dating:

1. Be secure enough in how much God loves you or you will become a slave to the guy’s decisions, emotions, and actions. If you put your identity in your boyfriend, in hopes that he will satisfy you, save you, and fulfill you, then when you break up it will feel like you are losing your god not your boyfriend.
2. Find out the guy’s gifts, talents, and passions and pursue them with him. Guys like shared time more than shared conversation sometimes. Just doing an activity he loves together means the world.
3. Break up with him if he doesn’t follow number 1 above. Seriously. It never ends well. A guy is always on his best behavior in dating so if you see red flags in dating, they only get worse in marriage. It’s better to be not married and lonely, then married, lonely, and miserable.
4. Pray for him, let him lead, and encourage him through texts, notes, gifts, etc.
5. Have a few older godlier men in your dating life (your pastor, father, etc). If you two date in isolation it won’t go well. Guys listen to guys, so get guys in your life that can speak into his life and keep him accountable.

 

Ask the Leader:

Then pass out paper and pens and have the kids write anonymous questions that they want to ask the leaders and drop into the bowl. Anything goes. Groups come back together and the leaders take turns reading any final questions and answering them as honestly as possible.

 

Discuss the following Verses and Guidelines:

1. Do not be unequally yoked. II Cor. 6:14 Importance of sharing the foundation of faith. Don’t date someone who does not have a relationship with Jesus. Missionary dating doesn’t work.

2. Put on the armor of God daily. Eph. 6:10-20 You need all the help you can get in today’s world. Are you spending time with God? Do you depend on him to meet your needs of love and security? He can help guide your decisions and resist temptations.

3. Use caution with physical expression. 1 Cor. 6:18-20. There is a difference between the touch of affection and the touch of desire. Intimacy should always correspond with commitment and be in the context of a meaningful relationship, not reduced to the satisfaction of a personal need.

4. Find the balance of spiritual, physical, and emotional connections with someone. If you have any one of them without the other, it is out of balance. Think of it as a triangle. You can also think of these three as a bullseye. Physical is the largest ring. Easy to find connections and attraction. The next ring is emotional and the center is spiritual. That bullseye is the hardest to hit and take refinement to find all 3.

5. Pray for the relationship, but don’t pray together when just dating. If you are dating a believer, still use caution in praying together. It can create too much of an emotional connection without the commitment. Wait to seek prayer together. Proverbs 4:23

6. Not in a relationship? Use the time to become the person you are looking for is looking for.

 

Final Activity:

Pass out pens and pieces of paper. Have each student write down a take away- what did they learn, what will they commit to or how has their perspective changed. Then go around and have them each share. This was one of the most rewarding parts for me! =)

 

Additional Resources:

As you are praying through this with your YL team, here are a couple other resources that I found that were helpful:

True Love Dates Blog

10 Lies Christian Teens Tell Themselves About Sex, Dating, and How Far is Too Far

 

 

The Root of Poverty And When Helping Hurts

I love Rwanda. I love the people, the country, the heartbreak, and the hope. I love that a country ravaged by a genocide less than 20 years ago is a country that can teach ME about loving others. I love that a country that once ran rampant with evil is now a beacon of hope and revival to the entire world. And I love that no matter how many times I visit, I am awestruck by the warmth and welcome I always receive.

One of the most incredible opportunities in my life has been to travel to Rwanda several times, work with coffee growing communities, and build deep and authentic relationships with the people there.  I often tell people they should expect to receive more than they could ever give when they travel to developing nations. It’s a vital perspective shift.

There are many misconceptions about how to “help” Africa. Yes, there are great needs. Yes, the Church is called to help the needy and serve the poor. But how we define poverty plays a major role in our attempts to alleviate it. Please consider with me that poverty is about much, much more than material goods. If we treat only the material symptoms or misdiagnose the underlying problem, we will not improve a situation. In fact, we might actually make it much worse.

What I am about to say may make some uncomfortable, and it may well be a shift in thinking, but I truly believe that many well-meaning Christians have harmed Africa more than they have ever helped. We have poured billions, if not trillions of dollars, into Africa. Has it helped? If you move past the lack of material goods and look at the underlying problems you begin to see that the solution requires a lot more than wealth. Often poverty is the result of broken relationships: with God, self and communities. What will make a poverty-stricken community whole again? If the people were educated, given authentic care, provided with guidance, a partner to encourage, train, teach would that not also be a solution?

While I encourage groups and individuals to travel to Rwanda and other developing countries, I must clarify: I do not mean the traditional “short-term mission” trip. Such trips commonly create more harm than good. It is in this case that the phrase, “It’s the thought that counts!” has no value.

It is simply not enough to just preach the Gospel; it is imperative to do the Gospel. During his time on earth, Jesus could have provided everyone with an equal income. But instead he spent his time with people, often those most broken. He loved them, He encouraged them, He instilled hope in them. When I traveled to Rwanda, my goal was to build relationships and through those relationships begin to address the causes of poverty. And for me, it all began with coffee and community.

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For more information on the ideas in this blog, please read When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. You can also check out this article “Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short-Term Mission Trips” from The Gospel Coalition. It details the common pitfalls of many mission trips these days, but also explains where there is still much hope!

How Doing Good Can Bring Value to Your Brand

“Success isn’t only about achievement, those things that we can measure. It is also about contribution, those things that we unselfishly give back.” Jim Geigor, CEO, CBeyond

As the proliferation of new technology and social media lead to empowered consumers, closing deals and brand loyalty are more and more about building relationships. Sales-driven companies in a down economy are tasked with constantly evolving and developing their niche within their industry. As marketers, we are often looking for ways to represent our brand in a way that will bridge the gap between product and consumer and make us memorable and relatable.

Now consider these statistics:

  • 86% of Americans expect a company to use resources such as employee volunteerism to support a nonprofit or social cause. *LBG Research Institute 2009
  • 83% of Americans wish more of the products, services and retailers they use would support causes. *2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study
  • 92% of people who volunteer through their workplace report higher rates of physical and emotional health. *United Healthcare Do Good Live Well Study 2010

Although it may seem counterintuitive to the Old Guard of marketing, doing good and giving back is now a very real competitive advantage in corporate America. And evidence suggests your customers and employees may already expect this of you.

Have you considered creating a tribe that believes in your product and in how you treat others? Effective content marketers can be more than just great storytellers; they can be agents for change in their community. And this philanthropy can lead to greater employee and customer retention which is vital to corporate culture and success.

Building a Strategic Community

No matter your company’s size or industry, your most valuable resource is your people. Doing good in your community is a terrific way to identify top talent. By building relationships within your local community, you can begin to identify ways in which you can encourage the city through partnerships with startups and the sponsorship of local events. Through strategic outreach, your company can add value to your brand, recruit local talent, and help create business growth in your community.

Volunteering

Organizing opportunities for your team to volunteer has also been shown to have a positive impact on their physical and emotional health. And every community has a need for volunteers, making it an easy and valuable way to give back. These events can be fun and foster unique team-building opportunities. From a simple food drive to group outings, volunteering is a great way to encourage a positive, supportive culture.

Redefining Success

Yes, these activities take time and investment. They also create a culture that can help your company grow while redefining success from a more holistic viewpoint. Choose to aim to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Your partners and customers will appreciate it, too.

Consider how being a white hat, do-good marketer can create a “halo” effect that can carry through to your communities and set you further apart from your competition. Developing a relationship-based community and staff engagement program that is integrated into the business of the company and in the fabric of your culture can create a stickiness that should result in a stronger loyalty with your employees and your customers. It kind of makes you feel good, too.

What are some ways your company does good?

My Life Is Not The Global Norm

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I believe all things are possible. Call it my life perspective, call it my faith, call it my culture beaming from behind my journey in achieving the All American Dream, but I pretty much believe I can achieve what ever I want. And maybe I can. My suburban home and semi new car are just helping me to achieve the idealistic accumulation of material goods that help us keep up with the Jones’s and set me on the path of achieving my middle class happiness.

But here is what I don’t often remember- my lifestyle is not the global norm. I am blessed beyond imagination simply by having a bed to sleep in and the opportunity to have my trendy TOMS on my feet. I pursued my Master’s degree in my mid twenties. That puts me in the top 3% of the world’s population for education. Yet I don’t really feel that smart… especially when I pay my student loans each month. My household income puts us in the middle class here in the US, but we are in the top 1% of the world in wealth income. Yes, top 1%. My perspective is skewed and yours probably is too. Three billion people live on less that $2 per day while 1.3 billion get by on less than $1 per day. We all need to get out of our bubble, and quickly. The top 1% is probably you, your neighbors, your friends, your church and you can have great impact.

I believe one of the most fruitful things you can do in life is be intentional about developing community with people who are not like you. Create friendships with people who are outside of your comfort zone, outside your socio economic status, outside of your race, outside of your education level. It is not a hierarchy despite how often it is perceived that way. I have met poor people who are more content with what they have than wealthy friends who have it “all.” I have been given more wisdom and sound advice from someone with an elementary school education than with a PhD.

We create these walls, God does not. Pursue intentional community. Get out of your bubble and build a relationship with someone who is not like you. Create as much opportunity for them to give to you as there is for you to give to them. It may bless you more than you can imagine.

Sharing Your Brand Through Storytelling

Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” – Seth Godin

Every piece of content you create plays into your overall brand message. The more compelling your content, the more attractive your brand becomes. It seems like a simple equation, but it is imperative for startups to make your content applicable and engaging enough to create a storyline that customers feel invested in. Instead of a transaction, interactions with your brand are now building relationships with your customers. And relationships are personable, create loyalty, and even have the ability to create a tribe of fans that promote your company for you.

Content Marketing Institute has highlighted “Facebook Stories,” a fairly new marketing initiative from Facebook that aims to add brand value by emotionally connecting with its users, simply by telling their stories. These stories are powerful enough to change a viewer’s perception of Facebook from just another social network to a platform where a teenager can help children in the Philippines get to school, and Australia can reflect on the year that One Direction was their most talked about topic (no comment). Trending topics become a reflection of our culture, and a simple status update can become a story of a changed life.

In a world where statistics and status updates can become compelling stories, we are more keenly aware than ever of one common denominator among all of us: an appreciation for great storytelling. If your startup can do this well, you are on your way to building a deep community of folks invested in your brand.

Most of us don’t have brands that can pull on emotional heart strings like Facebook Stories, but we do all have some type of story that can be told with humor, emotion, graphics, statistics, or even logic — it’s your pick. The key is to tell it as a story with a persona that reflects your brand and invites engagement from your customers.

The Joy of Giving

Giving moves me. It could be the fireman standing on a corner with a boot in his hand or come from the tinkle of a bell ringing outside a large store. It could be any time someone gives something they value to someone else or when something wondrous happens because of generosity. I am always moved.

Now you could say that I am being sappy or perhaps too emotional, but the truth is, I always pause for a moment and feel a sense of wonder. Part of it is the good that money is doing, how it helps others in need, and how every single act of kindness builds the foundation for a better humanity. But I tend to focus on the giver; those people who drop the change in the bucket or the boot, or make a donation online.

This moment of giving tells me that that person is moved too. It is a moment of grace, the giving of something not earned. It is the moment that person is thinking of someone other than themselves, and experiencing the thrill of generosity. It is giving in it’s purest form, without expecting anything in return. In that moment, they are realizing that it really is greater to give than to receive.

So each time you drop some cash in a fireman’s boot or salvation army bucket, know that I am awe-inspired over the giving of a gift from someone who is moved by the needs of others. And I pray that you, too, take a moment to experience the joy of your giving.